Note: Takes place one year ago today, during the same period as College Bound.
I left my dress blues on, save the shoes, and stretched out across the duvet. It wasn’t the best choice for loungewear, but I got as comfortable as I could, yawning, while I listened to Seb brushing his teeth in the bathroom.
He glanced at me when he came out, before heading for the sliding glass door by the sitting area. Just as his fingers touched the handle, I hummed. The noise was barely audible, even to me, and only a fraction of a second long, yet he stopped instantly. I smiled. I knew he’d have no trouble interpreting that. It took a few more moments for him to look back, though. Rolling onto my side, I met his gaze and patted the mattress twice.
Seb bit his lip. He didn’t move.
Really, brat? I thought, amused. I let him see my eyes flick to the dresser, where his hairbrush sat ready, and then back to him. His face was now a shade pinker. In a second, he was lying down on the bed — as far from me as he could be, and on his back, to boot.
Okay, you wanna dance?
Reaching over, I grabbed his far shoulder, flipped him onto his stomach, and cracked my palm down twice on the rounded undercurve of his bottom. He gasped, and then bit down on the pillow to stifle it. I’d usually allow him that, as an alternative to biting his own arm, but tonight he was already hiding enough. I snatched it away and dropped it behind me before rolling him onto his side as well, with my hand on his hip.
The green eyes still didn’t meet mine. I let that slide, wanting to see where they would focus instead. As I suspected, it was on the rows of ribbons and awards pinned to my chest. He’d been preoccupied with them during the drive home, too.
Extending a hand, he started to unbutton my jacket. I caught his fingers and brought them to my lips.
“You’ll get your uniform wrinkled,” he said.
Words! Progress, even if they made no sense. He had not seemed at all concerned about wrinkling my dress blues when we returned from the Marine Corps Birthday Ball on the base yesterday. Next to “completely starkers,” it was his favorite of my outfits. Not that he’d ever admitted it, but I know my boy.
I’d seen him staring, with that certain look he gets, earlier during the Veterans Day ceremony, too. It had made it difficult for me to concentrate on holding the flag steady throughout the whole thing. Reflecting back on the evening, I tried to pinpoint when that look went away, to be replaced by shuttered eyes and a particular kind of quietness. It was sometime following the ceremony, I thought, when I started talking to a few of the vets in attendance while he stood by my side.
“Freaked you out a little, huh?” I asked, against the back of his hand.
“I’m… not sure what you mean.”
I snorted softly and released him. “Fetch the hairbrush, would ya?”
The Bambi eyes came out, which I expertly ignored. I had given him plenty of warning. After a moment, he rolled off the bed and walked over to get the implement as I sat up and put my feet on the floor in preparation.
Turning back, he stopped just out of my reach and said, “This really isn’t necessary.”
“Also really isn’t your decision,” I cheerfully reminded him. “C’mere.”
“I– Yes, I was a little affected by–”
“Seb. I’m gettin’ old over here.”
He swallowed before stepping forward, his free hand going to the button of his pants. I hummed again, and he let go, so I didn’t deliver an extra swat after taking the brush. Instead, I concentrated on getting him stripped and over my knee as quickly as possible, and once he was there, on making it a fast, hard spanking that would break through his defenses.
He was crying within ten swats. I gave him four more and then pulled him up to sit in my lap, resting directly on the sore spot I’d just created. He wiggled. Wrapping my arms tighter around him, with the hairbrush still in my right hand, I said, “Tell me why my uniform’s freaking you out.”
“You know it’s not the uniform,” he said, thickly.
“No, the uniform’s just the symbol,” I agreed, “but it’s usually easier for you to talk in symbols. That’s fine. I can figure ‘em out, as long as they’re pointing to the right place.”
He sniffled for a few moments. “It means you’re a Marine. And… and Marines die. They die in wars, or they die when they get home, because they were in a war.”
Yeah, there it is. Surprisingly direct, too, I thought. Aloud, I said, “Not all of them. The men we met tonight are proof of that.”
“The exception that proves the rule,” he argued.
“Which is also a very accurate description of me,” I replied, smiling, and he huffed and smacked me on the shoulder. I kissed the scowl off his mouth before continuing, “Habibi, I still have time to change my mind about re-enlisting, you know. My application to Annapolis isn’t even complete yet.”
He was already shaking his head. “No! I am not going to take that from you, Z. Even if you forgave me–”
“There would be nothing for me to forgive.”
“Even if,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself. You are a Marine. I can accept that it comes with a higher risk of mortality, the same way you accept that my diabetes does, too.”
“I don’t, though. I know it’s a truth about your disease, but I don’t accept it, and neither do you. You try to make it less true every single day.”
His gaze dropped down as he considered that, and I tapped him on the nose. Once I had eye contact again, I said, “How’s this: I promise to follow your example, to fight against the odds and to do everything in my power to stay here with you for as long as possible. ‘Kay?”
Blinking away tears, he nodded.
“Good. Now get up. This uniform’s starting to itch.”