Title: Snowshie's Request 2007
Fandom: Horatio Hornblower
Disclaimer: Sadly, Hornblower is not mine. Sad but true. I don't make a dime off this. It's just for fun.
Summary: Horatio catches cold and suffers in private… sort of.
Notes: Written for snowshie. The bodily discomforts line is paraphrased from the second book; I've been dying to use it in a fic.
Lieutenant Bush crossed the deck, inspecting the rigging. The ropes had held up well during the storm, but a few of the younger midshipmen did not know their knots well yet, so double-checking now and again did not hurt. This time, everything looked shipshape. In fact, Bush felt a wave of perfection wash over him. Not long ago, he had been scraping coins together to make ends meet and longing for the sea. Now he was First Lieutenant on a fine ship under a fine captain. Soon he would join battles that would make his heart race and blood surge. Thank God for that hot-head, Boney.
He mounted the stairs up to the helm, where Captain Hornblower stood with stoic vigilance despite a shiver that seemed to have hold of him. There was a fierce, freezing wind coming up off the water, usual before a storm but not after. Bush could see how tightly he gripped the wheel, to keep his hands from trembling, and how hard he clenched his jaw to keep it from chattering. Bush pretended to ignore this and tipped his hat to his captain in greeting.
They stood for a few minutes in companionable silence, then Horatio took a step back. “Take the helm, Lieutenant. Hold this course for two hours then head West Nor'west.”
“Aye-aye, Sir.” Bush's hands brushed over Horatio's as they switched positions, and Bush was stunned to find those long fingers were ice cold. Bush noticed Horatio looked pale as well, almost sallow.
“I'll be down in my cabin,” said Hornblower, who promptly disappeared belowdecks before Bush could transition from officer to friend and make a comment.
Bush held the course, noting every detail the captain might need to know about. When they veered WNW, Bush was surprised to still see no sign of Hornblower. Though Bush knew their destination and orders, he could use a glance at the nautical maps or another direction from the captain. It was not like the captain to be gone so long. Bush's concern was palpable. He relinquished control to the Second Lieutenant and went searching.
Horatio was not a difficult man to find. Even if he were not the captain, he seemed to stand out in any group; perhaps that was simply because he had served so long with Horatio and the man's familiar countenance was a comfort to him, whatever the situation. As Bush stood in the open doorway to the captain's cabin, however, he was crestfallen to see that countenance- as well as its owner- were in considerable distress.
Captain Horatio Hornblower sat on the edge of his bed, stripped of all indications of rank, though jacket and hat were the only parts of his uniform that were not present. He was hunched over, with his lower arms resting against his upper legs. One hand clutched a crumpled white handkerchief and the other rubbed a thigh in anticipation. His face fell and nostrils flared. “hh-hhh-H'Tchehhhh!” Only after the sneeze did he raise the handkerchief, rubbing and massaging his nose through the folds with a series of tiny sniffs.
During the show, Bush quickly considered his options. He might try ducking away to leave Horatio in peace, but surely he would be seen. He could clear his throat and announce his presence, startling the man half to death. Or… Bush walked forward and pretended he had only just arrived after a quick walk. “Sir, there is another storm far off the port side, approaching quickly.”
Horatio looked up at Bush, making eye contact for only a second before snapping back down with another sneeze, this one smothered into his handkerchief. “hepptchffffff!” He straightened up as best he could and wiped his handkerchief at his nose. Repeatedly. It seemed to be running or tickling, or perhaps both. “Excuse me, Lieutenant Bush,” Hornblower said, weakly. “I'm afraid I've come down with a monstrous cold.”
“Oh.” Bush nodded, having spotted as much already. “Hard luck.”
Horatio nodded fervently in agreement, still giving his nose rub after rub. “A storm, you say?”
“Yes, Sir. We stand a good chance of missing it altogether if we alter our course to the east and increase our speed a few knots. However, we should be able to weather it without losing much time.”
After taking a moment to think it over, Hornblower rose to his feet. He was wholly unable to suppress a groan at this, and he hugged his arms against his chest as he walked over to the map table. He regarded the charts, then nodded. “We can afford to change course, if you are certain we can avoid it.” He traced a finger along the revised route. “We should be rounding the cape in… in two… oh bloody hell!” He turned, holding the handkerchief up in front of his face, roughly at the level of his chin. “hhh-huhhh-Chihhh! IhhhShihhh! Ehh-hehShihh!” The sneezes threw him forward, and he groped for something other than the nautical charts with which to steady himself. “huhKehshhhh!” Bush stepped over and offered his arm. Horatio gripped it tightly. “hehhChuhh! hehhShehh! Ehh-hehh-hhhhh'kshhhhhh!” Horatio took a great, heaving breath, then blew his nose into his handkerchief.
“God bless,” Bush said, taking tiny steps as he led Horatio back to bed. Hornblower's stature relaxed significantly the moment he sat back down, and he gave a little sigh. “You need to eat,” Bush said, knowing that, apart from his cleverness, Horatio had always had difficulty taking care of himself. “I'll leave word with Styles to bring you some biscuit s and hot tea. Would that do?”
He began by nodding. “Yes—” Then he quickly caught himself. “I mean, no. I…” His voice died away and Bush saw the tip of his tongue dart out to moisten his lips.
Hornblower had always been the model officer, and he was an even better captain. In the Royal Navy, bodily discomfort was something to be borne without complaint, and a captain could never show one shred of weakness to his men, cook included. “I will be heading towards the galley, Sir. I could take care of the ship,” and then take care of you, he finished to himself. “I could bring the food and drink on my way back. I cannot recall my last meal, either.” He smiled a bit sheepishly. Time had a way of getting away from him in the course of duty, as well.
Horatio smiled back. He busied himself with switching out the handkerchief he'd been using for a fresh, thick pocket square. “Very well. But take care not to catch this affliction. I couldn't… the ship couldn't do without its First Lieutenant. Hehhh… hahhh-AShehhh! EhhChehhh!”
“Aye-aye, Sir. And, again, God bless you.” Bush removed himself from the cabin, shutting the door as he did so. He paused outside, looking in through the window as Hornblower folded in half with more sneezes, dark hair falling in his face, body shaking. He thought of going back in to suggest Horatio wrap up and keep warm in the meantime, however he had already breached the line between position and friendship, and going further than friendship was unacceptable considering the circumstances. Besides, Horatio Hornblower was one of the most brilliant officers in His Majesty's service. Sooner or later, the man would make the mental leap to the blanket he was sitting on.