For once, it isn’t his fault. Benton’s finally got used to his army boots and hardly ever trips over them any more. Out on patrol with a couple of the newer lads though, he’s messing around with them a little to cheer them up, and all the newfound coordination in the world can’t stop him falling over something he doesn’t see. One minute he’s walking along and telling jokes, the next he’s immersed in the chilly water of the lake that’s barely big enough to warrant the name, but which manages to soak him through nonetheless.
Looking slightly panic-stricken, Carter and Wells help him back up the bank, where he squelches his way hastily away from the edge and then drips onto the ground
“Good luck it’s not properly winter yet, eh?” he says, attempting to wring one sleeve out.
The wind whistles its disagreement, and Benton shivers. There’s a good mile between them and the camp, and somehow he doubts that either Carter or Wells are going to make particularly good wind shields on the way back.
“Come on, you two,” he sighs, and gets them on their way before it gets too much darker.
-- -- -- -- --
The Brigadier is going over plans for tomorrow’s exercises with Yates when Benton comes back, wet and shaking with two nervous looking recruits in tow behind him.
“What the devil happened to you?” the Brigadier demands as Benton ducks inside the relative shelter of the half-open tent. “Don’t tell me you managed to get attacked on a training weekend?”
“N-n-no, sir,” Benton gets out. “F-fell -”
“Oh good Lord,” the Brigadier sighs, and hears Yates smother a laugh at his side. “You fell in that damned pond, didn’t you?”
Miserably, Benton nods.
“You’d better get yourself off to the medics then. You two go with him, make sure he doesn’t come to any further mishaps on the way.”
The two corporals salute smartly, Benton nearly hits himself in the eye, and then the trio leave with Benton firmly steered by the two who are barely half his size.
“How does he manage it?” the Brigadier asks exasperatedly.
“Couldn’t say, sir,” Yates replies with a quick, not unkind, laugh. “Do you think he’ll be alright?”
“When isn’t he?” the Brigadier asks. “Still, I’ll check up on him when we’re done here, just to make sure. The last thing we need is a case of hypothermia.”
It doesn't take long to finalise things with Yates, and then the Brigadier heads over to the medical tent. There he finds Benton huddled beneath a mountain of blankets, a thermometer in his mouth and his damp hair sticking up all over the place.
“Doing alright there, Benton?” he asks, feeling a slight hint of sympathy for Benton, who doesn’t look in much of a position to see the funny side of the situation.
Glumly, Benton nods.
The Brigadier looks at the doctor, who takes the thermometer out of Benton’s mouth and then nods in agreement.
“He's a bit chilly, but there's no sign of hypothermia. A good rest tonight and he'll be fine in the morning. It'd be a good idea to have someone with him tonight though, just in case; it's supposed to get cold out there.”
At 'cold', Benton shivers, drags the blankets tighter around his shoulder, and draws his bare feet up into the folds of fabric hanging around his shins.
In a decision that has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Brigadier has rarely seen Benton looking so dejected, he says, “I'm off-duty; I'll keep an eye on him.”
Doing his best to clench chattering teeth together, Benton protests, “I'm f-fine, sir.”
The Brigadier raises an eyebrow. "Benton, you can barely get your words out, you're shivering so badly. I'm only doing paperwork. Checking up on you every hour will be a welcome distraction, I assure you.” Addressing the doctor, he says, “I don't suppose you've got something we can put his wet clothes in? And possibly something for him to wear that's slightly more suitable than those blankets?”
With a nod, the man heads off to fetch clean clothes, which Benton dons gratefully and then finishes off by wrapping a blanket around himself again.
“Come along,” the Brigadier sighs, and leads the way out before Benton can appropriate anything else that looks vaguely warm.
Back at the tent, after a brief detour to pick up Benton's sleeping bag, the Brigadier lights the lamp and the gas burner while Benton kicks off his boots and sits down to rub some warmth into his feet. When the Brigadier fetches the makings for hot chocolate out of his backpack, Benton sits up straighter and leans forwards, eyes glued hopefully to the tin. Amused, the Brigadier tells him, “Don't worry, Benton, I'll make enough for both of us.”
“Thank you, sir,” Benton replies, and shuffles closer to situate himself as close to the source of heat as possible while the Brigadier heats the water and heaps spoonfuls of powder into the mugs. Not once does Benton look away, and when it’s done he tugs his sleeves down to cover his palms, and then reaches out eagerly to wrap his hands around the mug.
With his knees drawn up to his chest, he brings it close and breathes into the hot liquid in between sips, closing his eyes against the steam and relaxing with the heat. He sits that way until he reaches the bottom, and then opens his eyes to look mournfully down at the empty mug.
Only half-way through his own, the Brigadier asks, “Shall I make another lot?”
Benton looks both extremely tempted and extremely sleepy. With his eyes drifting shut, he shakes his head reluctantly, and smothers a yawn as he says, “No, thank you, sir. I think I'd fall asleep half-way through it.”
“I'd be surprised if you made it that far,” the Brigadier remarks. He takes Benton’s mug before it slips from loosening fingers. “Go on with you, get in that sleeping bag before you're too tired.”
Without bothering to change into his pyjamas, Benton lays out his blanket over the top of his sleeping bag, and then slowly crawls into it with another yawn. His sigh as he stretches out is loud and satisfied, and then he curls both himself and the material around him into far smaller a shape than the Brigadier would have thought possible for someone so large. Shaking his head, the Brigadier retrieves the files he needs to review, turns the lamp down low, and smiles to himself when Benton mumbles “G'night, sir,” before his eyes shut.
-- -- -- -- --
There isn't a lot that keeps Benton awake once his head has hit the pillow, but unfortunately being cold is an exception to the rule. Despite the fact that there's two layers of clothes and another two of insulating material between him and the tent, which isn’t exactly cold, he just can't seem to get rid off the lingering chill. The worst part is that he’s not quite awake though to realise that just pulling the sleeping bag around his neck and rubbing his socked feet together isn’t working. Every time he gets just warm enough to drift off, he shivers himself awake again, before shifting and curling up to start the whole cycle over again.
Thus when the Brigadier sets aside his papers an hour or so later, and sets about unlacing his boots so that he can go to bed, he finds Benton looking at him with sleepy but definitely open eyes. From the look of him, he hasn't slept at all since lying down, and looks distinctly fed up about it.
“Benton, what on earth are you still doing awake?” the Brigadier asks. “The idea was for you to rest and me to keep an eye on you, not for you do your best to stay up until I'd finished working. You were aware of that, I take it?”
“Sorry, sir,” Benton mumbles, hunching his shoulders up around his neck, which the Brigadier hopes isn’t in response to his admonishment. “It wasn't intentional. I just can't get warm.”
Sighing, the Brigadier wonders why Benton didn't say anything sooner. Then he takes a second look at the more than slightly unfocussed way Benton's watching him, and realises that logical thought probably isn't something he's awake enough to perform at the moment.
Tucking his boots out of the way at the side of the tent, the Brigadier stand. “Come on then, we'd better get you sorted, make sure you're actually in a fit shape to function tomorrow. Out of that sleeping bag, quick as you like.”
Benton clutches the coverings around him, and looks distinctly uncertain as to whether that's one of the Brigadier's better ideas.
“Benton, might I remind you that I'm not only more awake than you are, but also more in charge?”
Reluctantly, Benton lets go, and the Brigadier chivvies him out of the sleeping bag to stand at its end. As quickly as he can, he zips the two sleeping bags together, while a sleepy, shivering and rather out of it Benton shifts from foot to foot with his arms wrapped around himself.
“There, you can get back in now,” the Brigadier says when he's done. “Might I suggest you take at least the jumper off before you do though? It's entirely up to you, but layers are only any good if you've actually got some body heat under them to keep in.”
Tugging the jumper clumsily over his head, still looking confused as to what's going on but apparently willing to just go along with it, Benton half-dives back into the sleeping bag. Then he watches with wide eyes as the Brigadier starts stripping out of his uniform, and asks slightly hesitantly, “What are you doing, sir?”
“Putting my pyjamas on, Benton,” the Brigadier replies. “If I'm to be your hot water bottle, I certainly don't intend to do it in uniform.”
“Don't argue, there's a good chap.”
Pyjamas on, the Brigadier slips into the yards of space that Benton has left in front of him, and shivers slightly himself in the cool interior. With his back to Benton, the Brigadier can no longer see the expression on his face that says “I have no idea what I’m supposed to do here,” but he knows full well it's there. So he reaches for the lamp to turn it off, and then remarks, “This is only going to serve its intended purpose if you come over here, you know. I don't bite, I assure you.”
There's a huff of almost laughter from behind him, and Benton says apologetically, “Sorry, sir. It’s just that this is a bit odd, that's all.”
“What isn't, these days?” the Brigadier replies. Benton shuffles closer to him, lying almost-touching but not quite, and the Brigadier says impatiently, “Oh, for heaven's sake.” Reaching behind, he takes hold of one of Benton's arms and pulls it around him, shifting backwards at the same time so his back is pressed against Benton's chest. The initial squawk of surprise that emerges from Benton is very shortly followed by a low groan of pleasure, and his arm tightens around the Brigadier almost immediately.
“Steady on!” the Brigadier cautions as the air is partially pushed from his lungs. Benton's hold loosens, but he wriggles until he's touching the Brigadier from shoulder-blade to thigh, cool against the Brigadier's back and shivering slightly against him. The forearm that the Brigadier has a hand on is still covered in goose-bumps; it's no wonder that he hadn't been able to get to sleep earlier, really.
“Better?” the Brigadier asks.
“Mmm,” Benton sighs, the satisfied breath ruffling through the hair at the back of the Brigadier’s head. “Thank you.”
The Brigadier pats his arm, and then rubs his hand briskly along it to warm it up, slowing when he feels Benton relax and his breathing deepen.
A few minutes later, Benton mumbles sleepily, “My feet are cold.”
Without opening his eyes, the Brigadier replies, “Are they now? That's unfortunate.”
Then he moves his own back and nudges them against Benton's sock-clad ones, where they're coerced into a tangle of ankles with the intent of warming Benton's toes. That seems to take care of Benton who, with a few final wriggles to get comfortable, soon falls asleep and lulls the Brigadier into following him with the steady rise and fall of his chest against the Brigadier’s back.
-- -- -- -- --
The following morning, the Brigadier drifts awake to find himself almost entirely surrounded by the living blanket that is Benton. During the night Benton has apparently curled the two of them up together and is now breathing warm air down the back of the Brigadier's neck, arms snug around his waist as if the Brigadier is his own personal teddy bear. The Brigadier has to admit, it's one of the more relaxed and comfortable positions in which he's woken up, even if it is approaching the 'uncomfortably hot' side of things what with the both of them wrapped inside the sleeping bag.
Eventually, somewhat reluctantly, he wakes Benton with a cough and an elbow nudged against his side. After a moment of sleepy incomprehension, Benton goes from being warm and relaxed against the Brigadier's back, to half-frozen as he attempts to remove his arms from the Brigadier's waist, shuffle away and mumble apologies all at the same time.
“Do calm down, Benton,” the Brigadier says, rolling over to face the somewhat-stricken looking Benton. “Occupational hazard of volunteering to be a human hot water bottle; I've suffered worse.” Not entirely unsympathetic to Benton's discomfort and hoping to ease it somewhat, he adds, “Besides, it's not as if you're entirely unpleasant to wake up next to.”
This, it turns out, doesn't so much ease Benton's embarrassment as it does ensure that the Brigadier joins him in it.
“Right, well then,” the Brigadier says with a cough, as Benton tentatively offers “Thank you?”.
They look at each other, then away again, and attempt to escape from the sleeping bag while dealing with tangling of various sleepy, uncoordinated limbs which don't seem to have got the message that their owners are trying to get away from each other. It's possible they set records for both the speed at which they get their uniforms back on, and the number of incomplete sentences they utter in the short amount of time.
Making the mutual decision not to look at each other, they exit the tent with identical flushes on their faces, and part ways as quickly as possible. Benton heads over for breakfast, where Yates takes one look at him and doesn't stop teasing him all morning, while the Brigadier retreats to the safety of the command tent to recover his composure.
Once he’s done that, he definitely doesn’t consider the merits to having their next training session in the middle of the Lake District.