Title: N is for Noseblower
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Pairing: None, Gen
Notes: Sort of a sequel to O is for Overboard, so it’s in reverse alphabetical order. Oops.
“Yes…” The Indy’s doctor was about twice as old as her captain, white hair protruding from head, nose, ears, and even a mole on his cheek. His eyes, fixed in a permanent squint, studied Hornblower’s wounded shoulder. “Yes, that’s coming along nicely.”
“Dnicely?” Incredulous did not begin to describe his emotions. “Sir, I cad barely bmove it.” His other arm was tired of having to compensate. But that was mostly because all of him was tired. It had taken Archie’s help to even drag him up from the midshipmen’s berth as doing it alone would have depended on an undignified amount of crawling on all fours. Or, at least, threes.
“Nerve damage from the salt water. It shall heal. You won’t even notice it after a while.”
Horatio doubted that very much, but he knew better than to argue. Besides, his voice wouldn’t hold up through even half an argument. “Add bmy… other coditiod?”
He heard a throat being cleared and turned in the direction of the doorway to see Captain Pellew himself. Horatio struggled to get to his feet, coughing and snuffling and wincing.
“Rest, man.” The captain gestured for his officer to remain lounging on the table. “Unable to kick this cold, Midshipman Hornblower?”
Horatio nodded. “Yes. Sorry, Sir.” He chose his words carefully, avoiding sounds that made him sound stuffed-up in the nose. His nose was tickly, besides, but he did not dare sneeze now.
“What can’t be helped must be endured. I expect you back when you are able to serve and not a moment before.” He studied Horatio’s expression and smiled with amusement. “Though I’d wager that not serving is akin to torture for you.”
Flushed in the cheeks, Horatio Hornblower smiled at his captain, a wiser man than even Horatio had guessed.
“Feel better.” On his way out, he paused in the doorway and looked to his side. “And I expect you’re seeing to him while he’s in this state, Mister Kennedy?”
Horatio didn’t hear the answer, as it was too soft, but Pellew nodded to him and left just as Archie headed back in. Archie had a handkerchief in hand. Horatio wanted to reach for it at once—with his good arm, of course—but self-restraint was more important than preparing for an oncoming sneeze. He let Archie help him up and get him back.
On the way to the midshipmen’s berth, Horatio directed a crewman up to the deck to mop up, rather than have the man see him cough from too much congestion. He slipped past a practice drill at the canons, nose pressed to his good shoulder to keep him from sneezing and ruining the men’s time. And he passed and broke up a small card game where the men were gambling wages they had not yet even earned.
It wasn’t until he was swinging in his hammock that he was able to relax sufficiently. And then he reached, but he reached for Archie’s hand. Archie moved close, up against the hammock, a hand on Horatio’s good arm to hold him steady and another cupping the hanky to Horatio’s nose. It was a position they assumed whenever Archie was off duty, like now.
Horatio felt his breath catch. Tiny, hitching little breaths were loud enough to signal Archie. “heh-eh-eh-eh-ehhhhhh…” The last one was shaky. Then on struck the sneeze. “ehhHITChhhhhhhh!” Wet and messy meant terribly embarrassing, but that was gloriously hidden behind the handkerchief. “Egscuse be.”
Each sneeze made Horatio close his eyes, and he certainly kept them closed as he took a deep breath and blew his nose into the hanky. He couldn’t sneeze in front of the captain, but he could sneeze in front of Archie Kennedy. He could also blow his nose in front of Archie. And he could blow his nose while Archie held the handkerchief for him. But he absolutely could not look the man in the eyes while doing it.
It felt damn good, though, blowing his tickly nose into something nice and warm and dry. So few things on this ship were ever dry. And though his blow was a, embarrassingly wet, gurgling sound muffled by the cloth, blowing did keep his nose from running and tickling so very badly.
“So the doctor says your arm is healing?”
Horatio nodded a little, careful not to dislodge his friend’s hands.
“Do you believe the doctor?”
Horatio shook his head. First he’d been stabbed in battle. Then he’d nearly died saving Archie from drowning. And finally he’d come down with a miserable cold in his nose. The doctor seemed optimistic and entirely blind to the extent of that misery. Horatio knew it wasn’t the gangrene setting in; the wound looked clean, healthy. But Archie felt guilty. And Archie had held up hankies for him when Horatio’s nose had dripped. It was a strange but reassuring arrangement.
“ehh… heh-ehh… oh-ehh good God…”
“Horatio!” Archie exclaimed, surprised.
“S-sorry, Archie. I’ve-ehhh-got… ehhhh… big… ehhihshooo! IHKShhhhhh!” The hammock rocked. Horatio shivered, sniffled, took a deep breath right down to his toes, and blew his nose again.
The hanky was wet; his nose was wet. Without thinking about it, Horatio lifted his arm to signal that he needed the handkerchief folded over to a dry portion, and he winced terribly as pain shot through his shoulder, down his arm.
“Lie still, Horatio. You’ve done enough. The captain’s right. You need your rest.”
Horatio’s toes curled, muscles tensed. He wanted to get up and work. He wanted to do something to rid himself of this misery. But there was nothing he could do. Nothing but lie here and let himself heal as Archie tended to him. It was infuriating.
Archie moved his hand from Horatio’s arm to his forehead. Horatio tilted his head into the touch and relaxed again.“All right,” he said finally, opening his eyes. “But I shall rebay you for every secod whed you fall ill …”
Archie grinned. “You just tell me when you need to sneeze and I’ll get the handkerchief in place. Then perhaps there will not be a ‘when I fall ill.’”
Horatio knew that was idiotic to say, foolish to wish for. If Archie were meant to fall ill, he would. But as Archie read his mind and readjusted the hanky, then nodded to Horatio to blow his nose, it was not too much to hope for. He took another deep breath and blew his nose, the soft gurgling sound not quite so embarrassing any more.