Day 8

Title: Day 8
Author: tarotgal
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower (movie-verse)
Rating: G
Pairing: None
Disclaimer: Not my characters, not my 'verse. I don't get paid a cent to play. Please don't sue and make things worse.
Summary: Horatio has a cold while he is aboard the HMS Renown.
Note: Part of the 12 Ficlets in 12 Days project 2009-2010. Requested by silentdreamer789


Crossing the English Channel in one of the worst storms ever beheld at sea, made to stay awake for unreasonably long shifts, it was bound to amount to something. And, in Horatio Hornblower's case, something was a perfectly nasty head cold.

He dressed as warmly as was possible, but the layers of wool seemed little comfort against the chill that had taken hold of him. He carried a half dozen handkerchiefs on his person, strategically placed so that he would have one at least presentable and on hand at the mere hint of a sneeze.

For example, the one he felt at present. Not wanting to risk dampening a handkerchief unnecessarily, Hornblower tried rubbing the sneeze from his nose. He rubbed a finger back and forth beneath his nose, then up and down alongside it. Neither action did anything, it seemed. His eyes closed despite themselves and his breath hitched. He dug a handkerchief out from his sleeve and guided it to his countenance. “Errachuhhhh!” The sneeze was hefty and strong, and in any other circumstance he might have allowed himself to be steered back to bed by it. He would protest, of course, but in the end he would welcome sleep.

Instead, he cleared his nose and taken a deep breath, ready to look lively for a task he did not relish in the slightest.

“Ready for dinner, Horatio?”

Hornblower nodded resolutely at the figure to his side. “Of course, Archie.”

The fourth Lieutenant smiled. “On other ships, dinner in a captain's cabin would be an enjoyable affair.”

“Quite right,” Hornblower agreed, choosing his words quite carefully. Although, he had never been one for socializing. Sitting in a cabin making small talk was not remotely interesting.

They both straightened up as Lieutenant Bush approached, eyed them suspiciously, then passed by them down the narrow passage and up to the deck.

“God help us all if the captain makes that one in his own image,” Kennedy whispered softly, though the words were lost in the scuffling of shoes as the two Lieutenants hastened to the cabin as well, not wanting to appear tardy. But Hornblower had heard and, in fact, agreed whole-heartedly. The last thing they needed was another like Captain Sawyer aboard the Renown and there was yet no telling precisely what sort of man this Bush was. Horatio hoped that dinner with the officers would give him some clue. He only hoped not to embarrass himself during the event.

The senior officers on the ship all took seats around the captain's table, with the doctor on Captain Sawyer's right and First Lieutenant Buckly to his left. With Bush to Buckly's left, Horatio managed to seat himself furthest away from the captain, with Kennedy in-between him and the doctor. Horatio had no intention of hiding himself from the captain. He did, however, wish to keep his illness a secret as long as possible (with the exception of Mister Kennedy who had caught him sniffling and sneezing a few hours earlier) and the well-trained, astute doctor was sure to notice.

Captain Sawyer presented them with a fine feast indeed, worthy of the ship, its mission, and the legendary captain himself. Somehow his cook had managed to commandeer and prepare an entire roast pheasant for their dining pleasures. And that came with all manner of vegetables from soft, steamed potatoes to the crispest of carrots. There was a soup to start them out with, however, for which Hornblower was most appreciative. The way it warmed him almost completely made him think that this dinner would be good after all.

“Never seen the like of it outside the West Indies,” the captain said, and Hornblower, regretfully, had missed the beginning of that comment while lost in thought. “So that's what we're in for men, a true adventure, and who's to say we'll make it back? Ha-hah!” he almost shouted in triumph. He then set his fork down and looked right at Hornblower. “You look as though you have an opinion, Mister Hornblower.”

Hornblower bit his tongue. It wasn't the first time he had heard Captain Sawyer treat death in the line of duty as something to strive for instead of avoid. “Only that I am looking forward to the adventure, Sir.”

“Hrmm,” the captain seemed to know he was holding back, but did not press further, for which Hornblower was grateful. “Pass the potatoes.”

Hornblower cleared his throat as softly as possible and passed the plate containing the few remaining potatoes.

“Take your time, why don't you,” the captain muttered, taking the plate.

When even obeying the captain was cause for dismissal and criticism, Horatio hated to think of what defying him might be like.

It was then that Hornblower felt his nose tickle a little. He tried swiping the back of his knuckles against his nose, but, as before, the tickle could not be denied. Briefly, he considered excusing himself from the table. He worried about what the captain would say if he excused himself after that comment, though. It hadn't been an especially comforting 'Hrmm.' So Horatio took out a handkerchief and pressed the folds right against his nose to muffle the eventual sound.

The tickle grew, taking control of his breathing. It pricked annoyingly at his nose for a few moments before intensifying. “hhhhErshooshhhh!

Silence filled the captain's cabin. Hornblower pulled his eyes open as he rubbed his nose dry. “Please excuse me,” he said, sounding a bit more stuffed-up in the nose than he had thought possible this early into things.

Every man at the table stared at him, even Archie, who already knew he was ill.

“Lieutenant Hornblower?” the doctor began, leaning forward to look around Kennedy at Hornblower, though he couldn't get a good look. He didn't elaborate just yet, as if hoping Hornblower would voluntarily explain to him what the sneeze was about.

It was the captain who spoke up about it. “You dare to sneeze at my table?” His voice was harsh, low.

“I am sorry, Sir,” Hornblower said. “It was nothing.”

“It was most certainly something! Perhaps it's the pox or typhoid or influenza.” Captain Sawyer's face slowly and steadily grew red. “Or the plague! And you saw fit to bring it to my table!”

“I don't see how—”

Captain Sawyer slammed his fist onto the table so hard the dishes jumped in place. “Damn your eyes, Lieutenant! I'll see you get what you deserve for this.”

“I believe it is only—“

“And I don't believe you are a doctor, are you Mister Hornblower?”

“No, Sir. However, I—”

It was wood scraping against wood as the doctor's chair slid back. “I'll take a look at him,” the doctor offered. “I'm sure it cannot possibly be the plague. Though the Lieutenant should have been more careful.”

“Precisely. He should have,” Captain Sawyer seemed worried but confident with the doctor's abilities as to not say anything further on the subject.

Hornblower managed to hold back further sneezes until he was back out on deck and standing there with the doctor inspecting him.

“It is only a small cold,” Hornblower told him.

The doctor nodded. “You would do well not to sneeze in front of the captain again.”

“Yes,” said Hornblower. “I gathered as much.”

“Captain Sawyer has his reasons,” the man said defensively but pointedly. “Once you have served with him long enough, you will see how love and respect are rewarded and anything else…” He trailed away, and Horatio was glad the man had not gone into specifics.

Hornblower nodded. He had learned that much already anyway. “I will retire now, instead of returning to the dinner.”

“Very good. Wise choice. Have some rum and get some rest. I'll deal with the captain.”

Horatio Hornblower could not help but smile to himself as he walked back down belowdecks. If he were the sort of man to tell falsehoods and had known getting out of dinner with the captain was as easy as sneezing a few times, he might have faked some sneezes long ago.