Harlequin's Slash Fic

A Very Strange Enchanted Boy

Title: A Very Strange Enchanted Boy
Author: Julien
Universe: Hornblower and Moulin Rouge!
Characters featured: Horatio/Archie and Archie/Christian
Category, Word count: Short story; 6165 words
Rating: R, for what’s implied (there’s nothing very explicit)
Summary: Horatio and Archie are on shore leave in Calais, France in 1900. Archie suggests they visit his beloved brother Christian, who’s on a Quest for True Love in Montmartre, Paris.
Notes: The inspiration for this obviously flows on from my story Choices, but this story’s (and Moulin Rouge’s) character Christian is not really meant to be Ewan Kennedy, though they do share a bit of back–story… There are notes on the borrowed lyrics at the end of the fic.
Warnings: You may have gathered by now that I have a brother-slash kink.
First published: 8 December 2002 in Horatio Hornblower & the Prix d’Amor

 

 

A Very Strange Enchanted Boy

 

The Mermaid tavern was located at the high end of the street that eventually led down towards the harbour, and it usually catered for the townsfolk and tourists who appreciated the view out across the English Channel. As such, it was a respectable place, with a decent reputation. The sailors of all nationalities who made shore in Calais rarely ventured further than the taverns lining the docks, and none in living memory had ever climbed all the way up to the Mermaid. Until tonight. Tonight, when two British sailors could be found comfortably propped in the darkest corner available – though unfortunately the corner was not quite dark enough to hide the sight from the regular patrons. Two British sailors, who were steadily working their way through another pitcher of beer each, and lowering the tone of the establishment somewhat.

‘He drinks a whisky drink, he drinks a vodka drink,’ they sang with great gusto, apparently planning their refreshments for the evening, ‘he drinks a lager drink, he drinks a cider drink.’ The smaller one with golden hair and a plummy accent was keeping excellent time with elbows that swung so wildly he seemed about to do his friend an injury. ‘He sings the songs that remind him of the good times, he sings the songs that remind him of the best times.’ As for the taller, gawkier one with curly brown locks – the Mermaid’s regulars were currently arguing over whether the fellow was offending the tune more than the timing, or vice versa.

‘Good times,’ the brown–haired one repeated. ‘Best times. Archie? Gi’s a sea shanty!’

‘With pleasure,’ the other fellow replied. He swallowed more beer direct from the pitcher, stood, and struck a dramatically dignified pose. This was the one of the pair who could sing – and he swooped into a beautifully drawn out note to prove it. ‘Ooooohhhhh… aaaaahhhhh…’

The townsfolk’s arguments died away, and they sat there waiting to hear some quaint traditional maritime tune.

‘Twas on the good ship Venus, by God you should have seen us, the figurehead was a whore in bed, and the mast a rampant penis.’

The townsfolk – at least those who understood English – gasped and gaped. The others were at least vicariously shocked. As for the brown–haired sailor, he collapsed in a fit of spluttering giggles. ‘Wicked! Archie, you’re wicked!’

Unfortunately, this only seemed to encourage the continuance of the performance. ‘The Captain loved the cabin boy, he loved him like a brother, and every night between the sheets, they cornholed one another.’

‘Archie, stop it! Stop it!’

‘Stop giggling, then!’ the other countered. ‘What’s a fellow to do when you’re giggling at him?’

A hand waggled alarmingly at him as if the wrist were broken. ‘Back to the other one.’

And the two of them launched into a rousing chorus of, ‘I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down… I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down…’ The trouble was, they seemed to lose track of their whereabouts within the chorus, and so they just kept going, repeating the lines over and over with a fair prospect of never quite coming to an end.

‘Excuse me, gentlemen.’

Perhaps by this stage they were grateful for the interruption, for they both quit singing, and looked up expectantly. A stern, soldierly man in a dark suit towered over them.

‘May I know your names, gentlemen?’

‘I, sir,’ the tuneless one replied, ‘am Lieutenant Horatio Hornblower of Her Britannic Majesty’s ship the Indefatigable.’ Well, that was what he intended to say, but his tongue just wasn’t up to dealing with any of the three syllable words.

‘John Smith of the Acorn, sir,’ the other one declared.

‘Archie!’ Horatio gaped in shock at this blatant lie. ‘Wicked boy!’ And then collapsed in laughter again.

Moments later, they found themselves thrown out on the street. ‘Rule Britannia!’ Horatio yelled out at the door as it closed firmly against them. ‘Britannia rules the waves! So there! Damned frogs…’

Once the pair had picked themselves up off the cobblestones, they blearily made their way on past a few shops, all closed, and private houses, all securely locked. ‘Ho– Ha– Hor–’ Archie cleared his throat and tried again. ‘–ratio, I do believe we’ve been thrown out of every tavern in town.’

‘Hurrah!’

‘It is not hurrah,’ Archie grumbled. ‘It’s not hurrah at all! Where we gonna find a bed for the night?’

‘Bed…’ Horatio waggled his eyebrows at Archie, in what was obviously supposed to be a lecherous manner, though it was difficult to imagine an effect that could have been further from the intention.

‘Yes, bed! No, I mean, no bed!’

‘Why not?’ The disappointment was palpable.

‘Oh, do pay attention! God, Ratio, you’re the cheapest drunk I ever knew.’

‘Hurrah!’

Archie looked at the fellow and couldn’t help but smile. ‘But I love you anyway.’

‘Mighty condesh– kind of you,’ Horatio responded, on his dignity.

Which called irresistibly for a kiss, so Archie dragged his friend into the nearest empty doorway, and proceeded to do so. Horatio, on the few occasions he let himself slip into a wildly intoxicated state – well, a drunken Horatio had to be kissed to be believed. He wasn’t much good for anything more, of course, but the kissing was a luscious sinful pleasure…

A carriage was rattling up the street, so for the sake of discretion, Archie left Horatio propped against the door, and stood an arm’s length away. The carriage rolled by, without anyone paying them much attention. It gave Archie an idea, though.

‘We should go to Paris! We have a week. Horatio – we should go to Paris, and visit my brother.’

‘Anything for you, Archie,’ Horatio amenably agreed. ‘Anything at all.’

‘Stop that!’ Archie batted away those bold hands, and got Horatio tottering off back down the street again. ‘I’ve told you about Christian, haven’t I? He’s a poet, doing the whole writer thing and starving in a garret.’

‘Garret with a bed…?’ Horatio asked hopefully.

But though Horatio was thinking of nothing but a bed and all the comfort and sleep and sex that went with it, Archie was thinking of nothing but his brother. He happily sang, ‘He says it’s brilliant there, there’s something in the air, there’s beauty everywhere, he’s in Montmartre.’ It had been wonderful, knowing that Christian was following his dreams. But, then again, Archie hadn’t heard from him for months, and there had even been a hint of trouble in his last brief message. ‘I know he’s changed somehow, there’s no more postcards now, he’s on his own out there, so far out of reach…’

‘Then,’ Horatio declared, ‘we had better go and find him.’

‘Yes.’ Archie slung an arm round his friend’s shoulders as a reward. ‘Let’s do exactly that.’

‘Um, Archie?’

‘Yes, Horatio?’

The fellow was looking up at the three–storey tavern that loomed over them. ‘Didn’t we already get thrown out of this one?’

‘Yes, but this is where we can take a coach to Paris in the morning. If you’re very quiet, we can sneak round the back, and sleep in the stables.’

‘Wicked boy,’ Horatio murmured complacently. ‘My own wicked Archie.’

Soon enough, Archie had Horatio settled in amongst the hay up in the loft – though getting him to climb the ladder had been an enterprise fraught with danger. The horses had been kind to them, not deigning to be disturbed by two harmless sailors seeking a safe harbour. All was quiet and warm.

Archie lay himself down beside Horatio, and arranged some loose straw over them both in lieu of a blanket. Horatio hauled him closer, and wrapped him up in a thorough embrace, apparently very content. But Archie sighed.

‘W’as wrong?’

‘This place gives me ideas that neither of us are in any condition to fulfil… Did I ever tell you,’ Archie added wistfully, ‘that I made love for the very first time in a hay loft?’

‘Beautiful wicked boy, I love you…’ Horatio opened one eye to peer at his friend. ‘Spirit very willing, Archie, but flesh very weak.’

Archie smiled at him. ‘I know, don’t worry about it. Go to sleep.’ And he kissed the fellow on the forehead, and watched as his darling Horatio slipped away into dreams.

 

They made as many new friends on the coach to Paris as they’d made in Calais. Horatio propped himself rigidly in one corner, and insisted on having the window full open, as it seemed that blasts of fresh air direct to his face were the only possible cure. ‘Seasick in Spithead is one thing,’ he announced to Archie. ‘Seasick on the road to Paris is another thing entirely.’ Archie just smiled at him, and left the poor fellow alone.

By noon, they were in Paris, and catching a hansom cab out to Montmartre – for which they were required to pay in advance. Obviously not the most salubrious of districts! But, then, where else would Christian have gone in his Quest for True Love?

Archie had the address of the garret in question, but it took them a while to find it. The buildings they wandered past were virtually derelict, and the few people straying here and there weren’t in much better shape. Oh, Christian… Archie thought with foreboding.

Foreboding which was proven all too accurate. Christian’s apartment was dark and filthy and cold, and littered with empty bottles. It seemed that his brother had been on a liquids–only regimen for a very long time. A typewriter sat there on a small table gathering dust, and a narrow bed looked horribly damp and unclean, and otherwise all was dirt and discarded glassware.

At first, Archie assumed the place was deserted, but then he realised that the pile of crumpled clothes in the corner actually contained a man…

‘Christian?’ he murmured. As he slowly approached, Archie accidentally kicked a bottle over on the floorboards, and the man was roused by the clatter.

A head lifted from where it had rested on his knees, and then those familiar bright blue eyes – for it was indeed Christian – stared blearily up at him. ‘Arch?’

‘Oh, Christian!’ Suddenly not giving a damn about the filth, Archie crouched down, and put his hands on Christian’s shoulders. ‘God, what’s happened to you?’ That beautiful face was still beautiful, despite the beard and the shaggy hair that framed it, despite the gauntness of skin and bone.

But – ‘No, no, no,’ Christian complained. ‘This isn’t right!’ He felt about beside him, apparently searching for a bottle – which he was disheartened to discover empty. ‘Not right at all.’

‘I can see that nothing’s right! But what exactly are you talking about?’

‘You! Look at you, Arch… You’re all grown up!’ Christian rolled his head against the wall, and peered up at Archie’s companion. ‘And who the hell’s the stick insect? No, this isn’t right. Whenever I dream of you, Arch, you’re fifteen years old and being debauched in a hay loft.’

Horatio abruptly wanted to sit down, feeling horribly queasy. Not that he could work out exactly why, but something struck him as very wrong in what had just been said. The problem was that there was nowhere safe or sanitary to sit. He settled for wrapping his arms round his own waist instead.

Archie had settled himself down on the floor beside his brother, and snuggled into his side, and now he was happily murmuring, ‘You dream about me…?’

‘You bet I do…’ was the whispered reply, accompanied by the most provocative of smiles.

Archie responded by looking pink–cheeked and rather pleased with himself.

Horatio cleared his throat. He really didn’t want this reunion to head the way he feared it was heading… Not that he’d quite said to himself yet where he feared it was heading, but he didn’t like it, wherever it was.

At the reminder of Horatio’s presence, Archie sobered up a little. ‘This isn’t a dream,’ he said earnestly. ‘It’s me, Christian. It’s your very own Arch come to visit you.’

‘And who’s that you brought with you?’

‘This is Horatio. He’s my True Love.’

‘I thought I was!’ Christian protested.

‘Well, he’s the other one.’

‘You can’t have two True Loves!’

‘Yes, you can.’

‘Look, I’m the poet, so I know about these things, Arch. Leave it to the experts, why don’t you?’

Horatio, feeling very ill and somewhat ignored, cleared his throat again – which prompted Archie to belatedly complete his introduction. ‘Um, Horatio, this is Christian.’

‘It’s a pleasure to meet you,’ Horatio said as politely as he could.

‘Liar!’ the man responded.

‘No, I assure you – it’s a pleasure to meet someone who looks as if he’s suffering from a worse hangover than me.’

Christian snorted with laughter. ‘I look worse than you…? Never in a million years!’

Well, Horatio just wasn’t going to descend to that level. ‘Archie,’ he said, ‘perhaps we should try to locate a room before the afternoon passes us by.’

Archie didn’t move from his brother’s side. ‘Can you do that for us, Horatio? I can’t leave him here alone.’

‘Why not? It seems that all his other friends have.’

Horatio had the bitter satisfaction of seeing Christian flinch – and then the bitter resentment of seeing him curl up into his brother’s compassionate embrace…

Archie looked up at him, his blue eyes demanding something noble from Horatio, and he quietly sang, ‘God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes, cause then you really might know what it’s like to sing the blues.’

‘I know about the blues,’ Horatio said, voice harsher than he’d intended. ‘I know, believe me.’ And he turned away, and walked right out of there.

 

‘The woman I loved… Satine, whom I loved, is dead. She was so… She was beyond the words of a poet to describe. And I… I loved her more than… Oh, dear God, do you know what it’s like to lose your True Love?’

Christian was rambling through his painful story, and obviously not thinking rationally, but that last question hit Archie hard. ‘Look at me,’ he whispered. ‘Don’t you remember who you’re talking to?’ When that pale face lifted to meet his gaze, Archie caressed the hollow cheek, smoothed the rough beard. ‘What was the last thing I said to you before you left?’

‘You said… You asked me why I had to leave home to find True Love, when it had been by my side all along.’

‘I know what it’s like,’ Archie confirmed.

‘I’m sorry. I didn’t know how it felt – not back then.’ Christian tucked his head against Archie’s shoulder again, and wept some more. ‘I’m so sorry, Arch.’

‘It’s all right. It’s all right now,’ Archie murmured. ‘I just wish you hadn’t been hurt so badly.’

‘Then, one by one they all… He was right, you know. Your friend, the stick insect. One by one they all left. Even Toulouse. He was the last. But I can’t leave. Do you see? That’s all that’s left of her. That’s all there is that’s left of my darling Satine…’

The ruins of the Moulin Rouge night club and theatre were visible through the windows from where they sat. Archie had never seen anything sadder or less worth staying for. But he knew about memories, and the need to cling to the wreckage long past any hope of being saved. If only… If only Christian had felt the same way for Archie as Archie had felt for him – then they need never have parted in the first place, and neither would ever have had to survive this terrible pain.

‘When the day is long,’ Archie softly sang to his poor grieving brother, ‘and the night, the night is yours alone. When you’re sure you’ve had enough of this life, well, hang on.’

Christian quietened a little, listening.

‘Don’t let yourself go. Everybody cries, and everybody hurts, sometimes.’

‘But everybody doesn’t hurt like this,’ Christian muttered.

‘Yes, they do. And they live to tell the tale. So, maybe you can, too, all right?’

‘No…’

‘Take comfort in your friends, Christian. I’m here now – take comfort in me. Hold on for me.’

‘Arch…’

‘If you’re on your own in this life, and the days and nights are long. When you think you’ve had too much of this life to hang on. Well, everybody hurts. Sometimes, everybody cries. Everybody hurts, sometimes.’

‘Arch…’ And Christian was settling further into his brother’s arms, and was maybe even drifting off into a peaceful slumber.

‘Everybody hurts, sometimes,’ Archie murmured, making it a lullaby as well as a prayer, ‘so hold on… hold on… hold on…’

 

Archie left Christian curled up sleeping on the floor amidst the empty bottles – which he figured was no worse an option than the bed – and headed down to the street. Horatio was there, of course, patiently waiting for him, propped against the building opposite, and looking even more ill than he had in the coach.

A dwarf was standing beside Horatio, and the sailor was staring down at him with a weird, horrified, green–tinged kind of fascination. ‘Sacré bleu! I don’t understand,’ the dwarf protested, gesticulating largely. ‘What could you possibly want that I can’t provide?’

‘Uh…’

‘I’ve got all shapes, all sizes, all genders, all persuasions –’

‘Aren’t there only two?’ Horatio interrupted him. ‘In which case, it’s both genders.’

Garçon, have you got a lot to learn… Lucky you came to the right place!’ The dwarf rubbed his hands together, and giggled salaciously. ‘We can begin your education right now, monsieur, starting with the more obvious delights of –’

‘No!’ Horatio protested with both hands out, having caught sight of Archie. Relief painted his face a slightly healthier colour. ‘I’m with him, see? That’s why I’m here. He’s who I want.’

The dwarf looked dubiously up at Archie. ‘Well, if you’re sure.’

Archie winked at the dwarf, and smiled as if he had it all covered. Which he did.

‘I’m sure,’ Horatio firmly replied. And he grabbed Archie by the elbow, and dragged him off down the street. ‘You must promise me one thing. Never leave me alone here again!’

Archie chuckled. ‘Yeah, don’t worry – you can trust your education to me instead.’

But that fell flat. Horatio stared fixedly straight ahead, and let go of Archie’s elbow. ‘Yes,’ he eventually said, ‘apparently I can.’

They were silent, then, until Horatio led Archie into the room he’d reserved in a small hotel a few streets away towards the nicer parts of Paris. And even when they got there, they were silent some more. Archie went to stand by the window, though he couldn’t have said what was on the other side of the lace curtains and the thick panes of glass. Horatio poured them each a well–watered wine, and then sat down on the bed – the only place there was to sit – as if he couldn’t bear standing up any longer.

Eventually Archie said, ‘I’m going to stay with him.’

‘What?’ Though Horatio sounded more angry than surprised. ‘Archie… How long is it since we’ve had shore leave together?’

‘A long, long time.’

‘We were going to… We were…’

‘I know.’ Archie closed his eyes. They were going to spend every moment together, and do all the things that they just couldn’t do on board ship. They’d been looking forward to it for months, talking dirty to each other while making plans… ‘But I have to take care of him.’

‘Does he even want you to? Maybe he just wants to be left alone.’

‘You saw him! I can’t leave him alone like that.’

‘Can’t – or won’t?’

‘He’s my brother, Horatio.’

Silence. Not an accepting kind of silence. Warily, Archie turned around to see what Horatio was doing. The turmoil on his face was painful to see. As if Horatio couldn’t decide whether he was more shocked and disgusted than jealous and angry, or maybe just all four of those roiling emotions at once, and more of each than he’d ever known before.

‘You – you and he –’

‘Yes. But it wasn’t a bad thing, all right? I really did love him.’

Horatio just shook his head, as if he had no idea what to say, or even where to begin.

‘I thought you liked that I’m wicked,’ Archie wistfully said.

‘Well – yes – I did. But I had no idea, Archie!’

‘Is it so beyond the pale that I –’

‘Yes!’ Horatio swallowed hard. ‘Incest.’ He was back to looking ill. ‘It’s the worst sin in the book.’

‘I thought that was sodomy. And even you’re guilty of that.’

Which wounded the man. Deeply. He stood up, quivering with anger and disgust. It occurred to Archie that Horatio was fighting the urge to hit him.

‘Contempt in your eyes when I turn to kiss his lips…’

Horatio glared at him, hands clenched.

‘Broken I lie, all my feelings denied, blood on your fist…’

‘Stop it!’

‘Can you tell me why?’

‘Stop it, Archie!

‘Can you tell me why?’

‘All right! Go to him, if that’s where you want to be! Just go!’

‘Horatio…’

‘I’ll stay here. For a few days. If you want me, you’ll know where to find me.’

Archie desperately wanted to kiss the man. To reassure him. To reassure himself. But that wasn’t going to happen. Instead, he put the glass of wine down, and quietly walked out of Horatio’s hotel room. As he closed the door behind him, he saw Horatio stretching out on the bed as if he were laying himself down to rest in peace. The sight sent a chill through Archie’s heart.

 

Horatio hefted the hamper under one arm, put on his bravest face, and knocked quietly at the door to Christian’s apartment. No reply. He waited through a long moment or two, to be sure. But he couldn’t just leave the food and beer out in the hallway where any of these poor wretched people might find it. He knocked again, and then tried the door handle. It wasn’t locked. Rolling his eyes at this lax security, Horatio let himself in.

The place was just as dark as the day before, though it appeared Archie had made some attempt at cleaning. Horatio pursed his mouth in distaste, and looked about him for a good place to put the hamper. Which was when he saw them.

Which was when he saw the two of them curled up together in the bed.

Horatio found himself walking closer, stepping carefully around the debris, though he really didn’t, he would have sworn on his life that he really didn’t want to see anything more. Archie was lying there, with Christian snuggled close around him, and they were both as deeply asleep as if they’d found themselves home again at last.

Archie. His own sweet wicked Archie. Although it was obvious now that Archie had never been his at all.

Despite which, when Archie opened his eyes and looked up at Horatio, he smiled with an immediate instinctive happiness. ‘Hello!’ he murmured. Then he began extricating himself from Christian’s embrace, obviously trying not to wake him. Eventually, Archie was standing there before Horatio, lifting a hand to caress his cheek. ‘You look so beautiful,’ was the whispered observation, ‘when you’re yearning for me.’

Horatio closed his eyes. Were all his feelings so apparent?

‘Look at the stars, look how they shine for you, and everything you do. Yeah they were all yellow.’

But Horatio couldn’t bear how much he wanted Archie. Remembering the hamper, he held it out as an offering in lieu of himself. ‘I brought dinner for us all. I would think the three of us are in need of sustenance at present! Well,’ he added lamely, gaze snagged by the bed where Christian now lay alone, ‘it’s a late breakfast for the two of you, I suppose.’

‘You’re very kind.’ Archie had put the hamper down on the floor, and was rummaging through all the goodies, on which Horatio had not stinted – then Archie caught up a bottle of beer, opened it, and took a long drink. He stood, and offered the bottle to Horatio. Knowing what Horatio was staring at, Archie said, ‘Yes, we slept together. But we only slept together, all right?’

Horatio swallowed some beer, and felt no better for it. He noted that Archie was, indeed, still fully dressed, which seemed to support his claim. But, unable to prevent himself any longer, he blurted, ‘What did you ever want with me, Archie? I must be so… ordinary by comparison.’

‘Oh, sweetheart… Ordinary is the very last thing that you are.’ But the sympathy in Archie’s voice sounded suspiciously like pity.

‘Good Lord, the stick insect returns!’

Horatio sighed, and didn’t deign to acknowledge Christian’s greeting.

Archie said, very evenly, ‘I can tell how badly he’s been hurt, Horatio, by his cruelty. Christian was never cruel before. He was always gentle and generous.’

‘And that, I take it,’ Horatio stiffly replied, ‘is your completely unbiased opinion.’

‘And I can tell how badly you’re hurting, by your unfairness. You’re never unfair, Horatio.’ Archie took the beer over to his brother. ‘Look, Christian – he’s brought us dinner. Or breakfast, if you prefer.’

Christian drank thirstily, and then laughed. ‘Ordinary men are good for something, then.’

‘It follows that strange men are good for nothing,’ Horatio retorted.

‘Oh, for God’s sake… If you really want to earn my brother’s love, you’d better drag yourself into the new century.’

‘Actually, this is the last year of the old century.’

‘Whatever.’

‘I’ve been known to be wicked!’ Horatio declared.

Christian laughed again, and even Archie tried to hide an amused smile.

‘I have! Why, there was a time back home when I lusted after the parson’s wife!’

This failed to convince either of the other men. In fact, Christian began laughing so hard that he ended up curled on the floor clutching his stomach. Archie was grinning outright, but at least there was some kindness and interest in it. ‘And did she love you, too?’ Archie asked.

‘No!’ He was appalled by the notion. And then a little intrigued. ‘Well, at least, I don’t think so…’

‘So, you never actually had her?’ Christian spluttered.

‘Well – no.’

‘Oh, you’re wicked, all right, stick insect. You’re the Devil incarnate!’

Archie was already helping himself to the food, and Christian now dug in with a vigour. Horatio had, however, lost whatever appetite he’d had. He sighed, and sat down on the bed, manfully ignoring the fact that Archie had lately been sharing it with someone else. With his own brother.

On the floor behind him, Christian was crooning to Archie. ‘I came along, I wrote a song for you, and all the things you do, and it was called yellow.’

Horatio closed his eyes again. It didn’t help. Nothing was going to help this hopeless situation.

He cleared his throat. ‘I’m going back to Calais,’ he announced. ‘I’ll see you on board, Archie, when you return from your leave.’ This latter sentence was more of a question than a statement.

‘Horatio…?’

When Horatio opened his eyes again, Archie was kneeling before him. That handsome face, that mop of gold, those compassionate blues. ‘Do what you have to do,’ Horatio whispered.

Archie sang to him: ‘Your love, oh yeah your precious love, turns me into something beautiful. Do you know – you know I love you so… You know I love you so.’

But all Horatio could manage to say was, ‘Don’t sing his song to me!’ And he stood. ‘As for you,’ he said to Christian. ‘Save yourself. The world can’t do it for you. Archie can’t do it for you. Save yourself!’

And he walked out. Horatio walked out of Christian’s apartment. He walked out of Montmartre. And then he just kept walking. It was the only thing he could think of doing. Because he knew he’d lost. He knew ordinary men never won. And, anyway, the prize – by Archie’s own admission – was looking somewhat tarnished.

 

Archie sat there on the dusty floorboards, hugging his knees to his chest, singing softly to himself. ‘Your love, oh yeah your precious love, turns me into something beautiful. Do you know – for you I’d bleed myself dry… For you I’d bleed myself dry.’ And that was exactly how he felt. Bled dry. Because he knew he’d lost. He knew wicked men never won. ‘Look at the stars, look how they shine for you, and all the things that you do…’

Eventually Archie sighed, and he lifted his head, and he saw Christian standing in the window, looking down over the Moulin Rouge. His brother was contemplative. Thoughtful. In fact, there was something in his stance of the old Christian – the confident Christian, full of faith, whole of heart.

After a while, Christian came back inside, and headed for the typewriter. Considered it for a moment, then dusted it off as best he could.

‘Christian?’

The man startled a little, as if he’d thought himself alone. ‘Yeah, Arch?’

‘What are you doing?’

‘He was right, you know. The stick insect. You can’t help me. I have to save myself.’

‘How?’

Christian smiled oh–so–faintly. He looked so much better than he had. ‘I’m a writer. And a writer writes.’

‘Oh…’ Archie nodded, beginning to understand.

But Christian was standing there, hands on hips, staring down at him with a brow raised. ‘Get out of here, all right? I can’t write with you moping around. Go find your True Love the stick insect, eh? He won’t have gone far.’

To Archie’s dismay, he was promptly chased out of the apartment, and the door was closed firmly behind him. He stood there in the hallway for a few minutes, until he heard the clatter of a few typewriter keys. Another brief clatter. And then Christian settled into a steady rhythm… Archie sighed as if all the life were draining away from him, and he headed down the stairs. What else could he do? Losing both of his True Loves in one day was just… beyond words. Beyond words and even beyond tears for a wicked man who’d never ever been a poet.

 

There was plenty of maintenance work to perform on the Indy while she was anchored off Calais, so Horatio kept himself busy from morn through to midnight, when he fell exhausted into his lone narrow bunk. But swabbing and repainting, stocktaking and repairing wasn’t the kind of work that kept his mind occupied, so he had plenty of time to reflect on what had happened.

Throughout the first day, he felt hurt and righteous and indignant.

But on the second day, a hint of foolishness crept in. Why on earth had he walked out? He remembered Archie singing to him – ‘You know I love you so…’ – with nothing but sincerity in those perfect blues. And, after all, he’d always known Archie was no innocent. Was it really so shocking that Archie had loved his own brother before any other man?

Yes! Incest, my God…

But – no, in all honesty, Horatio had to admit by the third day, it wasn’t really much more shocking than the fact that Archie had loved Horatio, too. The three of them were men, that was all, and they shared a sense of adventure. Archie and Christian’s sense of adventure was rather more outrageous than Horatio’s, but what of that?

By the fourth day, Horatio was feeling lonelier than he’d ever done before – and that was saying something. He ached for Archie’s kindness and companionship. And it became more and more obvious to Horatio that this most compassionate of men would of course have chosen to take care of his brother, who was in need. What else could Horatio have expected? Wanting Archie to indulge him in rollicking days and wicked nights when Christian needed him – well, it was as if he’d asked Archie to be someone else entirely. Ridiculous!

It was then that Horatio decided he had better go back to Paris and offer his apologies to Archie. He still – yes, he still hated and resented and envied Christian – but he would apologise to his beloved Archie. His darling Archie, who of course wouldn’t really be interested any more in such an ordinary man as Horatio, but – well, the two of them deserved to part on better terms than this. The two of them deserved to remain friends, if they possibly could.

The crew’s shore leave was due to end on the sixth day. Horatio spoke to Captain Pellew, and asked him to grant some additional personal leave for Archie, just in case he needed to stay longer with Christian – and then Horatio headed for Paris again, and Montmartre.

 

Christian’s garret really was empty this time. It had taken Horatio a while to gather enough courage to let himself in and look at the bed – the image of the two brothers curled up there together was still vivid in his mind’s eye – but there was no one there.

Horatio sighed, and walked further into the room, wondering whether there was anything he could do but wait. The hamper, empty of nourishment now, was sitting in the same place there on the floor, surrounded by the debris of wrappers and peels and bottles. And there was something that was different, though Horatio hadn’t noticed at first in the general gloom. There were pages pinned to the wall, rows and rows of pages covering the walls… He found the stub of a candle, lit it, and went to look at them. A novel, typed out on yellowing paper. Christian’s story. Horatio scanned back to the left, and found the corner where the tale began, and he started reading…

This is a story about truth, beauty, freedom – but, above all, love.

When Horatio reached the end, three candle stubs and two burned fingers later, he let himself crumple to the floor in tears. Now he understood. Christian had searched for True Love, and had discovered it in the rarest of places with his exotic Satine; he’d had to survive the thought that she’d chosen another; and then just when he knew that her love for him was as true as his own for her, she died in his arms. Tell our story, Christian. That way we’ll always be together. Well, one couldn’t hate or resent or envy a man who had lived through this joy and this suffering… One couldn’t blame the man’s brother for wanting to try to rescue him from his grief…

‘My Archie, perdono… Christian, perdono…’ And, in asking their forgiveness, Horatio finally forgave himself.

Oh cielo! Che veggio!’ It was Christian, standing in the doorway. Heavens! What do I see? ‘The return of the stick insect!’ he declared. ‘And he’s murdering poor Mozart all over again!’

Archie came in behind him, hope dawning on his face. ‘Horatio…?’

Christian obligingly continued, ‘Deliro! Vaneggio!’ I’m raving! Going crazy! The three of them were slowly walking towards each other. Archie joined in with Christian on, ‘Che creder non so.’ I don’t know what to believe.

Which allowed Horatio to begin again. ‘My Archie, perdono… Christian, perdono…’

Archie was grinning so hard that he almost couldn’t take up the Contessa’s reply. ‘Più docile io sono, e dico di sì.’ I am clement, and answer yes.

The three of them joined hands for the conclusion. ‘Ah! Tutti contenti saremo così.’ Ah! All shall be made happy thereby.

And then Christian let loose with a glorious, ‘The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is to love, and be loved in return.’ He was grinning at his brother and his brother’s lover. ‘Here endeth the lesson.’

‘You came back,’ Archie said to Horatio. Christian tactfully headed off to take down the pages of his novel from the walls, and gather them together in order.

‘I’m sorry, Archie. I was an idiot.’

Archie shook his head, dismissing the need to apologise. ‘I just want you to know one thing.’

‘Yes?’

‘You’re the most extraordinary man I ever met, Horatio! You’ll just have to take my word on that.’

‘And you’re the best man I ever met. The best in every way.’

They kissed – and it was the purest, most beautiful, and most intense kiss they’d ever shared. Even Christian was gaping at them by the time they were done.

‘So,’ Archie asked, those blue eyes sparkling, ‘what now?’

‘We still have some shore leave left…’

‘And we still have that hotel room of yours… That’s where I’ve been staying.’

Horatio smiled broadly. ‘Well, we had better try to carry out all those plans we made.’

‘Bye, Christian!’ Archie cried, as he dragged Horatio out of the apartment.

‘Bye, Arch! Take care of him, sailor.’

‘I will,’ Horatio promised as he endeavoured not to fall down the stairs in their hurry. ‘Oh, I will!’

 

Finis

 

Borrowed lyrics: Tubthumping by Chumbawamba; The Good Ship Venus, traditional; Rule Britannia by Thomson & Mallett; He’s on the Beach by Kirsty MacColl; What it’s Like by Everclear; Everybody Hurts by REM; Why? by Bronski Beat; Yellow by Coldplay; and the finale from The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart.

Subscribe to these comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *