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I have never seen anything more orange than an African sunset. On that day, it was more surreal than any other, before or since. It was as if the entire sky seared with the bloodshed it reflected. The sun, however, too ashamed of what it had witnessed, was nowhere to be seen. It left the squalid landscape drenched in an unworldly monochrome.
I had no other reason to hold my head up.
Finally relieved of my duty to guard the fence line, I could surrender the pretence I kept up for my men. The officer ushered the eight of us back into the hospital. He could see I needed a minute to myself, and let me slink off around the corner with a sympathetic nod once the rest of my section was inside.
The humidity was stifling. Together with the dark mud that sucked at my boots, it fought to slow my retreat. The shirt of my disruptive pattern combat uniform clung to my back, almost hosed on. I despaired. There was no escape. My breathing lumbered, and countless stars joined the moisture welling in my eyes.
I reached the back of the Besser block building, gripping the cool concrete to wrench myself around the corner. It was the closest thing this so-called hospital had to privacy: a narrow cement walkway between the rear wall and the rusted metal shed that housed the backup generator. What little warm breeze there was, was non-existent back there. The sweltering air glowed a deep, dirty orange from the merciless sunset above.
Scuffing as far down the makeshift corridor as I could, I leaned back against the wall and scraped myself down to the ground. I stretched my legs out, pressing the soles of my boots against the rusted sheet metal. The shed groaned, then clanged under the pressure.
I laid my rifle across my lap and glared down at it. The thin barrel and handles of the Steyr made it look more like a toy than a weapon. For all the good it did that day, it might as well have been. I remember hating it in that moment. That worthless, fucking thing! It was nothing more than a symbol of my impotence.
I began to shake. It was far too great a responsibility for me to bear. I was only nineteen for fuck’s sake.
I don’t know how I held it together. But I couldn’t any longer. I began to cry. My face flushed with heat and humiliation. Lifting my knees up, I hugged them and buried my face in the sweat-soaked camouflage. I was racked with violent sobs, my shoulders bouncing uncontrollably.
The gasp of a wet sniffle jolted me from my self-pity some time later. It was one of the Médecins Sans Frontières nurses standing at the entrance of the corridor a few metres away. I think her name was Tabitha. She was holding her hand over her mouth, the other supporting her wrist. Tears streamed from her eyes and rippled over her fingers.
Quickly wiping the tears and snot from my face, I spluttered, “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head and stifled another sob. Then composing herself, she lowered her hands and whined softly in a heavy French, or maybe Belgian accent, “I hate to see a man cry.”
“I’m not a man,” I blurted out, the utter humiliation seizing me in undignified sorrow. I bawled into my knees, unable to keep myself from wailing like a banshee.
I felt the moist heat of her presence as she crouched down beside me and draped her left arm across my back. “Shhh,” she soothed in my ear, placing her other hand on my knee.
“Men don’t do that,” I sobbed hysterically. “Men don’t let that happen.”
I had us at the fence line. Our weapons aimed, fingers on the triggers, but safety switches on, we were on the brink. It was my decision to keep us there. It was my decision to hold our fire.
It was my decision to do nothing.
Tabitha laid her cheek on my shoulder. She knew better than to argue with me at that moment. She just held me close and tried to comfort me. I needed time to come to terms with what had happened, to get it all out.
The frozen terror I forced us all to watch would be forever burned in our memories. I would never forget the chilling evil that stared back at me up the barrel of my own rifle, provoking me. They wanted me to fire.
God knows I wanted to as well. My men were begging me to give the order to shoot. Our blood was boiling. But it was mine to keep my cool.
“You saved our lives, Corporal,” she whispered when my outpouring had finally reduced güvenilir bahis to a pitiful shiver. “You saved all of us.”
The officer would have explained to the medical staff that protecting the hospital and the people within it meant abandoning those on the other side of the wire. He would have told them that if we had tried to stop it, if we had fired, we would have been overrun.
Tabitha shuffled on the ground next to me, sitting down out of her crouch. Her baggy, blue-green scrubs looked almost pink in the warm orange gloom. The heat of her body pressed against mine caused fresh droplets of sweat to trickle down along my right side.
Conscious of her proximity, I lifted my rifle off my lap and stood it up against the wall away from her on my left. When I turned back, she gave me a sad smile and took my hand between hers, placing one underneath and the other on top. Her touch was wonderfully warm, and the gentle caress of her thumb across the back of my hand was lovely.
I don’t know how long we sat there, silently watching the pendulum swing of Tabitha’s thumb on my skin. It seemed like a while. I didn’t even notice the weight of her head on my shoulder. The feeling had always been there. I remember nothing in my life feeling more natural. It belonged.
The greasy ash blonde curls of her hair, wrestled into submission by a tight bun, had an almost strawberry sheen in the sunset. A few frizzy strands had escaped, indecisively swaying back and forth, unsure of whether to rescue more of their friends or tickle my cheek. It was almost hypnotic.
It’s hard to explain, but I found myself forgetting the horrors of the day. My whole world became the intricate, little details of Tabitha’s presence. Nothing else mattered.
I know now that it was a coping mechanism. I had compartmentalised the trauma, and my subconscious was doing whatever it could to slam the lid shut.
My right hand, sandwiched between hers, was almost poaching in our combined sweat. But there was no way I was going to pull it away. Instead, I placed my left on top of hers and gave it a gentle squeeze.
Tabitha looked up at me, more of her neglected hair falling free as she did. Her eyes were raw, but soft. Somehow they managed to stay blue in the orange haze. The corners wrinkled slightly as she smiled, betraying her age. I figured she was in her late-twenties, maybe early-thirties.
I snorted my own smile in return. Then self-consciously, I dipped my gaze a second. Our hands danced in my lap, our fingers interlocking, then sliding apart. The intimacy of the gesture stained my face with warmth.
It was Tabitha’s turn to huff her amusement. The knowing look she gave me when I lifted my eyes intensified my blush. The sweat prickled my forehead, causing her to let out a breathy giggle. Then her smile slipped away and her expression became…
I can’t remember who kissed whom. Regardless, we were joined, connected at the mouth and tentatively suckling at each other’s lips. Still holding hands, I felt for her in the darkness of my own closed eyes, inching forward when she pulled back, and allowing her to push against me when she pressed forward.
The humidity of the kiss struck me most as I struggled for breath in the smothering closeness. It was so hot and wet, and growing in both. Then her tongue eased into my mouth, slowly, but forcefully. It slid across my top lip and teeth before dipping inside. My own gingerly came out to cradle hers.
She tasted of cigarettes and stale coffee. I would usually find such a sensation repulsive, but on that day, in that moment, I was so incredibly thankful for it. It filled my senses, and masked the smell of blood that hung thick in the air. I was finally free of it.
Lifting my left hand from hers still bundled in my lap; I reached up and cupped the side of her head. She mewled gently into my mouth as I traced the shell of her ear with my thumb. Then slipping my right hand from between hers, I wrapped it around her waist. I revelled in the feeling of her soft contours, and I couldn’t help but grip her side, just below her ribs.
Tabitha kept her hands in my lap as we kissed, our heavy breathing reaching a fever-pitch. I hardened beneath her touch, which moulded to accommodate it. She rubbed my length through my pants, as best as the thick camouflage fabric türkçe bahis and my underwear allowed. Heat flushed through my body as things escalated.
She broke the kiss to look down at what she was doing. Fumbling at the belt on my webbing, she tilted her head back up and met my gaze. Her ice-blue eyes twinkled, and she snorted another silent giggle before re-joining the kiss.
I couldn’t help but chuckle into her mouth as she made a dog’s breakfast of getting my belt undone. Begrudgingly releasing her waist, I helped her with my belt, as her nimble fingers dove for the button of my pants. I flushed again when both my webbing and pants popped open simultaneously a few agonising seconds later.
Tabitha fished in my underwear for my cock. Gripping my shaft, she almost snapped it as she flicked it out past my waistband. She shuffled beside me, sitting up onto her heels. Then she yanked at my pants, scratching my hips with her nails as she did so.
I flexed my legs against the shed to lift my ass up off the ground, the rusted corrugated iron creaking its protests. Together we managed to get my pants down a few inches, as much as the thigh straps of my webbing would allow. Breaking the kiss, I opened my eyes to see Tabitha pull the drawstring of her scrubs and wriggle the pinkish blue-green cotton down over her hips. I fought to keep control of my breathing as more of her sweat-slicked skin came into view. I watched her kick her left leg free of her pants, a thrashed Dunlop Volley tumbling over my shins. It was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen.
There was no time to savour the vision. Tabitha swung around on her bare knee and straddled my lap. Reaching again for my cock, she crashed her upper body into mine in urgent search of another kiss. With several awkward adjustments, she ground herself up my thighs until I felt the steaming prickle of her pubic hair on the underside of my shaft.
It was then that time seemed to stand still.
The dull murmur of crying and moaning from inside the hospital and the surrounding compound faded away. All I could hear was our breathing, and the steady pounding of my heart in my ears. It was almost in slow motion.
Struggling to breathe, I pulled back slightly, leaving her mouth gaping. The sensation of her hot breath against the sweat sheeting from my face was strangely refreshing. The soft puffs of tobacco and coffee-scented air tingled against my lips and chin.
Tabitha’s bright blue eyes shone directly into mine. They were the only colour in the impossible orange of the sunset. They were my only connection to humanity. Her warmth, her kindness, was all that kept me from slipping into the abyss.
She lifted herself up a fraction, the prickle of her sex transforming into a deliciously smooth kiss against the head of my cock. I held my breath. We both did. Then she let herself ease down my shaft, engulfing my length in a wonderfully searing heat. The spectacular sensation sent a shiver down my spine.
I half-moaned, half-whimpered. I was lost in her, albeit temporarily.
She sank into me, pressing her cheek to mine as she wrapped her arms around me. Tabitha gripped me tightly with every fibre of her being. Her fingers combed firmly through my hair, radiating tingling waves across my scalp. The faint crackling sound of her skin against my uneven stubble amplified her closeness.
My hands found the cool flesh of her ass. I was actually surprised by how soft it was; the airbrushed lies of pornography leading me to believe a woman’s backside would be much firmer. But it didn’t matter. Tabitha felt amazing. Digging my fingers into her pliable flesh, I ground her roughly into my groin.
Tabitha responded with a deep groan, throwing her head back and pulling my face into her throat. It was wanton, and neither of us could get enough.
Despite the urgency, it wasn’t about sex. At least not entirely. I didn’t want to grab her ass and slam her up and down on my cock. I wanted to be close to her. I needed to be close to her. Sex was just a way of connecting.
Letting go of her ass, I slid my hands up under her top, mopping her sweat up her back to the smooth lycra of her sports bra. Her body was tiny in my arms, almost like a doll, but the fine bones of her ribcage and the warm muscles in her back blazed with life. I squeezed her güvenilir bahis siteleri tightly, wringing as much out of her as I could. The rise and fall of her torso brought me so much comfort. The slow roll of her hips energised me.
She had incredible control of her pelvic floor, bearing down on my cock as she rocked her hips forward, then allowing me to slip an inch or two free as she rocked back. Her breath, then mine, fell in time with her gyrations. Each exhalation as she ground home seemingly increased in intensity. More and more of her voice mixed with her panting, punctuated by the slurping of her sopping pussy.
I kissed at her face, missing her lips. But somehow, the clumsy peck on her cheek held more intimacy than our tongues deep inside each other’s mouths. There was a real sweetness to it.
I felt so incredibly close to her.
As I nuzzled the side of her face, she whispered something French in my ear. I couldn’t understand it, but her tone was unmistakable. She repeated herself, or something like it. Each time the whisper became more and more of a moan.
The escalation of her secret words lifted the tension within me. A tingling chill trickled down the back of my neck until it vibrated into a warm glow deep in my core. I was close. Approaching the brink, I was unable to hold myself back.
I cried out as I came inside her. Holding her even tighter than I had earlier, I buried my face in the side of her neck as I shook and trembled in spasms.
Tabitha’s French was broken by heaving periods of silence. Her body twitched, the smooth roll of her hips degenerating into violent, involuntary jerks. Then eventually, she fell still and her grip slackened. She was spent.
Her limp body against mine was such a lovely feeling. Despite the heat and stickiness, there was a real comfort in the weight of her on me. She resumed her soft, soothing whispers in my ear. I couldn’t understand a word of it, but the cool brush of her lips against my ear as she spoke was all that mattered. So too the gentle snorts of white noise as she breathed out.
I inhaled her as my labouring heart slowed. Messy strands of her hair were plastered to her moist skin, and I had to lick the occasional loose end from between my lips. It was funny how those little irritants made their presence felt in such a perfect moment. Tiny, choking tendrils of reality that just had to remind me that my respite was only temporary.
Even now, some twenty years on, I can still taste them.
Tabitha sat back, my softening cock squelching uncomfortably in her wetness, then slipping from her. Holding my face in both hands, she gazed earnestly into my eyes. There was no smile, nor frown; just a deeply penetrating stare. She licked her lips, then kissed me softly on the mouth before dismounting me.
I watched her roll onto the concrete next to me and untangle the empty leg of her scrubs which were hanging from her other ankle. I didn’t know what to say. Conscious I was staring, I wrestled myself back into my pants and did up my uniform. I could hear her grunting and scuffing beside me as I got my webbing fastened, and couldn’t help but sneak another peek.
She was arching her back to get her scrubs up over her ass. When she finally did, I scanned up her body. Her breasts, the first time I noticed them, were pressed tightly against her top. Tabitha cleared her throat, causing me to shoot my gaze up to her face.
“Would you please pass me my shoe?” she smirked.
I was mortified, my face searing with embarrassment. I choked out some sort of grunt and leaned over to retrieve her Dunlop Volley. When I turned back, I saw Tabitha openly ogling my ass.
“Merci,” she whispered with a crooked grin as she took her shoe. Putting it back on, she recovered a small packet from an unseen pocket. “Would you like a cigarette?”
“No.” I shook my head, then quickly added with a smile, “I don’t smoke.”
“Suit yourself,” she mumbled around a cigarette, already being lit in her mouth.
Leaning against me, she rested her head on my shoulder and lifted my arm around hers. We sat there together in silence while she smoked. I was just thankful I still had her there to hold close.
The sky was still orange. The tiny alley behind the hospital was still filthy. And the sounds of wholesale pain and misery still wafted in the humid air.
“Come,” Tabitha barked as she stubbed out her cigarette and rose to her feet. “We can use the help.”
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