Spoilers: Hmm. Mutiny, Retribution, Loyalty
Summary: Come unto these yellow sands/ and then take hands.
A/N: I can fly higher than a (lesbian) seagull, and lyra_sena is the wind beneath my wings. Also, this is my first HH fic and also *also* the title/summary come from The Tempest by Senor Shakespeare.
Hands hook underneath Horatio’s armpits, and drag him through the sand. He is too weak to move, and his clothes are heavy with water against his skin. His feet dig trenches across the beach, shallow enough that the next wave fills them, erases them – he watches the green water and the brown sand and the round, roiling purple sky as he’s pulled.
His tongue is swollen, his eyes sting with salt, and his lips are so dry they almost crack when he croaks out, “What --?”
“Shh,” says a light, crisp, familiar voice and Horatio’s head whips around. Over his shoulder, Archie Kennedy smiles.
Horatio blinks, and blinks again, his mind still slow from the tossing of the waves, the crack of the cannon beside him, but every time his eyes open, it is still Archie pulling him back from the shore. Pulling him safely to land, and Horatio reaches a weak hand up toward Archie, opens his mouth to ask how, but Archie stops him with a headshake.
“We have time for that later,” Archie says, grunting a little as he lifts Horatio off the ground. Horatio watches his profile as he looks off toward the sea. “Storm’s coming in, quickly now.”
Archie turns back, and his face is the same – the same as it ever was. Horatio can’t stop blinking, can’t stop gasping in air and confusion, and Archie puts a hand on his shoulder.
Horatio leans against Archie, and they make their way off the beach, one slow step after another, but each is easier than the last. By the time they reach the treeline, Horatio walks on his own – Archie a warm presence by his side, a hand at his shoulder, guiding him.
Above, the trees bend toward the deep, dark clouds, and the wind catches a slight rain, pushes it toward the island. When it falls, it washes the brine off Horatio’s skin, and Archie rests beneath the thick, vivid leaves of an overhanging tree – comfortable, and dry.
“It will be all right, Horatio,” Archie promises from where he sits, as the water whispers down, sweet and cool against Horatio’s tongue. “It isn’t so bad here.”
The cabin is small, warm, well appointed. It smells spicy, clean, like Archie always did before he – like Archie always did. Like Archie does, when he reaches over Horatio, and grabs a blanket off a shelf over the stove.
“Here,” he says, wrapping it around Horatio’s soaked shoulders. “You look cold.”
“Thank you,” Horatio murmurs, watching the quick, neat movements of Archie’s hand as he heats up water for tea, the pull of the fabric over his back as he moves.
The chair Horatio sits in is solid, well made, as is the table before him, and as he runs his fingers over the wood he thinks that it would have taken a lot of time, a lot of patience to make.
Archie must have had both.
“How?” Horatio asks Archie, and beneath the gray linen, Archie’s shoulders tense into a hard line. “I watched you die in Kingston.”
“It was rather dramatic, wasn’t it?” Archie says, lightly, looking over his shoulder with a half smile, and his eyes crinkle in the corners. He looks soft, and real, and Horatio finds himself smiling back as he pulls the rough wool tighter around his shoulders.
“It left an impression, yes,” Horatio agrees with giddy good humor, and Archie laughs, leaning down to light a candle. He carries it across the cabin cautiously, and whiskers of light flicker as Archie gently sets it down before Horatio.
He can smell the heat from it, and see the tiny flame reflected against the blue of Archie’s eyes. “But – how?” Horatio asks again. “I must know.”
“I don’t know myself,” Archie tells him, but his eyes skitter away, out the window, seeking the water. “There is nothing I can tell you, Horatio. I am sorry.”
Horatio nods, slowly, measuring. He watches the serious lines of Archie’s face, hard even as the shadow plays over them, moving as the flame does with the whim of the wind.
“It is a matter of obligation, then, to those who saved you,” Horatio finally observes, and Archie inclines his head in silent agreement.
Their eyes meet and hold, and Horatio feels the smile that breaks across his face, and watches the answering one that lights upon Archie’s. He reaches across the table, and touches Archie’s wrist, where the frayed cuff of his shirt meets his warm skin.
“Then I shall say nothing of it, but that I am – I am glad to see you,” he says.
The wind blows strong through the window, and the flame twists away. Archie’s face is mainly in shadow, but his eyes are so very bright. “And I you, my friend,” he replies.
They share the narrow bed on the east side of the cabin. Horatio curls his body into it, his back flush against Archie’s and his forehead brushing the cool wall. The storm passes in the night, and he sleeps in fits and starts. His body feels strange, and when he closes his eyes, he sees the Hotspur, and the waves. He sees the orange flare of cannon fire, feels the deck rock beneath his feet, feels himself thrown from the ship, and the burn of his lungs as the water crashes over him.
Beside him, Archie is still and quiet until dawn, when he wakes. In the grey light, Horatio watches Archie’s eyes as they drift open, slowly, and he thinks, “This could be the Renown, or the Indy,” because every line of Archie’s face is just the way it should be. Just the way Horatio remembers it.
Horatio follows Archie inland, through a path he must have cut himself. The plants grow vivid and green all around, a dense, living wall on either side of them as they walk. Overhead, the sky is open and empty and the wind comes from the south, smelling of orange blossoms. Sun catches the red in Archie’s hair, and the fine blond hairs scattered across his forearms.
“So you’ll have become a captain, then,” Archie muses, with a slight, pleasant smile as he turns his face up toward the sun. “A famous one at that, I’d wager.”
Horatio shrugs, discomfited, murmurs, “Not so famous.”
“Always so modest,” Archie teases, pausing to cut back a branch that bars their way, and toss it into the underbrush. A handful of parrots fly upward, startled by the sound and the shaking of the tree.
They look like streaks of red across the sky. Horatio tracks them with his eyes, until Archie’s voice pulls him back. “What’s the name of your ship, then?”
“Hotspur,” Horatio tells him, following as Archie walks on. “She’s a sloop, hardly a patch on the Renown, but she can move fast through the water if well handled.”
“And your first leftenant? Is he a good man?” Archie asks, as they come into a clearing with a small, cool looking stream running through it.
“One of the best,” Horatio replies steadfastly. “Will Bush.”
Archie nods, sits on a dark rock by the water, and Horatio sits beside him, making his hands a cup to drink from. Archie splashes water over his sun-dark face and neck.
Drops land on Horatio, as well. The water is so cold he suppresses a shiver.
“We’ll find fruit here, for dinner. Limes, mainly, and perhaps an orange or two, but they’ll taste quite well with a handful of crabs,” Archie murmurs, lying back on the rock, his shirt unbuttoned halfway down his chest.
Horatio can see the beads of sweat on the smooth skin there, and finds himself thirsty again, feels the sweat rolling down his own skin all the more keenly. He leans forward, drinks more, wets his hair back, splashes his face, and finds Archie watching him with a quizzical eyebrow raised.
“It’s hot,” he says, and Archie smiles, lies back again.
“It is that,” he agrees. Horatio lies beside him, and closes his eyes as well, and he feels the sun working upon his skin like fingertips. They lie quiet for a time, listening only to the rustling of the trees and the calls of birds, the gurgle of water over stone.
Horatio falls into something much like sleep, rousing only when he feels Archie’s touch upon his wedding ring.
“Married, Mr. Hornblower?” he asks, and Horatio opens his eyes to find Archie staring down at the gold band on his ring finger with surprise.
“Er, yes,” he responds, propping himself up on his elbows. It still looks strange to him, the ring too brashly gold against his pale skin, completely alien. “She’s – she’s – her name is Maria. She’s very kind.”
“Of course she is,” Archie says agreeably, “you wouldn’t have married her, else.”
Horatio says nothing, just frowns at his hand, until Archie stretches beside him and stands. “It’s getting toward noon,” he says, squinting up at the sun. “Too hot to be out for much longer.”
“Yes,” Horatio says, watching Archie’s face in the searing, dazzling light, “it is.”
They prop the door to the cabin open, and the breeze circulates through, lifting Horatio’s shirt off his back, freshening his skin with swells of good air as he peels oranges, and slices limes.
Across from him, Archie wrestles with a bag full of crabs, dropping them one by one into the boiling water on the hearth. Their dark claws snap and close, and scrabble over the black pot as they try to escape. Archie pushes them down again and again with a stick.
“Don’t you know when you’ve been beaten?” he asks, indignantly, and Horatio laughs.
“He could hardly give up without a struggle.”
“I’ll tell you something about this place, Horatio,” Archie mutters as he reaches gingerly into the sack to fish out another crab, “is that everything here holds *dearly* to its life.”
Horatio cocks his head to the side, watching the strange softening that flits over Archie’s face, and asks, “Do you know the name of this island, then?”
Archie’s expression wipes clean, and his eyes shoot back over to the pot. “No, I’ve no idea.”
“How long have you been here?” Horatio asks, and Archie shrugs, throws another crab into the water, jumping back from the splash.
“It feels like forever,” he says simply, and the breeze blows harder through the house, pushing Archie’s hair in front of his eyes. Horatio can’t see his face.
“And you’ve never seen anyone here?” he presses.
Archie shakes his head. “Not until you.”
“Then we must be well off the trade route,” Horatio muses, look back down at the lime wedges he’s slicing, lined up in a straight row. He cuts down on a whole one, slices it in two, and nicks his finger, hisses an indrawn breath.
“Are you all right?” Archie asks, eyes widening with concern.
Horatio sucks the finger into his mouth, waves a hand reassuringly, and Archie watches him. The cabin is still, and all Horatio can hear is the sizzle and click of the crabs boiling in the pot.
Horatio dreams of blood slick against the well washed deck of the Hotspur. He dreams of kicking hard against the current that pushes him further and further from his ship, harder and harder. He reaches toward the surface, and the world goes grey around the edges.
He wakes to Archie, shaking his shoulder. “Horatio, Horatio,” he says over and over. “Horatio, sshhh, you’re all right now. You’re all right now.”
It’s dark, and Horatio is cold. He shakes, all over, and his lungs sting. He can taste salt in his mouth.
Archie’s hands smooth over his back again and again. They push his hair out of his eyes. They pull him close, and Archie is hot against him. Horatio buries his face in Archie’s shoulder, and sucks in breath until he’s dizzy.
“You’re all right now,” Archie whispers, his breath warm against Horatio’s ear. “You’re here.”
Horatio’s eyes drift shut, and he presses closer to Archie, and his lips brush the line of Archie’s collarbone. He tastes like lime Horatio thinks, as he falls back into sleep.
“We’ll have to look at the stars tonight,” Horatio says as they walk along the beach, picking up pieces of driftwood for fire. “If we can manage to pinpoint where we are, then perhaps we might manage a plan to get back.”
Archie is silent, staring out at the water, which lies perfectly flat all along the horizon. At the shore, the waves fall gently to meet the sand, and wash back out with a shush, a hush. His face looks open, calm, and there is a twist to the corner of his lips that could be a smile if teased out.
He looks beautiful, Horatio thinks, and is surprised by the thought. But then Archie does smile, and Horatio’s surprise washes back out to sea with the tide.
“If you wish,” he quietly responds, and his hand brushes Horatio’s as they walk.
They bring blankets and rum with them. It burns pleasantly down Horatio’s throat, and beside him Archie flushes with drink. He grins over at Horatio, jostles their shoulders together, and murmurs, “Yo ho ho, Mr. Hornblower.”
Horatio laughs, ducks his head, and Archie leans against him. “I’ve missed you,” Archie confesses in a small voice, on a sigh.
“The feeling,” Horatio says happily, “is mutual, Mr. Kennedy.”
Archie slaps a hand down on Horatio’s thigh, grinning at him. “Bloody good thing you’re here then, isn’t it?”
“I’d say so,” Horatio agrees. “Now, let’s get us out of here.” Archie falls silent again, but his hand stays on Horatio’s thigh, even when Horatio lies back beside him.
Above, the stars are so clear, clearer than they’ve ever seemed before. They look like chips of fine glass, thrown across a still, dark ocean. And yet – yet – they look like nothing Horatio’s ever seen before. He doesn’t know these stars, their shapes, their meanings.
“Archie – ,” he falters, his voice breaking as panic rushes over him. “Archie, this isn’t right. This can’t be right. The stars…they’re *wrong*.”
“No, they’re not,” Archie nuzzles into his shoulder. “They just take a while to get used to.”
Horatio can’t answer; he can’t say anything. He can only look up at the sky, his mouth open in shock. Beside him, Archie’s breath evens out, and he falls asleep.
The next morning, Horatio is quiet, withdrawn, until Archie cajoles him out of the cabin. Horatio follows Archie across the whole of the island. Archie shows him the cliff, high above a small, pocket of beach, and the grove of mango trees on the lee side of the island.
“Here,” Archie says, holding one out. “You try one.” The juice glistens on Archie’s lips, coats them with a glossy sheen.
Horatio bites into the fruit Archie offers, without taking it into his own hands. It’s sweet, and tart, and Horatio mmms with delight around it. Archie’s eyes slip closed, and he sways close. Horatio swallows, and thinks that it’s shocking to know that this is what Archie’s lips must taste like, also.
Shocking, and good, and Horatio takes a step back, asks Archie what they’ll do with the fruit. “Crabs again?” he asks, and Archie smiles, looks overhead and pulls a pistol out of his boot. He narrows one of his eyes, sights a parrot and with look of fierce concentration, pulls the trigger.
The bird falls from the sky, and Archie claps Horatio on the shoulder, grinning.
“No,” he says, “I do believe we’ll have fowl, this evening.”
They eat in companionable silence, and after, Horatio goes out to the beach again. Archie stays behind, sits in the candlelight with a deck of cards and plays Patience. He looks troubled as Horatio leaves, but says nothing.
He can still make neither head nor tails of the heavens. He can’t find any of the stars he’s used to navigating by, and he wonders where he’s been blown by the wind and the water. He wonders how Archie got here, and how coincidence conspired to bring the two together here, at the world’s end.
He’s surprised that he doesn’t feel lost, though, and more surprised to think that he doesn’t miss the Hotspur more. That he doesn’t think more often of his crew, his duty. He watches the ocean kick at the beach, and feels the foam against his toes, and when he finds himself pulling the edges of his jacket tighter and tighter against the wind he walks back to the cabin.
The door is open, and light spills out into the night. Archie lies on his back, asleep, his cheeks rosy and his mouth half open. Horatio smiles down at him, pushes the hair off his brow, and blows out the light.
Horatio pushes into the hand in his hair, wakes up smiling, and Archie is staring down at him – blue, blue eyes tracing the lines of his face.
“Have I changed so much?” he asks, quietly, and Archie smiles back, shakes his head.
“Only for the best,” he assures Horatio. “Command suits you. It always has.”
Archie ruffles his hair a little, but leaves his hand where it is. Horatio presses into it again, and Archie’s smile widens. “You’re more comfortable in your own skin, certainly,” he observes, and Horatio laughs.
“And there are new lines, here and here,” he points to either side of Horatio’s mouth. “From worry, perhaps. Or from being so very serious all the time.”
“I am not *always* serious,” Horatio protests, propping himself up on one elbow and Archie nods his agreement. His hand falls out of Horatio’s hair, but his fingers rest lightly on Horatio’s bare back.
“You haven’t changed at all,” Horatio says, and he hears how breathy his own voice is.
Archie looks away, his smile curving into something more mysterious. “Haven’t I?” he asks, quietly. “It feels as though I have. It feels as though it’s been an eternity since Kingston.”
“It doesn’t feel quite so long at all,” Horatio murmurs, intent on Archie’s profile, on the sweet line of his lips, and his fine, long lashes. “Not to me.”
“How did you get here?” Horatio asks, as they fish off the cliff. “To this island, wherever we are?”
“The same way you did, roughly,” Archie says after a moment.
“Did it rain when you got here?” Horatio squints up at the sky, where there aren’t any clouds, where there haven’t been any clouds since the day he was tossed here.
Archie blinks. “Yes, yes I believe it did.” His eyes focus on something far, far away, and he says, quietly, “I had forgotten that.”
“It must have been terrible here, alone,” Horatio offered, and Archie shook his head.
“No, no, it’s – it was peaceful. I need that, I think,” he tells Horatio, wiping the back of his neck with a broad hand. Horatio’s eyes follow the motion, follow the flex and bunch of Archie’s muscles.
“I suppose we both do,” Horatio says finally.
That night they lie in bed together, both awake. They face each other, and Horatio can feel each little expulsion of breath Archie makes, the rise and fall of his chest as he breathes. He reaches out with a shaking hand, and touches Archie’s side.
“You have no scar,” he whispers, and Archie’s eyes go very, very wide.
After a time, Archie says, “Neither do you,” and his fingers move over Horatio’s brow, and tangle in his hair.
Horatio draws a deep breath, and closes his eyes. “Then – is this – this can’t be heaven, can it?” he asks, and his voice sounds loud in their comfortable, spicy smelling cabin.
“I honestly don’t know,” Archie tells him, moving closer, close enough that his thigh brushes Horatio’s, his hand fits to Horatio’s hip. “It isn’t hell, I do know that. It can’t be. Not if you’re here.”
“No,” Horatio breathes, his eyes locked with Archie’s, his tongue flicking out to wet his lips. “It can’t be.”
His whole body tingles, prickles, and where he touches Archie, he feels only heat and the strength of Archie’s body. Archie’s cheeks are pink, his lips are red, and his eyes are almost turquoise – he looks so very *alive*. And Horatio feels alive, he feels more alive than perhaps he ever did before, except in the heat of battle, when blood pounded through him alongside terror, and hope. This is giddy and more frightening than that all at once.
It’s joyful, euphoric. Perfect.
“If this is heaven, then,” Horatio begins, letting Archie tug his head closer, “then, this must be – this must be right, mustn’t it?”
“It has always felt right to me,” Archie says against his lips, and then kisses Horatio sweetly, slowly, tenderly. He kisses as though he has forever to do so, and Horatio realizes deliriously, he does.