"I never thanked you, Caleb."
Caleb grins at the glass toasted in his direction. "You're a major now, Tall Boy. You outrank thanks to common folk." Ben waves off the sentiment before reaching across the table to refill his glass.
His days to indulge in drink have been few and far between since joining the cause. But there is no finer evening to celebrate than this one. Ben has been awarded a higher rank by George Washington - yes, the General Washington himself. Caleb did not have to work hard to convince him that he'd earned a night of revelry.
Ben does not intend to lose himself entirely in the bottle, it would seem disrespectful to his new position. But surely there's no harm in warming himself enough to match wits with his longtime friend.
"I'll never outrank thanks to you," Ben says, a touch too insistent. "You saved my life, Caleb."
"Ah." Caleb shrugs. "No finer way to spend New Year's."
"I could hear you, you know.” Ben chuckles and takes up his glass again. “You were talking. The whole time. It's how I knew I hadn't died. If I died, I would have had some peace and quiet."
Ben sips from his glass. Caleb takes the wine jar and drinks directly from the mouth.
"I respect the Good Lord's right to take a man when the time comes," Caleb tells him. "But there were things that needed saying."
"You called me a dumb bastard," Ben points out.
Caleb nods. "Yeah," he replies. "And you are."
Ben laughs and leans back in his seat. His glass is held with lazy ease between his middle and ring finger.
His eyes meet the ceiling thoughtfully. "I recall other things too."
"Of course," Caleb says. "You're a Yale man. Your mind is a national treasure."
Ben's gaze returns to his. "What is your preoccupation with my virtues?" As quick-witted as Caleb is, it still takes him a moment to puzzle out Ben's meaning.
When he does, he laughs and tucks his hands behind his head. "Ah. Is that what you call being a virgin now?" Caleb grins. "That talk served you well, Benny Boy. After all, you're still breathing. Nothing can preserve a man's life like the touch of a woman."
"Apparently so," Ben says. "I don't recall a touch though."
Caleb raises a brow. "If I'd known it was a touch you were after, I would have marched on ahead. Brought the closest bar wench to warm you up."
"Caleb," Ben murmurs, amused. He finishes his glass but doesn't move to refill it yet. His posture is comfortable, in the haze of his drink-infused warmth. "All I'm saying is, with all those words, you could have... I don't know, enlightened me with your wisdom on the subject."
"You, sir, are drunk," Caleb declares. He sounds absolutely delighted.
Ben rolls his eyes with a chuckle. "I'm not. I'm just saying, I was on the brink of death."
"You're on the brink of blindness," Caleb corrects. He stands and steps around the table between them to take Ben's glass and refill it. "I worry for you, friend. Still a virgin at your age? It's not what God intended." He hands back the full glass before taking the jar for himself and drinking directly from it again.
"You could have said more on what I was missing, that's all."
Caleb rests his weight against the side of the table. "Am I going to have to walk you back to your sleeping quarters, major?" He looks Ben over jokingly.
Ben ignores the teasing. "This war is long," he says, his eyes staring past Caleb to the wall. "Do you ever wonder? I mean, yes, this is the only thing worth living for. Dying for. But life itself... We're missing so many things, Caleb. At least Woodhull is home with a wife and son-"
"Home and family. Yes, we're missing that. But the feel of a lady’s ample bosom?" Caleb cocks his head. "That we can get you."
Ben looks up at him abruptly. His seriousness catches Caleb off guard. "You think me innocent."
"Of course," Caleb replies, not sure where this is going. "I'd expect nothing less from the Reverend’s son. But you're still my friend and all."
Ben chuckles and looks down at the full glass in his hand. Swirls it. He drinks down half its contents before looking at it again, pensive.
After a moment, Ben sighs. "The things you don't know about me, Caleb."
"...When you bring up things I don't know, it means I'm meant to know 'em." When Ben glances up, Caleb is staring at him intently.
Something about the look would make Ben think he should ease off this line of talk...if Ben were thinking.
Instead, he laughs and places his glass on the table next to Caleb. "If the general walks in, you'll make up the most wonderful excuse for this behavior. Won't you, Caleb?" He rubs the bleariness from his eyes with his now-free hand.
Caleb snorts. "If the general walks in, he'll join right in. He wants to be part of our merry band of spies, after all." His wary eyes are still watching Ben, not past his previous comment. The things he doesn’t know...
Dropping his hand to his lap, Ben smiles. "I'm glad to have you, Caleb. I mean that."
"Word of wisdom, friend.” Caleb leans down to clap a hand on Ben's shoulder. "Don't use that line on the ladies, yeah?"
"What should I say instead?" Ben asks.
Caleb can tell he's being messed with, and in a better mind he would go along with the joke. But something is off. The way the low light is shining off of Ben's eyes makes him think better of the exchange.
"You're out of practice with the bottle, major," Caleb says.
Ben laughs again. "Caleb, I swear I'm not drunk-"
"Well then, the night is old, isn't it?" Caleb puts an arm around Ben's shoulders. "Up with you. Last thing I need is Washington finding you under the table. I’ll be strung up for sure."
"You should tell me though, Caleb. Everything you should have told me at the Delaware."
It's not the words that bother Caleb. It's where they're said, not close to Caleb's ear but against it.
"You're never hearing the end of this," Caleb says. His voice strives for lightness, but it doesn’t succeed. "To bed with you."
He grunts as he urges Ben up from the chair. It surprises him how easily Ben stands. Caleb expected a drink-induced dead weight.
But the steadiness of Ben's legs contradicts with the lips still against Caleb's skin. They move from his ear to his neck. Up through Caleb's beard to his jaw.
Caleb stiffens. "I'd stop that, boy," he warns.
" 'Boy'?" Ben chuckles. "I thought it was 'Major' now." He has to bend to keep his head tucked beneath Caleb's jaw. But even in this position, Ben stands far too steady for how much drink Caleb hopes he's had.
Because if Ben speaks true and he is sober, there may not be enough excuses to get them through to morning.
Caleb is given a reprieve when Ben stands up straight in front of him. But it's a fleeting break, ending as soon as Caleb realizes how close they are standing. Breath to breath.
"I'm too late," Caleb mutters, bemused. "You're already blind."
"I see clear enough," Ben tells him. "You said yourself, I'm wasting God's good works. Aren’t I?" The words would seem perfectly reasonable, if not spoken inches away from Caleb's mouth.
As long as they've been on the march, as long as it has been since Caleb experienced the lips of a woman, this is not humorous or fair. And Ben is too inexperienced to realize the danger in his teasing.
"Careful, Ben," Caleb says, the warning plain in his voice. "I don't waste what's in front of me."
He thinks he's made himself perfectly clear. But Ben has the awful sense to smirk. Mocking him. No, daring him.
Caleb is not a man who turns down a dare, no matter how ill-advised. That is the excuse he gives himself when he closes the inches between them and kisses his long-time friend.
It's inexpert and awkward. But Ben's mouth is warm and softer than a man's should be. He tastes sweet with wine, and what he lacks in experience he makes up for in vigor. Caleb clenches a steadying hand in the waist of Ben's trousers. A familiar buzz shivers through him, stirring in his belly.
This isn't smart, Caleb tells himself as he breaks their union. There is still time to go back on this though. Ben is catching his breath, his face flushed.
Even in this moment, they can be done with this. Just a lapse, a homesick fantasy. It's only a matter of time before realization sets in. And then, the disgust will follow. The shame of their act.
Caleb waits, and Ben watches him. His breaths are rough, eyes darker than Caleb has ever seen them, even in the heat of battle.
Ben wants this. The recognition hits Caleb like musket fire. The disgust isn't coming. Ben knows exactly what this is, and he wants it. Wants it with him.
And, just as startling, Caleb realizes he wants to give Ben what he wants. For once, Caleb's smart tongue has been rendered useless.
Ben could take complete advantage of this. But instead, he closes his fist in Caleb's shirt and pulls him closer.
His voice is low when he speaks. "Show me," he says.
Caleb nods. After all, it would be unwise to disobey the direct order of a major.
He shoves Ben's hand off of his shirt and goes to the lamp on the table, blowing out its flame. The does the same with the candles on the windowsill. With the door shut, they are plunged into darkness, save the campfire light outdoors.
"Caleb," Ben says, chuckling. "How do I learn if I can't see anyth-" Caleb grabs and kisses him again before he can finish.
Ben doesn't seem to mind being cut off. He is a quick study, already more sure of his responses than before. Caleb winces when he is pushed back against the edge of the table. But the brief ache is worth it for the weight of their bodies against each other. Ben's vest buttons rub down his shirt. Their slacks are pressed firm against each other.
Caleb chokes out a laugh when Ben pulls his tucked shirt from his trousers. "Making up for lost time, are we?" he teases. It isn't a complaint though. Caleb makes this clear when he groans, Ben’s fingers yanking on his belt.
"Shut up," Ben mutters. He manages to get the belt unhooked and pulled open. The pants follow. Then, hands that once seemed so confident settle low on Caleb's torso. No longer assured.
Caleb licks his lips. "Ah, lost your way, have you?"
"You said you would - ah, Caleb!" Ben's reply breaks when his braid is pulled. In the darkness, even with his senses on edge, he did not feel Caleb reach around him. The tie in his hair is pulled free, and the braid loosens between his shoulders.
With Ben's head tilted back, Caleb's mouth is back in command, up under Ben's jaw, biting that baby-smooth skin. "Don't you worry, major," Caleb murmurs. “I’ll take the lead from here.”
He gives Ben's hair a second pull, his fingers buried deep. Ben's head jerks back painfully, and he hisses. Caleb can picture his clenched teeth. And he can feel how strained Ben is, his neck long and trembling.
The truth is that Caleb is also inexperienced in the ways of being with a man. And yet, he finds himself confident, unbuttoning Ben's vest and pushing it off of his shoulders. It falls to the floor with a quiet sound. Caleb’s mouth traces up the column of his throat. Ben gasps, and Caleb feels his body tense in anticipation.
Caleb pulls Ben’s shirt out from his trousers, and his curious touch skims underneath Firm and clean, of course. Beauty is wasted on the virgins.
"You see," Caleb murmurs at his collarbone. "Those sounds outta you? They mean I get to have my way. You've given me permission."
"Caleb, you arsehole," Ben mutters, but he's laughing.
Apparently though, he is unwilling to fully give up the lead. Ben’s hands return to Caleb’s pants. With his strength and height leverage, he pushes them down easily to Caleb’s knees. Caleb's skin prickles at the exposure.
"You that quick to get to the good stuff, Tall Boy?" Caleb goads. He grabs Ben's hand and yanks it down between his legs. Ben sucks in a surprised breath. "Go on then."
Ben's fingers graze his erection. Just that brief contact, after months with only his own hand for company, jolts Caleb straight.
"Got to slick it up first, yeah?" Ben sounds so confused.
"Just grab on," Caleb tells him. "Do it."
Caleb may be the impulsive one, but Ben isn't one to back down from a dare either. Caleb does not have to ask again. Ben wraps his hand around the shaft. Tentative at first, his fingers unsteady. They give a slow stroke. His angle is awkward, lacking pressure.
But Ben learns fast. He tilts his wrist. Firms his grip. The drag of his hand is dry and rough. Caleb groans. It hurts, but it's good. His hips jut forward, and his own hands grow eager.
Caleb shoves at Ben's pants until he can get to what he wants. He spits into a hand, fumbling only briefly in the dark before his fingers wrap around Ben. As soon as Caleb has him, he yanks down hard, smirking when Ben makes a strangled sound and buckles against him.
"Tall Boy. A good name indeed," Caleb murmurs, his thumb circling the tip of Ben's cock.
Ben kind of laughs, and kind of groans. "Shut it, Caleb." His voice wavers.
"Shut it yourself," Caleb says. He pumps his fist, getting the hang of things. His rhythm increases, and he pushes himself forward. They’re so close, he feels Ben’s hand working against his own, their shafts touching in the dark.
Ben grabs his mouth with his own. Caleb can only imagine how raw Ben’s lips must be. The thought makes his reply more greedy. He digs his free hand into Ben's hair again, hooking his fingers into strands right near the scalp. With a firm hold, Caleb yanks to the side, his mouth tracing Ben's jaw when he curses and turns.
His weight firms against Caleb's, waist to waist, their hands claustrophobic between their bodies.
Caleb's groan is muffled by Ben's lips. His own wine intake has been light, but his head buzzes. This is so new, his body doesn't seem to know how to handle anything. His focus melts into Ben's body against his. Their waists connected, their shafts together, hands working fervently.
Their mouths are connected when Caleb reaches his conclusion. Ben's tongue is in his mouth. It's all very distracting. Caleb tries to moan and speak, but Ben's mouth does not let up.
It's only when he reaches his own end that Caleb gets to breathe again. Ben says his name in a breathless way that sings across Caleb's nerves.
The darkness is comforting. They breathe together, Ben's body heavy against his. His free hand is braced behind Caleb against the table.
"Still a virgin," Caleb murmurs. "Hands don't count."
It takes Ben a minute to say anything. His forehead is against Caleb's temple. "Is that the next lesson?" he finally asks.
"Watch it, Tallmadge," Caleb says. "I might take you serious."
Ben chuckles faintly. "I...might be ok with that."