August’s head lolled back against the touch smooth worn door. It thumped a little but he didn’t care. His fingers scrabbled along the wood door frame and gripped the sides, his nails dug into the wood. The light was dim from the heavy curtains that hung over the windows blocking out the morning sunlight. He shouldn’t have been surprised because this happened every time but he always was caught off guard.
His hand slipped from one of the doorframes down to glide over his husband’s head. He’d gotten it cut the night before and it was odd to feel the shaved scalp and short bristly hair on top. He liked it short but didn’t like why he’d gone in and gotten it shaped up. It was hard to think about when the other man was on his knees, swallowing him whole.
“Oh…An..Anthony…don’t stop…” He licked his lips and kept panting for breath as his knees grew weak. It made his skin feel like it was burning and his body shivered in pleasure. He wanted to come, he wanted it so badly but if he did it would end. If it ended Anthony would leave and while he knew his husband had to leave, he wanted to cling to every second they had. He wanted to keep his eyes open to watch his husband, dressed in his barracks dress uniform with the crisp, perfectly tailored khaki pants and matching short sleeve shirt with all his chevrons, ribbons and insignias but he couldn’t. There was no way he could watch when his body was so tightly wound around pleasure.
“Ah…oh…oh…please…oh…” His hand slipped away from the cropped hair and he lost his fight for control. August moaned and writhed against the wood door as he spilled himself freely as his husband swallowed with ease. He would have slid down the door to pool in a pile of arms and legs on the floor any other time but a light was blinking on the door frame and there was no time for giving in to his weak knees.
“Oh…the transports here…” he sighed.
“I know.” Anthony sighed and tucked his face against August’s thigh. He hugged his husband close for a moment before he climbed back to his feet. He ran a hand through August’s curly light brown hair and he studied the watching brown eyes before kissing him.
August moaned softly before remembering to kiss back, devouring his husband’s kiss, trying to hold him close a second longer. The kiss had to end and when it did he couldn’t help but whimper a little. “You can’t stay longer?” He whispered as Anthony tucked him back inside the black fabric of his pants.
“You know I can’t.”
“Not even through exams?” He sighed as Anthony’s fingernail traced his fly and sealed the fabric closed and that easily he was presentable again.
“If I go now I’ll be able to come back for your graduation. It’ll be better this way, you can actually study.” He smiled and it made his eyes crinkle. “Besides, than I get to kiss you goodbye again.”
“You’re so bad.” August grinned and kissed him again. “I still want you to stay.”
Anthony sighed and cupped his husband’s face between his hands. “I know, Augs, I know but I’ve a year and a half of combat time left, another year of support duty and I can retire with full benefits and get any commission I want. Two years and I can be the constable of whatever backzone lump of dirt they put you in charge of and we can be big shots and grow old together.”
“I don’t want to be a big shot, I just want you by my side.”
“I’ll have handcuffs.” He wiggled eyebrows.
August clenched his hands into the front of Anthony’s uniform. “I’ll walk you out.”
“No, stay here. It’s easier.” He pressed his forehead to his husband’s and drew a deep breath.
“Every day, voice or text, as always.”
“Admit it, you kiss me goodbye this way so I’m too content to fuss when you leave.”
Anthony laughed. “Yeah, that and I like the taste of you on my lips until I get checked in.” He kissed August one more time before stepping away to pick up his duffel bag. “You’d better study, mister, I didn’t marry a drop out, I married the best Guide in the empire.”
“You don’t worry about me, you just make sure you come back.”
Anthony smiled one of the heartbreaking smiles that had won August when they’d first met. Without another word or, worse, saying goodbye, he stepped back from the door and drew August with him. Without looking back at him, he slipped out of the old wood door of their tiny apartment and out into the morning sunshine.
August leaned on the door again, trying to catch his breath and calm his nerves. When he thought he could see Anthony walking away without too much fuss he moved to the window and pushed back the curtain. Anthony always left without saying goodbye, he always said to not walk him out and August always stood at the window and watched him walk down the walkway, to the curve and out of sight. Anthony never looked back and he never asked his husband if he knew he stood and watched. It didn’t matter, he did it for himself because the moment he disappeared around the side of the building the countdown to his husband’s return started again.
“Stop laughing, you’ll hurt my feelings.” August wanted to pout but he was smiling. “I think I look dashing.” He scratched at the beard that was growing in.
“You look like you’re sixteen trying to look like an adult.” Anthony kept laughing.
“It’s tradition. No one cuts a hair until the exams are over. I don’t think it’s bad for a week.” He caught his reflection in the video call screen and had to admit he did look silly.
“You’ll be all bushy when I get home. Will I see you with it?”
“Yeah, I won’t shave again until the night before graduation. You’ll be home that day right?”
“If all goes well. I can’t be home long, three days tops.”
“I’ll take that. I don’t like you being on Plethor.”
“I’m fine, really, it’s hot here and I’m working on my tan.”
“So am I. I almost feel guilty taking the combat credit time. Really, if one in twenty of these greenies has a gun I’d be shocked. It’s barely a war.”
“But people are still getting killed.”
“Take out friendly fire, illness, accident? Less than five hundred of us have gotten hurt or killed in the last year. Most of those are from being out on the trail in the jungle, which you don’t need to worry about because I’m being transferred so no more jungle treks for me.” He cut off the protest before August could even make it.
“Forward Amory Base Delta, it’s this nothing little fort, a hundred or so stationed there.”
“Should you be telling me that?”
“I don’t tell you anything you can’t know, Augs.” He grinned. “The sign on it says Forward Amory Base Delta so they aren’t keeping it a secret.”
“A little but stop frowning. We’ve three heavy guns and everyone has shock rounds and the land is cleared for five hundred yards in all directions. It’ll be fine. I’ve spent more time working out than in any danger. Look.” He pushed up his sleeve and flexed.
August reached out and touched the screen. Anthony was always in good shape but it was pretty obvious his husband had been putting in extra time. “Now you’re just being mean.”
Anthony laughed again.
“You’re not beefing up for anyone are you? Should I be jealous?”
He leaned in closer to the camera so he could talk softer. “Just thinking about being strong enough to hold you pinned to the wall when I get home. Some of those poses we saw, in that book? I want to be able to try them.”
He blushed bright red. “Now you’re being deliberately mean.”
“Maybe a little. I miss you.”
“I miss you too.”
“How was your first exam?”
“Horrible. Five to eight hour exam, no breaks allowed.”
“How long did it take you?”
“Five hours and twelve minutes.”
“That’s my boy.”
“Boy? I’m six months older than you!”
“Yeah but I’m all tough and rugged. How do you think you did?”
“It was long but didn’t seem too hard. Going to be an exhausting four weeks though. Next one is in two days.”
“Yeah but four weeks and you’re done. Four weeks to finish sixteen years of study. I’m proud of you.”
“Thanks. Father Benerad wants me to apprentice in Benkley. I’ve told him I want to go to the outer colonies where I can do some good.”
“And he said?”
“Said he’d support it if I did my year here first but that he was going to put my name in for Senate when I have my ten years of service whether I like it or not. He seems pretty willing to let me do what I want until then.”
“I think it’s a great idea. You’d be good at it and I get to be the husband of a Senator.”
“I want to be a Guide, not sure I want to be a Senator.”
“That’s what you get for being the most promising up and comer in a decade. Don’t worry about it now, get through the exams, we’ll figure it out together. Okay?”
“Yeah.” Anthony’s eyes flicked to the side of the screen and some of his smile faded. “Time’s up huh?”
“Afraid so. Martin’s wife had their baby this week, we’re all shaving off a couple of minutes of our time so he can spend extra with them.”
“Boy or girl?”
“Girl and your stalling.”
“Yeah. Promise me you’ll be careful.”
“I always am but really, don’t worry, Augs. This is the least dangerous deployment I’ve had.”
“I always worry.”
“I know. Love you.”
“Love you too.” The screen went black because they never actually said goodbye. August sighed and scratched at the newly grown beard. The letters were nice but only being able to talk live once a week was difficult. “Two years.” It was an ongoing reminder that he needed.
Final exams were brutal and exhausting. August was born tired after spending seven hours finishing the last one. His hands hurt and his back as well from being crunched over his desk and keyboard for so many hours on so many days. All he wanted was a hot shower, something to eat and a letter from Anthony. It had been two days since he’d had word but that wasn’t worrisome. His husband had warned him that while being transferred he might go silent but as soon as he arrived at his new station August was likely to be bombarded with several days worth of letters. If ever there was a day when he needed those letters to arrive it was today.
He’d always been grateful to have one of the apartments on the campus. It was old, as the school itself and not one of the newer apartments. He was only a short walk to any of his classes and the line of tiny apartments opened onto a covered walkway which spilled out into a small green common area. It had been a good home for a lot of years and he was going to miss it when he moved out. The dark wood of his front door was worn smooth from years of hands touching it. Inside was tiny, a small bedroom, tiny bath and a smallish common living room kitchen area. It wasn’t modern or fancy but it was cozy and home and it seemed empty when Anthony was away.
He dropped his satchel inside the door and pulled the black shirt out of his black pants while he kicked off his shiny black shoes. He scratched at the beard that had grown in fuller than even he had expected and stripped on his way to the bathroom and waiting shower. It wasn’t just the day’s exams but the pressure of so many over the past days was exhausting. The biggest one was left, a series of six exams with only an hours monitored break in between. It took some people nearly two days to complete it and he’d heard stories of folks studying their whole lives to become Guides only to fail the endurance of the final exam.
August wasn’t worried. Anthony had helped him practice because they both knew the final test was less about right answers than being able to think and reason while exhausted. Guides were the backbone of the Empire, passing on the word of God and the laws of Man. It was a tremendous responsibility and the most difficult order to be accepted into. It was also the only thing August had ever wanted to be and when he’d shown aptitude had been given a full scholarship to study. As the shower water hit his back and shoulders all he could think about was how close he was to being finished and how close he was to Anthony’s return yet again.
He stepped out of the shower and wrapped one of their oversized towels around his waist. They were big on him because he was narrow through the hips but Anthony liked the larger size so he swam in the extra cloth. Not that he was scrawny, August kept in shape, but he would never be as tall or broad as his husband. He ruffled a towel over his wet curly hair and let it fall wherever it wanted.
“Dinner and back to studying…” He was understanding now why there was a tradition to not cut a single hair during exams. Even if he’d been allowed to shave he would have been too tired and gotten scruffy anyway. “At this rate all we’re going to do on his leave is sleep.” He dried off quickly and pulled on the loose cotton pants and shirt both in muddy brown. His wardrobe was lacking color, Guide students wore black, Guides wore black, gray, tan but always somber colors with the gold chain holding the star and crown that marked a Guide. The chain and symbol were what August would receive at graduation it was what he’d spent a lifetime working for.
Out in his living room he turned on his computer and set it to download messages as he moved to the kitchen to find something to eat. He poured himself some juice and glanced to the screen. “Huh.” His computer wasn’t downloading and that was odd because it was supposed to connect automatically. Not once in all the years had there been a single problem. He was just about to fiddle with it when his doorbell rang.
That wasn’t an unusual occurrence when Anthony was away. August had friends, both yearmates and younger students and even other Guides and they’d all learned to call before stopping in when Anthony was home but that if his husband was back on active duty they could stop in anytime. The only thing that was slightly odd was that most everyone knew he was in the middle of exams and too exhausted to hold a decent conversation. Half of his friends were in the same situation and the other half would wait until it was over to stop in.
That meant it could only be one person. Edward Rothschild was his oldest friend. They’d been room mates and year mates at school until they’d had to pick an order. August had gone for Guide but Edward had chosen to become a Brother of Mercy, a more monastic order devoted to doing good in a charitable and missionary manner. It also meant he graduated two years before August but had been apprenticing locally until he found a calling. Edward was likely to drop in just to bring him dinner and help him study.
He sipped his juice and opened the door. “Hey Edward.”
“I’m not much company tonight.”
The old childhood nickname made him really glance up and see beyond Edward in his plain, simple brown robe. He saw past the concerned look on his face and the seriousness of his tone to really see the man standing behind him. The man was sharp looking in his dress uniform, crisp and precise and from the ribbons and badges on his shirt as well as his age he’d been in the service for a while. When August’s eyes swept over him the man quickly removed the small peaked hat he wore and something like lead settled into his stomach.
“Mr. August Jones-Hawthorn? Husband of Sergeant Anthony James Hawthorn-Jones?” The military man asked.
“May we come in, sir?”
August stood frozen at the request for a heartbeat before nodding and stepping back. His mind was stuck because he knew what the man was about to say and he didn’t want to hear it.
“Sir, please, would you like to sit down?”
“No, I’m fine. Just say it.”
“August, you look like you’re about to faint, please, sit down.” Edward tried to sooth.
He was only helping but when he took one of August’s elbows and tried to lead him to a chair he shook off his friend. “No. Just tell me!” He snapped. There was a possibility that Anthony was fine, if communications had gone down, a patrol was missing, a transport lost, families were prepared for the worst even before more information was known.
“Sir, around fourteen hundred hours local time yesterday Forward Amory Base Delta on Plethor was overrun by the enemy. They held the base for three hours before reinforcements could arrive. By the time they reached the base, there was little they could do.”
“No.” August shook his head.