“Hell Week is secured!”
Oh, thank the good, sweet Lord. Cooper dropped where he stood, stretched out on his back in the sand, and stared up at the bright blue sky. They’d been freezing their butts off for five solid days under that deceptive sky, the wind over the water damn near arctic, the sun laughing down at them. He’d eaten out of beachside garbage cans, slept standing up, and he was pretty sure his ass was making a pearl out of all the sand that had found its way up into his nooks and crannies. He’d probably be sneezing sand for a week. But they’d done it, damn it; they’d survived the worst the Navy could throw at them. They were only seven weeks in, with months of training still on the horizon, but right now, he heard the siren song of eighteen hours of downtime coming.
The master chief released them with a perfunctory, “Dismissed. Except for Jones.”
Cooper looked over at Eli. He stood bent at the waist, catching his breath. He looked like a cat that had been left out in the rain—all wet, ruffled fur and attitude. Eli straightened at the chief’s words and put his hands on his hips, still panting. The chief had always had a hard-on for Eli, probably because Eli could do more to motivate the men in their boat crew with four words and a pat on the back than Master Chief Jerkoff had managed with hours of haranguing and calisthenic torture. Eli had come into Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training as an officer—they both had, which probably explained some of why they clicked almost instantly—and the other men had just naturally gravitated toward him. Three officers—Eli, Cooper, and Jevon “Boom-Boom” Washington—paired up with four enlisted men, all treated the same by the brass. In some crews, that led to discontent and dissension in the ranks, but they’d never had that problem. Eli had stepped up right out of the gate, seen their strengths and weaknesses, and maneuvered things so that each man got what he needed. Eli hadn’t been given the respect of the other candidates; he’d earned it outright.
“You got something to say?” The master chief got right up in Eli’s face, like he always did.
Somehow, Eli managed to make “No! Master Chief!” sound like “Fuck you! And your ugly-ass wife!”
“One hundred push-ups, Jones. Make ’em good.”
Shithead. Mean, evil, pencil-dicked son-of-a-bitch. Petty payback, that’s what this was, because Eli had gotten all seven members of their crew through Hell Week, and there was nothing the chief loved more than hearing that goddamn bell ring. They’d been told three-quarters of most crews wouldn’t finish—candidates who either quit or got hurt too bad to keep going—but not Eli’s crew, not this time, not these men. Not his men. Even Mutt Davies, who barely scraped through the physical training in INDOC, had made it through. Eli had put him between Cooper and Boom-Boom, and they’d literally carried him at times, but he’d done it. They’d need him for the academics; the kid had a brain that more than made up for his relative physical lack. Worth it to keep him, to give him that extra push, that encouragement, when all he’d ever gotten from the instructor was shit and more shit. Eli hadn’t said much—he never did—but Cooper knew, and so did Boom-Boom and Mutt and the others, that the only way they’d make it was to make it together, whatever it took.
Eli stretched himself out over the sand, that silent “fuck you fuck you fuck you” still coming off him in waves. As Eli started on his first push-up, the master chief said, “Dismissed,” to the rest of them again, adding that they’d be expected back in quarters by midnight.
Cooper hauled himself up and stepped over next to Eli, every muscle in his body protesting the movement. Had to be worse for Eli, though—the master chief had crawled harder up Eli’s butt than all the rest of them combined. Cooper dropped down beside him and found Eli’s rhythm easily enough, counting under his breath as he matched him push-up for push-up. He heard an echo come in at “Eight. Nine.” He looked to his right and saw Boom-Boom, then Mutt beyond him, and on down the line: Mike “Wallbanger” Johnson, Ace O’Reilly, and Jorge Chavez, who they called Mickey for some good reason that Cooper couldn’t remember, every man in Eli’s crew, all in a row counting out push-ups loud enough that the crew fifty meters over started counting too, and on down the beach until the very air filled with one measured count after another, right on up to one hundred. More than the torture of Hell Week, that, right there, that was the moment Cooper felt like a SEAL.
Once they’d been dismissed—for good, this time—the aches and pains set in for real, the hunger and dehydration, the sand nesting in his short and curlies, the bug bites right where he couldn’t reach them. “Why’re we doing this again?” he asked, wrapping his arm around Eli’s neck and tugging him in as they walked through the deeper sand near the street.
“Fame and glory,” Eli said.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right,” Cooper said, patting Eli on the chest. “I forgot about the glory.”
Eli slanted him a tired grin. “Let’s get drunk.”
“Fuck that. Let’s get laid.”
The hot shower alone was almost as good as getting drunk or laid, and Cooper gave serious thought to skipping the entertainment portion of the program and heading straight for the bunk calling his name, but then Boom-Boom called him a pussy, and he was too tired to defend his manly honor, so he went. They settled on Ketchum’s, known for offering cheap draft and willing women at virtually any hour of the day.
Cooper got Eli situated with a real looker—a blue-eyed brunette, tall and curvy, just his type—and then cornered a UCSD grad student just after two and had her on her back with her heels in the air by four. At first his body didn’t seem quite sure what to do with all the pleasure signals it got: it shorted them out into muscle spasms and goosebumps, but eventually his best pal came through, rising to the occasion, as it were, and he got in two good rounds (well, two for him; he made sure she got three, and that last little squeak and shiver she gave when he had his tongue up her might’ve been a fourth) before fatigue rolled over him like one of those waves they’d come to know so well. He fell asleep in her bed, post-fuck lassitude too much to handle on top of a week of sleep deprivation. She woke him hours later and sent him stumbling back to the barracks a good two hours after curfew. The only consolation was that probably nobody’d even notice he was getting old before his time, felled by Hell Week and a budding social worker with a mouth from Heaven.
He snuck in the back, praying that Master Chief Jerkoff was fast asleep in his quarters with one thumb in his mouth and the other up his ass. Last thing they needed was a reprimand; knowing him, the chief would find some way to pin the whole thing on Eli. He could hear it now: “Jones, why didn’t you pull Fitch’s pecker out of that girl before he fell asleep?” It’d give him immense satisfaction, someday, to look the man in the face and say, “Suck my dick.” The thought took him through the latrine, where he pissed out a week’s worth of sea water and a couple too many beers, and on up to the sink, where he avoided the mirror and his sun-burned, too-tired face while he brushed his teeth and flicked more sand out of his ears.
The barracks held the hush of the truly exhausted. Cooper tip-toed in quiet as he could, surprised when he got to his bunk and saw that Eli was awake, leaning up on one elbow on the bottom bed. “What time is it?” Eli murmured.
Cooper crouched beside him and said softly, “Somewhere between past-curfew and reveille. Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“You didn’t,” Eli said, his voice low and rough. “I’m wired or something. Too tired to sleep.”
“That sucks,” Cooper whispered, shifting to sit cross-legged on the floor. “Settle down, and I’ll tell you a little bedtime story.”
Eli pushed over onto his side, tucking one hand under his cheek. Cooper could just make out the shape of his smile in the dark. “You get lucky?” Eli asked.
“No luck involved,” Cooper said, moving closer so Eli could hear him. “Just skill and charm.”
Cooper scoffed quietly. “No need for that, son, not when you’re this good.”
Eli smiled again, and that was all the encouragement Cooper needed to tell him all about his lithe little social worker: how she’d blown him fast and dirty in the front seat of her car and then let him fuck her in her bright, messy room, her body painted with sunlit stripes coming through the open window. He left out the part about how long it took her to get him up that first time, his body still lingering with his team on that cold, windy beach. And he might have embellished how long he lasted, once he finally got going, but that never hurt anyone. Eli shifted onto his back and lifted one knee when Cooper got to the part where he spread her open and licked up inside her, and the little breathy sounds she made. Cooper recognized that move and turned his head to hide his grin. There, now, if Eli had to be awake at o’dark thirty, he might as well enjoy it. Cooper wound down eventually, feeling the week work its way back into his bones, tired again just from talking.
“What about you?” he asked, raising his hand for a high-five. “I pick you a gooder or what?”
Eli raised his middle finger instead. “She was the designated driver. She left with a Camaro full of coeds about eight, looking for something better.”
“She left you hanging?”
“High and dry.”
“That ain’t right,” Cooper said, shaking his head. If anybody deserved a little R&R, it was the man stretched out beside him. “I can tell you this, Eli; she won’t find better.”
Eli blew out a breath and then reached for the blanket, throwing it off as he slid down the bed and stood, ducking his head as he came out from under the bunk. “Gotta take a leak.”
Cooper pulled himself to his feet, swaying a little, and followed Eli into the latrine. Eli stood at one of the urinals, his tan T-shirt making him easy to find even though he hadn’t put on the light. Cooper leaned against the doorway, watching in silence, his eyes adjusting to the low light. After a minute, he said, “Since when have you had a shy bladder?” There were very few secrets when you lived cheek by jowl like they did, especially not after the week they’d just endured.
Eli dropped his chin to his chest and muttered, “Too hard to piss.”
Cooper shivered, his cock twitching in sympathy. Or something. He looked at Eli, at the long line of his back and lean hips, and his dick jerked again. Okay, not sympathy. Signals getting crossed again, maybe, since his tastes hadn’t traditionally run to skinny-ass farm boys. Eli had probably come in here for a little privacy to slap the salami, choke the chicken, yank the plank, oh, hell, what had Boom-Boom called it? Oh, yeah, waxing the Buick. Cooper liked that one. Maybe Eli didn’t need him standing there while he relieved himself in more ways than one. But somewhere along the way, between waking up still tired in a sweet girl’s bed and Eli lifting his knee to hide a hard-on Cooper had surely talked him into, he found he didn’t want to leave Eli to his solitary pleasure. He waited another minute, just to be sure. He looked Eli over from head to toe, from mussed hair to bare feet, and felt the deep and instant warmth of friendship swell into something hotter, something… well, something better.
He stepped forward slowly, giving Eli time to move, time to tuck himself away, to put up his hand, something, but by the time Cooper stood close enough to Eli’s back to feel the warmth of it against his chest, it was too late to do anything but reach for him, one hand going down around front, colliding with Eli’s on his very hard cock, the other sliding across his chest, bringing them flush together.
Eli groaned low, his back stiffening. “Cooper—”
“Shhh.” Cooper breathed against his shoulder, rubbing his hand slowly along Eli’s torso while he learned the proportion, the heft of Eli’s dick with the other. He was big, hot as a poker. Cut. Cooper rubbed his thumb along the scar, and Eli’s knees buckled. So he liked that, did he? Okay, good. He could do that all night long.
“This is a bad idea,” Eli murmured, but his body trembled under Cooper’s hands, his voice thin.
“I don’t think so,” Cooper murmured back, sliding his hand up under Eli’s T-shirt, finding hot, smooth skin and a tight nipple to palm.
Eli leaned back against him, letting Cooper take some of his weight as his hand guided Cooper’s on his dick.
“Better not be,” Eli ground out as he started to thrust into Cooper’s hand. “Better not mess things up.”
Cooper jerked him off with one hand and petted his chest with the other. “No way, buddy. No how. It’s all good.”
Eli, when he finally let go, let go, reaching back for Cooper’s hips and digging in deep enough that Cooper thought he’d probably find fingerprints tomorrow. The thought did not discourage him; if anything, it just made everything hotter. Fifty feet away, their crew slept on, oblivious, while in the cool sterile dark of a military latrine, Cooper held his fist tight and let a man he’d known only a few weeks but already come to love and respect drive again and again into his steady grip.
Cooper knew the moment it took him. He dragged his hand up in time to slap it over Eli’s mouth when he started to come, rough, rhythmic jerks shaking his whole body, muffled moans resonating through to Cooper’s body, sparking a chain reaction of arousal and satisfaction. Whatever control kept Eli from telling the master chief to fuck off, whatever kept him holding on through five days of hell, whatever kept his mind on what was best for everyone anywhere near him, all of that fell away when he came apart in Cooper’s arms. The man was just plumb gone, and it took most of Cooper’s considerable strength to hold him up, working him through the last of it, stifling the sounds still struggling to be heard through his hand on Eli’s mouth.
Eli dropped his head back onto Cooper’s shoulder, squirming away then coming back for more when Cooper tucked his face into Eli’s neck and rubbed his midnight stubble against him. Eli pulled Cooper’s hand away from his mouth. “Jesus,” he said, out of breath. “Jesus Christ, Coop.” He slid his hands along Cooper’s hips, down to his thighs, his hands still unsteady, gripping convulsively.
“Yeah,” Cooper said, letting go of Eli’s dick and shaking his hand over the urinal, then wiping what was left on Eli’s boxers. He wrapped both arms around Eli and stood there, holding on for a minute while Eli regained his composure. Yeah, it was Eli who needed a minute, not him. Not Mr. Smooth. Not Cooper Fitch, who’d cut his sexual eyeteeth on strippers and loved every single thing that made a woman a woman. He stood there while Eli lifted his arm up and around Cooper’s neck, pulling him in, and he let Eli kiss him, let Eli’s tongue in his mouth, and then returned the favor. Eli tasted familiar already, somehow, and he thought maybe this should have felt more strange, but it didn’t. It just felt good. It felt… right.
Eli pulled back and turned toward him, his eyes searching Cooper’s face in the gloom. “You good?”
Cooper closed his eyes and thought about it for a second. He was about half-hard, pleasure a low hum throughout his body. He felt, well, he felt great.
“You tell me,” he teased, rubbing the back of his hand low on Eli’s stomach before pushing him gently back when Eli reached for him. “You can make it up to me next time,” he said, leaning over to lick up under Eli’s jaw.
“Count on it,” Eli said quickly, his voice sure.
Cooper stepped back, putting his hands on Eli’s shoulders when he automatically leaned in again. “We’d best get you back to bed. Morning comes awfully early.”
Eli nodded. “Go ahead. I still gotta piss.”
Cooper left him to it this time, stripping down to his boxers and T-shirt and climbing into the top bunk as Eli returned and settled on the bottom bunk. Cooper lay listening to the quiet breathing of the men around them, the subtle shifts of sleep. Underneath him, Eli said quietly, “We’re gonna make it.”
Cooper smiled in the dark. “No doubt about it.”