Corporal Dusty Miller swayed on the bridge of the HMS Destroyer Sirdar, watching Andrea's launch take him back to Navarone, and from the corner of his eye also watching Captain Keith Mallory watch Andrea leave.
Mallory looked like hell. To be fair, Miller probably did, too. They were filthy, soaking wet, cold. And they were so far beyond exhausted that they'd come out the other side, into a place where they could continue to function for hours but where thinking and moving became steadily more painful. On top of all that, Mallory was watching his closest friend leave.
Of all of them, Andrea was the only one who had looked unchanged by their mission, maybe because he had unfathomable reserves of endurance. Or maybe because he'd found love in the unlikely arms of their contact on the island, Maria. Before they left on the launch, he'd had a few quiet words with Mallory, and Miller had eavesdropped unashamedly.
"We are going to be married as soon as we can," Andrea had explained. "We will be in Margaritha. Maria still has her radio. When you have need of me again, my Keith, you have only to call."
While Mallory was busy congratulating Maria, Andrea had turned to Miller and taken him by the arm in a gentle embrace. Very quietly, Andrea had said into his ear, "You will take care of him."
"Your Keith," Miller said, trying to keep bitterness out of his voice. Andrea was in love with a beautiful young woman who loved him back; Andrea had saved them all; Mallory trusted Andrea implicitly, like another limb, like an angel of God, infallible; and not an hour before Mallory had been ready to lay down his life to save Andrea from the Germans or die beside him if that was all he could do. But now Andrea was casting his Keith Mallory aside and leaving Miller with the responsibility for him.
Andrea seemed to understand all this, for he reached across with his other hand. Soon they stood face to face, clutching each other's forearms. As the Sirdar rocked in the waves, they could have been slow-dancing. Andrea looked him in the eye and said, "Our Keith." He added, "He cannot do this alone. Tell me you will care for him."
And shaken by his trust, Dusty had nodded. "Yeah," he'd said. "Yeah, I will."
Now Miller watched as the launch disappeared and Mallory rubbed a hand over his face. The cut on his head had begun bleeding again, sluggishly.
"Come on, boss. If we don't grab bunks before the Kheros boys get here, we may have to toss coins for them."
They took their leave of Commander Ryan and shambled below and into the cabin they'd been assigned, with two bunks across a tiny aisle.
"I'm so tired I don't know if I can sleep," Mallory said, making no move to sit on his bunk.
Miller pushed him gently in the right direction. "Let me take a look at the knock on your head, first. Sit."
Mallory sat, leaning forward to rest his hands on his thighs. He shifted his knees farther apart to make room for Miller to stand there, dabbing at the jagged wound with lint.
"It didn't look this bad before, boss."
"I hit it again in the cave." When he'd done the impossible, again. Like Andrea in a way. They all depended on Keith Mallory to do the impossible regularly when he was faced with impossibly sheer cliffs. And like Andrea, Keith Mallory had not let them down yet, although his life hung in the balance, by the merest thread, each time.
When Miller took away the bloody lint and applied the sulfa, Mallory didn't flinch.
Miller hadn't expected that he would.
"Done." He backed away and put down the medical supplies on his bunk, but Mallory just sat there. Miller didn't sigh out loud. If he had, Mallory would have pulled away. Instead, Miller stepped towards him and hunkered down on his bruised, aching knees. He ignored the closeness of Mallory's crotch, ignored the heat of the man, and bent to undo the sodden bootlaces. He had one boot off -- and the sock with it -- and had turned to work on the other, when Mallory rested a tentative hand on his shoulder.
"You gotta get some sleep, boss." He made his offer while he struggled with the boot, "I can help you with that."
Mallory was completely still for just a moment.
Miller looked up, meeting his eyes. "I'd like to help you with that."
Mallory took a deep breath and let it out again. Then he nodded, watching carefully.
Miller bent his attention towards undoing Mallory' jacket and belt and trousers. He wondered how long it had taken Mallory to discover handjobs and blowjobs. He was willing to bet that before the war Keith Mallory had been as straight as a ruler, and if he survived the war he was likely to be the same again. But when you've seen and done and become the unspeakable things that war forced on you, sometimes the only comfort available was a good friend's hand on your back. And the only relief possible was a friend's hand on your cock, sometimes.
With hands as steady and delicate as if he were handling fulminate of mercury, Miller moved aside the underclothes and pulled out Mallory's cock. It was limp at first, but it twitched, filling as he wrapped his hand around it. Miller shuffled closer, and bent to take it in his mouth.
Mallory stopped him with a hand on his shoulder, again. His pupils were dilating, and blood had risen to his face, but his voice was calm as ever. "What about you?"
"This'll be plenty for me. Don't worry about me, boss."
"Keith," he said. The hand moved up to the stubble on Miller's cheek. "In here, I'm Keith."
Miller closed his eyes. He'd been ready to provide comfort to a comrade, ready to show his devotion to Mallory, but he hadn't counted on tenderness. He should have known, though, that Mallory would not let this be just expedience, wouldn't take so intimately without giving something as well.
"Dusty?" Mallory was watching him.
"Keith." The name felt odd in his mouth, but he figured he could get used to it. "Our Keith," he said, and that sounded better. Then he finished moving closer and took the head of his friend's cock in his mouth.
Miller licked, pulled back the foreskin and licked again. By then, Mallory's cock was full and hard. Miller rode it up and down with hands and lips and tongue. It was too soon to suit Miller when Mallory's balls drew up and his thighs clenched even tighter. He came on Miller's tongue, bitter and real, and alive.
Miller pulled off, and looked up. Mallory's eyes were almost closed now, and he lay down, at last, on the bunk. "Dusty," he said, "Okay?"
"Fine, everything's fine." He quickly undressed enough for comfort before falling into the bunk across the aisle. Before he fell asleep, he whispered to himself, "Our Keith."