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It's The Way You Love Me

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It's The Way You Love Me

 

Chapter One – The Leaving

"I don't want you to go."

Jase looked up from where he was packing his gear.  "I know baby.  But the timing couldn't be better, right?  I mean Adam's promo stuff is starting up, so there's gonna be a ton of appearances and what, like a mini-tour or something?  And then shortly after that won't you be going on tour?  Last time it was six months around the world.  I'll be home by the time you get back, who knows I might even be able to make a show or two over in Europe."

He put down the shirt he was folding and walked over to where Tommy was sitting in a chair, knees pulled up to his chest, arms wrapped around them.  He crouched down and put his hands on top of Tommy's knees, squeezing.  "Hey, you're gonna be so busy you won't even notice I'm not around."

Tommy swallowed hard, bringing his hand up and chewing on his thumbnail.  He clenched his jaw and met Jase's eyes.  "The time apart isn't what's worrying me.  I mean it is, but um, yeah."

"Scoot over," Jase ordered, shoving in beside Tommy in the chair and pulling at him until he was practically in his lap.

"I'm going to be fine.  Okay?  Nothing is going to happen to me."  He wrapped his arms around Tommy and held him tightly, kissing the top of his head.  "I've listed you as my next of kin."

Tommy pulled back and looked at him in surprise.  "Really?"

Jase shrugged.  "My parents are old, well older, and I'm an only child.  Besides, you have my parents' numbers, I'd rather have you break any kind of news to them than some stranger who's just doing his job."  He paused, then looked right into Tommy's eyes.  "Besides, I don't want you to have to wait and worry.  And now that DADT is gone, I don't have to worry about keeping you a secret.  I mean, I'm not gonna advertise or anything but at least I don't have to hide you now.  Plus, I can put you in contact with other partners. You'll have a built in support system, if you want that is."

Tommy nodded his head and mumbled against Jase's chest, "Yeah, that'd be nice.  Plus, you know, any other contact info you think would be important."

"Don't worry, Rockstar, I'll give you a whole info sheet with tons of contact info.  And don't forget we'll be able to Skype as well.  Not regularly but at least once a week."

Tommy pushed further into Jase's chest, trying to burrow into his t-shirt.  "Not letting you go."

A laugh rumbled through Jase's chest as he wrapped his arms around Tommy more tightly.  "Hold on."

He stood up and Tommy clung to him, struggling not to laugh as Jase walked across the room and Tommy tried to hold on but failed as Jase dropped him on the bed.  "Think I can fit you in my gear bag?"

Finally Tommy laughed.  "Shut up, fucker. I'm not that small."

Jase looked him up and down appraisingly.  "Hmm, I don't know, you look pretty tiny to me.  I mean I did just carry you across the room and all."

Tommy rolled his eyes and flipped him the bird.  He got up onto his knees, peering into Jase's bag.  "So what all you got in there?"

Jase ran down the list from memory.  "All I've got left are toiletries and some personal items and then I'll be all packed."

Tommy sighed, sitting back down. 

"You driving me to the airport tomorrow?" Jase asked hesitantly.

"Yup, unless you've changed your mind."

Relief spread across Jase's face.  "Nope, haven't changed my mind."

Tommy smiled.  "Good."  He looked down at his lap.  "So, um, what are we doing when you finish up here?"

Jase grinned, his eyes twinkling playfully.  "Not telling. I've got plans for us that I know you're going to like though."

"Tallyrand Diner?"

Jase shot him a mock glare.  "No, I won't take you to the diner on my last night in America.  But I’m also not going to tell you.  So don't even try to pout it out of me.  This is one time your big Bambi eyes aren't going to work."

Tommy blinked up at him, sticking his lower lip out in an exaggerated pout.  "Please?"

Laughing, Jase just shook his head.  "No way. Now let me finish."

Huffing out a sigh, Tommy sat back against the pillows, his arms crossed, and watched Jase finish packing. 

The last thing Jase put into his bag was the picture from his bedside table.  Tommy watched with interest as Jase carefully wrapped the picture of the two of them from the hamburger stand in a t-shirt and gently placed it inside his laptop bag.  When he zipped up the bag, Tommy leaned forward and grabbed his hand, lacing their fingers together. 

Jase looked down at their hands, stroking his thumb over the back of Tommy's hand.  "See?  You're always going to be close by.  Now what do you say we go get dinner, okay?"

Nodding happily, Tommy got off the bed and moved toward the door, only to be stopped short when Jase's hand wrapped around his wrist.  He looked down at the long fingers trapping his arm and back up to meet Jase's eyes.  Jase tugged him closer, and Tommy went along willingly until he was in Jase's arms and smushed up against his chest.  They hugged for several long moments until Jase kissed the top of his head and smacked his ass.  "Come on, let's go."

Tommy followed Jase out the door to his car.  "Hey, what's going to happen to your car?" he asked, strapping himself into the passenger seat.

Jase was silent as he started up the car and then he shifted in his seat to look at Tommy.  "That's one of the things I was kinda hoping to talk to you about."

As Jase's face started to color, Tommy chewed on his lip nervously.  "Okay."

"Look, I know you're gonna be gone a lot, so I've got people lined up and everything to take care of the house and the car and all that but I was wondering."  Jase paused.  "I mean I know you have your own place and all, but um, I just thought maybe if you wanted a nicer place to crash –"

"Seriously?" Tommy's face lit up.  "Could I like bring my guitars over and shit?  You've got that amazing study that would be perfect to jam in."

 Jase's rich laughter filled the car.  "Yeah, I cleaned it up a bit with that in mind.  Sadly, I know the acoustics in there suck, but you could wear your ear pieces and all, and I think you'd be fine."

"If we weren't driving right now, I'd be climbing you like a fucking tree!  Thank you!  My place with Mike is great but –"

"You don't really have a space that's just yours for your guitars and shit."

Tommy grinned because Jase totally understood him.  "Yeah, that."

Jase pulled his hand off the wheel and squeezed the back of Tommy's neck.  "Now you do."

Leaning into the touch Tommy grinned, refusing to even think about Jase not touching him for the next year.

Dinner was a quiet affair.  Jase took them to a nice out of the way restaurant on the beach in Malibu.  It was one of those normal non-pretentious places, the kind that Tommy loved and one they'd been to a few times in the past.   They were seated at a nice private table, close to the window where they could see the waves crashing onto the shore. 

Jase ordered them a bottle of wine and then sat back in his chair watching Tommy.  They made small talk, mostly about the upcoming promo tour and subsequent tour, Tommy's shift to lead guitar, avoiding the elephant in the room even though both of them could see it.  It wasn't until they got back to Jase's place and he'd locked up for the night that they finally acknowledged it.

Tommy said something first. He was lying on Jase's bed, watching as he made a last check of his gear bag and stuffed his passport and papers into his backpack.   "Twelve months is a long time."

"Hmm?" Jase asked and then stopped, looking up at Tommy, concern on his face.  "Yeah, I know but you're going to be gone too."

Tommy shifted a bit, rolling over onto his back and staring up at the ceiling.  "Yeah, I know it's not that, it's –"

"Where I'm going," Jase said softly.

Tommy swallowed hard.  "Yeah."

Tommy closed his eyes but he could hear Jase moving about, a drawer open and some papers rustle. 

"Tommy?"

He opened his eyes to see Jase standing by his side of the bed with a stack of papers in his hand. 

"Here."

Tommy sat up and took the papers.  "What's this?"

"Those are, um, that's everything you need to know and um, all the official paperwork you would need…"

"If something happened to you," Tommy finished quietly.

Jase just nodded his head.  "Look, nothing is going to happen to me, okay?  What you have there are copies of all the paperwork naming you my next of kin, along with another printout of my parents' contact info. There's also a list of all the contact info for my unit.  I've given you the Ombudsman's name and number along with the numbers of some of the other spouses that are 'family' friendly, and a few names and numbers of other partners.  You can contact any of them if you feel like you need to talk to someone.  Yeah, I know you have friends, but unless they have someone they care about in a combat zone, they aren't going to understand how you're feeling.  These people will.  You can also contact the Red Cross if an emergency comes up and you need to get in touch with me immediately."

"An emergency?"

Jase took a deep breath.  "Like your dad."

"Oh."

Jase pulled the papers out of Tommy's hand and set them on the bedside table, sitting down on the bed and tugging Tommy into his arms.  "I'm not going out into the battlefield.  I'll be at one of the field hospitals, safe as houses."

A low chuckle slipped out of Tommy.  "Are houses really safe?"

Laughter bubbled out of Jase's chest and he tightened his arms around Tommy, kissing the top of his head.  "Yeah, I think sometimes they are.  So, better now, Rockstar?"

Tommy lifted his shoulder in a half-hearted shrug.  "Yes, no, I guess.  I'll be okay.  I mean, the first few days, weeks, are gonna be shitty I’m sure. At least until I get busy with promo and tour work up and then tour. Once that happens, I'll be so busy –"

"That you won't be thinking about where I am."

A sheepish smile appeared on Tommy's face.  "I mean, I'll still miss the shit out of you, but yeah, I'll be too busy to worry."

But they both knew that was a lie. 

^v^

The next morning came way too fast and way too early.  They'd stayed up later than they'd intended, taking turns with each other until Tommy had finally collapsed, exhausted, onto Jase's chest, clinging tightly to him when sleep overtook both of them.  When the alarm went off, they got up and Jase showered while Tommy put on his makeup. 

Silence hung heavy in the air while they dressed.  Jase made toast, which Tommy could barely choke down with some coffee, and then they were in the car, Jase's bags in the trunk.  Tommy looked out the window as Jase drove, the lump in his throat making it too hard to speak.  He clenched and unclenched his fist repeatedly, digging his nails into his palm, the pain keeping him grounded. 

Jase reached across the seat and put a hand on his thigh, squeezing, and Tommy smiled at him weakly, swallowing hard.  Pulling the car into the parking garage, Jase patted Tommy's thigh and put his hand back on the wheel until they were parked.  Together, they grabbed Jase's bags from the trunk and walked into the airport, their free hands locked together, Tommy holding on as if he never wanted to let go. 

He stood with Jase at the counter while Jase got checked in for his flight, handing his gear bag over to the lady behind the counter, who kept shooting Tommy sympathetic looks.  They made him want to punch her in the face, and he didn't hit women. 

"Come on," Jase said, tugging Tommy's hand and pulling him away from the counter. 

"Are you done?"

"Yup, all checked in.  This flight gets me to DC, and then I have a military flight out to Ramstein."

"And then on from there."

"Yeah.  Let's get some coffee."

Side by side, they stood waiting for coffee and even though it was Starbucks, Tommy felt like it was acid burning a hole in his stomach.  He glanced at the clock, and the hands seemed to spin faster because suddenly Jase was pulling him up, tossing their cups in the trash and heading toward the security checkpoint.  Tommy was drawn into Jase's arms. Jase kissed the top of his head and whispered too many words to register into Tommy's hair.  Words like I'll miss you, I love you, I'll be fine, we'll talk soon.  Tommy clung to him, his hands fisted in the back of Jase's jacket, trying to breathe over the bowling ball sized lump in his throat.  His eyes burned with unshed tears, and his chest felt like it was going to explode. 

"I have to go."

Pulling back and giving Jase what Tommy hoped was his biggest smile, he said.  "Be safe."

"I will.  I'll call you when I get to DC and when I get to Ramstein.  When I arrive elsewhere, I'll get word to you as soon as I can.  It's probably going to be at least a month though, so don't worry."

Tommy nodded, unable to speak.  Jase pulled him in for one last hug then kissed him, slow and sweet, with a desperate edge of longing and regret.  "I love you."

Then he was letting Tommy go and shouldering his bag and getting into line with everyone else.  Tommy watched him until he got to the front of the line and turned back.  Tommy waved and mouthed, "I love you."  Jase nodded and turned to take off his shoes. 

Watching until Jase was through security, Tommy held it together, waving at him one last time before Jase turned and got lost in the crowd.  "Come back to me," he whispered, the first tears spilling out and slipping down his cheeks. 

 He made his way back to Jase's car in a daze, starting it and pulling out of the spot.  He drove back to Jase's place on autopilot, parking and locking the car before going inside, stripping down to his boxers and climbing back into the bed.  Tommy pulled Jase's pillow over and hugged it, wrapping his body around it and burying his nose in it, inhaling Jase's scent. 

Now he understood what it meant when someone said their heart ached so much it felt like a big gaping hole in their chest.  His phone buzzed and he grabbed it, thumbing the lock off.  It was a text message from Jase. 

I love you, Rockstar!

There were heart emoticons after it, and Tommy laughed despite the tears suddenly sliding down his face again.  He wrapped himself around the pillow again, clutching his phone.  He lay like that until the shadows in the room were gone, the sun was blazing through the windows, and someone was pounding on the front door. 

Tommy pulled his own pillow over his head, hoping to drown out the pounding on the door, but then he heard Isaac's voice and figured he'd better answer it before the neighbors called the police or some shit.  He dragged himself out of bed and snagged his jeans, pulling them up as he walked toward the door.

"I'm coming," he yelled, fastening the button on his jeans just as he reached the door.

He opened it, and Isaac pushed his way inside.

"You look like shit.  Go take a shower. We've got stuff to do today."

Tommy scowled at him.  "I thought we had today off?  Right? There's nothing scheduled today?"

Isaac turned and gave him another once over.  "There wasn’t and now there is. Go shower."

Folding his arms across his chest, the frown on Tommy's face deepened.  "What's scheduled?"

His heart was pounding.  Adam had known what today was; he'd promised Tommy he wouldn't schedule anything. 

"Just go shower."

Tommy clenched his jaw.  "Fine."  He turned on his heel and stalked out of the room, muttering under his breath about bossy friends and whether it was illegal to hit them over the head with their own drums. 

His heart thumped painfully when he reached the bedroom, but he grit his teeth, made the bed and went into the bathroom to shower.  While the water heated up, he stared at himself in the mirror.  Isaac was right; he did look like shit.  His eyes were bloodshot , his cheeks were splotchy, and whatever eyeliner he might have had left was completely gone.  He quickly washed his face and then jumped into the shower. 

Twenty minutes later, he was putting the last minute touches on his makeup.  He looked at himself approvingly in the mirror.  The only thing he hadn't been able to fix were his bloodshot eyes, but there was nothing he could do about that.  He grabbed his phone, sliding it into his pocket, and went out to meet Isaac.

Chapter Two – The Going

Leaving Tommy at the security checkpoint was probably the hardest thing Jase had ever done in his entire life, and he'd done a lot of hard things.  But seeing Tommy there, knowing tears and heartache were hiding just below the brave smile he was putting on, made Jase want to punch kittens and he liked kittens.  He turned around to see if he could get one last glimpse, but even stretching up onto his toes, he couldn't see Tommy through the crowd.  He sighed in resignation and headed for his gate.

When he got there, he found a seat and slumped down into it.  He couldn't afford to let go, not here, not in front of strangers, maybe not for a while.  So he pulled out his book and tried to read.  The words swam in front of his eyes, and after fifteen minutes of staring at the same paragraph, he knew he wasn't reading, just making it look like he was so nobody would talk to him. 

The next sixty minutes seemed to crawl by. He glanced up occasionally, watching as people came and went.  He eavesdropped on a few conversations, finding the one with the mom and the kid the most amusing.  The kid wanted her to buy him something from the store, and the mom was trying to explain that they really didn't have any more room in their bags for anything and that he had plenty of toys and books to keep him occupied.

He watched as they boarded in the first group, idly wondering where their final destination was.  Jase made his way slowly toward the front of the line, showing the lady his boarding pass before continuing down onto the plane and finding his seat.  Once he was settled, he pulled out his phone, sent Tommy a final text and shut it off.  He stretched his legs out, laid his head back and tried to make up for the sleep they'd lost the previous night. 

Fortunately, the flight was uneventful.  He pulled his phone out as soon as he got off the plane and hit the speed dial.  Tommy didn't answer until the third ring, and when he did, he was out of breath.

"Jase?"

"Yup, made it to DC.  You okay?  Sound like you've been running."

"Yeah, just wanted to get outside, take the call in private yanno?"

"I thought you had the day off?"

"I did, and then there was a special rehearsal called, and here I am."

"TOMMY!"

Jase heard a muffled shout as Tommy covered the mouthpiece and told someone to fuck off.

"Babe, if you have to go –"

"NO!"  Tommy interrupted him.  "No, they all knew you were flying out today. They can give me five fucking minutes to talk to you."

"If you're sure."

"I'm sure.  Adam already apologized about the rehearsal, said he forgot all about you leaving today.  He felt really bad.  Said when Sauli found out he was probably gonna get his ass kicked."

Jase laughed.  "Sauli could do it too. He's fierce!"

A snort of laughter came through the phone.  "Yeah, fucker's built."

"Sorry, you didn't have your Tommy time today."

"S'okay.  Probably better that Isaac dragged me out anyway, you know, keeping busy and all."

"Yeah."

They went silent for a moment. Jase watched as people walked by, completely oblivious that he was telling his boyfriend goodbye before getting on a plane to a war zone.  His feelings for Tommy and his sadness at having to leave him welled up inside him and he swallowed hard.  "I – I just wanted you to know I love you."

"I know," Tommy said softly.  "I know."

"I better go.  Take care okay?  Spend time with Isaac, Adam, whoever.  Don't hibernate.  I have to live vicariously through you."

Tommy laughed.  "Okay, I'll try to be more active for you."

"That's my rockstar, living the dream."

"I love you, Jase.  Stay safe and come back to me."

"I will.  Bye, baby."

"Bye."

The line went dead, and Jase stood holding his phone pressed against his lips for so long that some man in the nearby store started staring at him.  Jase shook his head and slid his phone back into his pocket before making his way through the airport to the shuttle that would take him to the charter flight to Ramstein.

Once there, he made himself comfortable.  Military flights almost never left on time.  He looked around, not surprised to see several families hoping to get on the flight.  Made him wonder if it was a regular airplane or one with just jump seats.  He'd find out when they boarded.  He pulled his book back out, trying to read again, and gave up after ten minutes, deciding to people watch instead. 

When they finally boarded, he tried Tommy one last time but it went to voicemail.  He left him a message and then shut his phone off.  Once they were in the air, he ate the meal they served quickly and then settled in to sleep. The jetlag was gonna be a bitch, and he would be getting on another plane almost as soon as he arrived.

^v^

Customs was tiresome as always.  Jase had no trouble; it was just an inconvenient pain in the ass.  He pulled out his paperwork and showed it to the proper people, letting them direct him to where he needed to go.  He found a bathroom and changed into his uniform.  He stuffed his civilian clothes back into his bag and went to find a seat to wait. 

He sent Tommy a quick text, letting him know he was in Germany and reminding him that he'd get in contact as soon as he could from the desert.  Earlier than he expected, the flight was boarding, and before he knew it, he was on his way back to Afghanistan. 

First stop was Romania. He ended up spending two days there before his flight out to Uzbekistan. He spent seven long days there, doing nothing but paperwork, medical checks and various other bureaucratic things before finally getting on his flight to Kandahar.  Then he got to spend a week reorienting himself to the Afghan environment.  Even though he'd been there before, he still had to go through the IED training; apparently the enemy had gotten cleverer and had changed tactics.  Then there was the whole 'this is your weapon, here's how to handle it when it jams because of all the fucking sand here oh and welcome back to hell' training.  That was always fun because he got rolled in a jeep to mimic the disorientation that would happen if he managed to become a victim of an IED blast. 

By the time he finally finished the orientation he was exhausted.  He still needed to go to medical to get his duty assignment along with his bunk assignment.  He ran into an old friend from a previous deployment while he was waiting in line.

"Dave?"

"Jase?  Is that you?"

Jase smiled.  "Hey buddy!" 

Dave came over and Jase hugged him, clapping him on the back.  "Didn't know you were here too."

"Yeah, I'm only here for three months though, just a quickie."

"Huh, that's nothing."

"You here for a twelve month?"

"Yup."

"Sucks."

"More than words, that's for sure."

They stopped talking as Jase got to the front of the line.  He dug out his orders, passport, ID, everything that was required, and worked his way through the assembly line.  It went smoothly but it was tedious and long.  He'd been up for over thirty-six hours, and exhaustion was starting to take over again. 

When he finished he waved at Dave.

"Hey, look me up in Intel after you get settled."

"Will do!"

It wasn't until later, after more tedious indoc, including finally getting his working schedule, that Jase was told by the Commander to go find his bunk, get unpacked, get some food, and get some rest because his two days off would go by very quickly and then he'd be buried in work.  Jase shook his hand and took his leave.

He couldn't believe that it had been almost three weeks since he'd flown out of LA.  One good thing, he got a new cell phone.  He could use it to text and call people back in the States and people back in the States could add minutes for him because the internet connection out here was shit.  As soon as he could, he'd text Tommy with the info.

Glancing down at the map and his bunk assignment, he quickly figured out he'd have to walk by the mess hall to get to his bunk so he might as well grab some grub first.  He shouldered his bag and got in line, grabbing a tray and watching as the servers filled it.  He took a seat off by himself, shoving his bag underneath the bench and digging into the food.  It wasn't half bad, wasn't half good either.  But it was something to fill his belly and he was starving, so he shoveled it down. 

Once he'd eaten his fill, Jase could feel sleep tugging at him, threatening to pull him under, so he returned his tray and left the mess hall heading for his bunk.  If he was lucky he'd be able to get the bed made before he crashed into it. 

There were several Marines in the tent when he got there.  He introduced himself and they showed him the empty bunk.  He stowed his gear in his foot locker including his laptop with his picture of Tommy.  Until he got a feel for his bunkmates it was probably best to leave sleeping dogs lie.  He didn't bother trying to make conversation, he was just too tired, and fortunately his bunkmates understood and told him to get some shuteye.

He stripped out of his uniform, folding it carefully and stowing it, grabbing some PE shorts and dragging them on before collapsing down onto his bunk.  He'd been afraid he wouldn't be able to rest, too many thoughts, but sleep came quickly, never even giving him a chance to think about sending Tommy a text.

Chapter Three – November Into December

Isaac and Sophie kept Tommy busy over the first few days.  Sophie dragged him shopping, Isaac made him work on Adam's new music with him, and they both made him go with them to yoga classes until he was so exhausted he'd end up crashing at their place.  And then the holiday rush started.  His mom was making a big Thanksgiving meal, and he was expected to be there.  Not that he minded, meant he'd get to spend time with Lisa and Bridget and that was always good.    

Jase texted him with phone info, and he charged up Jase's new cell so he could use it.  Jase called shortly after that, and they set up their first Skype date, although Jase warned him the internet was shit out there so Skype might be problematic but he would do his best.  Tommy now had a list of things Jase needed so he'd be making regular trips to the post office to send him care packages, stuff like drink mix, underwear, t-shirts, and fly paper.  Tommy didn't even want to ask about the latter, all Jase said was the flies were horrendous and for Tommy to send as much fly paper as he could as often as he could.

One morning Tommy got a call from one of the names on the list Jase had given him.

"Hi, um, is this Tommy?"

"Yes," he answered warily.

"I'm Kate.  I'm part of the family readiness group?  Your name was on my list.  I'm just calling to see how things are going and how you're handling the deployment so far."

"Oh, hi, um, okay I guess.  Some friends have been keeping me busy."

"That's good.  The beginning, the middle, and right toward the end are always the worst."  She laughed.  "Okay, the whole thing sucks in general, but yeah."

Her laughter started to put Tommy at ease and he relaxed a little bit. 

"I don't know if this is your thing or not, but a bunch of us are meeting for lunch next week, you know, just for moral support.  We usually talk about our partners/spouses/whatever, kids, jobs, the Murphy's Law of Deployment because crap always starts happening right about now.  Just whatever's on our minds.  It helps to be around people that know what you're going through."

His mind was going a mile a minute trying to keep up with her and think about his schedule at the same time.  She was right, it wasn't really his thing, but she also had a point about talking to others that understood how he was feeling.  They weren't scheduled to leave town just yet so he figured he could give it a shot.  At worst he might get a decent lunch out of it. 

"So, what do you think?  You up for meeting a bunch of strangers for lunch?" she asked brightly.

"Yeah, um, when?"

"Oh good!  I'm thrilled to hear that."

Grabbing a pen, Tommy quickly wrote down all the details and suddenly found himself staring at his phone and the paper after he'd hung up, wondering just what the hell he'd gotten himself into. 

So in between the insane family stuff, the Carpenters, Adam and even Sauli mother-henning him to death, he met a bunch of new people for lunch.  He was nervous at first; those types of social gatherings weren't really his thing.  His heart was pounding loudly in his chest when he arrived at the restaurant and checked in with the host, who graciously directed him to a table full of women.  Tommy gave them all a tentative wave and brushed the hair off his forehead, suddenly kicking himself for thinking he could do this.  But then a woman, probably in her late thirties, with curly red hair and bright green eyes came up to him.

"You must be Tommy.  I'm Kate."

She stuck out her hand for him to shake.  Tommy took her hand and she started gushing.  "I'm really glad you came.  Let me make some introductions."

Tugging on his hand, she pulled him around the table introducing him to everyone and introducing them to him.  She patted the place next to her and gratefully Tommy sat down, happy that the spotlight was finally off him as everyone went back to chatting with the person next to them.  Within a few minutes, Tommy learned that Kate's partner Julie was in the desert working as a nurse, they had two children together, a boy and a girl.  Kate had carried both and they'd done it with artificial insemination. 

It took her about fifteen minutes to tell him her entire life story and Tommy wasn't sure she took a breath the entire time. 

"So, tell me about you.  What do you do?  Who's over in the desert?"

"Um, I'm a musician, I play guitar and bass and my boyfriend Jase is a doctor, trauma surgeon.  He's the one that's over there."

"How long have you two been together?"

Her open and easy manner made Tommy relax and in between ordering and eating their food he told her about Jase and how they'd met.  It was refreshing that they took the information about what he did and who he worked for with very little fanfare.  There were a few surprised squeals and joking requests for autographs but for the most part they just accepted him as one of their own.  By the end of the luncheon, he'd exchanged cell phone numbers with Kate and a few others, promising to keep in touch through the holidays and after he left on promo.  It seemed like they needed contact just as much as he did; Kate had confided that holidays were especially hard when she hugged him goodbye.  "Don't be a stranger.  It's not weak to ask for help.  Trust me, I know." 

Tommy left the restaurant feeling lighter than he had in days.

He ended up calling Kate, a lot. Fortunately she didn't seem to mind the middle of the night phone calls.  Although, she did jokingly tell him that whenever the phone rang at that time of the morning, it nearly gave her a heart attack.  Tommy promised to wait to call at a reasonable hour from then on, but she just laughed.

Jase started calling fairly regularly, having finally gotten into some sort of a schedule where he was. Of course, all his calls were in the middle of the night.

"Hey, Rockstar."

"Hey, Doc," Tommy replied sleepily.  Blearily, he looked at the clock.  Three-thirty in the fucking morning.  Jesus, it was early or late.

"Sorry, I know I woke you."

"S'okay, I kinda expect it now," Tommy laughed softly.  "How are things?  Settling in?"

"Yeah, I've got my routine down, finally.  I'm getting my runs in so that makes me happy."

"I bet.  You without running makes a very cranky Jase."

Laughter came through the line and Tommy smiled, he loved Jase's laugh.  "You know I don't mind that you call like this.  My sleep is fucked up anyway.  I'm just happy to hear your voice."

"I know."

Tommy lay back on the bed and listened to Jase talk, his hand resting on his chest, his cheeks already aching from smiling until Jase said he had to go.  Saying goodbye was always the hardest and Tommy stared at the ceiling for a long time before finally going back to sleep.

^v^

Then it was December, and everyone around him was getting ready for Christmas.  Tommy wasn't usually one for Christmas, but he had a niece now and it was important to his sister, so he went shopping for gifts.  It seemed like every place he went, he spotted something that reminded him of Jase or something he wanted to share with him. 

One of the stores where he'd bought some toys had a stuffed bear dressed as a doctor.  He threw it in his basket along with one dressed in army fatigues.  The cashier never said a word about the two bears amidst a sea of pink stuff. 

Shortly after that, Sophie and Isaac invited him out for dinner with them.  The three of them met at Katsu-ya, the sushi restaurant they liked so well.  The place was all decorated for the holidays, and as Tommy looked around, it seemed to be filled with lots of couples.  On dates.  It didn't seem to faze Isaac or Sophie or maybe they just didn't notice.  But Tommy did, in a big way.

For numerous reasons, Christmas was never his thing, the big one being the fact that he was an atheist.  He just didn't believe in the lies – the religious ones or the ones about Santa.  He did believe in spending time with family and the ones you love and in exchanging gifts but that was about it.  So his reaction to the decorations and the obviously festive feel of the restaurant shocked Tommy to his core.

Watching everyone, including Sophie and Isaac, enjoying dinner with their loved ones made Tommy ache.  That feeling he'd had the morning Jase left came back with a vengeance and made it difficult to enjoy his dinner.  The food tasted like cardboard, and he went through several glasses of water to help choke it down.  He wanted Jase there to share it with him, the happiness everyone was feeling, the joyous looks on everyone's faces, all that bullshit that came with Christmas.  He wanted Jase there. 

"Hey, you okay?"  Isaac looked at him, worry in his eyes.

Swallowing hard, Tommy nodded.  "Yeah, yeah, um," he closed his eyes.  Kate had told him not to shut people out, especially people he was close to.  He opened his eyes and glanced between Sophie and Isaac.  "Sorry, it just kind of hit me that Jase isn't here, that he won't be here for the holidays, that he's in some fucking desert someplace while all these people are laughing and enjoying each other."

Sophie reached across the table and grabbed his hand and squeezed.  Tommy swallowed hard again, willing the heat behind his eyes back under control.  He offered her a weak smile.

"You know, it's okay to be upset," she said softly.

Tommy nodded, not trusting his voice.  She squeezed his hand again and then let it go.

"So, you gonna get dessert or should we go home, pop some popcorn, put on some chick flick and cry in each other's arms?"

Sophie shot Isaac a glare, but Tommy felt his lips twitch and then couldn't help the laugh that slipped out.  "Can we do both?"

Isaac smiled.  "Sure, bro, whatever you want."

Tommy grinned, feeling the tension at the table ease again along with the ache in his heart.  He'd have to call Kate and thank her for the advice. It had worked this time. 

They finished dessert and went back to Isaac and Sophie's place.  True to his word, Isaac popped them some popcorn and Sophie picked out a chick flick movie to watch.  Tommy wasn't even sure what it was. All he knew was that he was cuddled up between them, Sophie's hand stroking through his hair and Isaac's head in his lap, as they watched Amanda Seyfried make doe eyes at some dude Tommy didn't know the name of. 

Tommy fell asleep on their couch, and Isaac made him breakfast the next morning before driving him back to Jase's place. 

"Don't forget we have rehearsal at two today."

"Got it.  Thanks for last night."

"No problem, anytime."

Tommy pushed open the door stepping over the small amount of mail on the floor.  He shut the door and bent down to pick it up.  He flicked through it quickly, relieved when it was all junk mail. 

As he moved through the house, he remembered he should probably call Jase's parents today, see how they were doing.  He went into the kitchen and pulled a bottle of water out of the fridge, opened it up and quickly downed half the bottle.  Looking at the almost empty shelves, he figured he'd better go shopping this morning.  Something else Jase usually did. He shut the door with a sigh.  What did one even buy at a grocery store?  He'd call Sophie in a bit; she'd help him figure out a list.   

Sitting down at the counter on one of the stools, he went through the mail more carefully, just to be sure he hadn't missed anything earlier.  When he finished, he pulled out Jase's shopping list pad and a pencil and called Sophie. 

"Hey Soph."

"Hey Teej.  How are you?"

"Um, hungry?  My, well, Jase's shelves are bare."

Raucous female laughter spilled out over the phone and Tommy sighed.  "Can you help me make a grocery list?  You know, simple stuff I can cook myself so I'm not eating out all the time?"

"Sure."

They worked through the list on the phone until Sophie was sure he wasn't going to starve and Tommy was sure he wasn’t going to burn the house down trying to cook it all. 

"No you won't and you know you can always call me, I'll talk you through cooking."

"Thanks Sophie."

"Anytime, Tommy Joe."

By the time he returned from the store with the canned goods and frozen food Sophie had suggested and got everything unloaded and put away it was time for him to pack up for rehearsal because they were leaving for Shanghai in a few days.  Which of course made him think of Jase all over again, when he remembered that Adam was flying from China to Finland to spend Christmas with Sauli and his family. 

"Fuck," Tommy muttered.  He glanced at the clock, wondering if he had time to make a quick call to Kate, and figured he could squeeze in a few minutes so he hit his speed dial.

"Kate?"

"Tommy, how are you?  Getting all ready for Christmas?"

"Um, yeah, about that –" he paused, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"Having a bad day?"

He nodded, unable to find the words.

"Sucks how they kinda just sneak up on you like that.  Can I ask what happened?"

"Fucking Christmas," Tommy burst out.  "It's everywhere!  And everyone's all happy and shit and buying presents and spending time with the person they love and just fuck. I don't even believe in Christmas and yet I'm seeing it everywhere, and suddenly I'm missing him and I want him here to share it with me.  How fucked up is that?  And we're flying out to Shanghai in a few days, and then Adam is going to Finland to be with his boyfriend and his family, and I'm coming back here, and Jase is in the fucking desert, and it just sucks!"

He let out a breath and slumped against the counter, feeling drained.

"Feel better?"

Tommy huffed out a laugh.  "Yeah, actually I do."

"Do you have someplace to be?  On Christmas I mean?"

"Yeah, my mom's.  My sister's gonna be there with my niece, and I'm supposed to go see Jase's parents that day too.  Fuck!  I should get them something.  They're having friends over so I can't show up empty handed, especially since I'm going to be late.  Damn, what the hell do I even get them?  What kind of gift says 'thanks for inviting me and letting me come over at my convenience?'  I should ask Jase, send him an email or something."

"Well, you can always come here if the family stuff gets to be too much.  And if Jase doesn't have any ideas about the gift, let me know, we'll figure it out together."

"Thanks, I'll let you know."

"Anytime, Tommy."

"Ok, um, I have to go, I'm actually running late for rehearsal, but um, thanks, for listening I mean."

"Anytime.  Besides, I'm sure you're gonna get a call from me one of these days." Her laughter floated through the phone to him.

"I'll be waiting.  Thanks again, Kate."

"You're welcome.  Bye, Tommy."

"Bye."

He thumbed his phone off, downed the rest of the water, grabbed his guitar case and bag, and ran out the door.

Chapter Four – December Into January

Jase stood outside in the darkness, aiming his camera at the stars.  Quickly he snapped a picture and then went back inside the comm tent.  He logged onto his e-mail and uploaded the pic, sending it off to Tommy with a quick note telling him it was beautiful but lonely there without him.  Sometime tomorrow, he'd get a response.  He checked the date, or maybe sooner.  Tommy was in China right now.  Adam had some performance there.  Maybe he'd get some YouTube links and maybe there would be pictures.  He smiled at the thought.

He also kinda hoped Tommy picked him up something interesting in China.  Not that he didn't appreciate the constant supply of underwear, t-shirts, drink mix and fly paper that Tommy had been sending, but he mostly appreciated the quirky little things Tommy included like the stuffed bear in scrubs.  That had been a huge hit with his bunkmates.  They'd all teased him, wanting to know more about the girl back home who had sent it.  He hadn't bothered to correct them. 

He logged off and headed back to his bunk. He was tired.  Things had been going well, no casualties so far, and Jase hoped it stayed that way.  Not that he wasn't busy.  They were plenty busy, because in their downtime they were helping treat the local population; there was a lot of malnutrition and all the diseases that came with that.  It was hard seeing these people in such poor shape, and it reminded him to ask Tommy to add school supplies to his next care package.  The kids here didn't have any and were making do with whatever they could.  A lot of soldiers asked their families to send school supplies over, and Jase was going to add his name to that list.  Pulling the thermal blanket up over him, Jase rolled over onto his side and tried to get some shut eye.

The next day it all went to hell. 

Jase swiped a sweaty, gloved hand across his forehead before returning his attention to the soldier he was triaging.  Days like this made his time here very difficult.  There'd been a roadside bomb attack, and several of the soldiers hadn't even survived the trip back to the hospital.  He worked feverishly on the kid in front of him, knowing he was fighting a hopeless battle but fighting it all the same.  When he heard the flatline, he worked even harder, only calling it when the Chief called his name.

He stood back, stripping off his gloves and throwing them into the trash in disgust.  But he barely had time to catch his breath before another patient was wheeled in and he had to get back to work. 

By the end of the day, they'd lost ten people.  Three soldiers and seven civilians.  Jase leaned heavily on the sink, trying to gather his thoughts and get his anger and frustration under control.  He washed the blood and grime off his hands and arms without even looking in the mirror.  He just didn't think he could do it right now. 

When he finished, he signed off all the charts, checked out with the nurse, leaving a few last minute instructions with her before reporting off to the doc taking the next duty block.  He trudged through the camp toward the mess hall barely even noticing what food they put on his tray.  Finding his bunkmates, he sat with them, half-listening to their story of how they'd gone after the fucker who'd set the bomb.  They hadn't found him, probably just as well, because whoever it was wouldn't have survived the day, and that just meant another death. 

There was a lull in the conversation and he looked up and his breath caught in his throat.  Across the room, Jase could see a head of blond hair bobbing through the crowd.  It looked terribly familiar.  His heart pounded, and he stood up trying to get a better look only to be disappointed when the hair was attached to a corpsman who looked nothing like Tommy. 

He sat back down, ignoring the questioning looks of his bunkmates until Steve, the guy sitting next to him, leaned over and nudged him with his shoulder.

"See someone you thought you knew?"

"Yeah."

"Happens to all of us.  You have a picture?  Might help if you put a picture out in our tent. Nobody's gonna mind.  I got pictures of my girlfriend and her daughter.  But then you know that already, about putting up pictures I mean.  This isn't your first tour, right?  Isn't this like your third?"

Jase nodded, continuing to eat.

"So you know how it is."

"Yeah, I know. It's just, this time it's different."

"Didn't have anyone those other times?"

"Not like this."

"New girlfriend, huh?"

"Something like that," Jase said softly, thinking of Tommy and how he was most definitely not a girl. 

"Seriously, you should put her picture up. It's not like we're gonna perv on her or anything."

A laugh slipped from Jase, a bitter edge to it.  "Well, it's," he paused.  "Complicated."  He finally turned and glanced at Steve, smiling just a bit.

"Oh.  OH! Look, I'll talk to the guys, but nobody's gonna mind.  As long as you got our backs, we don't care where you put your dick.  You've been here over a month already, saved lives.  We've seen you coming back to the tent bloody, tired, and barely able to shower before collapsing in your bunk.  You've more than proved yourself.  Seriously, they're not gonna care.  Put his picture up.  Tell us about him when you feel up to it.  You know, it makes it easier.   Just saying."

"Thanks, man, I'll give it some thought."

Steve clapped him on the shoulder.  "We got your back, man.  Hey, we're heading to the movie tent. You want to join us?"

"What are they showing?"

"No idea, but it's usually a good time.  You should come."

Jase shoveled the last bite of food into his mouth and stood up with him.  "Thanks, I think I will."

He stowed his tray and followed Steve and the others over to the movie tent.  They were showing Paranormal Activity Three.  Jase thought it was scary as shit.  He couldn't help but think of Tommy and the fact that he would probably think it was stupid and call him a big girl for being afraid.  Then he'd laugh and push his head into Jase's chest and climb him like a tree, and they'd end up fucking each other to exhaustion so Jase would be able to sleep after the movie.

He made a mental note to ask Tommy about the movie in his next email.  Or maybe his next Skype call because, shit, if some random corpsman was making him think he was seeing his boyfriend everywhere, he needed to actually see his boyfriend, even if it only was a video call. 

When he got back to the tent after the movie, Jase knelt by his footlocker.  He opened it up and pulled out Tommy's wrapped picture.  Carefully, he unwrapped the t-shirt, swallowing hard over the lump that had formed in his throat as he looked at the two of them at that hamburger stand on the beach.  They'd been so happy that day, even if Tommy's ankle had been bothering him by then.  It had still been an amazing day. 

He put the t-shirt back into his locker and stood up holding the picture.  Slowly, he walked to the head of his bunk before kneeling down again.  He cleared a space and reverently set the picture down, angling it toward his bunk.  His heart hitched in his chest, and he clenched his fist.  He was gonna have to Skype Tommy, the need for it was making his skin itch. 

Jase wanted -- needed -- to hear Tommy's voice, see his face and not just a picture. 

"That him?"

Startled, Jase turned around, cursing the blush he could feel spreading up his cheeks.  "Yeah, we'd only been dating about a month or so when this was taken."

"You all look good together."  Steve clapped him on the shoulder. "I'm hitting the rack. You look like you could, too."

"Yeah," Jase mumbled, already lost in his thoughts again.  He stripped down in silence and climbed into his bunk, lying on his side so he could stare at the picture.  He pulled his dog tags out from under his shirt and fingered the guitar pick he'd hung on the chain.  It was one of the ones with Adam's name on it but it was also one of the picks Tommy used at home.  He knew because Tommy had given it to him one night after they'd spent the evening with him reading medical journals and Tommy playing guitar. 

"I want you to have this," Tommy said softly.

Jase looked up from his journal, his finger marking his place.  "What?"

"This." Tommy handed him one of his guitar picks.  "I want you to have it, something to carry around with you while you're over there.  I figure it's small, unobtrusive, and you can easily put it in your pocket or on a chain or whatever.  Just so, you know, you have something of me, to know um, that I'm back here, waiting for you."

Jase reached up and took the pick and closed his palm around it.  "Thank you."  He reached out with his free hand and wrapped it around Tommy's wrist, pulling him down into his lap.  "It's perfect," Jase said huskily before capturing Tommy's mouth with his and sliding his tongue inside.

He'd taken it to a jeweler the next day and had them make a hole in it and now he wore it with his dog tags, so a part of Tommy was with him wherever he went.  Made him feel safe, protected, and less like a piece of his heart was walking around outside of his body in the form of a blond guitar player halfway across the world.

Chapter Five – January

January proved to be the start of a very busy few weeks for Tommy.  The promo schedule started to fall into shape and there would be performances on Leno and Ellen in the same week.  The rehearsal schedule was insane.  He barely had time to sit down and think about anything, which frankly after the rollercoaster that had been Christmas was a welcome respite. 

He'd spent time at both his mom's house and Jase's parents' house, and while it had been fun and he'd really enjoyed all the time spent with the ones he loved, it just served to remind him that the one he loved most wasn't there.  So Tommy was glad that the holidays were over and they were getting back to work. Now at least he was so busy learning and practicing the new music that he didn't have time to think about being lonely.

The days before the performances seemed to fly by in a blur of rehearsals, nights out with Isaac and Sophie and some of his other friends, and family stuff.  His mom kept calling; wanting him to come over again, spend some time with her and Lisa and Bridget.  On Tommy's next shopping trip for Jase he bought a trinket for his niece and made plans with his mom to go over for dinner in the next couple of days. 

Nights really were the hardest.  He already suffered from insomnia on a good day, but on a bad day?  It was even worse.  Those were the nights that he wrapped himself around Jase's pillow and stared off into the darkness until the shadows in the room started to lighten and his eyes finally got heavy enough to close, only to be woken up a few short hours later by his alarm so he could drag himself off to rehearsal. 

Nobody said anything to him, but even Adam was shooting him concerned looks which worried Tommy. If Adam told Sauli, then Sauli would be over at Jase's house cooking and making those Finnish pancakes that Tommy loved, saying 'I'll make you fat with Finnish pancake'.  Isaac asked if he wanted to start crashing over at their place instead of tumbling around Jase's house by himself.  Tommy almost took him up on the offer but then he thought about their bed, the bed he and Jase shared, and couldn't bring himself to not sleep in it. As lonely as it made him, it also made him feel connected to Jase in some small way.  He'd even taken to sleeping on Jase's side of the bed. 

Isaac gave him a sympathetic look and told him he completely understood.  Tommy knew that wasn't entirely true, because Jase was in a combat zone and all, but it was the thought that counted and he appreciated it.  So every night he went back to Jase's house, checked the mail, curled up on the couch to watch a movie or went to the music room to play until he was too tired to hold his head up and then he headed to bed. 

Tommy sent Jase the YouTube link for Ellen, and they talked about the performance during their next call. 

"You looked good on Ellen.  Everyone sounded good.  What happened to Cam?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Tommy answered.  "Not really sure, I think it mostly had to do with her UhHuhHer schedule and some shows she couldn't shift to do promo.  Then suddenly it morphed into she wasn't coming back at all, and we've got this new guy, Kev. He's cool though.  He does backup vocals, and when the mix is right, he really blends well with Adam."

"Oh, okay.  You good with it, though?  I know you and Cam are really close."

"I'm good. I'm meeting her for lunch next week."

Jase smiled.  "Meeting up with all these girls, should I be worried?"

Rolling his eyes, Tommy snorted.  "As if.  They are lacking in a specific department."

"Yeah, but –"

"No buts!  You know, unless it's yours," Tommy said sternly.  "Now, tell me what's going on over there before I decide to show you how much I really miss you."

Laughter floated out over the speakers.  "Things here are good.  I finally feel like I'm settled in.  It's dusty here. Hot during the day but fucking cold at night.  You'd hate it.  They keep me pretty busy."

Tommy chewed on his thumbnail as he watched Jase's face grow serious and knew he was probably thinking about some of the harder patients.  "Everything go okay?"

"Yeah, it's just, some of these guys are so young, yanno?"

Tommy nodded, knowing there wasn't anything to say.

"I miss you."

Tommy's breath caught in his throat, and he swallowed hard.  He reached out to touch the screen.  "I miss you too," he said softly.

Jase turned, and Tommy watched as people started moving behind him.  His heart started to pound.

"I gotta go.  I'll call you as soon as I can.  I love you, Tommy Joe."

"I love you too, Jase," Tommy called out right before the call ended.

He slumped back against the pillows on his bed and glanced at the clock.  Three-thirty in the fucking morning.  Tommy rubbed his eyes, feeling them burn with exhaustion.  He needed to try to get back to sleep. He had rehearsal in the morning and some sort of info meeting about the upcoming promo stuff.  They were heading off to Europe in two days. 

He shut his laptop down and plunged the room into darkness.  Carefully he placed it on the floor next to the bed and curled up under the covers, wrapping his body around Jase's pillow and closing his eyes.  Tommy willed his heart to slow down and clenched his hands into fists resisting the urge to turn on CNN and make sure nothing was happening over in Afghanistan.  He finally fell into a fitful sleep.

^v^

His hands gripping the arms of the seat so hard his knuckles were white, Tommy tried to take a deep breath.  Isaac looped his arm through Tommy's elbow. 

"Breathe, man. It's gonna be fine."

"I hate this part."

"I know. Come on. Breathe with me.  In through your nose, out through your mouth, just like when we're doing yoga with Sophie."

Within minutes, they were in the air and Tommy was able to relax his grip a bit.  Isaac squeezed his arm again.  "You okay, bro?"

Nodding silently, Tommy leaned back into the seat a bit.  "Yeah, I'm good.  I'm good."

Patting his arm, Isaac let go.  "So what movie you wanna watch?"

They ended up watching part of a movie, and then Isaac begged off so he could get some sleep.  Tommy pulled a blanket over himself, reclined his seat and tried to get some himself.  They landed in Munich and were greeted by a fan.  It always amazed him how fans were able to track their movements down like that.  They all talked for a while, took some pictures and then were herded into the vehicles that would drive them down into Austria for the QSnowcase radio show.

Talking to Jase would be much easier while they were in Europe, because the timezones were closer.  They still had that weird half hour to make up, but maybe over the next week or so he could get some decent sleep. Then Isaac and Adam could stop mother henning him, and Sauli could stop trying to get him to drink that fucking juice shit.  Tommy was almost afraid to open his e-mail for fear that Sauli would resort to that, since he wasn't local and couldn't call him about it anymore.

The hotel in Austria was amazing.  Adam had a whole suite to himself.  Tommy and Isaac were sharing a room, and Kevin had a smaller room to himself.  And there was snow, lots of snow.  Tommy looked out the window of the hotel in excitement.  He'd just gotten a wickedly good idea.  He turned to Isaac.  "So, want to help me make a snow sculpture for Jase?"

Isaac grinned.  "Sure, should we get Kev to help?"

"Why the fuck not?  The more the merrier."

Within a few minutes the three of them were outside and starting to pack snow into a column. 

"What are we making again?" Kev asked dubiously.

Isaac snorted.  "Just keep packing the snow, we'll leave the final shaping to Tommy."

They worked until Tommy's hands were stiff with the cold.  His fingers were red, he was shivering and his teeth were chattering.  Isaac was looking at him with concern.  None of that mattered though because all he could think was that he was doing this for Jase.  He could warm up when they finished.  Kev was looking at him like he was insane when he finally stood back, admiring their work.  "Yeah, that's gonna get it done.  It's perfect." 

He pulled his phone out and snapped a few pictures, sending one with a text to Adam.  He got an immediate response, laughter with a note saying he was sending it on to Sauli.  Tommy smiled and slid the lock on his phone.  He'd upload the picture to his laptop later.  He couldn't wait to get Jase's reaction.

Chapter Six – February

Jase sat down on his cot, wiping the Afghan sand off his face.  It had been a tough month already.  No deaths this month, unlike the previous one, but injuries and providing medical care for the local population certainly took their toll.  By the end of the day he was so exhausted that he collapsed into his bunk.  But at least four months were behind him, which meant he had only eight more to go.  He glanced at his watch and figured he could get in a quick check of his e-mail and then hit the rack.

Tugging his laptop over, he powered it on, hoping the signal would work this time.  Reading e-mail had been a bitch lately.  It had made staying in contact with Tommy a pain in the ass.  He was eternally grateful that he'd explained the ins and outs of connectivity in Afghanistan before he'd left, so Tommy wouldn't worry.  He smiled, looking at Tommy's picture sitting on his foot locker.  Just seeing his picture was enough to make Jase smile, enough to brighten his day.  When the computer beeped out its greeting, he turned back, logged in and waited.

His smile grew when he saw an e-mail from Tommy.  Immediately he clicked on it, waiting anxiously as it opened. 

When it did he let out a burst of laughter at the picture and the caption.


Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Portrait of a Doctor

He laughed so loud he had to cover his mouth for fear of waking up his tentmates.  Such a typical thing for Tommy to do.  He glanced at his watch again, looking at the date.  Not long now.  Shaking his head, Jase saved the picture to his computer to show some of his buddies later.  He typed up a quick response to the e-mail and shut his computer down.  He stripped down quickly, stowing his uniform and his boots before climbing into his cot.  He laid there for several long minutes thinking about the picture and Tommy until he finally fell asleep with a smile on his face, imagining Tommy's reaction to his e-mail.  If only he knew.

^v^

It had taken some doing but Jase had gotten a four-day pass and signed papers, letting him leave the country.  He'd immediately called Adam in an effort to set up a surprise for Tommy.  Adam had been amazingly helpful, telling Jase how happy he was to help give Tommy the same thing he'd gotten when Sauli surprised him by flying over. 

He packed quickly the next morning, having to be at the airfield early to make his flight.  Steve and the others wished him a good trip.  He'd taken some good natured ribbing the night before about the fact that he was making a booty call to Germany to see his 'boy'.  Jase just laughed and flipped them off, saying they were just jealous because they weren't gonna get laid this weekend.  Soberly, they all had to agree. 

The trip to the airfield was quick.  He settled back into his seat, asking himself why the trip down had been so long and arduous when really it was just a quick flight back to Ramstein for him to go on leave.  Adam had e-mailed him a train ticket and the schedule and had said there would be a car waiting for him at the train station to bring him up to the resort.  Sauli would meet him in the lobby and get him to the room.  If his timing was right, he'd have just enough time to shower or whatever before Adam and the rest of them got back to the hotel after the show.

Four months in Afghanistan had gifted him with the ability -- the necessity -- to fall asleep quickly and in almost any situation, so he slept on both the plane and the train.  It was a long-ass travel day, but it was so going to be worth it to surprise Tommy and see his face when he got back to his room to find Jase waiting for him.  He found the car Adam had sent for him with no problem, loaded his backpack into the trunk, got into the back and fell right back to sleep.

Traveling or not, it was the most restful sleep he'd gotten in the last few months.  Even the seat on the plane had been more comfortable than his rack back in the desert.  So after what felt like mere moments, which in reality was several hours, they were pulling up to the resort.  Jase got out and grabbed his bag from the driver, his heart starting to pound.  He glanced at his watch.  According to the schedule Adam had sent him, they should have finished their performance just a little while ago. 

Jase was sorry he hadn't made it in time to see them, but Adam had assured him there would be videos and plenty of opportunities in the next three days to see them perform.  Jase walked quickly into the lobby and looked around.  He spun around when he heard his name being called out in a heavily accented voice.

"Jase!"

He saw Sauli just before he was wrapped in a hug. 

"Good to see you.  Come, let's get you to your room."

Sauli linked elbows with Jase and led him through the lobby, barely giving him time to look around.  They reached the elevator and Sauli pushed the button.

"He misses you."

Jase glanced quickly over at Sauli, whose blue eyes looked serious and a tiny bit sad.  "Yeah, I know.  I miss him, too.  It's why I jumped at this chance.  I can't thank you and Adam enough for helping out."

The elevator dinged, and Jase followed Sauli down the hall toward Tommy's room.  "So, um, is he like rooming with someone?"

Sauli waved his hand.  "No worries.  Taken care of.  And your room is too."

He pulled one of those little plastic cards out of his pocket and handed it to Jase.  "Go on, open."

Hesitantly, Jase stuck the card in the lock and pushed the door open when the light turned green.  The scent of roses and burning candles hit him the second the door was open.  His jaw dropped.  "Who?" he turned to see Sauli bouncing excitedly and a smile spread across Jase's face.  "Did you do this?"

Nodding in excitement, Sauli dragged him into the room, showing him everything and then giving him the room service menu.  "Adam said order what you like, his treat."

"I can't. That's too much."  Jase shook his head, protesting.

Sauli stepped forward and grabbed his hands.  "Yes, our treat.  Please?"

Laughter bubbled out of Jase. It was hard to protest in the face of Sauli's excitement.  "Okay.  Thank you."

"Good.  Okay, I’m going now, supposed to meet them in the lobby after, you know, so Tommy –"

"Is surprised.  Got it.  How much time do I have?"

Sauli looked over at the clock.  "Um." He frowned for a second or two.  "Thirty minutes.  That enough?"

"More than.  Thank you, and please extend my thanks to Adam as well."

"You thank him yourself, later, tomorrow, whenever."

Jase laughed again.  "Okay."

After Sauli left, Jase shut the door and set his bag down.  He dug through it, grabbing his clean clothes and his toothbrush.  He showered quickly, sliding into a pair of clean jeans and a t-shirt.  He'd just finished brushing his teeth when he heard voices outside in the hall. 

His heart started to pound, and he couldn't help the huge grin that spread across his face.  The excitement, longing, and desire inside made him feel like he was going to explode because in just a few seconds he was going to see Tommy, get to touch him, kiss him.  His fingers tingled in expectation and he licked his lips, his mouth suddenly dry in nervous anticipation.

And then Tommy was in the room, dropping his bag, and calling out his name and Jase realized he'd left his bag in plain sight.  Jase closed his eyes for a brief second.  That voice, he'd missed it so fucking much. 

"Jase?" Tommy called again.

Taking a deep breath, Jase stepped out of the bathroom and looked at Tommy anxiously.  He rocked backward on his heels.  He was such a sight for sore eyes.  Jase could almost feel the softness of Tommy's hair, the nimbleness of his fingers, and smell the scent that was inherently Tommy, a mixture of sandalwood and leather.  His heart felt like it was three sizes bigger because the happiness was just too much.  "Hey, Tommy."

And then he had his arms full of Tommy, lips crushed against his, tongue pushing in to meet his.  He held Tommy to him tightly, cupping the back of his head with his hand and kissing him until they broke apart panting.   

 "What, how did you?  I –"

Jase laughed.  "Adam."

"What?  Adam?  I don't understand."  Confusion colored Tommy's face.

"I got a ninety-six hour pass.  Knew you were in Germany and called Adam.  He helped me set this up.  Flew into Ramstein this morning and took the train over.  You've got me for three days."

 "Three days?"

Jase smiled.  "Yup, three days.  Adam's arranged for my travel back to Ramstein from Berlin?  I think?"

"Yes, Berlin," Adam's smug voice sounded from the doorway where he stood with Sauli, both of them looking like cats who'd gotten the cream.

Tommy turned and stared at them, surprise all over his face.  Jase was so happy they'd pulled this off he thought his heart was going to explode out of his chest.  All he could see was Tommy until Adam spoke again.

"It's just, you've been so lonely and I know how hard it is to be separated."  Adam glanced at Sauli.  "Sauli's been after me to help somehow, and when Jase called, it all fell into place.  All I did was make a few phone calls –"

Jase cleared his throat and looked around the room pointedly.

Adam blushed harder, and Sauli bounced happily.  "Okay, and we might have had something to do with, um, decorating the room and ordering you up some room service."

"We're going to leave you alone now," Sauli said, pulling Adam away from the door.

"Wait," Tommy said, jogging over to the door and hugging both of them.  "Thank you, both of you."

Jase winked at Adam who just squeezed the back of Tommy's neck while Sauli kissed him on the cheek.  "Go, your man needs you," Sauli's voice ghosted over his skin. 

Tommy turned back, kicking his bag inside the door so it closed behind him.   Slowly he walked back over to Jase, wrapped his arms around him and burrowed into his chest.  "I’m glad you're here," he murmured.

"Me too."  Jase kissed Tommy's temple.  He took a deep breath in, closing his eyes and just reveling in the scent of his boyfriend, until his stomach started to gnaw at him.  He sighed and drew back.  "Come on, let's eat.  I'm starving."

Tommy looked at him like he was crazy.  "Fuck eating!  I haven't touched you in over four months!  You have any idea how much I want your dick in my ass right now?"

Jase let out a loud burst of laughter.  "I never knew you were such a romantic."

A snort escaped from Tommy as he pushed Jase back toward the bed.  "You so totally did."

When they landed in a heap on the bed, legs tangled, Jase kissed him slow and sweet, brushing the fringe off his forehead.  "I missed you."

Tommy pushed into his touch.  "Missed you too." 

And then they were done talking.  Jase rolled them so he was on top of Tommy, plunging his tongue deep into his mouth.  Tommy was the sweetest thing he'd ever tasted.  He pulled away to kiss a trail over to Tommy's ear.  "Fuck, I missed you.  You have no idea," he whispered before sucking the Tommy's piercings into his mouth.

"Fuck yeah I do.  Missed you too, asshole," Tommy growled, nipping at Jase's jaw, sending sparks shooting through him.

His hands were yanking at Jase's t-shirt, trying to pull it off.  Jase laughed.  "Give me a second, okay?  I need this shirt. I only brought so many."

Tommy huffed in frustration.  "Well, get it off."

Moving to a kneeling position, Jase pulled his t-shirt off and went to work on pulling Tommy's off as well, throwing them over his shoulder, unwilling to take his eyes off Tommy.  "Fuck, you're beautiful," he said softly before bending down to lick one of Tommy's nipples. 

Soft, teasing licks turned quickly to nips and bites as Tommy arched up into Jase's touch.  Jase couldn't help but gaze at Tommy's chest, all that pale white skin just waiting to be marked.  Jase didn't know what he wanted to do first.  There were so many choices and he wanted to do all of them, but mostly he needed to see him. 

He reached for the button on Tommy's jeans and popped it open.  Tommy pushed himself up onto his elbows, watching with a smirk on his face.  "Anxious?"

Jase just quirked an eyebrow at him as he pulled Tommy's zipper down, fingers grazing over Tommy's erection.  "Who said he didn't want to eat because he wanted my dick in his ass?  And you're asking me if I'm anxious?"

Grabbing Tommy's jeans at the waist, he fisted his hands in them and yanked, pulling them all the way down to his ankles, only to get them trapped by Tommy's boots. 

"Fucking boots," Jase muttered, trying desperately to get them off while Tommy lay back on the bed and giggled. 

"You're not gonna think it's funny in about five minutes when you're begging me to get my dick in your ass."

That got an immediate reaction from Tommy who started frantically trying to toe his own boots off, hampering Jase's progress.  After a bit of a struggle, the second boot dropped to the floor along with Tommy's jeans and Jase crawled back up his body, stopping right over the hardened cock he could see outlined by Tommy's briefs. 

He mouthed over it, sucking at it through the cotton.  Jase grinned when he felt Tommy's hand on his head, moving restlessly, rubbing his scalp.  His fingers slid beneath the waistband of Tommy's briefs, fingernail scratching over the head of his cock, pushing slightly into the slit. 

"Fuck, Jase," Tommy whined, bucking up into his touch.

Grinning in triumph, Jase pulled Tommy's briefs down and threw them onto the floor.  Slowly, he backed away from Tommy until he was standing at the foot of the bed.

"Come back." Tommy pouted.

Jase just smiled and opened his jeans, inching them down over his hips, dragging his own briefs with them.  His cock sprang out, hard and pulsing. 

Tommy's eyes darkened. He licked his lips in anticipation and made grabby motions with his hands.  "Come on, come on, wanna touch."

Kicking his jeans aside, Jase crawled back onto the bed and up over Tommy until their noses brushed.  "All in good time," he murmured, melding their lips together. 

He kissed Tommy long and languidly, savoring everything about it, searing it into his memory, knowing that this and the next two days were going to have to sustain him -- them -- for the next eight months.  Jase caressed up and down Tommy's arms, fingers tracing the ink he already knew by heart before moving onto the ticklish spots he remembered on Tommy's ribs.  His lips sought out the spot just below Tommy's ear that always drew out a breathy moan when he sucked on it and now was no different. 

But knowing that neither of them was going to last long this first time, Jase reached for the condom and the lube he'd stashed on the bedside table when he'd first arrived.  Breaking the kiss, he pulled back, squeezing some lube onto his fingers, rubbing them together, eyes locked with Tommy's the entire time.

Tommy drew his leg up, planting his foot on the bed, opening himself up.  "Come on, doc. We can do slow later.  Open me up and get inside me."

Jase cracked a smile and kissed Tommy's knee just as his finger brushed Tommy's entrance.  Tommy bit his lip as Jase circled his hole and slowly pushed his fingers inside.  Jase had to close his eyes then and stop himself.  The tight heat of Tommy's body surrounding his finger and the knowledge that in just a few short minutes it would be around his cock was almost enough to make him come right then. 

When he had himself back under control, he pushed his finger in, crooking it just so, searching for that spot, the one that made Tommy arch underneath him. 

"Fuck!" Tommy cried out, and Jase knew he'd found it. 

Easily, he slid a second finger in, and then Tommy was grabbing his wrist. 

"Enough, s'enough, need you now."

Jase pulled out quickly, wiped his hand on the hand towel he grabbed earlier and ripped open the condom.  "Shit," he groaned out loud at his own hand rolling the condom on.  It wasn't Tommy's hand but because he was almost inside Tommy it was crazy hot.  "Fuck, I'm not gonna last."

"You better," Tommy growled.

Tommy pulled his legs back, opening himself up, and Jase had to bite back another groan at the sight of it.  "Fuck, you're gonna kill me."

Positioning his cock at Tommy's entrance, he closed his eyes and pushed inside past the first ring of muscle.  He sucked in a breath at the heat and the tightness, willing himself back under control.  Rotating his hips a bit, he pushed in some more until he was buried balls deep in Tommy's ass.

"Yes," Tommy moaned, already grinding down against him. 

"Shit!" Jase cried out.  His resolve gone, he lost control and started thrusting into Tommy in a fierce almost punishing rhythm.  He couldn't get enough, and yet it was too much.  All that tight heat surrounding him, the knowledge that it was Tommy writhing underneath him, and the look in Tommy's eyes when he reached out and laced their fingers together, it was all too much for Jase.  His thrusts went erratic but he tried to hold out for Tommy, wrapped his fist around Tommy's cock and started stripping it for all its worth. 

"Come for me, baby," he panted out.  "Want to feel you coming around my cock, please."

It must have been the please that sent Tommy over the edge because seconds after that his dick was pulsing in Jase's hand, covering his belly with come.  His ass clenched down on Jase's dick just as his hand tightened around Jase's .

"Love you, Jase," Tommy mumbled breathlessly.

And then Jase was gone, his cock throbbing his release deep inside Tommy's body.  His arms shook with the effort of holding himself up and he collapsed forward, burying his face in Tommy's neck.  "Love you too, Tommy," he breathed out, kissing the skin under his lips, licking the salty flavor of it.

It was quite a while and at least two more rounds of orgasms before they finally came up for air again, and only then because Jase was really hungry, so hungry his stomach started growling, loudly.

"Told you I was hungry."

"Now who's being a romantic?"

"I never knew you were such a sadist." Jase pouted.

Tommy kissed his chest, sitting up.  "Come on, doc, let's get you fed."

They ate sitting on the bed, Tommy leaning against Jase, resting his head on his shoulder, letting Jase feed him.  Jase ruffled his hair when Tommy nipped at his fingers.

"I never knew you were such a sap."

Jase tilted Tommy's head up, looking him in the eyes.  "Yeah, you did."

They kissed, tongues sliding against each other, easy and familiar.  Jase broke the kiss and rested his forehead against Tommy's.  "Three days isn't gonna be enough."

Tommy reached up and cupped his cheek.  "I know, but we'll make the most of it, yeah?"

"Yeah," Jase turned his face and kissed Tommy's palm before reaching up to grab it with his hand and turn it to kiss each knuckle.  "Gonna savor every second of every day."

Chapter Seven – Early March

Jase's visit ended up being the one of the major highlights of the promo tour for Tommy.  Not that performing again wasn't amazing because it was, especially being back on stage with Adam and playing lead guitar.  They just seemed to click, and Kev was a great addition. When the mix was right, his background vocals added a lot to the performance.  They still had bugs to work out, but that's what rehearsals were for. 

The time with Jase had gone way too fast and then he had flown back to Afghanistan and Tommy had flown to London.  The rest of the promo tour had been a whirlwind.  Tommy and Isaac ended up only being there for part of the stuff in New York, which was fine with Tommy, he'd been sick and was exhausted after the stuff in Europe.  He could use some Tommy time. To be honest, he really wanted to go back to Jase's place and hibernate.  So when Isaac dropped him off, he waved goodbye, went in and dropped his bag, grabbed a bottle of water out of the fridge and made his way back to the bedroom.  He'd left a trail of clothes on his way to the bathroom, where he'd showered quickly. Then he snagged a clean pair of briefs from one of the drawers and crawled into bed.  Burrowing under the covers, he closed his eyes and fell into an exhausted sleep. 

Knowing how things could change, Tommy kept his schedule open, which ended up being a good thing.  Once Adam was back, they had an awards show and then Idol, and when Adam needed Tommy to replace Kev on the promo tour, his schedule suddenly got a lot busier.

He lost track of what city they were in and Adam started looking tired.  It showed in Adam's face and he got testy with some of the interviewers, especially when they asked intrusive questions about Sauli.  One time he even went off on a whole room of fans and a radio DJ when the questions turned to Jase.  Adam's words echoed in Tommy's head.

"Promo tour is public.  Jase is private.  Public versus private.  Look it up.  We're done here."

After several weeks of grueling promo gigs, the album ended up being delayed, promo slowed down and Tommy ended up back home with a whole lot of time on his hands.  He was at loose ends, not really knowing what to do with himself.  He called Kate a lot and went over and hung out with her and her kids because it made him feel closer to Jase in some weird way. 

Kate invited him over for lunch one day and it was the best afternoon he'd had in a while.  Kate made soup and sandwiches and then Tommy played hide and seek with the kids until they all collapsed in a pile, laughing.  By then it was dinner time, and although she asked him to stay, he begged off, saying he needed to get some guitar time in.  He hugged her and the kids goodbye and drove back to Jase's place.

He knew something was wrong the second he opened the door. The stench was overpowering.  "Holy fuck," he muttered, holding his nose, trying to breathe through his mouth without throwing up.  "What the hell is that?"

Tommy checked the kitchen first but didn't see anything wrong. So he made his way down the hall and checked the guest bathroom; there was nothing in there either.  As he got back toward the master bedroom, though, the smell got stronger.  "Shit," he whispered.  He opened the bathroom door and just stared in horror.  The toilet had backed up onto the floor.  The smell was horrific, and the mess was awful.  His stomach was rolling and the soup and sandwiches he'd eaten at lunch were threatening to make a reappearance, even though lunch was hours ago. 

The phone started to ring, so Tommy backed away from the bathroom, slamming the door, hoping to not throw up and make things worse.  He went to answer the phone, wondering who it could be. Hardly anyone called the land line anymore. 

"Hi, is this Tommy?"

"Yes," he said cautiously into the receiver.

"Hi, Tommy. It's Bob from next door.  We had some roofers over today to fix a leak we've been having problems with and when they were up on our roof, they noticed you had a few loose shingles.  Anyway, they knocked on your door but you weren't home, so I told them I'd let you know and give you their number.  They said you should probably get them fixed because if you don't the roof could develop a leak which would obviously lead to more problems.  So, if you've got a pen and something to write on, I can give you their name and number."

"Um, okay," Tommy said, looking around the room dumbly before finally remembering there wasn't anything to write on back there.  He quickly walked out to the kitchen and found a pen and some paper and took down the information.

"Look, Martha and I know Jase is gone. You let us know if we can help okay, son?" 

"Yeah, thanks," Tommy said softly, before hanging up the phone. 

He clutched the paper in his hand and went back to look at the bathroom.  What the fuck was he going to do?  It was already after five; most places were closed.  He couldn't let the bathroom stay like this.  And now there was something wrong with the roof. What the fuck did he know about roofs.  Why the hell didn't this happen when Jase was home?  It was his house. He knew how to deal with this shit. 

"Shit," Tommy whispered. Then he started to laugh, because if he didn't laugh he thought he might actually start to cry. 

Sinking down to the floor, Tommy laughed until his sides ached and then pulled out his phone and called the only person he knew who might be able to help.

"Hey, Tommy."

"I need help, Isaac.  There's shit in my bathroom and a hole in my roof."

"Wait, what?  Are you okay?  Did something happen?"

Tommy's breath hitched.  "Yeah, no, I’m okay. It's just, fuck, I can't deal with this.  There's shit all over my bathroom floor, literally. I think the toilet backed up or something.  I don't know, I can't even go in there, and my neighbor just called and said there's a hole in my roof and I should get it fixed and I just, I don't know what to do."

"Okay, it's okay.  First, breathe for me.  Take some deep breaths in and out.  I'm gonna get Sophie, our toolbox and we'll be over.  Does Jase have a mop?"

"I don't know." Tommy banged his head against the wall behind him, wanting to curl up in a ball on the bed.  His free hand plucked restlessly at his jeans and then his phone started beeping at him.  He looked at it and of course, fucking perfect.  The phone bill was due this week and he'd scheduled a reminder for himself to work on all the bills tonight.  He drew his knees up and wrapped an arm around them; resting his head on them as he listened to Isaac talk.

"Ok, don't worry about it. We'll bring cleaning supplies.  Just sit tight, and we'll be there in about thirty minutes."

Thumbing his phone off, Tommy stared into the bathroom, grateful that Jase had a tiled bathroom not carpeted.  The image in his head of what it would have been like with carpet threatened to send him into a full blown panic attack because then there would have had to have been carpet removal and buying new carpet along with the pad underneath it and it was too much.  He only sat there for a minute dwelling on that before giving himself a mental shake.  The smell was just too bad.  He got up and went to the laundry room and pulled out the rag towels Jase had showed him.  He figured they were going to need them. 

He went out into the front room and got himself a bottle of water.  What he really wanted was a stiff drink, but he was afraid that he'd either throw it back up or start crying.  He should have listened to Kate.  She'd warned him about this, had called it the Murphy's Law of deployments.  If anything could go wrong, it most certainly would go wrong when your partner was on a deployment.

 He couldn't even call Jase and ask for help.  Not that he would.  He was a grown man, for fuck's sake. He could handle a backed up toilet, and a hole in the roof, and being alone.  Tommy's breath hitched in his chest again, and he clenched the water bottle more tightly. 

It's just that Jase would know exactly what to do in both situations, and Tommy so did not.  He had no fucking clue what the hell to do.  He felt like he was treading water and his arms were starting to get tired.  Should he call a plumber?  And how did he know the roof people weren't just trying to make a buck?

Tommy rubbed his forehead tiredly.  He could feel a headache coming on.  He really wished he could call Jase, but on the other hand he didn't want to bother him with all this.  The last thing Jase needed was to be worrying about things here or how Tommy was handling them.  He had to deal with this and get it taken care of so the next time he talked to Jase, it would just be a funny story he was sharing.

He downed the rest of the bottle and put it in the recycling bin, which was starting to get full again.  He was gonna have to handle that as well.  Just thinking about it made him start to worry about the bills.  With the mess in the bathroom, he'd forgotten he was gonna check out everything online tonight, not just pay the phone bill, but make sure all the bills were being paid and that the money in Jase's account was still enough to cover everything.

It wasn't that Jase didn't have money, he had plenty.  He just saved a lot of it. So it seemed like he was living hand to mouth each month, when in reality he socked so much of his money away that sometimes he had to play musical accounts to make sure there was enough in his checking account to cover the automatic withdrawals.  Just thinking about it made Tommy's head hurt worse and the sick feeling in his stomach come back. 

Finances were really not his thing, and yet Jase trusted him enough to leave him in charge of it.  The thought was mind-boggling on a normal day. On a day like today, it was – well, Tommy couldn't even think of a big enough word for what it was. 

"Fuck, Isaac, what the hell is taking you so long?" Tommy muttered to himself, starting to pace.

Then he saw headlights pull into the drive and muttered, "Thank fuck."  He walked right to the front door, pulled it open, and watched Sophie and Isaac park and get out, carrying cleaning supplies and a toolbox.  He smiled at them gratefully and hugged them as they reached the door.

"Oh damn, you weren't kidding were you?" Isaac said, grimacing at the foul smell.

"No, fucker, like I could even make something like this up.  Come on." Motioning for them to follow him, Tommy led them back to the master bath.

The three of them stood in the doorway and stared at the mess, and then Sophie took charge.  "Okay, first things first.  Let's get the floor cleaned up so we can get in there and get to the toilet and then we'll take a look at it.  Isaac, go get the towels we brought over."  She turned to Tommy and handed him a pair of rubber gloves.  "Glove up and start using your towels.  I'll bring in some trash bags.  When one towel gets soaked, dispose of it and grab another.  Okay, get busy. We've got our work cut out for us."

Tommy gaped at her for all of about twenty seconds before he did as she asked and started soaking up the mess with the towels.  He had three of them piled up in the bathroom when she returned with the trash bags.  She grabbed them and dumped them into one of the bags, before grabbing a towel and helping him.  They had the worst of it mopped up in about thirty minutes.  Isaac took the trash bags out to the garbage while Sophie opened up the tank to look inside. 

She fiddled with some of the mechanism and then instructed Tommy to grab some towels and get ready because she was going to try flushing the toilet.  He did as she told him to and watched as the water rose in the bowl.  Fortunately, it didn't overflow this time, but it was moving much slower than it should have been.

Isaac handed her the plunger and stepped back out of the bathroom to watch.  She stuck it in the toilet and started plunging until all the water was gone.  "Okay, let's try again."

Sophie hit the handle and flushed the toilet again.  It still moved slowly, but seemed better than before.  She plunged the toilet four more times before it was finally working like it should.  Handing the plunger to Isaac, she wiped her forehead with the back of her arm. 

"Okay, it's fixed for now, but you need to call a plumber tomorrow.  I'll give you the name of the one we use.  He's fair, reasonably priced, and he won't cheat you.  He needs to come out and figure out why the toilet backed up in the first place.  It could be something simple or it could be something worse like sticks or leaves or something in the line."

Tommy's shoulders slumped.  Just the idea of some big damn plumbing job scared the shit out of him, literally. 

Isaac slung an arm around Tommy's shoulders.  "Don't worry, bro, it's gonna be fine.  Let's finish cleaning up the bathroom and then go grab some grub."

It took them another hour to disinfect the bathroom to Sophie's standards, but when they were finished, Tommy admitted it looked a lot better than it had before.  They took him to a local Mexican place he liked, made sure he ate and then dropped him back off at the house with the plumber's number clutched in his hand.

He slept fitfully that night.  Got up in the middle of the night to check all the finances and pay the phone bill that he'd forgotten to pay before he went to bed.  Everything was up to date so at least one thing was going his way.  First thing in the morning, he called the plumber who said he would be out before lunch.  So Tommy spent the morning playing and writing down some music. 

There wasn't anything else for him to do.  They didn't have any appearances any time soon, and he already had all of Adam's music down.  When he got tired of playing, he stood up and started to pace, finding himself returning to the front window to look for the plumber time and time again.  He was relieved when the guy finally arrived because at least it gave him something to do besides being stuck inside his own head.

The plumber spent about an hour going back and forth between the toilet and the street with some camera thingie, looking for a blockage.   Tommy watched as he washed his hands in the kitchen sink before finally turning to talk to him.

"I don't see any significant blockage.  Sure, there's some leaves and grass and stuff, but no real blockage.  Only thing I can tell you is be careful next time you use the john.  Flush often, don't jam too much paper down there and well…" his voice trailed off.

Tommy felt his cheeks heat up at what the guy was implying.  "Right, got it.  Thanks.  So, um, what do I owe you?"

"Four hundred bucks.  I take cash or credit cards.  Don't take checks anymore. It's too hard to cash them, and I've had too many bounce on me."

Nodding, Tommy reached for his wallet and pulled out his credit card, handing it over.  He watched as the man filled out the paperwork and used a handheld machine to run his card.  He signed all the necessary paperwork and thanked the plumber.

"No problem.  If something happens within the next week or so, gimme a call back and I'll come out and take another look, discounted rate."

"Thanks, man, I appreciate it."

He shut the door behind the plumber and pulled out the roofing card, figuring he might as well get all the pain out of the way now.  The roofers weren't as accommodating as the plumber had been.  They told him they couldn't get out to look at the roof for at least a week.  Glancing at the calendar, Tommy ran a hand through his hair in frustration and made the appointment.  He had just programmed the date into his phone when it rang.

"Hey, muru, we still on for tonight?"

"Oh, Sauli, yeah, sorry, I totally forgot there for a moment. It's been kind of a rough morning."

"What happened?"

A laugh with a bitter edge to it escaped.  "Well, the toilet backed up, the roof has a hole in it and the roofers can't get here until next week.  I spent about two fucking hours online last night working though all the bills and I'm just fucking done."

"Oh, I'm so sorry.  You sure you still want to come over?"

"Fuck, yeah, because otherwise I'll just sit here and mope.  What time?"

"Six.  That okay with you?"

"Yup, I'll be there at six."

"Good.  See you then."

Tommy thumbed his phone off and headed back to the music room.

^v^

They'd been watching some romantic comedy Sauli had convinced him to watch, when Sauli's phone rang and he left the room to go talk to Adam.  Tommy paused the movie and sat there chewing on his thumb, waiting for Sauli to return.

After about five minutes, Tommy stuck his earphones in and hit a playlist Jase must have loaded up while he'd been visiting in Germany.  Evanescence started echoing into his head.

But if you have to leave, I wish that you would just leave.

His heart aching, Tommy ripped off his headphones, pulled them out of the phone, and threw them across the room in disgust, barely missing Sauli who had just come downstairs.

"Hei, muru.  Missing the Doc?" he asked sympathetically, picking up the headphones and sitting next to Tommy on the couch.

"No," Tommy answered stubbornly, laying his head on Sauli's shoulder.

"Hmm, what is it you Americans say?  Actions say more than words?"

"Actions speak louder than words."

"Yes, that's it.  It's okay to miss him," Sauli said, slipping his arm around Tommy's shoulders.

"Don't miss him," Tommy argued as Sauli's hold on his shoulders tightened.

"If you say so.  Why throw your headphones then?"

"Fucking Evanescence. Who put that shit on there?" Tommy grumbled.

Sauli brightened.  "Oh I like them."

Tommy just glared at him. 

"Maybe Jase did?"

"Maybe." Tommy sighed.

"Movie?"

"No fucking dramas."

"Ok, kulta, horror it is."  Sauli stood up to put in a DVD.

When Sauli came back, Tommy pushed into his side again, and Sauli wrapped his arm around him.  He restarted the movie and Tommy tried to concentrate on it, but he kept going back to all the shit that had happened in the last twenty-four hours and how much he'd wished Jase had been there.  He pulled the dog tags out of his shirt and wrapped his fist around them, closing his eyes.  The combination of his exhaustion, the emotional roller coaster he'd been on and Sauli's warmth was too much for him to handle. He drifted off to sleep within a few minutes.

Chapter Eight – Late April

Jase blinked out at the sunlight and slapped his shin again.  "Fucking flies," he muttered.  He really hoped Tommy remembered to pack more fly strips in his next care package.  He'd gotten like ten boxes of them in the last one, along with two packs of underwear and two packs of t-shirts, but the flies here were so horrendous that even with all of his tent mates getting boxes of the strips they ran out too fast. 

He'd have to remember to ask Tommy to send him more drink mix as well.  The kind with no calories, or maybe some of both, as much activity/exercise he was getting out here, maybe the extra sugar would do him some good.  Maybe he'd ask for some Gatorade mix instead of the Crystal Light stuff.  At least he'd get some electrolytes with his sugar.  But he'd have to tell Tommy to send only the orange kind; the rest of the flavors were crap.

Tommy.  Jase worried about him.  He'd seemed tense the last few times they'd talked.  He'd told Jase about the toilet and the roof and had assured him it had all been taken care of, but Jase still worried even though it had happened over a month ago.  He knew Tommy wasn't used to handling things like that.  Combine that with keeping track of Jase's financials, and Jase worried that maybe he'd asked too much.

He knew Tommy was missing him.  He'd gotten an e-mail a few weeks ago asking him why the fuck he'd put Evanescence on Tommy's phone, so it could ambush him on a night he was having 'issues'.  Jase had laughed at the e-mail and had replied telling Tommy to give them a chance when he wasn't having 'issues'. 

But it was obvious from the phone calls. He could hear the emotion, heavy in Tommy's voice.  Jase managed to watch some of the promo YouTube links Tommy had sent him along with some show that Adam was on, the New Next Now Awards or some shit.  The band was with him, backing him as he performed his new single.  Seeing Tommy on the stage had made Jase smile with pride.  Tommy had done his whole headbanging thing, and Jase couldn't help but laugh. 

The camera even managed to get a few good close-ups of Tommy.  Nobody else could see it, save maybe his close friends, but Jase could see the lines of tension on his face and the sadness in his eyes. It made Jase's heart ache.  He wanted to be there for him, make the lines and the sadness go away.  So he did the next best thing, he called him.

As soon as Tommy answered the phone, Jase felt the weight lift off his chest and he couldn't help but smile.

"Hey, Rockstar."

"Hey, Doc."

"Miss me?"

"Always."

They talked for several minutes, each one making Jase feel better because he could hear Tommy's mood lightening over the phone.  By the time he needed to hang up, Tommy almost sounded happy.

"Are you having fun?"

"Hell yeah, you know me. I love to perform."

Jase could hear voices in the background, smiled when he heard Sauli's voice ring out telling everybody to hush because Tommy was on the phone with his siippa. 

"Adam and Sauli and just everyone's been really supportive.  Been hanging with Kate and her kids, they help too.  Makes me feel not so alone, yanno?"

"Yeah, babe, I do."

"I know you have to go. Don't worry about me, okay?  I'll be fine.  I'm mailing out your next package this week.  I found some of that Gatorade you wanted.  I thought Sauli was going to have some sort of fit when I bought it though, something about it not being natural."

Jase laughed.  "Tell him, he can come over and drink some of this Afghan water and then tell me what's natural."

Tommy snorted.  "Anything else you need, besides the usual?"

"Well, you could always send me more fly strips."

"Fucker, that's what I meant by usual, anything else?" 

"Nope, just looking forward to seeing whatever unique thing you put in this one."

"Ha, well then you're gonna love what I found for you right here in LA."

"I can't wait.  I miss you."

"I miss you too," Tommy said softly.  "I love you, Jase."

"Love you too, Tommy Joe.  I'll call again as soon as I can. Might be a while though."

"Okay."

Jase knew from the tone of his voice that Tommy understood what he was telling him.  That he was going to be out of communication range for a while and not to worry about him.  The resigned tone of Tommy's voice made Jase's heart ache, but there was nothing to be done for it. He had to do what he had to do.

"Just be safe," Tommy whispered.

"I will.  Bye, baby."

"Bye." Tommy's choked whisper reached Jase's ears, and the line went dead.

His head dropped down, chin resting on his chest.  He took a few deep breaths, jumped up and down a few times, slid his phone into his pocket and went back inside his tent to pack up his gear.

They headed out the next morning, a whole medical team and their contingent of Marines.  They were on their way outside the fence to an undisclosed location for an undisclosed reason.  It was all need to know, and most of them didn't need to know until they arrived.  All Jase and the majority of the medical personnel were told was to expect to be kept very busy for the next week or so.  It was the 'or so' that bothered Jase.  There was no way of knowing just how long he'd be out there, and no way to get word to Tommy about how long he'd be out.  He'd just have to trust that Tommy wouldn't freak out and that he'd surround himself with friends and family.

Jase wasn't sure how long they'd been driving when they finally stopped.  He was dismayed to find that they were just stopping for a quick refuel and bathroom break and then were getting back on the road for a few more hours.  He had an idea of where they were going now but he didn't want to voice it out loud; it would be confirmed in a few hours. 

They pulled into Kabul a little over twelve hours after they'd left Kandahar.  Between the refueling stop and avoiding some of the main roads for fear of IEDs, they'd had to take an indirect route, which made the trip even longer. 

Jase helped unload the medical supplies from the truck, taking them into the building that had been set up as the hospital.  He joined the others for the briefing shortly after that.  They were here to support the UN forces and help treat some of the local population.  There had been increased violence and the UN staff was overrun with injuries that they didn't have the ability to treat.  The length of their stay here was indefinite. 

By the time they got settled in and assigned quarters, Jase was so tired he collapsed into his bunk.  He hadn't been this tired since he'd gotten to Afghanistan.  He wanted to sleep but he couldn't seem to get there.  Lying in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, he thumbed his phone on, only to realize for the fourth time since they'd arrived that there was no service and there probably wouldn't be no matter how many times he checked.  There would be no texting or calling until he got back to Kandahar and he had no idea when that would be.  He fell asleep thinking about writing Tommy a letter, knowing that it would probably get to him before he'd get the chance to call him again.

^v^

The days in Kabul blurred together for Jase.  The work was grueling and for the most part unsatisfying.  The medical conditions of the people and the injured were too often beyond help, and it depressed him to think that they were out there and not really helping.  A young girl, aged seven, had died in his arms earlier and he was wrist deep in the belly of a kid who couldn't be more than sixteen, trying to fix the damage caused by stepping on a live grenade. 

There had been several more attacks over the last few days.  It kept them all busy, but in the back of his mind all he could think about was Tommy and how they couldn't talk, and how if he was watching the news all he was seeing was bad news.  He sincerely hoped that whatever Tommy was doing he wasn't watching the news. 

Finally, one night Jase broke down and dug out the pen and paper he'd been carrying around and sat down to finish the letter he'd started when he'd first arrived.  It was hard though. He wasn't much of a letter writer, usually didn't know what to say in a letter, but since he'd been there, there had been several things preying on his mind. 

It had been at least two weeks since he'd spoken to Tommy on the phone.  There'd been no texts, no e-mails, no nothing and it was starting to make him itchy under his skin.  Jase didn't realize how much he'd looked forward to talking to Tommy, to seeing his blurry face over the computer once in a while, not until now, when he couldn't.  Despite all the hardship here, there were a few bright moments, and each time he thought about how much he wanted to share it with Tommy. 

Just yesterday, he'd been able to give a four year old girl her first box of crayons ever.  The look on her face when he'd handed them to her was one he'd never forget.  He'd immediately pulled out his phone to text Tommy only to realize he couldn't.  The thought had knifed right though his pleasure, so he'd pulled out his letter and jotted it down, but it wasn't the same.  He missed his Tommy time, and yeah, that thought made him laugh. His idea of Tommy time was completely different from Tommy's idea of Tommy time, but there it was. 

He closed his eyes, picturing the blond hair, the chocolate brown eyes, the upturned nose, the silver piercings in Tommy's ears, and all that delicious ink running up and down Tommy's arms that Jase liked to trace with his tongue.  He thought about Tommy's voice with its cute Valley Girl accent, the weird thoughts that he'd just blurt out, the quirky YouTube videos he'd link Jase to, and his passion about his music.  Jase missed it all, so much that it made him ache inside.

As he finished his letter and lingered over how to end it, he came to a realization.  He missed everything about Tommy, all the time.  It made him chew on his pen as he thought about what that meant.  When he got back, he wasn't going to want to share Tommy with anyone, not for a while.  Jase wanted him around, and he was going to want him around a lot.  He wasn't going to want Tommy to go back to his apartment, at least not for the first few days, maybe not the entire first week.  Maybe not ever.  The thought pinged around in his head as he signed his letter and sealed it into the envelope.

Chapter Nine – Late May

It had been over a month since Tommy had heard from Jase.  He almost couldn't believe it had been that long but turning the calendar page was proof enough.  He'd continued sending him care packages and had even sat down and written him a letter and mailed it off.  But the lack of phone or Skype communication was really starting to take its toll.  The only bright spot had been the New Next Now Awards show but that had been back in April.  Adam had sung his face off, and the crowd had gone wild.    

Then Tommy had returned home to the empty house and right back to missing Jase.  His phone went everywhere with him; it never left his pocket unless he was using it or unless it was beside the bed when he was sleeping.  Tommy checked it frequently to make sure it was still on and still working.  It always was, but he needed to check. 

The news was never far away.  He tried to turn the TV off but found he couldn't, always keeping one eye glued on it for any news from Afghanistan.  There were frequent phone conversations with Kate.  Her partner was still able to talk to her so Tommy lapped up any news she had like a dog drinking water on a hot day.  Kate understood though, made a point of calling him whenever she heard from her partner. 

Then the mailman brought him a letter one day, the day before he was supposed to head off to do some shows for Adam.  Tommy's hands shook as he carried it into the house.  His heart pounded, and his mouth went dry.  The letter was from Jase, he could tell that from the handwriting.  But there was no telling how long ago it had been written.  Hell, it could have been written right after he'd arrived.  Tommy wouldn't know for sure until he opened it and yet he couldn't. 

He sat down at the kitchen table with a bottle of water and stared at the letter in front of him.  He wanted to open it, wanted to read what Jase said, wanted to hear Jase's voice in his head, but at the same time he was afraid .  Pulling out his phone, he thumbed it open and dialed.

"Kate?"

"Hey, TJ, what's up?"

"I got a letter."

"Oh?  Did you open it yet?"

"I can't," he whispered.

"Oh, honey, do you need me to come over?"

Tommy shook his head.  "No, I just, I'm afraid."

"I know.  But you're never going to know what he had to say if you don't open it, and chances are, whatever is in that envelope is going to make your day.  Open it, sweetie.  I'll stay on the line if you want me to."

Nodding, Tommy switched the phone to speaker and set it down.  He picked up the envelope and slid his finger into the flap, slowly ripping it open.

The date on the letter was two weeks ago. 

"He wrote it two weeks ago," he said loudly.

"When was the last time you talked to him?"

"Over a month."

"So this was after that. That's a good thing."

Going quiet again, he started to read.  He held it together for about half the letter.

"He's okay," he whispered, his voice full of emotion.  "Or at least he was as of two weeks ago."

"See, I told you," Kate reassured him.  "You read the rest of your letter, honey. Call me back if you need me."

She hung up, leaving Tommy alone with his letter.  He took a deep shuddery breath and closed his eyes, willing the blurriness away.  When he opened them, his heart was still pounding, his breathing loud in his ears, but he was under control again. 

I miss you so much.  We're out here in the middle of nowhere, doing good stuff, but fuck I miss hearing your voice.

Tommy laughed, because he could easily hear Jase saying that in his head.  Quickly, he read through the rest of the letter, relieved that Jase sounded like he was okay, just lonely, and thankful that it also sounded like Jase would be going back to Kandahar soon. 

He felt like a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders, a weight he hadn't even realized he'd been carrying.  Tommy quickly read through the letter again and then, with a smile on his face, he folded it up and slid it into his wallet.  Right next to it was Jase's business card.  He pulled that out, his smile widening a bit. 

The card was dog-eared and had a few handwritten numbers on it from when they'd finally exchanged cell phone numbers.  Jase's landline and the number for his parents had been added later.  Tommy remembered his horoscope that day had said something about a chance encounter changing his life.  He'd laughed it off at the time but now, holding onto the card, he knew it couldn't have been more true. 

Meeting Jase had completely changed Tommy's life.  For the better.  If someone had told him that day that over a year later he'd be practically living with Jase, or anyone else for that matter, he'd have told them to fuck right off.  Living with Jase.  The idea definitely had merit.  He hadn't spent very many nights at the place he shared with Mike since Jase had left.  He'd crashed there a few times when he and Mike had been working on music late into the night or had gone out drinking.  But for all intents and purposes, he was living at Jase's house.

Tommy stood up and looked around the kitchen.  There were obvious signs all over the place.  There was Pabst beer in the fridge, which Tommy knew for a fact Jase hated.  So many other little things he saw as he walked through the house.  The study-now-music room was the biggest.  Jase had cleared it out before he left and now the room was all Tommy's except for a desk in the corner.  He had all his guitars and his basses in here.  He even had a set of electric keys. 

There were guitar picks and music papers scattered about, along with a few almost empty bottles of water.  Tommy left that room and moved through the living area, smiling at all the horror DVDs and John Wayne classics mixed in with Jase's sci-fi action stuff.  Not to mention a handful of the girl rom-coms that nobody would guess were a guilty pleasure for both of them.

But it was when he got to the master bedroom and bath that it was most evident.  His toothbrush was on the counter, along with all his makeup and hair products.  His favorite shampoo was in the shower along with a bottle of waterproof lube.  His clothes were strewn across the room as well.  A t-shirt stuck out of one of the drawers and his hoodie was thrown over the chair in the corner, the one with the reading light next to it. 

Video games were stacked by the TV, the remotes abandoned on the floor.  And half the clothes hanging in the closet were his.  Mostly his nice stuff, stuff he wore on stage or when they went out.  His other stuff was in the drawers.  He looked down at the floor, and the sight of a pair of his boots lined up right next to a pair of Jase's tennis shoes made his heart hitch in his chest.

Tommy stumbled back and ended up sitting on the floor, staring at the shoes, wondering just when he'd moved into Jase's house, just when their lives had become inexplicably tied together.  He dug the letter out of his wallet again and read it through.  The thought of living with Jase didn't scare him as much as he thought it would.  Now, holding the letter and looking at their shoes together, he couldn't think of anything that felt more right.    

He could only hope that Jase felt the same way.

Chapter Ten – June

They'd been in the desert for a month and were bored out of their skulls.  Couple that with sheer exhaustion and the fact that they were all punch drunk, and the conversation got a little out of hand.  They'd been talking about the things from home they missed most.  Restaurants, TV shows, family and eventually it got down to their significant others.

"Fuck, I miss my girl. Her hair, her eyes, her boobs, fuck, even her ass, what I wouldn't give to have my hands on her ass right now."

"Perv!"  Steve yelled, throwing a shoe at Michael.

"What you don't miss your girl?"

"Woman."  Steve sent him a withering glare.

"What about you, Jase? There something you miss about your boy?"

"Man."  Steve sent Michael another scornful stare.  "Why must you always make them younger?  Something you want to tell us?"

"Fuck off," Michael growled good-naturedly.  "And why don't you go first instead of Jase?  I asked you first."

"Fine, my WOMAN cooks the best enchiladas this side of the border AND she makes the best noises ever during sex.  Fuck just thinking about them gets me hard."  He cupped his crotch, leering at Mike lewdly.

Mike flipped him the finger before looking over at Jase and arching his eyebrow.

Jase thought about Tommy for a moment, about all the things he missed.  His laugh, his smile, the way he bit his lip when he was really into the music he was playing.  He missed being in cahoots with Adam and Sauli and dumping Tommy into Adam's pool, because Tommy always came up hissing like a cat. 

He missed the feel of Tommy's skin under his fingertips, the touch of Tommy's lips, the way he tasted, the way he smelled, the way he moved, and the incredible noises Tommy made when they had sex, all wanton, needy, and desperate. 

"Jase?"

Startled, Jase opened his eyes, suddenly glad it was dark and they couldn't see the flush to his cheeks or the ill-timed boner he was now sporting.  "Um," he stuttered.  "There's a lot of things I miss.  You really want me to go into all of them?"

"Well, give us something?"

"Yeah," Mike piped up.  "Does he have a nice ass?  Does he make really hot sex noises when you're giving it to him?"

Steve laughed.  "Fuck, Mike, you're such a perv.  We know what you're missing the most."

"Fucker, don't tell me you aren't."

"Just him," Jase said simply.

The next morning Jase was ecstatic when they finally got news they were returning to Kandahar.  They only had a few more nights left in the desert, which was a good thing because they were more than ready to get back to what passed for civilization here.

The trip back to Kandahar was uneventful, which was a relief.  All Jase really wanted was a chance to call Tommy, a shower, and to sleep in his own bunk.  It was hard and uncomfortable but it was his and way better than a fucking sleeping bag in a pitched tent in the middle of nowhere. 

They spent about two hours being debriefed and then were finally released to get back to their duties here.  Jase checked in at the hospital, told the CO he was back, was put back on the duty roster and told to not come back for at least twenty-four hours, although forty-eight was preferable. 

He made a beeline for his tent, ignoring the growling of his stomach.  Dropping his bag on the foot of his cot, he dove for the phone he'd left on his bedside table.  He quickly powered it up and left the tent, already hitting the speed dial for Tommy.

"'lo?" Tommy mumbled sleepily.

"Hey rockstar."

"Jase!  JASE!"  Tommy's excitement came through the phone, and Jase couldn't help the huge smile that spread across his face.

"Miss me?"

"What do you think?" Tommy snorted derisively.  "How are you?"

They talked for almost fifteen minutes.  Tommy filled him in on everything he'd missed.  Said there were some e-mails with video links from some shows they'd performed at.  Jase promised to watch as soon as he could. 

He swiped a hand over his face, his heart bursting with happiness at hearing Tommy's voice.  "Fuck, I've missed you," he said softly.

"Missed you, too.  It's lonely here without you.  I spend a lot of time in the music room."

"Oh good, so you brought some stuff over and got it all set up like you wanted?"

"Yeah, it's pretty rad.  I mean, you're right, the acoustics suck, but I just pop my headphones in and go and it's perfect."

"I'm glad.  Have you had Mike over yet?  Be a perfect place for the two of you to work on the EP you keep talking about."

"No, but yeah, that's a good idea.  I should have him come over.  Maybe I could even cook."

"Um, what?"

"Hey, I've had to learn to cook a few things while you've been gone.  I even wear an apron."

Jase laughed.  "You don't even want to know the image I just got in my head."

"I can guess," Tommy retorted wryly.

"Well if you can guess, maybe when I get home you can do that for me."

"Maybe I can," came Tommy's husky response.

"I'm gonna hold you to that."

"You do that."

Jase was silent for a moment.  "I hate to do this, but I haven't slept in about twenty-four hours. I’m exhausted and I need a fucking shower."

"Fuck, Jase, you need to go get some rest.  I'm just glad you made it back safely.  Call me when you can?"

"Always babe.  Love you."

"Love you too, bye."

"Bye."

Jase clicked his phone off and headed back into the tent.  He grabbed his shower stuff and went off for some massive time in the shower, or as much as he could squeeze out of it.  The shower definitely wasn't as long as he would have wanted but it was better than nothing.  So it wasn't long before he was back in his bunk getting some much needed rest.

^v^

Things finally settled back into a routine.  He and Tommy were speaking again, almost every day.  The care packages started showing up again, and Jase was grateful for that.  His underwear was looking a little dingy.  Tommy had slid in a bear in a leather jacket with the American flag on the back that he'd picked up when he'd gone to that awards show.  Jase's bunkmates teased him about all the bears Tommy was sending but Jase gave as good as he got, teasing them about the tiny little things their girlfriends and wives sent them.

He'd acquired quite the collection of bears. There were four of them lined up on the trunk beside his bed behind the picture of Tommy and him.  None of the bears could be considered cute and cuddly though; they were all an expression of either Tommy's taste in metal music or horror.  One of the bears had an eye patch and was holding a tiny plush knife.  There were red spots on its t-shirt and the tip of the knife was red.  Jase had laughed out loud when he'd opened that one, wondering where on Earth Tommy had been able to find it.

At the end of a particularly rough day Jase found himself clutching his phone, scowling at it because Tommy wasn't answering.  Which was a rare thing.  Tommy always had his phone with him, and Jase could count on one hand the number of times Tommy hadn't answered his phone in the entire time they'd been dating.  He tried not to think the worst, tried not to imagine Tommy in a ditch someplace while he was halfway across the world in a fucking desert.

His thumb hovered over his contact list as he tried to think of the best person to call.  Instead, he hit the time zone app, and figuring out that it was three am, decided he should probably wait a few hours. Then if he still couldn't reach Tommy, he'd give someone else a call.

Jase spent the next four hours trying to keep busy.  He played pick up ball with some of the other medical corps, took a shower, even attempted to eat dinner in the mess hall, but his stomach was in too many knots for that.  He tried Tommy several more times and still got no answer.  It was frustrating as hell and it was making him worried as shit. 

"Hey, man, you okay?" Steve asked, clapping a hand on his shoulder as he sat next to Jase in the mess hall.

"Yeah," Jase grumbled.

Steve just arched an eyebrow at him. 

"Okay, I can't get a hold of Tommy.  I've been trying for hours.  He never lets his phone go unanswered for this long.  I'm worried something happened to him."

"There someone else you can call?" Steve asked around a mouthful of food.

"Yeah, there's a few. I'm just not sure who the best one is, you know?  And it's still so fucking early over there."

"Time zones are a bitch, plus we got that weird half hour thing going on."

"Yeah, what the fuck is up with that?"

Laughing, Steve took another bite.  "I don't know, man, but it's sure as hell inconvenient."

Jase went silent again, rubbing his thumb over his phone, barely resisting the urge to try Tommy's number again.

Nudging him with his shoulder, Steve gave him an out.  "Go on, man, go make some calls.  You're not gonna be any good to anyone if you can't find out what's going on."

"Thanks." Jase smiled at him gratefully, making a beeline for the door.

He tried Tommy again and got no answer so he figured he'd try Isaac.  No answer.  Jase searched through his contacts and found Mike's number and dialed it. 

"'lo?"

"Mike?"

"Who is this?"

"It's Jase, Jase Dickman?  Tommy's--"

"Oh right, hey!  Um, did you dial wrong?"

"No. I can't get in touch with Tommy, and Isaac didn't answer his phone.  You were the next person I tried."

"Oh, um, I haven't talked to Tommy in a couple of days.  We're supposed to get together this weekend to work on some new music for Mouthlike, but yeah, other than that, I haven't talked to him.  Sorry man.  Hey, have you tried Adam?"

"No, I'll try him next.  Thanks man!"

"No problem. Take care of yourself, he misses you."

"I miss him too and I will, thanks.  Bye."

Jase clicked off the phone and went back to his contact list, hating the idea of waking Adam up so early. It's why he hesitated about calling him first, plus he wasn't sure he would know where Tommy was. 

His heart pounded a bit faster as he listened to the phone ring.

"Jase, that you?"

"Adam?"

"Yeah, what's going on, man?"

"I can't reach Tommy."

"Oh fuck, we forgot.  Shit.  Hey, Tommy's sick.  He's fine. He's gonna be just fine, but he's in the hospital.  He got food poisoning really bad and ended up dehydrated, so they wanted to keep him in the hospital overnight to get some fluids back in him.  I had no idea you were supposed to talk or I would have e-mailed you or something, I'm so sorry."

"Wait, what?  Tommy's sick?"

This time Adam went through the whole story.  It took him several minutes because Jase kept interrupting him with questions, because despite the shock, he was still a doctor and this was his boyfriend they were talking about.  Turned out they'd all gone out for Mexican food because it was Tommy's favorite and he was missing Jase, so they'd taken pity on him.  But Tommy had started throwing up about thirty minutes after they left the restaurant.  Adam and Sauli had brought him home with them, but Tommy had just gotten worse. Finally Adam had called his mom, and she'd told him to get Tommy to the hospital.  They'd run all sorts of tests on him and determined that it was just a really bad case of food poisoning.  Tommy had been so sick though and vomited so much that he was dehydrated, so the hospital had admitted him for observation and fluid replacement.

"They told me I could come in after ten this morning to see him. If he'd had a good night and managed to keep some breakfast down, they'd consider releasing him this afternoon.  I'm gonna insist that he stay with me and Sauli for a few days, just to make sure he's okay."

Jase's heart pounded and his chest felt so tight it was like he couldn't breathe.  Tommy was sick, in the hospital, and he wasn't there.  Fuck, he wasn't there!  Fuck!  Fuck!  Fuck!

"Jase?"

Startled at Adam's voice, Jase answered, barely remembering that Adam wouldn't be able to answer the questions he really wanted to ask, so he stuck with something simple.  "Yeah, yeah. So, um, he's gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, Jase, he's gonna be just fine.  He should be home soon.  I'm really sorry we didn't let you know.  Fuck, Sauli's gonna kick my ass."

That image made Jase laugh, and he was shocked to hear the hysterical edge in his own laughter. 

"You gonna be okay?  Wanna call back, I don't know, um, maybe in like twelve or sixteen hours?  He should be home then.  I'll make sure he's able to take a call."

Taking a deep breath and closing his eyes, trying hard to hold onto Adam's words, Jase nodded.  "Yeah, yeah.  I'll call back in – " he paused.  "I'll just call back when I think he might be home.  Maybe you all could send me an e-mail or something?  No guarantee I'll get it, but fuck."

"Fuck, Jase, I'm really sorry.  He really is gonna be okay.  I promise."

"Please take care of him?" Jase whispered.

"You have my word.  Sauli and I will mother him so much he'll probably hate us both before we let him go back to your place alone."

Jase let out another laugh, grateful that the hysterical edge from earlier was gone.  "Thanks, I appreciate it.  Tell him, will you –"

"Don't worry, he knows, but yes I will."

"Thanks."

"Again, I'm really sorry."

"It's okay.  The important thing is that Tommy is okay."

"He's gonna be just fine, promise."

"Thanks, Adam, I need to go."

"No problem, any time.  Bye, Jase."

"Bye."

Jase clicked his phone off and took a few deep shuddery breaths.  Tommy was sick.  The idea was so overwhelming to him that he couldn't really even grasp it.  He could have lost Tommy today, and he hadn't even known it was possible.  Bending over, he rested his hands on his knees and took some more deep breaths.  The pain in his gut felt like someone had kicked him, knocking the wind right out of him.  It felt like he was going to throw up, and yet it hurt too much to even think about that. 

Focusing on his breathing, in and out, slow and careful, until his vision cleared and he no longer felt like he was going to pass out in the dirt, he stood up and looked up at the sky.  Shoving his phone in his pocket, he clenched his shaking fists.  The adrenalin rush was such a bitch, and now he'd start coming down from it and the crash was gonna hurt.  Good thing he wasn't on duty tonight, because all he felt like doing was crawling in his bunk and sleeping. 

He made his way back to his tent, shucked his BDUs and crawled into his bunk, clutching his phone.  Lying in the darkness, Jase's mind wandered and he started thinking the big thoughts.  The idea of losing Tommy scared the piss out of him.  Before he'd left, he'd done everything possible to make Tommy a real part of his life.  Tommy was listed on all his paperwork and was in his will, and Jase had practically told Tommy to move in while he was gone. 

Moving in.  Suddenly Jase wanted that very much.  He never wanted Tommy to be away from him again.  If he could marry him, make the world recognize how much they belonged together and belonged to each other, he would do it.  That thought should scare him way more than it did.  He'd never wanted anything permanent in his life, not like this.  But this whole Tommy in the hospital thing was making Jase face a lot of truths about himself and their relationship.

He didn't want Tommy out of his life; he wanted him permanently in it.  Jase had no idea how to talk to Tommy about this, or even if it was something they should discuss when he was halfway around the world in a fucking combat zone.  Deep down, he knew situations like theirs made everything seem just more somehow, but he also knew his heart and his feelings about Tommy weren't more, they just were. 

Rolling over onto his side, Jase stared at their picture.  Tommy was in mid laugh and looked so happy, even though Jase knew that when the picture was taken he'd been in pain.  He wanted to see that look in Tommy's eyes always, and he was going to work very hard to keep it there.  Somehow, he'd bring up the subject with Tommy, feel him out and go from there.  Because if tonight had taught him anything, it was that this thing between them was real and Tommy was the one, the only one.

 Chapter Eleven – July

Tommy woke up to the sound of his phone ringing.  He scrabbled for it on the bedside table and his heart pounded when he saw 'unknown number', it had to be Jase.  "Hello?"

"Hey, baby."

Tommy's heart felt like it was going to explode out of his chest, and he couldn't stop the huge smile that spread across his face as he rapidly sat up in the bed.  "Jase, how are you?"

"I'm good.  Still hot as hell here and I'm so busy but that's good, makes the time go much faster.  How are you?  You still feeling better?"

"Yup, I'm good. Adam and Sauli made me drink that juice shit."

Jase's laughter floated over the phone, and Tommy scowled.  "Hey, don't laugh, that shit is nasty."

"Made you better though, right?"

"Yes," Tommy answered grudgingly.

"So you back home?"

"Yeah, snuggled into our bed, wrapped around your pillow as always."

"Tommy time?"

"Yeah, probably gonna stick close to home the next couple of days, watch some vids, maybe go over to Mike's and play a few games.  We'll see.  I'm also gonna spend some time in my kick ass music room and maybe write some stuff."

"Good.  I'm glad you're feeling better and I really can't wait to see what you've done with that room."

Tommy felt his cheeks heat with pleasure and he slid back down into bed, the smile on his face growing again. 

Jase was silent for a moment, and Tommy started to chew on his thumb.

"Maybe you should think about leaving it like that?"

Breath catching in his throat and heart stuttering in his chest, Tommy gripped the phone harder, trying to find the words.  "Um, funny you should mention that, I was actually thinking about that myself.  You know before I got sick.  There's so much of my stuff over here, and I hardly ever sleep at Mike's anymore. I just –"

"Yeah?  I mean, there's obviously no rush to make a decision, but maybe we should start thinking about it, yanno?"

Tommy shook his head and then realized Jase couldn't see that.  "Yeah, thinking, talking. So anything new there?"

"Same old, same old.  It's been good here so far.  Working hard and it's always good to keep my skills up.  Also, there are some new docs here, fresh out of their residencies, so I've been taking on a mentor role and realizing just how much I like that.  Something else to think about.  Teaching might be a good gig."

"You'd be a good teacher," Tommy said softly.

"Yeah?"

Tommy snuggled into the pillow, "Yeah, you're good with people and very patient."

They went silent for a few moments.

"I miss you."

"Me too.  It's lonely here in this big bed without you."

"I know, baby.  I'd say it won't be long now, but –"

"I know.  I'm still counting the days though, the number's getting smaller. That's a good thing."

"Yeah, it is."

Tommy heard the noise in the background increase, and his heart started to pound.  He knew what it meant, the phone call was ending.  He swallowed hard.

"I gotta run, babe."

"I know," Tommy said quietly.

"I'll try to Skype tomorrow, okay?"

"Yeah."

"Oh god, Tommy, I love you."

"I love you too. Be safe."

"I always am.  Go write me a song."

Tommy snorted.  "We'll see."

"Bye, gorgeous."

"Bye," Tommy whispered as the phone went dead.

He pushed back down into the covers, the phone clutched in his hand.  He shut his phone down and snuggled into the bed, wrapping the covers around him, wishing for the feather beds so common in European hotels.  He was gonna have to talk to Jase about getting one for their bed.  Their.  The word made him feel warm inside, made his heart do that weird fluttery thing and scared the shit out of him at the same time. 

They'd been dating for over a year now.  Sucked that they'd had to spend their first anniversary apart, but Tommy had gotten used to the idea a long time ago.  He and Jase had both known going into things that their respective jobs might keep them apart at times and their anniversary had just been one of those times.  Knowing didn't make things any easier, though, and it certainly didn't take away their right to complain about being lonely.  But Tommy tried his best not to because he didn't want to make everyone around him miserable.  They all knew he missed Jase and were really good about passing out hugs when he needed them, especially Sauli. 

He rubbed his finger over the comforter and the word their popped back into his head.  Jase was right about them thinking and talking about moving in together.  Tommy rarely slept at his own place anymore.  Mike had a girlfriend so it kind of worked out, and Jase had pretty much told him to move into his place in his absence .  Now that the music room was set up, Jase's place felt even more like home to him.  He'd been thinking more and more about whether he should let Mike know he wasn't going to continue living there.  The few times he saw Mike, it was fairly obvious Mike already thought that.  It was kind of stupid to continue paying rent on a place he was never at.  But it wasn't something he was going to decide on his own; definitely something he and Jase should discuss together and not over a satellite fed Skype call.

Tommy shifted in the bed and closed his eyes, trying to get his brain to shut off and stop thinking the big thoughts.  He rubbed at his eyes and turned over again, punching his pillow, determined to fall asleep.  But sleep eluded him for a very long time.

^v^

Adam was having a late Fourth of July party at his house because he'd been overseas doing more promo and a concert with Queen in Moscow and couldn't have it on the Fourth like the previous year.  Tommy had followed the Queen thing online and he and Adam had exchanged YouTube links which he'd then forwarded on to Jase. 

As he drove over to Adam's place, Tommy’s thoughts drifted back over the past year.  Funny how so many things had changed.  Last year at this time, the four of them had just been finding their footing together and now, well a few weeks ago really, he and Sauli were hanging out because both of their boyfriends were gone and they were lonely.

Sauli had made those meatballs he knew Tommy loved and they'd sat on the couch hovered over Sauli's laptop watching YouTube vids of Adam's latest radio promo gig and even watching some of the Queen vids again.  Adam had been so fucking on that night, it was amazing.  But now Adam was back and ready to celebrate; Tommy only wished Jase was there too. 

When he got to Adam's house, he wasn't surprised to see Sauli out front greeting everyone as they arrived.  The man was so full of energy and joy and happiness that you couldn't help but be happy around him. 

Sauli greeted Tommy with a hug and a kiss to his cheek, took the case of beer he'd brought over and stashed it with the rest of the booze and told him to go mingle and make himself at home.  Tommy wandered through the crowd, stopping to talk to various people along the way.  It felt so much like last year's party except he was alone this time.

He laughed and smiled at all the appropriate times and he was sure to everyone else it looked like he was having a good time, and he was, but he felt alone and was missing Jase.  Especially today.  It wasn't the Fourth of July but that was what they were celebrating.  Because of Jase, what the holiday was about was hitting way too close to home. 

As he walked through the house, looking around at all the people laughing and drinking and having fun, he wondered if any of them truly realized the sacrifices that people like Jase made so they could attend parties like this.  He freely admitted he'd never thought about it.  In fact, it had never crossed his mind.  Until now.  Until Jase.  No, until Jase was halfway across the fucking planet in a damn combat zone.  Now he fucking thought about it a lot and thinking about how ungrateful most people were enraged him. 

But mostly, on nights like tonight, it just made him lonely. 

Tommy looked around at the glasses, the hats, the party favors and the noisemakers.  His hand trailed over furniture as he walked through the crowded room, lost in his thoughts.  He glanced across the room to where Adam and Sauli were standing, arms around each other, laughter and love making their faces bright. 

Seeing them made his heart ache in the midst of so much celebrating, because he was alone.  Adam spotted him and, after kissing Sauli on the cheek, made his way over, and wrapped Tommy up in a hug.

"He'll be home soon," Adam whispered.

"I know."

He burrowed into Adam's chest, the scent of his cologne familiar and comforting.  It wasn't long before Sauli came over and joined in the hug, smashing him between them until all three were laughing and Adam and Sauli were dragging Tommy off to join in the party and stop brooding so much. 

^v^

Adam climbed up onto one of the tables and held his hand out asking for quiet.  Tommy watched, as people quickly refilled their glasses and turned their attention to Adam.

"I want to thank you all for coming here tonight, for indulging in this late celebration of the Fourth of July.  As most of you know I was overseas practicing for an appearance with Queen and doing loads of promo for the new album."

He smiled as everyone cheered and clapped.  Tommy smiled so big his cheeks started to hurt. 

"Thank you.  Thank you.  You know, all this traveling in the past few years has enabled me to see a lot of the world.  There are some pretty damn nice places out there.  Some places I wouldn't mind living for a while.  Some places I wouldn't mind going back to visit.  And some places that need to loosen up their laws and give their people some freedom.  Freedom, the reason we're all here celebrating today.  But you know, it's come to my attention, that our freedom is hard won, and it's hard won every day.  No, we're not a perfect country.  Hell, I can't even get married here.  Yet.  But at least I don't risk getting put to death for who I love, there's plenty of countries out there where just being who I am would be enough to get me killed."

"So yeah, America isn't perfect, far from it.  But it's pretty damn good, and I've come to realize that part of the reason for that is because of people like Jase.  Some of you know Jase is my friend Tommy's boyfriend.  He couldn't be here tonight because he's currently over in Afghanistan.  He's a doctor in the Army reserves, and I know for a fact that he spent his Fourth of July working in the civilian hospital on the children's ward, taking care of some of the malnourished children.  It's people like him we have to thank.  But not just him.  People rarely thank the friends and family members left behind, the ones who hold the fort down back home, the ones who make sure the men and women like Jase don't have to worry about what's going on back home.  The ones who send them love and support and care packages.  So tonight, I want to raise my glass to Jase and Tommy and all the other people like them who are sacrificing so that we can spend tonight partying in a free country."

"Here here!" the crowd cheered, and Tommy felt the lump in his throat grow and his cheeks flush.

Adam jumped down off the table and came right over, hugging him and kissing the side of his head.  Tommy wrapped his arms around him, burying his face in Adam's neck.  "You didn't have to do that, you know?"

"I know," Adam murmured back.  "But I wanted to.  Now, come on. Let's go enjoy the party.  I think Sauli's getting out the sparklers I bought."

Tommy laughed and let Adam drag him over to where Sauli was indeed handing out the sparklers. 

The party lasted well past midnight, and Tommy ended up crashing on their couch.  He had a Skype date in the morning with Jase so Sauli had brought his laptop out and had left it on the coffee table for him, even setting an alarm so Tommy would wake up in time.

The annoying beeping of the alarm was what woke Tommy, and he sat up rubbing his eyes sleepily.  He stared at it for several minutes trying to remember why it was going off and when he did, he smiled, ran a hand through his hair and flipped the computer on. 

It seemed to take forever for the computer to boot up so he raced off to the bathroom to take a piss and try to make his hair look a bit better.  He splashed some water on his face as well before running back out to see if the computer was ready.  Pulling up Skype, he typed in his name and password and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Nothing happened.

Tommy shut it down and tried again.  Still nothing.  He rebooted the laptop in frustration and stood up to pace while it worked.  Still nothing.

Tommy groaned in frustration, banging the mouse on the coffee table.  "Stupid fucking computer," he swore, glancing at the clock again, balling up his fists.  "FUCK!" he shouted.

"Hey, HEY!" Adam appeared at the top of the stairs.  "You're gonna wake the entire neighborhood up!  What the hell?"

Tommy looked up at Adam, saw Sauli standing behind him, rubbing his eyes. 

"Sorry."  He looked at the laptop sheepishly.  "S'posed to Skype Jase.  S'not working."

Sauli pushed Adam aside, came down the stairs and nudged Tommy over.  "Hei, muru, let me help you.  You're doing it wrong."

Within moments he had Skype up and was dialing Jase.

"Hey, babe.  Oh, we have company?"

"Hi, Jase."  Sauli waved happily at the camera. 

Adam grinned from behind him.  "Hi, Jase."

"Hey," Tommy said softly, resisting the urge to reach out and touch the screen.

"We're just gonna, you know, um, yeah," Adam said.  "Bye, Jase."

"Bye, Jase!" Sauli called, as Adam dragged him off into the kitchen.

"I couldn't get Skype to work.  Sauli helped."

Laughter floated out from the computer.  Tommy pouted at the screen.  "Hey!"

"Baby, I love you and your complete tech fail."

"M'not a tech fail."

"Even Sauli said, 'you're doing it wrong.'"

Tommy huffed out a sigh, barely restraining from flipping Jase the bird.  "I miss you," he said instead.

"I know.  But we're almost done here."

Tommy's face lit up, a smile curling his lips.  "I know.  So much better to see the days you've been there higher than the days until you come home.  Means I can start counting down for real now."

"Yeah, Rockstar, you can."

The screen was suddenly crowded with faces behind Jase, guys from his tent filling it, waving and shouting at Tommy, while Jase sat there, his face red.  Some were nudging Jase with elbows, giving Tommy a thumbs up.

Tommy laughed.  He leaned forward and said loudly.  "Hey, Doc?  Privacy, you're doing it wrong."

Jase laughed and turned around shooing the guys off.  He turned back. Tommy could see Jase's face was bright red and he laughed.

"Your tentmates?"

"Yeah, the one making the lewd gestures was Michael, the one giving you the thumbs up was Steve, and the other two losers were Joe and Greg."

They talked for several more minutes.  Tommy told him about the party last night and what Adam had said.  Jase's eyes got shiny over the monitor, and Tommy reached out to touch his face.

"I love you," he said softly.  "And I want you to come home."

"Just a few more months, babe, and I'll be there.  And I swear, you aren't getting out of bed for at least a week.  We're fucking each other three ways to Sunday and eating tacos and burgers and pizza in bed.  The only time we'll get out is to change the sheets so they don't get disgusting."

Throwing his head back, Tommy laughed so hard he had to clutch at his belly.  "You got yourself a deal.  We'll hole up for a week and just order take out until someone makes us come up for air."

"I love you, Rockstar."

"Love you too, Doc."

Chapter Twelve – Late August 

They were back out in the desert again.  Had been for the last week and a half.  Jase had barely had time to send Tommy a text before they'd had to leave.  Fortunately he'd gotten a care package the day before, because his underwear was completely holey.  Tommy had included three big canisters of the orange Gatorade, ten more boxes of fly paper, and several packages of underwear. 

This time he'd gotten nesting dolls.  Adam had picked them up for Tommy when he'd performed with Queen in Moscow back in July.  His tent mates hadn't said a word when they'd appeared next to the teddy bears.  He was kinda wishing he'd brought them with him, but they were safer back inside the fence. 

He had no idea how long they would be out here this time, he could only hope it wasn't more than month like last time.  Steve, Mike, and Greg had come along this time, leaving only Joe behind.  Jase looked up as he saw Steve walking toward him. 

"Watcha doing?" Steve nudged him in the side with his elbow.

"Thinking."

"Oh man, this is the wrong place to be doing that."

"Don't I know it," Jase said wryly. 

"Thinking the big thoughts?"

"Yeah, kinda.  Thinking about asking Tommy to move in with me."

"Damn, that's a pretty big step."

"Well, he pretty much already lives there.  He's been staying there while I've been over here and he turned my study into a music room. After being away from him for so long, I just don't think I'm gonna wanna be away from him, yanno?"

"I get that. I've been thinking about asking my girl to marry me."

"That is HUGE news!"  Jase reached over and clapped him on the back.  "Congrats buddy!"

Steve laughed.  "Well, she hasn't said yes yet."

"I'm sure she will.  She adores you, it's easy to see that."

"Well, I could say the same about Tommy."

They went silent for a moment.  

"I just want to get the fuck out of this desert, you know?"Jase complained.

"Man, I hear that."  Steve agreed.

"So have you picked out a ring?"

"Not yet.  Been saving for a while though.  Her mom told me her ring size.  I was kinda hoping to do it right when we get back but I'm not sure how I'm gonna make that happen.  I mean, I want to pick out the ring myself."

"Did you have a particular store in mind?"

"No, I was just going to go to one of those places in the mall."

Jase shook his head.  "Oh, hell no.  Look, I have a friend who's a jeweler.  I can give you his name and number and his Skype name.  You tell him what you want, what kind of money you have to spend, and he can hook you up and even show you progress via Skype or e-mail pictures to you.  You can have it delivered to my house a week before we're supposed to return.  I'm sure Tommy wouldn't mind carrying it out with him to meet us.  Then you'd have it before you saw your girl."

"Yeah?  Is your friend good?"

"Yes, he's very good.  He's been designing jewelry since we went to high school. Now he owns a couple shops, goes to shows all over the country, and has been featured in several magazines and received a few awards.  He's amazing."

"Thanks, man, I appreciate that."

"No problem.  When we get back, I'll get you all his info and let him know you'll be contacting him."

Jase slapped him on the shoulder.  They sat quietly for a few more minutes and then Jase stood up and stretched.  "Well, as much as I might want to sit out here and contemplate my navel all night, probably ought to get some sleep.  See you tomorrow."

"Night."

^v^

They spent another week out in the desert before they had things well enough under control that they could make the trip back to Kandahar.  Gear was getting packed up and they were readying the transport when they heard an explosion off in the distance.  Jase took one look at the other docs and started unloading the gear as fast as they could.  They rushed around, getting the trauma area set up and ready to go.  Once that was finished, they waited.

Jase stood there, his gloved hands folded together, sweat trickling down his back and his heart pounding.  His mind raced wondering what was going to be coming in.  Someone had come in a few minutes ago with an ETA of fifteen minutes but no other information.  From the sound of the explosion it was probably a roadside bomb.  His heart clenched in his chest.  Steve was out there escorting a team back, the last trip right before they were supposed to leave.  He really hoped it wasn't his team, he had a soon to be wife and a daughter back home that needed him. 

Rocking back and forth on his heels, Jase could feel his t-shirt sticking to his back and the fly buzzing around his face was lucky he already had gloves on or it wouldn't have survived the next few seconds.  Instead, he just shook his head and blew air at it until it finally left him alone.

It felt like forever before he finally heard shouting and a helicopter in the distance and knew it was mere minutes before things were going to get super busy.  Closing his eyes and taking a few deep breaths, he thought of Tommy and as the voices got louder and closer he gave himself a mental pep talk and opened his eyes. 

The next several hours were so busy Jase didn't have time to think about anything except that patients in front of him and under his care.  The final one brought in though made him stop.  He looked at her features and his heart jumped into his throat.  "Julie," he whispered.

She blinked and opened her eyes to look up at him.  "Jase?"

"Oh my God, Julie," he gasped out softly. 

He took a moment to gather himself together.  "Hey there.  You've been injured pretty badly.  Roadside bomb.  You've got shrapnel and other stuff all over you.  We're gonna get you back in working order in no time.  We're gonna sedate you now. You know, surgery and all."

Her hand reached up and grabbed his arm.  "Tell Kate, tell her –" she struggled with her words, tears welling up and spilling over.  "Tell her I love her."

His heart in his throat, he smiled encouragingly down at her.  "You can tell her yourself when you get home, but I'll pass the message along.  You're going to be just fine."

Smiling weakly, she nodded.  "Thank you."  Her eyes rolled back, and the alarm started to sound.

"CODE BLUE!"  Jase yelled.

^v^

They worked on Julie for over an hour before she stabilized enough for them to shift to another critically injured patient.  Jase lost track of how many times he changed his gloves and scrubbed between patients.  Julie's face kept haunting him though, her desperate plea to let Kate know how much she loved her.  He was relieved that things had changed enough that Kate would be the first to know about Julie, that the news wouldn't have to be filtered down to her through a family member. 

His heart clenched in his chest at the idea of his parents being notified and of Tommy having to find out something like that from them.  Not that he didn't get along with his parents, but it was Tommy and if anything happened to him, Jase wanted Tommy to know first. 

Wiping his brow with the back of his hand, Jase sighed.  His back ached, his feet hurt, and his eyes were burning from exhaustion.  But with patients who still needed treating, it would be a while before he could get some rest.

 He checked that his sutures were neat and even.  Huffing out a sigh, he stepped back.  "Okay, we're done."

Everyone seemed to exhale a collective breath and Jase walked around, checking on the patients' vitals and wounds and statuses.  Once he reassured himself that all of them were as stable as they could be right now, he reported off to the doc coming in to relieve him.

Several hours after he'd unpacked the van, Jase finally stripped off his last pair of gloves and walked out of the hospital tent.  The work had been grueling and emotional. Not only had he known Julie, but he'd known most of the other victims as well and they hadn't been able to save all of them.  Those damn government cars would be going out to make notifications, and the thought just made him miss Tommy even more. 

He sat down heavily on a crate, the sweat on his back sticky and old.  He rested his elbows on his knees and let his head just hang down, feeling the ache in his body all the way to his bones.  Their departure had obviously been delayed.  Jase wasn't sure how much longer they'd be out there now.  None of the patients who had survived were stable enough to be moved yet which meant none of the medical team or their escorts could leave; when they did, they would all travel together. 

Frustration filled him as he thought about how they weren't going back to Kandahar and how he'd be out in the middle of fucking nowhere indefinitely with no way to get in contact with Tommy.  He sighed and stood up. Sitting there, being pissed off about it, wasn't going to change things and he had an early shift in the am. 

He pulled his phone out and frowned at it in frustration.  There wasn't a signal out here.  He knew that, yet he couldn't help but check.  He imagined that when he got back to Kandahar, there would be dozens of messages from Tommy.  How could there not be?  He and Kate had become so close that Jase was sure Tommy would be the first person she would call. 

Of course, they wouldn't have any information about him, which would leave Tommy guessing and his guessing would turn to worry.  Before long, he'd probably work himself into a full blown panic attack, and the thought of that made Jase's heart ache. Tommy in panic attack mode was gut wrenching.  He only hoped that Tommy wasn't alone when it happened, that he was either with Isaac and Sophie or better still Adam and Sauli. Sauli knew what it was like to have panic attacks and would probably be the best person for Tommy.

Jase glanced up at the lightening sky and realized he probably ought to hit the showers and the rack, if only so he could get up in a few short hours and relieve the doc who had just relieved him.  Tiredly, he levered himself up off the crate and headed over to his bunk to grab his shower stuff.

The warm water felt good, and although the water itself was its normal gross brownish color, he still felt cleaner than he had.  More relaxed than he'd been earlier, he made his way back to his bunk, tumbled into it and fell into a fitful sleep. He dreamed, images of Julie and Tommy all mixed up in his head, until he woke up and pulled off his dog tags. He went back to sleep with Tommy's guitar pick clutched in his fist.

Chapter Thirteen – September

Tommy flipped the calendar over, having trouble believing that he'd missed almost a whole month. It was already the middle of September.  Jase would be home in less than a month.  The thought made him excited and nervous all at the same time.  He glanced around the house, noting just how lived in it looked, nothing like the house's almost Spartan appearance before he and Jase started dating.

He was thinking about how much cleaning he'd have to do before Jase got home when his phone rang.  Thumbing it open, he dragged over a pad of paper and a pen and decided to start making a list.

"Hello?"

"Tommy?"

Tommy dropped the pen at the sound of Kate's distressed voice.

"Kate?  Are you okay?"

"Can you come over?" Her breath hitched as he heard her choke back a sob.  "Please?"

"I'll be right there."

"Thanks."

The phone went dead in his hand and he dropped the pen, his cleaning list abandoned.  He looked around frantically for his wallet and keys.  Spotting them on the floor beside the couch, he grabbed them, stuffing them into his pocket as he headed for the door.  Outside, he sprinted for his car, answering his ear piece again as he pulled out of the driveway.

"Hey, bro, we going out to lunch?"

"I can't, Isaac.  Something's wrong with Kate. I'm headed over there now."

"Oh, shit.  Let me know what happened, okay?"

"Yeah, okay."

Tommy threw his phone on the passenger seat and tried not to get a speeding ticket on his way over to Kate's house.  He wished he could close his eyes and block out all the images floating in front of them right now.  All kinds of worst case scenarios were running through his head. 

He clenched the steering wheel tightly, his knuckles going white.  His heart racing in his chest, he tried to breathe normally, afraid that if he didn't, he'd pass out.  Cursing as he hit another red light, he chewed on his thumb, wondering why the drive to Kate's house was taking so fucking long.  It never took this long.

Relief washed over him as he pulled onto her street, but his stomach leapt into his throat when he saw a government car in her driveway.  His breakfast threatened to make a reappearance, and he swallowed hard.  Parking his car haphazardly, he grabbed his phone and set it to vibrate. 

He walked slowly up the steps, wiping his mouth nervously before ringing the doorbell.  The door opened quickly and Kate stood there, her face splotchy and red. 

"Tommy," she cried, falling into his arms.

Startled, he wrapped his arms around her, kissing the side of her head, and whispered,   "What happened?"

She pulled back, wiping her face again with her hands before drying them on her jeans.  "It's Julie.  Something happened."

Her fingers wrapped around his wrist, tugging him into the house.  The door shut behind him, and he turned to see two men in uniform standing off to the side.  He lifted his free hand up and gave them an awkward wave and a muttered, "Hi."

Kate turned to them and gave them a watery smile.  "Um, thank you. Tommy's here now, so…" her voice trailed off.

The older one smiled gently and handed her his card.  "Here's my card.  You can call me anytime, and as soon as we hear anything, I'll let you know."  He nodded to his partner.  "Again, sorry for your news."

"Kate?" Tommy asked tentatively.

She squeezed his hand and shook her head.  He took a deep breath and watched the two men leave before she turned to him, tears running down her face.  "Julie was injured in a roadside bomb.  That's all they could tell me.  I don't know where she is, how badly she's injured, if or when she's coming home.  Nothing.  Nothing!"  she yelled, letting go of his hand and starting to pace. 

"The kids are at school.  What do I tell them when they come home?  I don't know what to do?  What do I do?"  She turned to him again, her face the picture of abject misery.

"I don't know," Tommy said softly, opening up his arms.

She rushed forward and buried her face in his chest, sobbing.  He held her while she cried, but inside his mind was racing.  It had been three weeks since he'd last heard from Jase.  Suddenly his head was filled with all sorts of thoughts, most of them bad, and his heart raced. Was there a government car sitting outside Jase's house waiting for him to get home?  Or shit!  What if it was sitting outside his place with Mike?

The thoughts made his stomach lurch, and he swallowed convulsively in an attempt to keep his breakfast down again.  He coughed.  "Kate?"  His voice squeaked.  He coughed again, clearing his throat.  "Kate?  Did they say when it happened or how?"

Kate pulled out of his embrace, wiping her face again and taking a deep breath.  She shook her head.  "No, just that it happened about a week ago?  I guess.  Maybe ten days ago?  She was injured with several others.  They've been treating her at one of the outlying clinics.  It's why it took so long to get information back to us.  I guess they might be moving her up to Ramstein?  I don't know.  I just –" she looked up at him, her blue eyes swimming with tears.  "What am I gonna tell the kids?"

Tommy could feel the panic rising inside him and tried to shut it down.  He needed to get himself under control for Kate's sake, for the sake of her kids.  He closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths, tried to use the techniques Adam and Sauli had worked on with him to get him through some of the promo performances.  "Nothing.  All you know right now is that she was hurt, right?"

Kate nodded.

"So telling the kids she was hurt will just get them all upset and stressed out.  Why don't you just leave it until you have more information?  You're not lying to them. You're just holding off until you know more.    They're young enough that they wouldn't really understand Julie being hurt in the first place.  Well, Niki might, but you're their mom.  Do you see any harm in letting it sit for a day or so until you get more information?"

Kate shook her head.

Rubbing his hands up and down her arms, Tommy spoke again.  "So, we just tell the kids you're having a rough day and hope we get some information in the next day or so and then you can tell the kids."

"Will you…"

"Of course.  I'll stay as long as you need me to."

"Thanks."

He followed her into the kitchen and they made small talk as she cleaned up a bit and did some early prep for dinner.  It was all he could do not to pull out his phone and call someone, anyone.  The panic inside him was just right there, hovering underneath everything.  Every once in a while, he slid his hand into his pocket so he could check his phone, trying in vain to will Jase to call.

The kids came home from school, and childish laughter and joy filled the house.  They seemed extra excited to see 'Uncle Tommy' and he was roped into playing horsey and tag and even having a tea party. He welled up with emotion during that, remembering how he'd met Jase in the first place. 

He stayed through dinner and bedtime and then stood with Kate at the door.  She hugged him.  "Thanks so much for coming over.  Not sure I could have made it through this day without you."

Kissing her head, he tightened the hug.  "Anytime.  Call me when you hear anything else or if you need something, okay?"

She nodded, and he walked out the door.  He drove home on autopilot and didn't even realize he'd been biting his lip until he pulled into Jase's driveway and found it empty.  He let out a deep breath and slumped over the steering wheel.  The exhaustion inside him was so huge that Tommy wasn't sure he even had the energy to leave the car and get into the house. 

He finally understood the phrase 'bone-tired'. His arms and legs felt so heavy, just thinking about walking inside and back to the bedroom made him want to sleep in the car.  When the shadows started to lengthen though, Tommy dragged himself out of the car and into the house. 

Quickly, he flipped through the mail, checked the answering machine and collapsed onto the couch.  He knew he should probably just head back to the bedroom but then his phone vibrated and he answered it without looking.

"Hey Tommy, it's Adam, I was calling to talk to you about…" his voice droned on in Tommy's ear but he really wasn't listening.

"Tommy?"

Hearing his name again, refocused Tommy on Adam's voice.  "Yeah?"

"You okay?"

A shudder went through Tommy, and emotion welled up in him and he let out a shaky breath.  "Yeah, no, I don't know."

"Wanna talk?  Want to come over?"

Tommy shook his head.  "I'm not sure I'm in any shape to drive."

"So, wanna talk?"

"I spent the day with Kate.  Something happened to Julie. She got injured or something.  We don't know much.  But it happened at least a week ago."  He went silent and then voiced his deepest fear.  "I haven't heard from Jase in almost a month," he whispered brokenly.

"Oh fuck."

There was whispering in the background and then Adam came back on.  "Sit tight, we're coming over."

The line went dead, and Tommy stared at his phone for several minutes before setting it down on the couch beside him.  He was still sitting there when the doorbell rang twenty minutes later.  Sleepily he rubbed his eyes and levered himself off the couch, shuffling toward the door.

As soon as he opened the door, he was engulfed in Sauli's arms. Adam kissed the side of Tommy's head, easing into the house and shutting the door.  "You're coming back to our place.  I wish you'd told us you hadn't heard from Jase in a month."

Tommy mumbled a sorry into Sauli's shoulder as Sauli hugged the life out of him.  Sauli's hold just tightened as Adam left them there and headed back to the bedroom.

"He's a bossy fucker," Tommy grumbled.

Sauli laughed.  "Come on. Let's go help him.  You never know what he might pack for you."

That thought alone was enough to spur Tommy into action. He pulled out of Sauli's arms and dragged him down the hall.

"Adam!  Let me pack!"

"S'okay, baby, I got it!" Adam called out from the bedroom.

Tommy let go of Sauli's hand and started to jog.  When he got to the bedroom, he stood in the doorway staring at Adam, who was calmly folding a few of Tommy's favorite things and placing them neatly into the overnight bag Tommy had used on promo.  Tommy turned to give Sauli a mock glare.  "You knew he would be okay packing, didn't you?"

Sauli giggled, shrugging his shoulders.  "Well, sometimes he packs weird stuff."

Huffing out a sigh, Tommy moved into the room to see just what all Adam had packed.  When he was satisfied that there wasn't anything strange, he moved into the bathroom and gathered up his toothbrush and stuff, refusing to look at himself in the mirror. 

Twenty minutes later, they had the house locked up and Tommy stuffed into the backseat of Adam's car, despite his protests that he could drive himself.  Adam had steadfastly refused so Tommy was in the back, staring out at the traffic, his phone clutched in his hand because he was never without his phone.

It had become his lifeline.  He missed Jase so much it was like a physical ache at times, especially now when they hadn't talked in so long.  His guitars, tacos, burritos, beer, whiskey, even his newfound liking for vodka, none of them could fill the void.  So he clutched his phone, carried it with him everywhere, including on stage.  His phone was his one connection to Jase.  He'd been sleeping with the damn thing since Jase had left.  And now he had to have it in case Kate needed to reach him after everything that just happened.

When they got to Adam's house, Tommy followed them inside, slumping on the couch while Sauli took Tommy's bag upstairs and stashed it in the spare bedroom.  Adam went into the kitchen for something to drink, came out with one of his juices and handed a bottle of water to Tommy.  He sat down next to him and drank about half his juice before speaking.  "You look like shit.  Why didn't you tell anyone you hadn't heard from Jase in a month?  And what the hell is that about?"

"I told you. Sometimes he has to go outside the fence and the communications out there aren't as great."

"Okay, I remember that. Fuck do I remember that.  You didn't hear from him for over a month that one time.  So why didn't you tell us?"

Shrugging his shoulders, Tommy chewed on his thumb as he watched Sauli walk in and sit on the floor in front of them.  Adam handed him his half-finished juice and Sauli finished it off while Tommy grimaced.  "Ugh, I don't how you two drink that shit. It's nasty."

"Hey!  It made you better when you were sick."  Adam elbowed him in the ribs.

"Ow," Tommy whined, rubbing his side.

"We can't be there for you if you don't tell us," Sauli said softly.

"I know. I just... it's been almost a year and you all have been so great. I just –"

"Didn't want to be a burden.  Goddammit, Tommy Joe!"  Adam sighed in frustration.  "You're our friend. We're not going to get tired of being there for you.  What happened with Kate?"

"Um." Tommy shifted until he was sitting sideways on his knees.  "She was notified today that something happened to Julie.  She was injured.  Whatever it was happened about a week ago and Julie was outside the fence being treated at one of the field hospital thingies.  That's why it took them so long to notify Kate.  They don't know much beyond that.  Might know more in a couple of days, like if she's staying there or coming home, or..."  Tommy abruptly cut himself off, unable to even say it out loud.

He turned to stare out the sliding glass doors at Adam's pool.  His fist clenched as he swallowed hard.  Tommy could feel the fear and the worry pressing in on him. It made him feel like breaking, but he couldn't.  Adam's warm hand wrapped around one of his fists, squeezing.  His gesture, the concern behind it, made the lump in Tommy's throat larger and he frowned, swallowing hard.  He fought against the panic rising inside him because if he gave in, he'd be no help to anyone, especially Kate. 

Sauli moved forward and rested his cheek on Tommy's knee, looking up at him.  "Sorry you're hurting."

Glancing down at Sauli, Tommy could see the worry and concern in his eyes and it was too much.  His breath caught in his throat and his face burned. He wanted to get off the couch and go someplace, any place where he didn't have to think, but he couldn't.  He swiped angrily at an errant tear that had dared spill over and balled his fists up again.  "I'm scared," he choked out.

The air around them grew heavy as both Adam and Sauli waited for him to say more. 

"I was so scared coming home, afraid I would get there and a car would be waiting for me.  Or worse, that a car was over at Mike's and I didn't know it."  He opened the fist that Adam was holding and laced their fingers together, squeezing.  "It's ... it's almost time for him to come home.  A little over a month.  We've made it this far and there's only a little bit left and just, I mean it would figure –"

"Don't," Adam said softly, squeezing his hand.  "Don't think like that.  The what-ifs will drive you crazy."

Nodding in agreement, Sauli patted Tommy's leg.  "Come. Enough thinking.  Let's watch a movie."

Tommy allowed them to drag him up off the couch. They picked out a movie and then settled on the floor in front of the TV with blankets, popcorn and drinks.  Nestled in between them, he fell asleep before the movie was even over.

^v^

A song was playing, one of Adam's, Never Close Our Eyes, and Tommy frowned, wondering who was playing it.  It kept getting louder until finally it pulled him completely awake, and he realized it was his phone.  Frantically, he thumbed it on. 

"'lo?" he mumbled sleepily.

"Hey, Rockstar. Did I wake you?"

Tommy's heart soared. The weight that had been sitting on his chest was suddenly gone, and he felt like he could breathe again.  "Jase?" he whispered excitedly. 

It was still a bit gray outside, so he figured it had to be early.

"Hey, baby.  Sorry I've been out of touch for so long.  You okay?"

"I am now."  Tommy picked at a thread in the blanket Sauli must have covered him with last night.  "I'm over at Adam's.  Something happened to Julie, and they didn't want me to be alone."

"I know, about Julie that is, and I'm glad that you're with them.  They're good for you.  And I really am sorry it took me this long to get a chance to call you.  I – I was there, with Julie I mean."

Fear and dread washed over Tommy as he felt his heart start to race in his chest.  "What – what do you mean you were there?  Are you okay?  Were you hurt?  Why didn't anyone tell me?"

"No, no, no.  I'm fine.  I mean, I was at the field hospital they brought her to.  She's gonna be fine.  That's all I can say over the phone."

Tommy closed his eyes, relief flooding through him.  "Okay, okay.  I'm glad.  Can I tell Kate that?"

"Yeah.  Are you okay?"

"Yeah."  Tommy's breath hitched in his chest though, because Jase was on the phone and he was fine and that made Tommy happy and excited and relieved, made him feel like his heart was going to pound right out of his chest.

"Liar."

They talked for several minutes before Jase said he had to go and would call again soon.  Tommy thumbed the phone off, clutching it, a dopey smile on his face. 

Adam showed his face at the top of the stairs, Sauli in tow.  "Looks like someone's happy." He grinned as he came down and reached over to ruffle Tommy's hair.

"Did Jase call?" Sauli asked softly.

Tommy nodded happily. 

"Thank fuck. Maybe you'll finally let go of your phone now," Adam exclaimed.

Sauli slapped Adam on the arm, glaring at him hard enough that Adam didn't even dare say 'ow'. Just pouted and rubbed at his arm.  Sauli sat down next to Tommy on the couch, sliding an arm around his shoulders.  "Is he okay?"

Tommy smiled.  "Yeah, he's good.  He's gonna call again soon.  Said there probably wouldn't be any more outside the fence trips because it was too close to his departure date."

Hugging him, Sauli smiled back.  "Good.  Now, breakfast?"

Tommy wrinkled his nose.  "As long as it's not that juice you two have been drinking.  That shit's nasty."

Laughter bubbled out of Sauli.  "Juice for us, bacon for you.  Come on," he stood up, offering his hand.

"I'll be there in a minute; I need to let Kate know about Julie first."

"Yes, yes, call your friend, let her know her wife is okay," Sauli insisted. 

Adam wrapped an arm around Tommy's neck, kissing the side of his head.  "Call her, we'll be in the kitchen.

He hit the speed dial for Kate and his heart pounded as it rang.  Her voice was groggy when she answered.  "Tommy?"

"I just talked to Jase.  Julie's gonna be fine.  He was the doctor that worked on her, and," his breath hitched and he felt heat burning behind his eyes.  "She's gonna be just fine."

He could hear Kate crying over the phone and could barely make out what she was saying.  "Really?  Promise me?  She's gonna be fine?  This isn't something I'm dreaming or hallucinating?"

Tommy shook his head even though she couldn't see it.  "I'd never do that to you.  I promise you.  Jase said she would be fine, that's all he could say over the phone.  But hopefully, you'll get something official soon?"

He listened to her tears until they finally subsided and she whispered, "Thank you."

"Anytime, you know that.  Call me later if you need anything, okay?  She's gonna be just fine."

He ended the call, wiped his eyes with the back of his hand and took a few deep breaths before joining Adam and Sauil in making breakfast.

Chapter Fourteen – October/Homecoming

Jase looked around the tent that had been his home for the last year. He wasn't sorry to be packing his things.  He'd had some good times with his tentmates.  Steve had left the week before and had promised to call and let him know how the ring selection and the proposal went.  Jase already knew that Tommy had delivered the ring to Steve because he'd emailed him about it, but he knew nothing about the actual proposal.  He was still waiting to hear from Steve on that front.  Jase took one last look around, checked his footlocker making sure it was empty, grabbed his bag and walked out.

Making his rounds through the camp, Jase said his goodbyes before heading over to the airfield.  His medical sign-out had been the day before as had his check-out with his superiors.  Now all he had to do was survive the long trip home. 

 He'd be exhausted by the time he arrived, but Tommy would be waiting for him, along with his parents. Just the thought of seeing Tommy in person, of touching him for the first time in almost a year, made Jase's fingers itch.  His eyes slipped shut as he sat in his chair waiting for his flight to board.  He could almost feel Tommy's skin under his fingers, the way goosebumps would rise up when Jase traced his fingertips lightly over the black and gray ink on Tommy's skin.  Jase licked his own lips thinking about how Tommy's would part on a quick indrawn breath when Jase sucked on his collarbone or kissed the side of his neck, darting his tongue out for a quick taste.

Shifting uncomfortably in his seat, Jase opened his eyes, feeling redness creep up his neck.  He grabbed a newspaper from the seat next to him and pulled it over into his lap to hide his rather obvious and inappropriate hard on.  Slumping down in the seat, he sighed.  He just wanted to be home with Tommy. He swore to all that was holy that he wasn't letting Tommy out of the bedroom for at least a week or until they were both too sore to move. 

When his flight was called, he lined up with everyone else and moved onto the plane, getting settled in to sleep and closing his eyes.  He figured the more sleep he could get on the way home the better.  He sincerely hoped Tommy didn't have like a big homecoming party planned.  Well, not so much Tommy as someone else, because Tommy wouldn't plan something like that.  A chuckle slipped out at that idea.  Tommy was way more romantic than he admitted, or that anyone even knew, but no way would he organize a homecoming party.  Jase suspected Tommy wanted to get him alone just as much as he wanted to be alone with Tommy.    

He slipped off to sleep, and before he realized it, the plane was landing in Uzbekistan.  He filled out more paperwork and had to go through another medical clearance, but at least he had a bed to sleep in for the night before getting up at ass o'clock to get the flight out to Romania.  Flight to Romania, Jase had another quick overnight, plugged in his phone to charge it up and then he was finally on his way to Germany. 

Jase's heart started to race once his flight landed in Germany.  Excitement welled up in him, and he felt like cheering and throwing up all at the same time.  He'd finally be able to call Tommy for real and get in a real Skype call. Their last one, because in just over twenty-four hours he'd be seeing Tommy in person, holding him, touching him, kissing him.  He barely heard the instructions they were given before they were dismissed, only took note of the information he truly needed, which was where to get his flight information and a room for the night. 

Once those two tasks were completed, he took the transportation to the lodge and got checked in.  First thing he did was plug his phone in and head for the shower.  It was a real shower with real clean hot water and real soap.  He luxuriated in it, shampooing his hair twice and soaping up his body at least that number if not more.  By the time he was out, dried, and in a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, his phone had a signal.

He thumbed it on and hit Tommy's number.

"Tommy?"

"Jase?" came the excited reply.

"Hey, Rockstar.  I'm in Germany and I'm coming home tomorrow!"

"I know. I fucking can't wait."

"So, is it just gonna be you or –"

"Um, well, your parents wanted to come, and I couldn't tell them no. So they're gonna be there, along with my parents, my sister, and my niece.  We're catching a flight out to DC in a little bit, don't want to take a chance on not being there when your flight arrives.  Sauli, Adam, Isaac, and Sophie are coming too."

"So much for a private reunion."

"Yeah, I know, but they're your parents and our friends and I couldn't say no to them, yanno?  Not after all the support they gave me while you were gone."

"I know, babe. I'm not upset, I just, fuck, I miss you and I want you all to myself."

Tommy's laughter floated through the phone.  "Don't worry.  I think we're only obligated to have dinner with everyone and then I told everyone they were gonna have to make themselves scarce and not to expect anything from us for several days.  They seemed to understand.  Your parents want to have us over for dinner along with my parents after you get settled back in."

"We can do that, but not for like a week, okay?"

"Okay.  Jesus, dude, are you planning on tying me to the bed or something?"

"No, but now that you mention it, that's not a half bad idea.  Do we have any rope?"

"Fuck, I've missed you so much," Tommy said softly.

"Me too.  Hey, I need to go grab some dinner.  Can I call you when I'm back in the room and in for the night?"

"As if you had to ask.  You better call me.  If I don't answer, leave a message, just means I'm in the air."

"Yes, sir."  Jase snapped his response off like he was saluting.

Tommy laughed again, and Jase could practically see him rolling his eyes. 

"Go get some food. Your monster stomach is probably trying to eat your liver.  Call me later."

"You got it.  Love you."

"Love you, too."

The line went dead and Jase plugged the phone back in, unable to get rid of the huge grin that was plastered all over his face.

Dinner, and then he called Tommy just like he'd said he would. They talked for a bit while Tommy and the others waited for their connecting flight.  Jase made sure Tommy had all the information he needed to get on the base.  He also reassured Tommy that he really wasn't upset that so many people were crashing their reunion, all the while insisting that Tommy better get his rest because he was going to need it.  He hit the rack as soon as he was off the phone and before he knew it he was on the plane to DC.

^v^

Tommy checked his phone for like the hundredth time. 

"It's only been two minutes since you checked that the last time." Adam nudged him with his shoulder.

"Fuck you," Tommy muttered, fidgeting in the back seat.  "Can't you drive any faster?"  He turned around to look out the back window to make sure the others were still behind them.

It was still hard for him to believe that, in just a few hours, Jase would be back and they'd be together again.  His heart pounded and excitement bubbled up in his chest, making it feel too big, too much.  So many people had made the trip to welcome Jase home.  Tommy had thought it was just going to be the two of them, but both his mom and Jase's parents had wanted to be there.  And then his sister had wanted to come and bring his niece.  Isaac and Sophie decided they were joining up as well.  But what surprised him the most were Adam and Sauli. 

Thinking back over the past year, it shouldn't have surprised him, because they had been two of his biggest supporters while Jase was gone. It was really no wonder they would want to celebrate his homecoming along with everyone else.  They'd even managed to evade the paps at LAX when they'd left. Tommy had no idea how they'd accomplished that, but he was relieved they had.    

He glanced at the road again, listening to Sauli giving Adam directions.  Adam argued with him, and Tommy smiled at the two of them bickering like an old married couple.  It made that whole bubble of excitement in his chest at seeing Jase grow bigger. He shifted restlessly in the seat, looking at the time again.  He wiped his hands on his jeans, his palms feeling clammy. 

"How much further?"

"Not far, muru," Sauli answered, pointing out one of the road signs to Adam. 

Adam flipped on the turn signal and changed lanes, heading toward the exit. 

Thank fuck!  Tommy leaned forward, eagerly looking out the window, seeing the signs directing them toward Andrews AFB.  He'd been on the base out in California, and Jase had assured him they'd have no trouble getting on base because it was homecoming day.  So although he felt fairly confident, it still made him nervous, the thought of going through the gate, the armed guards checking ids and cars and whatnot.   

He started chewing on his thumb. The anxious, excited, almost sick feeling in his stomach was coming back full force.  The racing of his heart was so loud in his head he was sure Adam and Sauli could hear it from the front seat.  Sauli reached over and patted Adam's thigh, and Tommy's fist clenched.  Closing his eyes, he could feel himself doing that to Jase.  He felt the taut muscle under his hand, the warmth of Jase's skin, the crinkly ticklishness of Jase's leg hair on his palm. 

Swallowing hard, Tommy wiped his hand on his jeans again, itching to feel the q-tip sensation of Jase's buzz cut, to hold Jase's head to his neck while Jase sucked up a mark before moving down to do the same to his collarbone.  A breathy sigh slipped out when he pictured Jase's head between his legs, the playful glint in his eyes as he ripped Tommy apart, piece by piece, until he was nothing but a writhing, panting mess. 

"You okay back there?" Adam's voice startled Tommy out of his thoughts.

Tommy's face flared red when he realized that just thinking about Jase had made him spring a boner. "Yeah, um, how we doing?" He coughed, shifting in the seat and pressing on his dick with the palm of his hand.

"Following the signs and the map Jase gave you," Adam replied, his hands tightening on the wheel.

Tommy frowned and sat back, his mind returning to Jase.  When they'd talked final details, Jase had e-mailed him a map from Germany.  Tommy had kept asking him for reassurance about getting to the base, about his handling of the finances because he was seriously worried about how he'd managed Jase's money, and about all the people coming.  Jase had just laughed and said that all that mattered to him was seeing Tommy and finally getting him back to a hotel room alone.  Tommy blushed at the thought and rubbed the heel of his hand over his dick again. 

He tried to refocus his mind onto thoughts about Jase's house.  Adam had hooked him up with the group who cleaned his house, and they'd done Jase's place just a few days ago.  Their place though.  Their place.   Tommy really liked the way that sounded.  Most of his stuff had been moved over during Jase's time away.  Jase had told him he wanted him to house sit but they hadn't specifically discussed moving in other than that one time, music room redesignation aside.    But Tommy wanted to talk to him about it, make it official. 

The idea scared him a bit, talking to Jase about moving in with him, but after having lived for a year at Jase's place, Tommy really couldn't imagine living anywhere else or with anyone else.  Jase hadn't really said anything about it, had only mentioned moving in together as an option the one time, house-sitting aside.  What if they got on each other's nerves?  Jase had been gone for a whole year, what if things were different between them?  Just the thought made Tommy's gut clench and fear squeeze his heart.  It made him more anxious to see Jase, reassure himself that things between them were fine.  This past year, living at Jase's place, their stuff mingling together, made Tommy realize there was nowhere else he wanted to be.

Mike had even asked him if he was moving in with Jase.  Tommy had hedged a bit, but Mike had made it clear that if he did it was okay because his girlfriend was making noises about moving in with him.  Tommy had assured him he'd be the first to know.  Mike just told him not to be too long about it.            

Looking out the window, Tommy saw more signs for Andrews AFB and his heart started to race again, his palms to sweat.  He was so excited about seeing Jase and yet nervous at the same time.  He just wanted Jase right there in front of him, crushing him to his chest, kissing the side of his head and making Tommy forget everything but the two of them. 

His heart felt like it was trying to crawl out of his throat when Adam slowed down, and the gate to the base came into view.  There were signs up all along the roadway, welcoming home the various squadrons and units and the line of cars to get in was about twenty deep.  Tommy was suddenly glad he'd insisted on getting there early.

Chewing on his thumb again, he watched as each car inched slowly forward.  The sick nervous feeling was back in his stomach. He was afraid the line was gonna stall, and they wouldn't make it in time.

"You have that paperwork?  And don't we need IDs or something?" Adam asked.

"Yeah, I got it. Hold on.  And, yes, you need your driver's license. Sauli needs his passport."

"Passport?" Adam squeaked, looking at Tommy sharply in the rearview mirror.

"No worries."  Sauli pulled out his passport and gave it to Adam.  "Aina valmiina, rakas."*

Tommy smiled and handed Adam his driver's license and the e-mail with all the info Jase had given him.  He didn't think they needed it, but he figured it wouldn't hurt to prove to the guard they were actually meeting someone. 

Adam rolled down his window and flashed the armed guard a smile.  "Hi, we're here for one of the homecomings."

The guard took their IDs, glanced at all of them, looked in the car at all of them, handed Adam their IDs back and waved them on through, wishing them a good day.

"Well, that was easy."

Breathing a sigh of relief, Tommy had to agree.  A bit of the tension in his chest eased, and he slumped back into the seat.  He dug out the map from his wallet and handed it to Sauli.  "The building with the big red x is the hangar where Jase is gonna be. We have to get there.  The big blue x is the entrance we just came through.  I suggest following the cars."

"Make a right turn here," Sauli murmured.

Adam flipped on his turn signal and went to change lanes and couldn't.  They ended up driving right past where they needed to turn. 

"I told you to turn, muru," Sauli said crossly.

"You didn't tell me fast enough," Adam argued.

"I told you as soon as Tommy gave me the map."

"Gimme the map."  Adam went to pull it out of Sauli's hands.

"No.  You can't look at the map and drive."

"Would you two stop fucking fighting like an old married couple.  Adam, pull in someplace and turn around.  Fuck!"  Tommy sat back in frustration, his heart pounding.  "As if I'm not worked up enough as it is.  Jesus."

Adam shot him a chagrined look in the mirror.  "Sorry."

"S'okay." Tommy shrugged and went back to looking out the window.

He watched as Adam made a left turn, turned around and pulled back out, and then as both sets of parents and Isaac did the same thing.  Tommy could see Isaac and Sophie laughing and pointing at Adam as they drove past to make their own u-turn.  A smile broke out over his face, and he let out a soft chuckle.

Sauli turned, and seeing Tommy chuckle, he joined in. Soon Adam was laughing as well.  The tension in the car eased, as Adam got them all back on the right route and headed back toward the hangar. 

Finding a parking spot was a lot easier than any of them had anticipated.  The base was obviously ready for the homecomings and had designated parking areas.  Within minutes, all four cars were parked and everyone was getting out and milling together.   They were all looking to Tommy for guidance and it filled his stomach with butterflies all over again. 

Sauli came over and slid an arm around his waist.  "You doing okay?'

Tommy nodded but pushed in to his touch.  Sauli must have shot Adam a look because Adam immediately took over.

Adam clapped his hands to get everyone's attention.  "Okay.  We're gonna head on over to the hangar over there.  I'm sure they'll give us loads more information about what we're supposed to do, where we're supposed to go and shit like that."

The announcement seemed to give everyone purpose, and with Adam leading the way, the whole group started making its way toward the hangar.  Tommy had to laugh to himself because they were indeed following the crowd.  Sauli drifted away and went up to join Adam, threading their fingers together.  Tommy clenched his fist, the ache in his chest suddenly feeling too big.  A hand clamped down on his shoulder and he tensed, only to relax when he glanced up and realized it was Jase's dad.

"Getting excited?"

"Yeah, couldn't sleep last night," Tommy admitted.

"Tina too. She suffers a bit from insomnia so that's nothing new, but last night she was just too excited to sleep.  Thanks for letting us come out here with you."

Feeling his cheeks flush, Tommy shrugged.  "Wouldn't have it any other way.  He's been gone for a year. I'm sure you guys miss him just as much as I do."

Jase's Dad Frank laughed.  "Not too sure about that, son.  I can see how much you mean to Jase, and if he means half as much to you, well then that's more than okay in my book."

Flushing with pride, Tommy smiled.  "Thanks, that means a lot."

"Jase has been lucky.  It was hard for him being in the military, hiding who he was.  He never hid it from us.  I'm not saying it was easy.  Tina really had her heart set on grandchildren, a big white wedding, a picket fence, the whole nine yards.  It was rough going there for a while.  But in the end, he's our son and we love him no matter what.  And we feel the same way about anyone he loves."

Frank gave Tommy's shoulder a squeeze, and Tommy grinned at him again just as Tina reached Tommy's side and slid her arm around his waist.  "I'm so happy Jase found you.  He talks about you all the time.  Linked us to a lot of your YouTube vids.  You two should come over more often, once he gets settled again.  I know you had an awfully busy summer with Adam, such a nice boy.  Is he going to let you have a break now?"

"Um, I get the next two weeks to spend with Jase and then I'm not really sure what our schedule is.  He's starting to plan for his tour, and we're already doing some workup stuff for that.  He's got more promo stuff planned, but he promised me that the next two weeks belong to Jase."

"Oh, that's good.  It's wonderful to have some time off. You two deserve it.  This is all so exciting.  We didn't get to fly out the last time he came home, just met him at the airport in LAX.  Frank was getting over gallbladder surgery and really couldn't fly.  So this will be the first return we've been to in a while."

Tommy wrapped an arm around her waist and hugged her.  "I'm glad you came.  Jase is gonna be really happy to see you."

She kissed him on the cheek and laughed.   "Don't be silly.  You're the one he wants to see.  We'll all have a nice dinner tonight and then get out of your hair.  You'll have to come visit us after you get settled back into that house of his."

"Okay people, Tommy, I need you up here.  They're asking for IDs and shit."

He looked at Tina apologetically, and she waved him off.  "Go on."

With a laugh, Tommy jogged up to where Adam was.  Now that he was here and it was so close, his nervousness had bled off and he could feel all the excitement in the air.  There were kids running around, balloons, signs, and music was coming from somewhere.  It made his heart beat faster, and the smile on his face got wider.

Turned out they weren't actually asking for IDs, just checking names on lists and whatnot.  Tommy got them all checked in.  Jase had put his name on the VIP list, so when it got a bit closer to the arrival time, Tommy would get to move up closer.  That thought made his nerves come back, but then he pictured Jase's smile and how his face would light up when he saw Tommy, and it got a little bit better. 

They went into the hangar. A whole crowd of people were milling around the edges, as the center area was blocked off.  There was a table over in the corner with bottles of water, but other than that it was just people. The excitement and happiness in the air was palpable.  There were kids shrieking and running all over the place and lots of moms with brand new babies. 

Sauli and Frank came back with armfuls of bottled water and passed them out to everyone.  Isaac cracked his open just as he reached Tommy's side.  "So, ready for him to come home, take back over the house stuff?"

Tommy snorted.  "Fuck yeah.  So glad I'm not gonna have to deal with that shit anymore."

"Literally," Isaac deadpanned, and Tommy laughed again. 

Taking a swig of his water, Tommy realized that although he would be glad to hand all those responsibilities back over to Jase, he didn't want to be completely left out either. The thought stunned him for a moment or two.  He wasn't sure what that meant exactly and decided he'd poke at it later.  He talked with Isaac for a few more minutes before Sophie joined them and the teasing started.  Tommy finally left the two of them laughing while his face burned.  He walked back out into the sunlight where Adam and Sauli were talking with Tommy's mom.

"Excited yet?" Sauli asked him.

"Yeah," Tommy answered, the butterflies in his stomach taking off again.  The thoughts he'd been trying to avoid just moments ago swirled around in his head until he couldn't hold them in any longer.  He looked at Adam, could see Sauli standing just a few steps away talking to his mom, the sun glinting off his reflective sunglasses.  His heart pounded in his chest, excitement and nervousness making his nerves thrum. 

"Um, I guess it's finally time to tell you…" his voice trailed off.

Adam raised an eyebrow expectantly.

"I'm in love with Jase."

Adam rolled his eyes.  "Really?  Tell me something the whole world didn't already know, Tommy Joe."

"I'm moving in with him, at least I want to.  I haven't told Jase yet, I mean we've barely talked about it, but I want to, like really want to."

"Now THAT is new information, kind of; you're already living in his place.  You've been living there for months."

"Well, officially I'm just housesitting, but yeah.  I mean, he told me to make that office into a music room, he wouldn't have done that…"

"It's gonna be fine.  He loves you so much Tommy, I’m happy for you.  And if he doesn't well, I'll have Sauli kick his ass."

Tommy ducked his head and smiled as Adam wrapped an arm around his neck and pulled him in for a hug.  "About time," he whispered against the side of Tommy's head.

"Don't say anything to anyone, you know, since I haven't said anything to him about it…" Tommy's voice trailed off.

"Don't worry. Can I tell Sauli?"

A frown furrowed Tommy's brow, "Um, do you think he'll be able to contain his excitement?  Because you know how he gets. He'll be all bouncy and squirmy and start talking a mile a minute and flip back over to Finnish, and pretty soon, the whole hangar will know before I even have a chance to tell Jase."

Laughter bubbled out of Adam's chest.  He laughed until he was bent over and gasping and had to hold a hand up to tell Tommy to give him a second.  When he finally got himself back under control, he cast a sideways glance at Sauli who was watching them with interest and then back to Tommy with a knowing smile.  "Good point.  Talk to Jase first."

Tommy snorted.  "Thought so, but we can tell Sauli as soon as I tell Jase, in fact I want him to be the next to know.  I think my Mom already has a pretty good idea."  He looked over at his Mom and Sauli who had been joined by Lisa and Bridget.  Sauli was holding Tommy's niece, making googly eyes at her, and she was giggling at him. 

"I'm glad you found each other," Tommy said softly.  "He's a natural with kids.  And he's really good for you.  Keeps you grounded."

This time it was Adam's turn to snort.  "Fuck yeah he does, but then so do all of you.  No way I could get a big head with you calling me on my shit all the time, but especially him.  He makes me clean the toilets!"

"Now that is some funny shit.  I'd pay to see that.  Except I know you have a cleaning company." Tommy roared with laughter.

"What's funny?" Sauli came over holding the baby.

"You – Adam – cleaning toilets," Tommy gasped.

"Tsk tsk. I only made him clean them half the time.  I did the rest."

Tommy's laughter was interrupted by an announcement for people to come back inside.   After that, things seemed to happen rather quickly and too slowly at the same time.  Everyone assembled back inside, and some guy made announcements that Tommy admittedly didn't pay very much attention to, and then excited chatter filled the air. 

The entire atmosphere in the room changed.  Everything ratcheted up about ten notches or more, Tommy couldn't tell, but his heart was pounding harder, and he craned his neck to see out of the hangar door just like everyone else, hoping for that first glimpse.  The VIP section wasn't actually that much better, Adam and the others were only about two rows behind him, but if it put him that much closer to Jase, then it was worth it. 

He couldn't believe the energy level in the room.  Tommy figured it was probably close to the energy in the audience right before Adam stepped on stage, but somehow it seemed more.  He wanted to laugh and a tiny part of him wanted to cry, but mostly he wanted Jase to just finally fucking get there.  And then he was gonna climb him like a tree.  Good order and discipline be damned.

Excited murmurs rippled through the crowd and Tommy stood on his tiptoes, trying to see and then his heart skipped a beat because he could see something, off in the distance.  He squinted his eyes and shielded his face and sure enough he could see a group of people marching in formation headed toward the hangar.  His heart felt like it was going to explode out of his chest, and the smile on his face was so big it was making his cheeks hurt.

Screams and whoops went up from the crowd, and the energy shifted again.  It became one of barely restrained joy and anxiousness and reminded Tommy of an animal trying to get out of a cage.  He could hear Adam and Sauli and the parents and everyone else cheering around him, but it all faded into the background as his eyes searched through the uniformed crowd until he spotted Jase. 

His breath caught in his throat and he had to choke back a laugh or a sob, he wasn't sure which.  Tommy balled up his fists and his body thrummed with anticipation.  Having Jase so close and not being able to touch him yet had to be some new form of torture. 

The troops stopped and stood in formation, and the entire room went quiet.  In fact, it was so quiet, Tommy finally understood what it meant to be able to hear a pin drop, because he could have.  Some man with a lot of ribbons on his chest called parade rest and then walked up to the microphone that was set up.  Tommy watched him for a microsecond and then returned his gaze to Jase and smiled when he realized Jase had found him in the crowd.  He laughed softly when he realized Jase was biting the inside of his cheek to keep the smile off his face and maintain the serious look all of them were failing at having. 

He had no idea what the man at the microphone was saying but Tommy wished he would shut up already.  From the anxious and impatient shuffling of the crowd, he suspected he wasn't the only one feeling that way.  He started mapping out paths to Jase, trying to figure out the easiest and fastest way to get to him, knowing that it would be chaos once the idiot finally stopped blathering. 

The crowd started clapping around him, and although he had no idea why, Tommy joined in.  The guy made a gesture to include all the troops and the clapping got louder and then he signaled for quiet.

"The Seventy-Two Thirty Medical Support Unit is DISMISSED."

Chapter Fifteen – Reunion

 Tommy surged forward with the rest of the crowd, too short to keep his eyes trained on Jase but moving in the direction where Jase had been.  All around him people were reuniting, and the emotion in the room was overwhelming.  Tommy wished he'd let Adam lead the way, as he was bigger, taller, would have gotten to Jase in a heartbeat, but Tommy was so anxious he hadn't given one thought to any of the others that had come to see Jase.

"Rockstar!"

Frantically searching the crowd for Jase, trying to follow the sound of his voice amidst the chaotic chatter in the hangar, Tommy yelled his name.  "Jase!"

Seeing Jase, just a glimpse of him through the crowd, Tommy pushed past people as politely as he could. Then Jase was there, standing right in front of him.  Time seemed to freeze, and then strong arms were around him and his face was buried in a familiar neck, breathing in the scent that was a mixture of plane, sweat, and Jase. 

"Fuck," Tommy murmured, wrapping his arms around Jase's waist and holding on, never wanting to let go.  

Jase picked him up, squeezing him until Tommy laughed and pulled back to look at him.  "Fuck, I missed you."

"Missed you too," Jase said .

Then Tommy kissed him, hungrily. He pressed his lips to Jase's, completely ignoring their surroundings, because to him it was just the two of them.  Jase was still holding him up off the ground. Tommy's legs were dangling so he shifted and lifted them up, wrapping them around Jase's waist as he thrust his tongue into Jase's mouth. 

Above the din of the crowd, Tommy could hear little needy sounds. It wasn't until Jase broke the kiss and rested their foreheads together, whispering to him that he was home, that Tommy even realized they'd been coming from him.  His heart felt light, everything felt light, like a huge weight that had been weighing him down the past year had suddenly lifted. 

The feeling overwhelmed Tommy and he tightened his arms around Jase's neck, burying his face into Jase's uniform. He swallowed hard over the lump in his throat, squeezing his eyes shut against the burning tears that were threatening to spill. 

It was one of those moments where time seemed to stand still, where Tommy wanted it to just stop so he could just savor the feeling forever and ever.  But it was over far too soon.  Jase set him back down on the floor and they were surrounded by everyone else, all clapping Jase on the back and giving him hugs.  He never let Tommy stray from his side though, holding on tightly to his hand, only letting go briefly to hug someone before grabbing it again.    

Everything after that was mostly a blur for Tommy.  Jase introduced all of them to some people in his Unit, said goodbye to his CO, and then they were off to the cars.  Jase and Tommy were in the back of Adam's car and Tommy was plastered to his side, Jase's arm around his shoulder, kissing his head and talking softly to him.  They stopped off at the hotel to let Jase grab a quick shower and change his clothes, but Jase told Tommy he felt obligated to keep it to that since everyone was waiting and they had reservations. 

Dinner was a boisterous affair, everyone talking and laughing and listening to some of Jase's more amusing stories and him asking for stories from home, stories Tommy hadn't told him.  So both his parents and Tommy's mom regaled them with vacation stories and stories of Tommy that made Tommy blush.  Adam told some funny stories of stuff that had happened during the promo tour.  Sauli told a story or two that had happened during the first part of promo tour. Then Isaac and Sophie expanded on the backed up toilet story, until Tommy had his face buried in Jase's shoulder and was begging them all to stop while Jase just sat back and laughed.

Once dinner finished they piled into cars and headed back to the hotel.  Jase hugged everyone again, Tommy's sister cupping his cheek and warning him to take good care of her little brother before kissing him on the cheek and winking at him.  Jase laughed as she walked away with her daughter and went over to Tommy.

"Be good to him," Lisa said softly.  She turned back to watch as Jase hugged Tommy's mom.  "He's a keeper."

Tommy hugged her and kissed his niece.  "Thanks for coming out for this.  I'll call you when we –"

"Come up for air?"

"Hey!"

She just laughed and hugged him again.  "I'm glad he's home, Tommy.  He's good for you and he makes you happy, so don't let him get away."

"I won't.  Love you.'

Dia came over after, and Lisa and she and Tommy talked for a few minutes while Jase talked to his parents, and then finally they were headed toward their room alone.  Jase held Tommy's hand, and Tommy kept glancing over at him, stealing little looks in the elevator all the way to their door.  Tommy fumbled with the keycard a bit but managed to get it open and once inside Jase dropped his bag while Tommy flipped the bar lock into place. 

As he slid the dead bolt into place as well, he could feel the weight of Jase's stare at his back, felt the awkward silence in the room, and he licked his lips nervously.  It had been months since they'd been alone together and now they were and suddenly Tommy was anxious, like he'd never been with Jase.  Slowly he turned around and lifted his eyes to meet Jase's.  He swallowed hard at the hungry and starved way Jase was looking at him.

"You have no idea how good you look," Jase whispered.  Moving a step closer to Tommy, he continued, "It was long and hot and lonely in the desert.  Seeing you here, close enough to touch, knowing that I have all night to reacquaint myself with all that delicious pale skin under your shirt, and those scary ass pictures on your arms, I can't even tell you how that makes me feel.  I spent so many nights thinking about that, dreaming about that, and now here you are, just a few feet away from me."

Jase's words washed over Tommy and chased all his nerves away, made him remember that this was Jase, the man who knew Tommy's body like the back of his own hand, the one who made him laugh even on his moody days.  "I missed you," he said softly, moving closer to Jase.  The image in his head of Jase reacquainting himself with Tommy's body sent sparks of arousal skimming through his nerves and heading straight for his dick.

"I missed your touch, the way you look at me, and the way you make me smile even when I'm lost in my music.  So can we stop all this mushy stuff and get to the good stuff?  Because I really need your hands on me right now, need to know you're really back and that I'm not dreaming."

Jase surged forward as if he'd been waiting for Tommy's permission.  He gathered Tommy up in his arms, pressing him back against the door and kissing him until they were both breathless.  "Fuck, I missed you," Jase gasped out, before licking a trail down Tommy's neck.

Tommy's hands scrabbled at Jase's shirt, trying to pull it out of his jeans.  "Skin, need skin," he moaned, as Jase sucked a mark up on his neck.

Jase pulled back, yanked his shirt off and threw it on the floor while Tommy struggled to do the same with his.  Tommy's arms got caught over his head, and Jase trapped them there against the door with one of his hands, while he moved in and started flicking his tongue over Tommy's right nipple. 

Tommy's nipple peaked under Jase's tongue, the sensation driving him to struggle against Jase's hold on his hands, the desire to grab Jase's head and hold it in place making him desperate.  Pushing against Jase, he arched into Jase's mouth on his skin, trying to free his hands because he wanted to feel all that warm skin under them.  "Let go, please?" he begged.

The t-shirt was yanked off then, freeing his hands and making his hair stand up a bit.  Jase crushed their mouths together, and Tommy wrapped his arms around him.  The feel of Jase's muscles moving and shifting under his hands made him thrust against him, riding the thigh that had slipped between his legs.  The pressure on his cock was exquisite, it was just enough to keep him on the edge but not enough to push him over.  Breaking the kiss, he mouthed along Jase's jaw line. "Bed now."

Jase laughed and Tommy pushed him back toward the bed until they were both tumbling onto it in a tangle of legs, arms, and tongues.  Jase had his hands in Tommy's hair, holding his head in place while they kissed.  His tongue swept inside, sliding over Tommy's as he rocked his hips into Tommy's, rubbing their erections together.

"You keep doing that," Tommy breathed out against Jase's lips, "and this is gonna be over way too fucking fast."

Jase's tongue moved over Tommy's piercings, sucking at them, making him draw in a quick breath.  "Fuck," he groaned.

"We have all night. This is just the beginning," Jase murmured into Tommy's ear. 

Tommy shivered at his words, but then Jase's hand was between them rubbing over his cock, working the zipper open before releasing his own.  Groaning as Jase's large hand wrapped around their cocks, Tommy dug his fingers into the back of Jase's neck, sucking greedily at whatever skin he could get his lips on, finally reaching his lips. 

He nibbled at Jase's lower lip, tonguing it, before opening his mouth and fusing them together.  Jase's hand gripped their cocks in a tight hold, the contrast between the hard shaft on one side and Jase's roughened palm on the other ripping a muffled cry from Tommy's throat.  Their cocks slid against each other, a rough drag back and forth, only precome to smooth the way.  Tommy's hips moved instinctively, grinding against Jase, thrusting into the tight circle of his hand. 

Jase broke the kiss and licked his way down Tommy's neck, his free hand sliding down his back to cup his ass.  Tommy wrapped his hands around Jase's neck, his thumbs stroking lightly over Jase's cheeks.  Jase's fingers delved into Tommy's crack, brushing lightly over his hole just as Jase sucked his earlobe into his mouth. 

Digging blunt fingers into the back of Jase's neck, a desperate plea slipped out from between Tommy's lips. "Please, fuck," he cried out, thrusting harder into Jase's fist.        

Tommy's orgasm curled like a flame at the base of his spine.  Jase's finger continued its maddening tease over his hole, while his fist squeezed and milked their cocks, thumb sweeping over the head of Tommy's at unexpected intervals, pressing into the slit.  Precome spilled out, too much to just belong to him, slicking the way for Jase's strokes.  Just the idea of the liquid form of their arousal mixing together had Tommy speeding up the rhythm, pumping his hips faster, rocketing him toward orgasm.  Jase was close as well, Tommy could tell because Jase was chanting his name like a mantra and his grip around their cocks grew tighter.

Tommy was the one who fell first, his orgasm crashing over him, tearing a scream of pleasure from his throat, one he tried to muffle by sucking at Jase's neck.  His come spilled between them, making Jase's grip on their cocks slippery and loose.

"Fuck, Tommy," Jase grunted, humping against Tommy even faster, his finger pressing against Tommy's hole as he stuttered and came.

Tommy held him through his orgasm, kissing his neck softly, licking it lightly, his fingers combing through the back of his hair.  He lifted his head and kissed Jase on the lips, licking his way into his mouth.  They kissed languidly until their breathing returned to normal and Jase's hand started getting dry and sticky.

He rolled away from Tommy and grabbed the shirt he'd pulled off earlier, wiping his palm on it, before wiping both their bellies off.  Wadding it up, he tossed it on the floor, and then pulled Tommy back into his arms.

"Good thing you've got another shirt," Tommy remarked dryly.

Jase shrugged.  "The desert did way worse stuff to my clothes."

Reaching up to cup his cheek, Tommy kissed him again.  "I'm glad you're home."

"Me too."

They lay there in silence for several long minutes, just listening to each other breathe.  Tommy chewed on his lip, nervous again all of a sudden.

Jase tightened his hold.  "You're thinking too loudly again.  Just say it, whatever it is."

Wincing at the worried tone in Jase's voice, Tommy tilted his head and kissed Jase on the chin.  "It can wait.  I want another round first."

A dark chuckle rumbled through Jase's chest as he rolled them, placing Tommy underneath him.  "Oh really?  Is that so?"

Jutting his chin defiantly, Tommy winked at him playfully.  "Damn straight.  It's been too fucking long, I'm not letting you get off with just a handjob."

"Well, actually, you just did."

"Shut up, fucker.  Hope you recover quickly, because I want that dick inside me at least once tonight."

"Only once?" Jase raised an eyebrow, and Tommy laughed.

Wrapping his arms around Jase, Tommy kissed him again.  "Okay, more than once, if you're up to it that is."

Jase rolled his hips down against Tommy, letting him feel the erection that was just barely starting to return.  "Oh, I definitely think I can be up for more than one."

Tommy laughed again until his laughter was swallowed up by Jase's kiss.

Several hours later, after two more rounds of sex and a shower that took way longer than necessary, they were back in bed.   Tommy was sprawled across Jase's chest, listening to the rhythm of his heart and the deep relaxed breaths he took while he was sleeping.  He pressed his lips lightly to Jase's skin, right beside his nipple.  He smiled when the nipple peaked despite not being touched.  Sliding his hand out, he wrapped it around Jase's waist. 

"You know that thing I said could wait?" Knowing Jase wouldn't answer, Tommy took a deep breath.  "I think we should move in together."

Epilogue -Thanksgiving 

Tommy watched as Jase moved around the kitchen, putting the finishing touches on whatever dish he was preparing for their Thanksgiving feast.  Both families were coming, so it was kind of a big deal. 

Jase's shirt stretched tightly across his back, the cotton fabric barely containing the shifting muscles underneath. 

Licking his lips, Tommy felt his dick harden in his jeans, imagining those muscles moving under his hands.  He glanced quickly at the clock and let out a disappointed sigh. 

Jase turned.  "You okay?"  His eyes raked up and down Tommy's body, and then he smirked.  "Well, that's unfortunate."

"Shut up," Tommy said crossly.  "It's your fault, working in the shirt that I shrunk by accident.  You do that shit on purpose. You know it turns me on."

"Awww, baby," Jase crooned, coming over and pulling Tommy against his chest.  "I just know it's your favorite shirt, that's why I wear it all the time."

His hands rubbed up and down Tommy's back before sliding down to cup Tommy's ass.  He kneaded the muscles and Tommy groaned, pushing against him.  "We don't have time," he complained.

"Not for sex, but I bet I could get you off just like this."

"Fuck, don't make me come in my pants," Tommy whined.

Jase laughed.  "You have no idea how hot it is when you do that though."  He pulled out of the embrace and dropped to his knees, deftly opening Tommy's zipper with his hands.  "But in the interest of saving time," his voice trailed off.

Tommy watched heatedly as Jase freed his cock from his jeans, wrapping his nimble fingers around it.  Closing his eyes, he let his head fall back against the wall behind him with a thunk as Jase started stroking his cock lightly.  His eyes flew open though when he felt the delicate probing of Jase's tongue at his slit.  "Fuck, Jase," he moaned, balling his hands into fists at his sides in an effort to keep himself from just fucking Jase's mouth.

Jase let go of his cock, just holding it in his mouth, grabbing Tommy's ass, his hands large enough that his thumbs rested right over Tommy's hipbones.  He moved slowly over Tommy's cock, licking, sucking, nibbling at it, holding Tommy's gaze the entire time.  Pulling off so just the head of Tommy's cock was in his mouth, he tongued at the slit and Tommy clenched his fists harder, digging his nails into his palms.  The slight bit of pain kept him grounded, kept him from spiraling out of control too quickly.  And then Jase pulled off.

"Don't stop," he pleaded.

Leaning forward, Jase kissed the skin around the base of his cock and drew back, meeting Tommy's eyes.  "Do it. Take what you want, Rockstar, " he said, wrapping his lips around the head of Tommy's cock and licking his way back down to the base.

That was all the encouragement that Tommy needed.  He took hold of Jase's head, dug his fingers into his scalp and started thrusting into Jase's mouth, hard and fast.  Jase's hands squeezed his ass, fingers pressing firmly against the cleft, a dark promise of what would come later.  The wet heat, the sucking, Jase tonguing his slit, and the press of that finger sent Tommy rocketing over the edge.  He screamed his release, pumping it down Jase's throat, who did his best to swallow every last drop. 

Tommy slumped forward, Jase's hands on his hips and ass the only thing holding him up.  His dick slid out of Jase's mouth and flopped around forlornly, while Jase rested his head against Tommy's hip.  His hands stroked restlessly over Jase's head, scratching through the peach fuzz of his hair.  When he finally felt like his legs were stable enough to hold him up, he tugged at the back of Jase's shirt.  "C'mere," he mumbled.   

Suddenly, his arms were full of cuddly doctor, nuzzling at his neck.  "Better?" Jase murmured, kissing his skin lightly.

"Much," Tommy agreed, kissing Jase's cheek.  "Thank you."

"Well, I couldn't exactly have you going through the day miserable, now could I?"

A snort of laughter was Tommy's only answer as his hands drifted down to palm Jase through his jeans, but Jase moved back out of his reach.  "But what about you?" Tommy pouted.

Wagging his finger at Tommy, Jase just grinned.  "Not now.  I intend to have your ass later, maybe twice.  But I need to finish getting this dinner ready, or we're gonna have to go out for Chinese."

"Twice huh?"

"Yup.  I'm thinking about pounding you into the mattress and then letting you ride me."

"Fuck," Tommy moaned.  "You say this shit now?"

Jase turned and winked at him, waving at Tommy's dick with his spatula.  "Go put that thing away, save it for later."

When Tommy glared at him and didn't move Jase shooed him out of the room again.  "Hurry, you don't want our parents to get here and find you with your dick out in the kitchen around all the food.  I can just imagine what Dia would say."

That galvanized Tommy into action. He raced out of the kitchen and to the bedroom, where he quickly cleaned himself up and tucked himself away.  Rejoining Jase in the kitchen, he wrapped his arms around his waist and rested his cheek on his back.  Jase's free hand dropped down and his fingers curled around Tommy's wrist.  "Hey, you okay?  I mean, I know this is our first big thing…"

Tommy tightened his hold and kissed Jase's shoulder.  "Yeah."

"Feeling overwhelmed."

"Maybe."

He felt Jase's hand pat his hand reassuringly.  "Hey, I should be the one freaking.  I'm the one cooking after all.  What if your mom doesn’t like my cooking?  What if your sister decides I'm not good enough for you? What if – HEY!"

Tommy pinched Jase in the side, hard.  "Stop it.  My Mom adores you. I think she might actually like you more than me."

Jase snorted.  "Well I know my parents like you more than me, after everything you did for them while I was away?  How come you never told me how often you went over there?  Or how many times you called them while you were on the road during promo?"

Shrugging, Tommy settled against Jase's back.  "No reason, I just... I don't know. They needed stuff. I could do it, so I did it.  It wasn't a big deal."

"Well, it was for me and I appreciate it.  And they did too.  So stop making such a big deal out of this meal.  It's just a meal."

"But it's Thanksgiving and it's our first time you know –"

"Hosting together?"

"Yeah," Tommy mumbled into Jase's shirt.

Jase turned around and grabbed Tommy's chin, making Tommy look him in the eyes.  "You're not regretting this are you?"

"What? No.  NO!  No, moving in with you was one of the best decisions I've ever... no, we've ever made.  I'm just nervous about having everyone here, and you making this huge meal. Is it awful if I wish it was all over and you were fucking me into the mattress after we've slept off this huge feast you're preparing?"

"Oh Tommy." Jase laughed, pulling Tommy into his arms again and kissing the top of his head.  "No, it's not awful. Although you would miss out on this kickass turkey if you fast forwarded through time to the end of the day.  And I'm glad you're happy here.  I want you to be happy here. I want you to feel like this place is just as much yours as it is mine.  I want it to be our place, not my place that you moved into."

"I am happy here, you dork." Tommy bit Jase's nipple playfully.  "And I don't feel like it's not my home. It is, especially the music room and our bedroom."

"Well, those are kind of your places. They're where your touch is the most obvious.  Ithink, in time, this whole place will have your touch all over it.  And I can't wait."

He bent down and kissed Tommy softly before pulling back and smacking Tommy on the ass.  "Now stop distracting me, or we'll never eat today and you won't get that pounding you've been begging for all morning."

Tommy flipped him the bird and went off to set the table.  Before too long, the doorbell was ringing and he and Jase were greeting his family and then Jase's family and the house got noisy and crowded.  He stood off to the side, watching Jase play with Bridget while his mom and sister talked to Jase's mom.  Jase's dad was helping himself to the appetizers and laughing at something Lisa said.  Tommy smiled watching as his niece crawled onto Jase's back and grabbed a fistful of his shirt. 

As he watched everyone, talking, laughing, generally having a good time, it struck him just how happy he was and how right things finally felt. 

"Tommy!  Help!  She's gonna bite me!"  Jase cried out playfully as Bridget bent down in an attempt to bite the back of Jase's head.

Laughing, he ran over and grabbed her off Jase's back only to have Jase tackle both of them to the ground and tickle them until Bridget was screaming with laughter and Tommy was squirming frantically to avoid Jase's fingers.  He caught Jase's eyes, and in that brief second, a thousand words were spoken between them.  Jase stopped his assault and bent down, kissing him lightly. 

"I love you, too."

 

The end.