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if i touch you like this, and you hold me like that

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A pub in central Melbourne, just skirting the heart of the nightlife district — it stands to reason on a night like this, it wouldn’t be empty.

Still, Andy hadn’t expected just how crowded it would be. Every marine and their brother, it seems, is taking advantage of their temporary leave. Not all of them have passes, no doubt, but they’ve all slipped out tonight to enjoy themselves… Melbourne is a completely foreign city, where none of the locals know their names, and there are so many uniformed men about that it’s easy to melt into a crowd. There’s no better place to get lost.

“I think,” he remarks over the deafening band, passing Eddie a fresh drink, “we should try to find another place.”

“What?” Eddie hollers back — or so Andy gathers from the motion of his mouth. The actual sound is swept away in the crowd.

“I said we should go somewhere else!”

“Yeah!” Eddie nods enthusiastically, though one look at his face let’s Andy know he didn’t pick up a word. His eyes glitter with amusement, mouth tight at the corners like he’s fighting back a grin. “You sure are, Skipper!”

“You need to work on your lip reading,” Andy declares.

“Good drink!” says Eddie, and takes a sip to prove it. 

Andy nurses his own beer, leaning his weight back on his heels as he surveys the chaotic crowd. It must be a fire hazard, so many men packed in here… they’re practically body to body on the dance floor, bashing into each other with every wild swing step. This is a recipe for a brawl. Say a few hot-bloods look at each other the wrong way after a few pints too many… but for now, it’s peaceful. Chaos, sure, but a kind of peaceful chaos. The kind that two officers, passes in their pockets and the ability to look the other direction, have no need to break up at the moment.

Instead, Andy soaks in the pulsing music, and the familiar presence of Eddie at his shoulder. Eddie’s always there; he’s the most consistent thing in this entire, chaotic war, and Andy depends on him as much here as he does in combat. A dance hall is a battle field of a different kind. While becoming familiar with one, Andy’s fallen out of practice with the other; it’s been a long time since he was out dancing.

There were dances aplenty back at Bowdoin. Andy never missed a single one, but it wasn’t out of real desire; as  football captain, it was simply expected of him. He couldn’t let the team down; even when forced to turn down invitation after invitation, from girls with rouge on their lips and hope in their eyes, he always felt a pang of regret. Most of the time, they were mere acquaintances; he could never understand why they pinned their hopes on a date with him, but they always seemed to wilt at his inevitable response. Andy was not a man for swinging and revelry. He never… felt inclined. Same for the cheerleaders who blew kisses across the practice field, or the sweet girls in short skirts who served the team refreshments during the games. Andy attended each party because it was expected of him, but he never put any more of himself into it. He smiled, he was polite, and went home at the end of the night usually-sober, with plans for the next day’s practice running through his head.

“A naturalborn captain,” one of his teammates teased him, “but a hell of a bore at parties.”

Maybe so. Andy isn’t entirely sure what he’s even doing here, out on the town tonight. It hadn’t been his first idea… but Eddie suggested, insisted, and he’s learned in a very short time that he’s awful at denying Eddie anything.

A weight presses against his arm, and Eddie murmurs over the crowd, something Andy doesn’t catch. When Andy turns to look at him, Eddie’s closer, craning towards Andy’s ear. They end up almost nose to nose, and Andy chuckles after a beat, leaning back.

He expects Eddie to echo his earlier suggestion, eager to make themselves scarce. Instead, he’s surprised. “How ‘bout a dance?”

Andy spins back around. This time, it’s his turn to mouth, “What?”

“A dance!” Either Eddie’s better at shouting over a crowd, or Andy’s suddenly so alert he can make out every word. It helps that Eddie’s miming the motions as he speaks them. He’d make a terrible mime.

Andy casts a glance around, hoping the distraction masks his obvious reluctance. To his relief, there are no free partners in sight. Every single woman has been claimed by a marine already… and there are about three men in the pub to each woman, so the ratio is skewed. Most of the men who haven’t been able to find a partner are crowded around the edges of the room, drinking and talking among themselves. The girls are busy in the center of the room, flitting from Marine to Marine with each song. If they want to claim a partner for the next dance, they’ll probably have to get in line.

If he wanted to disguise his hesitance, relief is no doubt clear in his eyes when he turns back to Eddie. “There’re no partners,” he replies, gesturing around them for emphasis. “Afraid we can’t do it.”

“Funny,” says Eddie, and Andy only catches the words because he’s watching him so raptly. “I’ve never known you to be afraid of anything.”

Nothing in the world, from gunfire in the rainforests to corpses piling on a white sand beach, can stop Andy in his tracks as neatly as that stare. Eddie stares like he knows something you don’t, and wants to make sure you at least know that much, even if he’s got no intention of letting you in on the secret. Sometimes Eddie’s stares are promises… and sometimes they leave Andy feeling cursed. It’s hard to tell what this one means, but it sets every last of his nerves alight, vibrating with a nervous energy that he’s only ever felt before a big game or battle.

Why the hell is Eddie looking at him like that?

Maybe he misheard, or misread the motion of Eddie’s lips. That’d explain it. Andy take comfort in that thought, and another long sip of beer. It chills his insides, offering him an alternative to the sweltering Melbourne night. Part of him hopes it will deliver him from Eddie too… but when he looks over again, the other man is still watching him, intent as ever.

He could come up with something smart to say, but the effect’s lost when you can barely hear yourself think. He could try to lure a girl off the dance floor, even if it means they have to share her. He could take the lead out of the pub, trusting Eddie to follow at his heels, like he can always be counted on to do.

Instead, Andy holds out a hand — and, before Eddie can process it, takes his friend’s in his own. “Alright,” he says. “Let’s dance.”

Eddie’s gaze lingers on their joined hands for a few seconds, and Andy sees the question there… but then Eddie looks up, and his face is set, and he’s wearing that familiar determination. Something in Andy gets stronger too, strong enough to pull Eddie out into the sea of dancers.

Whatever tune the band’s struck up, it’s a roaring good time. When carried by such lovely music, it’s impossible to hold still; in the midst of a sea of people spinning and swinging, Andy and Eddie are forced closer. For a moment, it feels like all eyes are on them — two officers, two men dancing with each other in public — but Andy doesn’t have to look hard to realize they’re not the only ones. A number of guys have joined up with each other, in lieu of female company. On a night like this, with drinks flowing and music playing, it’d be a shame to not enjoy it.

Eddie certainly is. His earlier miming did absolutely no credit to his dancing skill; he’s light on his feet, moving with a grace few people in the hall, even the ladies, can mimic. He more than makes up for Andy’s clumsiness. When Andy sways, uncertain of the steps, Eddie shows him; a twist here, a turn there, take a step here just to avoid being slammed into by another couple… honestly, most of the dance is just trying to avoid crashing into other people, but the longer they go on, the more Andy finds — to his own surprise — that he’s having fun.

Eddie’s wearing his grin again — that restrained, close-lipped smile, teasing at something more without ever really revealing it. He’s good at that, leaving Andy wondering. He wonders where Eddie learned to dance… wonders if this is his first time dancing with a man. Eddie slips into leading so naturally that he must be accustomed to female partners… but Andy, never a natural on his feet, does not mind being led. It’s so much easier to follow in Eddie’s wake, focusing only on his smile and the light touch of his hands on his forearms. He moves them both along. Andy trusts in him with every step, and Eddie returns it threefold every time they avoid crashing into another dancing couple.

“You’ve got a talent,” Andy declares after the first song fades away into a slower second. There’s no need to mime; they’re close enough to hear each other over the din.

“Don’t go complimenting me now,” Eddie replies. “I’ll get all bashful.”

“That would be a shame. We’re getting along so well, this far.” 

“I’ve gotta tell you, Skipper…” Eddie leans in closer, and it feels intimate somehow, the way his words graze Andy’s cheek. “You’re a fine date, but a shit dancer.”

“And you’re a gentleman, clearly.” Andy fights back a laugh as he leans back, unwilling to give Eddie the satisfaction. His cheeks feel warm, but that could be the drinks, or the crowd, or the exertion… a thousand excuses that don’t involve Eddie’s rough hand, so gentle around his wrist. “You know this song?” he asks, eager for a distraction.

“A bit. Heard it on the radio, but never tried to play it myself before.” Eddie’s lips twitch. “My old girl’s not much for love songs. She gets jealous.”

Andy’s struck dumb, in the few seconds it takes to realize Eddie’s not talking about a girlfriend back home, but his much-doted-on guitar. Talk about the love of a man’s life. “That’s a shame. You treat her so well.”

“Sure, but I’ve never danced with her like this. She’d be snapping her strings with jealousy about now.”

Andy can’t help chuckling. For a moment, his gaze flutters away… but when it strays back, Eddie is still watching him, with an expression on his face Andy can’t hope to decode. The curve of his lips is an enigma. That brightness in his eyes, flaring and crackling like firecrackers on the Fourth of July, draws Andy in and refuses to let him go.

He’s making more of this than it is. Were there other options, a beautiful woman at hand, Eddie would not be dancing with him. That dark gaze would be sparkling at someone else, that smirk reserved for another person’s pleasure. Whatever hum of exhilaration buzzes in the pit of Andy’s stomach, there’s no good reason for it… because whatever this is, it’s not intimacy. It isn’t theirs.

“I see,” Eddie says, and Andy’s attention is jerked rapidly back to the present. “You’re caught up in your own head. Even while dancing. No wonder you’ve stepped on my toes twice now.”

“Have I?” He hadn’t noticed. Andy’s alarmed to realize how close he came to doing it a third time, but when he looks up, Eddie looks painfully tolerant.

“I’ve had worse.”

“Not from me.”

“Nah.” Eddie’s eyes soften. “But if I win a Purple Heart for dancing with my captain, I’m not inclined to turn it down.”

Maybe that’s what this is to Eddie — a favor. Maybe he just thought Andy needed the release of a dance so desperately that it was worth biting the bullet himself. Would he have come out tonight, were Andy not with him? Would he be enjoying himself more?

Something in his face must falter, because Eddie catches it. A line appears between his brows as they draw together; a second later, he turns them both, Andy drawn along by the momentum. He almost loses his footing, but Eddie’s grip on his upper arm steadies him. He ends up half-braced against the other man; as he straightens up, he unconsciously leans into Eddie’s chest.

“Now, don’t think I’m trying to sweep you off your feet or anything…”

Andy draws back to blink at him.

“Because I’m not.” Oh yes, Eddie is inappropriately amused now. He’s finding this entire situation hilarious. While his lieutenant’s sense of humor occasionally soars three feet to the left of Andy’s head, he can never resent it. Not in the face of that smirk, or the way Eddie’s eyes gleam like turquoise gems buried in the sand. Even if it’s at his expense… Andy would like to see Eddie happy forever.

“You’re hardly courting me,” Andy replies with a restrained smirk of his own, as they spin out of the path of several more couples. “We’re just dancing.”

“Completely casual thing for men to do in a time of war.”

“I prefer this sort of dance to one with a dagger at my throat.”

Eddie’s gaze seems to linger on his throat for too long, but Andy can’t be certain. His heart is pounding so hard, it’s drowning out the music. Can’t Eddie hear it? Can’t he feel it?

To distract from his own anxiety, Andy gives Eddie a short tug. It nearly takes him off his feet; Eddie huffs in surprise, steadying them both with the casual grace that never fails him. His hand trails down Andy’s arm as they sway in time to the music. It’s absurd how breathless Andy feels. They’re not dancing that hard; he’s got no excuse.

“Out of breath, Skipper?” A glaze of concern masks the obvious tease. “We can sit, if you need to.”

“After just one dance?” Andy crooks an eyebrow. “I’d be disappointed in myself.”

Eddie’s hand finds purchase on his elbow and stays there, guiding them both along. Andy’s own hand came to rest somewhere on his shoulders, but they wander as if they’ve got a will of their own. He doesn’t realize he’s touching the muscles of Eddie’s back until his dance partner shifts against him, rolling his shoulders in time with the music. Andy jumps, and begins to move on instinct… but Eddie’s grip on his arm tightening urges him to stay.

“So long as you’re alright,” Eddie says, holding his eye for a beat too long. Andy stares back at him; somewhere deep down, a well of resilience he hadn’t realized he possessed, the same one that got him through Guadalcanal unbroken, forces its way upwards. He nods, jaw setting, and a tension in Eddie’s face melts away.

“Alright, then.” He looks relaxed — truly relaxed, for the first time since they got here, and it can’t be blamed on the drink alone… Andy’s heart stutters in his chest at the way his Lieutenant smiles, and he finds himself grinning back. Eddie Jones in peacetime is handsomer than any white-sand beach of glittering coastline this part of the world can provide. He’s all those things and more, rolled into an impeccably competent package, and Andy’s holding him in his arms.

To think, just a month ago, neither of them thought they’d make it off that island in one piece. Who could have imagined this?

Here and now, with Eddie leading them both along to the music, Andy feels… content. Content, maybe, for the first time since this entire war began — happier than he’s been since finding Eddie alive after a brutal firefight, when reports first pinned him as KIA, happier than he was seeing Eddie emerge from those jungles, mud-splattered but whole. This sort of war doesn’t allow men much happiness. If they find it here, in a last-resort dance that might mean everything or nothing at all…

Well, Andy will settle. He’s gotten good at that.

“When’s the last time you danced?” Eddie inquires, leaning in to murmur the words in his low, husky tone.

Andy doesn’t lean back. Instead, he lets his answer brush Eddie’s cheek as he replies. “This is a first for me.” His hand steadies itself on Eddie’s back, the other running slowly up his arm. The other man relaxes against his touch. Andy smiles. “And I’ve got to say… it’s a dance to remember.”