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It seems like a contradiction of his personality that Kaz prefers to sleep alone, but he does.

 

He’s sure there are many who would contest the statement. There’s no way Kazuhira Miller, renowned ladies man, ever goes home alone. If the rumours were to be trusted, and god were there rumours, he must have a girl in his bed every night. He’s well versed in the stories circulating as petty gossip in the Mess Hall. He’d admit (if someone were brave enough to ask), with a mixture of chagrin and adolescent pride, that almost all of them are true.

 

But they never come home with him.

 

Instead he finds himself between long legs in the corridors and the showers, hotel rooms and foreign apartments. Has finessed the art of coaxing the shy into the daring. Given a map he could tell you exactly where the secrets nooks and crannies are on the base, where conversations are dropped, forgotten, when fingers brush along inviting skin. That there are very few women that can resist the taste of warmth when the night snuffs out all memory of the sun.

 

No, his room is never the scene for those types of things. It doesn’t cause problems with the trysts, the mutual understandings. Women who know what this is. But Kaz hasn’t always lived this starkly, hasn’t always acted on coy suggestions with a brash confidence he can scarcely believe convinces, let alone seduces. Sexual exploits miles away from himself are a newer frontier than he’d like to admit.

 

Before, there were lovers. There was always Someone. Her expectations and desire burning hotter under his collar than his own ambition, the very thought of her feeding the fire inside him to become, to make something himself. There were few women who held him like that, as if at gunpoint. That made him want to rise. But pressure can’t change without breaking, and the doorframe was always the threshold he could not cross. As far as wounds go, it’s a pinprick in comparison to deeper hurts.

 

She’ll try to save it with words or he’ll kill it with silence. Either way, whatever they try blows back at them, First there’s fury at not being enough to soothe, to satisfy, then resentment welling up thick between them. An impasse.

 

He hears variations on the same sentiment. Each delivered with different combination of hurt, anger, disappointment. He loved each of them in his own way. He did. But he kept them at a distance.

 

Why won’t you talk to me? Her voice (the last one) is ragged when weeks of his own aloofness comes to a head. Never in his life has he met a woman content to keep things as they are, to accept that barriers don’t just keep things out, they keep things in, too. That Kaz’s particular flavour of self-preservation is the last thing you can take personally. He doesn’t answer. It’s nothing new. Don’t they always say fighting means that you care?

 

Kaz pushes the truism from his mind as he walks out the door.

 

They don’t realize how much of him he gives, all of them. Not just the temporary girlfriends, the comrades-in-arms, but everyone he meets. From the two bit strangers he met at the American university he attended to his shitty father himself. Years spent as an outsider has made him strong, stronger than he would have been had he ever been welcomed, and one hell of a performer.

 

Truthfully, he doesn’t know exactly how much of himself is hidden anymore. The persona evolved out of necessity, yes, but there are moments where he can’t discern where the act stops and he begins. Part of him wants to be so carefree, to let go of his anger, but how much of him would need to be excised in the process? Would he need to forget his childhood? Cipher? Big Boss?

 

Anger is a birthright to children born from war, he’s said as much himself. It seems almost disrespectful to discard it now, when it kept him moving, kept him fighting when he had nothing left. The flint in his bones is as much a part of his heritage as his mother’s blood.

 

There was only one person he’d ever invited into his bed, who he allowed to stay when he no longer felt like shouldering the mantle of the amiable and gregarious Kazuhira Miller. Slipping into silence as his clothes puddled to the floor, Kaz could be reserved around him. No longer concerned with the needs and attentions of others, brusque and prickly. Big Boss never asked for more than Kaz was willing to give, never pressed and pushed under pretence of intimacy.

 

He’d possess him physically, but his mind, his heart was always his own. His devotion was never in question no matter how little he gave the man.

 

Maybe that’s why he told him everything. Filled the comfortable silences with experiences he’d never put in words before because he wasn’t pressured, because their companionship didn’t rely on laying his pain bare on the table for appraisal. Big Boss didn’t say much, listened, said a few words. He felt the gravity of Kaz’s confessions. He must have.

 

Kaz knew about The Boss the same way the world did, a cool arrangement of facts shaping into a shameful narrative. There was more than that, Kaz had gathered as much, but it wasn’t a subject Big Boss would ever entertain. Every night the woman lay in their bed between them and there was nothing Kaz wanted more than to exorcise her.

 

Call it jealousy or possessiveness, but Kaz knew Big Boss held onto her too tightly. It was a conversation always at the tip of Kaz’s tongue when stress overran him, when the disagreements and tensions built between them and Big Boss hid behind his idol.

 

He never did tell Kaz about them, thought not for lack of pressing on Kaz’s part. He had to accept that Big Boss had his limits, even if Kaz had given all of himself to the man. Even if it wasn’t even remotely fair to feel this exposed in front of your lover whose secrets were manifested in the slithering scar twisting up his broad chest, a ward against questions, your reproach.

 

Their relationship didn’t end well.

 

But then what did he expect from a man more broken than himself.

 

He stops taking lovers after he realizes he’s been abandoned and its a long time before sex and intimacy become important again. It’s only when he sees the young recruit that something flickers warm and needful inside him. David. At first, he chalks it up to familiarity. When he stands at attention it’s impossible to see him as anything more than a carbon copy of Kaz’s previous affections and current ire.

 

But when he speaks, when he laughs, when his voice rasps over some stupid come on or another, Kaz’s mouth can’t help but twitch in amusement.

 

David doesn’t wear his lineage like it’s borrowed, shortcomings peaking out like ankles in hand me down clothing. No, he wears like its his alone. The attraction is still there, Kaz doubts anyone could have that face, that body and not look like anything less than an invitation, but that’s just appearances. The kid’s true appeal is in his earnestness, his dedication, the awkward way he manages to mother his fellow recruits without losing face.

 

Kaz isn’t alone in noticing how the soldiers are drawn to him. Many of whom are eager to compare techniques and exchange tips during the off hours, to spill their thoughts over rifle assembly or target shooting. They open to him about their problems, their insecurities and he never turns away from the task. He listens.

 

He’s like his father in that sense.

 

Somewhere in between the first and second month of training, David insinuates himself into Kaz’s schedule. He starts small, a quip during endurance trials, an innocently poised question in the cafeteria line. As far as pursuits go, it’s easily the least subtle one Kaz has seen in awhile but he finds himself indulging him, even encouraging him with a rare joke of his own. What a young man can see in an old dog like him is beyond his comprehension. But then boys do look for their fathers, don’t they?

 

It’s not long until there are whole conversations, that Kaz finds himself sitting across from David over the lunch hour to the murmured intrigue of their surrounding compatriots. David is always respectful of the existing dichotomy between them, but his playfulness bleeds through and Kaz can’t help the thrum of pleasure he feels when David ducks his head to smile, almost skittish.

 

He’s smart and hungry and he wants to devour Kaz one detail at a time.

 

Kaz allows it where he can, offering little. He’s sat at this table more times than he can count. There’s nothing that he reveals that can’t be found in his personnel file. Charming, but evasive. It doesn’t escape David, but he lets it slide, accepting his deflections with good humour. He doesn’t push at his barriers, but he does feel them out, tracing along the border between the Kaz he knows and the man he doesn’t.

 

Sitting at the table seems to be enough for him at the moment.

 

Kaz doesn’t relent, but there are stories he wouldn’t mind telling again sometime. Stories from his youth, his first few days on the battlefield. He remembers things more frequently these days with startling clarity. Memories, he muses, that could be of use to the young recruit, lessons that would help him in the future. He meditates on the idea as though he doesn’t need to speak for his own good, pretending that the fact that he was discarded by the only person who truly knew him didn’t destroy him for years.

 

David asks him if he’d like to spar sometime, casually mentions his CQC needs some work. Kaz agrees to a time and a place, 7pm in the West Gym, and pretends like he hasn’t noticed the recruit’s roving eyes. The momentary interest in his ex-wife that cools when David realizes the tepid nature of their relationship. Stretching out on the mat, Kaz is eager for the warm up, even more eager to lay the boy out.

 

A firm whump on the mats tell him the kid isn’t lying. His form needs work. Kaz throws him to the ground a half dozen times for good measure, quick hands incapacitating the recruit’s bulky figure. If he leans down over him a few seconds too long, David doesn’t seem to mind. The flush of exertion only just edging out his encroaching blush. Kaz bites back memories of his last sparring partner, offering him a hand up and getting back into position for another round.

 

Kaz can’t help but picture his face when he’s jerking off in the shower. It has to be some kind of midlife crisis, this fixation of his. Christ, he’s fifty years old.  He silences all opposition as he palms himself roughly. Imagines the boy in his bed, how easily his earnestness would carry over, pliant and inviting. Kaz was like that once. Still could be akin to sunshine on a cloudy day when he really tried. David didn’t try, he was warm naturally, albeit in his offbeat and awkward way.

 

Goddamn it.

 

He’s too damn old to have a crush and yet here he is, waxing poetic about a boy who deserves better than to be saddled with three plus decades of bullshit. And yet, David chooses to sit across from him everyday, doesn’t take any of the thousand reasons to steer clear to heart. Asks his questions, jokes, speaks with him as though with time things can be bridged and if they can’t it’s just as well. David gives himself freely and it's impossible for Kaz to deny the vulnerability in the gesture, the significance. Kaz hasn't given himself in a long time, hasn't had his own feelings reciprocated for even longer. 

 

The sweat hasn’t yet cooled on David’s skin when Kaz yanks him aside, pressing his back against the wall after endurance training mere meters away from the locker room. It’s beyond reckless, anyone could come out and he’d be court marshalled for inappropriate conduct, but the fear is part of the thrill and the way David eagerly meets him perishes all thoughts of caution.

 

“Meet me in my room, later,” he murmurs, his voice low and insistent. David nods, smiling faintly.

 

Kaz leaves David standing in the hallway, breathless.