Commander Hicks watches me by the fire every night. We’ll sit together watching the log fire bolster whilst I write in my diary, or fixing a tear in one of the soldier’s trousers. That’s my job since being evacuated to Safe Zone A. My costume department skills working in the theater meant I could prove somewhat useful. Make things. Fix things. Make and fix and fix again. Keep my mind occupied from life, or what’s left of it, outside the compound.

We’ll talk about anything and everything: Where home was, fond memories, hoping, and doubting that one day we’ll ever return. Other times, we’ll just sit together in silence, simply needing to be in each other’s company without any explanation. Either way after dinner, when there’s not a slither of light in the sky anymore, we’ll sit by that fire. Together.

I often wonder what he’s thinking when I catch him glancing my way, over his nightly glass of scotch from the late General’s drink cabinet. The corners of my lips turn up into a polite smile when I do, and he does something he never does around anyone else. He blushes. Square-jawed, forthright Commander Tom Hicks, blushes.

I look up from my tattered diary and find him sheepishly peering over his glass as he drinks. He still thinks I don’t notice, and to be honest I find it rather endearing. I’d be lying if I said I haven’t grown fond of him, but I daren’t say. Flashing my usual, rehearsed smile, his eyes dart back to the fire, and the familiar rosy flush under his cheeks illuminate in the fire’s warm glow. I set down my diary, sliding the pen between the pages.

‘Is everything alright, Sir?’ I ask.

He nods, putting the glass down beside the decanter on the table next to his armchair.

‘Yeah. Just thinking.’

‘About?’

Not taking his eyes off the fire, he inhales deeply through his nose.

‘Home.’

Home is somber subject for civilian evacuees and military alike. But it’s all we have that gives us some hope for the future. My eyes wander over his angular features, made more distinct by the fire, the slight red tinge in his dark, buzzed hair, and finally resting on his eyes, blue and sad. The lines around them grow deeper whenever he talks about home. A silent moment passes, when he straightens up in his armchair.

‘What are you writing about?’ he asks, a little too brightly, trying to change the subject.

‘Just the day,’ I shrug, ‘It helps keep my head clear.’

I flip through the pages with my thumb. Page after page is indented with words, growing smaller and smaller since arriving, so I can save the diary for as long as I can. There’s not much room left.

‘Anything interesting?’ he asks.

I shake my head.

‘Fixing the seam in Stevens’ trousers, again. Knitting new socks for Jenny’s baby from the wool supplies. The usual suspects.’

‘Am I in there?’

The corners of his lips quirk up in a mischievous grin. .

‘As a matter of fact, you are.’

‘Oh?’

‘Of course,’ I tease, ‘I talk about charm and heroism…’

His eyes brighten, and the grin broadens along his cheeks.

‘Go on?’

I lean forward, resting my elbows on my thighs, and feign a grimace.

‘And…how you’re lousy at sewing.’

A deep chuckle radiates from Hicks’ chest. My insides flutter. He offered his hand at sewing a seam together late one night when I was behind on laundry. It didn’t end well, for the trousers or his pride. Needless to say we can laugh at it. I enjoy this time we have alone, poking fun at each other. Around everyone else, conversation is dark and fearful about the future. With him it’s deeper, more intimate. We can just be.

I admit he frightened me when we first met. Then again, I was frightened of my own shadow, like many other evacuees. It all started with the early morning news reports you hardly take notice of while rushing to work. Just a blip, I thought, it’ll get sorted out on its own. But it didn’t. Life went from the morning commute to being holed up in your apartment, listening to grainy emergency broadcasts on the radio.

Within the month I was shoved into the back of a Jeep with other terrified civilians, my life in my backpack, evacuated out of the city. Torches blinded us as we stumbled into the base, plastic sheets hanging from the walls. Men in hazmat suits examined us for signs of illness while armed guards in gas masks and Kevlar kept order. Life as we knew it had gone up in a puff of smoke.

Tall and imposing, Hicks commanded the space as we were summoned to the cafeteria. It was no wonder to me how he earned his position. Upon speaking, the entire room fell silent. He went around each civilian, assigning work on the base that played to our skills and strengths. Doctors were assigned to Medical. A priest was assigned Chaplaincy. Chefs to the kitchens and gardeners to growing food. I was assigned repairs.

Between maintaining laundry and knitting blankets, he’d come to me personally, requesting this or that to make. He didn’t have to, but he insisted. Sometimes, he’d even offer to help fix military gear that I couldn’t, or reinforce the soldiers’ worn out boots when he had some spare time. We started talking and found ourselves growing closer as the months dragged along. I looked forward to hearing three harp rasps on the store room door, being greeted with a boyish smile that he gave no one else.

After a while it was stolen glances and fuzzy feelings in my stomach. A smile here and a soft squeeze on the shoulder there. He’d watch me reading to the children in the library, arms crossed, leaning against the doorway. A warm, unpretentious smile sat on his face as the children sat cross-legged around me, enthralled in stories of dragons, brave knights and beautiful princesses before announcing, to their chagrin, that it was time for bed.

I felt safe with him. Dare I say it, even normal. Yet if life was still normal, we would likely have never met. I miss home. I miss my modest, cosy apartment and laughter around the table. My chest aches while I watch the fire, wrapped up in a blanket, confined to barbed wire fences for our safety with the flames our only source of light. I miss home terribly.

‘What are you thinking?’

I shake my head and turn my gaze to Hicks.

‘Sorry?’

‘You look upset,’ he says. ‘What are you thinking about?’

I sigh, pulling my cardigan tighter around my shoulders.

‘Home.’

He looks down at his empty glass, rolling it between his middle finger and thumb.

‘I miss home too.’

He takes the whiskey bottle on the table and refills the glass. I watch as the golden alcohol crashes against the glass, swirling against its intricately carved divots. He holds out the glass.

‘For you,’ he says.

I accept and gingerly hold out my hand. Our fingers brush and my breath catches. His skin is coarse against mine. The air grows thick as he lingers a little longer, before releasing the glass to me.

‘Thank you.’

The whiskey is strong and glides smooth down my throat. I look to the door outside. It’s completely dark. Everyone else has gone to bed, except for the soldiers who are stationed on guard. I shift in my seat.

‘What about home are you thinking about?’ he asks.

‘I wish…’ I falter, trying to find my words. ‘I just wish things could have been different.’

I think of my sister and my parents. All the friends I don’t know are safe or not. The hollowness in my stomach, that I’ve had since all this started, is only relieved by these moments with Hicks. A soothing balm for the loneliness and despair threatening to rear its ugly head at every chance it gets.

‘I wish none of this happened.’

I don’t realize I’m crying until a droplet hits my cheek. I wipe it away, but another comes and before I know it, they won’t stop, and my head is in my hands. My shoulders shake as I press my hands into my eyes, and I feel two arms envelope me, pulling me into a warm, firm embrace.

‘Hey…’ I hear. ‘Shhh, it’s ok…’

I sob against Hicks’ chest, wetting the shoulder of his grey, cotton t-shirt. I wrap my arms around his waist. His hand strokes the back of my head as he gently rocks us side to side, whispering words of reassurance in my ear. It’s not the first time we have cried together, offering kind, hopeful words when things become too much.

‘It’s ok baby, I got you…’ he whispers.

This is different. I cling to him as if my life depends on it, growing calmer with each kiss around my temple. I nestle into the crook of his neck and his hands slide down to my waist. Bareley breaking apart, our cheeks graze against the other and our foreheads touch. Apart from the cracking fireplace, all I hear is the slow, steady rise and fall of our breath.

My eyes meet his. They are dark, flitting between my own and my lips. My hands tighten around his biceps, his around my waist, and slowly but surely, our lips meet. Warmth surges down my throat into my belly. His kiss is gentle as he threads his fingers into my hair and my hands travel up his shoulders.

Hicks’ lips brush velvety against mine, and I kiss him deeper, more urgently. My fingers rake through his spiky hair, and we break apart, foreheads touching, shakily catching our breath.

He stares down, cupping my hand in his, and I remember where I am and who we are. He’s military, I’m a civilian. He has authority over me, and here I am kissing him after hours.

‘I’m sorry…’ I whisper. ‘I – I shouldn’t have…’

I reach for my diary and wrap my cardigan round my chest. I shouldn’t have kissed him. It’s not my place, regardless of how I feel about him. I stand to go but he stops me, taking my arm and cupping my cheek in his hand.

‘Sarah…’

He tilts my chin up with his finger to look at him. His eyes are desperate, pleading, even. A thin film of wetness glistens around his lash line. He runs his other hand up my arm, squeezing my shoulder like he’s done so many times before.

‘Don’t go.’

‘Sir, I –‘

‘Tom.’

He takes my hand, holding it against his chest. I can feel his heartbeat through his shirt. It’s racing.

‘My name’s Tom.’ He places a soft kiss on my forehead. ‘Please…don’t leave.’

Another tear drops to my cheek. Tom brushes it away with his thumb. I can’t leave him like this. I don’t want to. He needs me as much as I need him. Leaning forward I rest my head against his chest, kissing the solid, warm chest covered in soft cotton. He curls his hand around the back of my neck, tilting my chin up with his fingers once again, when he draws me into a deep, gentle kiss.

I melt against the warmth radiating from his chest, welcoming the slight scratch of his stubble against my cheek as we wrap our arms around each other. I’m safe with him. None of the outside matters anymore. Outside doesn’t exist. It’s just us.

Layer after layer slowly peels off until we are nothing but skin on skin. Sweet, soft kisses run over my cheeks, my neck and down to my breasts. He cups them in his strong hands, flicking his tongue back and forth along my nipples that have puckered in the chill.

Starbursts of yellows and orange burst under my eyelids as I arch into him. He snakes his arm around my waist, holding me firm against him. A low moan hums in his chest as he massages my breast. Each movement we make is silky, in unison. Our tongues explore the other, soft and tentative, as he tilts me back into the comfort of the plush armchair. Slowly, Tom works kisses down my collarbone and down my stomach, his hands roaming all over my skin when he reaches between my legs.

I gasp as Tom runs the flat of tongue gently up through my lips, each time placing a tender kiss when he reaches my clit. Again, and again, he licks and kisses, kisses and licks. Two fingers massage inside me and over my lips. He circles his tongue around my clit until I’m shuddering, climax after climax.

‘That’s it…That’s it…’ he growls. ‘Good girl.’

Languid warmth surges through me as he takes me by the waist and guides me on to the rug next to the fire. Tom’s chest tenses under my fingertips. He watches as I trace them over his skin, down the taut muscles across his ribs and stomach. They glow in the firelight, smooth and perfect. He looks so beautiful. He stares down at me, eyes hooded and caresses my cheek. Nothing is said. Nothing needs to be. Every ounce of our feelings permeate the air between us, stripping us bare.

Tracing a finger over my lips on to my tongue, I suck hard, tasting myself on him. Tom moans. I sit up, pulling him on top of me. Slow, sensual kisses, getting lost in his fresh, pine scent, flexing and pointing my feet as the head of his cock massages through my lips and over my clit. When I reach down and work his hardened cock in my hand, he gasps, shuddering above me as I circle his tip with my thumb before guiding him to my entrance.

‘Yeah?’ he whispers.

I nod, guiding him inside, letting him slowly fill me. My eyes flutter closed. Tom’s breath shakes.

‘Yeah…’ I moan.

He rocks his hips in a steady, slow rhythm. Kissing, nipping and burying his face in my neck. I clutch at his muscular back, relishing the delicious friction. Wrapping my legs around him, I press my heels into his backside, guiding him deeper. His hushed breaths and soft moans in my ear are like music, gliding down my spine, settling at the luscious warmth building between my legs.

He squeezes my breasts, sucking each nipple as my fingers stroke through his hair. My back arches and I grab two fistfuls of dark hair, and gently pull. Tom growls against my neck.

‘Fuck, I need you…’

He moves faster. What starts off tender is now an entangled mess. Panting, groaning, grunts. We are consumed by months of pure, pent up need for each other. Tom thrusts hard and my nails scratch down his back. I beg him for more.

He takes a fistful of my hair and pulls my head back, kissing and licking at my throat as I come. I gasp at the cold night air with eyes scrunched so tight sparkles dance under my eyelids.

‘That’s it baby…come for me…That’s it…good girl…’

I surrender completely and utterly to him. I need his strength, so brutal yet protective as he cups the back of my head and pulls me into a primal, possessive kiss. His hips stiffen, thrusting erratic, pinning me against his solid frame and his whimpers grow desperate.

‘Fuck…Fuck!’’

Tom releases into me in a series of harsh, male groans that sing in my ears. I hang on tight, pressing my heels harder into his ass to keep him as deep inside me as possible. Aftershocks shudder through my sore, tired limbs. We stay like that, holding each other tight until our breathing steadies.

My eyes still closed, I’m bundled into Tom’s arms, a blanket pulled over us and a tender kiss on the forehead. My eyelids flutter open to gaze up at Tom, who smiles affectionately. He runs a finger over my cheek.

‘Stay with me?’ he murmurs.

My forehead touching his, I nod, brushing my lips against his before nestling in his arms by the fire. Safe.

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