by Zack (ザックス)
I just couldn’t imagine a world where aliens were nothing more than a sci-fi fantasy. They’d been a part of my life for as long as I could remember, looming threateningly over my future. They arrived when I was two years old, and I have them to thank for not being able to remember my dad. He went to war to protect us, my mom later told me, and he didn’t make it back. And now it was my turn.
Military service was made mandatory; every single male was now required to join the war at the time of his eighteenth birthday. It was the day before mine, and most people in my position would be upset or angry. I wasn’t, not really. My mom had died a couple of years ago, and I had no one left to care for. Whatever my fate would be out there on the battlefield, I was fine with it. I just wanted to enjoy my last night, and that’s why I had planned to spend the night cruising the nearest bar.
He wasn’t the type I’d normally go for, but yet something drew me irresistibly towards him. He was tall, and leanly muscular; the type of strength that is easily missed. He had short-cropped hair, too closely shorn to be anything even resembling a style, the kind of hair you didn’t even need to run a comb through. He had a nice facial structure, rather delicate features that were however belied by his tight-lipped mouth and the stubborn set of his jaw. His eyes were hidden behind a pair of sunglasses, completing the aura of unapproachability. Yeah, definitely not the type I normally went for.
Which is why it surprised me so much when he walked up to me. I’d obviously assumed I wasn’t his type either, what with him showing every sign of being a rather dominant top. Me, I preferred topping too. Perhaps I didn’t look the part tonight, but a quick peek at the mirror behind the bottles showed me otherwise; I looked just like I always did. Tall, strong, handsome, and just a touch arrogant. I’m not arrogant though, not at all. I hoped my messy blond hair and plain clothes would convey that, that it’d show that I wasn’t some sort of conceited prick.
I gave him a friendly nod and a small smile when he sat down beside me. He answered in kind, the slight lift of his lips doing nothing to ease his frosty atmosphere.
“Can I buy you a drink?” he asked, already waving the bartender over.
“Sure,” I replied, doing my best to hide my surprise. So he really was hitting on me. Interesting, very interesting. I had come to the bar looking for a quick fuck, perhaps my last taste of freedom for a very long time — perhaps my last taste ever, but I quickly pushed down those depressing thoughts.
The bartender finally noticed my would-be companion’s discrete beckoning, and took my order. I was surprised to see that he didn’t order anything for himself, and as I sipped my drink I couldn’t help but ask. “Not a drinking man?”
“No, not really. I prefer to enjoy sex with a clear mind,” he said, perfectly straight faced.
I thanked my lucky stars I wasn’t drinking right then, or I would surely have done a spit-take. Sure, I knew there was no place for finesse at a gay bar like this, but still! Somehow though, the straight-forward comment only enticed me further, and I found myself chuckling low in reply.
“Well then,” I gulped down the rest of my drink, and stood up. “Shall we get going?” I said it as a challenge of sorts, curious how he’d react to so such boldness from me. If he truly was the full-blooded top I had him pegged as, there was no way he’d like such bluntness.
“Yes, let’s go.”
I couldn’t help it; I burst out laughing. If he noticed he didn’t show it, instead walking calmly towards the door, apparently confident that I’d follow. And I follow I did, scrambling as to not be left behind.
He took me to a rather nice hotel, nothing fancy or luxurious, but a hell of a lot better than what I had expected. I’d thought he’d bring me to the kind of sleazy motel that rented rooms by the hour, so this was yet another surprise.
He took of his leather jacket as soon as we entered the room, and started unbuttoning his shirt. I was beginning to feel a bit apprehensive, wondering what exactly he was expecting of me. “Uhm, wait a second.”
He stopped, raising his head to look at me. His eyes were still hidden behind his sunglasses, making it hard to read his expression, but his one arched eyebrow said enough.
“I just… I’m not in the habit of bottoming. I realize I’ve probably led you on and I’m sorry,” I blurted, feeling like a jackass.
His laughter made my head snap up fast enough to give me whiplash. As I stared, stunned silent, he finally took off his sunglasses. His eyes met mine, and I was struck by how light his eyes seemed despite the fact that they were a dark shade of brown. His wide smile was warm, completely melting his previously icy look.
“What’s your name?” he asked, eyes still sparkling with mirth.
“Well, Julian, you don’t need to worry. I know you’re a top, and that’s exactly the way I want it.”
“It is?” I offered lamely.
“Yes,” he laughed, and then went right back to unbuttoning his shirt.
I really wasn’t sure what to make of this, but after a rapid internal debate I decided to grab the bull by the horns. A few quick steps forward brought me up right in front of him, and I noticed absently that I was a tiny bit taller than him. He met my eyes, and his hands dropped to his side. I smiled, sliding his shirt off his shoulders and letting it drop to the floor. Running my fingertips over his chest, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful he was. I let my hands travel over his chest, dropping promisingly towards his crotch, before finally running them up along his neck and cupping his face. I leaned in close, his lips mere inches from mine. “What’s your name?” I just had to ask.
“Harlan,” he breathed, his warm breath fanning my face before I engulfed his mouth.
He was a wonderful kisser, pliant but still with plenty of heat and passion of his own. We didn’t break our kiss even as we tumbled onto the bed, his hands clawing at my belt and my own sliding inside his pants and boxers to squeeze his ass. I gasped when he finally got past my clothes and gripped my dick.
After that it all happened fast, in a hot blur. Our clothes came off completely, but not before Harlan produced a condom and a bottle of lube from his pocket. I almost lost it when he coated my painfully hard dick with the lube, so with a growl I flipped him over and set to loosening him up. He was tight, but obviously no virgin. I guess it had just been a while for him, an impression furthered by his keening noises and the way he eagerly pushed back against my fingers.
I entered him, trying my best to hold back as to not risk hurting him. He seemed to think otherwise, pushing back against me and taking me up to the hilt, making the most arousing sounds I had ever heard. He completely let go, and I loved it.
I was getting seriously close to coming, so I reached forward and took hold of his dick, giving him a hard and intense handjob. A warm mess soon coated my hand, and with a final thrust I came too.
My eyes closed of their own accord, and I slumped onto the bed next to him. With a pleased sigh I let sleep overtake me.
I woke up alone, the sun streaming in through the blinds the only thing warming my body. I frowned, feeling oddly disappointed. I stretched lazily, before realization hit me. It was my birthday today, and I was supposed to be at the military base at seven. Cursing loudly I scrambled for a clock of some kind, but the hotel room had none. I had never gotten dressed that fast, and then I was running out through the door.
I got the expected bad news from the first person I saw, a cleaning maid who informed that it was ten minutes till seven. I decided to hail a cab — even though that would mean spending what little money I had — in order to get there as fast as possible.
The compound had a guarded gate, of course, which delayed me even more. When I showed them my draft letter one of them laughed crudely, “And you’re late for your first day? Delany’s gonna have your head, boy. Oh, by the way, happy birthday!”
“Yeah, thanks a lot,” I snarled, debating if I could get away with punching him or if that would only serve to get me into even more trouble. “Delany, you said? That’s the person I’ll be under then, I take it. Could you tell me where he and his company are so I can join them?”
The other guard leaned forward and gave me a sympathetic smile. “He’s the youngest officer here, but despite that one of the hardest. So you better hurry, they’re over at the east barracks,” he said, pointing helpfully.
The guard who had wished me a happy birthday gave him a sour glare, apparently displeased at having been robbed of his fun.
“Thank you,” I said before taking of running, actually meaning it this time.
The east barrack weren’t too far off, so thankfully I wasn’t more than five minutes late. As I rounded the corner I got my first glimpse of the ones who would be my comrades in the war. A sad-looking bunch, in more ways than one. I ignored them for the time being, focusing instead on the man who’d be in charge of us all. His back was turned to me, and from what I could gather of his immaculate uniform and firm stance he was indeed a serious guy.
Apparently he had heard me approaching, because he addressed me without even turning around. “Private Zelazny, I presume?”
“Ah, yes,” I gasped, out of breath. “I’m sorry for-”
“You have just earned yourself shit duty. Now fall into rank, already.”
I had no idea what shit duty entailed, but something told me I better not ask. My mind was too occupied with trying to figure out why his voice sent such a familiar jolt through me to be able to focus on that anyways.
I realized why as soon as I had lined up. I lookef up and met a pair of brown eyes. Today his eyes were as dark and cold as wet soil, nothing like the warm and light ones of last night.
He held my gaze for a couple of seconds, showing no outward reaction whatsoever. Then he turned back and addressed the company as a whole again, but his speech was pretty much lost on me; my mind reeling.
The company was divided up into four platoons, each consisting of roughly twenty men. Maybe it was my imagination, but I got sorted into the lousiest of the lot. An impression further intensified by our Lieutenant, a man who looked every bit like a nerdy bookworm. Well, atleast he seemed like a nice guy.
“Excuse me,” I said to him as the rest of the platoon dispersed into our designated barrack, “could you tell me what ‘shit duty’ means?”
“Oh, so you were the unlucky one?” He pushed up his thick glasses with his forefinger before continuing, “Shit duty is of course not the official term; it’s something the men thought up because it was considered a very undesirable post. Basically, you do whatever the Captain tells you to do. It’s a jack-of-all-trades position in a way, and I’ve also heard some people refer to it as being the Captain’s secretary.”
His secretary. I really wasn’t sure what to think of that.
“Don’t look so worried,” the Lieutenant laughed, “it’s usually just boring stuff like taking a message to someone or having to fill in for an absent night-guard.”
“Right,” I mumbled, “thank you.” I gave him a courteous nod before I took off towards the barracks, finding that the only bed left available was the one with the leaking pipe directly above it.
It was a week before I was called upon to fulfill my shit duty, a week that felt like a lifetime. It was the initial training of the rookies, so of course it was bound to be tough, but it vastly exceeded my expectations. The physical training made me drop into bed like a dead man every night, but it was the mental aspect of it that truly bled me dry. I’ve always been a rather positive person; happy-go-lucky according to certain sharp tongues. But the people in my platoon were bitter young men who didn’t expect to come out of this war alive. Sure, I had my fears too (you’d have to be insane not to), but I always tried to see a glimmer of hope. They didn’t, and they continually made that very clear.
I hadn’t seen Harlan since that first day — despite always keeping a lookout for him — and that somehow made everything seem even bleaker. I knew it was silly, but I couldn’t help it.
I was sleeping the dreamless sleep of the exhausted when he came to me. He shook me awake, and I blinked groggily at him. “Nn… Harlan?”
I could see his eyes narrowing despite the darkness. “Get dressed and meet me by the storage facilities in five minutes.” Without another word he left the barrack and I hurried to get dressed, eager to not be late this time.
He stood waiting when I arrived, and handed me a rifle and a pair of night vision goggles. “The usual guard has another assignment tonight, so I need you to take his watch. Can you handle that?”
“Yes, of course,” I replied, feeling a little bit insulted that he’d have to ask.
“No one should be in this particular area but you, so if you see anyone ask them to identify themselves immediately. If there’s a problem use the rifle to fire two shots into the air, and someone will come to your aid.”
He frowned, and seemed to hesitate before continuing. “I personally don’t mind if my men are on a first-name basis with me; after all, if I trust them with watching my back in the heat of battle I can trust them with my damn name too, right? However, there are people who’d question such intimacy, so I’d advise you to lose the familiarity right now. Call me Delany or call me Captain, either one’s fine. But nothing else, understood?”
I was too taken aback to do anything besides nod, but that was apparently good enough for him. “I said it for your sake just as much as mine, you know,” he mumbled before walking off.
I wasn’t sure if I believed that, it felt like he was just doing his best to pretend as if the night we spent together had never happened. I knew it was a one night stand and nothing more, but after meeting him again like this I had hoped… I wasn’t sure what I had hoped for exactly, but it sure as hell wasn’t this. I sighed and shook my head violently, trying to get rid of the last remnants of sleep that still clung to me. I put on the goggles, viewing the world in the sickly green color that perhaps it truly was.
I was tired as hell and had to fight just to keep my eyes open, but I managed to stay awake and alert. So when I saw a red form moving towards me I was able to deal with it.
“Halt! Identify yourself,” I ordered, raising the rifle.
“It’s just me.”
I recognized Harlan’s voice immediately, but I still couldn’t help myself, “Who is ‘me’?”
Silence. Then, “I see you took my words to heart. Good. It’s Captain Delany; stand down.”
I took of the goggles, thankfully welcoming the cool night air. Harlan — I’d be damned if I would to refer to him as Delany in my thoughts as well — held out a steaming cup of coffee, a cup of his own in his other hand.
I slung the rifle over my shoulder and accepted the offered cup. “Thanks.”
He leaned against the wall and sipped his coffee, and for a few minutes we stood in companionable silence. I looked at him out of the corner of my eye, feeling surprised that he was still in full uniform. It didn’t look at if he had slept at all tonight, and the sun would be rising soon. I wanted to ask, but didn’t since I wasn’t up for another reprimand.
“I would never have set you up for shit duty if I had known who you were,” he finally said.
I perked up and turned my face to look at him with a smile. “That’s really sweet, but I actually don’t mind-”
“No,” he snapped, “I didn’t mean it like that.”
Stunned, I felt the words I had been about to say — ‘I actually don’t mind since it means I get to spend time with you’ — die on my tongue.
“It would’ve been better the less we interact, but now we’re bound to.” He ran a hand over his eyes, a clear sign of fatigue. “Why did you have to be late?” he muttered under his breath, and I suddenly felt anger flaring.
“I wouldn’t have been late if you had been decent enough to wake me — and gee, perhaps even say bye — before you took off.” I regretted the outburst as soon as it had left my mouth, but there was no taking it back. I silently cursed my lack of sleep, blaming it for my recklessness.
I watched Harlan’s jaw work, expecting him to lash out any second. But he never did, instead emptying the remaining contents of his cup with an angry snap of his wrist before stalking off.
As our training progressed I saw Harlan more often. I hated that my eyes always sought him out when he was around, especially since he never favored me with a single glance in return. My platoon was buzzing with rumors of our company being sent out to the battlefront soon, and it understandably made everyone more jittery than usual.
It was right after noon, a month or so into the training, that he apparently found need of me again.
“Zelazny, come with me.” I was at the firing range assembling my gun when he called for me, and I damn near jumped out of my skin. I hadn’t heard him coming up behind me; too focused on the gun.
“You need to learn to do that without having to keep your eyes on your gun; never ever leave your back this open.”
“Don’t apologize. This really should’ve been one of the first things you were taught, dammit. Where’s that Lieutenant of yours?” His bloodshot eyes were angry, and for once his uniform didn’t look perfect. It was wrinkled and dusty, and looked just as worn out as the man wearing it.
“It’s not the Lieutenant’s fault,” I hurried to assure him, not wanting to get someone else into trouble. “I’m just bad at this whole war thing, I guess,” I offered, laughing humorlessly.
Harlan clenched his fists hard enough that I could hear his leather gloves creak. “No one’s good at it, not truly.” The words were so quiet that I had to strain to hear them, and I wasn’t sure how to respond. Had this been another time and place, I would’ve reached out and hugged him. He really looked like he needed some comfort.
“I need your assistance right now, but when we get back I’ll teach you myself.”
I wanted to thank him, but he turned around and started walking before I had a chance. I hurried after him, wondering what he needed me for this time.
“There’s a meeting out at the main base that I have to attend, and I need you to drive me there. Incase you didn’t know; it’s against protocol for army personnel to travel alone, unless there’s no other option.”
I got the impression that he thought the rule was dumb, but I was glad it existed. The main base was at least two hours away, and I couldn’t help but look forward to spending some time alone with him.
But I needn’t have bothered getting excited, because after a mere ten minutes — wherein I had racked my brain trying to come up with something to say — Harlan fell asleep. I doubt he had planned to do so, but apparently he really needed sleep.
I spent the rest of the driving sneaking glances at him and trying to be as quiet as possible. When we got near the base, just a few minutes before we’d arrive at the gate, I reached out and gently shook him awake. Calling his name would surely have sufficed, but I couldn’t pass the chance of touching him.
He woke with a start, and blinked at his surroundings. “I fell asleep,” he muttered, sounding frustrated. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
I shrugged, and met his annoyed glare with a grin. “You seemed to need it, Captain. Sides, I did wake you up before we arrived and someone else saw you.”
“Hn,” he grunted, “thanks.”
We drove through the gates after identifying ourselves to the guards, and I parked the car at the designated area.
“Go grab something to eat at the mess hall, I’ll come get you when the meeting’s over.”
I gladly did as he suggested, expecting the food at the main base to hold a higher standard than the stuff they served at the training base.
I was wrong. It tasted just as terrible, and I spent the next couple of hours pushing it around on the plate. The area was desolate, so I was bored out of my mind too. So when I heard sounds of someone coming I looked up with relief, even though I was sure it wasn’t Harlan approaching (he moved soundlessly; nothing like these heavy footsteps).
But it was Harlan who entered the mess hall, even though he looked nothing like himself. I had learned by now that he rarely ever showed any emotion, but right now he was obviously furious. Every step looked like he was trying to break through the floor, his eyes were thin slits, hands unclenching and clenching, and it looked like he was muttering obscenities under his breath.
I could do nothing but stare, mouth agape. He glared at me, a silent order in his eyes. I got up, and had to jog to keep up with him.
He seemed to relax a bit once we had left the base behind us. Well, perhaps relax wasn’t the right word; he was still high-strung and clearly angry, but now there was an air of tired defeat about him. That worried me more than the anger, and it finally spurred me to open my mouth.
“…They want to send you to the front.”
I hesitated, not sure why he’d be so upset over that. “Well yeah, that’s what we’ve been trained for, isn’t it?”
He slammed his fist down on the dashboard, almost making me swerve off the road. “It’s too soon! Much too soon; the company would be nothing but cannon-fodder if sent out now.”
Not exactly what I wanted to hear from our Captain, but deep down I knew it was the truth.
“I told them I refused to do it, refused to send you out to fucking die, and you know what those old bastards said?” Harlan continued without waiting for me to answer, “They said that if I wouldn’t do it, they’d just send someone else.”
“Well,” I smiled sadly, “atleast then you wouldn’t be pulled down by us.”
He turned to me, and looked at me with such disappointment etched in his entire being that it near broke my heart. “Is that really what you think of me? You think I’d send out my men — suicide mission or not — without being there to watch their backs?”
“No! It’s certainly not what I think, I didn’t mean it like that at all. Shit, I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine,” he said flatly, “just forget it.” He turned to stare out the side window and clearly indicated that the conversation was over.
I spent the rest of the drive mentally kicking myself.
I had expected that we’d go our separate ways as soon as we arrived at our home base, but he surprised me by not taking off as soon as the car came to a stop.
“I’ll go get the gun, meet me at the firing range in ten.”
I knew he wouldn’t have forgotten about his promise, but I hadn’t expected him to live up to it directly; not after what I had said to him.
I took off for the firing range, feeling slightly nervous. I hadn’t been kidding when I told him I sucked at the whole war business; I really was the last person who should be a soldier. But there was no choice, and nothing I could do to get out of it (short of dying, of course, but I wasn’t really willing to go that far).
Harlan showed up half out of uniform. He’d taken off his jacket, cap, gloves, and his tie, leaving only the dark khaki pants and his white shirt. The top buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned, giving me a tantalizing view of his collarbones.
He handed me the standard handgun, and then rolled up the sleeves on his shirt. “Alright, show me how you do it once.”
I did as he asked, feeling even slower than usual. Harlan didn’t say a word during the assembly, but I was sure he thought plenty.
Finished, I presented him with the gun. “Well? Is there any hope for me?” I wasn’t expecting him to, but he actually smiled a little. Just a tiny lift of the corner of his mouth, but it was enough for me.
He took the gun from me and started disassembling it. “I noticed how careful you are with lining everything up perfectly. Take these parts for example, if you don’t line them up the receiver won’t slide in and nothing will fit together the way it should. Since you’ve already realized the importance of that, we just need to teach you how to do it by feel.”
He put down the parts in front of me. “Assemble it again, but keep eye contact with me the whole time. Take your time and try to really feel it, don’t stress this time.”
I nodded, and did as he said. It was hard enough to do it without looking; having to hold Harlan’s gaze made it even worse. It was distracting to say the least, and it took me several minutes to get the blasted gun together.
Harlan smirked. “If you thought I was distracting, you don’t want to know what it’s like with actual enemies breathing down your neck.”
“Ugh, I can imagine that,” I grimaced.
“Let’s try something… I’ll show you how I assemble it, but I’ll do it through you.”
I opened my mouth to ask what he meant, but he was already moving. He came up behind me, his chest touching my back. Then his arms went around me and he put his hands over mine. I could literally feel my heart start racing.
“Close your eyes, and relax. Go limp and let me guide your hands. Just feel,” he said, his breath tickling my ear.
And felt it I did. I’m sure it wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind, but it worked nonetheless. His hands were sliding around mine, moving my fingers over the cold metal of the gun. The front of his body was burning a hole through my back, and all the while I could feel his breath on my neck and ear. I was achingly hard, and every sensation was multiplied hundredfold.
I thought he’d step away once we were finished assembling the gun, but he remained. So I did it on my own once, his hands gently correcting me when I was about to make a mistake. And then, as the old saying goes, the third time was the charm.
“You got it,” Harlan said, stepping away. Was that a slight waver in his voice? I was probably just projecting, already sorely missing his warmth myself.
“Y-yeah,” I stammered, “I think so too.”
“There’s one more thing I want you to learn though. If you’re assembling a gun and you’re really in a hurry, like if there’s an enemy coming your way. Instead of wasting time loading the magazine and everything, put a bullet directly into the chamber while you’re assembling the gun. That way you can fire one shot, and do so very rapidly.”
“Oooh, that’s clever.”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “it’s a good tactical trick in an emergency. I hope you won’t ever need it, but it could very well save your neck someday. Just keep in mind that it won’t work on every gun, unfortunately. The firing pin can cause trouble in certain types; either ejecting the round or loading another one into the chamber and thus jamming it. The extractor claw could also be damaged, if you’re really unlucky. However, this here gun is made to handle direct chamber loading.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. Thank you for this,” I said softly, “I really appreciate it.”
He gave me a small smile in return. Small, but sincere, judging by the way his dark eyes lit up. That warm light made me recall the night we spent together, and without really meaning to I closed the small gap between us and pressed my lips to his.
He froze, and the second I got control over my body again I pulled back. Aghast, I blinked at him. “Fuck. I didn’t mean to-” I began, but was effectively silenced when Harlan’s finger came up to rest against my lips. He traced my bottom lip, torturously slowly, eyes locked with mine. There was a different kind of warmth in his eyes now; one of passionate heat.
I slowly wetted my lips with my tongue, licking his finger in the process. He let out a quiet moan, and then he was kissing me. The kiss was rough and hard, nothing gentle about it. It was pure hunger and desire, and it told me that he hadn’t forgotten about our night any more than I had.
We finally had to pull apart to gasp for air, and that was it. Harlan groaned and took a few steps back, hesitating for a fraction of a second before he all but ran away.
The very next morning the entire company lined up and got the news about being sent to war. Harlan was his normal stoic self, and nothing he said or did gave away the fact that he violently opposed the order.
“We leave in two days, so if there’s anything in your training that you feel below par or insecure about, please use the time wisely and hone those skills. Your respective Lieutenants will of course be here to instruct and see to your needs, and so will I.”
There was something ominously final about his words, and it sent a shiver down my back.
We had been ordered to defend a newly built cluster of industrial facilities, located in the middle of nowhere. A very important mission, since weapon factories had been the first thing the aliens had targeted upon arrival. So far the facilities had managed to avoid discovery, but it was really only a matter of time.
The waiting game affected the men very differently. Some relaxed, and seemed to think they had been sent on something akin to vacation. Others, myself included, got high-strung like hell. I didn’t see Harlan very often, but it was clear that he too belonged to that last category.
Two weeks into the mission we got attacked. I was on guard duty among the facilities, so I didn’t reach the battle until it was already winding down. The men on the outskirts had taken the brunt of the attack, and casualties from that troop were scattered around the area. That marked two firsts for me; first time seeing a dead person, and the first time I stood face-to-face with an alien. If their frightening visage could be called a face, that is. Their long limbs made them taller than I had imagined, and although there was something almost human in their proportions they were grotesquely different.
As one of them lunged towards me I faintly remembered calling them lizard-men when I was a kid. It truly suited them; scaly skin, thin long limbs, horrifying claws, and heavy-lidded eyes that were just as cold as their reptile namesakes.
I shot it, and its red blood splattered all over me. It was freezingly cold, making me almost throw up right there and then. But it kept coming at me, despite the fact that half its face had been shot off. I heard someone screaming as I raised my gun and shot it over and over again. Not until it lay dead at my feet did I realize that the screams had been coming from my own throat.
I was shaking all over, and I couldn’t seem to move. I just couldn’t stop staring at it, couldn’t stop thinking about the dead men thrown all over the place. Men I had been training and living with for the past two months, men who now would never laugh or cry or do anything again.
“Zelazny, move it!” Someone pushed me out of the way, and in a daze I watched Harlan shooting down another alien. That woke me up a bit, seeing him alive and in one piece. I gripped my gun harder, and got to work.
It was all over rather quickly after that. The troop of aliens had been small and it seemed like it was just a fluke that they had stumbled over the facilities, instead of it being an actual planned attack. Harlan apparently thought the same way, for he quickly sent out orders to patrol the area and kill any fleeing aliens before they could report their discovery.
“Zelazny,” he then called out, “you’re coming with me to do a line search.” He grabbed a walkie-talkie and turned towards one of the Lieutenants, “Get all the wounded men inside, and make sure they get medical attention. Call me directly if there’s any development.”
Harlan ran towards one of the jeeps, grabbing hold of my arm and dragging me with him. The tires screeched as we drove off, and I ran a shaky hand through my hair. My fingers came away wet with blood and clumps of… no, I’d rather not dwell on what exactly they were.
“Dammit, Zelazny! Stop looking at your hands and grab the binoculars instead,” Harlan growled. “You know what a line search is, don’t you?”
“Reconnaissance along a specific line of communications — such as a road, railway, or waterway — to detect fleeting targets and activities in general,” I quoted mechanically.
Harlan didn’t respond to that, but it made no difference. I found the binoculars and put them to use. We had driven along the road for half an hour when the walkie-talkie suddenly buzzed. Harlan stepped on the brakes and grabbed it. “Delany here, over.”
“This is Lieutenant Goss, Captain. We’ve just received news from headquarters about the aliens that attacked us. Turns out they were part of the large troop at the front, they ran away after a huge battle there today. It was an overwhelming victory for our people, and with those alien fuckers already in trouble this might very well have decided the outcome of the war! Over,” the Lieutenant sounded jubilant, but Harlan didn’t even crack a smile.
“Thank you for the news, Lieutenant. But don’t get too confident, be sure to keep patrolling the area seriously. The two of us will be back shortly; our line search didn’t turn up anything. Over and out.”
He let the walkie-talkie drop, and then stepped out of the jeep without a word. I stared after him as he walked up to a tree and began punching the sturdy trunk. Cursing silently I ran up to him, wrenching him away from his makeshift punching bag.
“What are you doing?” I shouted.
“Shut it Zelazny,” Harlan screamed back, swinging wildly at me. One of the punches connected with my jaw, and sent me staggering back. I saw red; all the raw emotions from the battle now twisting into pure anger. With a guttural cry I tackled him, both of us wrestling for dominance once we hit the ground. He got in a few more good hits, and I wasn’t exactly gentle either.
And then something in me just snapped. The fight had gotten my blood to pump violently through my veins, erasing the numb pain from battle, and all I could think of now was that I was still alive. I just had to truly prove it, and somehow that justified tearing off Harlan’s clothes.
I ignored the jacket in favor for his pants, ripping off the button with one rough yank and pulling them down far enough to be able to spread his legs. I spat into my hand and crudely shoved in a pair of fingers to stretch him.
I was unzipping my pants when I caught a glimpse of his face. It was still both dirty and bloody, but now there were also fresh tear streaks. Harlan had been crying. He’d been hurting just as much as me — if not more — and instead of offering some sort of comfort I had almost raped him.
I felt my blood run cold and I hurriedly let go off him. I wanted to apologize, but my throat choked up and I couldn’t make a single sound. Instead I got up and started towards the jeep, but had to stop half-way there to throw up.
I sat gasping on the ground, staring at my own puke without truly seeing it when suddenly a hand entered my field of vision. I looked up and saw Harlan standing beside me, his open hand reaching out to me. I faintly wondered if I was just imagining things, but his grip as I grasped his hand was real enough. He pulled me up, and then walked towards the jeep with my hand still in his.
We didn’t speak on the way back and went our separate ways when we arrived. I got myself cleaned up and then took guard duty. It wasn’t my shift, but finding someone willing to trade with me wasn’t exactly hard. There was just no way that I could sleep, so I’d much rather have something to focus my mind on.
It was in the middle of the night that Harlan showed up. I wasn’t sure what to say, so I didn’t say anything at all. He, in turn, didn’t speak either. He just inclined his head upwards and to the side, in that universal ‘come with me’ sign.
I followed him to a small bedroom — his bedroom, judging by the notes and maps strewn around the place — in one of the buildings. He locked the door behind me, and I couldn’t help but feel uneasy.
“We’ll have privacy here,” he said, “but if there’s a problem they’ll still known where to find me. But I highly doubt anything will come up, I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”
“I’m sorry,” I blurted out. “I don’t know what I was thinking, I would never hurt you. I never wanted to make you cry, and I’m-”
“Hey, hey,” Harlan interrupted me, “don’t take all the credit.”
He sighed, running a hand over his eyes. “I’m not the kind of person who cries easily,” he finally said. “And I certainly wouldn’t start crying over something like that. I was upset over the men who died, that’s why I took my anger out on that tree… and on you, when you decided to get in the way.”
“Really?” I wasn’t sure why, but I didn’t quite believe him.
“Yes. Besides, what you did was nothing but normal.” He must’ve seen the disbelieving look on my face, cause he continued with a chuckle, “Soldiers often engage in reckless or sexual activity after battle, especially if they’ve been shell shocked. It’s a driving need to affirm their living status, basically.”
“Even if that’s true, it’s no excuse for what I did to you.”
“Oh please,” Harlan snapped. “First off, it was partly my own fault. It was obvious you weren’t dealing very well with what happened, and I should’ve taken care of it in a better way than a damned line search. I was too busy hating myself for letting all those men die, and so I let yet another subordinate down in the process.”
I opened my mouth to disagree, but he gave me a look that clearly ordered me to let him finish talking.
“Secondly, in a way it would’ve been only fair if you did that to me. After all, I did it to you.”
“When we first met in that bar, I needed to feel alive. But more than that, I…” he hesitated, obviously uncomfortable with the subject matter. “I needed to be at someone else’s mercy, to not have to be in command for once. And I used you for that, I’m sorry to say.”
I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, in a way I wanted to be angry or feel betrayed, but I didn’t. It all just made me so very tired, not to mention sad. I had come to truly care for Harlan, much deeper feelings than our initial meeting had sparked. But everything just went to hell, we both messed up and didn’t seem to be able to do anything right. I staunchly refused to think about how I truly felt for him, but even if I had I knew that nothing could ever come of it.
“You’re mad, I see,” Harlan said, misunderstanding my silence. “Once you started tearing at my clothes out there, I stopped fighting you. Didn’t you notice? Why the fuck do you think I did that?! I was trying to make it up to you, because as I’ve gotten to know you I…” Clearly frustrated he stopped himself, and then started taking off his clothes.
“Wh-what are you doing?”
“What the hell does it look like,” he spat. “I’m giving you a second chance. Now that you know the truth, I’m sure you won’t stop yourself.”
That did it. Furious I made for the door, shouting “Fuck you Delany!” over my shoulder. I slammed the door as hard as I could, and stalked off.
The cold night air hit me at the same time my sense did. Cursing myself I turned and ran back. I briefly hesitated outside his door, but gathered the nerve to open it at last.
Harlan sat on the floor in a crumpled heap, his shirt half off. He looked up in surprise when he heard me, and though his face was dry his eyes were suspiciously blank.
This time I was the one to extend my hand, pulling him up and right into a hug. He just stood like frozen for several minutes before he finally returned the embrace. I squeezed him a bit harder then, before letting go. I finished taking off his shirt, and then bent down to remove his boots and pants, leaving only his boxers on. I did the same to myself, and then gently lead him towards the bed.
Once we were lying on the bed I pulled him forward into a loose hold, resting my head on his shoulder. “G’night,” I whispered.
Harlan was gone when I woke up. It was understandable of course, he was the commanding Captain after all, but I still couldn’t help but feel disappointed. It felt like a confirmation of the thoughts I’d had the previous night; that we were doomed to repeat our mistakes and never getting anywhere.
I got up and started stretching, wanting to get rid off the stiffness in my limbs. I was bent over from the waist and touching my toes when I heard the door open. I froze, debating if I should try to hide or something, and then I saw who it was.
I stared at upside-down-Harlan for a couple of heartbeats before slowly straightening and turning towards him.
“Don’t stop on my account,” he said, and then a teasing grin lit up his eyes. “I rather liked the view, actually.”
I burst out laughing, and his smile widened even more. He walked up to the bed and sat down, placing a tray next to him. “I brought breakfast, if you’re hungry.”
I nodded eagerly, and sat down too. We ate in silence, and for once the food tasted genuinely good. We kept stealing glances at each other, sheepishly grinning when the other caught him.
“You should do that more often,” I finally said.
He raised an eyebrow, but the smile never left his eyes. “Oh? Why’s that?”
I shrugged, feeling a bit embarrassed all of a sudden. “I just really love it,” I mumbled.
And odd look passed over his features, and he opened his mouth as if to say something. But I never got to hear it, a sudden knock interrupting him.
“Yes?” Harlan answered immediately.
“The doctor is asking for you, Captain Delany.”
“I’ll be there in a minute.” He then turned back to me and said, “Take your time eating, alright? I’ll see you later.” He tried his best to give me a smile, but it didn’t reached his eyes.
I wanted to tell him not to get down, not to blame himself over whatever the doctor had to say. But I didn’t want to risk making things worse, so instead I just leaned forward and gave his forehead a gentle kiss.
“Thanks,” he said quietly, and then left.
The next couple of weeks passed in relative calmness. But Harlan seemed to be busy, in any caseI didn’t get a chance to talk to him a single time. I saw him around the area often though, and whenever he caught sight of me too his eyes lit up. I loved those moments, they were like our shared secret; the way he’d send me a warm smile without even moving his lips.
But like the old saying goes, it was merely the calm before the storm.
I woke up one morning to the buzz of rumors about the aliens almost being defeated. Rumors that were further enticed by Harlan ordering the entire remaining company to gather outside. He stood in full uniform in front of us all, head held high and looking every bit as strong as he had that first day of training. Seeing him like that, I realized for perhaps the first time what a perfect leader he was. His appearance both reassured and inspired the men.
“Tomorrow morning we leave for the front,” he said, without as much as a waver on his voice. “The aliens are close to defeat, and they have assembled all their remaining troops at the front. We are to do the same, and annihilate the last of them. We should far surpass them in numbers, and our win is almost guaranteed.”
Spontaneous shouts and applause broke out among the men, and Harlan patiently let them celebrate before continuing. “Don’t allow this to make you reckless tomorrow, be as cautious and careful tomorrow as you can possibly be. Watch each other’s back, and do your very best. And thus let each and every one of us return alive!” Harlan shouted that last part, and the men didn’t hesitate to join in. Our battle cry was almost deafening.
“Since there is no risk of another attack now, I want you all to stand down from your assigned posts and spend your time however you please tonight. I don’t care what you do as long as you’ll be here and ready tomorrow morning. That is all, thank you.” Harlan executed an immaculate salute and we returned it.
As everyone scattered I caught eager voices talking about driving in to the nearest town and letting loose. There was only one person I wanted to spend this last night with though, and so I remained put — not expecting it to be possible but hoping nonetheless.
I lost sight of Harlan, and soon the area was deserted. I let out a disappointed sigh, suddenly left alone with my fears about the coming battle.
I stiffened, my head snapping up at the sound of that voice. Not quite believing my ears I slowly turned around.
“What’s with that look?” Harlan teased. “Did you really think I would leave without you?”
I just shook my head, not trusting my voice.
“Don’t worry,” he said, suddenly dead serious. “I won’t leave you behind.”
Swallowing, I met his eyes. “The same goes for me, Harlan.”
He raised an eyebrow, seemingly amused. “Now, what did I say about first names?”
“You said we were allowed to do whatever we wanted, didn’t do?”
“Cheeky little brat. Well then, what do you want to do?”
I shrugged, “Anything, as long as it’s with you.”
He didn’t say is straight out, but his answering smile told me the feeling was mutual. “Let’s grab something to eat, first off. I imagine the town is swarming with soldiers, so I suggest we stay here if we want some peace and quiet.
“Sounds like a good idea.”
“What’re you waiting for then, let’s go. Julian.”
We walked around the grounds after eating, because Harlan wanted to make sure everything was in order before calling in a night. When we at last entered his room I had butterflies fluttering about in my stomach.
“Tired?” he asked casually.
“Not really. In any case I doubt I’ll be able to get any sleep tonight.”
“Oh?” Harlan murmured, coming up from behind and pressing his body against my back. “I’m afraid you might be expecting too much of me.”
That wasn’t what I had meant, and I was fairly sure Harlan knew it. But, as his hand slowly travelled around my body to softly cup my dick, I sent him a silent thanks for distracting me and not letting me dwell on something I had no power over anyways.
He squeezed my dick through the cloth and I let out a low moan. I heard him chuckle, and then he was unzipping my pants. He played with my balls for a few seconds, before finally turning his attention to my hardening length.
I let him do as he pleased for a while, before turning around in his grip and laying siege to his lips.
“Do you,” I gasped in-between kisses, “have any lube here?”
He frowned, pulling back and making his way over to his desk. He pulled out on of the drawers, looking intently at a small bottle. He threw it to me with a shrug. “That should do the trick, I think.”
“Gun oil?” I grimaced.
“But I don’t have any condoms. That’s fine with me, but…”
“Me too. Now come back here.”
With a lascivious grin Harlan did as ordered. His lithe body fit perfectly against mine, and I just held on to him and his warmth for a few heartbeats. Then I ran my hand down his naked back, teasingly letting my fingers slide between his buttocks.
He stepped back, falling on the bed and then spreading his legs for me. I stood above him, coating my dick with the gun oil without tearing my eyes away from him. He was so perfect that it almost hurt.
I lowered myself onto him and he instantly wrapped his legs around my waist. I scooted back a little before bending down and taking him into my mouth, my fingers preparing him at the same time. Harlan threw his head back and arched his spine, letting out a drawn-out moan.
“Enough,” he grunted, “come inside me.”
I hummed my agreement, and took delight in seeing how his eyes rolled back in his head. I let go with one last lick, carefully positioning him and pushing in. I slid in almost at once, and had to hold perfectly still and get my breathing under control — lest I’d come directly.
Harlan got impatient, and started moving against me. I groaned in pleasure and then began thrusting. I wanted to keep going forever, but I couldn’t hold on much longer after that. I finally let go, feeling him tightening around me in mutual orgasm.
I could barely keep my eyes open, but I somehow managed to get us both under the blanket. He curled against me with a content sigh, warm eyes drifting shut. I kissed the top of his head and then let sleep claim me too.
The front was deceptively silent. Our company got sorted with another troop, and ordered to help hold the key terrain. The vanguard were already fighting further out, and the distant sounds of their battle made me queasy. I faintly wished Harlan would return already, he had gone off with some other officers as soon as we had arrived to discuss the planned tactics.
I felt my heart sink like a cold piece of lead when I caught sight of the lizard-men. The vanguard must have been overpowered, because it was a sizable amount of aliens that were coming our way. I heard shouted orders and thought I recognized Harlan’s voice, but it was impossible to say for sure. And then we clashed.
The battle was different this time. The battling troops were much larger, for one. But there were also a sense of this being the last stand, for both aliens and humans. Neither wanted to lose, fighting in near desperation.
I had just emptied my gun into an alien when I was tackled from behind. I felt long claws digging into my sides and I screamed in pain. We landed on the dusty ground, me taking the brunt of the fall. The alien kept clawing at me, and would probably have scooped out my heart if it weren’t for my protecting ribs. I managed to get it off me with a strong kick to its head, but the blood loss made me dizzy and I couldn’t get to my feet.
The lizard-man opened his jaws and let out a furious hiss, and I knew that this was it for me. Funny enough, all that I could think of was that I should’ve told Harlan that I loved him before it was too late.
It raised its arm, about to give the killing blow. Then a dark blur suddenly rammed right into the alien, pushing it aside. The blur manifested, but was still oddly out of focus.
“Julian,” the blur spoke. “Oh God, Julian!”
I recognized Harlan’s voice, and feeling safe now that he was there I let the darkness take me away.
White. Everything around me was white. For a few seconds I thought I was dead and had somehow ended up in heaven, but then the pain hit me. And that was just plain wrong, there should be no pain in heaven. So I clearly wasn’t dead.
Gritting my teeth against the hurt I forced myself to sit up. I was in a very large room, in one of many beds lined up against the wall. Wounded men were occupying all the beds and I dimly realized that I was in a hospital.
“Please lie back down, you need to rest.”
I looked at the nurse and almost laughed at her extremely serious expression. She was very young and short, definitely not the kind of person you’d imagine bossing soldiers around like that.
“How long…?” I croaked, hoping she’d understand my need for some answers.
She rolled her eyes, pushing on my shoulders and bodily forcing me down. I did try to resist her, but to no avail.
“If you were part of the last battle you’ve been here for little over a week.”
“Last battle? It’s finally over then?”
Her expression softened. “That’s right, it’s all over now. You did good, soldier.”
Someone called for her, and she started to turn around. “W-wait,” I asked hurriedly, “Harlan. Do you know…?”
She shook her head, sadness creeping into her eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t know. Please get some rest now.”
I felt fear coiling in my gut, worse than any I’d ever felt before. If Harlan had… no, I refused to even think it.
I forced my weak body to sit up again, fear lending it strength and pushing aside my exhaustion. Looking around the room I tried to find his familiar face among the men. I didn’t see him, but I did spot Lieutenant Goss.
“Lieutenant,” I shouted. He was three beds away, and on the opposite side of the room, but he thankfully still heard me. He smiled when he saw me, and sent a nod my way — it was probably the best he could do, since both his arms were heavily bandaged.
“Captain Delany, have you seen him?”
His eyes dropped, and I felt as if someone had punched me straight in the face. “No no no no,” I heard myself whimper, staccato breath making my upper body hurt even worse than before. I fell back against the bed, my vision swimming. I was vaguely aware of a doctor hurrying to my side, saying something about reopening wounds, and then I was given an injection that made everything go black.
Lieutenant Goss was sitting in a wheelchair next to my bed when I woke up.
“For God’s sake, stay still this time,” he chastised. “I didn’t have a chance to finish before you freaked out, you know.”
I wanted to tell him to go away and just leave me be, that nothing mattered anymore, but something he said nagged at the back of my mind. Finish what, exactly?
“Harlan was alive the last time I saw him, but he was really badly hurt.”
I gasped, trying to get up.
“Stay put! I won’t tell you if you’re not lying down, okay?”
I nodded; I would’ve agreed to anything at that point.
“I saw Harlan trying to drag you to safety — and I tell you, you were bleeding like a stuck pig. He got attacked while carrying your dead weight, and got cut up badly. I tried to reach him in order to help, but by the time I got there he had already killed the alien. I think it was pure adrenaline and stubbornness that kept him standing at that point; all he cared about was you, making me carry you to safety first. When I returned for him he was gone, and from what I heard another soldier had gotten him to the medical staff.”
The story had hurt me much more than an alien’s claws ever could, and I was fighting back tears at that point. “Then what?” I managed to ask.
Goss sighed. “You haven’t been awake long enough to realize it, but it’s really quite chaotic around here. There’s barely enough people to take care of the wounded, so there’s no way they could’ve collected and gone through the dog tags.”
“Oh,” I said quietly.
“I’m sorry. He’s not in this ward though, that much I can tell you. Now try to get some decent sleep, you look awful. And the sooner you heal up the sooner you can search for him, you know.”
“Yeah, that’s true. Thanks.”
The next couple of weeks were spent driving the nurses and doctors crazy, or atleast so they accused me. Every time they asked how I was doing I lied through my teeth — eager to get out of there to look for Harlan — and told them I was feeling great. When they didn’t relent I nagged and pestered them, and when that didn’t work I snuck out of bed and tried to escape.
I think everyone was happy when they finally decided that my bed could be used for someone more needy. I got checked out, with strict orders to see a doctor at least once a week to make sure the wounds were healing properly.
And so my search began. Ward after ward, hospital after hospital. They had finally started organizing and going through the dog tags, but it was still too early to completely rely on that. So I had to describe Harlan the best I could, which was hard since the personnel had seen so many patients come and go.
I hit jackpot at the fourth hospital in the cluster of medical buildings. One of the nurses faintly remembered a Captain matching my description, and directed me towards a doctor who’d know more.
“Ah yes, I do indeed remember him. Unlucky fellow,” the doctor said distractedly, focusing more on the chart in his hands than me.
“Unlucky? What do you mean, and — more importantly — where is he?”
“He checked himself out a couple of days ago, I believe.”
That got the good doctors attention. He looked thoughtfully at me, “What’s your name? Jules or something like that?”
Surprised, I answered, “Almost… It’s Julian.”
“Then, you’re the one he was calling for.”
“What?” My heart was racing painfully, I had to restrain myself from grabbing the slow-speaking doctor and shaking the words out of him.
“He was in bad shape when he got here. He drifted in and out of consciousness for several days, in critical condition, and every time he came to he’d frantically ask for you. One of the nurses felt sorry for him and pulled some strings, and was able to give him good news about you. He calmed down after that, and healed up nicely — or, well, as nicely as one could hope for.”
I swallowed nervously. “What do you mean by that last comment?”
The doctor frowned. “You seem to be very close, and as such I’d normally have no problem with stretching the rules a little. But the fact that he didn’t go to you when discharged speaks for itself. I’m sorry, I’ve probably told you too much already.”
“No no, wait!” I desperately tried to stop him from walking away. “You don’t have to tell me, but please, please tell me where he is. I need to find him, I can’t-” my voice suddenly broke.
The doctor gave me a sympathetic look. “If I knew, I’d tell you. I’m sorry, son.”
I stood alone as he walked away, not caring in the least that I was crying openly.
The days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. Winter came and covered the battered ground in a pristine white blanket. I was at home, having exhausted every single lead on Harlan’s whereabouts. He had disappeared, plain and simple, and it sure didn’t seem like he wanted to be found.
I kept hoping against hope that he’d return to me soon. I missed him so much, it was all I could think of. Nothing else mattered to me, and I almost despised the people currently caroling so joyfully on the street.
Caroling, because it was Christmas. They kept knocking on my door, and I tried to rebuff them as gently as possible. I was at the end of my rope though, so when I heard someone knocking once again I stalked to the door and literally tore it open.
“It’s not a fucking ‘Merry Christmas’ for me, alright?! Now go away and-” the rest of the words died on my tongue.
Harlan was standing on my doorstep, looking absolutely terrified. His brown eyes were wide and as dark as the winter night. He had lost weight, and his hair had grown a bit. There was nothing immaculate about him right now, he just looked lost and scruffy and scared.
I finally got what the doctor had hinted at when I saw his face. It was scarred; a long thing scar running from his temple, over his cheek, and down to his upper lip. It gave him a slight lopsided sneer, a constant one.
The falling snow coated his head and shoulders, proof that he had been standing outside for quite some time.
I let out a strangled sob, stepping forward and hugging him tightly. “What took you so long?” I hiccupped between sobs.
He returned the hug hesitantly. “I thought I’d just wait till the worst had healed, and then I… I’m sorry, I’ll understand if you don’t want me anymore.”
I grabbed hold of his shoulders and pushed him back, staring him straight in the eye. “Is that really what you think of me?” I asked.
He looked away, but not before I caught the tears in his eyes. “No, but… you always said you loved my smile.”
My heart twisted painfully. “Harlan, my love,” I whispered gently as I took hold of his chin and forced him to look at me. “Your smile was always in your eyes.”
I leaned forward and gently kissed his scar, then his mouth. As I pulled back I looked into his eyes, and despite the tears I clearly saw the coming light.