Mac’s never been that good at letting people in.
Nam didn’t help.
Windows has a photo tucked into his top pocket. It’s small, and no one notices it, because no one’s really looking at him. Mac looks at Windows. Mac notices.
“Who is he?” he asks one night in the mess room, after everyone else has turned in and all they can hear is the wind, moaning like a wounded animal condemned to die out there.
“The guy in your picture.”
Windows opens his mouth, shuts it.
“Simon,” he says finally, “His name was Simon.”
“What usually happens to guys like him.”
Windows tucks the photo away. Then he straightens up, looks Mac in the eye.
“So am I gonna have to say I walked into a door?”
Mac smiles wryly.
“I was in the military. You think nobody ever needed somebody?”
It’s in the showers, first.
Mac presses Windows up against the wall, corners him, arms braced against the tiles. Windows is hard already, his cock arching up against his stomach.
“Is this how they do it in the army?” he says.
Mac’s hand is on his cock and rubbing him, slow but insistent.
“Just helping you get clean.”
“Uh huh?” Windows says, and then he gasps.
It only takes a few minutes to get him off. He’s red-faced in the steam, his curly hair so much longer now it’s wet, and he bites his own hand to muffle the scream when he cums. Then Mac’s getting himself off, burying his face in Windows’ shoulder. He smells like skin, and soap, clean and astringent. Mac leaves him panting against the tiles as soon as the cum washes off his stomach.
“I found Palmer’s stash,” Windows says when he traipses into the shack a few days later, clutching a bottle of something.
Mac’s losing chess to the computer again.
“Thought Palmer’s stash was a lot greener,” he says.
“Well, he got vodka too.”
“It’ll keep you warm,” Windows says.
He takes a swig, offers it to Mac. Their fingers brush as he takes it. And then Windows is suddenly on his knees, unzipping Mac’s trousers. Mac stops him.
“It’s not like we got rubbers out here. Unless someone was very optimistic.”
Windows frowns. It takes him a second to process what he’s saying.
“You think I got it.”
Mac says nothing.
“Fuck you, do I look like I do?” says Windows.
“I don’t think any of ‘em do. Ain’t that the problem?”
Windows scrambles to his feet.
“You wanna know why I got that picture? Because it’s the last one I got before he got sick. I had to watch him get eaten away. By the end they just look like corpses. Like… they haven’t realised they’re dead yet. That’s my friends.”
Windows looks down, his voice dropping to a low murmur.
“And all the time, people are lookin’ at you. Thinking, is it you? They won’t sit next to you on the bus, man. They give you this look. Like you’re just… filth.”
He levels his gaze at Mac.
“I wouldn’t expect you to understand.”
“Think I didn’t see men die in Nam? Young men.”
He takes a sip of the vodka, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.
“A lot of people hate us for what we did out there. I do.”
Windows is still, the fight gone from him.
“So don’t go thinkin’ I got a problem with you,” Mac says, “I don’t got any hate left for anyone else.”
They’re both survivors of their own disasters. They’ve both seen death and won. It just doesn’t feel much like winning.
Windows’ eyes are pricked with tears.
And then he says, small and shy, “Hold me?”
“Can you… can you just hold me?”
Mac doesn’t look at him when he says, “I’m not your boyfriend.”
“Yeah,” Windows says, “I know.”
Mac’s drunk when he crawls into bed with him.
“Can’t sleep,” he says.
Mac nods shakily, drawing himself closer. He’s haunted by Nam. It’s funny, how fast you can go from someone to something. Bodies got twisted, burned. Turned into something else, a mess of limbs that looked like trees. Unnatural yet almost beautiful. It made him sick. Still does.
“You’re a mess,” Windows says, stroking his hair fondly.
“I’m not your boyfriend,” Mac mumbles.
He’s not sure who he’s telling.
Mac tries not to think too much about what he’s doing with Windows. It’s cold, and a warm body is nice. That’s all.
Some nights, Mac desperately wants to be a part of him. Wants to pry open his ribcage with both hands and crawl inside. Some nights, it scares him how much he wants. How deep and dark it is.
When Windows touches him, he does it with the eyes of a lover.
That’s the thing about letting someone in. Once you start, they just keep getting further into you.
“You got any plans?” Mac says one night.
“For when we get outta here.”
“I think,” Windows says, stretching out lazily in the narrow bunk, “The first thing I’m gonna do is go home and have a long, hot bath.”
Windows smiles, bites his lip like the tease he is.
“You?” he asks.
“I dunno. Thought I’d see what you were doing.”
“Well,” Windows says, “I might have time for you after that bath.”
“During, if you’re lucky.”
Windows wrinkles his nose and kisses him. It’s just a peck, a quick press of skin and skin. Familiar and unremarkable.
Windows has never kissed him before.
Mac thinks that maybe love is made of things like this.
When Mac sees that thing in the dog pen, he thinks of Nam. The stench of burning flesh. The howls. The mess that was once their dogs, and has twisted into something.
It didn’t take him in Nam, and it sure as hell won’t here.
Mac pulls Windows to one side, when he can.
“You okay?” he says.
“What, you getting worried about me?” says Windows.
“Just lookin’ out for you.”
Windows breathes in deeply. He’s scared, Mac knows he is. He leans their foreheads together.
“We’re gonna get outta here,” Mac says, “Just stay close to me.”
He kisses Windows, hard enough to bruise.
Mac’s freezing and half-dead when Windows finds him.
Childs is already gone, frozen and blue beside him. His hands are curled around the bottle of whiskey, eyes staring up into an empty sky. He saw it in Nam. Soldiers – boys – looking at something no living soul could see.
Mac knows he’s not got long left. He can smell gas. The can in his backpack is leaking, bleeding out into the snow around him, and the flames aren’t far away. He’ll either freeze or burn to death. Somehow, he finds that funny.
And then Windows drags himself over. Windows, who is dead. Whose corpse he set alight. Who he didn’t grieve over, because he was trying to survive this and didn’t want anyone to know his weakness.
“Mac?” Windows says, his voice weak.
Mac can barely feel his hands, but he knows they’re still gripped onto the flamethrower.
“What are you doing?” Windows says, “It’s me.”
“It’s not you.”
“God, you must be frozen. Come here.”
Mac points the flamethrower at Windows. He doesn’t flinch.
“Mac, we’re going to die out here. Just… hold me. Hold me one last time, okay?”
Mac shakes his head, biting back tears. He thought he didn’t care about dying, but right now, he does. He wishes he could have saved Windows. He wishes they could have got out of here. He wishes they could live, could have that bath together and more besides.
“It won’t hurt,” Windows says, his voice a low whisper, “Not if you don’t fight. Not if you just come to me.”
He takes Mac’s hands.
“I love you,” Mac says.
Mac feels the hands in his turn into tentacles, push into his veins, shove their way inside him and mingle with his blood. Windows opens up and swallows him down, and everything is parting flesh and bones and blood, organs sliding against one another, hot and filthy and wrong.
But Windows is here – his Windows, the real Windows – in amongst all this mess.
Mac never understood what it meant to be part of someone before.
It’s almost a shame, when the flames engulf them.
But then it feels like Windows is gripping his hand and leading him home.