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Authors: Eden Winters,Parker Williams

The Wounded

BOOK: The Wounded
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The Wounded

Eden Winters and Parker Williams

Chapter

Warning

This book contains adult language and themes which some may find offensive. It is intended for mature readers only, of legal age to possess such material
in their area.

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual people, places, or events is purely coincidental.

The Wounded

©2013 by Eden Winters and Parker Williams

Cover Art by P.D. Singer

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission of the authors, except as brief quotations as in the case of
reviews.

This story is based on characters and situations from Eden Winters’
The Telling,
and Parker Williams’
500 Miles.

Chapter

For Becky, the inspiration for this story.

On November 11
th
, 2011, Becky Condit opened a book review blog. The very first story she reviewed was by a woman named Eden Winters. It was a
tale called ‘The Telling’ and brought Michael and Jay to the world. It was also the very first m/m story that Parker Williams read and
he fell in love with the characters. He wrote to Eden and that started a friendship that is still strong to this day.

In 2012, Parker Williams wrote the tale of Mark and Jase, based on a call from MLR for love songs on cassette. The story was based on the song
500 Miles
, the name of the novella. It became his first published work.

2013 marks Becky’s second blog-oversary, a cause for celebration. Eden and Parker were delighted to bring their characters together in an
exclusive story for Mrs. Condit & Friends. This is that story.

We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing our boys again—Eden & Parker

Chapter One

Jay stood in the doorway, a cup of coffee in his hands. “Just think about it, okay?” He made the suggestion casually, like it
didn’t really matter one way or another whether they made the Veteran’s Day trip to Atlanta, but the taut set of his shoulders said
otherwise.

Why did everyone insist on forcing Michael out into the world? He’d gotten past his agoraphobia enough to attend classes at Avery University, and
he dutifully parked his butt on his counselor’s couch every Wednesday to work on his issues. What more did folks want?
Besides… “I’m not a ‘wounded’.”

Jay didn’t say a word. They’d had this talk before.

“If we go, people will look at me funny. I mean, c’mon, there’ll be guys there who’re lucky to be alive.
They’ll look at me—two arms, two legs, both eyes—and think I’m horning in where I don’t
belong.”

Again Jay remained silent. He’d made his arguments long ago.

Yes, Michael had been wounded in battle, but his wounds had healed, for the most part. Sure, he’d never regain the hearing in one ear, and he
still woke up screaming, but his war wounds paled in comparison to some of the other veterans he knew. How many veterans had he met who walked with
prosthetic limbs and would never again lift their children with their own arms? Those men and women’s sacrifices far exceeded his. He
didn’t deserve to march with The Wounded in the Veterans Day parade in Atlanta.

“Just give it some thought,” Jay said again. “We can still go hang out.”

The pressure in Michael’s chest lifted. Being out in the open, marching in formation, brought back too many memories—few of them good.

Did Jay have to add, “But remember, this isn’t just for the living—it honors those who gave their all in defense of this
country”?

Shit. In other words, Jimmy—who’d fallen in battle in Iraq. An image of his friend came to mind: red hair, freckles, mischievous grin.
If marching would bring Jimmy back, Michael would hike barefoot all the way to the White House. But it wouldn’t. What of Ryan? The lover Jimmy
left behind was in no condition to attend the parade. Michael released a defeated sigh a split second before he actually made up his mind.
“I’ll think about it.” His own lover smiled.

“That’s all I ask.” Jay underscored his words with a kiss.

***

A fist squeezed Jay’s heart. Michael’s forlorn expression nearly made him give in. However, on this he must stand firm. Three years of
therapy made a marked improvement, but until Michael admitted he had a problem, they couldn’t move on.

Michael’s PTSD presented a struggle for Jay as well as for Michael. Thank God for the online support group he’d found: Partners of The
Wounded. For six months Jay had chatted online with men and women who faced the same issues of how to care for and support someone who’d been
through the unimaginable. Thanks to the fall of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, he’d even connected with another gay couple. Mark and
Jase knew the struggles Jay faced with Michael, and their advice kept him moving forward when he didn’t know what to do on his own.

When Jay grew discouraged, they picked him up. When he had good news to share, they rejoiced with him. And they were coming to Atlanta for the Veterans Day
observance. Up until now Michael’d always said, “Yeah, that’s nice,” whenever Jay spoke of his new online friends,
never showing much interest in meeting face to face.

Jase was one of the injured Michael referred to as walking with prosthetic limbs. But as Jase often said, “Wounded is wounded, healing is
healing.” Regardless of if the injury was internal or external.

According to Mark, they’d traveled a rough road with Jase’s recovery, but they were light years ahead of Michael and Jay in some ways.
Plus they were legally married. Damn, but Jay wanted that with Michael, but Alabama was a far cry from Vermont. The best he and Michael could hope for was
a commitment ceremony.

The cramped apartment over the bookstore had been home since Jay’s student days and Michael’s discharge. Wall by wall they were
building their house on a piece of land Michael’s grandfather had given him; move-in could be as soon as three months from now. Creating a home
from bare ground was a big commitment, but not big enough—Jay wanted to stand with Michael before their friends and family to promise his life.
Michael had to understand he was promise-worthy, hearing loss and PTSD or no. Jase and Mark had fought the same kind of adversity. Meeting them might, just
might, convince Michael that he and Jay could do the same.

Now to get Michael to Atlanta.

***

“Put that away.” Michael frowned at the plastic-covered uniform Jay held in his hands.

“But you might want it for the parade.”

No. Never again would Michael wear those clothes. “I’m not a soldier anymore. And I only said I’d go to Atlanta. I never said
I’d march.” The disappointment in Jay’s eyes gave Michael pause. Jay must think standing in formation amid a sea of other
uniformed men and women a small thing to ask, but his days as a soldier were over. Uncle Sam had said so, softening the blow by letting him ride out the
last few months of his enlistment rather than issuing an immediate medical discharge. All because an explosion blew out an eardrum that hadn’t
properly healed.

Jay hadn’t mentioned the disappearance of Michael’s medals—one for being injured in battle, another for saving the life of a
brother-in-arms. Michael didn’t deserve recognition. He’d done his duty, no more, but some unknown force always stopped him from
dumping the symbols of his enlistment in the trash. He’d hidden them in the display at Gramps’ house, tucked into the case with the
medals won by Gramps’ two brothers, who’d both died in Korea.

“Okay.” Jay’s smile showed signs of strain. “Jeans then? Or shorts?”

“Jeans and a T-shirt will be fine. And what you picked for the banquet.”

Michael fumbled under the bed for tennis shoes while Jay rummaged in the dresser for shirts. Once he’d zipped both their duffle bags, he gave
Michael a brief kiss. “Thanks for agreeing to go. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.” He grabbed his car keys off
the nightstand. “I’ll bring the car around.” No question who’d drive. Loud noises still freaked Michael out.
Erratic drivers and blowing horns weren’t his favorite things. Neither was Atlanta traffic.

With Jay out of sight Michael stumbled into the bathroom on shaky legs to stare at himself in the mirror. “You can do this, Ritter.
It’s only for a few days.” A bottle from the medicine cabinet yielded up two pills that he popped into his mouth and washed down with
water directly from the faucet. Depositing the bottle into his jeans pocket, he surveyed the apartment to ensure he hadn’t left anything. The
uniform caught his gaze, left hanging on the bedroom door. How proudly he’d once worn the trappings of his rank. No. Definitely, definitely not.
Never again.

***

Mark ran his hand over Jase’s crisp dress uniform. The medals pinned to the chest caused his heart to flutter as he remembered what Jase had done
to earn them and what they ultimately cost the man. He sighed and laid the clothes back on the bed.

“Marky?”

“Yeah, hon?”

“My prosthetic fell over. Can you give a guy a hand?”

Mark chuckled to himself, knowing that Jase didn’t really need him for what he claimed. He sauntered to the bathroom, finding Jase sitting on the
bench, leering at him.

“We could just stay home, you know.” Jase’s voice was husky.

“Nice try. You promised we were going and that’s what we’re doing. I really want to meet some of these people from the chat
room. Especially Jay. He’s become a really good friend.”

Jase ran a hand over his enticing erection. “Are you sure?”

Mark leaned into the shower and gave Jase a lingering kiss, stroking the hardened flesh, causing Jase to groan loudly.

“I’ll finish that for you when we get down to Atlanta.”

Jase rolled his eyes. “You suck.”

Mark’s eyes twinkled. “I will later.”

Jase finished his shower, lingering longer than Mark thought was necessary. He understood that his husband was nervous. Terrified, really. The anxiety
medication he’d been taking for a month didn’t seem to alleviate his fears of being around people. Jase held his emotions in check most
of the time, but Mark could see the tremors when there were people Jase didn’t know. The attack on his base made Jase leery in most surroundings,
as if he was waiting for it to happen again.

Mark sighed. Maybe he was putting too much pressure on Jase to do this. Maybe they
should
stay home. He could always call up his brother and offer
to babysit the twins so Eric and Shannon could have some time to themselves. Mark startled when Jase cleared his throat and spun to find him decked out in
his Army blues.

“You clean up nice,” Mark murmured.

“Thanks.” Jase gave a cocky grin, leaning forward to capture Mark’s lips. Mark groaned and pressed into the warmth. Jase
brought his arms around Mark, holding him tightly. “I love you, Marky. I want to do this for you.”

Mark stepped away from Jase’s embrace. “Don’t do it for me. Do it for you. This group, The Wounded, they’re people
like us. Some who gave everything to their country and those of us who love them. Jay, the guy I’ve been talking with? His lover is like you.
He’s afraid in new situations. He has nightmares and flashbacks. He didn’t lose a leg, but he has PTSD. It used to be so bad he
couldn’t leave the house. During the Fourth of July fireworks, Jay has to take him to a movie or out somewhere that he can’t hear them.
You’re not the only one.”

Jase’s brow wrinkled and Mark knew he was weighing the words. Jase sighed and picked up a suitcase. “What are we waiting for? I want to
get down there so I can change into some real clothes.”

Mark felt love and pride swell his chest.

“Atlanta, here we come.”

Chapter Two

“Nice room, isn’t it?” Jay flopped down on the queen-sized bed, donning his most seductive smile.

Michael shrugged. Oh, not good. Their first out-of-town trip since they’d met, and Michael appeared to have checked any semblance of a good mood
at the state line. That didn’t bode well for a possible Christmas visit to Jay’s folks this year.

He’d do what it took; hell he’d never leave their county, if it would help Michael. But it wasn’t helping. While the man had
come a long way in three years, lately he’d begun standing still, and even going backward, losing hard won ground. In another year he’d
graduate college. What then?

“You don’t like it? I can look for something else, but I’m sure most hotels are pretty much booked by now, due to the parade
tomorrow.”

The corner of Michael’s mouth lifted, more of a grimace than a smile. “No, sorry, Jay. The room’s fine. I’m just
feeling a little out of place here.”

Oh shit. Instead of splurging on the Marriot Peachtree, maybe he should’ve booked the Holiday Inn. Only, the Holiday Inn wasn’t hosting
The Wounded and giving huge discounts to veterans.

Michael sat on the edge of the bed, eyes downcast. “I know what you’re doing.”

Jay’s heart lodged in his throat. Please don’t let Michael insist on going home.
He needs this, we need this. He has to know he’s not alone.

“What am I doing, Michael?” The next moment could make or break all of Jay’s carefully laid plans.

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