Day 2

Title: Day 2 (aka Shocked)
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Rating: G
Pairing: None
Disclaimer: Not my characters. I wish they were mine. I definitely don’t get paid for this.
Summary: Horatio has an extremely stuck sneeze
Notes: Written during my 12 Ficlets in 12 Days in 2020-21 project project for wig-powder

“How about a game of whist?”

Lying in his hammock and staring up at the ceiling of the midshipman’s compartment, Archie shook his head. He was restless and bored but not so desperate as that yet. “I haven’t your talent for the game, Horatio.”

“You don’t need talent to pass the time.”

To get a look at his friend, Archie pushed himself up with an elbow, the hammock swaying a bit from his movement. “No, but I do need talent to enjoy the game.”

“Fair point.” Amused, Horatio smiled. Then he lifted his hand and ground one knuckle at the side of his nose, right against his nostril.

“Surely your nose isn’t still itching?”

Horatio’s cheeks went a bit pink, and his expression changed to one of shock. “I… didn’t realize anyone had noticed.”

Horatio had spent the entirety of the morning rubbing at his nose in one way or another. He had started with handkerchief out, giving his nostrils a good, strong rubbing with his fingers through the cotton then progressing to wiping the handkerchief back and forth beneath his nose. Not wanting to draw attention to himself around others, he had not displayed his handkerchief at all during breakfast, but he rubbed at his nose all through breakfast, after nearly every bite. Archie would have had to have been blinded not to have noticed. Likely, others had as well, but Archie knew well what his friend needed to hear. “I was sitting just across from you. I happened to see you bothering your nose a few times. I don’t know if anybody else noticed.” It wasn’t a lie exactly. He had seen a few of the men elbowing each other and covering chuckles behind their hands, but that could have been about anything.

Horatio relaxed at this but only a little. Archie was glad he hadn’t mentioned the others.

“Not coming down with a cold, are you?”

“I’m not,” Horatio said. “At least, I don’t think I am. I feel well. I haven’t any other complaints. It’s just this itch. This itch is interminable!” He pressed the flat of his palm to the end of his nose and rubbed up and down vigorously. When he lowered his hand, there was a faint red crease at the bridge of his nose that slowly began to fade. “Whatever I do, I cannot seem to quash it.”

“Well, have you tried sneezing?”

Looking almost exasperated, Horatio closed his eyes. Archie felt small and was about to apologize, but Horatio replied with trademark patience and kindness toward him, for which Archie was exceedingly grateful. “I would very much like to sneeze and rid myself of this, but I can’t seem to make myself sneeze.” He rubbed the side of his hand under his nose. “Unless you have a box of snuff in your possession, I’m afraid I’m out of luck.”

Archie had no such thing, of course, and he was sorry to not be of any more help. Though this was the most exciting thing that had happened for weeks. He felt sure a solution to the problem must lie somewhere, but he couldn’t yet think what it may be. Before he could suggest they ask around for snuff, Horatio sighed.

“It is early yet.  I think I will go up on deck before the bells call us for duty. Perhaps the fresh air will drive the itch away somehow?”

About to be separated from his object of entertainment, Archie lowered himself back into the hammock. “That’s a good idea,” he conceded. “I wish you luck at that.”

Horatio tucked his hat under his arm, tipped his head to Archie in thanks, and headed out of the hold.

Archie stared up at the ceiling as his hammock rocked from side to side once again. He feared dozing off and missing his duty watch, but he was so abhorrently tired of doing the same shifts over and over again. The sea one day looked identical to the sea the next. If they had been at war, that would be one thing, but the boredom of his current routine now was abhorrent.

Deciding that anything was better than lying in his hammock until the bells rang out, he rolled and launched himself out of his hammock, a move he had practiced so long to perfect. Then he headed to the stairs as well.

He had to admit that the fresh air was preferable to the stale air below decks, though it made him feel a bit chilled to be honest. He reckoned it had to have been enough to tickle poor Horatio’s nose into sneezing the moment he encountered it. Looking around, it took a few moments to spot Horatio.

The midshipman knew to stay well out of the way when he was not on duty, so he was standing with his back to the aft forecastle. The mid-day sun shone down as a glow upon his cheeks. The light spray from the ocean caressed his chin. And the breeze as the Indy cut a path onward was formidable against his face. Yet it only took Archie a moment to notice that Horatio’s problem was far from solved.

His nose twitched. His hand was, in fact, nowhere near his face. Yet his nostrils twitched on their own with a ticklish, itchy need to sneeze. His nostrils grew wide and rounded, his mouth hung open, and his eyes held a far-away look. To the untrained eye, he might look to be straining to see something he had caught a whiff of. But Archie knew better. He knew what torture must be going on inside Horatio’s nose at the moment.

His nostrils actually quivered, but there was no sneeze. His lower lip trembled, but there was no sneeze. His body shook, but there was no sneeze.

Knowing Horatio could probably use the moral support of a friend, Archie started forward. But the sudden change in the man’s expression made him stop in his tracks. Horatio tilted his head back, eyes rolling up toward the sky and mouth opening wide. His nostrils flared wider than Archie had ever seen them. This had to mean a sneeze would shortly follow. Horatio’s need was great, and every part of his body indicated a sneeze was imminent.

But it wasn’t. As quickly as he had raised his head, he dropped it back down again. He wiped under his nose with the side of his hand, swiping from tip of his index finger to his wrist. Then he rubbed the back of his hand back and forth against his nose. Then he flipped his hand over and rubbed up and down with his palm. Then he balled his hand up into a fist and worked the knuckles against his quavering nostrils. No touch seemed to work better than any other, but he ran through the sequence again three more times as if any should make a difference.

Or perhaps he was simply at a loss. The bells would ring out soon. As it became clear that Midshipman Horatio Hornblower was far too distracted to perform his duties shortly, Archie moved forward again. He stopped when he saw Horatio’s head snap up again. His chest puffed large with a quick gasp of air, and his eyes closed. Archie’s heart beat with anticipation. The timing couldn’t have been better. Leave it to Horatio to succeed even when cutting it close. The corners of his mouth turned down slightly and he drew back an inch as he somehow took in one more urgent breath. Archie found he was holding his as well.

But then he let it out, because Horatio slumped back, chest deflating, mouth closing. Horatio radiated disappointment so strongly Archie felt it inside as well. If only there were something he could do to help. Even a reassuring word just now would be little comfort compared to the desperate urges of Horatio’s itchy nose.

Archie was close enough now to see even the small ways Horatio’s face twitched, prisoner to a sneeze that simply would not come out. Wiggle. Tilt. Quiver. Horatio’s body was relatively still but his face in constant movement. This was far worse than what he’d suffered from during breakfast. Surely he would sneeze soon? He had to.

After a few more moments, Horatio brought his hand up and pinched his nostrils firmly, moving the end of his nose back and forth. It didn’t seem to help at all. He swiped one hand under his nose then did the same with the other, still to no effect. If anything, his nostrils got larger and twitchier. This had to be maddening for him! 

His head tipped back again, the tip of his tongue pressed firmly against his lower teeth. His eyes fluttered closed. His body went still even as his nose continued twitching, and Archie was sure that this time the sneeze would abandon Horatio once again. Archie tried not to get his hopes up.

But then Horatio’s body rose with a sharp breath, and then went higher with a second, and higher with a third until Horatio was on his tip-toes. It was as if he were reaching up with his nose for that last little tickle he needed to finally sneeze.

And he must have found it. Because his hands flew up in front of him, cupped, and he snapped forward so violently and strongly he was bent double. “HEHHTTTSHOOOO!

Archie had heard Horatio sneeze before on numerous occasions, including once when he’d had a tremendous head cold for a full week. But never before had Archie ever heard the man sneeze so loudly. It shocked Archie into taking several steps backward. And it seemed to shock Horatio as well, who snapped back upright with eyes wide with surprise.

Though he had been at a loss earlier regarding how he might help, Archie had a fairly good idea of what he could do now. Pulling the neat handkerchief from his pocket, he started forward again to offer it to his friend. There was a look of relief on Horatio’s face greater than any Archie might have imagined. It looked like now that his nose had stopped itching, his whole body was filled with satisfaction. He even groaned in great relief.

“God bless you, Midshipman!”

Archie froze as none other than Captain Pellew himself leaned over the side of the forecastle and looked down at Horatio from above. Their Captain descended the stairs. Archie chided himself for not having noticed him on the forecastle the whole time. It seemed impossible for the man to have escaped his notice when Archie had been so keenly noticing everything about Horatio’s predicament.

Now he saw both the shock and alarm on his friend’s face. Horatio quickly pulled his own handkerchief out and wiped at his hands and nose, hurrying to make himself as presentable as possible. But his cheeks and ears were obviously flushed.

From where Archie was, he could hear Horatio’s reply clearly enough. “I am sorry you heard that, Sir.”

“Heard it? Son, Every man on this ship probably heard it!”

Horatio winced visibly, his cheeks still hot.

“Not ill, I trust?”

“No indeed, Sir. Just a minor tickle, which is gone now in any case.”

Captain Pellew nodded thoughtfully a few times. Archie watched their captain’s head bob up and down almost mesmerizingly. Then he nearly missed the man’s words as Captain Pellew leaned in close to Horatio. “There’s nothing like a good, strong sneeze is there?” He squeezed Horatio’s shoulder then strode across to the other end of the ship. Archie quickly made himself look busy so neither man could suspect him of doing the very thing he had been doing: watching.

Horatio spotted him a few moments later and made for him. “How are you?” Archie asked, trying to sound concerned as if he didn’t already know the answer.

“Well enough now.” The heat in his cheeks was fading, and he looked to be nearly his usual self again.

Before Archie could say that he was glad to hear it, the bells rang to indicate the commencement of their duty shift.