There was a day when Narnie, Tate and Webb were penned in by lessons, while Fitz and Jude lazed by the tree by the river. No school for Fitz, expelled again, nor Jude who had escaped the camp on 'recon'. They laughed at their good fortune and the bad luck of the others, stuck sweltering indoors for hours yet. Fitz snatched up a handful of dirt and chucked it at Jude.
"Oh, you want war? You got it!" Jude said, launching himself at Fitz.
They wrestled in the dirt, fierce dust clouds kicking up with every scrabble of heels, with every scrape of fingernails against the ground. Eventually, Fitz straddled Jude, grinning down at him, his smile a slash of white in his dirt-red streaked face. The sun hovered harsh in the sky behind him and lit his hair, edging it with gold. They were golden. All of them. Jude remembered greeting them on the Jellicoe Road, Tate laughing as Fitz straddled him then, and he swallowed hard.
"Fitz," he said, his voice cracking with the suffocating, dry dust and with his unending longing to be.
Fitz looked at him, deep and long, the wildness of his eyes swallowed up by understanding. He nodded, and Jude reached up, looping his arms around Fitz's neck, letting the weight of them pull Fitz down to him. When he kissed Fitz, he kissed all of them. Narnie was in his fingertips, Tate in his tongue, Webb in the weight pressing down on him.
Fitz was everywhere.
He was wild in this as in everything else, and Jude had no space to breathe, to think. It was all desperate movement and bitten-off cries. It was just like wrestling and nothing like that at all. Afterwards, they lay side by side, panting.
"I'm not gay," said Fitz, but it wasn't an accusation.
"I'm not, either," said Jude because it wasn't about that. It never had been.
"I do love you, though," said Fitz in a rush after a long pause, like it had been building behind his lips and he had to let it out to breathe.
Jude reached out and touched Fitz's fingertips with his own. "Me, too."
"Oh, so you love yourself, do you, Cadet?" said Fitz, raising up on one elbow and attacking Jude with more dirt. "Colour me unsurprised."
Jude let the moment between them fly free into the wide-open sky and leapt to his feet, stripping to his undies. He dived into the river, calling to Fitz to follow him. The water closed over his head and he let it buoy him back towards the surface. A flurry of bubbles erupted right by him, breaking against his skin, and he saw Fitz sink down past him, knees tucked to his chest, bubbles caught in his spreading hair like a silvered halo. Jude's heart thumped painfully, once, and then his lungs screamed at him to breathe and he kicked upward. Water streamed over his face as he lifted it to the sun and gulped in lungfuls of sweet air. He rubbed at his hair, the red dust transformed to thin mud in his hands, trickling like blood from his fingers until the river carried it away.
He skinned out of his undies and swam a couple of strokes to the shallows, scrubbing half-heartedly at the soaked cotton. He heard Fitz surface behind him and reached for the bank, wringing out his undies and slapping them on a rock. He turned and held his hand out to Fitz. Without a word, Fitz splashed gracelessly in the water, going under twice, then tossed his own pants over to Jude. Jude cleaned them, too, and laid them on another rock. They would dry in minutes on a day like this. And, just like that, everything was all washed away. Jude turned and dunked Fitz, who came up spluttering and said,
"I see the war's back on, then. Fear my might, Scanlon."
Jude grinned. "Fear you might what?" He flung himself out of Fitz's reach.
"Between us," Fitz muttered as they dressed, not meeting Jude's eyes.
Fitz's chin went up and he did look at Jude, then. "I'm not ashamed. But some things...you know?"
Jude thought about telling them and how Tate would laugh and clap her hands and how Webb would smile his smile and say something about did Fitz have his knife for carving their initials in the tree? And Narnie. Narnie would look at them with wide, serious eyes and Jude would feel as naked as he'd been in the river because she would understand how Fitz was the bridge Jude crossed.
"I know," he said, and wondered what this was to Fitz.
It never happened again, though Jude did not for a second regret that it had. And when Fitz was lost to them again, for good this time, Jude pressed his face into Narnie's neck and in the unsteady pulse that beat against his lips he felt Fitz's unsure, wild rhythm and Tate and Webb lying tangled in the little girl sleeping in the bed next to them. Jude hugged Narnie close and knew that however the world had torn them apart, the five of them, their golden shine dulled by pain and loss, somehow they would always all be together, where they belonged.