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A Christmas Memory: Archie
by Sara


It was nearing Christmas Eve, and the Indefatigable was on her way back
to Portsmouth. She arrived in port on the morning of the 24th, and most
of her officers and crew were given leave. Lt. Archie Kennedy stood on
the quarterdeck smelling the crisp snowing filled air. He smiled as a
sense of peace and well-being suffused him. Archie turned, still
smiling, as Horatio ascended the ladder to join him on the quarterdeck.

"It feels good to be home." Archie said.

"Are you going to your family's estates?" Horatio asked.

Archie's face fell, and he shook his head. He looked down at his hands,
and saw they'd clenched into fists. Horatio watched him curiously.

"Archie?" he pressed.

"I've taken rooms in town," Archie said. "It's too far for me to reach
my father's estate."

"Don't you want to go home?" Horatio asked, thinking of the snug house
his father inhabited.

"The Indy IS home, Horatio." Archie replied.

Horatio looked out over her deck, "You may come home with me." he
offered.

Archie looked at him, "Thank you, but no. Your father wants see you,
not us." his expression expressed his gratitude.

"I'm sure he wouldn't...." Horatio started.

"I'll be fine, Horatio. Go spend some time with your father." Archie's
voice was firm as he interrupted.

The two men stood silently together watching the snow blow about the
deck. Horatio shivered as Archie sniffed. They looked at each other,
and tried to suppress their giggles.

"When are you leaving?" Archie asked, his face still alight with
laughter.

"An hour." Horatio replied, as the bell was struck.

"Then we can leave together."

Horatio nodded as he headed for the ladder. Archie remained where he
was, hands clasped behind his back, face flushed with cold.

*********************************************

The hour passed briskly as Horatio threw things in his bag. He looked
about his quarters, and smiled slightly as he silently agreed with Archie
that the Indy had become home. He looked up as footsteps stopped just
outside his door, and someone knocked.

"Come in," he called.

Archie tuck his head in, "Ready?"

Horatio hefted his bag in reply. Archie stepped back to let him pass.
Together they made their way up on deck, and skillfully boarded the
waiting jolly boat as she leapt in the waves. The short trip to shore
seemed to take ages, and Archie hid his grin as Horatio's skin took an a
distinctly greenish cast.

"Well, here we are," Archie said, jumping from the boat, and grabbing
first his bag and then Horatio's.

"Aye," Horatio replied, jaw working against his nausea.

"Have you arranged for transportation?" Archie asked.

Horatio swayed a bit on his feet. Discreetly, Archie steadied him.
Archie gently guided him to a bench, and they both sat down.

"You'll feel better in a few minutes," he said quietly.

Horatio looked at him, and lightly flushed, "I'm perfectly fine," he
stated.

Archie nodded, eyebrows raised. He cleared his throat before asking
again, "Have you arranged for a carriage?"

This time Horatio nodded. He gestured to a waiting coach.

"Let's get you on your way then," Archie said, rising o his feet.

He picked up both bags, and headed for the carriage. Horatio followed,
glaring slightly at Archie's jaunty steps. Archie set down his bag, and
opened the carriage door. With a smooth motion, he threw Horatio's bag
into the carriage box.

"Happy Christmas, Horatio." he said as Horatio climbed into the seat.
"Convey my greetings to your father."

"I will. You're sure you won't come with me?"

Archie closed the carriage door, and picked up his bag in reply. He
grinned and waved as the carriage lurched away. He turned and headed for
his lodging.

**********************************************

The Boar's Head Tavern was welcoming and warm. Archie threw his bag on
his bed, and looked out the frosty window letting his thoughts drift.

"Poor Horatio," he murmured, smiling, "I hope he makes it home without
disgracing himself. He'll be mortified otherwise."

Archie sniffed the air as cooking smells wafted up to him. His smile
grew nostalgic as he identified roast pork among the myriad of other
scents. He listened to the rumble of voices. With a contented sigh, he
joined the other men in the taproom.

He settled at a table in the corner, a mug of hard cider before him.
From his chosen spot, he could observe everything in this section of the
tavern.

"Get out 'o me kitchen, ye yoong scalawag!" a woman's voice called.

Archie grinned as he saw a boy scamper into the hallway followed by the
woman brandishing a wooden spoon in the air.

******************************************

Archie's grin turned to a chuckle as the image of Cook chasing him in
the same manner when he was about six leapt into his mind. They'd ended
up on opposite sides of the long trestle table with his chewing on the
carrot he'd filched, and her shaking a wooden pestle at him.

*Yoong sir, out 'o me kitchen, or Oi'll tell yer father you bin
bothering at me.*

He'd been saved from answering by the sudden appearance of his mother.
She smiled at the tableau.

*Cook, has Archie been stealing scraps again?* she'd asked, tone teasing
as she'd ruffled his hair.

"Mebbe joost a bit.* Cook replied with a fond smile for the youngster
with his mop of blonde curls.

His mother's touch was gentle as she'd guided him from the kitchen. She
knelt before him and took hold of both his shoulders looking him straight
in the eye.

*Your father has invited guests for dinner, so you mustn't bother Cook
any further. Run along and change your clothes, we leave for church
shortly.*

After he'd changed, he crept into his mother's room where her maid was
finishing her hair. As she examined the style critically, she caught a
glimpse of Archie in the mirror. She turned to him.

*You are beautiful, Mama.* his blue eyes appeared enormous in his face.
He edged out from his hiding place.

She motioned for him to come over, and she hugged him gently. Her maid
continued to fuss with her hair, so she had to let Archie go.

*Will you do something for me?* she asked. Archie nodded solemnly. *I
need some amusement while Amelia finishes my hair. Will you sing
something for me?*

Archie's little face lit up as he nodded. With a quick gasp of air, he
began to sing. His soprano voice rising clearly through the murmuring in
the other rooms.

*On Christmas night all people sing to hear the news the Angels
bring...* he paused and watched his mother expectantly.

She smiled as she repeated the line. They sang through all three verses
of the "Sussex Carol" together. Archie remembered how safe, secure, and
loved he'd felt that evening in his mother's arms.

***********************************************

The smells and sounds of the Boar's Head Tavern broke into the memory,
but his feeling of security remained. He joined in the cheer as the
boar's head, complete with an apple in it's mouth, was carried from the
kitchen. He looked around, startled, as the assembled people began to
sing. He took a deep breath as joined in, his voice now a light tenor.

"Wassail, Wassail, all over the town...."

***********************************************

A few days later, his leave over, Horatio reported back to the Indy.
Archie, the Officer of the Watch, greeted him upon his return. Together
they went below as Archie's relief appeared. Horatio threw his bag in
his quarters, and continued to Archie's berth. He hesitated a moment
before knocking.

"Come," Archie called.

Horatio entered to find Archie sitting with a miniature held in his
hand. His expression was peaceful. Horatio sat down, too, a bit
uncomfortably.

"How was your Christmas, Archie?" he asked.

Archie looked down at the painting, and smiled contentedly before
turning to Horatio. "Fine, Horatio. Did you have a good visit with your
father?"

"You would have been welcome." Horatio answered, looking curiously at
the painting.

Archie held it so Horatio could see the woman represented. "My mother."
he said. He looked back down, and took a deep breath before he
continued, "I went home for Christmas. The home of my childhood. It was
good."

"But I thought it was too far," Horatio said, confused.

"It was good," Archie repeated. His expression was almost luminous.

Horatio wanted to press Archie for detail, but the peaceful happiness
which radiated from him discouraged questions. The two friends sat
together silently. Their companionable silence was broken by Archie's
quiet humming. Horatio couldn't identify the tune, but he recognized the
joy behind it.
________________________________________________________