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No Flag

By: Liz Borino
Published By: Lazy Day
Copyright: Copyright � 2013 Liz Borino
29 chapters, 64,000 words
Heat Level:
5.0 Out Of 5 (5.0 on 2)   |  Write a review
Price:
$4.99

For Mike and Will, "No Flag" meant "come home alive", but will their love survive what happens next?

Captain Mike Kelley does not ignore his intuition, so when sexy bartender Will Hayes captures his heart, Mike embarks on a mission to win him over to a Domestic Discipline relationship. Will accepts with one caveat: Mike must promise not to renew his Army contract. Mike agrees, and they spend a year building a life together, getting married, and starting a business.

Only days before their cafe's grand opening, Mike receives news that threatens everything he and Will have built. The Army invokes the Stop Loss military policy to involuntarily extend his commission and send him back overseas. Will, left alone to cope with the cafe, must rely on the support of old friends who may no longer be trustworthy. Through emails and Skype calls, Mike and Will keep their love and structure alive...until the day a horrific terrorist attack occurs on Mike's outpost.

Mike awakens in a hospital with a devastating injury and no memory of the attack. As the only survivor, Mike's memory may be the key to national security. Mike struggles to cope with his injury and Will struggles to support the man who always held him up. Both fear they have lost their previous relationship. Will has Mike back rather than a folded flag, but in the aftermath of war, can they rebuild the life they had before? Especially when those closest to them may not have their best interests at heart?

Bombs exploded on the evening news, one after the other. Body parts flew past the camera. The headline across the bottom of the screen read: “20 Army Intelligence Officers Dead.”

“Early this morning, a bomb exploded in the Army Intelligence building, killing twenty American soldiers from Platoon 518,” the blond newswoman reported.

Will Kelley squinted as the fuzzy security images played behind the woman’s head, searching through the chaos for reassurance. Nothing. His heart pounded and he tried to swallow, but found only dry air in his mouth and throat. The female reporter described the weapons used and structural damage done in vivid detail, which made for sensational television, but failed to answer any questions for the people at home. Victims’ families had to be notified before the media could release their names. So blondie would lose her job if she read the list in front of her.

“What the hell are you doing, man? We open in thirty minutes and you’re watching television?” Seth, his roommate, demanded from the doorway of the living room.

“Answered your own question, didn’t you?” Will responded.

“Are you ready?”

“No.” Will did not take his eyes off the screen. “I’ll drive myself.”

“When?”

The report flashed to an increase in allergies in children, so Will switched to another station while typing “Attack on American S2 Building in Afghanistan” into Google. It wouldn’t be that easy, though. So Will tried several more combinations of search terms before finding a video shot by an insurgent involved in the attack. The camera shuddered. Focused on different areas of the chaos. Men ripping clothes off soldiers. Looting. Bodies blown to bits. A man removing computer hard drives. And only one face. On the severed head of Major Evans.

“Will!” Seth jabbed him in the shoulder with a pen. Will forced his eyes away from the computer. “What happened?”

“Mike’s platoon was attacked. Twelve survivors.”

“Shit,” Seth said. “Can you call�?”

Will took a slug from the nearby water bottle. “Who? No one will talk to me. I’m not my husband’s family.”

Seth stared at him for a long moment and said, “I’ll have Casey cover for you.”

Will stood and shook his head. “Why? I can’t do anything here except watch the same videos over and over. May as well see if I can make some money.” He shut his computer and set it on the side table. “Meet you there. I won’t be too late. Promise.” He had to stop himself from scoffing as the meaningless word left his lips.

“Will�” Seth began.

“You wanted me to move, I’m moving! Go. I’ll be there.” He walked toward his bedroom, Seth’s gaze burning into his back. Stopping to throw a glance over his shoulder, he added, “Don’t tell Casey. I can do without her mother-henning me.”

“Will�”

“Please, Seth.”

“Sure,” he agreed.

“Thanks,” Will said as he climbed the steps and closed his bedroom door. He leaned against the wood cutting him off from the rest of the world. His eyes roamed the four walls decorated with band posters, a white board, and his wedding picture. Will strode over and fingered the golden frame. Behind the glass lay a photograph of Will and Mike in tuxes in the middle of their first dance. Their smiles easily outshined the gold on the frame. Mike had always been handsome with broad, built shoulders and muscular pecs, leading to abs you could grate cheese on.

But none of that stood out to Will, not on their wedding day of the year before. Mike’s blue eyes radiated a strength and hope. Will removed his wedding band to read the promise inscribed: No Flag.

Please keep your promise, Mike, Will thought as he took a deep breath and tore himself away from the picture and the crushing memories it brought. He had a job to do tonight.

Mike Kelley strode into T&J, the hottest gay nightclub in Philadelphia, or so the online tourist guide told him. Mike had nothing to compare to the loud music fueling the couples on the dance floor, but the energy put a smile on his face as he sat down at the bar. If he was honest with himself, the energy was only a part of the reason for his smile. Since Obama introduced the bill to repeal Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell earlier this month, Mike finally felt free to express his true desires without fear of being dishonorable discharged.

“What’ll you have?” the bartender � Will Hayes, according to his nametag � asked, meeting his eyes quickly. �

You, Mike thought. God, first night on the town and I’m already drooling. “What’s good?”

“Guess that depends on what you like. We have draft beer and top shelf everything else.” The bartender tapped his pad of paper.

“Give me whatever you do well.” As soon as the words left his mouth, heat rose in Mike’s face. But even if he thought of a correction, the bartender smirked and turned around, giving Mike the opportunity to evaluate his rounded backside, which his light jeans hugged perfectly.

A few minutes, or seconds later � Mike lost count while watching the man’s ass � the bartender placed a sidecar in front of him and asked, “Are you new here?”

“Yes, I’m stationed at the Army base,” he responded. “Name’s Mike.”

“Welcome to Philly, Mike. I’m Will. Word of advice: if you tell too many people to give you what they do well, you won’t end up with drinks very often, and people around here grossly overestimate their skill level.” Will straightened up and added, “Enjoy your night and let me know if you need anything else.”

Mike watched him serve the other customers, and every so often their gazes met, making Mike’s pulse race all over again.

“That’s Will,” a man with a high-pitched voice offered, sitting on the next stool.

“I know. He introduced himself,” Mike said.

“Well, isn’t that friendly of him,” the man commented. Mike did not need to glance over to know his eyes rolled. “Oh my Gawd, your tattoo is fabulous.” The guy grabbed Mike’s arm to get a better look.

Mike yanked it away. “Thank you.” Fabulous was an interesting word to describe his chain tattoo with two dog tags to commemorate his fallen comrades.

“Did you serve or just know people?”

“Returned from my second tour in Afghanistan two weeks ago.” Mike shut his eyes when the man let out a wistful sigh.

“Sam, leave him alone,” Will commanded.

At the change of tone, Mike’s eyes shot open and a satisfied smile creased his lips. Easy men bored Mike. He doubted that would be a problem with Will.

“Own the new boy?” Sam challenged.

“No, but the new boy is too much of a man to babysit you. Get lost.”

Sam half-sighed, half-groaned as he stood. “Hope to see you on dance floor, boy. I’d love to show you what I can do.”

The twiggy man sauntered off, shaking what Mike guessed were supposed to pass for hips. “Thanks,” Mike directed toward Will.

“You looked like you were in pain, a common reaction to talking to Sam.” Will nodded toward the dance floor. “Got a question for you. You served in the army. Why did you need me to tell him to go away?”

Mike shrugged. “I would have gotten around to it eventually. I was trying to think of a nice way.”

“Nice is overrated in this town. Nice men get hurt,” Will said, his hazel gaze never wavering from Mike’s.

Smiling, Mike replied, “Says the bartender taking the new guy under his wing.”

“Oh, Mike, you’ll regret mistaking me for nice. Want another?” he asked, pointing to the nearly empty glass.

“Yeah, you were right.” Mike drained the last of the liquid. “You� I mean, it� is good.”

****

On Monday night at eleven p.m., Mike walked into the empty bar and Will’s body visibly tensed above the table he was cleaning. “We’re closing,” Will called without turning around.

“In thirty minutes, according to the website. Doesn’t take that long to drink a Long Island Iced Tea,” Mike answered.

Will faced him, a small smile on his lips and the tension leaving his shoulders. “I can manage one of those.”

“How about one for yourself?”� Mike asked as Will placed the glass in front of him.

“Sorry. I can’t drink and work. I’m still on the clock until closing.”

“After?” Mike, unsure if he was being rejected, pushed a bit further.

Will nodded. “Not here, though. I would rather not be at work longer than necessary.”

“I understand the feeling.”

For the first time, Will broke eye contact, lowering his gaze to Mike’s tattoo. “I’ll bet you do. Drink up, so I can close you out.”

Mike handed him a ten, told him to keep the change, and swallowed as much of his Long Island Iced Tea as he could without it going to his head. “Are you alone?”

“I am now. My boss left about two hours ago. He knew I could handle the Monday night rush,” Will replied, gesturing around.

“Has it been like this all night?”

“More or less. We’ve all tried to tell him to close Monday through Wednesday, but he refuses, and then continues to be surprised that the club has money problems.” Will finished straightening the bottles and adjusted the money to add the cost of Mike’s drink.

“Would your boss appreciate you sharing that information?”

“Not a secret, Mike. It’s been all over the news for months,” Will told him, placing his glass in the dishwasher. “I need to drop this off at the bank a few doors down.”

“No problem. I’m surprised, though. The club is supposed to be the best gay nightclub in the area.”

Will locked the door behind them, the money pouch under his arm. “It was, until last year when he split with his partner. They owned the business together, several, actually. Joe has the restaurants, which are doing very well, and Tony kept this one.”

“I suppose that’s the danger in going into business with your romantic partner.” Mike tightened his jacket as the December night air hit him. He made a mental note to go shopping for a coat later in the week. Tomorrow it is, he decided.�

“Yeah, you can’t write business sense into legal documents. When they split, they both got what they asked for, but Tony doesn’t know what to do with his share.” Will put the contents of the pouch in the bank drop box.

“Where should we go?” Mike questioned, stuffing his hands in his pockets. “I found T&J by a Google search.”

Will’s forehead creased in thought. “You know, I’ve never gone out after work on a Monday. I have no idea where to find a good crowd.” Under the lamppost, Will’s light brown hair shined with blond highlights.

“I’m more than open to going somewhere without a crowd. I’d like the opportunity to get to know you, Will. Crowds aren’t great for that.” Mike tried to decide if he’d left the house with this intention, but no, he had only come out with the goal of learning more about the man he had not been able to force out of his mind all weekend. At Will’s hesitation, Mike added, “I don’t bite, promise.”

Will laughed. “Damn, I was hoping you might.” Mike joined in with his laughter. Once they settled, Will asked, “Your place or mine?”

“Mine,” he responded. “Do you have a car?”

“Yeah, where do you live?”

“Northern Liberties. You can follow me.” Mike gave him the address and they climbed into their separate cars. He did not have time to overanalyze the situation or his expectations thereof because city driving required all of his attention. Mike had driven hummers through a warzone, but fighting traffic at nearly midnight in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania took some getting used to. All the cars crept along, as if the passengers had nowhere better to be.

Will scrutinized Mike when he parked behind him. “Are you bleeding?”

“What?”

“You nearly flattened everyone on the road,” Will exclaimed.

Mike waved him off. “I wasn’t that fast.”� He led Will up the front steps of his townhouse, turned on the light, and gestured him in. “Do you still want a drink?”

“Please.”

“I have beer, wine, vodka, rum, and anything they can be mixed with.”

Will swept his fingers through his hair. “Beer is great, thanks.”

Mike nodded. “I’ll be right back.” He walked into the kitchen, retrieved two Guinness beers from the fridge, brought them, out and handed one to Will.

“Thanks.” Will took a long swig and asked, “So, did you join the military to save the world?”

“Thankfully, no, I would have failed there. I joined the military to get my business degree, so I didn’t become another statistic after my parents died,” Mike told him.

“I’m sorry,” Will said softly.

Mike shook his head. People always responded that way. “I wasn’t searching for sympathy. I had ten years with the very best parents anyone could imagine, which is more than most people get. They exemplified love, honor, and perseverance every day I spent with them. Losing them taught me as much as having them.”

“How?” Will asked.

“I had to grow up and start looking out for my own interests, because the state system doesn’t care. That’s not to say some people within it don’t care, but the system as a whole is not conducive to the success of individual children. So, I had to take what I learned in my childhood and use it to become the man I wanted to be.”

Will paused and crinkled his forehead again, a sign Mike understood to represent deep thinking. “I’m not intentionally being an asshole, but how exactly does killing people in the military represent a life of love and honor?”

Mike’s laughter rang out in the quiet room. “Pacifist, Will?”

“Not fond of contradictions.”

“Life is full of those,” Mike said, fading into a chuckle. “What makes you think I killed people?”

Will blinked slowly while chewing on his lower lip. Mike had to fight back his amusement. “Your tattoo�”

“Commemorates two soldiers who were killed bringing food and blankets to impoverished civilian areas. A guy shot them both in the back of the head as they tried to give a mother and child their only meal for the week.” Very few things stirred Mike’s anger like remembering that day. “The worst part was when they fell they crushed both mother and child.”

“Maybe,” Will started, then paused until Mike turned his attention back to him before continuing, “Maybe as horrible as it is to be killed by a fallen corpse, it would have been worse to die slowly from starvation or bad living conditions.”

Mike squeezed his eyes shut as the memory became clearer. From only a few feet away, he could hear the cries of pain as bones shattered. By the time it was safe to approach the fallen, all four had long since passed, and the gunman ran off with the supplies. “There’s no good way for a toddler to have her life taken,” he answered when he opened his eyes. “Particularly her skull shattering.” Will reached over and placed his hand on Mike’s arm. “I’m okay, honestly. What about you? Been to college?”

“I graduated with an English degree, planning to teach, but about halfway through I realized I made more money tending bars than the English teachers made,” Will told him, moving his hand.

“But you’d rather be teaching?”

“No, not even a little. I didn’t like the crap that came with teaching, kissing administration’s ass, dealing with parents, stuff like that. I enjoy the bar, but would rather not be working for someone else. Especially someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.”

“So, why didn’t you choose a business major?” Mike questioned, sucking on the long neck of his empty bottle in hopes of finding more liquid.

“By the time I figured out that teaching wasn’t for me, I was in my senior year and couldn’t keep going. I had loans to repay, and was pretty well over the academic world, anyway,” Will said, and set his empty bottle back on the coaster.

“How about another?” Mike asked.

“Oh, no thanks. I have to drive.”

Responsible, Mike thought. “How can you make the change from working for someone else to having your own company if you don’t learn the basics?”

Will flipped his hair out of his face and answered, “I learned the basics from working in my family’s restaurant as a teenager. Balancing books, marketing, menu generation, I understand all of that. I even know how not to treat employees.”

Mike studied Will for a long moment before prodding, “What restaurant? Do you go there often?”

“Mom and Pop place in an irrelevant town in Alabama. And no, I’m no longer welcome there or at home.” Mike opened his mouth to say something, but Will waved it off. “I am the stereotypical gay guy from the south disowned by his religious family. I knew it would happen. That’s why I didn’t tell them until I was at Temple to come out to them.”

A smile creased Mike’s lips. “I wasn’t going to offer a platitude. Only suggest that the academic experience might be different if you’re working towards something you’re passionate about.”

“Where would I find the money to go back to school? I make enough to support myself, but hardly to start over.” Will shrugged and rolled his shoulders. “Besides, if I were going to open a business, the money would be better used for startup capital.”

“So I make sure I understand, you’re claiming you have nothing else to learn? Professors who’ve been working in your chosen field consistently for decades have nothing to offer you?” Mike continued poking him.

“What’s it to you? Why does it matter?” Will demanded.

“Please lower your voice.” Mike let out a deep breath and met Will’s agitated gaze. “I just hate to see people waste potential.”

Will’s eyes softened, as did his voice. “What do you know about my potential? This is our second conversation.”

“Anyone who can overcome as much as you have, and speak about their ambitions with such excitement, has plenty of poten�” Will cut Mike off with searing kiss. The passion passed through their lips and tongues eclipsed any expressed vocally. Then, Mike’s head started to clear, and he pushed the other man away, lest the kiss go any further. “No, Will. We can’t.”

Will recoiled as though he’d been slapped. “Why? Do you have a wife or boyfriend?”

“No, but I told you I lived by a code of honor.” If Mike reached out to reassure him, as he yearned to do, he might not be able to stop as easily.

“What the hell does honor have to do with kissing?” Will jumped off the couch, angling away from Mike, who pulled himself to his feet.

“Honor has everything to do with intimacy, no matter what level. I want to get to know you on a deeper level. Sex the first time we’re alone together won’t accomplish that.”

“God, you’re weird.” Will focused on Mike again. “You aren’t a religious freak, are you?”

“Has nothing to do with religion. I value people, make sure my relationships with them mean something, and aren’t over the next morning. You can lose a good friend that way,” Mike told him.

“Right,” Will said. “I should go home. You probably have to work early.”

“Will,” Mike started, grasping his wrist. “I’m being straight with you.”

Will simpered. “I hope not. Kind of assumed you were gay.”

“I am,” Mike reassured. “May I see your phone?” Will handed it to him and Mike typed in his number. “Please text me to let me know you made it home safe.” Will tilted his head to the side, stared at him for a moment, and slowly nodded before walking out the door. Mike had come to expect the confusion when he told men he would not sleep with them, even some of the anger, but he detected real hurt in Will’s gaze. Mike shut his eyes, thinking back to the weight of Will’s body against his. Their hearts pounded together as their tongues explored. He imagined having the freedom to run his hands over every part of Will’s body, feel him quiver under his touch, and then drink each of his unique flavors in. But Mike forced himself to stop, because he wanted the chance to have more than that with Will. He could not risk losing the opportunity for a long-term friendship, or relationship, in exchange for a night of pleasure.

As he began to worry that he’d lost it anyway, with the rejection, a text popped up, ‘Home safe and sound, with honor intact.’

“And that is the way we’ll stay,” Mike said to himself as he typed a reply.
Katy Beth McKee on 05/03/2014 11:19am
Such a powerful story. I don't want to give anything away. This story contains two strong who bring out the best in each other. They have a D/s relationship but circumstances put a strain on all of that. But Will and Mike their lives are proof that the s in D/s relationship is just as strong and important when it matters most. There is a second lesson as the story unfolds - choose your friends very carefully.
Katy Beth McKee on 05/03/2014 11:19am
Such a powerful story. I don't want to give anything away. This story contains two strong who bring out the best in each other. They have a D/s relationship but circumstances put a strain on all of that. But Will and Mike their lives are proof that the s in D/s relationship is just as strong and important when it matters most. There is a second lesson as the story unfolds - choose your friends very carefully.

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