Halos and Heroes Ch. 03

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Babes

Thank you all who have been reading and following along. I always appreciate getting feedback. It helps with becoming a better writer and it’s always an ego boost, so feel free to reach out. I will always respond!

The usual spiel: This isn’t a stroke story, (more porn with plot.) Be warned, it’s very long. 33+ chapters, and many sexless ones, which is why it was originally published under novels/novellas, but readers asked for it to be put under gay male due to content, so here we go.

I will also post disclaimers when appropriate about any potentially triggering content given the PTSD themes Sam deals with.

This story is dedicated to all of the brave service members and their families who sacrifice so much every day so that the rest of us can enjoy the liberties that they swear to protect and uphold.

Although references in this novel may be made to actual places or events, the names, characters, incidents, and locations within are complete works of fiction. They are not a resemblance to actual living or dead persons, businesses, or events. Any similarity is coincidental. In an effort to do the United States Army justice, and to show my respect to my country, I have applied all possible efforts to merge fact and fiction to entertain, while portraying the military, and the hardships and achievements of soldiers, with respect, dignity and accuracy to the best of my abilities. It’s my hope that I’ve done you all justice, and that all of the creative licenses taken with this novel are understood to be the efforts of imagination, and not any judgment or disrespect against the U.S. military. Thank you all for your service.

***

Hush now baby, baby, don’t you cry. Mother’s gonna make all your nightmares come true. Mother’s gonna put all her fears into you.

—Pink Floyd

I was standing alone in the sandy bones of a deserted bazaar. Everyone had been evacuated except for the soldiers who watched the lone man in the center of the public square.

Wearing the heavy suit and equipment the EOD teams required for the containment and defusing of all explosives, there was no way to recognize Connor, but I knew it was him. Taking the riskiest assignments had been his MO since we enlisted.

My brother was a tiny figure, blurred by the sun. I couldn’t see what he was doing, but I knew it was taking too long. Defusing bombs was an art form, like magic. Connor was a master, but even Houdini had encountered the impossible once. When Connor yanked off his helmet and gloves, I knew it was over, and ran toward my brother.

Shouts of warning preceded someone slamming into me from behind, knocking my legs out from under me. I went sprawling into the dirt. Breathing wasn’t an option as my body was crushed under the weight of the men holding me back. I fought hard, arms and feet flailing and from the corner of my eye, I saw a blur of movement. Lean brown muscle and camo fatigues.

Devlin.

My former lover, heading straight into the arms of death to be with my brother.

I tried to shout but my voice was gone. The thumping of my heart was in my ears as time slowed. When Connor looked at me, I saw every emotion on his face as clearly as if I were looking through a sniper scope. He smiled at me; that easy smile that said, I don’t give a shit.

Devlin grabbed Connor’s arm and held out his other hand to me.

Wham.

It was like I’d been launched forward at supersonic speed, so close that I could almost casino oyna touch Devlin. All I had to do was reach out. I didn’t, and the world went to shit.

The explosion obliterated Devlin, but it slowed down for Connor, stripping off his face by degrees until only a grinning skeleton head remained.

The bomb that had killed Devlin and Connor, and critically injured several other members of their unit, had detonated far from my own post. I hadn’t been there when Connor was killed. I’d never seen my brother smile at me as he died. I didn’t even have all the details of his death, just that it’d happened in a disposal gone wrong. But my mind didn’t care about reality.

Around me, the blaze from the explosion started to spread, engulfing everything in its path. Fireballs bracketed me as I continued to fall. One grew bigger and brighter as it neared me.

Heat burnt my skin black, but I didn’t scream. Didn’t fight it. I just watched as my brother died and took my lover with him…

My gasp dragged me out of sleep, and I launched to a seated position. The lazy sweep of the bedroom fan blades put an icy edge to the sweat drenching my body. Soaked bed sheets were tangled around my feet, restraining me even now that I was awake. Leaning over the edge of the bed I gagged, but nothing came up to empty me of the choking feeling.

I raked my fingers over the damp fuzz of my hair and when I laced my hands behind my head. Their subtle tremble created a river of vibrations against my scalp. Gulping in air, I tried to find something to use as a focal point. Sofia had beaded the ends of the strings on the fan lights to match the room décor and they clicked together gently as the blades rotated. I focused on that slow, rhythmic sound until, little by little, my pulse began to match it.

After the shaking stopped, I stripped off my t-shirt and then the wet bed sheets. I laid a towel from the bathroom across the bare mattress to try and fall back to sleep.

My cell phone hit the floor twice before I dialed Max with success less than five minutes later, exhaling when I heard the deep, slow, southern baritone. It never failed to amaze me that his rich voice, reminiscent of James Earl Jones, came out of an East Coast-born white boy. Max had joked once that he’d picked up his accent after the Navy deployed his father to Louisiana from Jersey when he was still a kid. They’d eventually left to come to Florida when Max was in his teens, but the accent survived the trip.

“Hey,” I said quietly. “It’s me. Did I wake you up?” Time zones were always tricky with Max because he kept odd hours at the hospital.

“Nah. I was just trying to read this fascinating medical journal with my eyes closed. It’s been a long day.” A wave of static crackled over the line like he was moving around. “It’s late there. What’s going on? Another nightmare?”

“A bad one,” I admitted, too wiped out to be macho. I cleared my throat to try and soothe some of the rasp in my voice. “Dev was in this one.”

Max sighed. I knew what he was thinking. It was no secret I’d been broadsided when Devlin stepped out on me with Connor. A man of few words, Devlin “Devil” Rhodes, had been a loyal and dedicated soldier. A man who’d always had my back. Until he didn’t.

Max’s voice cut through my hyper-exhausted headspace. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No.”

The soft rumble of his laughter crackled over the line. He didn’t point out the hypocrisy in me canlı casino calling him to talk, only to shut him down.

“Asshole,” he said with casual affection. “I tried calling you, but after the second time I got your voicemail, I doubted I’d hear from you tonight.”

“Sorry. I’ve just been trying to take everything in.”

“It’s okay. How are you holding up?”

“Glad I have two legs.”

“That good, huh?” Regret filled his voice. “I’m sorry I can’t be there with you for the funeral.”

“I’m not even thinking that far ahead yet.”

I swiped a hand through my hair, allowing my eyes adjust to the dark. “Just trying to get through tomorrow.”

“I hear you. You’re staying away from the booze though, right?”

My dog tags rattled gently on their chain as I twisted them around, a nervous tell that Max picked up on even through the phone.

“You know you shouldn’t be drinking with the meds your doctor prescribed you.”

I counted to three since the next bomb wouldn’t go over any better than the first. “I’m not taking the meds anymore.”

“What? Sam…” Max managed to cram a commendable amount of exasperation into my name. “Taking antidepressants doesn’t mean you’re crazy.”

“I took them when I didn’t have a choice. But despite all the shit they shoveled into my system, I still didn’t make the grade. So fuck the meds, and fuck them and their quack opinions.”

Max sighed again. “Sam, I’m a doctor and you trust me, so just give the meds another chance.”

“I don’t need them. I know my limits. I’m not going to freak out and hurt my family, Max.”

“That’s not what I’m afraid of.”

He didn’t have to clarify. Being both my best friend and a physician gave him two good reasons to worry that under intense stress I’d eat my gun. Considering the number of recent late nights I’d spent with my service weapon against my temple, I didn’t blame him.

“Nothing can help the situation here, Max. It’s bad.”

“You knew that going in. It’s why the doctor wrote the prescriptions in the first place.”

“Not what I meant,” I said, my hand going to my dog tags again. “I think Connor was abusing Sofia and Adelyn.”

“You got proof?”

“No, but they jump out of their skin every time I get near them. They’ve got that look.”

A look I knew well from growing up with a father who believed broken bones were a sign you were raising your kids right.

The silence was long enough that I thought the connection had faded out until Max’s voice broke it.

“Good thing he’s dead then… I don’t have enough in my bank account to bail you out of jail.” Static crackled over the line again. “That must be nice and cozy for everyone… walking around with Connor’s face. Jesus.”

I rubbed my hand hard over my face. “You have to see the way Adelyn looks at me, Max. That kid used to worship the ground I walked on.”

“I remember. She followed you around like a tail. Have you talked to Sofia about any of this?”

“No, we haven’t really talked about anything. After all this time, I don’t have the right to ask.”

“Of course you have the fucking right to ask. They’re your family, Sam. Their business is your business.”

“I walked out of their lives because I let Connor get into my head and convince me they’d be better off with me never coming back to Florida.”

“You were in a combat zone for a good part of those three years,” Max reminded me.

“I kaçak casino still should’ve made the time.”

Max’s sigh wafted static over the line. “Sam, don’t do this to yourself. Yeah, you fucked up with Sofia and the girls. We agree there. But what set you off tonight had zilch to do with them. You’re feeling guilty over what happened to Connor and Devlin.”

When I didn’t answer, he continued. “They’re dead because Connor was an adrenaline-seeking narcissist who fucked up and broke protocol. Devlin was just stupid. None of that had anything to do with you.”

“Connor was my responsibility, Max. Our mom made me promise to look after him, and I let petty personal shit get in the way of that.”

“Bullshit. You took a bullet while rescuing him, and he repaid you by cheating with Devlin behind your back. That’s not petty personal shit, Sam. It’s fucked up.” Static crackled across the line again as Max exhaled noisily. After a brief pause, his voice was gentler when he spoke again. “Let it go.”

“I can’t. Connor was right. Too much is different now to get back to what things were.”

“Fuck Connor. You belong there. Sofia and the girls are your family. Period. The end.”

Max sighed and we lay on either side of the call, listening to one another breathe.

Logically, I knew Connor’s death wasn’t my fault. There were no magic powers that could put me in two places at one time. I’d been in another town when that bomb went off, but misplaced guilt was the fuel that ignited most of my nightmares.

“Still with me, Sam?”

“Yeah.”

“Promise me you’ll try the meds. They’ll make the transition back home easier on you.”

Home. I didn’t have a home anymore. I’d been born in Florida, but the Army was the home I’d built with walls of shared experiences and a thick mortar of loyalty. Being forced to come back to Florida because I’d been deemed by my military family to be no longer fit for duty blew my house apart like a goddamned IED.

“Stop hovering, Max. I’m fine.”

“You’re full of shit and you should try and get some sleep.”

“I’m not tired.”

“I know, but you need to try anyway,

He stopped talking for a few moments but I could hear static and soft echoes until there was complete silence like he’d moved away from all and any background noise. His drawl was thick enough to walk on, pitched low and sexy when he started telling me where he wanted me to put my hands.

It wasn’t the first time he’d consoled me like this after a nightmare, but usually it was his hands and lips that were doing all the things he was promising would feel so good. I wasn’t in the mood, but he was persistent, and knew me so well that he pushed exactly the right buttons. I got wrapped up in the fantasy, because he was right that I needed out of my own head, and his explicit words urged me to find solace in my own touch until I spilled hot over my hand with a muffled groan.

We hung up shortly after. Despite the recent uprising in Congress for equality and tolerance, it was still wise to err on the side of caution. Max and I were casual enough to have long lulls between our trysts, so discretion wasn’t an issue. Not like it had been with Devlin.

Just like that, all the tension Max had wrung out of me was back full force.

I got out of bed and grabbed a new tee shirt. A quick trip into the bathroom medicine cabinet found the bottle of aspirin again, and my glance at the digital clock by the bed when I went back into the room displayed an ungodly hour. Plenty of time for a run before the girls woke up. But as I headed out the door, I wasn’t sure if I was trying to get away from the dead, or from the living.

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