Chapter 1

As Trent entered the darkened room, he was assailed by the aroma of stale vomit, of lingering antiseptic, and of sweat. His eyes began to adjust to the darkness of the room as he heard the sounds of the various machines. His heart ached as he saw the lone figure in the bed, covered by nothing more than a thin white sheet.

His eyes stared at the various tubes running to both arms, and he could see the paleness of the skin, at how haggard it was, ravaged by the battle the lone figure was waging, and losing. He licked his lips, wanting to turn and run, but he couldn't. There wasn't time to be afraid, not even here, he thought as he walked softly into the room, standing just off in the shadows. Trent stared at Rob, looking at how gaunt his face was, at how beads of sweat were slowly dripping down from his forehead, like little rivers.

His heart ached, as his mind thought back, to the last time he had seen Rob. It had been just before he had left on patrol, a mere ten days ago, and how so much had changed in that time. How he had come to terms with who he was, who Rob was and what he really had meant to him. It wasn't like he hadn't known, just that he had never really let himself think of it. Some would say he had turned his back on his own kind, that he had taken the easy way out.

Maybe they were right, but Rob, he understood. He never had argued with Trent about his choices, about his decision to not fight. Instead he had accepted it, taken what was offered, never really asking for more than that. Now he was lost to him, or would be. The ravages of war weren't just some news reporter talking about how many died today, or how many over the course of the war had died, or been injured. It was real, for those who fought, who survived.

The heat from outside was nothing to how angry he felt right now, as he stared down at his friend. They had been together for ages, had enlisted together, had served in Boot Camp together, had even found themselves in the same outfit. Thinking back on it, Trent still couldn't believe that Rob had joined up. He was the last one he would have expected to Enlist, but he knew that it was simply because he had.

At the time he hadn't allowed himself to see that. Hell, even all through School he never really let himself think about it much. Sure they had their fun, their moments, but the day after, it was like it never happened. He made sure of that, and Rob, well, he didn't let it stop him.

Walking in a bit further, he noticed the orderly off to one side. The man was doing something to one of the machines, adjusting something. He turned to glance over his shoulder at Trent's entrance. His eyes immediately went to Trent's collar, noticing the eagles, seeing the ribbons on his chest, but he didn't stop what he was doing. It was as if rank had no meaning, or standing in this room.

His eyes went back to the lone figure now stretched out, fighting the ultimate battle, and losing it. He felt the hitch in his heart, the catch in his throat as he realized just how much the man meant to him. They were both career men, and their time was drawing to a close. They had both entered the Service way back, before George W. Bush had even given a thought to being Commander in Chief.

Trent pulled up the metal chair, and saw the orderly glance once more at him. It wasn't usual for a high ranking office to visit a non com, but then the whole war was crazy, making what was normal seem unreal, and making what was unthinkable, reality.

He reached out and took the hand, feeling the coldness at the fingers, feeling the wetness too as his friend fought his own private war. His eyes looked at the gaunt face, feeling ashamed of himself, as he stared. They had been through so much, together, and as he sat there, he felt the man become aware of his presence.

Trent saw Rob turn his head, noticing the way the muscles in his face winced, as it moved. He could see the eyes, once filled with life, stare at him, a pale imitation of what they used to be like. The eyelids fluttered, as recognition dawned, and a thin weak smile crossed Rob's haggard face, while the fingers trembled in Trent's hand.

He could feel his friend's pain, feel the beat of his heart, slowly ticking, struggling for each beat. It hurt him, deep inside, to see the once proud man, reduced to a shadow of his former self, yet he was proud of him. Trent hadn't thought about it much, least not until he had heard the news of the injuries, of the prognosis.

It was like being hit by a bucket of cold water. Everything suddenly became clearer to him, as he had listened to the droning voice, recounting the figures, the details, that now brought him here, to this cold impersonal room. There wasn't even an attempt to move him, to shift him stateside, as it simply wasn't practical. So much for 'caring for the troops' he thought, as he held his friend's hand, feeling the man's life growing weaker with each tick of his heart.

The fingers grasped at his hand, making him look down at the man, at the eyes that now were fully open. He could see him, almost as if it was yesterday, when they had been walking home, from football practice. The way his long blond hair was matted from sweat, how he smelled of stale sweat, and testosterone. You couldn't miss that scent, as they had walked slowly towards home.

It was their senior year, the time when things were supposed to be the most memorable, until College. But they both knew that they weren't moving on, weren't to be heading for the American Dream of College and the Corporate world. Neither of them had been stellar students, Rob barely making his eligibility to play football, himself, not that much better.

Yet, they had what it took, or so they had thought. Their team mates had agreed, making Trent a co-captain for the team. Rob, well everyone had liked him, and he sure got his share of 'game balls' but he never sought, or attained more beyond that. He was happy with just doing his bit, and as Trent stared down at him now, he was still the same man. He was the one the green troops and officers, turned to.

He had relished that role, even back then. Holding Rob's hand now, he could see it all from the beginning, how they had met in grade school, become fast friends. Not the kind that ended as they grew older, but deepened. They were like brothers, or so their parents lamented, at times. If they had only known, he thought, as he felt the hand tremble, as the pain continued to race up and down the man's body.

Trent had always known who he was, but it was a secret he never shared, not even with Rob, least not at first. It had come to a head one night, when they had been out in the backyard, having a campout. Trent's parent's had set up a tent, the whole deal so they could imagine they were camping. Heck it wasn't like they were old enough to not enjoy it, but it was close. He had been just mid way fourteen, Rob a month older.

Funny how things back then seemed so much more than they were when you got older, but back then, having an erection, while with another guy, well, that was like a red flag to some. How the other kids would make fun of the guy, how they would jeer, and call him all sorts of names. He had seen it too often in gym class to not know, yet as he had undressed, he couldn't help but get aroused.

Seeing his best friend naked, as he changed, had caught him off guard. He really hadn't expected it, and he didn't know how to hide it. Naturally that was when Rob managed to turn around and notice, which had made Trent feel like all hell would break loose. He imagined Rob laughing, calling him names, then leaving, and that was the best of the scenarios that raced through his mind as Rob stared at Trent's hard dick.

Yet it was typical of Rob, all he did was smile, turn around, and show off his own hard dick. It was like, he had always known, and that the sudden urge to strip was his way of forcing it. Not like they said anything, but the sleeping bags had gotten closer, and when Rob or he slept over at the other's house, well no one slept on the floor.

Thinking back, he realized that in all their years together, as friends, neither had ever said a word about it. It wasn't like that little show and grin ever amounted to a whole lot either. Sure they would cuddle together when sleeping over, and he did touch his friend a few times, without any objection. Still, no words, no discussions ever ensued, which had been fine with him.

Even in High School, nothing seemed to change. Both of them pursued the girls, as if they really wanted them. Trent knew, deep down, that for him, it was just show. Sex with a girl was never easy, never comfortable. Oh he had his share, as was expected, but Rob seemed to enjoy the pursuit and captured more. Least, he claimed he did, yet it never stopped him from rubbing his hard dick against Trent, when they slept over.

And the sleep overs never ended, even in High School. It was strange, as he thought about it now. He had been the one most frightened of being caught out, yet when he had been with Rob, he felt like it was Rob who wouldn't say anything. Truth was, he was the one too scared to talk about it, and Rob knew it.

All these years, and Rob had always covered his back. Just like at School, when things would get rough, Rob had been there. The time he had found someone, who he had thought was a decent guy, one he could open up with. One who he could know, the way he wanted to know a guy.

It had nearly blown up in his face, as the guy was more of a closet case than he was. When they had met at the local park, when he had made the first move, and not been repulsed, things had looked promising. It was when he had gone down on his knees, to take hold of the guy's hard dick, that the shit had hit the fan.

The guy had screamed at him, as if he hadn't a clue what was about to happen. He was threatening Trent, to tell everyone at school about him being a homo, about how he was trying to suck his dick. He had been stunned, taken totally by surprise by the turn of events. After all, the guy had his pants at his fucking ankles for Christ's sake, like he didn't know, while Trent had been yanking them down?

Yet, it was Rob who had saved the day. He still didn't know how he had been there, or why, but as soon as his new friend was screaming, Rob showed up. He had a baseball in his hand, and a look, that Trent had never seen before. The guy, Jason or Chase or something like that, stopped in mid rant, as Rob stepped into the small clearing, the bat slapping the palm of his hand.

It was strange to see, how Rob had looked, at how quiet his voice was, as he told the guy to fuck off, that if he ever said a word, he'd not only tell everyone that it was him who made the move on Trent, but that it was him who had tried to grab Trent's dick, not the other way around. And he'd even say he had found Trent wailing on him.

You never saw a guy's face drop as fast as Jason or Chase's face did when Rob had finished detailing exactly how he would turn the tables on him. The bat hitting his open palm rather accentuated the moment, and they guy had taken off, never saying a word. Then too, Rob hadn't either, never even mentioning it to Trent.

A lot of water had passed under the bridge, from then to now, yet as he looked into Rob's eyes, he could feel his presence, his memories, as if they were his own. In some way, they were, because while the life they led had always been, well, unmentioned, it had been close. Rob was really the only one who truly knew about him, who truly understood his need to be private, to be above reproach.

Rob had understood it all, and while they had both grown older, they still respected that privacy. It was funny, but he could remember so much, about how they had shared virtually everything, but that. Oh they had shared sex, not often, but enough to seemingly keep them both happy. As he thought about it, he realized that Rob had never married, never pursued any personal relations, other than the one he had with him.

Holding his hand, he remembered the only time they had talked about it, about each other. It had been so long ago, yet he could remember every detail of it, as if it had just happened. How when Rob turned eighteen, Trent had asked him what he had wanted for a gift, on such a special day.

At the time, Rob had simply grinned, saying he'd tell him, but not until Trent also joined the Eighteen Club, as Rob called it. It was the time most kids looked forward to. That magic age when they became adults, could vote and in their state, drink. Yet while they had celebrated with a few beers, that had been the extent of the party, until Trent had his eighteenth birthday.

It was then that they had their only real talk, sort of. Even then, it wasn't much of a talk, as it was more of a, well, request. They hadn't yet decided to enlist, hell the topic hadn't even come up at that time, and he remembered how he had counted the days to his eighteenth birthday. How he had pestered Rob too, wanting to know just what was it he had wanted for his birthday, that had to wait till his?

Finally his big day had come, but Rob was no where to be found. For the whole morning and afternoon he had suffered in pure agony, trying to get a hold of him, trying to find out, just what the plan was. All he had known was that Rob would pick him up at about 8 that night, after dinner. There hadn't been a single word from him all day, nothing other than his last words the night before, telling him to be ready by eight.

He could remember how he kept glancing at the clock, all through the family dinner, even after when opening up his presents. It was like being on the edge of a knife, not sure which way to fall, knowing only how sharp the edge was, how it hurt not knowing which way to jump. His parents hadn't been much of a help either, as they didn't even seem to notice that Trent's shadow, Rob, hadn't been around.

It was as if they were in on it, whatever 'it' was. Still, he felt himself smile, as he remembered how he had felt seeing the pickup truck come around the corner. The old battered Ford was like a second home. It had been given to Rob, by his dad on his sixteenth birthday. They had gone all over in it, cruising main street, going camping in the woods. Their odd summer trips even had been with them driving, sleeping in the bed of the truck.

Yet it never looked better, than that time it came around the corner, on his birthday night. Right on time too, as he glanced at his watch, seeing the big hand finally tick over to make it officially eight o'clock. One thing about Rob, he knew how to make an entrance.

Pulling up, Trent had noticed a tarp in the back, covering up something rather huge. He looked at his friend, who just grinned, yelling at him to get in and waving to Trent's parents, who just stood outside, waving. It was odd, but it was like they had been in on it, which of course, they had. Least, sort of, in that they knew he was going with Rob, that he wasn't coming back that night, either. Though at the time, he didn't even know that.

As they headed out of town, Trent couldn't help but ask what was up, and until they hit the old highway road, Rob had just given him a 'you'll see soon' answer that only made him press more. Hitting the old highway, the dust starting to blow past, Trent figured it out, that they were going camping. In a sense he was pleased that at least there wouldn't be a bunch of their other friends around, bit dejected that it was just another camping trip.

He had rather hoped for something, but not in his wildest dreams, had he expected what happened. The trip out seemed to drag on, and when they past their usual spot to turn off, he began to wonder if it was a camping trip they were going on? He kept asking, but all he got was a sort of strange grin. Thinking about it now, he also remembered how near the end of their trip, he had been pestering Rob, who reached out with one hand, to grab his, to hold it tightly telling him they were almost there.

How that one touch had seemed to relax him, yet also quicken his heart. They cuddled at night, sure, but that was with the lights out, and they were falling asleep. This was like that, but they weren't about to go to sleep, they weren't laying next to each other under the covers. It was almost, like how a guy would take a girls' hand when out on a date.

He couldn't explain it then, but he knew now. Now he knew what that birthday trip was about, had always been about. It wasn't as he had let himself believe, that it was much more than a good friend being curious. A tear rolled down Trent's face as he stared at Rob, whose eyes were open, looking right into his. He could see him in a way he had never seen him before. The understanding was there now, just as it had always been. He could feel Trent's thoughts, feel them now, and the hand seemed to grow a bit stronger. The grasp a bit tighter as he remembered that night, as if Rob was also remembering it.

It hurt, now, to think about it, to realize what he missed back then, and since too. He felt the pain inside, as he looked at his friend, wondering who was comforting whom? He had come to say farewell, but it was like they were finally talking, as if all that had been unsaid, was suddenly understood.

He was eighteen then, what did he know? But then he did know, he wasn't stupid nor was Rob, so they knew, it was planned but like most males, they kept it quiet, they didn't speak of it. Yet that night, that small birthday night experience, was a memory he cherished. Had many times, yet none as vivid as right now. None of his past recollections of that drive, of that arrival were as clear to him, as it was at this moment, this very second.

Maybe it had simply been the time? Though frankly, after so many years not much had really changed. Kids his age today, still faced the same crap that he and Rob did. They still had to keep it hidden, though some of them managed to fight through, to not let it control their very existence. Sure, some were out, as they called it, but maybe they simply had more guts than he ever did?

His eyes glanced down at the rows of ribbons, as he thought about it. At how they had just seemed to come to him, as had advancement up the ranks. Yet when it came right down to it, the biggest moment, the biggest test, and he hadn't lead then, hadn't been in the forefront of the battle. There were no ribbons for that, no promotions for that, just a quick hand shake and out the door you went. And that was if you were lucky, yet Rob, he never seemed to let it get to him.

He was the one who should have the ribbons, but then he did have as many as Trent. He had been there, with him, side by side, yet everyone knew about him. They didn't question him either, and as for the big brass, they seemed to know, but acted like they didn't. Looking at Rob, he wondered, did they know about him too? Did they whisper behind his back, or did they even give a rat's ass?

He knew one General who had gone out of his way to find out, about Rob. How he had every single member into his office, asking his questions, and it surprised Trent, how to a man, they all backed Rob up 110%. Not one even showed a moment's hesitation, and yet they all knew. Every single one of his troop knew, and even the few who were not exactly sympathetic to that lifestyle, they too stuck by Rob.

It had been the one moment in his life, when he really wondered if he was worthy of his rank? What made him the one to give the orders, when guys in the ranks could rally around a simple soldier like Rob? He didn't kid himself either, they sure as hell wouldn't do it for him.

As that thought gave him a moment's pause, he felt the hand tighten on his. Glancing down he saw the head, the way it moved very slowly from side to side, as if Rob had read his thoughts, as if he was trying to disprove them. He saw the pain it caused too, that simple motion of moving his head. He let his own hand move up, to wipe the brow and looking down he smiled at Rob.

'It's okay, I can deal with it now.'

The head stopped moving, as the eyes peered up at him. He felt the ache in his heart, as he let himself feel it all. Every single emotion that he had held in check for decades, was let free, to roam, to course through his entire body, unfettered, unrestricted. His heart throbbed, as he felt the passion, felt the missed chances that could never be regained.

Yet at the same time, he felt the power of those few moments, when they had broken down the barriers, when they may not have said the words, but lived them. It wasn't often, and it had begun so long ago, that it was hard to realize how much time had indeed past.

Trent could feel the orderly watching him, but he didn't care anymore. He let the tears flow freely down his cheeks, as he held onto Rob's hand, as he felt his thoughts, his memories, mix with his own. How they had enjoyed each other, their company, their closeness.

While the physical relationship was ending, he knew that he would never forget Rob, that what they had, would never be replaced, never be diminished either. Even if he lived to be a hundred, what they had shared in this lifetime would never be forgotten. This chapter might be ending, but there were more chapters to be written, in another time, another dimension. Of that he was certain, as he felt the soft beat of Rob's heart next to his.

He didn't care what the orderly was thinking, as he leaned over, and kissed Rob on the lips. It had been a long time coming, he thought as he felt the lips quiver to his light touch. Rob's eyes seemed to sparkle, and flutter as they kissed, as he felt the man's breath inside of his own mouth. His own tongue lightly tasting the saltiness around Rob's mouth, and as he pulled his head upwards, he could see his own tears, mingling with those from Rob.

The hand in his trembled, as his memories were flashing before him again. Once more he was back in that old Ford truck, now stopped by a grove of trees. The moon was just beginning to show up in the sky, the stars were out shining, and he could hear the river, off in the distance. There was a gentle breeze blowing, fresh scent of clover and other sweet fragrances wafted across his nostrils, as they had climbed out of the truck.

No antiseptic smell, no stale sweat or vomit permeated his nostrils, as he leaned his head back, holding tightly onto Rob's hand. The orderly was getting an eyeful, but fuck it, he needed to think, to remember, and so did Rob. It was like somehow they were once more connected, not distant, not one nearing the end of their journey.


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