Thank you, beta, for being so patient!
Adam couldn’t help but grin as he looked out the kitchen window at the two people he loved most: his brother, Joey, and his lover, Austin. Joey and Austin had a special relationship with each other that Adam could only be thankful for. Joey was autistic and Adam had been his guardian for years. Austin had not only understood Adam’s responsibility, but had taken an active role in that guardianship. Well, as much as an active duty soldier could. Austin had only been home a week after being deployed to Afghanistan, but still had taken the time to include Joey in their lives.
For the first couple of days Adam and Austin couldn’t keep their hands off of each other and all seemed well, but as the days went by Adam began to notice small changes in Austin. He was jumpy, startled at loud noises, and had several nightmares in which he woke screaming. At first Austin had seemed embarrassed over his actions, but the past day or so, he was starting to show some anger at himself.
When they’d first gotten together Austin had told Adam how much he needed discipline; it was one of the things that had drawn him to the military and it was what he needed in a relationship. Adam had almost broken off the budding relationship, feeling that he had enough on his plate taking care of his brother. But the first few tentative attempts at dominating Austin had a thrill running through Adam's veins. It wasn't the leather and whips of the internet.
Suddenly a loud backfire from a passing car, brought Adam back to the here and now. Out through the window, Adam saw Austin push Joey to the ground.
Racing outside Adam yelled, "What's wrong? Is he hurt?"
For a moment Austin was still. When he stood up, his face was flushed a dark red. Adam didn't know if it was embarrassment or anger.
"God, Joey! Are you ok? I'm sorry. Sorry, buddy! The noise...it was loud...I thought," Austin's stammering drifted off.
"No wrestling. Someone gets hurt. That's a rule. No wrestling," Joey said. Even stated in a monotone voice, Adam could tell that Joey was confused.
"Are you hurt, Joey?" Adam couldn't see any blood or scrapes.
"No." The abrupt answer was reassuring to Adam. Joey was never good at verbal communication, so the single word was a sign he wasn't hurt.
But Austin was. Adam could see the pain and remorse in Austin's eyes; however, it was mental anguish, not physical injury.
"Austin." The simply spoken name had Austin babbling.
"Shit! I'm sorry! I don't know what happened." Austin stopped and then, with bitterness in his voice, continued. "Fuck! Don't stare at me!"
"Staring hurts," Joey stated. "Hurts inside."
Adam could feel the situation getting out of hand, so he did what he'd come to know was his strength. He took control.
"Come on. Inside. Both of you," Adam barked out. Softening his voice just a fraction, he assured both of them, "It's gotten too hot to work outside. It's almost 3 o'clock. We'll go inside, cool off with some lemonade. I told the aide, we'd have Joey home in time for dinner. By the time we've had the lemonade it'll be time to take you home."
"Dinner is at 5. Saturday night is pizza night. Have to be home for pizza," Joey said as they went into the house.
Austin didn't stop at the kitchen table, he walked down the hall growling, "I'm gonna take a shower."
"Austin." Adam didn't raise his voice, nor did he put any strong emotions on the one word. But he knew Austin would understand the command in his voice. Adam knew he couldn't make the stresses of war go away, but he could give Austin something else to worry about: him.
As Austin walked begrudgingly to the table and sat down with a thud, Adam poured three glasses of lemonade. Leaning over Austin to put the drink in front of him, Adam said close to his ear, "I want you within arm's reach at all times."
Taken aback, Austin asked, "For how long? I didn't DO anything!"
Adam held Austin's gaze until Austin dropped his. "Until I say otherwise," Adam said softly.
The three men sat in not uncomfortable silence as they drank their lemonade and cooled off. Austin fidgeted a little but did get up and follow Adam to the sink when Joey handed Adam his empty glass and stated, "I'm done. Go home. Pizza night."
With Austin close to him, Adam rinsed out the glasses and then they took Joey home. The ride in the car was mostly quiet. Joey didn’t like a lot of chatter; the blur of scenery as it passed by the window and the motion of the car was enough sensory input for him. But after Joey was safely home for the night, and they were back in the car, Austin turned to Adam.
“I didn’t do anything,” Austin reminded Adam.
Keeping his voice level, Adam replied, “No, you didn’t do anything. You did need something to keep your mind occupied.”
“I’m sorry,” Austin said softly. “I didn’t mean to freak out; it was just a car backfiring.”
Adam bit back his anger. He wasn’t angry with Austin, but at a war that had left a lasting effect on his love. Giving Austin a reassuring glance, Adam said, “Nothing to be sorry about. But I do think we need to tighten the discipline reins a bit, don’t you? Just to get back in practice of being you and I. We’ve been apart a year now and having you within touching distance is kind of reassuring to both of us.”
Adam knew his words did the trick of calming Austin down when Austin’s whole body seemed to lose the tension that had grown over the past couple of days.
“I wasn’t able to take your first week home off of work, but I was able to take this week off. We could spend the whole week getting back to Adam and Austin. How does that sound?”
“With a little bit of Joey thrown in? I think it sounds great!”
Adam gave a discreet sigh of relief, not only that his boss was flexible enough to let him take a week off at short notice, but that Austin readily agreed too.
Once they were back home, Adam kept Austin to the within arm’s reach rule. They touched a lot intentionally and accidentally, bumping into each other as they cooked dinner and set the table. When Adam set Austin’s plate right next to him, Austin laughingly complained, “I can’t sit there!”
“Within arm’s reach at all times,” Adam calmly reminded him.
Still laughing, Austin had a reminder of his own. “You’re left handed. If I sit there we’ll bump elbows and end up with more food on the floor then in our mouths!”
Moving the plate to the other side, Adam just grinned at Austin. Keeping Austin in the here and now, and giving as many loving touches as he could had started out as a way to ground Austin, but it was working on Adam himself as well. The relaxed camaraderie was soothing to both of them. Until dinner was over.
As they were washing the dishes together, Austin’s cell phone rang. Adam turned off the running water so Austin could hear better. From the sounds of the conversation, Adam knew it was serious.
"Yes, Sir," Austin said into the phone. "Thursday. Three o'clock."
Adam watched Austin closely as he ended the call, but Austin avoided eye contact. He could see his soldier gathering his strength around him. That intangible action broke the silence. "I'll make sure your dress blues are pressed."
"No bother, I'll see to it tomorrow. There's got to be a dry cleaners open somewhere," Austin said, then tried to walk around Adam. But Adam planted his feet firmly and became an unmovable fortress. "Adam, let me by! I need to dig out the uniform if I'm going to get it cleaned."
"No. Arm’s distance," Adam reminded him. "I said, I would make sure they were pressed."
"Then what the hell am I supposed to do? Sit back quietly and let you do it all?" Austin lashed out.
Keeping his voice calm, Adam replied, "No, I'd never expect to do it all, but I would like to do something for you. I. Will. Do. This." Adam watched as Austin turned around abruptly, and started slamming dishes around.
"Fine, you take care of the dry cleaning, I'll finish up the dishes."
Softly, Adam asked, "Who was it?"
"Private Simmons," was the terse answer. "He was just a kid."
"Did you know him?"
"Briefly. He was transferring in when my tour was up," Austin's voice cracked. "He was guarding a convoy. Fucking IED."
Adam knew when to back off, and he knew when Austin needed to borrow his strength. Walking up behind him, Adam wrapped his arms around Austin. They stood there like that, even as Adam felt the tears fall on his hands, and Austin's body shake with the slightest of tremors.
As the tremors slowed, and the tears stopped, Adam said, into Austin's shoulder, "I was afraid I was going to have to spank the tears outta you." Adam was almost dislodged as Austin's body shook with a self depreciating laughter.
"Yeah, I was too. Maybe we could save that for later. As a reward?" Austin asked hopefully.
"Yeah, as a reward for both of us." Adam kissed Austin's shoulder and stepped back. It was going to be a tough week, Austin would go through many different emotions as he help to lay the fallen soldier to rest, but they'd come out of it on the other side.