Harlequin's Slash Fic

Desperate Times

Title: Desperate Times
Author: Julien
Universe: Hornblower
Characters featured: Horatio/Bunting
Category, Word count: Short story; 2096 words
Rating: NC17
Summary: Bunting insists on seducing Horatio, but Horatio is naturally suspicious of his motives.
Notes: Set during the second movie, The Examination for Lieutenant.
Warnings: The story includes Bunting’s death, as portrayed in the movie itself.
First published: 8 December 2002 in Horatio Hornblower & the Prix d’Amor

 

 

Desperate Times

 

‘I know what you want, sir. I know what you want. I’ve seen you looking at my mouth, and hungering for it.’

Horatio found himself staring at that very mouth now, too shocked for the moment to really understand. And yet it was perfectly plain what Bunting was suggesting. The reflected lamplight in the otherwise dark passageway perfectly illuminated both Bunting’s face and his purpose. ‘No, no, you are quite mistaken.’

‘I am not, sir, for I have looked at your mouth as well, and I am hungering.’

Horatio groaned – Well, he had meant to groan in annoyance at Bunting’s obtuse insistence, but unfortunately it came out somewhat differently. ‘No,’ he managed. ‘I look at you, and I appreciate your kindness to poor Fitch. He has saved my life, as he once saved yours; we must now try to save his. That is all.’

‘You’re lonely and hungering, sir, just like me. I will come to your cabin tonight, late tonight. I’ll be quiet, so no one knows. I will come to your cabin, and all will be settled to your satisfaction, sir.’

 

After this wholly unexpected encounter in the cramped passage leading to the sick bay, Horatio sat with Fitch for a while, though he found himself lacking any kind of conversation. Fitch seemed to appreciate the attention, when he was awake enough to notice. He certainly appreciated the apple Horatio had brought him, saved from his own supper; Horatio took out his knife, and sliced up the fruit for him to make it easier to consume.

During one of Fitch’s more lucid moments, Horatio asked, ‘This man Bunting. Is he a good man? In his heart?’

‘Yes, sir. Yes, he’s a good man, sir.’

Horatio nodded, though he was perfectly aware that this could have been the old seaman’s loyalty speaking rather than his rational judgement.

‘He just needs a bit of looking after, sir, that’s all.’

The generosity and honesty earned the man a grateful smile. ‘Then we must keep trying to look after him as well as we can. Thank you, Fitch.’ Horatio wished the man goodnight, and left him in peace.

 

Horatio hadn’t taken Bunting’s stated intentions very seriously; but there was a time, as the dark night became late and then crossed the watershed towards morning, when he felt he could put his fears aside.

‘Sir…’

The whispered word pulled him from sleep. Horatio sat up in his bed, but the door was still firmly closed and he would have sworn that he was alone in the cabin.

‘Sir, please…’

Oh God, it was Bunting indeed, apparently standing in the shadows to the side of the door. Something stirred within Horatio; stirred so strongly that he was honest enough to wonder if he’d hoped for this as much as feared it. ‘What in hell are you doing here, Bunting?’

‘Please, sir, come here. Come here into the shadows with me, sir, so no one will see.’

Horatio glanced through the window. The gallery was quiet and empty, but one of the other lieutenants must have been awake, for a dimly reflected light flickered as if Mr Bracegirdle or Mr Bowles were sitting up by candlelight.

‘I promised I would come to you, sir, and I did, though it was hard to get away with no one noticing. Why will you not come to me?’

‘I did not ask for this!’

‘You did, sir. You were asking every time that you looked at my mouth…’ And Bunting stepped forward, just far enough so that the shadows fell away and he was revealed – and there indeed were those sensuous lips forever shaped in a natural snarl, though Horatio would have sworn he’d never noticed that mouth before Bunting had insisted. ‘Please, sir…’

His bare feet were on the decking, and he was standing, before Horatio was aware of making any kind of decision. He was taking those few steps to close the space between them, even while telling himself that this could not be. Bunting withdrew into the shadows again, and Horatio followed him. Hands reached out and drew him in, despite Horatio murmuring, ‘This must not be!’

But then that sensuous mouth was on his own, and he gasped to be so kissed, those lips full and hungry, the man unexpectedly generous, amazingly passionate. A hand fumbled with his nightshirt, gathering up the material – and then, shockingly, claiming its prize. And Horatio, so ready for this – how could he have been so ready without even being aware of it? – Horatio barely managed to muffle a groan.

‘Yes, sir… Oh, yes, sir…’

Horatio had let his head fall forward to the man’s strong shoulder, let that hand knowingly continue its work, let that mouth alternate whispers in his ear with kisses pressed hot down his throat.

‘I looked at you, sir, and I hungered for this, and I knew you were hungering, too…’

Another muffled groan and he spent himself into that hand, pressing up against that fleshy but masculine body, burning wherever that mouth pressed kisses.

‘And now me, sir. Please, sir.’

One last damp caress of his softening manhood and then the hand left him, and Bunting was shifting, unfastening his own britches. Drawing Horatio’s hand to where it was needed. Still dazed by his own pleasure, Horatio performed the required task. He had never before touched another man, not like this, though he could not deny he had thought of it on occasion. This seemed… odd. He felt vague and detached, as if this were no longer happening to him, but to some stranger.

Then Bunting gasped, and gathered him into a tight embrace, too close an embrace for Horatio to maintain the rhythm he’d begun, but Bunting was thrusting up into the hand wrapped firm around him, and seeking Horatio’s mouth again – and they ended with a kiss as generous and passionate as the one with which they’d begun.

‘There,’ Bunting murmured complacently. ‘There, it is done. And now you will not think ill of me again.’

Horatio sagged in the man’s embrace, but let his forehead rest against the cool hardness of the wall. ‘Yes, I realise that you have ulterior motives. I do not flatter myself that you are fond of me, or even find me attractive.’

‘But I do, sir, I swear I do. I looked at you and I thought, Me and him together… Yeah, me and him…

Horatio lifted his head again to stare at the man as best he could in the shadows, as if mesmerised by Bunting’s sheer dogged determination, his unexpected view of the world. His unashamed carnality. ‘You – you mustn’t think that this changes anything, Bunting. I will not treat you any differently just because… because all is indeed settled to my satisfaction.’

‘I would never expect that,’ he retorted as if affronted. ‘Sir.’

Yet Horatio couldn’t quite believe him. The man was bargaining for loyalty, patronage, understanding. The man wanted Horatio to feel committed, compromised. ‘Never mind, Bunting. You had better get back before you are missed.’

‘Yes, sir.’ And, surprisingly, the man had the grace to murmur, ‘Thank you, sir.’ To hold him one last time, in a friendly goodnight wish.

Horatio watched him go, confused and captivated – and wary – in equal measure.

 

‘You make me so damnably angry!’ Horatio ground out in a furious whisper, late on another dark night. ‘Hurling accusations at me – the kind of accusations that I will not dignify with a reply. What do you mean by it? Do you honestly think that I would eat while my men starve?’

Bunting had the sense or the sensibility to appear thoroughly shamed. ‘No, sir – oh, no, sir, not you. You are too kind a man.’

‘And the other officers?’ Horatio insisted.

‘I only know you well, sir. I only know your kindness.’

‘Then you know me well enough to take my word?’

‘Yes, sir. I’d take your word on any topic you’d care to name, sir. Only, sir, I was looking at your mouth and hungering again, sir, and if I could take such nourishment as you will permit me…’

Horatio stared at the man, mesmerised yet again. He’d never expected anyone to ever speak to him in such ways. Such blunt, bewildering, burgeoning ways. Provocative and subservient at once, leaving Horatio caught between tenderness and annoyance.

‘You will not put me on half–rations in your affections, sir…’

It appeared not. Bunting was drawing him close again, and kissing him with the wickedly sensuous mouth that had become all too familiar and yet still managed to surprise him. Horatio groaned, and gave in once more.

 

Bunting seemed… Bunting seemed to have found some peace. It was a strange situation: Horatio commanding the Catherine, asupply ship quarantined due to the plague. Being addressed as ‘Captain’ for the first time. Twenty of them mucking in to do the work of forty or more, but pulling together well despite the dangers of their situation, despite the fact they may already be doomed to horrific illness and death. The diplomat, Mr Tapling, seemed happy enough working as cook’s mate. And even Bunting – who had tried to desert – even Bunting was now working with them, and there was peace in his face. Enough peace to make him appear… unexpectedly handsome.

Whenever he could, Horatio tried to study in his cabin, anxiously anticipating his examination for lieutenant – but the interruptions were constant. One of them was a little more welcome than others, though.

‘Sir… Captain Hornblower, sir… I saw you looking at me, and hungering…’

‘For God’s sake, Bunting,’ he grumbled good–naturedly, setting his books aside once more. ‘Can we not try it without the seduction routine?’

Bunting looked at him for a moment, and then the sensual lips curled in a smile that was only slightly mocking. ‘What do you suggest, sir?’

‘Wedge the door shut with that chair, for half the crew will be trying to walk in on us.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And then come here, man…’

 

Afterwards, they lay there close together in the hammock, despite the heat. Or maybe even because of the heat, for it felt as if they’d melted together, melted and blended like two men made of wax, and perhaps they each yearned so much for closeness that they would accept even this facsimile of it.

Eventually Bunting murmured, ‘You will still report me for desertion, sir. Won’t you?’

The man sounded flatly accepting of this fate. Horatio felt a betrayer’s pain, but he answered firmly and evenly. ‘Yes.’

‘But you will speak for me at the court martial?’

‘Yes, of course. You have served us well aboard the Catherine, Bunting. We needed you, and you have not failed us. I will have no hesitation in recommending the lightest possible punishment.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘I will ask that you continue to serve in my Division. Perhaps they will entrust you to me rather than sentencing you to prison.’ Or worse… But Horatio pushed away the idea that Bunting might be sentenced to hang.

‘And this still makes no difference – me and you, sir?’

‘I will do all I can for you, of course, as I would for any of my men.’

‘Thank you, sir. I do appreciate your efforts, sir.’

‘It is only my duty, Bunting.’

And they lay there together, never once shifting from their melted–together embrace; until there was yet another knock at the door, and Horatio was required on deck.

 

They told him that he should not grieve. Matthews, Tapling, Pellew: all men who should know better. They told him that Bunting was a man who had chosen his own contrary way and pursued it at every opportunity. They told him that all his decisions and actions were understood and forgiven. And yet Horatio had Bunting’s blood on his hands. ‘Better the speed of a bullet than the slow agony of the rope.’ Bunting’s hand on his, the pistol between them, the momentary confusion, conflicting images of their hands busy between them in other ways. Bunting forcing Horatio’s finger down on the trigger. ‘I believe, sir, that your duty is fulfilled…’ They didn’t know. They didn’t know that, with nothing left to lose, Bunting could well have threatened Horatio with a court martial of his own. But he never had. Within his own twisted code, Bunting had been a good man. And Horatio had failed him.

Dear God, Bunting… Dear God in Heaven, what was I thinking? They told him that he should not grieve. But he did. For himself as much as anyone. For himself.

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