This is a short fic from Sail Away. Many of them are vignettes that go with the holidays, and since the next one coming up (that would've been celebrated in 1803) is Valentine's Day, here's a glimpse of Stealth Cupid on the high seas:
Token of Affection
“The ladies, God bless ‘em!”
The toast was duly drunk: first to the Captain’s wife, then to First Lieutenant Drinkwater’s, and so on down the line. The younger lieutenants and midshipmen of His Majesty’s frigate Calypso, most of whom were not so fortunate as to have a wife or sweetheart, swapped feminine relatives for their salutes. Lieutenant David Archer praised, in a chastely avuncular manner, the beauty and charm of Mr Drinkwater’s eight-year-old daughter, while Lieutenant William Marshall raised his glass to Mr Archer’s sisters–all four of them, two of whom were already married–and was duly chaffed for his ambition. The ship's surgeon, Dr. Curran, who received innumerable missives from the fair sex, finished with, "To our wives and sweethearts—may they never meet!"
Marshall had come off his watch just before supper; Archer was off-duty for the rest of the evening. Now that the official acknowledgement of romantic love was over, they had a little time to spend indulging in the genuine article – even though they couldn’t risk an active celebration. “Mr. Archer, would you care to resume our study of Shakespeare?”
“Certainly, sir.” Having matched his lover’s formality, Davy took another tack. “One of these days, Will, we shall have to round up the hands and stage a theatrical. I long to see Klingler play Bottom.”
“Your longing in that direction may be forever unrequited,” Will said. “Though if you could convince him it was a starring role, I’m sure he would acquit himself well. And who would you cast as Titania? Yourself?”
“No, I’d rather be Puck. If his lines aren’t delivered properly no one can understand the story. That new little mid – Beecroft? – he looks the part but that stammer of his would be fatal.”
“Do you think Captain Smith would approve such a thing?”
“We’ve nothing to lose by asking. So long as their work does not suffer, what harm is there in educating British sailors in some of the greatest drama in the English language?” Davy grinned. “It will keep them on their toes while this infernal blockade duty persists. Besides, do you think Sir Paul could turn down the part of Oberon?”
“And what part would
you give me?” Will asked as they reached his cabin. “I would have thought you’d want to see my
Davy gasped. “Will! Was that a pun?”
“I fear it is. Your evil influence, no doubt.” He pulled Davy to the side of the door, where they could not be seen from without, and kissed him soundly. “I have a Valentine’s surprise for you.”
“Not here, Will, we couldn’t possibly—!”
“Mr. Archer, whatever are you thinking?” He fumbled in his pocket and withdrew a small flat packet, folded in brown paper. “For you. It isn’t much.”
Davy took the gift with a smile. “I have something for you, too – but for what I really want to give, and receive, we’ll have to wait for shore leave.” He unwrapped the parcel and found a pair of handkerchiefs – fine close-woven silk, soft and just a little too elegant to be practical.
“I didn’t know what else to get,” Will said. “We have not come near a bookshop in months. I know you have some, but… examine them closely. I hope you won’t think me foolish.”
“They’re very fine,” Davy said, shaking out the folds. “And I shall keep them for shore-going, so they don’t get spoilt—” His eye caught something that warmed him through. “Oh, good heavens. Will, did you do this yourself?”
Embroidered on one corner of each handkerchief was a tiny red heart.
Will was blushing furiously, something Davy had not seen him do in quite some time. “Yes, I— stupid, I know, ruined them, I should have left them alone, you can pick out the stitches—”
“I never will.”
“I thought if anyone were to notice, you could say one of your sisters had sent them.”
“If anyone notices I shall cast him a mysterious look and keep mum. That should enhance my reputation.” Davy studied the tiny stitches. “Where ever did you find red thread?”
“Oh, that.” Will’s combination of pride and unease was most endearing. “When I was Flag Officer—remember, I asked you for the loan of your sewing kit?”
“Will–you didn’t raid the Union Jack!”
The blush disappeared; he actually went white. “Of course not! One of the signal flags caught on a hook and had to be trimmed.”
Davy bit his lip to hide his smile. Will might defy Article Twenty-Nine without regret, but deface the flag, never. “Well, I shall treasure them. And for you ...” A small packet appeared from his own pocket. “A token of my esteem, and quite coincidentally appropriate.”
Will unwrapped his package in turn, and laughed aloud at what it contained: a small leather envelope with a card of needles, a tiny pair of scissors, and white as well as colored threads wrapped around a fold of paper.
“I knew you’d lost yours when we were kidnapped,” Davy explained. “The thread came with the kit. I’ve never seen you use any but white or navy blue.”
“It’s too much,” Will protested.
“I won’t quibble over shillings with you, Mr Marshall. You cannot tell me these handkerchiefs were cheap.”
“You really like them?”
“Very much.” He needed to tell Will how deeply touched he was by the clumsy stitching without causing his lover to die of embarrassment. “I take back what I said about saving them for a special occasion, though. I shall keep one of these hearts next to mine, always.”
Will blinked, his face so very serious. “Thank you. And … I shall take better care of this kit than my previous one.”
They stood looking at one another, conscious of the footsteps on the deck above, listening for movement in the gangway outside the door. A touch, a quick kiss–then necessary discipline locked passion back in its place. Will retrieved the hefty volume of Shakespeare’s Collected Works from his sea-chest, then they settled themselves upon it, sidebyside beneath the port.
“Had we finished ‘Much Ado About Nothing?’” Will asked.
“Not quite.” He dared a squeeze to Will’s knee. “You will see much ado the next time we are in port, I promise you.”
“I shall hold you to your word, Mr. Archer.”
“Happy Valentine’s day, Mr. Marshall.”