The worst part of being awake in the middle of the night, reflected Patrick Harper, was that all your fears seemed magnified a hundred-fold and all your hopes retreated till they were the size of a pinprick on the horizon.
In the guttering light of a single candle, Harper laid a hand on Richard Sharpe's brow, clucking with worry at the fever still burning there. He wrung out the cloth in his hand and laid it gently on Sharpe's forehead, then checked that the wound on his Captain's side hadn't begun to bleed through the bandage. It hadn't, yet, but the wound was a nasty one and he'd be changing the dressing soon enough.
Sharpe stirred beneath Harper's hands and cried out wordlessly in his delirium. Harper's brows knitted in worry as he stroked Sharpe's cheek and crooned fond nonsense at him until he settled back into an uneasy sleep.
If Patrick Harper could have taken on Sharpe's pain for his own, he would have done it without considering the cost. He would have died for Sharpe, but he prayed the Lord wouldn't ask that of him. For who would look after Richard Sharpe if Harper were buried in some foreign field. No, better that his Captain had his faithful Sergeant at his back, protecting him from his enemies, both French and English, and standing by to pick up the pieces when Wellesley or Hogan or some other murdering bastard of an officer ordered Sharpe and his chosen men into harm's way.
Better still were the times when there was no harm, no wounds, no fever, no conspiracy, no missions. Better when there was just the chosen men on piquet duty, no battle imminent and plenty of time to hunt rabbits for their dinner.
But those were not the best times, an insidious voice whispered to him.
No, the best time were when the Captain and his Sergeant were ordered on a patrol together. When they had no one's company but each other. When they were free to talk about whatever came into their heads, with no thought of rank or the army's regulations. When they were free to say nothing at all if they liked, each content in the other's company.
And the very best times on such patrols were at night. The nights freed them from the last of the bonds of how they were expected to behave. Freed them so that the only thing that mattered was who they really were, how they really felt. Who they really loved.
At night, Patrick Harper was free to take Richard Sharpe in his arms, to strip off the green jacket and the cavalry overalls. To caress the bare skin with a gentleness he hid from all but this bastard of an Englishman.
At night, he could trace his fingertips over every scar that marked Sharpe's body, mourn the ones he hadn't been there to prevent and cherish the ones he had been there to heal. At night he could show his affection with mouth and teeth and hands. Could let Sharpe fuck his mouth till he came hard, and Harper swallowed the proof of their lust. Could bury himself in Sharpe's body, sliding into his Captain till his own pleasure peaked and he left them both shuddering in completion.
But not this night. Not in a camp of the English army. Not when he wasn't sure whether his Captain would still live come the morning. Here, now, the only sign of the affection he bore this man Harper could show was the care he took in nursing him.
He started to reach for the cloth on Sharpe's forehead, and instead ran his fingers through blond hair grown damp from the sweat of fever.
"Live, you bloody bastard," he whispered, wiping away the errant moisture that was suddenly staining his cheek.
Sharpe shifted again, and Harper prepared to ease a delirious mind back to sleep. But this time when Sharpe opened his eyes they were shadowed with pain, but lucid.
"Pat," he said, the effort from that single word clearly taking all his strength.
"Here, sir." Harper took his Captain's hand in his own.
"Water?" Sharpe said, his voice so quiet that Harper had to lean close to hear it. He lifted Sharpe carefully with one arm, and brought a cup of water to his parched lips, letting him drink his fill. When Sharpe's thirst was quenched, he laid him back in his camp bed and straightened the blanket around him.
"Just you rest easy, sir. You've had a bit of a turn, but you're all right now."
A wan smile touched Sharpe's lips.
"Thanks, Pat," he said, before his strength faded completely and he drifted back to sleep.
Harper sighed in relief as he caught hold of Sharpe's hand, taking comfort in the feeling of the calloused fingers against his own. As he gave thanks that God had decided to heed his prayers and spare the life of a heathen English rogue, the dark of night seemed to sit less heavily on his mind.
Got any comments? Send 'em to email@example.com