a/n: This was my contribution to TwiFansForHaiti, a compilation for donations organized by MsKathy. Today is also reader appreciation day, so I would like to say to all of my readers, "thank you!" I would kees all your faces if I could.
Disclaimer/Warning: I don't own anything Twilight. I do own some cherished Nikon equipment and a husband who is ex-military. This is SLASH; you've been warned.
I shuffled my things around in my duffle restlessly again. I'd already pulled everything out of my pack and replaced it three times. My stomach clenched into a giant ball of nerves and felt like it was pushing insistently against the bottom of my pounding heart. I had to keep reminding myself this was what I wanted. And it really was.
But I was nervous as fucking Hell.
For the next three months I would be trapped with my decision. I wasn't usually so great with commitments, and this one offered no 'take backs' option. My inability to settle comfortably into anything for any lengthy period of time was what encouraged me to do jobs like this one in the first place. Irony.
I couldn't pretend this job wasn't a freelance photojournalist's wet dream, though, so I finished fiddling with my shit and reached for the last item I needed to pack with a shiver. My anxiety danced in cold fingers down my back as my fingers wrapped around the rough black material.
It was heavier than I expected every time I lifted it, heavy with it's purpose. A heavy reminder of what the next ninety days of my life would be. I needed to steel my nerves, toughen my skin.
From now on I needed to be bulletproof too.
All the lights in my apartment were off, my refrigerator hummed across the room, and the sounds of the street, which normally lulled me to sleep, drifted through my open window. My eyes wouldn't close, I barely felt myself blinking, as I thought about all of the little luxuries I would miss. Really, I was just as scared as I was nervous and excited, if not more, and my mind wouldn't turn itself off.
For the first time in my life, I was wholly unsure, unsure of my choice, what to expect, my safety. Just... unsure.
When my alarm sounded out into the dark space around me, I crawled reluctantly from my warm bed, already missing the soft cotton sheets and soothing weight of my down comforter. I had no idea what I would be sleeping on for quite a while.
My shower was longer than normal; I used the extra time to let the hot water knead my shoulders and drag a steamy river down my spine. Pulling on my standard, rugged travel uniform of worn jeans, lucky blue t-shirt and khaki utility jacket, I ran through the list of things I needed to bring in my mind. With shaky hands, I pulled on two pairs of socks with my scuffed black leather boots, securing them with knotted bows.
A deep, forced breath gusted out of my lungs as I stood, scrubbing at my damp hair anxiously with my short fingernails. My anxiety was really unnecessary. I'd done this before; I wasn't some green yearling. I'd done danger before, armed with a camera. I'd just never done it for three months.
With one last deep breath, I decided to stop vacillating in my mind; my heart was set anyway. I was doing this.
I made sure the thermostat was on 'auto' with a moderate temperature. I'd already ensured there was nothing perishable left in the fridge and unplugged almost every electronic device I owned. Holding the door open with my heel, I set my bags in the hall to await me.
As one last calming gesture for myself, I opened the huge hard case filled with my camera equipment and took a quick inventory. Everything was ready; I was ready, and I couldn't suppress the insistent inkling that this was more than any other assignment, that I wouldn't come back the same.
I checked my watch, seeing the car service should be outside waiting. Stepping into the hallway and locking my door securely, I pulled the pack onto my shoulders, fisted a duffle in one hand and a camera case in the other, and gave my door one last glance before striding with a surety I didn't completely own to my dream assignment. I hoped, eventually, I wouldn't have to keep reminding myself that was what it was.
The car ride was long and I could have taken a train. With three bags and an hour and a half drive, the splurge was worth it. Also, I couldn't take the chance of any hold-ups; I was pretty sure the military waited for no man, especially a civilian photographer with slightly floppy hair.
The gate to gain access to McGuire Air Force Base was an exercise in patience and humility. And I was already on a list. After jokingly offering blood, hair and seminal fluid to the serious man-boy who was doing his job with intense focus, he humorlessly thrust a temporary pass at me and gave me useless directions with an unamused expression on his face.
My hired car wasn't allowed beyond the gates without a massive amount of red tape, so I decided to just walk to my destination. I severely underestimated the size of this Base, but I was pleased to find I could have carried all of my bags further if necessary as the flightline came into sight.
My stomach flip-flopped abruptly, excitement and anxiety jumping around in my gut. Slowly, this was starting to take on the feel of every other assignment, the newness and anticipation flooding me with the strumming energy I knew how to handle and process.
The Crew Chief in charge of my flight was gruff and perfunctory, letting me know the plane would be waiting for a few people more important than myself. I wasn't surprised. I had enough experience with the military to understand the concept of 'hurry up and wait'. He directed me to a quiet corner where I could keep my bags out of the way, and I stretched out on the floor, folding my arms across my chest, leaning against my pack and crossing my ankles.
Somnolence crept up on me and dragged my eyelids down heavily. I dozed, happy for the calming affect of exhaustion, hoping the Crew Chief wouldn't forget about me.
A long, capitulating sigh drew me out of my almost-sleep, and I peered through groggy eyes at the figure sliding down the wall to sit near me. He was looking at me and exuded easy, inoffensive arrogance. His sharp, dark emerald eyes stole my intentions, trapping my glance, transforming it into a gaze. With effort, I regained control of my thoughts and let my eyes search the rest of this confident stranger in front of me.
Full, red lips smirked under his strong nose and just above the sharpest, most enticing stubbled jaw line I'd ever seen. His hair was naturally tousled, reds and browns and golds and perfect for my fingers to weave into. I should have been embarrassed at my instant reaction to this stranger, but I couldn't. He was so pretty, the prettiest man I'd ever seen, and from the looks of him, he knew it.
Pulling my knees up in front of me, I shifted into a lazy seated position. I tipped my head at him in a casual greeting, muttering "hey" quietly.
His hand pushed confidently toward me. "Edward Cullen, Associated Press," he said by way of greeting, a seductively sure leer gracing his face.
"Jasper Whitlock, Vanity Fair, at the moment." I grinned back at him but retracted my easy smile when his eyebrow quirked curiously, and his features became shrewd.
"Writer?" he asked, but I was sure he knew he was wrong before I answered, his eyes moving absorbingly over my camera case.
"Photographer. You?" I asked, but I knew. I had seen his name attached to some photographs in the paper and magazines; he was a conflict chaser. He was like me.
"Same," was all he offered before leaning against his bags and closing his eyes dismissively.
Well, so nice to meet you, Edward Cullen. Apparently, the pleasure is all mine.
For the next four hours, Edward napped and I tried not to watch him. It was difficult and I failed miserably. Initially I allowed myself to study his appearance for curiosity's sake. He was dressed similarly to myself: functional boots, faded jeans, neutral colored jacket over some sort of shirt. I continued to find excuses to observe him; I resorted to counting his breaths, watching his broad chest rise and fall.
I stood up to stretch and put some distance between me and this beautiful man who was distracting me insanely. I stretched my arms over my head, then pulled them across my chest. Trying to recirculate my blood and re-energize my body, I chafed my hands roughly over my chest and arms. I peeked over my shoulder at Edward and thought I caught his eyes on me before they fluttered closed again.
Not much later, the Crew Chief came over to tell us we could board the plane, and we dragged our bags out to the tarmac. With almost no turbulence we were in the air, winging to the desert, to the next three months of my life.
The plane wasn't filled, so I was able to spread out. To my surprise, Edward had chosen to sit in the row next to mine. Before I could become too enthralled by him, I fell asleep, my sleep heavy and dreamless.
I felt warm and sticky when I woke, my mouth dry and cottony. Over six hours had passed by easily, and I hoped the next six would feel as painless. Standing, I flexed my legs, working my cramped knees. Loping down the aisle, I went in search of a place to relieve myself. As I returned from the lav, I felt Edward's eyes on me, and I nervously avoided making eye contact with him.
As quickly as I had lost Edward's interest earlier, I was his focus again. His stare perforated me, puncturing my usually calm, consistent sense of self. I returned his curious interest, determined to reinforce all of my fault lines instead of crumpling at the folds. His glorious face cracked into a slight, easy smile as I sat across the aisle from him again.
"So, Jasper Whitlock, Vanity Fair, at the moment, where are you headed from P-sab?" He said the name with familiarity, like all of the military members, pronouncing the acronym as a word, and I wondered how many times he'd flown into Prince Sultan Air Base. I'd been to some regions of conflict, but this seemed like old hat to him.
"Um, well, I'm catching a plane to Camp Victory. I'm doing a pictorial on the life of military members in Iraq. I was assigned to stay and shoot for three months," I finished confidently because I was damn proud of being offered the job, and it was time to stop feeling like Edward Cullen, Associated Press was my superior. He was pretty, but this was work and I was great at my job.
"Looks like we'll be keeping each other company a bit longer," he said with a neutral, unreadable tone and offered me nothing else.
"You're going to Camp Victory too?" I asked before I could feign disinterest.
"Yes," he responded leisurely, as if I were slow on the uptake. "I have a similar assignment. Three months."
And that was that. And by 'that' I mean my insides turned to mush, and my heart fluttered furiously. And Edward went back to finding everything more interesting than me. I read, listened to music, stared out the window, avoided staring at him.
Another couple hours later, Edward pulled out a deck of cards, held it up in my direction and asked, "Rummy?" Shifting to the aisle seat, I smiled my answer at him, afraid my voice might betray my enthusiasm, and we played and talked for hours.
Edward seemed really curious about my work, and I struggled just to remember the jobs I was proud of, much less tell him anything. This was ridiculous. My portfolio was stellar; I was proud of my work. When Edward started naming some of his more popular shots, speaking about my work with confidence became easier. He would not succeed in one-upping me. He may have been gorgeous, and talented but I wouldn't let him feel completely superior to me without giving him a little run for his money. I could compete in the dick-measuring competition, too.
When we finally landed at PSAB, I shifted into 'professional press photographer Jasper', ignoring Edward and double checking the details of the next plane with the personnel on duty. After ensuring I still had a couple hours to wait, I grabbed a sandwich and sat down to have an overdue come to Jesus talk with myself.
The last sixteen hours of school-boy crush were over. They had to be. I could put him out of my mind and be nothing but professional. In my line of work I had no time for relationships anyway. When I was on assignment, I was asexual, no boyfriend, no romance, no sex. When I was home, I was withdrawn and careful, no boyfriend, no romance, but sex. That was the only difference, and it had to stay that way. I was on assignment now.
I wasn't even sure if Edward would be interested; he had a sexual appeal which transcended gender, but his preferences were not clear. I hoped mine weren't either because in this situation he was my competition more than my ally, and I couldn't give him ammunition in the form of intimate details.
A throat cleared above me, and I looked up into his handsome face. I was proud to note the edge of competition I felt toward him was drowning out the attraction. "Can I sit?" I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, he was quite possibly more dangerous than three months in an unfriendly desert when I heard his voice.
Time to toughen up Mr. Whitlock.
"Sure." It was easy. We would be competitors, possibly colleagues... maybe friends.
"Thanks." His smile was genuine.
The lights were off in our tent. We pretended we were ready for sleep because by all rights we should be exhausted, but, like every other night, I knew Edward was as wide awake as I was.
We had been here, sharing a ten person tent with just each other for almost a month. Tent wasn't really the word I would use to describe our dwelling, but it was easier to say than air-conditioned cloth one-room house with electricity. I would have gladly traded some of our ten-person space for a bigger bed. We'd both had the clever idea to push two of the smaller beds together the first night. I'm pretty positive I thought of it first. Either way, it was a failure. The supportive edges of each bed, now forming the middle, protruded aggressively into my spine, and I found myself curled on one half of the crude attempt at luxury.
We also discovered on our first day shooting pictures in Camp we were better off working alone. After a few hours of awkwardly pulling cameras to our eyes in response to the same visual stimuli, we both went our separate ways. Neither of us was willing to think we might be copying the other. Professional integrity, yes, but mostly the competitive need which had seeded between us growing into a palpable tension.
"Jasper?" As usual, his voice was quiet, hushed with the heavy darkness around us, and it settled over me like the warm down blanket in my apartment at home.
"Will you finish telling me about your parents' ranch? I fell asleep while you were talking last night." He was earnest and peaceful, and this was the best part of my day, the best part of him.
"Sure, what do you remember last?"
"You were telling me about the time you were stuck dangling above the river on a rope swing because you were afraid to let go." I could hear the smile in his voice, but it didn't make me self-conscious like it should have.
I chuckled in response, and I told him.
Every night, since our third day here, we talked. It started with slightly demanding questions from Edward, and when I answered him openly, he relaxed and poured himself out to me in the dark.
The dichotomy was confusing for me at times. During the day, we were competition, we were professionals. At night, we were friends. Even though there were still topics we didn't touch, and our careful friendship had a schizophrenic nature, I was thankful. Having someone to talk to about my thoughts and my life helped keep myself centered. Ironically, it helped feed the confidence I so desperately needed to remain professional regarding Edward.
I never asked Edward about his past relationships, and he didn't ask me. Instead we talked about our families, college experiences, work, our current surroundings, our thoughts on the world. I was starting to think, like me, he didn't have much relationship history to speak of.
I would tell him my dreams and my goals, but I wouldn't show him my photographs. He didn't show me his either. I would sooner tell Edward about my late night fantasies, in which he starred, than open my laptop and let him peruse my unedited, unsorted, raw photo files. That was beyond intimate, and I was sure he felt the same way.
I tried not to think of him sexually. I tried not to long for my fingers to touch his skin, to let my dick harden at his smooth voice in the dark. I couldn't control my dreams; I lasted almost two weeks in my conscious thoughts.
I awakened suddenly in the middle of the night from a strange dream in which Edward was moving into my loft in the city and criticizing all of my stuff. It should have irritated me, but it just turned me on. I lay there as silently as possible, worried I would wake Edward, trying to calm my racing thoughts. Then I realized he was already awake.
Edward was touching himself, and the low sounds of tight breaths puffing from his lungs and his hands moving hurriedly, desperately over his own skin made my heart flutter and my imagination run wild. Lying there listening, I held my breath with his silent exclamation as he came. His pants shifted into slow, deep breaths, and he fell into a heavy sleep.
When he woke to his buzzing alarm, I was still staring into the darkness of the canvas ceiling. I closed my eyes and feigned heavy chest falls until Edward left the tent to take a shower. When he had gone, the salty, musky smell of him remained, and I tried to redirect my thoughts. Throwing off my covers, I heaved myself out of bed. My dick was rock hard and had been all night. I paced frenetically, my aggravation escalating.
I stopped near his bed and duffle. The shirt he'd worn the day before lay crumpled atop the open bag, and without thinking I reached for it; I brought it to my face and inhaled a deep draw of Edward. Before I knew what I was doing, my feet carried me to my cot, my hand working into the waist band of my pants.
I freed my erection quickly, lowering to the bed and dropping his shirt next to me. The frustration and tension and sheer, raw desire I'd been feeling exploded out of me in one urgent, aggressive act. I fisted myself forcefully, thoughts of Edward turning even the edge of pain into pleasure. Within a few short moments, I roared with my release.
Sheepishly, I cleaned myself off and returned Edward's t-shirt back to his bag after one last huff. I couldn't believe I'd done that, and I swore to myself I wouldn't again.
I might not have been able to control my thoughts, but I could control my body. Sort of.
So, I lay in the dark and poured my heart out to my competitor, my colleague, my friend.
And when he poured his heart out to me, I was reminded that having Edward as a friend was a privilege, and it was enough, more than I usually had and more than I would expect.
Outside of Camp, Edward and I were always together. Not by choice, but because the officers responsible for keeping us alive and whole didn't want to do double duty. If we didn't want to go together, one of us didn't go, and that wasn't happening. Edward would never miss an opportunity available to him, and I wouldn't give him the chance to get the shot of the century while I dicked around at Camp.
We'd been allowed to accompany officers through the city as they made their security check point rounds. We'd spent hours at security check points, mostly getting to know the soldiers in all of the down time. Within the Camp, daily life was almost normal in the most unsettling ways. There were a few familiar places to get food, a PX, which was basically an all purpose department store, a coffee shop. There was a movie theatre nearby at Camp Striker, but we didn't go there; it was too complicated for us to leave Camp for non-work related reasons. There were a couple of buildings for soldiers to watch TV, use computers and phones. If they wanted internet access in the more permanent housing areas, they could have it... for $65 a month. All the comforts of middle America and apparently all the costs as well.
The beguiling normalcy lulled people into a sense of numbing, superficial complacency. I could feel it myself and see it plainly in the men and women who had been stuck here for what must have felt like eons longer than I had. It was a glaze of sheer, enveloping boredom over true nervous anxiety. Anxiety born of uncertainty, of wanting, of danger, of waiting.
We waited a month and a half before they invited us on an overnight security patrol outside the city. To say Edward was excited would have been an understatement. He practically leveled me with a bear hug which lifted me from the ground. I would have been touched, but this was not Edward: my friend; he was clearly Edward: my colleague, celebrating with the only person who would understand. And I really did understand. I felt as exuberant as he seemed, but I'd always been more subdued; I found if I didn't wear my victories on my sleeves, it was easier to keep my failures off of them as well.
He reminded me of an Eagle Scout as he organized his pack diligently the night before we were supposed to leave the city, the boyish gleam in his eyes tempting me to reach out to him just a bit more. I didn't.
We spent the whole night like children on Christmas Eve, whispering animatedly about what we hoped to see, encounter, find. It felt youthful and innocent and made it harder for me to pretend he was nothing more than a colleague.
The next morning dawned cool and clear; normally it would have been a perfect day for me to climb the hill on the other side of Camp to take pictures of the sun rising over the desert, but I was already sitting next to Edward in the backseat of a Humvee on our way out of the city. Two Hummers drove us west towards Al Fallujah as the sun rose, setting hundreds of domed roofs aglow, and we spent a day and a half creeping our way through the maze of winding streets inside residential areas of the "city of mosques". Walking through an open bazaar we found on the second day, I got some great pictures of families and vendors and a covertly snapped one of Edward smiling happily at a boy as he teasingly haggled with him over a few pomegranates.
When we stopped outside the open market on a silent side street, Edward offered me a purplish-red, ripe pomegranate with a friendly smile. I took it appreciatively but tucked it in my pack for later. Instead, I watched his strong, elegant fingers peel away the fleshy exterior of his fruit, bringing the odd looking pulp to his mouth, grinning as sweet magenta juice dripped down his chin. He was beautiful when he looked so free, and I had to turn away before my face showed him more than I wanted him to see.
Going into the trip, I'd known the routine. Sleep while the vehicles are moving; stop only for short intervals to eat MREs and stretch our legs. It was rough on my knees, and Edward's, I'm sure, being so tall and folded up all the time.
Surprisingly, what I wasn't prepared for was loneliness, longing for my private, dark nights with Edward: my friend. In the truck surrounded by ground troops, Edward was the cocky photographer, all ego and bravado. I understood, and I wouldn't have been comfortable letting my guard down either; mostly I was really thankful he didn't participate in the sexcapade storytimes the other guys seemed to enjoy so much over meals. My sleep was broken and fitful without the intimate ease our hours of conversation afforded in this barren, strange place full of boredom and waiting with the ever-present undertone of malignant energy.
On the road back to Baghdad, I watched the dusty, alien landscape from my window seat, my mood making me pensive and thoughtful but unable to sleep despite my exhaustion. Edward's slow breathing beside me told me he'd fallen asleep without looking at him, and as soon as he flitted into my consciousness, he took it over. Everyday, I tried harder and harder to see Edward as a colleague and sometimes friend and nothing more, and everyday, it was harder and harder for me to remember there were reasons why I was asexual when I was on assignment. Good reasons.
The sudden weight of Edward slumping against my arm caused me to jump slightly, and then his head was on my shoulder as he snored softly, hot, balmy breath warming my neck. My eyes fell to his face, and his expression was pure, missing all of the armoring arrogance he wore as a mask. All I wanted to do was wrap my arms around him, curl him into my chest, kiss his forehead.
I couldn't stop watching him, and I didn't want to anymore.
I knew I would. I couldn't jeopardize my professional integrity by behaving any more inappropriately than I already had. And more importantly, I didn't want Edward to be uncomfortable around me. Sometimes he still infuriated me with his effortlessly cavalier demeanor, but we had reached a tenuous friendship. I coveted it. Somewhere deep inside my chest I felt a nagging tug when I thought of Edward's potential reaction to my feelings for him. There was no way I could face his rejection, whether it was simply because he didn't like men or specifically didn't like me. Either way, I wasn't strong enough to put on a brave face while Edward smirked his way through some sort of generic brush-off, knowing the effect he had on most everyone.
When I said everyone, I didn't exaggerate. Even those gruff, manly men who couldn't hug another male without having guilty thoughts about lingering in their arms for a few seconds too long looked at him curiously. The women were unbearable. Thankfully, there were fewer women at Camp Victory than men, Edward seemed to studiously ignore them, and we were rarely together around the camp.
I tried to turn my brain off and just enjoy this tiny moment while his body was pressed against mine. When I focused on his dark, sooty lashes against his cheeks and began counting his breaths on my skin, my brain didn't turn off, but it did shift gears. I rode back to Camp the happiest I had been since embarking on this assignment.
Lounging on my bed, I watched Jasper. I was surprised he didn't catch me watching him more often. Maybe he did, and he was just really good at hiding it. Better than I was at avoiding watching him.
I was oddly chilled, sticky, and my skin felt gritty. The combination of being out in the sweltering, unavoidable sandy heat all day and retreating to the air-conditioned tent. I wanted to go take a hot shower, but I wanted to watch Jasper more.
His face glowed, his steely, storm-cloud blue eyes dancing in the light from his laptop screen. He was moving picture files, clearing space on his cards for the next few days we would be spending on our second security patrol outside the city. Seeing his face react so genuinely to the images on his screen made me want to see them too. I knew the pictures were good; he was good. I had seen his photos back home; when you worked in my field, you knew your competition. His brow would furrow in thought and then smooth as his tongue peeked out to wash across his lips, his teeth biting into the soft pink flesh. His lips would curl with secret joy, the corners of his eyes crinkling, and I wanted to run my fingers across that folded skin, feel the texture.
A low frustrated groan rumbled out of my throat, and I contemplated a trip to the shower just to whack off, again. That'd become my routine approach to my problem, in the shower or in the middle of the night when I'd wake sweaty and panting and hard as a rock. This had been the longest assignment of my life, and for that, I was equally grateful and irritated. I couldn't imagine wanting to spend less time around Jasper, but I wished I could be more focused on the job and only the job.
It wasn't that I never masturbated when I was normally on assignment. I was a man. Sex was different, though; even in it's most impersonal manifestations, it was too personal to attempt while on a job. I'd realized early in my career, boyfriends weren't tolerant about month-long assignments across the world, so I accepted, along with my life choices, I'd chosen a life without that kind of relationship in it.
Finding men, when I was feeling particularly alone, wasn't difficult, but more often than not, I still felt particularly alone with them. I tried to make my excess of wank sessions nothing more than they usually were: a release. Imagining the thumping bass of the music in the club the night before I'd left, I would try to picture the pretty man who'd danced with me, the pretty man who'd writhed under me, but somehow, he always became Jasper. Finally I stopped fighting where my mind would inevitably end up and started with him.
I knew I was overcompensating by being ridiculously competitive and haughty toward him, but I didn't know how to turn it off. Desperate to earn his respect, to prove my worth, I always ended up being mildly condescending toward him. And then there was the flip side to us. My hot and cold behavior had to be confusing for him, but I didn't know what the hell I was doing either. He had told me so much about himself, and yet I felt as if I knew nothing about the man. He was an enigma. A sexually ambiguous enigma. Not that I would have been flirting with him if I'd known he were gay.
The root of my problem was just him. I'd never dealt with feelings like this in my life, much less tried to hide them while attempting to remain calm and professional. It was his fault. And I couldn't take my eyes off him.
He dragged his rough, capable-looking hands through his wavy blonde hair, and I groaned again.
"You okay?" he asked, looking up to my face, studying me intently, concern written on his face. I hoped he couldn't tell what his hands were doing in my mind.
"Yeah." I paused for a second, deciding how much self-control I was willing to muster, before asking, "Want to go get dinner with me?" I kept it casual, one colleague asking for the company of another to avoid being alone, which was quite believable except, before Jasper Whitlock, I liked being alone.
He smiled a little, just enough for me to wish I could read something into it but not enough to actually do so. "Sure." He shrugged and then we were walking to dinner a reasonable distance apart even though I wanted to grab his hand, pull him to me.
I wanted to touch him and kiss his lips and feel him pressed against me. Dinner was a horrible idea.
Pizza Hut in this culturally unique country seemed wrong. The weird false normalcy of Camp Victory offered strange gems like this to connect the inhabitants to home, and as I sat across from Jasper in the familiar booth, I was reminded why I so enjoyed being on assignment outside the U.S.
We decided on a pizza with a lot of veggies for Jasper and pepperoni for me which basically turned into a Supreme. I asked about his pictures and, somehow, managed to make it sound condescending. Internally I kicked myself for being such an ass, externally I masked it with more bravado.
I knew I could be considered arrogant, generally, but I had never made it such a challenge for someone to like me before. Jasper gave as good as he got, but I was still quite clearly the aggressor. That made me sort of sad for myself and angry with him for evoking such bad behavior from me unbidden.
We told each other gossip about the people we had both come to know in this temporary town. I made him laugh with my speculation on all of the covert games of musical beds being played amongst the military members, and I wished I was a funnier guy so I could hear that more often. It was rumbling and rough and beautiful. Sort of like him, I guess.
When we were done eating, walking shoulder to shoulder, both of us pushed forward to open the door and suddenly he was smiling tauntingly at me. We pushed together, wedging into the door frame against each other, both chuckling as we each tried to force past. For some reason, we both turned sideways, face to face, at the same time, and the laughing immediately faded. Feeling the full length of his body against mine, my breath caught in my throat. His eyes were serious and intense as they searched mine, and I couldn't read his expression, always so inscrutable. I broke our gaze, sliding past him, longingly enjoying the last few seconds of his warm, solid form pressed into me.
On our way back to the tent, Jasper slowed his pace and scuffed his boots through the dirt and said he wanted to go for a walk around our 'neighborhood'. As I was striding away, after telling him I'd head to the showers, I realized a moment of disappointment had marred his beautiful features. Well, damnit, had he wanted my company? Was that an invitation, not just information?
Reading people was not my forte. I needed direct, concise speak, and my few close friends knew how to handle me; typically, it was bluntly. My lack of intuition and perception generally made my life more difficult; everyone thought I was selfish the majority of the time, but, with Jasper, it was even confusing me.
I was so disgusted with myself for not picking up his friendly cues that, by the time I reached the shower, I had no desire to jerk off. Instead, I mumbled to myself about all of the reasons I should have known Jasper was trying to be social and reach out to me. No wonder all of my close friends were carry-overs from childhood. I was treating him like an adversarial colleague during the day and a confidant at night. Somewhere in the middle, I had to marry those two, but I was so afraid, if I gave myself free rein to simply be his friend all the time, it wouldn't be enough.
And it wouldn't, so I had no way out of the awkward rotation I'd stuck him in. I never should have even opened the floodgates. The first night we talked the questions had been so suppressed when I'd finally let them fly from my lips, they'd sounded like an attack. They had been driving me mad for almost four days, and I hadn't been able to help myself any longer.
Stepping out of the shower, I cursed myself for my ambivalence. I wasn't this distracted, flustered puppy I had been resembling for almost two months; I was confident and decisive once upon a time. I only had a month left in Baghdad, and despite my discomfort with my awkward egomania, I had to tough it out.
I would be Jasper's peer and nothing more.
Feeling convicted and reaffirmed, I walked back to our tent in a sedate mood.
Jasper's unruly blonde locks popped back through the door of our tent, sleepy eyes finding me searchingly. "You ready, man? The Hummer's here."
"Yeah, just a sec... I'll be right out."
He ducked back out of the canvas door, and I scanned my bags, mentally checking off the list of things I'd packed. I hefted my pack onto my back and picked up my camera case. As I passed Jasper's cot on my way out of the tent, something black caught my eye.
I paced backward a few steps, bringing myself level with his bed. Laying innocuously on his neatly tucked blanket, up near the pillow which still echoed an indention from his head, was his bulletproof vest. Snatching it up, I moved furiously to the door, more annoyed than I could explain.
His long, supple form relaxed leisurely against the door of the Hummer, head tilted back, eyes closed, and I was even more enraged. Lacking any ability to be polite but not wishing to lash out at him for no justifiable reason, I silently thrust the heavy safeguard into his chest with a bit too much force.
"Unf!" Air forced from his lungs with my unintentional shove and his shoulders flinched back. I felt bad and instantly wanted to apologize, but all I managed was a reproachful grumble.
Beautiful, storm-blue eyes fell from mine, eyelashes fluttering abashedly, as he stammered out a response to my rhetorical accusation. "Oh... um... yeah, sorry, I mean, thanks..." he drifted off, flustered, and then his eyes were piercing mine. "Thank you, Edward." He was all earnest and remorseful and open and beautiful.
And I shrugged uncomfortably, avoiding his gaze. "Sure."
He turned, opening the door and climbing to the middle, giving me the window in another silent apology.
The low growl of the Humvee's engine created a lazy, humming soundtrack for my daydreams as my head lolled slackly against the window. I wasn't so much daydreaming as I was remembering the sweet, familiar comfort of the hours before sleep the previous night. Talking to Jasper in the shadowy privacy of our cloth dwelling always left me with a calm, serene feeling deep in my chest, warmly filling up my belly.
Edward?" he whispered softly into the protective blanket of darkness engulfing our tent as I waited with bated breath for him to speak to me.
"Yeah?" My voice cracked, exposing my vulnerability for a fleeting moment, and I winced.
"Do you ever feel really alone doing what we do? I mean, I know we're around people most of the time, but..." he let the thoughts fall incomplete from his lips, and the raw beseeching tone in his voice made me glad I couldn't see him. My need to hold him, pull him to me and press my mouth into his, was unbearable, so I tried to focus on his question, focus on an answer.
"All the time. Usually, I like being alone, but..." I hesitated, dubious about sharing these intimate, vulnerable elements of my self.
Jasper sensed my discomfort. "Nevermind. Forget I asked, man," he offered apologetically.
"No," I said too sternly then softened my voice, "I... sometimes, I feel really lonely, and I wish I wanted a more normal life so I could have... someone. But most of the time I'm happy with my choices, I guess." I chuckled then, sarcasm infusing my voice as I spoke, "Clearly, I love my job and draw a strong sense of pride from my work."
His answering chortle told me he'd gotten I was making fun of myself, my overbearing ego, and I hoped, in that moment, he would think, maybe, there was more to me than misplaced hubris.
"I know exactly what you mean, Edward. I lead a solitary life, but lately, I've started to think that... well, that I might want something more."
My heart swelled irrationally. It was easy to imagine he was talking about me, not just to me, when he addressed me directly, my name rolling off his tongue in the husky half-whisper he reserved for these conversations. The following disappointment I felt in myself, in my delusions, was sobering.
All at once, I wanted to feel everything, and I wished I felt nothing at all for this intriguing and charming man, so much like myself yet infinitely more elegant, more humble, across the room from me. I wanted him so wholly, so viscerally, but more than that, I wanted him to want me in the same way.
Rolling my eyes at my reminiscent mood, I let my mind clear as I watched the rising sun paint the sky shades of purple and pink and red over the dry, dusty horizon. Every thought brought me back to him. I was reminded of the morning when I had, dying of curiosity, followed him to the other side of Camp to see him, from my hidden spot, gazing wondrously out at the same rosy horizon, snapping shots with his camera using the remote cable resting in his hand. He'd been relaxed and resplendent, and the fresh morning sunlight had made his hair glow like gold.
Seeing the world through his eyes made everything new and fascinating in a way I had never noticed before.
Huge, rumbling tires carried us through Al Fallujah toward Ar Ramadi. On the road between the two cities we crept our way through the bustling streets of Al Habbaniyah. With buildings on either side of the streets, we were still cloaked in the shadows of early morning as the sun moved, pregnant and heavy with the heat of this place, slowly from the horizon. In the deep gray-blue shadows people were already moving along the streets, going to work, to school, to market.
Between two-story apartment buildings, in an alley the width of a sidewalk, sat a young girl, maybe nine or ten, looking haggard and exhausted, hugging a toddler on her crossed legs. She held him with loving exasperation, like a baby brother, as he squirmed and wiggled. They were dirty, filthy really, and scrawnier than the normal lanky gangliness often seen in the young. The Hummer slowed to a stop in the traffic of vehicles and bodies, and I watched the little boy's face contort with a short punctuated wail. They were clearly homeless, underfed and seemingly alone; I barely masked the sound as my breath caught in my throat, my chest heaved with a silent sob.
Warm knuckles brushed lightly, consolingly, across the back of my hand as it rested on the outside of my thigh. I held my breath then, not sure if I should acknowledge the gesture or pretend it never happened. But it did. And I wanted to see his face.
Slowly turning my face to him, I was heartbreakingly disappointed to be met by an indifferent profile. I let myself watch him as his warm knuckles, now still, stayed pressed against my hand. After a moment, I saw that his piercing forward gaze was too studied, too concentrated. He was making a concerted effort not to look at me. Without moving much at all, I pushed my hand out minutely, nudging his fingers.
Casually, so as not to draw any unwanted attention, his face turned, intense, crystallized slate gray puncturing my curious, hopeful green, thrumming with sincerity. His features were soft, sorrow drawing the line of his mouth and stitching his brow. His knuckles just brushed my skin again and then they were gone, his eyes were gone, and I was thoroughly unsettled, confused.
And warmer. Where his skin had touched mine, I was warm.
After we reached Ar Ramadi, we spent the rest of that day and the next driving through a designated section of the city. Before they'd offered to bring us along on this particular security patrol, I was sure we were getting a special tour, one designed to avoid anything spontaneous or unplanned. This city wasn't truly controlled though, so this was a genuine necessity for the military. They wanted to keep up a constant appearance here, making sure the residents didn't forget their presence.
By the third day, we'd encountered nothing but a seemingly normal city with its inhabitants bustling through the tasks and errands and responsibilities of a normal day. We had one sector left on our list of patrol areas, and then we would be heading back to Baghdad.
Lounging against the Humvee, stretching our legs, Jasper and I waited for the Marines we were with to finish their MREs so we could load back into the vehicle and begin our slow creep around the neighborhood, safely ensconced inside while the boys with guns provided 'shadow cover'. The first time I'd heard the term, images of covert operatives and secret missions sprang to mind, stealthy and clandestine. The memory still made me laugh; as it turned out, it was so named because when walking alongside a slowly moving Hummer in the blazing hot midday sun of a desert climate, one wanted to be in the shadow of the vehicle. Shadow. Cover.
Lt McCarty looked at us both with a giant goofy grin, not much different than his usual demeanor to be quite honest, and barked out sharply, "Newton, you're driving. Crowley, you're shadow with me and Cheney."
"Sir, you want me driving alone?" I loved how Jasper and I constituted alone; I smirked, shaking my head, as Jasper's eyes met mine with a disgustedly annoyed look which I'd grown accustomed to. This sort of dismissal was old hat for us by now.
"Well, I don't know Corporal; can you drive the giant, scary Hummer all by your lonesome?" McCarty teased and continued without pause, "I was gonna let these two boys shadow with us and figured I'd better have another gun guarding the trouble chasers..." He threw us a cheeky wink. "But if you're scared..."
Newton rolled his eyes, chuckling. "'S fine, sir."
"That's what I thought." McCarty clapped me roughly on the shoulder, smiling excitedly. "Let's go, Edd-o!" He was such a child but, from what I could tell, he was a good guy.
Jasper was excited. He was his usual quiet, collected self, but I'd watched him enough to know his cues. To me, he vibrated with energy, his eyes sharp and sparkling, his hands quick and sure as he adjusted his equipment, changing his lens and screwing a circular polarizer into the threaded element after ensuring it was clean. Well, as clean as can be in miles of sand; according to my normal standards, my lenses had been 'dirty' since we'd arrived.
Slowly, two Hummers rolled forward at a reasonable walking pace, five men armed with rifles, two men with Nikons and lenses.
Mostly we took pictures of the men walking with us against painted walls, some crisp and new, some crumbling. The day was warm, but pleasantly sunny, and the whole thing would have felt like a leisurely outing if the stucco walls weren't randomly freckled and pitted with the echoes of war and resistance, silently wrapping the roads with a grave shroud. We walked and walked, and I started taking shots of architectural details, a sure sign I was ready to go.
Jasper seemed less than enthused, and he joked with Lt McCarty more than he took pictures. We only had maybe half an hour left, and I was truly looking forward to the two hour drive back to camp, napping, next to Jasper. Glancing back over my shoulder to see him again, walking behind me and slightly to my right, further from the Hummer, I caught a gentle smile, eyes crinkled under the shade of his hand as he perched it on his forehead. My cheek lifted in a self-conscious, half-smile response; his cheeks appled, teeth shiny and white, his eyes crinkling more under the weight of his brightening grin.
It was then, when I was trying to drag my attention away from his glorious face but failing, that a loud crack snapped through the narrow roadway, tunneled by multi-storied buildings, causing my head to whip around instantly, my camera already at my eye. I scanned the street, one-eyed, through the viewfinder.
Reflected in beveled glass and mirrors, I saw our Marine escort assuming a similar tack to my own, sights instead of lens.
There was a long pregnant pause of almost silence, the street was eerily sedate, the low, rumbled mutterings of commands from the Lieutenant the only sounds hovering around us. It felt like an eon, but I was sure less than thirty seconds had passed.
And then the street was ringing with gunfire and shouts, orders and screams and bullets.
My bored daze morphed into sharp focus between one second and the next, and I immediately began shooting, focusing on the origin of the sharp, puncturing sounds. Shiny rifle crowns peered at us around crumbling window frames, shadows of their owners darkening the space behind them. We were really lucky we happened to be on the side of the truck opposite the insurgents, and the soldiers each quickly took up defensive positions around the first Hummer, shielding their bodies behind it, returning fire into the darkened windows, hollow sockets on the building face.
I moved further forward, stooped, creeping to the edge of the front bumper, searching an upstairs window for a picture. From my new perspective, I saw a glimpse of a man's face behind a weapon. A glare from the sun reflected across my lens, blinding my shot with a bright flare of white. Crouched close to the ground, I shuffled around the corner of the vehicle, squatting with one knee on the ground to stabilize me.
I could see clearly into the window, the anger and conviction on the shooter's face detailed precisely through my lens.
I had the shot.
"Edward! Get back!" I heard Jasper. I ignored him, taking the shot I'd been waiting for.
Lowering the camera and turning to scan the area around me, I got a split second glimpse of a new shooter leaning from a doorway further down the road.
His rifle was pointed directly at me.
And then Jasper was in front of me, so close, his smell and his warmth, and his hands pushed into my chest, shoving me backward hard.
I was splayed out on the ground, staring up at the beautiful blonde boy in front of me, his eyes full of fear and distress, watching as he spun around in place to get his bearings.
Then there was a loud crack, and why it stood out among all the other pops and cracks, sounding like Fourth of July fireworks, I didn't know.
But it did.
And he was falling.
Jasper, wavy, sunlit hair creating an undulating gold halo as he moved through space, seemed to be propelled, from his feet, as if he were flying.
But all wrong.
His form buckled, crashing onto me with the bone-crunching weight of a limp body, forcing the air from my lungs. I couldn't catch my breath. I couldn't close my eyes, but I was sure I wasn't seeing. The sounds around me became an unintelligible muffle, a ringing, underwater-like din.
Something grabbed my shoulders, dragging me further behind the Hummer by my kevlar vest. Prone across me, Jasper moved with my body. Nothing else registered.
"Cullen?!" Someone was smacking my face. "Edward, let go! Let go of Jasper!" I didn't want to let go. I just.... I couldn't. It was Jasper; he was too important.
A sharp slap stung my cheek, and a fierce face hovered over mine. "God damnit, Edward! We can't get out of here if you don't let us get Jasper and you back in the Humvee. Fucking let go!" Lt McCarty bellowed at top volume inches from my nose, spittle flecking out over my cheeks, and I let go because he was serious and I trusted him. Instantly, I was lighter, Jasper lifted off of me, and I hated the feeling, afraid I wouldn't stay grounded without his weight to keep me.
The Lieutenant was shouting directions to me and the other men, and then, somehow, I was in the Hummer with Jasper in the middle next to me, and we were driving away. Cpl Crowley plucked at the velcro securing Jasper's vest, a loud ripping sound tearing through the hum of noise surrounding me.
I held in a whimper, which was easy because I was sure I'd been holding my breath since his crashing body stole it.
A wheezing, choking, sobbing sound came from Jasper, and as he gasped for air, so did I. Realizing I had been sure he was dead, too far from adequate medical treatment, my brain sluggishly scrambled to catch up. He was pulling his vest over his head, out of breath, rubbing his hand gingerly over his sternum. His chest still struggled to gulp down lungfuls of air; he winced with each stretch of ribs and diaphragm. He was alive.
He was living and breathing, and now he was grinning gratefully, relieved, Tyler clapping his shoulder.
I couldn't believe my eyes, my thoughts. He was grinning. I was fuming.
He was fucking grinning.
And he was a careless, unprofessional ass.
By the time the Hummer stopped at our canvas door, my whole body was thrumming with confusion, residual dread, premature, misplaced grief. And anger, so much raw, burning fury. For two hours, I'd sat in conspicuous silence, rigid against his ever-inviting warmth. I managed to keep my mouth shut, but I knew I hadn't successfully masked the abundance of extreme emotions coursing through me.
Barely nodding to the Lieutenant, I forcefully tore the door open, stomping through it ungracefully. Flinging my bags to the ground, I tumbled onto my bed, too aggravated to even close my eyes.
Jasper rolled through the door, casting furtive, disconcerted glances at me. I could feel myself glaring at him; the more I looked at him the angrier I got, but I couldn't look away. He dropped his stuff unceremoniously, slumping onto his own bed. Stormy, deep indigo eyes found me, studying me sharply, sending a violent, unsettling shiver through my frame.
"What's your problem, Edward?"
I cut my prickly gaze to his eyes, wanting to school him with my stare alone. "What's my problem?" Incredulity added to the cocktail in my head, bitter and snide.
Watching me as if expecting me to continue, as if my question had been rhetorical, he was silent. Eventually, he dipped his head slightly, speaking softly, "Yeah, man, what's going on with you?"
"You want to know what my problem is? Okay, my problem is you." His eyes flinched, hurt clear in his features. "You are the most... the most unprofessional, amateurish.... Could you be any more fumbling? You aren't ready for this kind of job, and you're a detriment to me. Goddamn rookie behavior." Spluttering, I had launched myself from the cot, clenching my fists in the middle of the room. I had a solid point; I knew I did, but I couldn't form a full sentence. It was his fault.
"What?" His face showed me so much suffering, his eyes swimming in their sad, dark blue, too wet, but his tone was incredulous, fire.
That's right, Jasper, give as good as you get.
"I said, you are unprofessional. You acted like a jealous rookie. You kept me from getting shots because you clearly aren't prepared for this job."
He was off his cot now, glowing magnificent with his rage, shadowed by unmasked agony. His finger pointed into my chest, poking with each emphasized word. "You are a pompous, self-important narcissist. You were going to get shot. By a bullet. My chest was where your head had been. This has nothing to do with a god damned picture... but don't worry I won't hold my breath for an apology... or a 'thank you'."
My cheeks flared with irate heat, blood pumping thunderously through me. "'Thank you'? 'Thank you'? Are you fucking kidding me? 'Thank you' for what? For, for being incompetent? For fucking up my shots? For, what, being infuriating?" My words were stinging, I could tell. It should have made me feel better, hurting the person who had hurt me, but it didn't. Every flinch of his features and roll of his shoulders was like a punch to my gut, and my shoulders slumped, weary from spent adrenaline and fear. So much fear. "For... what? For almost dying?"
He was all blurry, and I couldn't figure out why until I realized my eyes were hot with unshed tears. His watery face was horrified. His eyes softened, he stepped forward, brows furrowing in indecision for a moment. Warm fingers found mine tentatively, rubbing a thumb into the back of my hand. "Edward?" he was so quiet, careful. "I'm sorry I scared you." His face was so close to mine now; I could feel his hot breath on my skin. I let my eyes roll closed, trying to re-absorb the torrent of sadness waiting to spill down my cheeks.
We stood in silence, my heart throbbing in my chest. I was still so angry, but I had no where for it to go. I felt his sticky, humid words on my lips, millimeters away, when he spoke again.
"Edward, I'm sorry," he pled in a husky whisper. This was the voice he saved for when he poured out his soul to me in the deep darkness of night. It was too much.
This was too much.
He was too much.
My eyes snapped open, and I could feel them burning with ferocity. "Shut up. Just... shut up," I ordered and begged.
And because it was all too much, I couldn't be strong and indifferent anymore.
Without over-thinking it, my hands were pulling his face to mine, my lips crushing into his. An instant moan into my mouth urged me on, and I sucked and bit at his bottom lip, pushed my tongue past his teeth, tasting sweet and salt.
Jasper gave as good as he got. His fingers threaded into my hair, teeth cutting into my lip, tongue flicking into my mouth. He exhaled my inhalations, breathed around frantically crashing mouths. I whimpered; he groaned.
My fingers clutched at his broad shoulders then moved desperately down his arms, gripping his biceps. I broke away from his plush, warm mouth, eyes seeking out the parted, swollen, peachy-red lips. Air huffed from me as I kissed across his cheek, along his jaw. Three days of beard scraping under my hasty lips, they were tingling, raw.
"Edward," he sighed, and it wasn't a hesitation or a warning. It was sensual and relieved and deep and sultry. My name mingled with his sounds spurred me on, and I kissed and licked my way down the salty scruff of his chin and neck, my hands working under the hem of his t-shirt.
I pushed the thin cotton up his body, dragged fingers and palms over his lean stomach and muscular chest. Tilting my head down, my mouth hungrily sought his heated skin. My tongue and lips and teeth worked erratic patterns over his belly, finding his hip bones and navel. His fingers gripped my hair as mine kneaded into his sides and strong back, trying to shove the shirt up and off.
I looked to his face, my mouth still needy over his skin, and nudged under his arms, under his clothes. His eyes opened, finding me as I gazed up at him, wild with want and overflowing intensity, and his face broke into a sweet, sincere grin, arms moving over his head and taking the shirt with them. My eyes focused lower, lingering at the bulge in his pants, and raked up and over his naked chest.
I'd seen him shirtless, but only for fleeting moments, never having the opportunity to truly appreciate his beauty. He was all long limbs, lithe frame, well-used muscles stretched, roped and flexed in ripples under his amazingly smooth, creamy skin. My whole body vibrated, an overload of emotion, achingly urgent, burning through me. I was on fire, and I wanted to devour him, consume him in white-hot heat.
Searching further along his torso, my focus shifted to a harrowing blemish which marred his simple perfection. It was bruising, dark blues and left of his sternum, between his breath and his heartbeat. Near death and saving life.
My face hovered over his chest, lips landing lightly on the dark damage. I kissed the pain, the proof of my life, and fought the need to crash into him over and over again. The feelings swelling inside my chest were too large, too immense; I wanted to claw out of my own skin, and while my hands traced out a frenzied rhythm over his body, my lips were soft and reverent, thanking, blessing, honoring.
Even more than before, I was rattling with passion, quaking against him, as I continued the worship down his stomach. Below his navel, a feathery trail of hair tickled my trembling lips, my hands sliding to grip his belt, fingering the buckle. I was so raw and flustered, and I needed grounding, focus. I needed his body to be my ground. Feeling frantic and vulnerable, I cut my eyes up to his, sparkling sapphire as he watched me, and tugged at his waist band, begging, "Please," desire cracking my voice into a whisper-sob.
His gaze darkened with lust, fingers tightening in my hair; he nodded his head slowly, deliberately, rolling his bottom lip into his mouth, teeth pinning it there. He was such a pure, stunning thing, and he held my reverential stare, somehow easing the too-hot flames of my hunger, tamping them into something glowing and tamable.
Kneeled before him, I fumbled with his buckle, button, zipper, hastily pulling the rough, utilitarian fabric down his legs. His hardness tented the front of his form-fitting underwear, and with a strangled whine, I pressed my face into his groin. My steamy breath permeated the cloth, Jasper groaning at the warmth as I drew in sharp pants of his scent.
He smelled earthy and naturally sweet -- pink rock salt from the Himalayas, musk and orange blossom honey. Jasper, intensified by proximity and heat. My hands gripped his hips, my nose running along the sides of his erection, my mouth pressing kisses along the length. When I brushed the head with my lips, he let out a short, vocal gasp; his hands abandoned my hair temporarily to yank the fabric barrier from his hips.
His rosy pink, swollen cock fell forward slightly and my mouth met the underside of his head with a soft kiss. I stilled for a moment, my gaze seeking his from beneath lashes. His features were light with wonder but heavy with lust, eyes flickering from mine to linger on the sight of his cock resting against my lips. I pushed my tongue out to taste his frenum.
"Unf," puffed out from his throat and his length twitched against me. A moment later, his hands were fisted in my hair, translating his overwhelming longing directly into me, sending a shiver through my nervous system.
I swirled my tongue around his head and then enveloped him, taking him all the way into my mouth, relaxing my throat. He groaned. I tightened my lips around him, sucking my way up his shaft. Picking out a rhythmic pace, I continued pumping over his rock-hard dick, licked, sucked, and took as much of him in as possible, his tip hitting the back of my throat.
Working over him, focused on evoking his pleasure from him, helped control the wildfire of frenetic energy surging through me. I savored the pace, the repetition, relaxing into the feel of him on my tongue, filling my mouth. I reached to his balls with one hand and stroked and tugged gently at the thin, sensitive skin in harmony with my mouth's movements.
"Motherfu... Jesus, shit holy... fuck... so beautiful... Edward," hissed quietly from the glorious boy as his hips began to thrust; he continued to whisper expletives, encouragements, non-verbals.
My free hand came up to palm his ass, and my fingers stroked gentle, teasing caresses along the cheeks, soft skin over well-developed, clenching muscles. His grunts grew more coarse, more carnal; his hips thrust more roughly, more erratic. I redoubled my focus, craving his release as if it were tied to my control, to the tenuous grip I held on my roaring desire.
Relaxing my throat, I simplified my movements, letting him fuck my mouth in earnest. He whimpered out groans every time his cock hit the back of my throat, and I knew he was close, losing himself in the sensations.
"Oh, God!" he exclaimed as if he were experiencing enlightenment. "Edward!" he cried as he came, pulsing hot, salty streams into my mouth as I swallowed him greedily, moaning around his throbbing dick. I sucked to his head and released him when he'd stopped shuddering and pumping.
For a moment, I remained on my knees, and the torrential waves of burning heat in me waned to a smoldering ember. My eyes were closed as I listened to Jasper's heavy breath slow. His fingers were still laced tightly through my hair, and the sensation added physical restraint to complement the quelling of my uncontrolled fervor.
"Edward?" It was hesitant and quiet, and my eyes found his instantly, hoping to sear my certainty into all of his deep blue questions, hoping he could see the heated cinders of what he'd burned in me. "Come here." He released my hair. "Please." He tugged at my shirt and I stood. "Why are you still wearing this?" he asked, raising an eyebrow, quirking up the corner of his mouth in a teasing smirk, and just as he'd tempered the burning want in me, he brought it blazing back with a half-smile, combusting a rolling wave of electricity through my nerve endings, my skin.
My mouth crashed into his, open and wet and warm, lapping at his tongue, tasting him. I was losing control of my actions, biting soft lips, clashing teeth, and my fingers dug into his bare skin, gripping. Needing. His face withdrew slightly from mine, and he chuckled breathily.
"I believe I asked why you were still wearing this," he reminded me huskily, lips against mine, as he once again tugged on my shirt.
"I'm... I'm s-sorry I...." Shaking, I kissed his warm mouth again. "Jasper, I...." Greedily, I stole his breath. "I-- it's too much... I..." I pressed my lips to his, mine trembling, raw, his yielding, calm.
"That's alright. Here, I'll do it for you," he teased, running his hands under the cloth, feeling my dewy skin as he removed it. I felt my face split into a smile at his humor, at his ability to see my intensity and distract me just enough.
The moment was fleeting.
His hands on my skin made me quiver as he drew delicate patterns against my begging flesh.
I kissed him harder, and he matched it, understanding my mood.
I was struggling for breath, gasping into his mouth, not wanting to part from him long enough, so he painted an echoing trail of open-mouthed kisses to my neck, to my ear -- biting -- to my collarbone. Dipping his head, his lips closed around my nipple, teeth scraping, his fingers pinched and rolled the other, mirroring his mouth's actions. A rumbling growl rolled out of my chest on a burst of sparks as Jasper stoked the popping, crackling coals flaring in my gut.
I touched him everywhere my hands could find, bare shoulder, sinewy neck, unshaven cheek. My thumb stroked the corner of his mouth, smoothing across his lower lip as his tongue slipped out to flick my puckered nipple. My other hand found the nape of his neck, fingers curling in his hair, and I tilted my mouth to his bowed head to press fervent kisses against his messy golden loops.
Jasper moved his hands all across my skin, trailing rough, strong fingers in a blazing circuit. He reached down and palmed my aching dick over the material of my pants. The fleeting relief the pressure from his hand afforded was shocking, causing me to cry out in surprise. I was panting, shivering, whimpering; hearing myself, I was sure I sounded feverish, but I couldn't seem to control anything anymore.
My body was throbbing painfully, I wanted him so badly. Biting down hard on my tongue, I swallowed a groan and tried to restrain my mounting aggression, to let Jasper choose whichever pacing he wanted, stop whenever he wanted. His hand continued to massage my groin as he kissed me again, attacking my mouth fiercely.
He broke from me, tugging my lip with his teeth, dragging lips along my jaw to hover over my ear. His tongue outlined the curves and ridges of my ear, and he whispered, "Mmm, Edward." His breath sent a wracking shudder through me as it cooled his wetness on my skin.
"Oh God, Jasper," I murmured. "I need you. So bad.... So bad, it hurts."
Balmy air gusted over my ear again with his whispered words. "You have me. You can have me. Please?"
"Wh-what?" I was having such a hard time focusing, lost in the feel of the length of his body pressed to mine.
"Have me, Edward." He leaned back to bring his face eye to eye with mine. "Please, have me." His eyes, darkening to a steamy midnight, dropped to my lips as I slipped my tongue out to wet them, and then he rasped in a scratchy sigh, "Fuck me... please."
Moaning, I attacked his mouth ferociously as he scrabbled to undo my belt and pants. Letting my zipper fall open, his hands dipped into my boxer briefs, wrapped hastily around my aching hard-on. His urgency matched mine, and I pulled his upper body closer to me, pressing my chest into his as he stroked my throbbing length.
He milked groans and grunts from my chest, fisting my dick, kissing me hard, and then, into my mouth, he whispered again, "Please."
I grabbed his shoulders, shoving him back half an arm's length. "Take off your goddamn boots," I growled then kissed him again before stalking quickly to my bags.
I plucked at my laces impatiently, repeatedly wrenching at my still too-tight boots until I was able to yank them off. Shoving them over my ass, I dropped my underwear with my already falling pants. With waning patience and a twitching cock, I tore through my duffel for the bottle of lube I kept stashed there for my middle of the night wank sessions.
I looked up to see Jasper seated casually on the end of his bed, leaning back on his hands, completely nude. His pretty, rosy cock stood up, hardening again, and I couldn't help grabbing my own at the sight. He rolled his gaze down to my full hand, eyes glistening darkly, before meeting mine with a smirk and a beckoning tip of his chin.
Hand still gripping myself, I strode to him and stopped when my legs touched his folded knees, dropping the lube next to him. His lean fingers replaced my own, and he shifted forward to lick the weeping tip of my cock. His lips closed around the head, sucking hard, and his eyelids fluttered as he gazed up under tawny lashes, full of curiosity and acquiescence.
I knew then he still wasn't sure about me, my desires and intentions. His eyes made an offer. He was excusing me from his request if it wasn't what I wanted.
I was sure.
It was what I wanted.
What I had wanted for the last two months.
Hooking my hands under his biceps, I pulled gently until he was standing inches from me, deliciously naked. To answer his questions, allay his uncertainty, I kissed him, easy and gentle and full of sweet desire, from his mouth to his jaw, down his throat, nipping at the join of his neck and trailing out to his shoulder. He turned slowly, allowing me to kiss along his back. I dragged my nose up the back of his neck, nuzzling into the silky hair at the nape and brushing my lips in a delicate line down to the area between his shoulder blades. Licking, sucking and pressing my face into his muscled shoulders, I felt his torso hitch with gasping breath.
Jasper's body, slightly taller than mine, lowered as he shifted forward to kneel on the end of his bed. I stepped to him, replacing my lips on his shoulders and neck, and ran my hands over his body, his back, his chest, his arms and thighs. With one hand I reached for his now solid erection, the other kneading and rubbing his full ass. His hips pushed back into my touch, alternating with a thrust, fucking my hand.
Eventually, he grunted, "Edward, please," as he let himself fall forward, landing on his hands.
I fumbled for the lube while I watched my fingers memorize the curve of his ass dipping into his waist, the slope of his muscled back. I drizzled some of the clear liquid over my fingers, rubbing them together to warm the lube. Hands trembling with anticipation, I brushed my slick fingers across Jasper's opening, increasing the pressure with each stroke, massaging with my fingers until he pushed himself back against my movements.
Carefully I pressed one finger into him, earning an airy gasp, as I caressed his body with my free hand. Pumping and adding another finger, I felt his muscles flex and shudder under my touch as he gradually lowered himself closer to the bed. He was resting on his elbows and knees, forehead pressed to his forearms as he panted, but his legs were stretched, hips hovering just barely above the felt-like cloth of his blanket.
I moved to follow him, kneeling on either side of his legs, my inner thighs feeling his legs harden rhythmically as he continued to pulse his hips back to meet my hand, and I hesitated to progress any further. I wanted him so, so much, I was afraid I would be too impatient, to premature, so I waited, concentrating on his muscles tightening, his lungs expanding, his nonverbal sounds.
"Edward?" He turned my name into a plea, uttering it with his honeyed breath, and I groaned, understanding I didn't have to wait anymore.
Withdrawing my fingers from his body, I added more lube to my hand and stroked it over my cock. It twitched with all of my overwhelming want, with two months of discreet glances and denied lust.
Holding my swollen head at his opening, I leaned over him and paused; I needed him to understand what this was. How much. "I've wanted you...." I pushed my dick forward slowly. "Wanted this...." My voice fell away into a quiet moan as my body finally entered his. "Since the first time I saw you, Jasper." I whispered just behind his ear as my hips came to rest against his, my dick enveloped in tight, heat.
His answering sigh was a wordless whimper through his short gasping breaths as he bucked against me. I steadied myself on my arms, my hands under his biceps, and drew my lower body away to push into him again. The sensations were incomprehensible; I'd never longed for someone the way I had this man, and the desperate ache of longing made the having so much more.
As I found a slow, burning rhythm, I savored the sense of consuming Jasper, being consumed by him. His scent flavored my breath and I dipped my face to the skin of his shoulders to savor the salt and musk and honey on my tongue. I kissed his skin, nipping when my lips weren't enough and the feelings were too much. I shifted my weight to one hand and raked my fingers along his side, his back, his arms, marveling at the towering need to touch him even though I already was. It wasn't enough. Nothing was enough.
"Uhn... ummph... fuck... Edward, so good," he panted between the most feral sounds, and my hand came up to twist in his tousled waves.
I pulled to the side roughly, turning his head so I could at least see his flushed cheek, the corner of his lips and white cutting into the plump flesh, his eyelashes flickering. "Jesus, you are so goddamn beautiful."
"Faster... please," he begged.
Growling, I kissed his neck, biting, before I untangled my fingers from his hair and dragged my hand down his side, around his hip, wrapping his hot, solid cock. I held him tightly, letting him plunge into my hand as his hips rocked backward and forward, meeting mine. I picked up my pace, pumping in short, punctuated thrusts, vibrating with the throbbing build of tension coiling in my abdomen.
Jasper's cock twitched in my hand, and his whole body stiffened. I concentrated on him, his muscles around me, his smooth skin sliding through my hand, his heat, his sounds.
"Oh my God... oh my God... oh my...." Then he was rigid and quiet, but his cock pulsed hot, sticky semen on my fingers, the bed. My hips stopped moving instinctively for a moment, enjoying the constriction of his muscles as I stilled deep within him.
His body relaxed, muscles resuming their normal tensing rhythms. He pressed his hips back into me again, moaning, "Edward, don't stop."
My body responded to him immediately, resuming a rapid, devastating momentum, screwing the coil in my abdomen ever tighter. Supporting my body on both arms again, I leaned forward and stretched my whole body over the length of his, brushed my lips across his shoulders. He moved under me as my shallow thrusts became disjointed, erratic, his sweat-slick skin grounding mine.
I felt like I would burst open at all my seams, wanted to smother him under the heavy weight, be smothered by him, I wanted his breath and his touch and... him.
The tension in my gut began to ebb outward, and I bucked into him once more as my mouth found the smooth skin over shoulder blade, over ribs, over his heart. I kissed as my body clenched, my cock twitched as I whispered his name, my release spilled from me as my hips pumped a ghostly echo of our hips' rhythm together.
I collapsed over him, bent legs surrounding his, curling my arms under his shoulders to wrap him closer to me. When my breathing had slowed and matched itself to his, both of us rising and falling with the intake of his lungs, I shifted my weight, sitting back, pulling out of him. I would have stayed, consuming him and being consumed, forever, but I was worried he would become uncomfortable soon.
Crawling over him carefully, I stood beside the bed. He was so beautiful, and the maddening wildfire which I couldn't control was gone. In it's place, though, remained a low, burning ache that only diminished with proximity. I leaned down and kissed his mouth wonderingly, honeyed salt and him and... right.
"Come 'ere." I urged his body with my touch, encouraging him to stand. He couldn't sleep on his bed now, and I didn't want him to.
Standing, he reached for my hand and let me tug him toward my bed. I pulled out a t-shirt and wiped him clean, wiped my fingers, chased the cotton with my bare hands just to touch him. Pulling back my blankets, I silently invited him into my bed and he lay down, sliding to the side and facing me. I lay down, turning to him, and his eyes were so full. So full of beauty and sparkle and awe.
My lips pressed lightly to his, and then they sought the angry purple bruise on his chest.
And I whispered, "Thank you," into his skin, his heart.
Because I needed him to understand what this was.
a/n: This is my first attempt at slash, so please, don't hate me if you don't love it. Thank you to everyone who held my clammy, shaking hand -- Sprinkle, L, M & V, Sam, dg, kwala -- it meant so much to me. As always, a huge, massive, tacklehug 'thank you' to my wonderful, brilliant beta, Viola Cornuta.
After receiving some PMs regarding this from the Haiti compilation, I feel like I need to state that I have never served in the military or been over seas. I have lived on a base as a non-military person and know what the segregation feels like. Everything else I picked up from paying attention when pretty boys in uniforms talked in my presence, I bothered hubs to tell me, or I researched.
Today is my Sprinkle's (Melissa228) Birthday! She basically prompted this whole story randomly one day, and for that, and countless other reasons I love her. Give her some Birthday cheer, please.