We stand facing each other, separated by more than just a prison wall of iron bars. Weíre separated by a brutal war, an impending victory, an uncertain future that neither one of us has any control over.
The years have not been kind. We both bear evidence of the horrors we have faced, wear the scars that have left their mark on more than just our flesh. These scars will inflict their pain upon our souls for the rest of our lives, reminding us of the sins we have committed, both as soldiers and as men.
His gaze wanders across my face, cataloging the emotions I refuse to give voice to. The words I cannot speak aloud, he sees and understands. His own thoughts and feelings are reflected in the desert darkness of his eyes and mirror my own.
"When will they . . . ." My mouth is suddenly as dry as the barren wasteland in which we surrendered to our hunger. I swallow hard, trying to ease the tightness that threatens to close my throat.
"In the morning."
Ignoring the barrier between us, he moves closer to me, the heat of his breath caressing my lips. "I wish . . . ." He touches my hand where it grips one of the steel bars, and his fingers slide across my knuckles. The simple contact whispers to my mind, collecting the memories of past stolen moments -- of searching kisses, urgent embraces, of hard bodies thrusting, arching, spilling their release upon the shifting sands.
Caution is abandoned, and I grip his hand, pulling it through the bars, pressing its callused warmth to my cheek for one precious second. He lowers his head, hiding his eyes, but I see the uncharacteristic moisture that threatens his control. It is this control that has driven me to insanity every time I found myself in his arms -- a self-control I need to destroy just one time. Just one time I want to see him surrender all that he is to me, give me what he has given to no one else.
I call softly to him, suddenly desperate to hear the words that will carry me through the months to come.
His hand slides away from mine, and I instantly mourn the loss of his touch. He takes a step back and moves to look out the small window on the far wall. The waning light catches his profile as he turns his head to the side. I press my face hard against the steel bars that separate us, trying to see him, forcing my mind to memorize every contour, every chiseled angle of his striking features.
"When this is over---"
"Donít." His voice is harsh, the sound of his refusal to believe, to hope, halting the words of my promise. A pain rips through my heart, and I fall back, retreating from an enemy that is more dangerous than a thousand Hitlers.
A barely restrained sigh betrays my noble soldier. The sound drifts in the sweltering air between us, and it is countless heartbeats before I find the courage to face my fears.
"Dietrich." Stepping forward, I yank my battered hat from my head and toss it to him. It lands on the floor beside his feet. He stares at it for the longest of time before bending down and scooping it up. I watch him as he examines its frayed edges, his fingers tracing the bent brim. Without warning, he crushes it to his chest, and it is in that moment that his control breaks. Moisture again fills his eyes, briefly spilling over, staining cheeks weathered by the sunís unforgiving harshness.
I startle him with a command. "Give me back my hat."
"If you donít give it back now, Iíll only have to come after it later."
He hesitates, a second of deliberation, a wrestling with the demons that demand he denies a future that promises everything he wants and needs.
"As you wish."
I canít hide the smile that slides across my face. In those three little words heís given me the answer I truly believed I would never receive.
"Fine." My heart soars as I quietly answer him.
Our moment alone is over, abruptly ended by the arrival of two guards. Before they can invade the space that shelters our secret, Dietrich speaks one last time.
All of a sudden I donít need to hear the words heís found the courage to share with me.
"I know," I whisper.
The frightening uncertainty of our future no longer disturbs me.
We will be together.
Authorís note: The idea of Troy leaving his hat with Dietrich is a nod to the amazing talent of author, Debra Lynne Hicks. Her Rat Patrol story, ĎInto Darkness Unrelenting,í captured my imagination, and I have, since then, spent countless hours enjoying the relationship she created between the characters of Troy and Dietrich. Thank you so very much, Debra, for sharing your gift of words with us.
This piece was previously published in the zine, Diverse Doings 11. It has been re-worked.