Title: Gift for snowshie 2007

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Horatio Hornblower

Rating: PG-13/R

Pairing: Bush/Hornblower

Disclaimer: I don't own any of these characters or their world. Please don't sue me. I'm just having fun and not making any money.

Summary: Bush finds Hornblower sick, but that's not the only thing he has to worry about.

Notes: Happy incredibly belated holidays, snowshie!


William Bush was absolutely certain about three things in life. The first was that he was born to be an officer at sea. The second was that he had absolutely no talent for whist whatsoever. And the third was that Captain Horatio Hornblower's steward abhorred him.


Several times a week, he followed a routine that got his heart pounding, racing, and which earned him a cold stare. Bush would creep across the ship and into the Captain's tiny cabin when Doughty was still asleep—when most of the ship was still asleep. He would find Hornblower's cot in the darkness and join it without the sort of hesitation he had once had about such matters. He would kiss his captain awake and Hornblower would pull him close. Sometimes, after especially tiring days, they would fall back to sleep together, or Bush would pet Hornblower while the captain slept. But most times, when their urges overpowered the early morning hours, they would make love just there, in tight quarters, in as much silence as they could muster.


Everything was done quietly, for fear that anyone should hear even a word exchanged between them during such an improper moment. You could hardly have a ship of men out to see for months and years without this sort of thing going on, but no one spoke of it when it was just the seamen, unless of course the men were unlucky enough to be caught by an officer. If an officer was caught, however, it would mean his career if not his very life. And if it were the captain and his first lieutenant…


Bush would make himself presentable and leave the captain's quarters early, as though they had been discussing military strategy or reworking work shifts. But Doughty always stood just outside the door, as though he had been waiting all along, and he always avoided looking directly at Bush. Never once did he even make eye contact. But he wore an expression that made Bush feel the man must certainly want him dead. Deader than dead. Given a thousand lashes, hanged, drawn, and quartered perhaps. One or twice, Bush tried touching his hat in recognition and uttering a good morning, and Doughty would say absolutely nothing at all, insultingly.


So commonplace was this routine now that Bush hardly noticed the last bit any more. It was now just another certainty in life, like the wetness of the waves or the blueness of an officer's jacket. Certainty was reliable and comfortable, but Bush longed for adventure, for a fight. This restlessness of months patrolling in cold, unfriendly waters without a decent encounter did not sit well with him.


Bush regarded his pocket watch this night, an erection already straining in his trousers. It was late and early all at once, though perhaps not enough of the latter and too much of the former. Still, his choices amounted to either going this instant or taking himself in hand and muffling every bit into his pillow. So he tucked the watch away and made his way through the ship.


The ship was quiet, but never slept. There were all types of men and beast awake, but none said a word to him that was out of order. During the last leg of the journey, he managed to slip down the narrow passage and into Hornblower's quarters unnoticed, unobserved. He passed through the chartroom into the cabin. There he undressed swiftly, the cold air of the room beginning to do away with his urges like magic. Shivering, naked, it took only as long as a climb into bed, under the covers beside his captain, for his particular hardness to return.


“Bush.” The word of awknowledgement was uttered in something even softer than a whisper as Hornblower's body immediately reached out to the one now joining his bed. He put his arms around the older man and pressed their bodies together.


“Present and accounted for, sir,” Bush replied, reaching down under Hornblower's familiar, patched nightshirt. He tugged the shirt up just a little and flesh met flesh, cock met cock. Quiet gasps of pleasure came from Bush, but Hornblower merely twitched.


“So tired tonight,” whispered Hornblower sleepily in excuse. He sniffed and cleared his throat. Their eyes were closed. “Just…” the word faded into silence.


“Sir?” No response. “Horatio?”


“Have your way with me if you must, but do let me sleep, won't you?”


In all the years he had known the man, Bush had never known him to say anything less arousing. Even when the man was berating his skills or talking about some exceedingly boring function, he still held Bush's interest on that primal level where Bush found him to be the most attractive man ever conceived by God himself. But this?


Bush opened his eyes at once and pulled back in as much as he could while his captain still held him tightly. Even the friction of his cock against Hornblower's thigh did nothing now. “Sir, what is the matter?” This was no mere fatigue; it simply could not be. He cupped Hornblower's cheek in his palm and got a hint of the problem at once. “Oh you're burning up!” the exclamation was still a whisper but louder by far than any other, and he forced himself, in his panic, to reign himself back. “I must go get—”


“No.” Hornblower shook his head.


“But you're ill!”


“I caught a chill is all,” he murmured, forcing himself so close against Bush's chest that his face was half smushed against it. “Shameful.”


“Hardly,” Bush laughed silently, taking Hornblower's body with him as he shook. “It happens to the best of us. How bad is it?”


“Not especially. Fever and fatigue.” His voice sounded a hint lower than usual, but from the whisper it was tough to judge properly and Bush was inclined to trust his captain, having nothing else upon which to base his assessment. “Tired,” he admitted again.


“Go back to sleep then.” Bush wrapped his arms around Hornblower's body, squeezing tightly. He kissed the top of Hornblower's head, utterly unaware of the slightly-thinning hair, thinking only of the man in his arms who needed him with an overpowering helplessness that should never be ascribed to his captain. Too worried, Bush did not fall asleep.


Hornblower got just a bit of rest in. Racking coughs and a sore throat that could not be quenched with either water or whiskey struck not more than an hour later. Hornblower did not complain for himself, but he did apologize profusely for keeping Bush awake. Yet he clung to Bush and never once mentioned in his apologies the prospect of his first officer leaving to get sleep elsewhere. Bush would never go, in any case.


He eased the man's misery as best he could, forcing water though it hurt, patting Hornblower's back when harsh coughs escaped him, pressing his hand to the hot forehead for tens of minutes at a time. When Hornblower began to shiver, Bush laid him face-down on the bunk, lay on top of him, and pulled the blankets up over them both. He covered Hornblower's body with his warmth, being strong for them both. Too worried and too wound up now, Bush could not have slept had he wanted to.




“Where… in the blazes of Hell… did Doughty put them?” Bush muttered. He gave the search one more second before descending into the sort of swearing that was well beneath him but not above most sailors. Hornblower's trunk contained clothes and items of all sorts, but came up short when it came to handkerchiefs.


“They must be in there,” Hornblower said, pressed the back of his hand and part of the beige sleeve of his nightshirt to his nose. “There is no where else for him to have put them.” Indeed, the Captain's cabin was so small and sparse that they could be nowhere else.


Bush hated to keep diving around in the trunk. But by now the uniform was already askew and probably wrinkled and if it had already gone so far, by God he was going to actually find one. He began taking items out and stacking them on the floor. Shirts got wrinkled and items slid across the room when the ship rocked. He handled items he knew he had no business touching—personal letters, orders, keepsakes he thought surely were too sentimental for his captain to keep, though he did—but reminded himself that it would be worth it to find Hornblower's nose just a bit of proper cloth in which to blow. But he got to the bottom of the trunk and sighed with exasperation. “I am sorry, but I cannot find any.”  


Hornblower slumped back against his pillow. His eyes closed.  His breath caught. “eh-ehh-EHPtshiihhhh!” He sneezed monstrously into his hand. Bush winced in sympathy. Hornblower rubbed his nose once more against his sleeve cuff. “Dot a brobleb, Lieutedadt. Snifffff! Bush winced again. It was a problem, though. Before his eyes, Hornblower was slowly falling to pieces. With his fever and miseries he might not care now, but he soon would once he was expected on the deck. Bush knew there was nothing that could stop him from commanding, least of all a slight head cold. But he would not allow Hornblower to appear in such a state, rubbing a runny nose on his uniform. That was absolutely unacceptable.


With sudden resolve, Bush began putting on his clothes. His hunt through the trunk and resulting frustrations had made him warm, and putting his uniform on made his hot skin prickle uncomfortably. But he was not possessed with the same exhibitionist streak as his captain and refused to walk naked through the ship if he had any choice about the matter.


“Where are you off to?” Even after everything else this night, Bush's heart sank at the sound of the question. A well Hornblower would never need to ask. A well Hornblower would be two if not three steps ahead of him.


Bush leaned over and pressed his lips to Hornblower's forehead, which was warm but no longer burning. “I shall be right back.”


Bush owned several handkerchiefs; they were all indescribably useful, though he had not thought to bring one with him when dressing to meet his lover for a secret, late night lovemaking session. His handkerchiefs were a ways away now, though. They would do if they must, but they were few and they were not Horatio's. Bush rapped on the door to the small cabin the Captain's clerk and steward shared. “Doughty?” Bush called out, just as the door was flung open.


“Sir?” The tone was fierce, impatient, and rather unsettling. Though it was early, Doughty stood there fully-dressed with an egg and a small package of coffee in his hands. Bush noticed a lump in the hammock on the far side of the room that must have been the still-sleeping clerk.


It was so early yet that Bush had not counted on Doughty being awake. Now that he found him so, Bush found himself at a loss for words. Should he explain the reason for his visit? Should he claim Hornblower had sent him? Should he demand? Should he threaten? “Handkerchiefs?” was all he could think to say.


Doughty stared at him a moment, then quickly turned his back to the door. He reached into a box close at hand and withdrew a thick stack of handkerchiefs. “Just washed and dried the lot yesterday. I planned to bring them by today when I straightened up.”


Bush took the whole stack at once, grunted what should have been a thank you, and turned.


“Wait, sir!”


Bush made a face, frustrated, then calmed and turned. “Yes?” Hornblower's nose was running freely even now. Bush itched to get back immediately. He had no time for questions or insinuations.


“Will this breakfast be suitable for the captain, or has he no appetite for food?” He gestured to what he held in his hands.


Bush considered the question. “Best to bring it for the warmth alone. It would do him some good, I think.”


“Yes, sir. If he eats any.”


“Oh, I'll see that it gets in him.”


Strangely, Doughty's face brightened as he looked at Bush. His tone was lighter now and genuinely grateful. “Thank you, sir.”


Bush felt there was no time for niceties, so he nodded before heading back. He could not have returned sooner.


Hornblower sat on the edge of his cot, legs spread, hands on his thighs, sneezing powerfully and without stop. “huhTChuhhh! ehhhhShuhhh! eeeeYehChooo! Snfff! EhShooo!


Bush stood in the doorway, closing the door behind him. “Good gracious. God bless you.”


Hornblower looked up blearily, making eye contact for only one brief moment before snapping forward again. “huh-EhTchooo! Ehhhh-EHShihhh! Er-Ehtchoo! His sneezes had drowned out the majority of Bush's sentiment, but their presence was at least noted.


Bush hurried over. “Handkerchiefs found, sir,” he said. Hornblower held out his hand at once, and immediately made use of it to muffle a thunderous “eehhhh-EHCHUFfffffffff!” He took a deep breath and blew his nose quite softly. Then he sighed. “Oh-thadk-God,” he muttered, opening his eyes properly now.


Bush stood there, hovering. He felt embarrassed, as though he were imposing, extra, unneeded. He set the handkerchiefs down close to the bed and thought seriously about taking his leave. He was already dressed and could put proper distance between them for a while, then return to breakfast with his captain as though it had been planned all along.


But then Hornblower reached up and took Bush's hand, squeezing it appreciatively and then pulling him back to the bed. Bush took off his coat then sat down beside Hornblower. Hornblower immediately leaned into him for warmth and companionship.


The captain blew his nose a few more times, cleared his throat, and dabbed at his eyes. He ran a hand through his hair and put on a smile. “How do I look?”


Bush prepared himself to answer by taking a good look. The man's face was sallow, unhealthy-looking, and bags under his eyes advertised his night of fitful sleeping. Though the red flush in his cheeks was gone now, a slight red was now in Hornblower's nostrils from having rubbed at them so much during the past few minutes. Under that, however, he was still striking. He did not have the air of dignity and authority he usually had. This illness made him vulnerable, needy, but he was still quite something to look at. Especially sitting there in nothing but a nightshirt.


Bush found himself wishing for a few moments alone as he gazed thoughtfully at the man. He adjusted himself in his trousers and forced himself to look away. “I am hardly able to give an impartial evaluation at this moment, sir.”


“I suppose that's so,” Hornblower mused.


“But to speak to your fitness, I believe it might be wise to spend some addition time in bed.” Hornblower stiffened. “Only a day. A morning if that's all you can stand. But you're ill, sir.”


“Last time I checked, you were my officer, not my keeper.”


“I am your loyal officer,” Bush agreed. “I am also your friend and your lover. And unless I heard wrong before, you did ask for my opinion, sir.”


“There is the problem then. You heard wrong!” he snapped, his temper flaring suddenly. Bush knew Hornblower could control it if desired, but probably didn't feel well enough to do so. He never took it personally and loved his captain all the more through it. This was not the sort of battle he'd had in mind, but he would fight it if need be. For Horatio's sake.


hihhhh” Hornblower leaned away and bent over, curling in on himself. “huhShfff! hehChihfffff! Ehhh-ehhhhKShhhhh! He shuddered and blew his nose half a dozen times before it behaved itself.


A knock on the door made Hornblower jump a meter and latch on to Bush. He melted into Bush, hiding behind the man a bit, worried and shy.


Bush petted Hornblower reassuringly. “Mostly likely, it is Doughty,” he whispered.


Hornblower relaxed, but only slightly. He still hid against Bush.


“Sir? I have your breakfast.”


The two men exchanged looks, and reluctantly Hornblower released Bush so Bush could stand and Hornblower could sit more presentably. He put down the handkerchief, but then thought better of it and kept it in hand should he feel another urge to sneeze.


“Come in,” Hornblower croaked.


Doughty entered with the breakfast, as predicted. His gaze lingered on his captain only a moment longer than usual. “Eggs and coffee, sir, as you requested last night. I'll just set it down on your table then, shall I?” The table was just inside the adjoining chartroom, too far away and Hornblower's nose could not smell its gorgeousness. But even his love of coffee was not enough to help him move quickly to dress. “You do wish to dress first, sir?”


Hornblower hesitated. He looked to Bush, who gave Hornblower a doubtful look. When Hornblower wasn't looking, Bush smiled to himself. Doughty was cleverer than Bush had supposed him to be. Good thing, too.


Hornblower shivered and rose to his feet. He accepted his thick winter underclothing first.


“It looked as though it might snow today,” Bush said, having absolutely no idea what the weather conditions above deck might be at the moment.


But Doughty played along. “Yes, sir. But the captain will be warm enough in these, even with a layer of snow on the deck.” He had the captain's peacoat and scarf out at the ready.


Bush looked as doubtful as he could look, which was not difficult to do in the least for his worry that this game might not work. Hornblower tried to look as though he was not cold and shivery, even under several layers of clothes, but Bush knew better. Hornblower was as miserable as ever. He coughed and sniffled as Doughty put on his shoes for him. When Doughty handed over his hat, Hornblower handed it right back.


“Wait… first I need to…” He lifted his handkerchief to his face and held it there with both hands. “hehhh-EHChuhh! Ehhh-KTChhhhffffff! He leaned against the wall of his cabin for support, as though he were seasick all over again. Bush wanted nothing more than to go to him and hold him upright, but could not see how to do that now. Doughty might have the captain's well-being in mind, but he clearly had boundaries, especially when it came to Bush.  ehhhhhh-ehh-ehhHShhfffff! yihKShffffff!” He looked up, mouth hanging open yet. He looked like he either had to sneeze again or he was too tired to bother composing himself again.


“God bless you. Are you all right there, sir?” Doughty asked lightly, as though Hornblower might be perfectly all right after that display. It was no mere tickle in the nose, however.


Hornblower nodded and immediately buckled at the knees. Bush reached out this time, taking Hornblower and directing him back to bed. “Captain? Sir, look at me.”


Hornblower tried and turned his head immediately. “he-IHChoo!” Glad that Hornblower was at least aware enough not to sneeze in Bush's face, Bush handed him a fresh handkerchief and urged him to blow his nose again. Hornblower did so shyly, and then gave a sigh. He looked to Doughty. “I am beginning to think I might be a bit unwell. Does it show?”


Bush was absolutely certain he saw Doughty conceal amusement. But when the servant spoke, he did so with a firm, solid tone. “A bit, sir.”


“The men will notice,” Hornblower said to himself.


“Oh yes, sir,” replied Doughty. “But it is only a cold.”


“Happens to the best of us,” Bush said again, but Hornblower did not laugh. Bush knew that Hornblower was quite concerned about how he appeared to his men. He was shy and uncertain in his command, and overcompensated with his roughness at times. But Bush had always suspected that no one else noticed; they all saw him as he wanted them to see him. They would, however, notice him sneezing and shivering every five minutes. “The men will surely understand as we do.”


But Hornblower shook his head. “Perhaps I will stay in bed for a little while longer. Sniffff! He looked up at Bush. “I will require hourly reports on the ship while I am indisposed.”


“Of course, sir. On the half hour, if I have the crew.”


Hornblower cleared his throat in that way he did when he tried not to show his emotions. He nodded. “Then sniff, sniff, I think I will just stay in bed after all.” He closed his eyes, and Bush feared he might sneeze again. But it seemed he was merely sleepy this time. “Stay right here,” he murmured.


Doughty cocked his head. “If you say so, sir. You know best.” And, without another word, Doughty began undressing him again. Bush turned his back at first, pretending he did not care to see his captain nude. Then, not trusting himself, he strode into the chartroom to retrieve the breakfast. When he returned, he passed Doughty on the way.


Doughty nodded to him. “I will be right back. I am going to prepare a hot water bottle for the captain.”


That was an excellent idea; he was glad Doughty was there to think of it. Nodding back, “I will get some breakfast in his stomach before it cools if it kills me.” Doughty smiled at Bush again. Bush lowered his voice. If there was ever a time to discuss things, it was now. Now when they were bonded and concerned with Hornblower above all else. Now when there would be no interruptions, especially from the man in the bed within. “Doughty, I realize this situation—”


Doughty's eyes went wide and he stepped back. “No, sir. The only situation here I am concerned with is my captain's health.”


“Yes, of course, but I—”


“I found him ill this morning when I came to deliver his breakfast, and in my concern I fetched the first lieutenant straight away. That is all.”


The steward made to leave, but Bush reached out a hand to hold him back. Bush blinked, not so much confused but rather surprised. If the man hated him so much, he was not showing it now. And if this might be his only chance to address it, by God he would do just that. “In the mornings, when I am here—”


“I have not seen anything like that, sir.” He looked up at Bush. “And I could never in good conscience speak to anything I have not seen.” He glanced back at his captain; they could both hear him sneezing again. “I'll get that water bottle now, sir?”


Bush released him and nodded. Bush took the breakfast back into the cabin and sat down on the edge of the bed. Hornblower refused at first, but the coffee did its job of tempting him and getting him to sit up for a few forkfuls of fried egg. Hornblower ate reluctantly, but he did eat and was rewarded with a quick kiss.


William Bush was certain about three things in life. The first involved his career. The second involved a recreation he dreaded. And the third involved the man whose warm forehead he now pressed his lips to.