Object of Desire
Warnings: Extreme silliness. Alternating universe. Implied male/male. Implied male/female. Dim-witted Horatio. References to fruit.
Disclaimer: These are most certainly not my characters and I don't think Forester or A&E would ever write them like this!
"Do you think these breeches fit alright?" Horatio asked anxiously. "They feel a little tight...."
Archie Kennedy hoped his friend did not register his involuntary gulp. If that line had come from anyone else he'd be sure ... but it had come from Horatio and was therefore undoubtedly quite innocent. Unfortunately. "They look perfectly fine to me." Almost too fine, in fact. He had undoubtedly spent far longer staring at the new-made lieutenant's hind-quarters back in the mess than was strictly advisable. Not that there was any likelihood of Horatio noticing. Horatio might conceivably register something if Archie were to pin him to the nearest wall and ... he got a firm grip on his imagination at that point. Horatio might notice that, but there was really no chance of his noticing anything less.
"And is my queue straight?" Horatio fussed. "I want to look right when we meet the army men,"
"Perfectly straight, Horatio." Another time he might have offered to retie Horatio's hair, but the way he was feeling right now if he once got his fingers into those dark curls he might never get them out again.
It really was most unreasonable of Horatio to be so damn gorgeous. And still more unreasonable of him to come and flaunt said gorgeousness in the cabin of a ship-mate who had already tried everything short of covering himself in apricot jam to attract Horatio's attention, and been forced to the frustrated conclusion that there was simply no attention to attract. Not of that nature.
Just his luck! After being given plenty of reason in the past to wish he had a face like Seaman Styles, he was now finding his blond looks made no impression whatever on the person he would most have liked to impress. The one consolation was that no-one else's looks seemed to have any better success. Horatio probably dreamed about frigates at night.
Horatio was fidgeting with his neck-cloth now. "It doesn't feel right... Archie, could you help?"
Get that close? At this moment? Look on it as a test of command, Mr Kennedy....
He got the neck-cloth adjusted somehow, then fled incontinently on deck.
Being Horatio Hornblower's best friend was extremely difficult at times.
"Is that what he told you?" Edrington asked, managing to convey tolerant amusement for the naivety that would accept so unlikely a story.
"If he says he spent the night in a chair, then he did," Archie shrugged. "I can tell when Horatio is lying. His nose twitches. Anyway, I don't believe he's ever been with a woman in his life."
"You don't say," Edrington fixed his eyes on the oblivious subject of their conversation with renewed speculation. He'd reluctantly abandoned thoughts of approaching the devastatingly attractive lieutenant in that manner, but if his association with the French girl had really been just chivalry....
"No." Kennedy said firmly, and Edrington was mildly disconcerted to realise the boy had read his thoughts exactly.
"No. He's not interested in going with men either. I should know. I was locked in a cell with him for weeks, and I'm not that unattractive."
No, Edrington admitted, Kennedy was by no means unattractive. In fact it was rather a shame that at the present moment he only seemed to have attention to spare for Lt Hornblower.
"So, you're saying he doesn't go with women, and he doesn't go with men." He considered this and could come up with only one conclusion. "The man's a freak!"
"Look, Oldroyd, we're telling you for your own good 'ere. Mr 'Ornblower ain't going to notice, whatever you do, but other people are noticing. You're just making yourself a laughing stock."
"T'ain't fair," Oldroyd muttered, "Just because I ain't a swanky officer."
"Now, you know that ain't it, Oldroyd." Matthews said firmly. "Mr 'Ornblower keeps 'imself to 'imself, that's all."
"More's the pity," Styles leered, "I mean, we've all had that thought a time or two haven't we? Specially when we've been at sea six months or more."
"Ain't no harm in thinking," Matthews said, "as long as you keep the thought to yourself."
"He wouldn't look at the likes of us anyway," Oldroyd mumbled.
"Likely not," Styles said. "But it ain't no matter. Maybe you ought to set your sights a bit lower, eh?"
Matthews muttered something that sounded like, "Well, just be careful," and took himself off.
"What do you mean? There ain't no women on board...."
"No," Styles leered again, "but there's a lot of hungry men. Fancy a trip down the hold?"
"There's nothing like that going on, I'm sure of it."
"But all those intimate dinners...."
"They probably just discuss strategy."
"Don't you think you might be being a bit innocent?"
"I've seen the captain some nights after young Hornblower has left his quarters," Lt Bracegirdle said, "and he does not look like a man who has achieved satisfaction. Far from it. I would say that the good Captain Pellew finds such encounters extremely frustrating."
Master Bowles shook his head, convinced but wondering. "You'd think he could find an opportunity, wouldn't you? The captain is in fine shape for his years. A dinner table, some strategically placed molasses, or even a piece or two of fruit...."
"But this is young Hornblower we're talking about," Bracegirdle objected. "I really do believe the lad is the last of the unspotted innocents."
"You could be right." Bowles sighed. Not that either of them would ever have been in with a chance, but all the same.... "What a waste."
Bracegirdle echoed the sigh. "It is indeed."
Kitty Cobham refreshed herself liberally from the bowl of punch. Lord Edrington's party was proving a most frustrating experience. She had eagerly welcomed the chance to pursue her acquaintance with young Mr Hornblower in circumstances better suited to the further pursuit of that acquaintanceship, but young Mr Hornblower was proving notably resistant to her charms, in fact he almost seemed to flee at her approach. Was she losing her touch? Kitty sternly quelled the impulse to feel for lines upon her face. She was no green girl but nor was she a hag just yet! And she could have sworn he was attracted. So what was the matter with the boy? Kitty threw back her shoulders determinedly. Perhaps he was just very shy, in which case it would be doing him a kindness to persevere.
"Waste of effort, my dear," said the smooth voice of Lord Edrington at her shoulder. "You are not going to meet with the success that you desire in that quarter." Kitty turned and raised her eyebrows enquiringly.
"Really, my lord? Am I to gather that you already have an arrangement with the young man?"
"No, alas." Edrington shook his head with a calculated air of sorrow. "It is true that I was hopeful of forming one, but I have been reluctantly forced to the conclusion that the information I had previously been given on young Mr Hornblower is quite correct. Young Mr Hornblower really does have no interest whatever in that aspect of life, in whatever form it may be offered."
"The boy must be a freak!" Kitty emptied her punch glass. Come to think, she could believe it. What a shame.
Edrington politely refilled the glass. "A disappointing evening for both of us, then. But perhaps not wholly wasted. It has been a pleasure to entertain you, Miss Cobham – and would be a pleasure to further our acquaintance."
Kitty considered. It might not be what she had been hoping for, but given the stories she had heard about Edrington she'd be a fool to let the chance slip by. "I am sure that would be delightful, my lord."
"And how are you this morning, Mr Wellard?"
"Very sore, sir." Midshipman Wellard made his eyes as wide and appealing as possible. "But I believe the weals are healing"
"Oh, ah, relieved to hear it," Lt Hornblower said awkwardly.
"Perhaps you could check for me?" Wellard suggested, modestly lowering his eyelashes.
"I fear I have not the expertise in such matters, Mr Wellard."
Wellard pouted. He had heard that on long voyages officers would offer particular assistance to young midshipman in return for certain favours. Unfortunately Lt Hornblower seemed to be entirely ignorant of this custom. Wellard had certainly been hinting hard enough.
A gusty sigh escaped him. Life just wasn't fair!
Dr Clive wiped his eyes clumsily on his coat sleeve while attempting to refill his glass with his other hand. It was all the fault of that boy Hornblower! That ridiculously, impossibly handsome boy that had got under Jamie's skin so completely. Jamie, his Jamie Sawyer, who had always sternly avoided laying a hand on any of his young lieutenants, maintaining it would never do on ship-board. Of course he knew that Jamie had been having troubles of late, but still it was all the boy's fault, coming aboard with his doe-eyes fixed on Jamie worshipfully. All the boy's fault, everything that was wrong, and nothing was going to persuade Clive otherwise.
Tears trickled down Clive's nose and dropped into his drink.
Lieutenant Bush was seething. Being looked in a room with a naked Lt Hornblower should have been the stuff that dreams were made of, in fact some of Bush's dreams of late had actually been rather similar. There were, however, a couple of quite serious drawbacks to the current situation. One was that those idiot Marines had actually allowed Hornblower to bring his clothes in and he was rapidly putting them on. The other was that that idiot Sawyer had insisted on arresting Lt Kennedy as well. It would be more than a little difficult to seduce a man in the presence of a third party, especially a potentially jealous third party.
"You're not the first." Bush jumped, wondering if the words had emanated from his own subconscious, but it was Kennedy leaning casually against the wall, with a mocking glint in his eyes. "You're not the first, and you won't be the last. Rather unfair of him to display himself on deck like that, isn't it? But it really is done in all innocence, you know."
Bush's reaction was a curious compound of annoyance that he had been so obvious – did the whole ship know? – and a sudden thought that perhaps a compromise could be arrived at. The kind of compromise which would involve all three of them. Together. Bush didn't usually go for blond and muscular types, but he thought he could make an exception in this case.
"And it's no good laying plans, or throwing lures," Kennedy went on, as if deliberately dashing Bush's hopes. "It won't get you anywhere."
"Jealous, are you? Warning me off?" Hornblower, currently struggling with his neckcloth seemed not to have heard any of this.
"Nothing to be jealous about." Kennedy shrugged. "There's nothing of that kind between the two of us. There has never been anything of that kind between Lt Hornblower and anyone in all the years I've known him. And it wasn't for want of trying on other people's part. I was just warning you not to get your hopes up."
Two comments clashed sharply in Bush's mind, and he voiced the one which won.
"Who's a freak?" asked Hornblower, buttoning his waistcoat.
The reception held in Kingston for the heroes of Renown was a very grand affair. All the ship's officers were present, except for Captain Sawyer who was currently trying out various styles of straitjacket and deciding in what patterns to reupholster the padded walls of his new room.
"Are you quite sure of that, Charlie?" Captain Collins wanted to know. "The innocence could be an act."
"Dreadnought Foster, when he'd had a drop too many, told me that he had the boy over for dinner and spent a whole evening working on him," Captain Hammond replied sorrowfully. "Nothing, not a whisper, not a flicker. And Foster makes it a point of pride that he's not often defeated you know."
"Aye, he's a hard man to resist," Collins sighed. "If Dreadnought failed then there's no chance for two old tubs like us. Have another drink, Charlie."
"Don't mind if I do."
Hobbs carefully stepped over Dr Clive's snoring form, circumvented Wellard, who seemed to be getting acquainted with a young nephew of Hammond's, and reached his target, namely the brandy. He knocked back a drink in one large mouthful and sighed gustily. Of course he had never been in with a chance. Someone like Mr Hornblower was never going to take notice of a plain, unremarkable ship's gunner. It was foolish to wish he had been a little less antagonising. He knocked back another drink.
"I don't see it." Hobbs turned and realised he was standing next to Buckland. "I really don't see it," Renown's first officer went on. "I've been trying to talk to some of the women here, and all they want is for me to introduce them to Mr Hornblower. If I had the price of a drink for every time I've heard Mr Hornblower called handsome tonight.... Well, I can't see anything very good looking about him, can you?"
Very carefully, Hobbs removed himself from Buckland's vicinity.
The man was a freak!
Lt Bush had made his mind up. He was not about to admit defeat. True, all the ploys he had attempted on Renown had proved failures. Possibly the pretence of drowning had been overdoing it a bit, one of these days he might have to explain that he could swim perfectly well if he put his mind to it. However he refused to believe that someone with Lt Hornblower's eyes and mouth could be as devoid of normal human passions as all that.
Tonight was going to be all or nothing. Having found which room Hornblower had been assigned to, Bush ventured forth carrying with him several pieces of mango fruit.
The room appeared to be empty, the bed unoccupied but the curtains drawn across the long window. Bush was prepared to accept some delay. He blew out the candle he had been carrying and slipped between the sheets.
At the same time Commodore Pellew left his sumptuous accommodation wrapped in a silk dressing gown, an bearing a pot of specially made honey mixture. This time Pellew was determined not to let opportunity pass him by. After all, with Hornblower no longer under his command he could not be accused of forcing himself on the younger man. This time he would not risk spending more years dwelling on what might have been.
Being Lt Hornblower's best friend had given Archie Kennedy considerable self-control, so when that self same friend burst into his room wearing nothing but a rather skimpy towel he responded with only the slightest of gulps. Not that it mattered greatly, as Horatio would probably not have noticed if steam had issued from his ears.
"Archie, can I spend the night in your room?"
"If you must." If only that could have been an invitation. "But what's wrong with yours?"
"There are two men in it! In my bed! I was just standing behind the window curtains, getting some fresh air, and the first one came in, and got into my bed, and before I could think how to tell him he was in the wrong room a second one came in as well...."
"I, er, I do assure you, Lieutenant, I do not normally conduct myself in this manner." Pellew was horrified by the potential blackmail he had laid himself open to. Bush was fearfully wondering what the penalty was for inadvertently attempting to seduce a senior officer.
"Nor I, indeed, sir." In sheer fairness he felt he had to add, "I have no, ah, arrangement with Lt Hornblower, sir. For all I know he might have ejected me summarily."
"My own position exactly," Pellew confessed. "He exerts rather a strong, ahem, influence."
"He does indeed," Bush agreed in heartfelt tones. Beginning to hope he might escape with his career, if not his pride, intact, he added, "But where is he?"
They both considered this question for a few moments. "With any other, I would suggest an alternative assignment," Pellew said at length. "But with young Hornblower, the likelihood is that he is pursuing some innocent errand, and may return at any moment." They both considered that for a few more moments, and did not much like the prospect.
"Would like me to, well, shall we say vacate the field, sir?" Bush suggested
Pellew sighed. "I have to confess, lieutenant that my nerve for this venture has been somewhat damaged." And yet... the mistake had opened up alternative possibilities. "Is it your wish to remain?"
"I think not. The moment does not appear well fated."
"Then may I say that it would be a great pleasure to further our acquaintance?" Bush's ears pricked. Did that mean what he would like it to mean? "Would you be interested in returning to my quarters?"
"It would be a privilege, sir."
"So, were you shocked?" Archie probed carefully.
"Oh, well, no, I mean, I do know what goes on. But why did they have to do it in my room?"
Archie sighed. Horatio's innocence really was getting beyond frustrating. "It's obvious, Horatio. From what you say it was a clear case of mistaken identity. Each of them was really looking for you."
"But I hadn't invited anyone! I swear I hadn't!"
"Oh, I believe you. But someone was bound to snap sooner or later." Horatio was giving him the look of a puzzled puppy. "Horatio, have you really not realised just how many people really, really, want to get into bed with you? And not just for a good night's sleep?"
"Do you mean that?" Horatio's eyes were wider than ever.
"Of course I mean it. Horatio, will you answer me one question?"
"If I can." Horatio was still looking stunned.
"Have you taken a vow of celibacy?"
"Have I-? No, of course not! Why would I want to do that?"
"Well, you don't seem interested in doing anything else."
Horatio looked down at the floor. "Well, er, it's difficult, you see. I mean, erm, it's not as if I haven't thought about it. But I would hate to disappoint anyone, and all the people I know seem to be so confident...."
Understanding dawned. "You mean you don't know what to do?"
"I couldn't bear to seem like a fool," Horatio said earnestly. He sighed. "It's been very difficult at times, Archie. I mean, we do seem to keep on meeting the most attractive men and women. Haven't you ever wondered why I take so many cold showers?"
Archie stood up. "Well, Horatio, if that's really all that's been holding you back, I feel sure we can solve the problem."
Horatio looked up hopefully. "You mean that you'd...?"
"What else are friends for, Horatio? Just lock the door and get over here. Oh, and bring that pot of apricot jam...."