Tom explained. Some mates had helped him back, Mitchell remembered vaguely, he was infinitely thankful. He’d never have managed. And then those fucking animals would have been at him. Beating him as he crawled on hands and knees every agonised inch of the way back.
He owed his shipmates .. they’d saved him. And yet no one was lined up waiting to hear Mitchell show this thanks. No one was collecting the favour. They were concerned, his crewmates. This was what you did for a mate. Never mind one who’d been made to suffer like that. Looking after your own .. natural. Went without saying. No one expected thanks.
Stealing that grease to ease his burns .. some crewmate had risked a savage beating. Or worse. But he hadn’t stood around waiting to be thanked. And they’d kept food aside for him too. No one had stolen his rations, gone was the idea of every man for himself. And water bags a-plenty had been filled. Left for him to drink his fill and get his strength back. His mates were looking out for him. They had his back.
“One of the guys stole it from the kitchen. Took hell of a risk.”
Stolen for him, this pot of grease. Done for him. Mitchell felt a flush of gratification. One of his shipmates had taken a great risk. On his behalf. Mitchell He felt bowled over by this anonymous donor’s kindness. Tom had started re-applying that precious gift to his burning backside.
“He thought it might help.”
Tom had taken on himself the job of coating his sunburn with the old cooking fat. When Mitchell had been out still. Gently applying the soothing grease .. looking out for his big dumb-ass brother who’d gone and made himself Rais’ favourite target! The boy was growing up!
Mitchell had been out of it, unconscious, totally knackered. But maybe, after all, his body had been aware. In his blackout he’d felt the torture of the hands .. however gentle .. working grease into the burns on his skin? His return to consciousness had been troubled, a tortured journey of agony.
“Sorry. Didn’t mean to offend.”
Tom hesitated .. remembering the fury with which Mitchell had woken up to hands mauling his backside.
“You know ….? Touching you like that ……”
Mitchell could see the lad was embarrassed. Caught with his hands groping another man’s bare arse. Mauling the backside of the big brother Tom hero-worshipped.
“Thought it might help .. the grease .. on your backside. Sorry. Touching you. Wrong of me ….”
Mitchell opened his arms.
“Come here …..”
Mitchell was half on his side .. head still in a whirl. Weak as hell. But the sight of the young lad’s embarrassment brought him to his senses.
“You did great, Tom. Proud of you, I am.”
He lifted an arm.
“Being a real man.”
His arm gestured.
“Come here. Give your mate a hug. Your mate Mitchell needs a hug.”
Mitchell knew better. It was poor young Tom needed a hug. He was having to grow up fast.
Later, after eating, the pair were lying down on their sides. The heat cooling as the sun had gone down. Brotherly Mitchell had Tom’s back clasped to his chest.
“You’re all the talk.”
Tom twisted his head over his shoulder towards his “big brother”. Mitchell was still naked. And, oddly, he was conscious of keeping his groin well back from Tom’s backside. When had such ideas ever surfaced? Where had such thoughts come from? Before this capture .. before that mock rape .. before these handler-thugs had shown what power they held over Mitchell’s life .. he’d NEVER had harboured such thoughts. Worrying. Was this what happened to you? When you lost your freedom? When you felt your old self slipping away from you? Were these heathens getting to him? Was he too having to grow up?
“Everyone is talking about you. All the guys.”
“There’s a stash of grease hidden away. For the future. Just in case …..”
Mitchell had no doubts that Tom’s faltering words would come true. They’d promised him .. those animals .. those handlers .. promised every day the same. But more important .. the message that his shipmates cared. Prepared to take risks for him. He was hurting like crazy. But knowing he was not alone in this …….. that meant a lot.
Tom’s back was pressed to Mitchell’s chest. Tom needed a hug. He needed the strong arms of a big brother to see him through another day of this. Whatever agonies were burning his Mitchell’s backside .. however threatened he felt .. about what the morrow would bring .. even troubled by the overwhelming weakness gripping his strongly-built body .. still, Tom needed a hug.
“They don’t believe it,” Tom continued. “They saw it .. with their own eyes. The way those monsters exhausted you .. worked you till every muscle was busting a gut. Guilty that they couldn’t help .. seeing you tortured in that heat.”
Mitchell squeezed his arms around Tom’s chest, reassuring. He didn’t want the lad to worry for him. The poor boy had enough worries of his own. Whatever had happened, Mitchell was still here for him.
“And then that beating …..”
Mitchell could not suppress the shiver at the memory. Tom inevitably felt it too. Through the touch. Skin-on-skin. Mitchell’s shudder pressed against his terrified back.
“Everyone’s heard about it. No one can believe you.”
“That you went through that …..”
Tom squeezed on the solid muscled arm around his waist. The big brother he idolised. Proudly Tom added his thought.