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What the heart smells

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Part one – Adam and Tommy

“What the fucking hell, Adam?”

Adam rolled his eyes and clutched his coffee cup tighter. He really wasn’t up to dealing with overly protective guitar players. “There’s coffee.”

“There’s –“ Tommy stopped. Then he blinked and shook his head. “Coffee. Right.”

Tommy dug around in the cupboard, pressing up on his toes and reaching into the depths. A moment later he had the largest mug in Adam’s collection in his hands. It said “Welcome to my world. Now fuck off.” Adam only kept it because it was Tommy’s. Putting it in the back of the cupboard was his housekeeper’s idea.


Minutes ticked by in strained silence, the scent of coffee almost overriding the smell of blood in Adam’s memory.

“Wanna tell me why you have a fuck ton of foundation on and I can still see a bruise underneath?”


Tommy raised an eyebrow. Adam sighed. “It was an accident.”

“An accident,” Tommy repeated in a painfully calm voice. “You do know that’s what they say. They tell you it was an accident. They didn’t mean to hurt you. They’ll never do it again.”

“That’s not-“

“Has he sent you flowers yet to apologize?”

“No!” Adam slammed his cup down.



“Is he taking you to a fancy dinner?” Tommy spat out.

“Just stop. You don’t have a fucking clue what you’re talking about.”

“Michael hit you. In the jaw. What other clue do I need?”

“He left. Okay? He went home and I haven’t heard from him since.”

“He left,” Tommy repeated.


“And you’re what? Sorry you made him hit you?”

“Fuck you, Tommy!” Adam stood up, knocking over his coffee. The stench of it all making his stomach turn. He needed air.

“Adam!” There was noise behind him. Tommy following Adam outside. “Damn it, Adam! Wait a sec-“


“I asked him, Tommy.”


“To stay. To spend the night. I asked him to. He never does. He -- it’s amazing, mind-bendingly incredible and then he leaves. Every time. I just wanted to wake up with him.” Adam hugged his arms around his chest, fighting back tears. “I just wanted to watch him wake up in my bed, in my arms.”

“He hit you because you wanted him to spend the night?” Tommy looked even more pissed than before.

“No.” Adam paced the length of the pool, Tommy a few steps behind him. “He wanted to. ‘Said he did.”


“It’s complicated.” Adam turned toward Tommy, needing him to understand. “We fucked each other’s brains out and then… we fell asleep.”

“Okay,” Tommy drew the word out, making it a question.

“I don’t have a fucking clue what happened. One minute we were asleep and the next-- “ Adam shook his head. “He was tossing in his sleep, mumbling. Then he bolted upright. His eyes were open.” Adam remembered the way Michael looked, shadows in his eyes, the faint hint of his cologne as he moved.

“He looked right at me, but he didn’t see me. He didn’t hear me.”


“So, what? Michael was having a nightmare?” Tommy asked. He sounded confused more than angry. Adam knew the feeling.

Adam shrugged. “I guess? God, Tommy I don’t know. He started shouting – telling someone to get back. Then it all went wrong. He was yelling for whoever it was, to get down. Then-- his fist was in my face.”

“The fuck? What? I mean... Was he --did he see you?”

“No. I don’t think so. I don’t think he even knew where he was. Not, you know, really.” Adam rubbed his hands up his arms, cold all of a sudden.



“Yeah. And then he was awake. Just like that; a look of horror on his face.”

Tommy blew out a gust of sound. “That doesn’t make it right, Adam.”

“I know that.”

“Shit,” Tommy said, the anger gone from his voice. “I’m sorry.”

Adam nodded, out of words, and then started to cry. Tommy wrapped Adam in his arms and held him while he shook. Tommy murmured softly as he rocked them, words of love and encouragement, telling Adam over and over again that it would be alright, they’d figure it all out.

Adam nodded and held on tighter.


Part Two – Michael and Sandy

Michael blinked. Sunlight streamed through his bedroom window. His brother must have opened the curtains before he left. Before Michael had dozed off. Before the nightmares had forced him back to consciousness.

He knew that if he were to lift his head, the empty bottle of Jack would be gone, along with the mess in the bathroom, and the rest of his alcohol. His brother knew him too damn well. Knew what it was like because he’d been there too; had tried to purge the smell of the desert from his skin with the sharp edge of an empty bottle.


A soft noise pulled Michael’s attention away from hell and back to the present.

A wet tongue licked across his cheek. Then, with another quiet sound Sandy gently scolded him. Tightening his arms around her furry body he pressed his nose to the spot behind her ear that smelled like home.

If she’d been a cat, Sandy might have purred her happiness at him. Since she was a rescued Border Collie trained to help him, she wriggled around until she had him right where she wanted him and licked him again; reminding him that together they could get through anything.


Sandy nudged Michael awake with her nose and a paw to his cell phone. He didn’t recognize the caller’s number so he let it go. Honestly, he probably would have let any call go to voice mail at the moment. He wasn’t ready to face the world beyond his bedroom.

Yawning, Sandy jumped off the bed. With a sniff she trotted out of the room, a sure sign that she was either hungry or annoyed with him, most likely both. Sitting up, Michael thumbed his phone on and checked his messages.

“Hey, Michael -- It's Tommy. About the other night…”


Tommy called three more times and left three more messages, all about the same. Adam was fine, bruised but okay, and not angry at Michael. It was clear from his tone, that Tommy was the one who was pissed. Michael didn’t blame him. He was beyond pissed with himself.

“Come on man,” Tommy said at the end of his fourth message. “I know you’re in there. Don’t make me bang down your door. I don’t give a crap if you are a Marine, I’ll still kick it in.”

“Shit,” Michael said. Sandy tilted her head at him. “We’ve got company.”


“Jeez man,” Tommy said. He waved a hand in the air as he walked through the living room a step ahead of Michael. “What died in here?”

Michael winced, the smell was pretty bad even after his brother had been through. That meant Michael had found at least one bottle Stephen had missed, downed it, and then puked it all back up. Given the lack of metallic tang, the bottle was probably still in one piece. Maybe.

Michael shrugged. “Housekeeper’s off till dooms day.”

“Funny,” Tommy deadpanned.

Michael waved him to the couch and waited with Sandy at his side.


“So. Um.” Tommy slapped his hands on his thighs and Michael fought down the urge to jump. Sandy pressed her head against his leg and twitched her tail.

“You said Adam--" Michael said at the same time as Tommy said, “Adam really is okay.”

“Good.” Michael nodded. “I really didn’t mean--"

Tommy held up a hand. “I get it. Or at least I think I do.” He shook his head, looked away and then back. “You were hurt, wounded or some shit, over there.”

Michael nodded. His breath caught in his chest, stopping his words. Sandy whined softly.


“Look,” Tommy said, his hands gripping his thighs. “I have no fucking clue what you went through. I’m not sure I even understand why you went. Why anyone goes. But you did, so…”

Sandy thwacked her tail on the carpet and let out another whine. Michael forced himself to take a breath and then another one.

“Did she just tell you to breathe?” Tommy asked.

“Um. Sort of.” Michael ran his hand along Sandy’s back. “This is Sandy. She, well, she’s kind of like my helper. I mean, she’s a rescue, so technically I helped her, but -- um.”



“Tommy, listen,” Michael stopped. What the hell do you say to the best friend of the man you just fucked, then beat up? Michael gripped his hand in Sandy’s scruff and she barked at him. “Sorry. Sorry.”

Tommy took a deep breath. “You don’t have to tell me, but… what happened?”

“No, I think I do need to tell you. Then you can tell me if I can ever see Adam again.”

Tommy blinked at Michael, opened his mouth, closed it again and then nodded. “Okay.”

“I had a flashback. To the night we got hit. My unit and me.”


“We were on patrol outside of the city--“

“Where were you?”

“Fallujah,” Michael said quietly, the smell of hot sand and diesel thick in the air. “Every day you’d have another report of someone hiding guns or munitions. One time we found a stash of honest to god Kentucky whiskey.”

Tommy smiled and Michael grinned at the memory.

“Didn’t get to keep it.”

“’Course not,” Tommy snorted. “Give me a good Irish whiskey any day.”

Michael nodded. Maybe if he survived this talk, he’d track down a bottle of that An Cnoc his CO was always going on about.


Michael fought back a shudder, one memory leading to another. Sandy circled around to his other side and hopped up on the couch beside him. He put his face into her fur and let her push back the shadows. When he was ready, Michael looked up at Tommy.

“We were almost done and heading back after a last check on a known hot spot when we were ambushed.” He shrugged, it hurt, but it didn’t. “Took out the lead hummer and three of my men before we knew what hit us. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for my guys.”


“The blast turned everything upside down. They tell you it’s going to. Roll you in trucks before you hit the sandbox, but it doesn’t help. There’s no right side up when an IED goes off. I hit my head on the side of one of the hummers. I’ve got shrapnel in my right shoulder and burn scars down to my hip.”

“But,” Tommy stopped and flapped a hand toward Michael.

“I don’t look like I got hit?”


“A lot of us don’t, doesn’t change a damn thing. Blast scrambles your brains. Some days it’s okay. Others, not so much.”


“So, the other night?” Tommy asked. Michael could see him slotting pieces together, adjusting his opinions. “Falling asleep with Adam?”

“A mistake.”


“Because!” Michael pushed off the couch to pace. “I shouldn’t have fallen asleep. It was stupid. I know better.”

“I don’t understand.”

“PTSD and brain injuries aren’t like anything you know, Tommy. It’s the feeling of sand on your skin or the smell of roasting meat and suddenly you’re back there, in the confusion, the chaos. And you can’t see anything else.” He looked down at Sandy who had followed him across the room. “Not without help.”



Tommy was silent, his fingers tapping out some rhythm on his leg while Michael waited. Finally he let out a burst of air and sound and looked over at Michael.

“I still don’t like that you hit Adam.”

“I don’t either. I swear to you. I would never, ever, hurt Adam.”

“I wish I could believe you.”

“Okay. Um, tell Adam… that… I wish things had been different.”

“Hey--“ Tommy held up a hand, a weird look on his face. “I don’t mean that I can’t. It’s just gonna take me some time to stop being mad at you.”


“You believe me?” Michael asked, hope fluttering in his chest.

Tommy bit down on his bottom lip. “Yeah. I do. But seriously, no one fucking hurts my friends. I don’t care what the fucking reason. And no one, I mean no one hurts Adam. That’s like against some kind of law of nature. He’s just too fucking kind and nice for his own good.”


“So--" Tommy stood up, “maybe don’t come to rehearsal till after the next show.”


“And call him. He’s kinda stupidly hung up on you.”

Michael felt himself smiling. “I will. I promise.”