Myron didn't even knock, just tore the door open and pounced up the steps. The hootch was in semi-darkness, lit only by the light of the lamp on the desk. It was early, but the rain seemed to have leeched all the light out of the world.
Zeke's shoulders braced, then relaxed. This couldn't be put off. He slowly and deliberately closed the file he was working on, pushed back his chair, settled his face into his usual stoic lifer mask, stood, turned, settled his butt against the edge of his desk, hands slipping into his pockets. Only then did he look at Myron.
Soaked to the skin, out of breath, fatigues clinging to every inch of his slender body, hair plastered to his skull, the stuff they needed for tonight cradled close to his chest. Heavens had opened while he was on his way over.
Well, this was never gonna be easy.
"I'll get you a towel L.T"
Staving off the inevitable just a beat longer, he matched action to words and all the while Myron just stood there, waiting for him.
He was scared now. This was always the worst part and honest to god, this assignment had been his toughest yet. He honestly didn't know how Myron was gonna react.
Zeke wanted Myron out of those wet fatigues as soon as possible... he faltered, heat blooming in his cheeks...er...he wanted Myron in dry fatigues as soon as possible so they could get on with this. The suspense was killing him.
He grabbed a clean towel, clean fatigue pants. They'd probably fall right off the boy but it was the best that could be managed. Myron was not gonna just quit now he was here.Zeke turned just as Myron finished unbuttoning his jacket. Oh Lord. Zeke swallowed a sudden lump in his throat.
Where exactly had all this started? Staff Sergeant Jonathan Digby, that's where. Zeke had lost it a little in that bar at Tay Ninh, had been as embarrassed as Myron when the drink had done their talking for them. It wasn't the end of the world to know that your friend had a high opinion of you, or for him to know that you had a high opinion of him. That wasn't the problem.
It was the most stupid, stupid thing. He'd been talking about Johnson's letter, about the Afro. Myron had said to him, said he was thinking about growing an afro when he got home, laughed when Zeke had pictured it, said no sir don't do that. Had laughed, head lowered, looking shyly up through his lashes across the table at his Sergeant. Zeke's own smile had faltered. He'd looked at his friend, his officer, had seen him like he'd never seen him before. Had looked at him like he'd never looked at any man, ever.
Digby got them into a brawl; L.T. had gotten that ridiculous black eye. It had given Zeke an excuse and he had kept right on looking, sidling covert little glances at Myron for most of the day while Digby gave them attitude from in back. He'd been okay since then, hadn't...looked...at Myron that way again.
Zeke was a proud man, had always thought himself a strong man. He'd always walked his own path. His path had brought him to the Army. The Army had held him, held him to the cost of Carol and Katie. It had called him back from Jennifer's side. Duty had always held him to his path, not love.
The boy had changed that, had changed Zeke. He couldn't count the ways. The early days had been stormy, no question but he'd wanted to drag the arrogant little sonovabitch out into the bush and beat some sense into him. He hadn't had a single spark of humanity from his officer until they'd gone into the tunnels after Taylor, and then, then he'd seen just how close this boy guarded himself, and he'd glimpsed the intense vulnerability that lay behind those formidable defences.
He'd wanted to see more, had pushed for more, and slowly but surely had gotten it. They'd learned to work together, then they'd gotten to be friends. Zeke had needed a friend, needed it badly. Badly enough to patiently wear down those defences. Wanted to take the edge off. First time L.T had called him Zeke, he'd felt like he'd earned something. The boy had let down his guard and they'd gotten close. Close at Ladybird. Closer still at Ton Son Nhut. Here at Barnett...maybe too close ...maybe not close enough.
Love? He loved Carol, loved Jennifer. They had neither of them held him. He'd left them both for the Army, missed them but got along just fine without them.
Duty didn't hold him now, didn't hold him here. Not THIS war. Myron held him. Zeke could hardly remember what his life was like before he'd had Myron to take care of, could not imagine what his life would be without him. This boy held him absolutely. They were two halves of the same whole. That spilled over in the field, they were as one. They had a natural balance that let them be that close and still function. The name he'd given that was friendship. Now he wasn't so sure what name to give it and he was finding it harder every day to keep his balance.
He wasn't na´ve, he'd lived all his life in one institution or another. It had given him a pragmatic attitude towards sex. He'd done a little fooling around when he was very young, in the Orphanage, nothing special. He'd always been faithful but in between times...well, he was no different to the rest of the guys. Mamasan Linda's whenever he got the opportunity.
Myron wasn't at all pragmatic about sex. He'd had a few adventures - Zeke had heard about the famous pizza run and the go-go girls at Benning - but basically, sex came as a package deal, along with all the emotional stuff. Myron had Relationships. Given what Zeke knew about The General, he doubted Myron had done much fooling around of any kind before he got out of the old bastard's clutches.
Zeke figured his straight-laced lieutenant would die of shock if he had the slightest inkling that his platoon sergeant could be even the least bit attracted to him. Zeke still had great difficulty accepting it himself. He just wasn't that way inclined, pragmatist or not. He wasn't that way inclined but even so...he was still attracted.
He'd been able to bury it. They had a war to fight, plenty of other distractions. He'd been checking into some stuff in the Interpretation of Dreams, felt a little better. It was all down to latent impulses, perfectly natural, maybe down to the war too. If forged intense emotional bonds between men, made them vulnerable. The Army knew the risks so they took precautions.
Ya got Leavenworth.
Myron was completely oblivious to Zeke's scrutiny, dropping his jacket onto the floor. He was glistening with droplets of rain, hair curling in tendrils across his brow. Zeke couldn't help but admire the play of gently defined muscles under all that smooth golden skin. He'd never really looked at another guy's body this way but Myron was...he was perfect. Slender but not skinny, seemed to Zeke to have just about as much muscle as he actually needed, supple. He had a very light frame, bones delicate, was all arms and legs. The only thing that saved Myron from an air of fragility was the fact he was the most alive person Zeke had ever known. He seemed to live on the extreme outside edge of his skin, every tempestuous thought and feeling playing out across his expressive face and in his dreamy, fathomless dark brown eyes. Zeke had never seen eyes like those. Got lost in them. Zeke had heard the saying 'golden boy'. That's what Myron was to him, a golden boy, glowing with health and vitality. An irresistible force. He was...he was beautiful. Zeke never thought he'd ever think that about a guy, but there it is.
Zeke handed Myron the towel. He smiled thanks, tucked the towel under his arm, hands moving to his waistband.
Fine! Zeke decided there wasn't any safe place to look so he hauled ass over to the desk to tackle a more immediate problem than Leavenworth. His assignment. He stood in front of his file, took a deep breath, opened, flipped quickly page by page to the back. He saw corrections and comments in Myron's flowing copperplate all the way through, reached the back page and the grade... D-? Son of a...the little...D-??
He'd worked his butt off on this assignment. It wasn't easy for a forty year old lifer to put himself into the shoes of a fourteen year old Italian chick but god, he'd tried.
He turned on his teacher, furiously angry. Chris Pierce had NEVER given him a D-. He knew it, he just knew it. L.T. was still steamed it had taken Zeke so long to ask for his help with the coursework. He hadn't hurt the boy's feelings deliberately. It had never even crossed his mind to wonder why a guy who wanted to be an English Lit teacher had been so ostentatiously uninterested in Zeke's continuing efforts to get through his lit course. Myron had seen the stuff in Zeke's hootch often enough but hadn't said a word.
Zeke hadn't asked for help because...well, because he still wasn't the best reader in the world and he hadn't wanted to look bad in front of his L.T. It was embarrassing. He didn't have to face Chris Pierce every day in the field. He'd just struggled on until he'd been nailed by Shakespeare. Romeo and friggin' Juliet. He'd hit rock bottom, swallowed his pride and slunk over to L.T's hootch to ask for help. Still felt guilty when he remembered how L.T.'s face had lit up, it was like, finally!>
He'd been wrong about Myron too. No temper tantrums, no kvetching, not while he was teaching, just endless reserves of patience and carefully worded explanations that Zeke could understand, relate to. He had not made Zeke feel dumb, not once. He'd decided on a formal session every Friday night, from after mess 'til bed check. That gave them time to review the work that Zeke had done through the week, have the week's lesson, set some new work for the coming week.
They both enjoyed it, actually looked forward to this precious private time from one week to the next. Zeke had known for a long time that Myron was the best damn officer he'd ever worked with but now he knew Myron was an even better teacher. He was inspiring Zeke to keep at it, giving him crazy exercises to do, helping him build his vocabulary, training his mind to think the right way. OJT. It was working out. He had real assignments to hand in for assessment but L.T had a Masters degree, so he could do that. Had just had to register as a tutor with the programme.
He marked and commented on all the other stuff too. The D- was like a slap. Zeke was hurt. He really had done his best. He slumped back against the desk meeting Myron's eyes properly for the first time since he'd arrived, let his hurt show.
Myron walked towards him, hand held out imperatively for his glasses. Zeke fumbled behind him, almost sat on the damn things when the too-large pants slipped down and he got an eyeful of the gentle swell of belly below Myron's navel. Swallowed convulsively. Suddenly that impulse didn't seem nearly so comfortably latent.
Myron was annoyed, gathered the pants together in one hand and hoisted them back up. Some teacher. Barefoot, no t-shirt, wet hair. He needed his glasses. It was childish he knew, but he felt more like a teacher when he put them on. Felt more authoritative. It was tougher being Zeke's teacher than it was being his platoon leader. Zeke always turned on the charm and sooner or later Myron always caved and gave him whatever he wanted. McKay was right about him. He was such a pushover. Where Zeke was concerned anyway.
Teachers couldn't be pushovers. The glasses helped. He moved a little closer.
He waited but Zeke seemed to have been struck dumb. Zeke was flushed. Maybe he wasn't feeling too good. Realisation dawned. Honestly, it wasn't the end of the world that he'd given Zeke a D-. This was just a lit exercise, not the bush! If you didn't make mistakes you wouldn't learn anything. Mistakes didn't get you killed in English Lit.
He stared at Zeke. Still nothing. He gave up, moved right up close, switched grips on the pants to his right hand, reached around Zeke's broad back with his left and got them himself. Started to straighten back up then froze.
He was hallucinating. Zeke was not sniffing him. His platoon sergeant could NOT be sniffing his hair. He was hallucinating. Right?
Zeke was breathing in a heady scent of warm clean skin and rainwater. Breathed a little deeper. Hard as it was for a forty year old lifer to pretend to be Juliet Capulet, it was much harder for a forty year old lifer to pretend not to be the least bit attracted to a 25 year old Jewish boy from Queens when the boy from Queens was standing right there in front of him, half naked and close enough to kiss.
Leavenworth - keep tellin' yourself that!- The boy was also his boss. He could get Leavenworth. The longer Myron stood this close the harder Zeke found it to convince himself that he shouldn't just kiss him and be damned to it. Best case? He might do it once and not like it. That might be the end of it.
Myron was a pushover, he'd be totally embarrassed but he'd put it down to the fact that neither of them had been with a woman in about nine months. Plus, Zeke would swear six ways from Sunday that he was drunk. Zeke doubted he'd get Leavenworth. Myron wouldn't give up his platoon sergeant for a single lapse of judgement in the heat of the moment. He'd make him suffer for it, but eventually they'd be okay.
Worst case? He really was afraid he'd start to kiss the boy and not be able to stop. His heart was beating so hard it felt like it was in the back of his throat.
The least bit attracted? Right now...right now Zeke figured he could eat the boy alive. It was a shock to the system. Like being mortared. Exact same terror, exact same adrenaline rush, didn't have a clue which way to run but had to run anyway.
He looked hard at the boy. Willed him with his eyes. MOVE! MOVE! MOVE!
Myron was rooted to the spot. He'd been pathetically slow on the uptake but...He was starting to blush, felt like he was blushing all over his body. His skin felt hot and two sizes too small for him. He had never had ANY man look at him the way Zeke was looking at him right now. He should be mortified. He was mortified! He should be moving, getting the hell away from Zeke, pretending this wasn't happening, smoothing it over. He wasn't moving. WHY wasn't he moving?
It was Zeke's eyes. He couldn't seem to tear himself away from those intense blue eyes. They were compelling him. He had no defences against this. Zeke made him whole, filled the aching emptiness inside him, the emptiness he'd never acknowledged to a living soul. It had been there since his mother had killed herself, since he'd despaired and turned his back on God, the emptiness where trust and certainty had once been.
He trusted Zeke. Only Zeke. Found it easier to trust in Zeke than he did to trust himself, always had to work at that. His father had reduced him to tiny aching pieces so many times. No fuel without fire.
Zeke had more of him than any lover, their friendship went deeper and meant more. It was something he was certain of. In this war, in his life, it was the only thing he was certain of.
He had been certain of it.
The only thing he was certain of right now was that if he didn't move his skinny butt in the next few seconds his platoon sergeant was going to kiss him.
That could cost him Zeke and he wouldn't let that happen. They could get past this, he knew they could, if only it went no further. It couldn't go any further than this heart-stopping awareness that he was desired.
Zeke was willing Myron to move away from him but when the boy put one foot behind the other, shifted position, he couldn't let him go. He came up off the desk and cupped his hands around Myron's face, holding him still, then gently pulled him closer, no hesitation now. Zeke just leaned in and kissed him, Myron frozen with shock for the longest time then suddenly returning the gentle pressure of Zeke's lips.
Zeke held on to Myron's face, held his gaze. His beautiful velvety eyes were enormous, stunned. They were both of them shaking but it wasn't that tentative kiss. It was the shock. This wasn't an easy thing for either of them. They neither of them could believe they'd just done that.
Zeke touched Myron's cheek gently, then slipped his arms around the small of Myron's back. Myron's arms came up between them, braced against Zeke's chest, a little distance between them, leaning back as Zeke moved closer, hesitated and then their lips met again.
So different, so different from kissing a woman. Zeke didn't have to hold back, wasn't afraid of hurting Myron with his strength, could kiss his golden boy with all the love and passion he felt for him, the pressure from his lips parting Myron's under them, tongue sliding into Myron's mouth, deepening the kiss with every heartbeat.
Myron's arms came up ready to push Zeke away, somehow slid up and around his neck, locked there as Zeke's tongue came into his mouth, warm and whiskey tasting, gently demanding his response. This was Zeke. He couldn't summon up the will to fight this sweet assault on his senses, closed his eyes, surrendered at last to the blissful intimacy, cradled in Zeke's protective arms, heart pounding, the kiss growing deeper and gentler with every second.As Myron clung ever closer to him, Zeke exulted in his passionate response, tried to hold him as tight and safe as he needed to be held.
When at last they parted lips neither of them could deny the passion they felt. There was no shame in either of them. How could there be? This was home, heart's ease for both of them.
Zeke held him close, caressing his cheek against Myron's, felt his response, smiled against his mouth. They locked eyes again, lips close enough to kiss, Zeke's large heavy hands stroking his back, reassuring.
"Been lovin' you all this time. Hard to admit it, even now but...I came back to 'Nam for you. You're my unfinished business. I guess...I'm just not complete without you. Can't even bear the thought. Couldn't be without you, not now."
Myron had to blink away tears. Zeke's simple, dignified words struck him to his heart. He shook his head a little, honestly didn't know what to say. His whole world had just tilted on its axis. Zeke was still Zeke, his friend, his sergeant. That was all easy and familiar, the rock at his back. He could put the name love to that. It was spilling over, the care Zeke took for him, colouring what he felt now. He could cope with the fact that Zeke loved him too.
Myron could cope with that, but he was floundering with the idea that Zeke desired him, was floored by the passion that had sparked between them. He couldn't begin to comprehend how another man could feel this for him, how he could feel this for a man even if that man was Zeke.
"There's Jennifer. I can't...We can't. It isn't right to hurt her"
"She knows. She knew when I extended my tour. I...had a nightmare. She made me talk about it, stupidest thing you ever heard. I figured I was frettin' for the guys is all. She said...the only face missing was yours. With everything you were goin' through, losing Alex, you bein' my friend and all...you weren't in my dream. Jennifer knew, somehow she knew I wasn't choosin' between her and the war, I was choosin' between her and you. She wanted me to choose freely, so she took my ring off and gave it back to me, said I should go home to her and put it back on her finger only if we both still felt the same. She....I could see it in her eyes...I came back for you. It's taken me from then 'til now to admit that's the truth of it"
Myron knew Zeke would never lie to him, never. This was the absolute truth. He was shocked to the core, shocked that Jennifer had seen the love that was growing between them, the love unrecognised by them, so long ago, while each of them was involved with someone else.
"I'm forty years old and just about worn out from this war. I've been dumb all my life and I ain't got a clue what I could do apart from the soldiering. Gotta give it up if I want you though. You too, you gotta give up your career, your future. Gotta give that up for a worn out grunt. You couldn't do any worse for yourself but I figure I couldn't do any better so maybe it balances out in the end."
Zeke's eyes entreated him "Assuming that you do want me..."
It hurt Myron to see Zeke brought so low, almost begging. He hadn't given Zeke one kind word, nothing to hold on to, so he'd had to bare his soul to get a response. Still didn't know what that response would be.
What did he want? A future without Zeke was unthinkable. Myron was damned certain he couldn't survive this war without Zeke, he relied on Zeke's strength to carry him through when his own strength faltered.
After the war? He had no family to speak of, no close friends here since McKay had gone home, no friends waiting for him at home in Queens. He had nothing and no one but Zeke. Knew that it wasn't far from the truth that Zeke had nothing and no one but him. Carol and Katie were happy, settled, a burden lifted from Zeke while Harry was taking good care of them in Fayetteville. And...Zeke wouldn't give Jennifer second best, wouldn't try to love her while he was in love with Myron.
The cost of losing Zeke as a friend far outweighed the cost of holding him as a...As a lover. The cost of keeping him was sex. He trusted Zeke, couldn't just flip a switch and stop. Zeke wanted to make love and Myron was going to have to trust his friend not to push for more than he could give. He honestly didn't know what he could give. He took a deep breath and gave his answer, voice shaking a little.
"I...I feel the same. I can't deny it. I do love you. But...I've never been with a man...don't know if..."
He couldn't finish, hoping Zeke would understand, cut him some slack.
Zeke's face was lighting up, a smile blooming as he realised Myron meant this, that he loved him in return. Lord, he wasn't a child, he was a man, he could wait until Myron was sure, was ready to make love. The only important thing was that they wouldn't be parted. Myron loved too much. He gave all his heart and had never yet given his heart to anyone that was worthy of it. He'd been hurt over and over again. It was finished, in the past. Now he had Myron, he'd never let him go, never.
He couldn't keep his grin down, the relief was making him giddy. He said tenderly
"It don't mean nothin"
Myron faltered then grinned back, caught out by the grunt's mantra, knew it would be okay, then Zeke was gathering him in close, kissing him again, caressing his face with gentle, wondering fingers. Zeke kissed him like he'd never been kissed before, kisses as tough and tender as Zeke was himself.
Myron realised that what was seducing him was the feeling between them, knowing he was loved and needed by Zeke, knowing that Zeke wouldn't be without him. That was all that mattered to him.
Zeke wrapped his arms around Myron's waist, exerted his strength to lift him off his feet and carry him over to the bed, enjoying Myron's shocked reaction. The boy had obviously never realised just how strong Zeke was, holding his weight effortlessly as he strode across the hootch.
Before Myron had a chance to panic Zeke turned, sat down, let Myron's feet touch the ground and pulled him smoothly down onto his knee, arms cradling around him again. Nice. They could sit close like this and kiss, Myron would know he could get up anytime and walk away if it got to be too much.
Zeke looked hard at the best thing that had ever happened to him, looked hard at his beautiful boy, couldn't hardly believe that the boy was his, his to keep. He leaned in, waited a beat for his lover's consent and kissing the base of Myron's throat,Zeke being Zeke, murmured
trailing soft kisses all around his throat
kissing the tender spot between neck and shoulder
"...you gave me...
kissing the point of the slender shoulder now, then lifting Myron's hand
raising the palm to his lips, kissing the veins at the inside of the wrist
"...you little sonova..."
Hurriedly, and for the first time, the first time coming from him, Myron reached across and kissed Zeke on the lips.