A Ridiculous Pleasure
by Kimberly Heggen
Author's note: This is a little bit out of the usual timeline for stories for this list, as it takes place during Flying Colours. For those who haven't gotten that far yet, or if it's been a while, there's this lovely bit during the escape across France that just begs to be written up. Hornblower, Bush and Brown are masquerading as simple Frenchmen on a fishing trip down the river, and it's basically an extended picnic. Horatio gets to learn a few things about himself, and not the least is his discovery that he can appreciate Bush as a friend as well as a subordinate. There are a couple of rainy nights on their trip, and they are forced to huddle together for shelter. Hornblower admits to himself that "there had been a ridiculous pleasure about waking up to find Bush snoring beside him with a protective arm across him." I couldn't resist elaborating on this scene.
One other comment: Usually in fanfic, I refer to Our Hero by his first name. In this case, I am trying to match my style a little bit more to Forester's, so he will be spoken of by his surname.
Brown squinted up at the sky as he finished rinsing the cook-pot. They had stopped a little earlier than usual today; the sun was just now sinking through the trees.
"Look at those clouds over to the west, sir. We'll have rain before morning." He lifted the pot out of the river and gave it a shake. "We may have to rig some shelter, sir."
Hornblower nodded. "We can use one of the blankets, I suppose," he mused without much enthusiasm. The boat cover would do a better job of keeping rain off their heads, made as it was of tightly woven canvas, but if they were truly expecting rain then the stores in the boat would also be in need of protection.
They had only two blankets each, though, and to use a blanket as a sort of primitive tent meant that someone would be doing without... most likely Brown. That was the way of things in the navy, but it still seemed unfair to Hornblower that the man who did the most physical work would have the least comfort. He had to admit, though, that Brown, heavily muscled and quite fit, would probably feel the privation the least of the three of them. Hornblower sighed, and put it out of his mind for the moment, choosing instead to gaze at the spectacular sunset while Bush threw another log on the fire.
Half an hour later, he heard rustling and crackling sounds as Brown fussed over their sleeping arrangements, and he rose reluctantly to his feet to assist. He had made a deliberate point of trying to help with the camp-setting tasks every night; at first Brown had been horrified. Hornblower had persisted, and Brown had once again shown his admirable adaptability by understanding that his captain had a need to feel useful.
Brown had selected a relatively level spot screened by low bushes that would afford them some degree of protection from the elements. On these little river islands, there were of course no trees of any size; but a blanket hung between dense shrubs seemed likely to be a workable shelter.
Hornblower helped Brown stretch the blanket taut, and using cord and some small round stones from the river, they attached the corners to four convenient bushes. Bush, finished with banking the fire for the night, stumped carefully over the uneven ground with an armload of branches and boughs. He dumped them on the ground underneath their jury-rigged shelter. "This'll keep us up off the ground a bit, sir."
Hornblower eyed him suspiciously. At most of their camps, Bush and Brown both had slept on the bare ground, with only blankets between their bodies and the unyielding rocks and soil. He himself had usually had a pad of bracken, heaped up by a solicitous Brown. He knew quite well, therefore, that Bush's pile of twigs and branches had been gathered with his captain's comfort in mind.
As he saw Brown beginning to roll up in his one remaining blanket, along one side of their tiny shelter (and the side from which the wind was blowing), Hornblower came to a sudden decision. He freed one of his two blankets and tossed it on top of Brown.
"Sir!" he protested. "What are you doing?"
"Take it," Hornblower growled. "I intend to lie in the middle, between the two of you, and that will keep me warmer. You're our windbreak, Brown. You're going to need two blankets."
Brown continued to protest, but Hornblower simply ignored him and therefore won by sheer stubbornness. As he settled into the crackling and fragrant boughs, with his one blanket wrapped around him, he took a moment to feel pleased at his moral victory and undoubted demonstration of his own hardiness. The sky was beginning to cloud up, but as yet there was no rain. The wind was still light. With a large muscular body to either side of him, providing a certain amount of passive heat, Hornblower was able to drift off to sleep without much difficulty.
When he awoke, some hours later, he found himself forced to confront the extent of his own folly. The rain had begun in earnest, and the temperature had dropped significantly. He tucked the blanket even more closely about him and tried to return to sleep. The cold seemed to seep under the blanket and through the cushioning pile of bracken, until his entire body grew stiff and chilled.
He cursed himself and his own pride. He knew that now he had no choice but to lie awake until morning rescued him, and put up with being fatigue-stupid tomorrow. He sighed heavily, and willed himself to lie still until dawn... until even he had to admit to himself that he was starting to shiver.
Next to him, Bush stirred and mumbled. Hornblower held his breath for a moment, hoping not to wake his first lieutenant, but the damage was done. Bush's eyes opened and came to focus on Hornblower's face.
"Sir... you're cold." It was a bald statement, not a question.
Hornblower weighed his alternatives, then opted for partial honesty. "A bit."
"Sir... I'll be warm enough." Bush struggled to sit up. "Take one of my blankets, sir, and..."
"I'll do no such thing," hissed Hornblower. "Being cold won't kill me. Besides, I'm so much thinner than you are that this blanket really goes around me almost twice." He hoped that Bush wouldn't see the obvious gaps in this logic. "I'm better off than you would be with only one."
Bush shook his head stubbornly. "I won't sleep, sir, not a bit... not when I know you're shivering like that. Let me help." This time, he sat up all the way, and threw off his own blankets. "Take that one blanket of yours, sir, and spread it out under you... like this... and under me. Now," Bush tossed the other two blankets on top of them both, "we'll share these, and we'll soon have you warm again."
When Bush first pulled the blanket off of him, Hornblower fought the urge to swear as what little body heat remained to him was dissipated into the mist. But Bush had the bedding re-arranged speedily, with one blanket beneath them and the other two tucked closely about them. Within seconds, Hornblower could feel himself beginning to grow warmer. The blankets were partly responsible, but Bush's large frame also threw off an amazing amount of heat. Hornblower allowed himself a quiet sigh of contentment and moved a fraction of an inch closer to his benefactor.
"Thank you, Mr. Bush," he said softly.
"You're welcome, sir. I only wish I'd thought of it earlier."
Lulled to sleep by the soft breathing on either side of him, Hornblower drifted off into the soft dark clouds of slumber.
He awoke at dawn, warm and surprisingly comfortable, to the sounds of soft snoring. At first he was disoriented, opening his eyes to grey blanket overhead instead of open sky... and why did he seemed to be pinned down by something heavy? Turning his head slightly, and looking over his shoulder, he realized that the unexpected weight was Bush's strong right arm... thrown protectively over him, under the clammy blankets. Both of them had shifted positions while they slept, so that Hornblower now found himself held close against Bush's broad chest. No wonder he was so warm.
He grinned to himself. In the light of day, he was more amused than embarrassed by his friend's solicitousness. And... he had to admit it, he was touched as well. Sharing his blankets to get his captain warm had been the act of a conscientious subordinate; Brown would have done the same for him if he had been the one awakened. To wrap an arm around his commanding officer while sleeping was the act, instead, of a trusted friend..
Hornblower peered at the sky, then at his two companions. Neither was stirring, and it was still quite early. He generally believed in starting their day's voyaging down the river as soon as it was light... but out there, the cold rain still fell and the harsh wind blew. Here, under these blankets with him, beat the warm heart of a true friend: an oaken warrior who had once again proved his worth to his captain. He settled himself back into his blankets, and let his eyes drift closed again.
Surely the river could wait a little longer.