[A] genuine tattoo.... tells a story. I like stories and tattoos, no matter how well done, and if they don't tell a story that involves you emotionally, then they're just there for decoration, then they're not a valid tattoo. There has to be some emotional appeal or they're not, to my way of thinking, a real tattoo. It tells people what you are and what you believe in, so there's no mistakes. ~Leo, tattooist, 1993, quoted in Margo DeMello, Bodies of Inscription, 2000
Sometimes he still wakes up breathing hard in the dirty, washed-out hours before dawn. He hurts in places that he doesn't even have any more. His body feels like a map of places that nobody's even been and where it would be impossible to go. Lost. Sometimes, he still feels so lost.
He reaches out. More often than not these days, there's someone there to catch him.
That's taken a lot of getting used to, too.
In the middle of Tuesday bleeding into Wednesday morning, Grace is there but Will's already up. They've got the baby for two weeks while Heather's on vacation with her Rock and Roll fucking boyfriend. Usually, she's good, the baby, Hope, but sometimes she still cries out in the middle of the night.
It would be pretty shitty of Tunny not to sympathise.
He's been keeping this list of things that are amazing to him, things that seem amazing in the middle of a Tuesday night in August. So far, he has air conditioning, pain meds, Will's remarkably clear singing voice filtering back to them from the kitchen, the fact that the three of them regularly sleep together (not fucking, not just fucking but actually closing their eyes and sleeping) in this entirely ordinary bed. The fact that Grace came back here after her tour of duty.
The fact that she stayed.
He rolls towards her. She strokes her fingers through his still-short hair. Tonight, she's sleeping in one of Will's t-shirts, some fucking band that Tunny's never heard on. He rests his cheek against her shoulder and she kisses his forehead. He feels sweaty and young.
“You're worse than the baby, you know that?”
He finds himself smiling. She's not wearing underwear and his hand comes to rest against her bare thigh where it melts into her ass. He can smell Will, not just on the t-shirt but on her skin underneath it. He's not entirely sure when her and Will started screwing without him. There was always him and Will, from when they were about fourteen, hurried blow-jobs and awkward hand-jobs and he came back from Iraq pretty much knowing that him and Grace were in it for the long-haul. But then there was this moment when everything tilted in the balance until Grace leaned in and took Will's face in both of her hands and kissed him.
“You love him. I love him. We'll make do.”
They've done more than make do. They've made it work.
Another remarkable thing: as he's falling asleep, Tunny realises that he likes the smell of all of them together on her skin.
Some nights, he can't sleep at all. He stays up with Hope. It's never stopped being surprising to him that he can handle the baby; along with going to school to learn how to do something, it's something that he never saw coming. The nights when Grace is at the VA are the longest, especially when Will's at a night-class. He wanders with the baby on his hip. Sometimes Johnny comes over and hangs out but, mostly, he doesn't come by so much anymore.
So it's just Tunny and Hope.
They're pretty good buddies. She's better for him than Johnny ever was.
He walks around the house with her on his hip; he's working on not limping. Grace leans her head against his shoulder and closes her eyes. Underneath his t-shirt, his new tattoo is all but healed; he's learning to do his own, but he's jealous of lettering that fine. He rests one hand against the back of her head and thinks about how he'll tell her, when she's older, that he got that tattoo to remind him that they were going to be a family forever.
After dinner, they watch a little bit of a movie but Tunny finds his mind drifting. He talks to his Grandmother on the phone; Hope babbles and he holds the phone close to her so that she and Gemma can talk.
He puts her down not long after that. Sometimes, he looks at her and tries to figure out what she got from Will and what she got from Heather.
He likes to imagine that she's going to get something from Grace and him that they can't see yet.
He's half asleep by the time Will comes home. He lies in the dim bedroom and listens to him moving around the house; he kicks off his boots by the door, goes to the kitchen and runs the faucet. He turns on the t.v and then, a moment or two later, kills it. He pads into Hope's room and stays there, for a while.
Tunny's never been able to say it (too fucking awkward in too many ways), but he's really fucking proud of Will finally getting his ass in gear and going back to school. It always seemed like such a fucking shame that Will wasn't going to amount to anything; Will who was better than Johnny or Tunny knew how to be or, at least, less cruel.
Grace, though. Grace kind of puts them both to shame, in the ways that she's useful; she's really got her shit together and they're just sort of...fumbling in her wake. And one day, maybe, she'll get tired of waiting for them, of them acting like fixing fuck-ups is her hobby or something.
Desperately, Tunny just wants to be enough for both of them.
Will flops down on the bed still in his jeans and reaches out, pushing his hand under Tunny's t-shirt, rubbing it up his spine. He bends his head and presses a kiss against the corner of Tunny's mouth but he's too sleepy for fucking, too heavy-limbed and content so he just reaches out and curls his fingers into Will's hair and tugs him down to sleep.
For a while, lying there entwined with his best friend, his prosthetic laid neatly within reach, Tunny is utterly happy.
Absolutely nothing hurts.
In the middle of the night, with Grace finally home from her shift, they screw slow and lazy, fumbling to make it work. The first time they did this, it was her idea. He'd told her about him and Will; it was just another of the things that he decided that he was never going to keep from her. It had just been the three of them sitting on the couch and watching a movie. She'd learned in and kissed him, reaching across him to snag Will's fingers with hers.
And that was that and the rest is fucking history.
In their bed, they move slowly. There's no reason to rush. She hooks her leg high on his hip and keeps her tight inside him. There was a time when he was embarrassed by the stump but no longer. Her hand is on his thigh, just above the scar. Will's body behind him keeps him steady. He kisses her, Will's mouth against his shoulder. Will moves his hips and pushes deeper. Little moans echo each other.
“I love you,” he mumbles, and it doesn't matter which one of he means. They both know that it's true. He fucking loves them and, in the morning, he'll get up and make breakfast for Hope and maybe he'll call Gemma. Johnny will or won't come to hang out. He'll work on his portfolio. He'll practise not limping.
And it'll be less rage, more love.
Little by little, a story getting rewritten.
Close to coming, he closes his eyes and feels his heart try to fall into beating in time with theirs.