Title: White Flag of Surrender
Characters: Adam/Austin; Joey
The taste of minty toothpaste and the pressure of full lips on his own had Austin's eyes popping open. His eyes met the hazel eyes of Adam. Bright happy eyes. Then they were gone. So were the lips that had woken him.
"Merry Christmas," Adam said with a grin as he pushed himself into a sitting position on the edge of the bed.
Behind Adam, the pale light of early morning sun glinted through the gap of the window blinds. Austin reached blindly toward the night stand and found his phone. Trying to blink away the blurriness of sleep, he brought the phone close to his face and squinted at the time. He blinked again and lifted his head to make sure he was actually seeing the right numbers. Adam was awake and dressed at 7:15 in the morning?
"What are you doing?" Austin asked, his voice had the gravelly growl of someone not quite awake. "You don't normally become human until after 9 in the morning."
Laughing, Adam said, "It's Christmas. And Joey's already called twice. I've kept the phone on vibrate. I didn't want him to wake you and I knew he'd be calling early. I'm going to run over and get him before he drives the staff to drink." He leaned down and kissed Austin again. "Why don't you shower while I'm doing that, then we can open presents when we get back."
Groaning, Austin felt decidedly....sticky after the night the two men had shared. A quick clean up with the wet wipes that sat on the bedside table didn't fully clean the evidence away of their lovemaking. A shower was definitely in order.
There was a slight buzzing sound and then the bed jostled as Adam stood up and pulled his phone out of his pocket. "Hey, Joey. Yes, I'm walking out the door in five minutes. No. Don't set the timer, I don't know what traffic will be like, but I will be there soon. Yes, it is a merry Christmas. Yes. Yes. Joey. Joey, listen. I want you to say goodbye to me so I can drive. Yes, it's wrong to drive and be on the phone. Ok. Yes. I'm leaving now. Bye, Joey." Adam gave a crooked smile to Austin. "I've got to go. He's not going to wait. Up, you!"
"I'm getting up," Austin assured him but didn't actually move to get out of bed. He watched Adam walk out of the room. Lying there in the bed, he heard the front door open and close. Rolling over to set his phone back on the nightstand, Austin thought of his last Christmas. Last year at this time, he hadn't been lying on a soft bed, instead he had woken on a stiff canvas cot in a tent. There had been dust motes floating there too.His eyes were drawn back to that small beam of sunlight and his mind drifted.
The dust swirled in the light of the open tent flaps. Keeping the tent flaps closed didn't do any good, dust was a part of life in the desert. Dust and sand coated everything and everyone. Trying to clean only stirred the dust more, better to just leave it until they moved to a new camp. Besides the dancing flecks of dust broke the monotony of the day when they weren't engaged with other activities. Austin tried to tell the time by the sunlight shining through, he had perimeter watch today and he wondered if he had time to take a shower.
Austin sat up quickly. No! He wouldn't do that. He wouldn't let the memories invade his mind. Not today. Today was a day of peace and family. Taking a deep breath, Austin let his mind imagine a place deep in the forest. He'd build the foundation of a fortress in his mind. He'd not build a full building, just the foundation of it, he assured himself. He let his mind drift and imagined a rectangle of concrete. There, he thought. Not something to keep anyone out. He remembered how Adam tended to knock down the walls he'd built in his mind. He didn't use a sledgehammer, no, he broke them down with the palm of his hand on Austin's bare ass. But a foundation to stand above the memories that were starting to seep into his head would be alright.
Once he had completed his imaginings he threw back the blankets and stalked into the bathroom. He wanted to shower and be dressed before Adam came home with Joey. Reaching into the shower, Austin turned the water as hot as he could stand it. Certain fluids from their bodies needed hot water to be washed away. Stepping into the shower, he let out a small hiss. Well, at least it's better than the cold showers he'd had to take last year.
A dark army green tarp was suspended from a wire hoop they'd rigged up to give them privacy as they showered. Not that many of the soldiers cared that much about privacy, especially when the cold water pour down from the shower. They'd rather just lather up and rinse off as quickly as they could.
"Damn it!" Austin's own voice startled him. He would not think about it. He was home and he was in a hot shower. And damn it, he'd enjoy it. Austin angrily grabbed the bar of soap and scrubbed himself clean. As he scrubbed he decided one layer of bricks on the fortress wouldn't hurt anything. The memories seeping in had reached the foundation and he needed to shore up his defenses. He let his mind bring the image of a pile of bricks and mortar. He'd just make one layer-better safe than sorry as they always say.
Once the one layer had been built, Austin turned off the shower, stepped out and wrapped a towel around his waist. Quickly and efficiently he shaved his face. That was one skill you learned quickly in the military-how to get a clean shave fast. After rinsing his face with cool water, Austin went to the bedroom.
Just as he was pulling up his jeans, he heard the front door open. Adam was back with Joey. Austin shook his head. How long had he stayed in his memories? How long had it taken him to build the foundation and one layer of wall? Too long, he decided. Throwing on an old sweatshirt, Austin grabbed some socks and rushed out to greet everyone.
"Merry Christmas, Joey," Austin greeted quietly. Joey didn't like voices too loud or too full of emotions. He didn't know how to process emotions well and Austin wasn't an exuberant man anyway.
"It's Christmas. Merry Christmas." Joey stated in his monotone voice. "Presents. Open presents."
"After breakfast, Joey. You can wait that long," Adam said.
"Breakfast before presents." Joey repeated the three words as the men went into the kitchen.
"Pancakes and sausage for breakfast, Joey. That's what we are having for breakfast," Adam told his brother.
Austin went to the refrigerator and got the package of frozen sausage links while Adam got out the griddle and pancake mix. Opening the box, Austin let all the links slide out onto the griddle. Soon the scent of the meat cooking filled the air. Last year, he'd been thankful that they didn't have to eat MREs for breakfast.
Grabbing a plastic tray, Austin stood in the food line. The mess tent was full this morning; everyone eager to eat powered eggs and rubbery bacon. After going through the line where the cooks had slapped the eggs down on his tray, he grabbed some utensils and Tabasco sauce. Austin gave a small thank you to the Tabasco company for supplying the military with the hot red sauce. It gave the bland meals a little kick to make it edible.
"Hey! Don't burn my sausages." Adam's voice startled Austin out of his memories.
Joey parroted his brother. "Don't burn. Don't like black food. Don't burn."
Quickly, he turned the links over to brown on the other side. As he did that, he added another layer of bricks. Just two layers. It's not a flood, just a slow rising of memories that he wanted to block out. By the time the sausages and pancakes were done, the second layer of bricks had been laid on top of the first.
It took longer to cook the breakfast then it did for the men to eat it. Joey wanted to open his Christmas presents and neither Austin or Adam could bring themselves to dampen the autistic man's happiness. Joey rarely showed any excitement or happiness. Clean up was quick as they rinsed off their plates and put them in the dishwasher.
Once in the living room, Joey plopped down on the floor next to the an end table that held the small artificial Christmas tree. Austin looked it at with humor. The best thing that could be said about it was that it was better than the tree that Charlie Brown had in the Peanuts Christmas special he watched as a kid. And at least they had one. There were very few trees at all where he was at last year.
"Man, we should do something to show the Christmas spirit," the newly stationed private complained.
The sergeant gave Austin a 'can you believe this guy' look then snarled, "Sure. Let's get a tree with lights. That way Al Qaeda won't have to hunt for us. They'll just have to follow the lights."
Austin picked up his bag and started out. "Come on, kid. I'll show you the perimeter. No Christmas decorations there either, but it's better than sitting around here moping."
"For you. Austin. Open."
Joey's voice brought Austin back to the present. "Great, Joey! Let me have it." He tried to keep his voice steady. He didn't want Joey to have a melt down and he sure as hell didn't want Adam to know that the memories were rising in his mind. As he opened the gift, Austin quickly laid another line of bricks on his wall.
"Here you go, Joey. This one is from Craig and Jean. You remember who they are?" Adam asked as he handed his brother a brightly wrapped gift.
"Austin's mom. Dad. On cruise," Joey stated as he took the present.
Austin smiled at Joey. "Yeah, they went on a cruise this Christmas." Lifting his gaze, his eyes met Adam's. "And for the millionth time, no. It doesn't bother me in the least. They booked this cruise before they knew I was leaving the army. I have you and Joey. They'll call us later."
The presents were soon passed out and opened. Joey was fascinated with the wooden army tanks and helicopter that Austin and Adam had gotten for the man. Adam was thrilled with the collector's set of X-men movies Austin had given him. So thrilled that they watched the first movie and half of the second before having to rush to the restaurant that they'd made reservations to.
"Can't eat. Stomach. Hurt," Joey whined as the waiter brought their lunches to them.
Adam sighed. "Joey. You are ok. I'm sorry we rushed you but we had to get here by noon. The restaurant will close at two so the people who work can go have Christmas with their own families."
"Gravy touching meat. Can't eat. Stomach hurts." Joey's voice remained monotone, but the words indicated a meltdown was not far away.
"Joey. I'll wipe it off. You can eat it if I wipe off the gravy."
Austin sympathized with the autistic man. Gravy could ruin a good meal. Especially gravy made from a packet that still had lumps in it.
"Oh my god! What is that?" The private asked as he sniffed his Christmas dinner.
Austin grinned at the naive young man. "It's called dinner."
The private gave him a disgusted look. "I know it's dinner. But what is all over it?"
"Gravy. They pour gravy all over it. The cooks thinks it'll disguise the taste of the canned turkey they used," Austin explained. Reaching across the table, he handed the green soldier his bottle of Tabasco sauce. "Here. Put this one it. It'll give it some flavor."
"Austin! Please hand me the salt," Adam demanded shaking Austin out of his thoughts.
"Oh, sorry. Here you go." Austin handed Adam the salt shaker. He didn't ask how many times Adam had requested it. Instead, he added one more layer to his wall.
"Salt. No pepper. Pepper burns tongue," Joey said as Adam sprinkled salt on his meal.
Austin tried to keep Joey talking but it was soon clear that the man had had enough of the holidays. Too much excitement in the past few weeks had put Joey on edge. Too many twinkling lights. Christmas music played too loudly. The stress of keeping gifts a secret. Joey was ready to go back to his group home and get back into his life's routine.
By the time they had finished their meal and paid for it, ran home to collect Joey's gifts and take him back to his home, Adam and Austin were happy to be inside their own quiet home.
"It's been a long day, but a good one," Adam said as he collapsed on the couch. "I'm proud of Joey for lasting as long as he did. A lot of that is because of you, Austin. You help keep him calm."
Adam's words hit him. Hit him hard. He had helped keep Joey calm, but he'd been fighting his own private war all day. And he was exhausted. He wanted the war to be over. If Joey could learn to lean on him, with all of his struggles, then Austin could learn to lean on Adam. He thought for a moment. He wanted to surrender to Adam. Fully. But he didn't know how. Suddenly an idea came to him. He stalked out of the living room, and down the hall to the closet they kept their sheets and bedding in. Pulling out a white pillow case, he went into the living room.
"Here." Austin shoved the pillowcase at Adam.
Adam looked at the linen in confusion. "What is this?"
"We don't have a flag. Um. A white flag." Austin wanted to stop. He was making a mess of this. Oh fuck it, he thought. He'd finish what he started. "In war, a white flag means you surrender. I'm surrendering to you."
Adam sat up and nodded. "What was the war you were fighting?"
Austin sighed in relief. Adam understood. Well, maybe not fully, but Austin would try to explain it. "Memories. I've kind of been having some flashbacks."
"Do you need to talk to your counselor?" Adam asked bluntly.
"No, not now. Tomorrow for sure. The counselor said that if I was aware of a flashback happening to ground myself in the here and now." Austin paused. He wanted to word this right. "You are my ground. I was building my wall. You know how we....deal with...um, walls and stuff." Damn it, Austin thought. He was mucking this up.
"Austin. Look at me."
Austin forced himself to meet Adam's eyes. The look in Adam's eyes started the destruction process. Austin felt the walls he'd built earlier start to crack.
"I am your ground just as you were for Joey today. And you are mine ground too. This has always been a two way street, Austin. We give and support each other. I never want you to feel that you can't surrender to me. I'll get you a white flag if that's what you need. I've told you before that you can build your walls around us, but not to wall me out. How high did you build them?"
"Not too high. Just a layer at a time," Austin assured him.
"Then we'll tear them down a layer at a time," Adam said with caring confidence.
Austin felt the tension that had been coursing through his body all day start to drain out of him. Neither Adam nor he would enjoy the tearing down process. Austin knew his ass would be sore all evening and the rest of the night, but the actual surrender felt good. By the time they went to bed later, Austin knew he'd have peace in his heart.