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After the Storm

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Tom woke up to eyes staring at him from the chair next to the bed, like Clay's but not. Squinting at the old fashioned wind up clock on the nightstand he saw it was good half hour before he usually got up, which was a relief because based on the light he panicked for a moment and worried he overslept. A storm raged outside, rain thundering on the roof.

But it was march now, another winter almost over, rolling into spring even if it didn’t quite feel like it today. It couldn’t come fast enough, it had been a rough one and he was never a winter person.

He cleared his throat, sitting up as he picked up his glasses and put them on. “Johnny. Where’s your Daddy?”

Johnny gesturing north of where they were.

“His studio? Well isn’t that a surprise.” Tom said with good natured sarcasm. “Or is he chopping wood? You can talk to me you know.”

His Studio. Johnny said reluctantly, like an alien presence in Tom’s mind. Poor kid, fortunately the attempt at getting him back via a cell phone worked, he was him again.  He didn’t come back the same though, specifically how he could only talk through telepathy. Not that it bothered any of them, but he hated being different. 

Which wasn't without reason, there was a lingering anger and sorrow in regard to the battle with the phoners, not something people always kept to themselves. One would think it would help that their group was responsible for putting the bastards out of commission, but people it seemed unfortunately would need more time getting over it.

 “So you want me to fix you something to eat?” Tom said, throwing a robe over his pajamas as he got up. “I think we might still have some grits left.” He said as he walked the short distance to the pantry. He was wearing socks but was still grateful the tile that covered the entirety of the small house wasn't ice cold, thanks to the little wood stove that crackled away. Clay must’ve left fairly recently, asking Johnny to keep an eye on it. It wasn’t as cold as it had been, but it was still a dreary rainy day, one that was nice to be sheltered inside from but he didn’t look forward to doing outside chores in.

Eggs? Johnny asked hopefully.

“We only have a few, and we might need them later today.” Tom replied. “You know how our ladies are when its cold, so fussy about laying, bless them.” He said, referring to their coop of chickens. “We do still have some canned peaches left, does that sound good?"

Johnny agreed and he set about doing that, reaching for a Tupperware container of dry grits. From a bag thankfully, they hadn’t gotten to the point where they needed to make their own like it had with the peaches and the fruit, sitting in back of the cupboard in mason jars. That had been a fun afternoon, bickering in Denise's kitchen over a sixty year old canning book that had cartoon pictures of anthropomorphic yeast and other bacterias that could muck up the canning process.

After Clay and Johnny found them after they parted ways the gang uprooted again find a place to better suit their needs, coming upon a rural town whose inhabitants weren’t too hostile against outsiders with houses that were waiting to be made into homes again. Homes that inexplicably had old fashioned wood stoves complete with burners despite having all the other modern amenities. 'Why? Who in their right mind would want that?' they'd asked, and were told by the locals it had been a combo of wanting to save gas and a very persuasive stove salesman in a neighboring town.

After the two of them had finished breakfast and did inside chores they let the stove fire go out, the house rapidly warming as the day progressed. As much as Tom dreaded it they had to take care of the chickens, so they he put on their coats and rain boots and ventured out. He told Johnny he didn't have to come but Johnny insisted on joined him, bored of staying inside.

“Hey, its alright, its only me.” Tom said gently as he went inside the coop with a pail of feed, fat brown hens swarming his booted feet. “Got some food for you gals.”

I think some beetles got into the feed again. Johnny said from outside the coop in his own rainboots and coat, the later about a size too big.

“Oh, they don’t mind.” Tom dismissed. “You like bugs don’t you?” He cooed to the chickens as he poured it into the feeder, sending the birds scrambling for it.

But what if they get into our food? Johnny asked. I don’t like bugs.

“No, neither do I.” Tom agreed as he stood with a huff, smiling at the boy. “That’s why we’re careful.”

As He cleaned the water and gave the chickens fresh hay the rain started dwindling down, and when finished the sun finally came out.

Can we go for a walk in the woods? Johnny asked eagerly.

“I don’t see why not, it is perfect weather for mushrooms.” He said, handing Johnny a basket of what few eggs the hen's had laid. “Why don’t you put these away and get us some foraging bags from the house, alright?…I’ll just let you dad know where were going so he doesn't panic.”

He walked towards Clay’s shack, or ‘studio’ as he called it, where he went to concentrate on whatever project he’d been working on. He worried for a moment he’d disturb him, but as he turned the corner he found him standing in the open door of his studio, leaning against the door frame. He looked up at Tom and smirked, squinting in the sun. “…You sound mighty cute when you talk to the chickens like that.”

“You spying on me?” Tom said, smiling back.

Clay stepped out of the doorway, shrugging helplessly as they embraced, sharing a quick smooch. “…I couldn’t resist. Sorry about slipping out earlier without waking you by the way.”

“Its alright...me and johnny where gonna take a walk in the woods, if your not too busy you can come with."

"I do kinda need a break."  He said, looking up at the sound of the door shutting and his son scampering over with a couple of cloth shoulder bags.

"Hey Johnny-Gee, what are those for?"

Tom wanted to look for mushrooms. Johnny said brightly, which earned Tom a look from Clay.

"Really Tom? most of the mushrooms are poisonous here."

"I thought it would be fun, and we were going to go on a walk anyway."

"Alright, but don't eat anything." He said, addressing Johnny. 

Of course not. Johnny said with annoyance. Can we go already?

---

They didn't end up coming across a lot of mushrooms, but it was a beautiful day for a walk. Clay and Tom lingered behind as Johnny raced ahead.

"Stay in sight! If you can't see me I can't see you!" Clay hollered after him, before saying to Tom: "I hate that we can't just let him come here alone."

"Well it's like you said, even if the war is over there's still bad people out there, people without the restrictions of society to rein them in."

"Not to mention the folks who arn't too crazy about phoners, former or not." Clay added. "Maybe when he's older...not that I like the idea of him growing up."

"He's a damn cute kid, this morning I woke up to him just staring me down from the chair by the bed because he wanted breakfast."

“Jesus, I told him not to wake you up.” Clay said with dismay. "He insisted he wasn't hungry yet."

“Well he didn’t wake me technically. He sat by the bed and just waited.”

“Still, I’ll talk to him about that.”

“Oh, please don’t.” Tom said with reluctance. “He’s so sensitive, and it wasn’t that big deal.”

“I won’t be a jerk about it, it’s just better he learns rather then be…placated."

“Humored, right.” Tom agreed as they watched him run wildly around the trees. “I get that. He’s just a great kid, I don’t like seeing him upset.”

“Well, that’s parenting for you.” Clay said gravely.

“I get it now. Why you went to such lengths to keep trying to save him before I mean. I hate to say this but…”

“You didn’t get it before?” Clay said with amusement. “Its fine, I understand. I hate to admit it myself but I don’t know if I would’ve gotten it either. I think having a kid just hit some kind of instinctive switch in my head. Fucked up everything up.”

“That’s a bit of a harsh way to put it.” Tom said critically.

“It's said with affection. I mean, take you for instance.”

“What about me?” Tom said suspiciously.

“You messed me up pretty good.”

“I didn’t mean to.” Tom protested, and Clay laughed, stopping to wrap his arms around his partner so they were chest to chest.

“It’s not your fault, It’s the feelings. Taking over, making me reevaluate things if you will. In a good way of course.”

“Cause you were so straight before.” Tom chided with a little smile.

“Well, I…” He trailed off, realization hitting him. “Your making fun of me aren’t you?”

“I can’t help it, you did blatantly manage to worm the fact into conversation a couple of times. ‘Lookit me, I’m clay, I’m so hetro I instinctively know how to drive stick’.”

“Alright, so I said some dumb shit. I just…found myself attracted to you, and it threw me off. I got defensive.”

“Seriously, while the world was going shit you thought that?” Tom said, voice low.

“Once or twice.” Clay said with a shrug. “You wanna tell me you didn’t have…thoughts?”

“I try not to lust after what I can’t have…but maybe once or twice.” Tom relented, hands creeping downward teasingly. "I mean, you do have a nice ass, how could I not?"

“Is that right?” Clay muttered, taking Tom’s face in one of his hands and gently kissing him. Tom kissed back, and simply based on the way their lips briefly touched before separating and touching again it wasn’t not exactly something that could qualify as making out, but based on the way their breathes mingled together between kisses or the dizzying feeling they felt it might has well be.

 "When I think about it," Clay finally managed huskily, "I believe we were sharing a bed around that time too. I never wanted to admit it...but I did find myself thinking about things."

“Things?” Tom said in bewilderment.

“Like about how good it would've felt.” Clay answered amorously. "To just...give in to that."

Tom's face turned a deep red at that. He tried to conceal it by burrowing it in Clay's shoulder, muttering in a muffled voice: "...Your the worst, you know that?"

Clay chuckled. "Look at it as retaliation for that comment about my ass."

Johnny called out a short distance away, now currently scaling an old oak tree, wanting an audience and noticing the two had stopped moving.

"Be right there champ!" Clay called, and they both grinned, hurrying over.