He was still known as Corporal Winters then. Twenty-four, tall, slim. The sergeants called him Red or Rich but the nicknames never seemed to stick—he didn’t have enough personality.
Corporal Nixon had nicknames. He was flamboyant, humorous, sharp as a tack, but surprisingly closed. He never bragged about his wealth or his Ivy League degree or his lovely young bride back home in New York. He kept his mouth shut, which made Winters suspect he was trying to escape from something.
Everyone called him Nix. Winters stared from across the mess hall and thought, He looks like a Nix.
There was the first time.
He was looking at the cot beside him, observing Nixon (Nix) twitch and frown in his sleep. Most of the time that would be all, but tonight was different. It was June, and in Georgia that meant it was about ninety degrees and so humid the mosquitoes were swimming.
Winters, red hair matted wetly against his pillow, watched the sweat trickle down Nixon’s pale neck and collect in that little hollow at the base of his throat. He tossed, turned, clutched the sheet in his fists, mumbling unintelligibly.
The dream worsened, and Nixon began gasping.
Winters reached over and laid his hand on Nixon’s arm. His flesh was clammy and hot. “Hey,” he whispered. “Wake up. You’re dreaming.”
Nixon continued to thrash helplessly, unresponsive. Winters sat up in his cot, grabbed his canteen from the peg, and unscrewed the cap. He took one last look at Nixon’s grimacing, tortured expression before upending the reservoir.
Water poured onto Nixon’s face with a resounding splash, and he reeled upright with a tremendous gasp. He drew in a breath to scream, but Winters clapped his hand over Nixon’s mouth and bodily forced him back down onto the cot.
Dark brown eyes stared up at Winters, terrified, those thick eyebrows knitted together with confusion. They were nose to nose, soaked with perspiration, the heat rolling off their faces in waves. Nixon’s hands reached up to grasp Winters’ wrist, but they didn’t pull or push. He breathed heavily through his nose and lay still beneath Winters, who made no move to uncover his mouth.
Winters studied the face under him. Its dark freckles, less dense than his own. The beads of water droplets on his skin. The wet clumps of his eyelashes. The deepening pink hue of his glistening cheeks . . .
He removed his hand and slowly leaned down, giving Nixon ample time to defend himself.
The hot, humid barracks became the highest castle chamber—the cot became the bower which held the enchanted maiden in eternal sleep—and Corporal Winters became the prince who woke her with true love’s kiss.
That was how it started. A nightmare and an impulse. Two lives tangling into one.
They parted reluctantly, their lips unclasping with a shared breath.
“What’s your name?” Nixon whispered, eyes roaming over a galaxy of freckles.
A smile twitched on his lips. “Hi, Dick. I’m Lewis.”
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