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That Feeling When

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I wasn't expecting you
Like a punch that knocks the wind out
I think you're changin' everything
'Cause I'm about to let you in now

*

Patrick hadn’t really known about himself for sure until he first saw him. He’d been getting to the other side of no denying pretty quick back home, but when he was deployed to Kandahar with the Canadian Coalition and caught sight of the tall dark-eyed JTF2 Captain in his distinctive green beret being ribbed for trying to explain to his men that paper towels were compost and not, direct quote, “fucking suitable for recycling, you disappointing planet ruiners,” that was the last nail in the coffin. The guy was obviously ridiculous, yelling about hugging trees with a C7A2 Automatic Rifle in his arms, but there was something undeniably compelling about him. Maybe it was just the crazy clearly rolling off him.

Bur had thumped in the side. “Whatcha lookin’ at, doc?”

Patrick had only been a corpsman at the time, just a battlefield medic; this was well before the marines sent him to medical school because his sweet hands had saved more lives than anybody else could count, but he was the best the enlisted had in the field, so doc he was. It was also deep into Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, so he’d ripped his eyes away quick and just mumbled something about the freak Canadian. And then it was just his luck that the freak Canadian heard him, because when he looked up, he was faced with burning dark eyes that seemed to burrow straight into his soul.

*

So of course the freak Canadian saved his life, his and TVR’s.

Trevor had been hit in the thigh, right in the middle of a fucking killbox, and was bleeding out fast. He was in no shape to be moved, so Patrick was in there with him, doing his best to stay low and tie off his fucking artery at the same time. There was screaming over the comms, bullets whizzing overhead, but Patrick barely heard it, too focused on getting him hooked up to plasma and yelling at Trevor to stay with him.

But then somebody was vaulting over the burned out shell of a car and taking out one and then two insurgents with two neat bursts of fire that Patrick hadn’t even realized were coming for him, and of course it was Captain Planet standing above him. But he smiled under his tac helmet like Patrick had done something right rather than insane in staying out here with Trevor, and then radioed in for the CasEvac.

“Toews,” he said, offering his hand.

“Kane, sir,” Patrick replied, taking it. “Pleasure to meet you.”

*

Captain Toews was undeniably nuts. The yoga in the morning on base was merely the start of it, but was of course the largest affront to Patrick’s own sanity. He did it in the hot desert sun in next to no clothing, only stopping when he was slicked up with sweat, and he did it right where Patrick’s barracks window looked out over the yard, so there was no avoiding it. He doubted it was on purpose, but at a certain point he did start to wonder.

There were just little things. Toews certainly didn’t need to spend as much time with a lowly medic in the mess as he did with Patrick, and his unit had its own medic anyway, not that Patrick would really trust Shawzy with much, but the guy had made it this far, so obviously he had some skills he was hiding away behind that wise-cracking exterior. But Toews sought him out, ate meals with him, caught up with him in the gym and when they were out on patrol.

He listened when Patrick said he was hoping the marines might send him to medical school when he got back stateside. And when the words were out of his mouth Patrick realized he hadn’t actually told anybody that before because he was afraid of those words. Afraid of failure. School hadn’t really been for him, but then he’d got out here, been in the field, and he’d started doing this, and he was starting to think he could hack it. He loved what he was doing enough, the life saving part, not the killing people in the dirt part, so he’d make school work if need be. But Toews, an officer who definitely had been to college, didn’t laugh, didn’t seem surprised.

He clapped him on the shoulder, smiled that little smile of his that took Patrick apart, and said, “You’re already better than some of the battlefield surgeons, Kane. Of course you’ve got to do it.”

*

He wasn’t proud of the breaking point. One of the platoons, not even his, got schwacked in friendly fire and he lost more than he saved that day. The whole thing was a clusterfuck from top to bottom; he wanted out and bad. He didn’t even realize he was dangerously close to mutiny, taking on his platoon commander, company commander, his entire regiment, God himself, until somehow Toews found him, made him hit the showers to wash the blood and dirt off. He fed him shitty too sweet coffee and rubbery eggs because it was 4 in the fucking morning and Patrick hadn’t eaten in 24 hours without even noticing. And then he directed Patrick back in the direction of his quarters and told him to sleep. He was an officer with his own room who didn’t have to bunk in with three other guys, and, as he pointed out, Patrick could use the space.

Patrick blacked out for ten hours straight. He woke up to Toews gently shaking him awake. Patrick stared up at him in the dim light of the room, taking in his tight black t-shirt and his BDUs, his tags clinking against his chest. Patrick just couldn’t help it, he had to kiss him. So he did, dragging him down with a palm at the back of his head, going deep and dirty off the jump, and Toews let him. Not for long, but he let him. He tore his mouth away, breathing hard.

“It’s not just me, is it, sir?” Patrick said, voice ragged.

Toews pressed their foreheads together. “It’s not just you, but you’ve got your uniform code, and I’m—”

Yeah, yeah, the regs. Patrick knew, his earlier ire returning. Fucking uniform code, fucking Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. Fucking bullshit counterterrorism. Fuck the whole deal.

Patrick pulled himself out of bed with a groan, back creaking. He found his boots and slowly laced them up while Toews watched, expression placid.

“Thanks,” he said softly when he was done, because he didn’t know what else to say. He ached. He wanted to go back over there, kiss those reddened lips, crack that impenetrable head open to understand what was going on inside. But there were lines that shouldn’t be crossed, their camaraderie was already coming close, and their kiss was well on the other side. Patrick had a dream now. Medical school. No itch in his dick was worth that.

*

Some things once unearthed were not so easily buried. Not when he had a little taste, just enough to get a craving. It was like taking a hit of a drug, just enough to kickstart the addiction, and then being confronted with the damn thing every single hour of every day.

So of course Toews and his platoon had to go and get himself pinned down out in the desert for nearly a month, with the news filtering in every week with words like casualties, hostage situation, torture—you know pretty much everything you never ever wanted to hear in conjunction with a soldier deployed to Afghanistan. Of course it turned out when Toews arrived back, dusty, a little thin, wearing a keffiyeh to keep the sun off, the hostages were some dumb American reservists who’d gotten lost, taken hostage, and then, yes, tortured, and it had taken the better part of a month to locate and extract them from their Al Qaeda captors while also seizing valuable intel.

Patrick had been unable to stop himself anyway. He had no idea what he was even going to say when he burst into Toews’ room completely against all sense of propriety, fuck everyone who saw him right now, but he was completely derailed by the sight of him in a towel, chest beaded with drops of water, pulling up short.

Toews’ hair had grown out of his regulation high and tight, and soft strands spilled over his eyes.

“Wanna close the door?” he asked with a soft smile, hand knotted in his towel.

“I can’t—” Patrick said, and was on him before he even thought to stop himself, pressing him back onto his bed, stripping him of his towel.

“God yes,” Toews said, tipping his head back when Patrick got him underneath him, kissing the base of Toews' throat. Somehow he got Patrick naked, and then they were grinding together on the bed. Patrick was new to this, because he’d always known, he’d known, but he’d never done it, and frankly just this, holding Toews wrists flat to his pillows, thrusting their cocks together while they cursed and groaned was more than enough for him. He couldn’t stop kissing Toews and he didn’t even realize how much his hands were shaking until afterwards when he was laying alongside him, covered in jizz and sweat, body fitted right into the spaces Toews left him.

‘What do I do now?’ He wanted to ask. He didn’t want to give this up, but he didn’t see how they could sneak around. There were only so many times he could get away with it. Besides, his deployment was almost done, and then he was going home. They were sending him to the Naval Medical Center San Diego, because he was going to become a fucking doctor, and Jonny was going to stay in special forces because he was great at it, and that was just how this shit went.

Yeah, that was just how this shit went.

*

He did well in his classes because he was a fucking rockstar, and also—perhaps more salient—had had his hands in more guts than most incoming students, had been doing blood draws and taking temperatures for more than half a decade. Obviously since the Navy was paying for it, they weren’t financing him to become some nice relaxing ENT or GP, which of course meant once he finished his four years there, he was looking at a three year residency in trauma surgery, and then probably some fancy subspecialization repairing more guts. His friends at home in Buffalo and those still on active duty at Pendleton mocked him to high heaven for being locked up in school for literally the rest of his life. But hey, it also meant he’d been bumped up from a lowly corpsman to a fucking lieutenant so they could suck his dick.

He and Toews were friends on Facebook, but Jonny never updated it, so that was pretty much that. He saw his picture in a NY Times article on the Canadian operation on the reconstruction in Afghanistan, green beret and captain’s three pips unmistakeable, Sgt. Sharp at his side, and he was glad to know that Toews was doing okay. He still looked fucking good, even face partially hidden by aviators.

When Burish and Kesler blew back into town, their latest deployments over, Patrick took the naive little shits who’d started following him around all the time in school out with them in Oceanside. He feared for the day when Schmaltzy, Hartsy, and Vinnie were going to be set loose on a platoon, and figured he was doing them a service by exposing them to Bur and Kesler as quickly as possible. Bur and Kesler were career, like Toews, like Patrick intended to be, exactly the opposite of these three, and therefore everything they needed to see up close, so they didn’t die when they first got sent into the shit.

“So I saw Captain Planet while I was over there,” Bur said, swirling the inch of beer he had left in his glass.

Kesler rolled his eyes. “God I hate that guy.”

Bur and Patrick ignored him. “Yeah?”

“Who’s Captain Planet?” Schmaltz asked.

“This jerkoff in Canadian special forces,” Kesler replied.

Patrick snorted, looking over at Schmaltzy, Hartsy, and Vinnie. “Kes’s just bitter because a freakin’ Canadian can outrun, outshoot, and outfight a marine in first recon.”

“Hell yes I am!” Kesler shot back. “Canada! CA-NA-DA! How is it possible? It should not be possible. He should not be possible! I think that fucker is on steroids! He’s a super soldier. He’s not real. Or he’s not really Canadian.”

Bur and Patrick started laughing and Bur leaned over. “Don’t listen to him. JTF2 is legit. If you’re stationed in joint operations with them, you’ll see.”

“But why’s he called Captain Planet?” Hartsy asked.

Kesler crossed his arms grumpily. “Because he cares about the environment.”

“But that seems like a good thing,” Hartsy replied.

“Anyway,” Bur said, cutting off a rant before Kesler could get started, “he asked after you.”

Patrick didn’t say anything. He didn’t know what to say that wouldn’t give him away. That he ached for Toews every day, even though they were only one kiss and a sloppy grinding session on a bed. Even though they barely knew each other. Not outside of war. Not in the ways that you’re supposed to know somebody you love.

“He said he was gonna be in town, actually, him and Sharp and a few of the others. They’re doing some training exercises with the 1/5.”

Patrick took a long swallow of his beer.

“Might be good to catch up, show him your new lieutenant's bars.”

Patrick nodded. “Yeah, it would.”

“I wanna meet Captain Planet,” Hartsy said. “He sounds badass.”

Kesler made a noise akin to a growl. “Of fucking course you do.”

*

The thing was, if he thought he’d manage to keep it to a simple drink with Toews, he was a fucking fool. In more than one way, because didn’t he realize how it was going to make him feel afterwards?

He still had to call Toews ‘sir,’ but it didn’t have that weight behind it, the difference between officer and enlisted. Of course Sharpy refused to call him ‘sir.’

“No, you can fuck right off,” Sharpy said, catching him in a headlock and giving him a noogie. “Maybe if you were from the right side of the border I’d bother, short stuff, but since it’s all stars and stripes for you, I think not.”

“Can’t get no respect,” Patrick said when he finally extricated himself. Obviously Bur didn’t call him ‘sir’ either. Nor did Hartsy, Schmaltzy, and Vinnie since they were the same damn rank. So basically nobody, and wasn’t that just peachy.

He did start off trying to keep his distance, staying a little quiet, mostly talking to Sharpy and his dumbfuck fellow medical students who were definitely going to kill people on the table but who were endearing anyway. But then he wound up watching Toews beat the pants off of Kesler at pool. He’d never seen Toews in street clothes, always in his military fatigues or his damn dress uniform. Obviously Patrick was a gay man in the marines, so that had some payoff for him, but the way his jeans and t-shirt molded to him was in some ways better than watching Toews naked. And it didn’t hurt that Toews was absolutely destroying Kesler, sinking ball after ball that familiar placid look of concentration on his face, until the table was cleaned up and he was straightening.

Kesler rolled his eyes heavenward. “Is there anything you’re bad at? Like anything?”

Toews shrugged. “Telling jokes?” He grinned at Kesler and then his eyes slid past, alighting on Patrick, and Patrick couldn’t stop staring at his long-fingered big-knuckled hand, the loose grip it had on his pool cue, or his thighs in those damn jeans, or his anything, really.

And then he took Toews home, and he wanted to fuck him through the mattress, to really punish him for making Patrick feel all these things, and Toews took it so good, head bowed on his neck, back muscles bunching beautifully, moaning and sighing with every stroke inside, but Patrick couldn’t help it, because goddamnit he loved him, and he needed this shit to last, and he couldn’t do it angry. It wasn’t Toews’ fault that he was the way he was.

“I don’t know how to do this, Jon,” Patrick told him. It was the first time he’d ever used Toews’ first name.

And thankfully Toews—Jon—understood that he didn’t mean how to fuck, even if it was his first time fucking another man. He turned over when Patrick pulled out, and it was so much that his dick was still thick and hard between his thighs, because Patrick had seen porn, knew that some guys, most guys even, lost their erections.

And now it felt like he knew what to do: to kiss him, to tug one of his thighs, pulling it up and hooking his knee over his shoulder, to press himself in deep, slow so slow this time, to be able to watch and take in everything Jon had to offer. Jon groaned, holding onto Patrick’s headboard with one hand and to Patrick’s nape with the other as he fucked him, elastic enough from yoga that he could pull Patrick down for a kiss whenever he wanted. He wouldn’t let Patrick jerk him off.

“No, baby,” he breathed, “if I come this is all over.”

So Patrick did his best to draw it out, to last for Jon, to fuck him slow and sweet but also hard like he wanted. Eventually it was too much.

“Jon, I can’t—I can’t hold it off anymore.”

Jon bit his lip and nodded, eyes falling closed. When Patrick came, he wished so desperately that he wasn’t wearing a condom so that he could really cream up his ass, mark him like that, as Patrick’s in perpetuity. But he wasn’t Patrick’s, and they couldn’t, and they wouldn’t.

“You want me to stay in?” he asked hoarsely afterwards as he let Jon’s leg drop to the bed. He propped himself carefully up above him, giving Jon just enough space to move while staying inside.

Jon nodded vigorously, hand dropping to his cock as he started to pull himself off. It didn’t take much, he’d clearly been right there himself, but the way he pushed up onto the balls of his feet and shoved himself even further onto Patrick’s cock would stay with him for the rest of his life.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Jon said. Watching him come on his cock like that was as close to a religious experience as Patrick was ever going to get.

“Stay, stay,” Jon said, locking his thighs around Patrick’s when he finally went to pull out for real this time. Patrick felt helpless to deny him anything, so he curled himself around Jonny and kissed him until his dick slipped out naturally.

*

Patrick couldn’t leave—not without a dishonorable discharge. The navy literally owned his ass. Hell, they’d give him one if they knew what he and Jon were up to, but that would be dooming his life. He could kiss having a job ever again goodbye. Nobody would hire a vet with a DD on their record, and he and Jon couldn’t live on love alone, besides which, Jon wasn’t even interested in leaving, and what was Patrick going to do? Sit in a house in the wild prairies of Canada while Jon went around the world saving lives? No. Fuck that.

It was just—it sucked was all. And that last time wrecked him, he shouldn’t have even given himself that much, because how was he supposed to give it up. Jon started writing him emails after that, just accounts of what he was seeing, what things were like over there. At first, Patrick didn’t write back; it was too hard. But eventually he started to feel stupid. Jon could die any time. He could literally die. Patrick would hate himself forever if he ignored the fucking emails just to protect his own damn heart. So they couldn’t be together, fuck it, he’d take what he could get.

Eventually, he did start dating somebody else, and somehow the emails made it easier, like he had Jon as a friend now. And obviously he still had to be under the radar. The guy he was dating, Chris, was a trainer at a gym in Carlsbad and he got the drill. He knew they couldn’t be open on Facebook, that he was always gonna be Patrick’s friend in public. But Chris was easy, and the people who mattered knew. His mother and sister knew. Jon knew. Bur had a sense, Patrick figured, but he didn’t ask and Patrick wasn’t volunteering, as per the protocol. Life ground on.

He made it through med school, as did his three little hangerson, and he gradually got to the point where he stopped worrying that people would die due to their medical malpractice. His life was working out pretty okay. He was happy.

“Say it enough times and maybe you’ll believe it,” his sister said to him when he called home.

“What? I do believe it.”

She sighed. “Yeah, sorry, Pat, I’m just—don’t mind me.”

He broke up with Chris, because, okay, so she was kind of right, he wasn’t happy. Obviously it was more than just Chris, but Chris was part of it, and he was starting to suspect that maybe the guy was, ahem, a marine mattress as they said, just of the gay variety, and Patrick would really prefer to not be fetishized. God, it was so fucking hard to date.

“Well, you also seem to be looking in the worst places, Jesus,” Jackie told him when he updated her about it. “Grindr? Yeah, how about no.”

*

And then Obama repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in the first year of his surgical residency and it felt like for the first time the entire world opened up. He didn’t go blaring it from the rooftops, but suddenly he could imagine a world in which he didn’t have to be so damn careful all the time, where dating was a fuck of a lot easier because he wouldn’t be forever trying to pick from a pool of guys who’d be okay being stashed in a fucking closet. Where he didn’t have to be so careful about pronouns, where he could be normal on social media. It was just a lot.

He wasn’t letting himself even think of Jon. He wasn’t. There were other obstacles to that.

Except, he hoped. Part of him did hope. But months passed, and no email from Jon. Well, Patrick supposed this wasn’t a conversation you had over email. Or maybe it had always been about sex for Jon. These things weren’t simple or straightforward when you zealously avoided having conversations about them.

Residency was kicking his ass, he was technically a reservist now and still had duties for that on top of everything else, so he buried himself in that instead of thinking about it. Hell, there had to be other gay naval doctors and marines stashed up in here who could finally come out from under the proverbial radar.

But he’d been nursing this thing for Jonny since he was 25 serving an 18 month tour with him, and now he was 30, and that shit just didn’t go away easy. Even though they were now one kiss, one dirty grinding session, one fuck, and a couple thousand emails.

Maybe he needed to sac up and send the damn email himself? God that was awkward. If only he could’ve gone to a normal residency that had vacation and shit, he’d track Jon down, say his fucking piece, get rejected, and let that be that. But no, he was inescapably tied down until his next leave, which was god knows when, and just—god, why hadn’t he heard anything from Jon? Not even a ‘congrats your country is no longer rejecting your sexuality’ email? Like, that would’ve been sick. He knew the fucker was alive because his rarely used Facebook had pictures of him with cute little kids in Libya.

Patrick remembered a time in his life when he had chill. When he was calm and collected and full of confidence. Fucking Captain Jonathan Toews was a ruiner of lives.

*

Some days in the trauma unit really sucked—like, he would say worse even than when he was stationed in theater. Losing kids was hard, and pregnant mothers. He’d had one today, placenta praevia, bad. She’d been in the middle of talking to him and then she was just gone, bled out right there on the table. They barely saved the baby. She was so young, got knocked up by some asshole who took off, and then it was Patrick’s job to tell her parents that their daughter who’d been okay that morning was gone. The rest of the day had continued in a similar disheartening fashion, and by the time he’d gotten home, 3 PM, after pulling 12 hours in the ER, he was nearly dead on his feet.

It took him a full second to realize that the Jon Toews sitting on his stoop, elbows resting on his knees and face tilted up to the sun, was real and not some bizarrely inviting hallucination, especially with the six pack of beer sitting next to him.

“You—” Patrick started. “What are you doing here?”

“Just got back stateside,” Jon explained. “Don’t even have a cell yet. So…” He shrugged like that made sense.

“So…” Patrick replied.

“Figured it was time we had a talk,” Jon replied. “Wanna do it out here on the lawn or inside where I can kiss you proper?”

And then Patrick knew. He knew that he hadn’t heard because you don’t have that fucking conversation over email. And they were bad at this whole thing. Like maybe Jon could’ve found a sat phone over there and called, rather than waiting and torturing Patrick in what turned out to be the longest six months of his life, but Patrick could’ve done the same, Skype was a thing after all. He’d just been chickenshit.

He smiled then, lit up on the inside. “So here’s the thing. Don’t know if you’ve heard. But you can kiss me out here on my lawn now. Law’s changed and everything.”

“Is that so?” Jon said softly, eyes crinkling at the corners as he got to his feet.

Patrick nodded and then Jon was stepping in close, kissing him soft and sweet, his arms belted around Patrick’s waist, shoulders curving in like he’d wrap him in his whole body if he could.

Patrick pulled away with a gasp, objecting hoarsely, “We will probably never be stationed in the same place ever again, Jon.”

“What was that you boys used to say? Marines make do?”

“Technically not a marine,” Patrick protested.

“Patrick, shut up,” Jon replied, kissing him again. “We’ll make it work.”

“Phonesex,” Patrick mumbled half into his mouth.

“Yeah, probably,” Jon chuckled and then kissed him again.

“What’ll you do when I make Captain?” Patrick asked him dazedly when he pulled away for the third time.

“Come inside and I’ll show you,” Jon replied, catching hold of his hand.