One moment they were stationary, the next the ground beneath them dropped at a stunning rate as Goffena lifted and roared the Black Hawk west into the setting sun.
Gary braced himself securely against the side of the helicopter, chuckling as the other operators on board hollered their appreciation into the headsets. Below, the African bush receded rapidly as they did a swift one-eighty, the Indian Ocean seeming to expand to meet their headlong rush to base.
Having just spent the last two hours waging war on a herd of wild game at breakneck speeds, Goffena appeared outwardly unexcited, but Gary knew these Night Stalker pilots all too well. Their machines were their means of expression. Any moment now the Black Hawk would bank and sweep at an angle acute enough to make you lose your—
The bird dropped and swooped southward. Gary grinned and held on while the guys whooped and ranked the move out of a ten. Fillmore, Brad Hallings and Sanderson were calling it a nine while Hoot and Griz Martin insisted it was more of a seven.
“Aww,” Goffena protested mildly over their headsets. “This is a seven.” The bird lost altitude like a gentle rollercoaster ride.
Gary felt his heart sail downward into this stomach, and laughed out loud. It was incredible. The speed at which they were going, the powerful thrum and vibration of the engines, the deafening roar of its propellers. Those things alone were enough to make every particle in his body hum with exhilaration, but add to that the dreamlike beauty of the sun's rays across the water, and he was in heaven.
Well, not quite.
He wondered whether at base, on ground level, the sunset hues Randy was seeing were slightly different. They most likely were, since the base was situated east, and due to the effect of the earth’s curvature. He and Randy would have to find somewhere quiet to compare notes. And whatever else came up.
They had been apart nearly the whole day, Randy down at the shooting range and him scrambling on runs into the city. So they had a bit of catching up to do.
Hmm. It seemed the vibration of the Black Hawk might be causing a slight swelling in his lower regions.
He lowered his head and hid his smile.
Sanderson elbowed him gently, then leaned in and said over the noise, “Thinking about Randy’s talents?”
Gary looked at him but Sanderson’s expression was neutral. Gary just laughed. “Yeah!”
Sanderson leaned forward at Brad, who was sitting on the floor across from them with two antelope carcasses trapped under his legs. As the bird dipped again, Sanderson pointed at him and yelled, “Do not lose ’em! It’s cookout time!”
Brad grinned in return and gave him a thumbs up over the barrel of his rifle.
“Hey, Mike,” Sanderson said into his headset. “Radio it in, will ya? Tell Randy we got his antelopes and to get his ass in gear and get those charcoals hot. And he better not spare his spices!”
“Roger that,” Goffena drawled, and got on the radio.
Hoot pulled his sun glasses down over his eyes. “Shit, it’s a shame that man’s wastin’ his talents workin’ as a sniper.”
“No kidding,” Brad snorted. “He switches to company chef and I’ll bet General Garrison would give him the best fucking cooking trailer on the base. He could have his own private playground.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice,” Sanderson enthused.
Goffena’s chuckle came over the headset. “He makes good on those antelopes, he can have mine for the night.”
Gary’s heart skipped a beat. Was Mike serious? “I thought you Night Stalkers liked your beauty sleep.”
“I can manage elsewhere for one night,” Goffena said. “Besides, Durant’s is air-conditioned. Gives me an excuse to crash his place.”
Gary turned back to staring out the open doors of the speeding helicopter, only half listening to the random chatter carrying on over the headsets.
What the Black Hawk pilots did required such exactitude and focus that General Garrison took their comfort and nightly rest very seriously. Because of that he had gifted them the relatively luxurious cooking trailers to sleep in, as long as they broke down their bunks each morning.
The cooking trailers were… trailers. Self contained, closed in. Private.
His breathing slowed and deepened, but it was the only reaction he allowed himself.
It was ironic that after not having even seen Randy for over a year, the one mission he had managed to draw with him required that they live minute to minute in a cramped based with a hundred other guys practically sitting in their laps.
He thought about having one whole night, a secluded trailer, and Randy. All in one go.
Then he thought about two cots, side by side, empty through the night. Such a thing would be awkward, and glaring, to any observer.
He made himself stop thinking. It was better to simply forget what Mike had just offered.
They landed to a small welcoming party of ecstatic Rangers who took the antelopes away for cleaning and cutting before the meat would be taken out back and put on the grills. This not being the first hunting expedition by Delta, the Rangers had gotten quite efficient at the process.
On his way to his cot he saw that a lively crowd had gathered around the PJs’ area, but he didn’t stop to see what was causing the commotion. Whatever it was, he could hear about it after he saw Randy. He stashed his rifle and stripped off his gear.
By the time he made his way outside, the sun was almost completely down. But it didn’t alleviate the cloying heat. It just bathed everything in a gleaming orange light. He smiled, noticing that the quality of light did in fact look different from down here.
Not too far from the back doors of the hangar, Rangers had rigged up electric lamps around large metal tables pushed together to form one long table. On it sat huge metal pots stuffed with lettuce, and large basins filled with chunks of tomatoes and cucumbers. A huge fire was going in three grills lined one in front of the other at one end.
Randy stood at the grills concentrating on the sizzling meat, which Gary wasn’t surprised to find had already been cut and delivered. Randy was sweating in his T-shirt and khaki shorts, but otherwise he seemed oblivious to the heat from the fire and in the air.
Gary moved as close to him as the scorching grills would permit, and leaned his hip on the table.
“Hi,” he said softly.
Randy lifted his eyes and looked at him, at his eyes, his hair, his mouth. Gary felt his stomach muscles slowly clench when Randy’s gaze wouldn’t shift from his mouth. Gary slid out his tongue and panted at him. Randy’s jaw clenched, then he returned his gaze to the grills.
Just then, two Rangers, Ruiz and Sizemore, came out of the hangar toting metal trays of what looked like boiled potatoes. Captain Steele strolled casually behind them, hands clasped behind his back, observing everything and nothing in particular. Such an ability had to be a god-given gift.
The Rangers placed the trays on the table and Ruiz sprinted back indoors. Gary compressed his lips to stop his smile as Dale stepped back from the tables and nervously wiped his hands down the front of his camos.
“That’s the last of it, R-Randy.”
Steele halted and turned to Dale. He squinted at him. “Soldier, is that how you address a ranking NCO?”
Dale snapped to attention. “No, Captain! Sir!”
Oh fuck. Gary’s eyes widened. He clamped his lips harder.
“Is there something about Delta that’s throwing you off?”
“Well then,” Steele said quietly. “Say it right, son. Don’t make the man beg for it.”
Dale’s big blue eyes blinked erratically. “That’s the last of it, Sergeant! Do you need further assistance, sir!”
Randy didn’t even look up from the grills. “Thanks, no, that’ll be all,” he said dryly, his brows furrowed in bullshit concentration. “Thanks.”
Gary’s laughter snorted out, so he had to cough a few times to cover. Steele dismissed Dale, then continued strolling around the perimeter of their set up.
When Steele was out of earshot, Gary shook his head at Randy, who was now arranging spices he’d brought from the States into neat rows.
“What you are begging for, is trouble.”
Randy settled next to him and crossed his ankles. “I don’t beg.”
Gary grinned. “Yes you do.”
Randy picked up a box of toothpicks, shook one out, and popped it into the corner of his mouth. “Yes I do.”
Gary laughed until he was coughing for real. Randy just smiled at the ground.
He snuck a look at Randy and saw a trail of sweat slide down the side of his neck and soak into his dark green T-shirt. It wasn’t regular army issue uniform, but then none of the operators wore those. There were one or two personal items Randy wore per regulation, but that was mainly for his own sense of modesty. And Gary’s private enjoyment. But that was classified information.
Gary groaned inwardly and dropped his head as he suddenly found himself thinking of Mike’s offer. He couldn’t say a fucking word about it to Randy. Randy wouldn’t turn down the offer, and he wouldn’t go alone. And he wouldn’t let Gary leave that trailer until the sun was threatening to come up.
He looked out over the water at the darkening sky.
“It was quite a sunset,” he said, and closed his eyes briefly at the strained quality of his voice.
“If you like that particular range of orange,” Randy replied.
Gary swore under his breath. Orange was Randy’s favorite color. Any shade.
“Randy,” he began helplessly. “Mike—”
As if a dinner bell had sounded, Rangers following their noses barged out of the back doors. It seemed half the base poured out.
Salvation. Gary let out a relieved breath, which got him a peculiar glance from Randy, and pushed off the table. He wandered out of the immediate area.
He saw Hoot standing alone and started in that direction, then thought better of it when he saw the glazed, hungry look in Hoot's eyes. The new Ranger kid must be standing somewhere close by.
Aside from the obvious effect of the food, the Rangers seemed more excited than usual. What had he missed? He moved closer to a small group and picked up a paper plate.
Specialist John Collette, a loud, crazy soldier with no shame whatsoever, was howling. “Man, how hard am I right now? How fuckin’ hard am I going to jack off tonight!”
Gary got in line behind them, wondering why he could still be surprised by what Collette had to say.
“That’s crazy,” Ruiz was saying. “That’s fuckin’ crazy, man. His wife sent him a blowup doll?”
“That shit ain’t even funny,” Dale mumbled under his breath.
“Well,” Collette continued, undeterred. “Since I can’t afford those rates, I am going to have to attend to my own needs. And may I say that I’m getting very, very good at it?”
Gary had definitely missed something. He stepped closer to Dale. “What are you guys talking about?”
Dale turned to him, eyes shimmering with caution. Gary smiled at him, wondering why the kid was nervous of him.
“Uh,” Dale stammered. “A couple of PJs’ wives and girlfriends got together and sent them a blowup doll.” Then he added thickly, “It’s blond.”
Gary couldn’t help it. “What, you mean like me?”
The Rangers burst at the seams, but Dale didn’t think it was quite so funny. His face turned so red that Gary actually apologized to him through his laughter. He quickly stacked his plate and pulled out of the line. He went inside to see the doll.
It was indeed blond, though a different shade. And there was a permanent detachment of gawkers around it by now. Dan Schilling and the other PJ who had gotten it had hung a sign around its neck advertising its rates for hourly usage, complete with wholesale discounts. Still, no way Collette could afford that on what the Army paid.
A group of operators joined Gary and they stood around chowing barbecued meat and discussing different grades of plastic. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d engaged in such euphemistic conversation on such a large scale.
The younger Rangers, to their credit, were not being subtle. They were sweating and moaning openly, leaning on each other for support.
Gary felt a tap on his back.
“Hey, did you tell Randy about my trailer yet? I keep missing him.”
Gary turned around and saw Mike Goffena behind him. He shook his head. “No, I—”
“Well, there he is right now. I’ll just go tell him.”
Mike was already gone, off to Gary’s right where Randy stood explaining to Griz the superior qualities of antelope meat as say compared with beef. Half the calories, six times less fat, twenty-five percent lower cholesterol count… Randy’s words faded away as Mike poked his elbow into his side.
Gary’s heart tripled in pace. Don’t do it, Mike. Please just let it be. He closed his mouth and breathed through his nose.
Mike started talking, gesturing in the direction of the operations command center, behind which sat the cooking trailers where the Night Stalkers slept.
Randy’s face gave no indication that he was even paying special attention to what Mike was saying, but Gary saw every tell tale sign of his repressed excitement. The way his body seemed to tighten and his movements got more precise and economical. How he was avoiding looking in Gary’s direction.
Mike clapped Randy on the back and moved away, grinning happily, having done his good deed for the day.
Gary made himself look away. There was no way they could do this.
Yet his heart pounded at the mere thought of it, the insides of his thighs heating until the sweltering air seemed chill by comparison.
As childish as it sounded, it wasn’t fucking fair. Why should anyone care where he slept as long as he did his job right in the morning?
He excused himself and wandered absently back to Delta’s area, handing his plate to the first Ranger who showed interest. He saw a heated game of Risk in progress near their cots and joined the small group of special ops guys gathered around. He would rather this than lying on his cot, looking upset for all the world to see.
A few minutes later Randy showed up and laid down in his own cot. He pulled out a folded New York Times newspaper and began doing the crossword puzzle.
Gary remained where he was, just a few feet from Randy. A game of Risk was slow, involved, calculating. It took hours. Randy didn’t call him over to tell him about Mike’s offer. He didn’t even try to make eye contact.
Gary watched Randy out of the corner of his eyes and only vaguely followed the progress of the game. Private Young, a mastermind at Risk, was wearing down his opponents, but it was an amateur display compared to what Randy was doing to Gary.
Randy knew he would categorically refuse to spend the night with him in the trailer, so he wasn’t going to ask.
He was going to wait Gary out.
Gary was fucked.
But if he started acting like a marked man, he could kiss his resolution goodbye. Because Randy would snipe and bag him before he knew what hit him.
“Look at those fuckers,” someone eventually said in a low voice. Gary looked down the hangar in the direction the air force guy was indicating. “Just by existing, that doll is oppressing every kid in this place.”
It was true. A steady stream of sweaty, dazed Rangers had been trickling to and from the port-o-pots all evening.
“It ain’t just the Rangers, man,” someone groaned. “The level of horniness in this place tonight is combustible.”
“Yeah. Hey, Randy,” the air force guy called. “You should rent out Mike’s trailer by the half hour to those Rangers.”
Randy looked at the guy over the rim of his newspaper. “Word travels fast, I see,” he noted, and went back to his puzzle. The guys cackled.
“Lucky bastard,” Sanderson said, coming up to join the group. He gestured at Randy with his head. “He gets to sleep like a princess while shmoes like us have to go on night missions.”
Gary turned and looked at him.
Sanderson continued speaking in a clear voice. “Hoot’s going into town after lights out. A couple of us are gonna go play background music to his one man show.” He stared evenly at Gary. “You wanna come?”
For about thirty seconds, Gary couldn’t find his voice. Moments ticked away as he pretended to be concentrating on the game board. This was the answer to his and Randy’s stalemate, wasn’t it? He could stay off base all night and remove the option of spending the night with him in the trailer.
He swallowed and said, “Sure, Jeff.”
“Right on,” Sanderson shook his shoulder firmly. “By the humvees, fifteen minutes after lights out.”
Sanderson left, and Gary went back to staring vacantly at the game board. He no longer looked clandestinely at Randy. Randy had definitely heard their conversation, and he had to know that meant the game was over. And they’d both lost.
And yet at lights out, Randy put his newspaper down and got up from his cot. Without looking at Gary, who was lying in his cot reading a book, he grabbed an overnight kit from the floor and walked away.
Gary stared at the pages of his book, trying not to feel hurt. He understood Randy more than anyone else in the world, but at times like these he remembered that it had not always been so.
Right now, he found it hard to take that Randy would still want to spend the entire night in the trailer alone, without him. He had assumed Randy would stay in the hangar if he didn’t join him. It seemed he had assumed wrong.
He put his book down and got out of the cot. There was no point in sulking in his bed. He’d just be fifteen minutes early for the rendezvous for their mission. He could chat with which ever special forces guys might be out there having a smoke or something.
He strapped on his flak vest and thigh holster, into which he inserted a pistol, and grabbed his rifle. The base had retired relatively early tonight, and he made his way as quietly as possible around guys already in their cots, sleeping, reading or talking quietly.
He walked out of the front entrance and hadn’t gone five feet when he heard a low voice saying, “Where the fuck are you going, Gordy?”
He turned around and found Sanderson leaning against the wall.
“I know I’m a bit early.”
Sanderson stepped close to him and leaned forward, crooking his forefinger. Gary leaned and met him halfway.
“You’ve got one hour to make the most of that thing,” Sanderson said. “Get going.”
Gary didn’t react for a few moments, not sure he was hearing right. He was trying not to make assumptions.
He stood massaging his temples, trying to find a benign way to ask what exactly Jeff meant. He raised his head, opening his mouth. He shut it when he saw Jeff’s face.
Jesus. Jeff fucking knew.
Gary was stunned that what he felt was relief. He straightened.
“I’ve never flaked on a mission, Jeff. If I’m supposed to be out there with you guys and I’m not, and if something happens—”
“We’re not out there for long,” Sanderson shrugged. He stared at Gary. “Hey, it’s up to you. But I know you’re not stupid.”
Sanderson took a few steps backwards then turned and began walking away.
“That’s one hour from now, by the way,” he said over his shoulder. “I'd really get going if I were you.”
Gary didn’t have to knock on the trailer door. It opened when he reached it and shut the second his body cleared the entrance.
It was dark, except for an electric lamp somewhere towards the back. Randy’s body pressed him into the door, his hot breaths fanning the side of his neck, his hands pulling quickly but thoroughly at all the straps securing his vest and holster.
“We’ve got one hour,” Gary gasped, then gripped Randy by the hips with shaking hands. He pressed warm kisses all over his face, tasting his sweat, until he came to his mouth. He opened his mouth and slid his tongue under Randy’s. It was like a shot of morphine in the stomach. The tension in his body released for one moment so that he could feel the hard length of Randy’s cock against his, the heat of their thighs pressed together.
Randy’s hands pushed under his T-shirt and shoved it up, over his chest, and farther, so that Gary had to release Randy and extend his arms over his head or risk getting suffocated. Randy pushed the T-shirt halfway up his arms, held it over his face and clamped his mouth over Gary’s left nipple. He sucked.
“Oh fuh… oh fuh…” Gary broke into a sweat inside the hot darkness of his T-shirt. “Go easy on me!”
“How long has it been,” Randy demanded darkly, tugging on his nipple with his teeth. Gary struggled inside the T-shirt, then gave up as Randy held it firmly over his face.
“Thirteen months, one week—”
“Three days, and seven hours,” Randy finished, his mouth now a hair’s breath from Gary’s, only separated by the cotton of the T-shirt. He pressed forward and pushed his tongue into the material. Gary felt his cock pull hard and groaned desperately. Randy gripped him by the back of the head. “On the floor,” he whispered into his mouth, and Gary’s knees gave way.
By the time they were on their knees Randy had discarded Gary’s top and turned around. Gary watched as Randy pulled off his T-shirt, moaning and licking his mouth as Randy’s back, gleaming with sweat in the near dark, uncovered for his eyes only.
He reached around Randy’s body and felt for the snap and zipper of his khakis while Randy’s hands reached behind and did the same for him. Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew it would be easier if they each undid their own, but god in heaven, fuck that. He could barely hold himself upright.
His pants came down first, and he felt Randy feeling around his own shorts pockets. He pulled something out and the next thing Gary knew his cock was being squeezed and stroked with a cool wet substance.
“Randy,” he wailed as quietly as he could. “Slow down, you’re gonna make me come in your hand.”
“Then get your fucking ass in gear, soldier.”
He braced one foot on the floor and shoved Randy’s shorts down, and swore viciously when he saw Randy’s regulation underwear. His cock practically leapt into his hand. Randy leaned forward and gripped the cabinet handles in time to brace himself as Gary shoved his underwear down, found his entrance, and rammed him.
Gary’s fingers scrambled across Randy’s head before he remembered that Randy had shaved his head for this assignment. He swore at him. “After all this time, I don’t get those fucking waves to grab on to!”
Randy groaned into the cabinets. “Please, Gary, please, come on, fuck me, I can't, don't make me wait anymore…”
Gary crushed him by the shoulders and thrust smoothly. Hot, but in control at first, until he felt Randy getting slicker, felt his cock plunging despite the tightness. His head fell back. He was going to fucking die, it had been too long, it was too intense, he needed to slow down.
He fell forward and fused his sweat covered chest to Randy’s sweat covered back and gripped from under his shoulders. Randy turned his head and tried to kiss him, but they were both panting too hard. Randy dropped his head with a groan, and Gary sucked on his shoulder and rode him until things started coming apart in his head.
He reached under Randy’s body and squeezed his fist around Randy’s cock. Randy’s hips bucked and he began coming onto the floor, consumed in one long groan of Gary’s name. Gary shuddered against him and held tight, pounding out an orgasm that he was finally, finally, pouring into Randy’s body.
Even when he became half conscious again he stayed where he was and held onto Randy. Randy shook him gently.
“There’s a bunk,” he said.
Gary nodded, then pulled back and followed him on his knees to the far end of the trailer. They climbed into the narrow bunk together, spooned with Randy in front.
“How much time do we have left?” Gary croaked.
Randy didn’t even look at his watch. “Forty minutes.”
Gary shifted down and began to lick the sweat off Randy’s shoulder. Suddenly he heard something. He held his breath and listened. It came again. This time Randy froze.
It was a knock. And it was coming from the door.
He lifted his head slowly and looked over Randy’s shoulder toward the front end of the trailer. The knock came a third time. Gary felt the world tilt, and his heart began to pound.
His fingers tightened on Randy’s hip. “You heard it, right?” he whispered.
Randy nodded. But instead of getting up, he turned around on the bunk and bore his gaze into Gary’s. His face was chiseled in stone, his eyes like green marbles. He breathed evenly, just staring at Gary, willing him to calm.
Gary's heart slowed its pounding, and he closed the gap between them and covered Randy’s mouth with his. They were in this together.
After a few moments Randy pulled back and got out of the bunk. He pulled on his shorts, calling out for one moment while he dressed. Gary propped himself on his elbow, not even daring to breathe. There was no need to assume anything. They just had to see what was going on. It was probably just… what?
Randy cracked the door and leaned out, and then Gary was listening in complete and utter disbelief as Dale Sizemore’s quivering voice floated through the open door.
Dale spoke slowly, in short sentences, as if he had rehearsed every word. He was saying he had just gotten off guard duty, which Gary happened to know he hadn’t, Spaulding was on duty, and just wanted to check and see if Randy needed anything.
Gary kept his eyes peeled for Randy’s body language, knowing Randy wasn’t a violent person, but acknowledging that if anyone ever deserved a spanking—
He groaned in horrified silence as he suddenly realized Randy was shirtless. Randy was standing there propping the door open with one hand and distractedly rubbing his chest and stomach with the other. And probably reeking of sex.
Oh, Christ. Gary braced himself for Dale to give up talking and just shove his way into the trailer.
But Randy was thanking him politely, even somewhat warmly, and Gary’s heart went out to Dale. He promised himself that after tonight he would never again laugh at Dale. After tonight.
For now, he buried his face into the pillow and howled until he was out of breath.
After a few moments he heard the door shut and lock, and Randy shuffling back to the bunk.
“Just promise me one thing,” Gary gasped quietly, wiping his eyes. “When you finally make love to him, you'll permit me to watch.”
Randy snorted softly. “Because it will be making love, won’t it?”
Gary’s grin threatened to split his face. “He won’t settle for anything less.”
Randy climbed in and shifted until he was under him. Gary stared down at him, taking in every inch of his face, thinking of their past, of all the things they had been through together to be at this moment.
Then he thought of something else, and frowned down at Randy. “Are you going to spend the night here after I leave?”
Randy narrowed his eyes at him. “Do I look interested in jokes right now, Gary?”
Gary’s heart pumped. “How much longer?” he rasped.
“Plenty of time.”
He started with Randy’s mouth.