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It’s an almost perfect spot. A small, still pond, surrounded by trees, blocked from view by a large stone outcropping, and the natural incline of the hill. In a rare show of vulnerability, Pat said, I think I’ll take a swim.

He’s undressing now, shimmying out of his stained jacket, his breeches. Richard tries to keep his eyes averted, just so it’s not obvious how much he wants to stare at Pat’s manhood. Pat kicks off his drawers and saunters into the water, completely without a care in the world. He dives in up to his chest, submerging for a few seconds, popping back up. For a few minutes he simply floats on his back, his face relaxed, his eyes closed to the setting sun. Richard sits on the bank watching him, feeling his heart twist with an odd kind of protectiveness. He’s never seen Pat do something like this; just existing, enjoying the water. He’s always moving, never sitting still. Pat flops over, stands in the waist-deep water, staring at the evening sun. Richard thinks he’s not seen a more beautiful person in all his life. Pat’s strong shoulders, his chest, the softness of his abdomen—the latter of which Richard has cuddled up to on many a cold night. God, he so wants to just get in there and just take Pat into his arms once more. Feeling those strong arms holding him, the solid warmth of Pat’s chest against his face. He lets out a little sigh, and Pat turns around, as if he’s heard. “Shy?” he asks teasingly, and Richard’s heart slams against his ribs with renewed vigour. He curses himself, God, the whole bloody world—he’s blushing furiously, and it must be visible clear across the pond. “Come on in. I’ll not bite.”

“Someone needs to keep watch,” Richard responds, barely able to get the words out.

“We’re surrounded by trees, on a hill. Those rocks, too. This is the safest we’ll ever be.” Pat turns to face him properly. “We’ll hear anyone coming for miles.”

Pat’s right, and besides, Richard doesn’t want to say no to him. “Well, if you think it’s safe.” He stands, begins shrugging off his jacket. “I’m coming.”

“I’ll turn around,” Pat says, giving him a roguish wink. He turns, and Richard’s able to get an eyeful of his back, his shoulders, the sinewy muscles rippling under the skin. Richard quickly finishes undressing, throwing his clothes into a pile on his bedroll. He wades in—suppressing a gasp at the coolness of the water—quickly getting to chest level, not wanting Pat to see that he’s gone as erect as a flagpole. Goddamn it. Pat is still facing away, watching the evening sky; Richard stares at a drop of water clinging to the base of his spine. Such a small thing, yet it practically takes his breath away. Richard goes closer, touches him on the shoulder. Pat starts a little, quickly turning around with a splash. “You’re here.”

“You asked me to come in,” Richard says perplexedly.

“I know, but I thought you’d not take me up on it.” Pat’s hair is wet, sticking to his neck, dripping into the water. “Not too cold, is it?”

“No. But I wouldn’t say no if you’d like to warm me up,” Richard says, his mouth curving up in a smile.

Pat huffs out a laugh. “You cheeky bugger. Come here.” Richard goes, falling into Pat’s arms like it’s the most natural thing in the world. The other man embraces him tightly, holding Richard against his chest. Richard returns his hug, nuzzling into his shoulder—until he realises his erection has brushed against Pat’s leg. Judging by his face, he knows exactly what that was. Pat looks down, a smile forming on his face. “What’s this?” he asks. His hand immediately goes south, taking a firm grip on Richard’s manhood—he can’t suppress the gasp that tears itself free, and how his legs turn to butter beneath him. “Pat,” Richard gasps, his voice shaking. “If you’re going to start something, you better finish.”

“Oh, really?” Pat says, but he has a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

Richard feels the cold water lapping at his back, Pat’s warm hand on his cock, the heady pressure building up within him. “That’s an order. Please,” he adds, ruining the effect.

“Alright then,” Pat breathes, then he’s stroking up and down Richard’s length, sending hot spikes of arousal slamming into his brain. Richard moans, leaning in to kiss him, wanting nothing more than to feel Pat’s lips against his. His sergeant tastes like sweat, rations, smoke from the cigarettes they spun out a few hours ago, even the grassy water of the pond. Pat’s hand moves quicker, and Richard kisses him harder, out of desperation. He wants this, he needs this, with all the fibres of his being. His climax is rapidly rising; a warm, electric energy emanating from his groin. Richard feels so hot he vaguely wonders how the pond around them hasn’t boiled into steam yet. There’s no noise, except for the slight lapping of the water as Pat moves, and soft sighs as they kiss each other. Soon enough, Richard’s balancing on the precipice. He’s been there for a little while; painfully, futilely close, enough that he thinks he’ll either faint or cry with how strong the pressure is. Luckily Pat doesn’t waste any more time—on the last stroke, Richard explodes into the water, all his energy leaving him after his release. With an exhausted sigh, he sags onto Pat’s shoulder, breathing rapidly. Pat holds him close, pressing a soft kiss to his temple. Richard’s heart slowly calms, no longer beating against his ribs with frightening strength like it was earlier. After a minute, he’s able to get his shaky legs under him. They remain in that position for a little while, just standing in each others’ embrace. The sun is setting in earnest now, casting everything in a honey-gold light. Richard watches that golden light reflected in Pat’s dark eyes, mesmerised by it, only now realising he’s never seen it before. “What’re you looking at?” Pat asks softly, his eyebrows slightly knitting together in confusion.

“Your eyes. They’re beautiful.”

“Really? That’s a new one.” Pat’s obviously trying to be flippant, but Richard can see the blush beginning to form. “Nobody’s ever said that to me before.”

“They should.” Richard leans into him, their foreheads touching. Pat has his eyes closed, but Richard doesn’t do the same. He’s so close he can see the tiny, almost microscopic droplets of water sitting on Pat’s dark lashes. “Want me to take care of you?” Richard asks softly.

“Would you?”

“Yes, of course.” Richard almost laughs at how obtuse Pat is even today. Too obtuse to know his major would go to the ends of the earth for him. “Anything for you.”

“You’ve never done it before,” Pat responds, always the voice of reason.

Richard’s heart thumps nervously within him—Pat’s right, and he’s now starting to wonder if he can really measure up. Even so, he says, “I’m willing to try.”

Pat fixes him with an unreadable look, then bites his lip. “Alright then. If you think you can take it.” He’s already got a hungry glint to his eye, as if he’s imagining the feel of Richard inside him. “I’ll go get myself ready.” He presses a soft kiss to Richard’s forehead, then he’s splashing out of the water. Richard watches him go, appreciating the way the sun shines on his back as he clambers up the bank. “I know you’re staring,” Pat calls back, without turning around.

“Can’t resist,” Richard replies, following him out. The slight breeze feels cold on his naked body, and he can’t stop himself from shivering a little. Pat throws himself onto the bedroll, flopping onto his stomach. Even from this distance the need in his eyes is obvious. Richard kneels down behind him, rifling through his bag for the oil he always carries—but the tiny flask is empty. He almost laughs at the implication of that. “We have no oil,” he breathes.

“Water will be fine. Just do it.” The raw desperation in Pat’s voice sounds so alien and urgent that Richard hurries to comply. He empties some of his canteen over his fingers, and with the utmost care, inserts two of his fingers into Pat’s entrance. The other man goes tense, flinching a little, before relaxing. “Oh…that’s good.”

“Did it hurt?”

“Just a bit.” Pat deliberately breathes evenly, his fists clenching, then going slack. “I’m used to it now. Don’t be shy about it. You can’t do anything to me.” Richard begins moving his fingers in and out, working him up, getting him slick on the inside. Pat stays silent through all of this, eyes closed, breathing heavily. When Richard thinks he’s relaxed enough, he lines himself up, slicking down his length with wet hands. And then—he hesitates. Seeing his manhood at full mast before him, Pat’s entrance dripping water, he’s suddenly uncertain. “Richard? You alright back there?”

“I…I’m nervous now,” he says self-deprecatingly. “I don’t want to hurt you.”

“I promise you won’t hurt me, Richard, you could never do that. Go slowly, if you like. I don’t mind.” Pat rests his head on his folded arms. Richard breathes out. He lines himself up, inserting his length carefully, not wanting to cause Pat any pain. Inch by inch, all the way up to the base. He feels Pat clench hard around him, then go slack. “There you go. That’s fine.”

“You certain?”

“Aye. I told you, you’ll not hurt me.” Pat breathes evenly, closing his eyes. Richard begins moving in and out, keeping a firm grip on Pat’s hips as he does so. He goes slowly to begin with, not wanting to get too carried away. The sensation of Pat’s entrance around his length is almost too strong for comfort, and within a few moments Richard can feel the familiar buzzing energy building up yet again. Emboldened, he begins thrusting more rhythmically, and Pat just about melts into a heap. “Richard,” he whines, his voice oddly breathy. “Richard.”

“Is this fine?”

“Oh, yes. More than fine. More than fine, Richard, don’t stop.” Richard can feel Pat’s shoulders heaving, the harsh breaths forced out of him with every thrust. “Richard…Richard, I—“ Pat’s voice dissolves into a moan as he comes, his entire body relaxing in a soggy heap. Not two seconds later Richard climaxes too, but it’s less explosive than the first time. Maybe he’s running out of energy. He pulls out carefully, watching a mixture of water and his own seed trickling down Pat’s thighs. Pat rolls onto his back, his chest heaving with the exertion of their lovemaking. “Come here,” he breathes, and Richard goes willingly, clambering over and lying on his chest. “There you go.”

“Was that alright?”

“Of course it was. More than alright.” Pat holds him close, kissing his forehead. “Nothing to worry about, is there?”

“No, I reckon not. But still.” Richard props himself up on Pat’s chest, slightly surprised by the look of open adoration in his sergeant’s eyes. “Just don’t want to hurt you.”

“I know. You worry too much.”

Richard huffs out a laugh, and lets himself back down. “I don’t want to go back,” he whispers against Pat’s chest. “Not ever.”

“Why’s that?”

“I’ll have to share you again. There’ll be others, and…we’ll have to go back to pretending. That there's nothing between us.”

“That’s the way it is, Richard,” Pat responds, his voice tinged with sadness.

“I know. But I still wish this would never end. Just us. No garrison, no drills, no anything. Just you and me together.” Richard lets out a sigh. “I know what you’ll say. Just…let me have this.” Pat doesn’t respond, as promised. The sun is almost down, casting the tiny glade in a deep-purple gloom. Richard stays where he is, thinking of nothing, listening to the steady rhythm of Pat’s heartbeat, feeling his chest slowly rise and fall. Pat’s hand moves in soft circles over his back, relaxing him even further. He’s half asleep when he feels Pat dragging a blanket over them both, taking care to tuck it in around Richard’s shoulders. He thinks he hears Pat say something—it’s practically unintelligible, but Richard is almost certain his sergeant said I love you. He’ll say it back later, once they’re both awake. There’s no rush at all.

Richard wakes hours later from a dreamless sleep to find the grey light of dawn filtering through the trees around the glade. Pat is lying on his back next to him, a hand resting on his chest, snoring gently. The birds have begun to chirp around them, the trees moving against each other. Such a quiet, delicate sound. A far cry from the stinking, smoking, noisy battlefields they seem to be spending most of their time in. Richard doesn’t dare to move; Pat so rarely gets to sleep in complete safety like this, and he wants to let his sergeant enjoy it. Now that he’s asleep and still, Richard can pore over every detail of Pat’s face without interruption. His dark lashes, the strong jaw, the tiny crease between his eyebrows. The way he snuffles in his sleep, his chest easily rising and falling. All of it so achingly beautiful and fragile. Pat’s eyelids flutter and he mumbles to himself—he’s waking. “Morning,” he says sleepily, his eyes bright and lively. “How long you been watching me?”

“A few minutes.”

“Let me guess. You can’t resist?”

“No. Not when it’s you.”

“I don’t mind.” Pat rolls to his side, his arms tucked up against his chest. “You slept well.”

“Aye. No nightmares.” Richard rubs his eyes out of habit, but finds he doesn’t need to. He’s as fresh as a daisy, the semi-permanent tiredness that’s been following him around completely gone. “First time in a while we’ve woken up in complete silence,” he adds. He’s not wrong; whenever they awoke in the tiny tent they shared, the activities of the garrison around them were in full swing already. Drills, target practice, just people talking, moving, existing in a space probably too small for them. That feeling of not wanting to leave here washes over him once more. If they could live in this tiny peaceful glade forever, Richard wouldn’t mind a whit.

“Mm. It’s my turn to watch you now,” Pat says, his gaze raking over Richard’s face. Richard feels his skin tingling, his cheeks warming, as if his sergeant is physically touching him—and then Pat is touching him, cupping his face tenderly. “Mo ghrá,” he breathes, his mouth slightly open.

“What?” Richard asks, trembling slightly under the intensity of Pat’s gaze.

“I feel like I’m really seeing you. For the first time.” Pat licks his lips, swallows. “Richard. Can I kiss you?”

It doesn’t even cross his mind that they’ve just woken up, that they’re both still naked. Richard leans in, letting that be his answer. Pat pulls him into a crushing kiss, as if he can barely wait to feel Richard against him again. Richard melts into it, sighing in pleasure as his sergeant kisses a line down his jaw, along his neck. He feels Pat gasping roughly against him as they kiss, and when the other man’s hand goes to his arse, as if to roll him over, Richard lets it happen. Pat gently pushes him onto his front, straddling him. “I want to be inside you,” he says roughly, his eyes alight.

“Go ahead,” Richard responds, breathing rapidly. Pat fumbles for the canteen, makes himself slick with the splash of water inside—so deep in the throes of his passion that he goes in raw. His length is bigger than Richard remembers, and he has to suppress a squeak of pain as the other man enters him. “You alright there?” Pat asks him, going still.

“Aye, I am. Just been a while.”

“Should have worked you up, eh? I’ll be gentle. Just relax and breathe.” Richard does as he says, focusing on filling his lungs with air and pushing it back out. Pat’s timing his rhythm to his breathing: thrusting in on the exhale, pulling out on the inhale. His movements elicit tiny stabs of pain within Richard to start with, but then there’s that pleasurable warmth building up, and soon it doesn’t hurt at all. He can feel Pat’s weight on his back, close and warm, his rough breaths in his ear. Richard’s going to be soundly fucked into the earth at this rate, and he doesn’t really have a problem with that. Pat’s thrusts quicken; he must be close. Within a few seconds, he climaxes, a strangled moan escaping him. Richard feels hot warmth on the inside, spreading out from his arse. “Oh,” he whispers, but it sounds more like a sigh. “Oh, Pat.”

Pat himself doesn’t respond; he simply withdraws, flopping down on the bedroll nearby. Richard rolls over, snuggles up next to him. The sun is beginning to shine through the trees across the pond. They’ll have to pack up in a half hour, but they can stay here for a little while longer, just enjoying each other. “I thought about what you said last night,” Pat whispers after a while, his fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of Richard’s neck. “About you and me…together.”

“Did you?”

“Aye. I was thinking, once all this is over--the war, I mean—you can come home with me. I have a house back in Ireland, it’s not much, but it’s mine. I don’t know if you have anything in London waiting for you, but if not…I’d be more than happy to take you home with me.”

“Pat, I…” Richard’s heart just about flops out of his chest—he’s been hoping to hear this from his sergeant for so long, but never dared to express it. It seemed so out of his reach, and so it stayed locked down in his heart, a fantasy to soothe himself during long hot nights alone. “I’d like that. But only if you’ll have me,” he adds sheepishly.

“Of course. Nothing would make me happier than spending the rest of my life with you.”

Richard snuggles into him. “I feel the same, Pat. Exactly the same.” They should be getting dressed and packing away their things, ready to move on, but Richard can’t find it in himself to ruin the moment. The garrison isn’t expecting them for another day at least. Richard stays where he is, watching the rising sun turning Pat’s dark eyes into black gold for the second time. There’s no rush. It’s perfectly fine just to be here, enjoying the weather, the quiet glade, the man he loves most staring back at him adoringly.