Dale is leaving Lee behind to do what he must; this is their last moment before he goes, full of promises for his return.
For those of you who follow/have followed me elsewhere, you might recognise this story in another guise 😉
It’s not a hand Lee’s extending but a lifeline, or rather a tether, a reason to stay exactly where he is, dead centre of this room with its walls whispering memories and its floors echoing stories of a life lived here, that Dale won’t get to see again for a long few months.
Dale stumbles where he’s usually certain, raising his fingers unsteadily until his calloused hand closes around a cautious one, squeezing back with reassurance.
A light tug until military fatigues brush against denim jacket; a rush of longing has Dale swallowing with difficulty that Lee’s eyes fall with sorrow to see, as his other hand reaches out steadily, slides to secure lightly around Dale’s waist.
Lee drops his fingers, though his palm against Dale continues to anchor him there to the spot, to him, even more so when it is accompanied by a second reassuring circling to his other side.
There is teasing amusement whispering through Lee’s words, willing Dale to welcome this, revealing how very frightened he actually is that Dale might still turn away from him even now, after all this long while together. Fear, in whatever form it comes, is not something Dale ever wishes Lee to feel again; his palms raise up to press against Lee’s chest, then climb high in the tiny gap between them, loop around a neck that’s been worried at for the past half hour.
“It won’t be so long this time. It’s the last time. I promise,”
The reassurance Dale tries to convey with his voice shifts the focus of need between them; Dale needs a reason to belong, where Lee just needs reason, to know with sheer clarity that this is where Dale in fact wishes to belong.
Truly, there is nowhere he would rather be. Here, in this place that should feel small, repressive, restricting given all he has seen and done, but where Dale has grown, in heart, in understanding, in himself. Now, when he looks about him, he recognises home. Family. A kind of welcome that no other place in this world could offer him.
Lee is here. Lee is home. Lee has been Dale’s home for a long time now. Moral compass, not-quite immoral direction of desires, and so very much more.
Dale is a soldier, a serving soldier that knows overseas territories better than his own lands. He should never have let himself fall for Lee all those years ago, then shouldn’t have left him stranded without knowing for certain if he’d return to him. He never expected anything but a single carefree night of relief, but Lee has come to mean so much to him. His object of need, want, lust. And love: this is what they have become.
“The last time,” Dale repeats, squeezing his hands again, “then I’m coming home for good. To you. For you. For as long as you’ll have me and probably a whole lot longer than that besides,”
Lee’s throat catches on Dale’s words and leave him silenced, but he nods, through clenched jaw, brightened eye, and tightened smile, stepping a fragment closer until they breathe almost as one. That heat radiating back against him stirs Dale’s flesh in flickers and flutters. Home. Want. Stay. Belong. A million things he never thought he would feel and yet does, in every fibre of his being, that urge him to just quit right there and then, and stay.
At least they would, were the lure of honour, and duty, and saving a world that feels at times beyond saving not calling him, beckoning him to a life that he’d once thought would be all he’d ever want.
“I’ll be waiting. I’ll always be waiting,”
Lee takes his turn for bolstering words, blinding Dale with his smile of pride and passion. His need for Dale hasn’t wavered, but then neither has his understanding of Dale’s need to do his job. So while it’s clear here is where Lee wants him, and that he can’t wait for Dale’s final tour of duty to be over, Lee would never want him to doubt his unshakeable faith, trust, and belief in him.
A brush of lip against lip, a caress of jaw over jaw, and they fit, this perfect procrastination against doing what needs to be done.
It’s different now. Early on in what was them, Dale always felt there was a part of him missing when he left, but now whenever he goes, Lee is with him. His silent prayers of gentle encouragement and absent affection tethering Dale back to him. To home.
Still, despite their fit, their need, their knowing of one another, Lee still sometimes manages to surprise him. Like now, for instance; when Dale should be leaving for the army base and then to head wherever they are taking him this time, he is instead standing, dead centre in a softly lit living room in Lee’s arms, turning in the smallest of circles, listening to the oddly comforting crackle of a turntable on a shelf behind them.
Lee hums softly against his ear, brushing his lips there, shifting and pressing a smile into Dale’s temple at the way he shivers at that gentlest of touches. Hushed words whispered for only him to hear, lyrics as full of longing as Dale is himself.
“I will be back soon,” he promises again, to them both, as his lips glance along Lee’s neck sending out a shudder of his own. Lee grips a little harder as though he can hear the reluctant goodbye of Dale’s words, his subtlety of detaching from him.
“Sooner,” Lee’s whisper is one of seeking reassurance they both know he cannot give. Instead, Dale lifts his head, claims a demanding kiss that conveys hope, and love, and so many things that don’t require the words being spoken out loud.
Another moment, another circle; images of Lee standing here alone in this room after his departure has Dale slump with sorrow, yet gratefulness swoops in swiftly to lift him again with reminders of Lee’s mother and sister mere feet away, ready to give Lee comfort. And purpose. And belonging.
My family, Dale thinks, warmth washing through and soothing him. Granting him something to hold on to. Something to return to. Something to keep him tethered.
A final circle, a final kiss, a final smile. Dale slides his palm against Lee’s cheek and fixes him with a laden look, waiting for the tiny nod that he always gives him back.
A step away, an invisible pull, a wistful smile.
A shift in images, a swiftness of movement, and Lee’s smile fixes in Dale’s thoughts, even if he is no longer standing there in front of him.
He allows himself a moment to wallow, a second to breathe. A secret smile to himself, and then Dale is ready, turning to board the familiar Lockheed Galaxy, slinging his holdall up over his shoulder as his boots crunch in the dirt.
Grounded. Anchored. Tethered.
Ready to do what he must.