Title: O is for Overboard
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Pairing: None, Gen
For what it was worth, they had won the battle. The Indefatigable’s capable crew overtook the French frigate, despite its twenty-six guns. One of the Indy’s cannonballs had torn right through one of the masts, and the cracking of it as the weight of the sail pulled it down was not a sound any man would soon forget. From that point on, the battle was inevitable. They came close enough to board and engage in hand to hand. Even badly crippled, the French crew wouldn’t go down without a fight.
Horatio had been part of the boarding party this time, storming on with gun in one hand and sword in the other, eager to do his duty for king and country. He hadn’t expected the sharp pain of a bayonet stabbing his shoulder. He hadn’t expected the man who charged him and socked him in the stomach. He hadn’t expected to find himself in the ocean, trying not to swallow seawater.
But the moment he saw Archie Kennedy hit in the head and thrown over the side by some damn frog twice his size, Horatio knew he had no choice but to go after him. He slid his sword into his belt and dove overboard. He lost his gun to the ocean floor.
Momentum threw him down, plunging him five, ten, fifteen feet below the surface. He reached out, desperately searching. His only hope was to swim down as fast as he could to counter Archie falling as dead weight. For the longest time, all he felt was water. Then he practically ran into Archie’s body. At least, he hoped it was Archie. It was hard to tell underwater, but at least the jacket was the right color. Even though he spent the entire swim back up wondering if Archie had been wearing a jacket.
Horatio swam hard. His uniform and peacoat, so good at keeping him warm while on deck, now weighed him down. His boots felt useless and heavy, but he kicked fiercely with them. His arm, especially his shoulder, stung with pain, but he kept it wrapped around Archie. His other arm waved as he tried to propel himself upward. He’d sunk so quickly that fighting his way back up slowly seemed to take ages.
His chest hurt terribly and he longed to take a breath. But he wouldn’t allow himself to do it. He’d pass out before he took a breath and let water into his lungs. He just hoped he’d break through before that happened. Opening his eyes against the stinging seawater, Horatio saw light. It was a hazy blue-gray-yellow glow above him. And getting closer. Thank God.
He kicked harder, paddled faster. His lungs felt as if they would explode. But the water grew warmer and he threw his head back. The second his face broke through to the surface, he took a huge gasp. The next second, he pulled Archie up. The man was still unconscious, naturally, but there was nothing Horatio could do about it yet.
He used his free arm to try to tread water, pushing water down to keep his head and Archie’s above. The Indy was so close the ship sent waves that struck him. Horatio yelled, desperate for someone to rescue the rescuer. A few more seconds and Archie wouldn’t need rescuing.
He wasn’t sure who had seen him, but he knew it was Mathews who lowered the ladder. Horatio slung Archie over his shoulder and went up the ladder slowly, one step at a time, before the ladder was pulled up for him, though he didn’t know by whom. He knew it was Styles who took Archie from him so Horatio could climb over the edge and flop onto the deck. Slamming Archie’s body against the hard, wet deck had done what needed to be done. Archie coughed up water. Instinctively, Archie rolled onto his side, curling up. He opened his eyes and focused on Horatio. His body shook too much with coughs to let him say anything, but, with water dripping down his face, Horatio smiled back.
“Here’s another handkerchief, Horatio.”
Prying his eyes open, Horatio’s hand darted out from beneath the two blankets, grabbing the hanky and bringing it to his nose like a magnet. “Thadk you. ih-h’fpshhh! Sniff! Sniff! Excuse be.”
“Not at all.” Archie waved a hand. And, from out of nowhere, produced another blanket.
Horatio snuffled into the hanky. “Wherever did you get that?”
“I have my ways.”
Archie Kennedy was no more devious than a cuddly young kitten. Narrowing his eyes. “Archie…” He sounded stern, but his tone was playful and grateful. Archie draped it over him and he he sort of snuggled into it, cheek against the thick wool. It wasn’t as soft as he might have liked, but the extra blanket calmed his chills. It didn’t do much for the tickle in his nose, however. “ih… hih… hih-ih-hiptshhh!” He wanted to excuse himself right away, but another sneeze was imminent. “h’chiifffff! Uhh… bardod be.”
“Quite all right, Horatio. You have a ghastly head cold. Hardly surprising that you need to sneeze a little.”
“If odly it were a little!” Horatio laughed. Then he coughed, rocking in his hammock.
Archie wiped his brow for him, adjusted the blankets. “What can I get you? There must be something to make you feel better. Only you sound so very miserable.”
This was a dreadful cold. But this would pass, as colds always did. It was enough to know that, and to be able to talk to a friend he had, for a few moments, thought lost. But now Archie felt in his debt, guilty, and would not leave his side. “Dot so biserable dow.” He sniffed and smiled reassuringly at Archie. “At least I’b… dry… hih-EHSChhhhhh!”
Archie took a step back, wincing slightly but chuckling. “Speak for yourself.”