Title: Nosegay

Fandom: Horatio Hornblower

Pairing: none
Rating: G

Summary: Horatio discovers an allergy the hard way.

Notes: Written for day 3 of my 23 Ficlets project to celebrate my 23rd anniversary in the community




The novelty of having a few coins to spend in his pocket as he walks down the busy city street will never get old to Horatio. He always had a plan, certainly, but not knowing for certain where a meal was coming from or being late on a room rental took an emotional toll. Even now, with a little money to spare, he was hesitant to actually spend it. And he had absolutely no intention of spending it on something frivolous and fleeting. So when the seller at a flower stand emerged from behind her wares and began thrusting bright blossoms at him and at Lieutenant Bush beside him, Horatio was not well pleased.


“Come now, fancy gents like you’ve got to have ladies at home who would appreciate a bouquet,” she insisted, waggling the flowers back in forth in front of their faces, as if setting them in motion would somehow make them more appealing.


Horatio was ready to object that, no, they hadn’t and, no, they weren’t fancy. But a strange itch started up in his nose. As discretely as possible, he raised a hand and rubbed at his nose, hoping to quash the sensation. It did not work.


“You are mistaken,” Bush tried to explain to her. “We are not—”


“Nosegays then!” she says, switching strategies easily like the flip of a coin. She drops her flowers onto a table, overflowing with so many they instantly blend in. Then she lunges forward, pinning a little bundle of flowers onto Horatio’s lapel. In her haste to make a sale, she pins it higher than it ought to be, practically on his shoulder. “See, look how smart you look, Sir!” Horatio thinks he would look much smarter with it affixed properly. Horatio thinks he would be smarter if he walked away now.


But the itch keeps him from answering. He rubs the side of his nose. Then the bridge of it. Then he drags the side of his hand unceremoniously beneath his nostrils with extra pressure. Nothing helps. The itch is deep inside and growing stronger.


“I think you favor blue,” she says, swapping the nosegay for another which is primarily a mix of blue and purple flowers. “There now! That’s your color all right.”


The itch fills his nose so much he pinches it tight, trying to calm it. His attempt results in failure and the realization of two concepts equally pertinent but slightly at odds with one another. The first is that he is most definitely about to sneeze, and the second is that he has no handkerchief on his person. His last two handkerchiefs met an untimely end, soaked in blood and covering his third lieutenant’s bullet wound during a boarding. The man had gone pale from blood loss but had not died. He had lost the leg, in the end, but he lived to tell the tale, and that was worth sacrificing two fine handkerchiefs any day. He had meant to replace them, of course, but it had entirely slipped his mind.


Until this moment. “Ex… excuse ih!” Involuntarily, his breath hitched and his eyes closed and his nostrils flared. He raised a fist to his nose and mouth, which was the best he could think to do. “ihh-HITCHtttt!” For a split second after the sneeze, he felt much better, something like relief flooding through him. But then the itch returned tenfold, and he realized with horror that he was not going to be able to stop sneezing now that he’d started. “ihhShhhh! Hih! Hih-chihhh! Hetchhh! Hihhhshhh! H’tchhhh! Hehshhh! Hetchhhh!


He felt Bush’s hand, heavy on his shoulder. He heard the man’s concerned, nearly panicked voice ask if Horatio was all right. But Horatio could not reply for sneezing. He could not speak, could not shake his head, could not give any indication. “hekktt! Hehhtchhhh! Hih hih hihptshhh!” Though, perhaps this was enough of an answer in and of itself, because Bush’s hand slipped comfortingly to the middle of his back and Bush nudged Horatio’s fist with a handkerchief of his own.


Accepting it gratefully, Horatio buried his nose in the folds. “h’tchmph! Hehttcmphhh! Ktchmmm! Herhh hshhmmph!


He was barely aware of the nosegay being taken off his jacket and returned. He was vaguely aware of being ushered forward down the street. It could be a French officer taking him by the arm and marching him to the guillotine just now for all he knew, as he stumbled along blindly, automatically. “hehh! Hehtchmmphhh! H’chummm! Hih ihh hihh hihhshmmmm!


“That’s it,” Bush’s voice was soft and steady in his ear. “Sneeze it out, Sir. It’ll pass.”


Horatio was not convinced of this. “HIHTchmm! Hihshphhh! Hihh hihChhmphhh! Ihhshhhh” For all he knew, he would need to resign his commission on account of never being able to stop sneezing.  What an embarrassment that would be.


hehhh hehh-IHHShhmmm!” He felt a breeze touch his cheek and neck and allowed himself just a moment to lift his head and see where he was. He stood with Bush near the docks. He could just make out his ship, and the sight of it filled him with a bit of reassurance. But it was the breeze from the ocean that really seemed to be doing him some good, as the sneezes were not quite as frequent now. “hihh-IHShmmphh!


In fact, the itch in his nose seemed gone. Oh, it was still a bit ticklish and full of runs, and he rubbed at it with the handkerchief. But the violent urge to sneeze was most certainly easing.


“Better?” Bush asked, seeming to noticing the same thing about him.


Horatio nodded and snuffled and blew his nose into the handkerchief. He felt so much better once he’d done that.


That is, he did until he heard Bush chuckle. With watery eyes, Horatio looked up at him, feeling a bit hurt on top of vulnerable and embarrassed. “Don’t make like sniff! of this now.”


“Oh no,” Bush shook his head and attempted to compose himself. He stopped laughing, but he could not fight the grin on his face. “It’s only that it seems only fitting that being on land makes the distinguished Captain Horatio Hornblower sneeze.”


“It isn’t land,” Horatio protested. “Just a few sniff! particular flowers.” Even so, he saw the humor in it as well. It seemed far less horrible now that he was on the other side of the sneezing fit. He wiped at his eyes and then at his nose again. “Come. Let’s find a public house.”


“Good idea,” Bush agreed. Though he clutched Horatio’s elbow as soon as the man took a step back toward the street. “Ah, but let’s go the other way.”


“Quite right,” Horatio agreed. He was turned around and disoriented, but he trusted Bush to lead him in the right direction now. “My thanks to you,” he said, about the guidance and the handkerchief both.