Feet pressed into the soft canopy of his cot’s flimsy wall, warm, stale beer in hand, John breathed deeply, chest tight like a sturdy rope was pulling him up from the core. His eyes were closed, since the view wasn’t particularly interesting when he opened them. It was just a stained cot ceiling, a sling of netting across the point holding a few of his personal items.
We’ll do it all, everything, on our own, we don’t need anything or anyone.
It wasn’t the sight above that was interesting, however. It was what was next to him. That was worth opening his eyes for, and he did, lolling his head to the right, neck muscles protesting from the long day hunched in the barracks.
His closest friend, Major James Sholto, mirrored his slack position beside him. His back lay flat against John’s bed, his bare feet also pressed into the wall in hopes of airing them out. He sipped his beer quietly, eyes focusing on an invisible spot above him, square jaw moving under tan skin when he swallowed.
“Tastes like piss,” he said quietly.
Let’s waste time chasing cars around our heads.
They’d been like this for less than an hour, doing nothing in particular. James had sneaked some beer from the rec hall, which John would have been glad to get himself, but the Major’s soft eyes gleamed with mischief when he said it, and John had to comply. What he’d brought, instead of two, was a whole case, and he and John had been drinking since after dinner.
It was nice, just to lay there. Sometimes they talked in quiet tones, since everyone else on the base was (supposedly) asleep, but otherwise they just drank in silence.
If I lay here, if I just lay here, would you lie with me and just forget the world?
“It’s better than nothing,” John replied, turning back to the ceiling and taking a swig himself, the warm froth from the bottom of the bottle sending a little shiver down his sore spine.
I don’t quite know how to say what I feel.
James hummed in response. He didn’t talk much, outside of shouting orders, and even on the occasion he and John got totally pissed together, he still had trouble going on long rants, and only just quipped in short, slurred phrases. John found it endearing and, truthfully, a bit cute.
But of course, most of the time, cute was unwelcome. Instead it was strength and honor and heroism, men dying for it, often on John’s table. But now, in the cot, with the warm night and mediocre beer making them light and comfortable, cute was just right.
John was about to say something else when James cut him off.
“Why’d you do it, John? Come here, I mean. Everyone’s got a reason. I don’t know yours.”
This caught him off guard. Nobody ever asked him that. Now, he found he didn’t know what to say. “I… Er, I actually don’t know. Part of it is because of the honor, I think. Helping people. And I like working with medicine. But the actual being here is… not what I expected. People always patted me on the back and said, ‘Good on you, Johnny! Protecting our country, patching up our boys, you’re a real hero.’ But when they said that, I hadn’t even gone yet, so’s like, why even say that? They never asked me why I wanted to go, so I guess I don’t have a real answer.”
Forget what we’re told before we get too old. Show me a garden that’s bursting into life.
James downed the rest of his beer and leaned a strong arm back to set it on the ground with the other empty bottles. Then he folded his powerful hands calmly and looked over at John, sturdy chest rising and falling gently under his thin, white undershirt. “That’s a fine answer, John.”
“Mmm. Thanks.” He followed James’s lead and finished the froth in his bottle before turning back to James. He twirled the green glass neck in his fingers as his eyes caught something soft and reverent in his Major’s.
James was a fine man, that was clear. He was strong and smart and handsome, with pretty blue eyes and good structure to his face. He was tall and regal and well put together, but here and now, lying face-up in John’s bed, feet up at an angle, he looked much more soft. More relatable. Breathtakingly handsome, definitely, but kind and available in his nature.
All that I am, all that I ever was, was here in your perfect eyes, they’re all I can see.
Darting his eyes to James’s lips unconsciously before he asked, “What about you? You chase the honor?”
Feeling the weight of John’s eyes, James lingered inside his gaze for a bit before turning back and closing his eyes, searching for an answer. “This is what I’m meant to do, what I’m meant to be.”
It was silent then. John didn’t disagree. He was a perfect soldier and an even better Major. Trustworthy, direct, and soft-spoken to the new recruits who needed a bit of help.
I need your grace to read my needs, to find my own.
John shifted his sore shoulders and crossed his ankles, heels pressing against the cot. “It fits you. You’re good at it. Helpful and strong and heroic.”
“None of us are heroes yet, John.”
“But thank you.”
“’Course. Cheers.” John swiveled around with a grunt, set his empty bottle down, and brought two new ones back up, toes crunching to find grip against the wall. He handed one bottle to James, who smiled with such respect and tenderness, that John’s heart swelled and dampened out the loneliness lingering there.
I don’t know where, confused about how as well, just know that these things will never change for us at all.