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Down with this Ship
#1 - Cold to the Bone

Sometimes Hornblower wonders. He looks at Bush's mouth and asks himself what it would feel like to kiss him -- or be kissed by him. Has Bush ever kissed anyone? He pictures affectionate smacks to the cheeks of tall, giggling young women -- Bush's sisters. Or a small boy lifted up by one of these sisters to kiss their mother goodnight. But he cannot see Bush kissing a woman on the lips, cannot even imagine his face lost in passion although not for lack of trying.

Bush complements him perfectly, he often thinks. On darker days he asks himself whether they are not too similar. Both of them put duty above everything else and infuse each action with a serenity that, while it calms Hornblower's heart, also makes a small part of his soul cry out in pain. He misses Archie. He misses laughter and light-hearted teasing, he misses someone who draws him out with ease. Bush is always there, always constant, but he doesn't have the same effortless access to Hornblower's feelings. And now, denied release, they build up inexorably behind the barriers of his mind and take a form that scares him.

Like the kissing, his latest obsession. Like William's mouth. Or the man's voice. He is used to hearing humor and affection in the low, even tones. But lately, hearing Bush give a command at the top of his lungs does strange things to his pulse hammering in his temples. He feels cold, and faint, and has taken to twisting his fingers behind his back with a viciousness that no longer shows the lamentable insecurity he felt during his first command, the Marie Gallante, but rather constitutes a desperate attempt to preserve his self-control.

He wants to reach out in a way for which Majesty's Navy has imposed the most grievous punishment imaginable: hanging. He already bears responsibility for Clayton's death. For Archie's sacrifice. He will not endanger the only friend he has left.

Soon, Hotspur will be back in Portsmouth. He feels nothing for Maria, save gratitude and a hint of pity he tries not to consciously acknowledge. Her face is round and pleasant, her rich hair curls even more than his own, and he knows she adores him. Still, he cannot imagine kissing her mouth, and he remembers only too well that her voice does not send shivers down his spine. And to lay with her? He doesn't even know what that would entail. Mariette died before they could do more than share a few chaste kisses, and Miss Cobham treated him as he imagines Bush's sisters treat their brother.

Bush. And again, his thoughts are drawn back to his First Lieutenant. He still wants to touch him, and restraining himself during their evening discussions over maps and sea charts, sextants and books is the hardest thing he's ever done. Many an evening has ended with his hands clenched so hard it is painful; he often sees the imprints of his fingernails in the flesh of his palms, mute testimony to his iron will. That. Shall. Not. Fail. Him. It cannot. He won't allow it to.

He wishes himself back in Renown. Shamefully not always because of Archie's ghost laughing at him, with him, in his memories, but rather because of certain nights. Nights he and Bush were on and off watch at the same time while Archie was on a different schedule. Nights when circumstances demanded they share the same berth. He remembers being annoyed back then to have to accommodate the snoring bulk of a man he did not trust while his best friend slept only a few feet away. But Bush was always warm and never woke him with nightmares. Back then, he felt disloyal and resentful. Today, he only wishes he could remember all the different sensations of the breath, skin and heartbeat so close to his. A guilty pleasure, but it might keep him afloat whereas now he has nothing. That brain Admiral Pellew values so much remembers every detail of the shoreline of Santo Domingo, every word of the Tribunal, but has erased the imprint of Bush's body, so close, so longed for as unimportant. And now it is too late.

He cannot be the one to shatter the last link that keeps him close to the people around him. He cannot be the one to even hint at the fact that he wishes Bush could teach him how to touch someone he cares about. And Bush, his conscientious First Lieutenant, will never breach the wall etiquette and duty erected between a captain and his officers.

Not that he believes Bush could ever love him. That anyone save his mother and Archie -- and maybe Clayton -- ever loved him. Maria does not feel love for him, the him he is inside this cold and lonely skin. She doesn't know him. She never will. His brain might be sought after by Captains and even Admirals, but this heart he cannot show beyond the walls he erected around it... this heart will never know fulfillment. He does not deserve to.

Better to never reach out to William... to Bush in that manner. After all, he destroys those who love him, and he cannot bear to see his last friend fall.

In his nightmares, he still does.

He resolves to stop caring so he won't dream about it anymore. In time, he might even succeed.

Bush comes on deck and wordlessly joins him at the rail. Hornblower discovers that his hands relax without neither a cramp nor the stinging in his palms that he has grown accustomed to. He sees Bush's lips turn up in a slight smile and knows he's on the verge of speaking in the same calm, affectionate tone he always employs in moments like these, when the sea is calm and the ship races across it like a thoroughbred, her sails and cables singing in the wind. For once not officers, but friends in a profession they were born for.

He does not give him the chance to speak, instead simply says: "You have the deck, Mr Bush. I'll be in my cabin. Good day, sir."

He is cold as he steps away, but without the crippling pain he expected to feel as he throws Bush's friendship back in his face. Well, coldness numbs a man's wounds. Even wounds close to the heart.

"Horatio Hornblower" ficlet by allaire mikháil, 1.070 words, Hornblower/Bush UST, Hornblower POV, rated PG-13, set during "Loyalty"

I wish I had never started reading C. S. Forester's books, had never met the Hornblower we, as television viewers, can only find hints of in the movies. He's so damned insecure, restless and yes, lonely. He also lacks the heart Archie's presence gave him in the movies. So far I've only partly succeeded in avoiding all spoilers as to Bush's future in the books. I don't like what I've already heard. I adore the character, and I want him to live. Plus I want Hornblower to loose that damned reserve of his that keeps him so apart from others. Ergo -- slash them. Anyone?
The best Hornblower slash stories I've ever read have been written by khaleesian who amazingly agreed to beta this. Thank you so much!

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