It wasn't so much the explosion, as the dogs that nearly did for them. They'd been dodging them, in a game of hide and seek through thick woods for what seemed like an eternity but was, in fact, only four hours and seven minutes. A fact Sam Curtis verified with a glance at his watch, under the light of a full moon, as they skirted the edge of a small clearing.
There'd been no sight or sound of them for a while now and one look at his partner was enough to make him call a halt. Even the bleaching effect of the moonlight couldn't disguise the exhaustion in Chris' face. They'd been on the go now for well over twenty-four hours, and while Sam knew he could carry on for at least another ten, and then recover with a marathon sleep session; it was patently obvious that Chris couldn't.
It was one of his few weaknesses, that Chris slept badly, and rarely for very long. Sam could sleep whenever and for however long he deemed necessary, storing up against the times when he'd need to go short. Chris couldn't.
Sam caught the American by the arm. "Hey. We've thrown them off, I think. Keep your eyes peeled for a place we can stop for a while."
"I can keep going." Even speaking in a whisper, Chris' voice was almost petulant, and Sam grinned. His partner hated having to admit to any failing.
"We'll rest." Sam made it an order, though he had no seniority over Chris, and the other man accepted it.
It didn't take long to find a good hiding place, where the trees were far enough apart to allow stunted bushes to grow. They wriggled their way into the edge of a small patch of them and Chris pulled his small backpack off and used it as a pillow. Sam pulled his jacket off and tossed it over him.
"Hey, what about you?" Chris' protest was predictable and Sam was well prepared.
"I'll keep first watch, okay? You can lend me yours when it's your turn."
There was nothing much Chris could say to that, so he didn't bother. Minutes later he was asleep. Sam sighed with relief and sat, leaning back against a tree, to keep watch over his partner.
He was tired. It was a tempting thought just to let go and sleep, but that could be suicidal. Sure, they'd got away, but he'd just bet that the terrorists were out there still looking, and they might pick up the trail again. Besides, it was no hardship to watch Chris sleep, even when all he could really see was a dark outline against the bushes and the pale blur of his face and hair. He didn't need to look at Chris' face to see every detail of it. They'd been partners now for nearly two years, and the only reason Sam hadn't tried to extend that partnership beyond the bounds of their working relationship was that he wasn't at all sure whether Chris wanted him. Or was even aware that the possibility existed, for all that Sam had dropped the occasional hint.
He closed his eyes for a moment with a sigh. He'd never tried to hide his sexuality, but he'd never exactly advertised it either. He was pretty sure that Malone, his boss, knew. Sam laughed soundlessly... make that absolutely certain, if only because Malone seemed to know everything. He thought Tina knew too. She'd never shown much of an interest in him, and, modesty not being one of his strong points, he was well aware that he was attractive to the opposite sex. But Backup had never so much as looked at him that way, not once. She was just too sharp not to notice his complete lack of interest in her and draw the correct conclusion.
Chris Keel, on the other hand, was sharp as anybody he knew, except, it seemed, when it came to personal relationships. After nearly two years, Sam knew no more about his partner's personal life than he had the day they'd met. Sam frowned. No. He knew one thing. Chris Keel had been married. It had shocked him to discover that, only two months ago. Ridiculously, he'd felt hurt. Not that Chris had been married, but that, after so long together, he'd never mentioned it until Sam had asked about the beautiful young woman in the photograph Chris kept in his apartment.
If he'd still harboured any hopes after all that time, they had died that day. Or so he'd thought until now. There was something about watching over his partner's sleep that made him feel very possessive. And after all, Chris's wife, however beautiful, was history now. A faint, irrepressible tendril of hope wove its way into his mind and refused to be dislodged. Well, a man could always dream. Sam grinned and allowed himself to conjure up one of his absolute favourite daydreams. Starring Chris, of course.
Years of practice had taught him to rest while keeping enough of his senses alert to warn of any danger. But this time the sounds he heard came from Chris' direction. Out of the corner of his eye, Sam caught a hint of movement, and the sound of dry leaves being disturbed. Another of Chris' weaknesses. Though he'd never admit it, the American had nightmares. Sam moved closer, ready to wake him if he seemed likely to make too much noise. Any sound would carry in the still air, and they couldn't afford to take the risk.
Another stirring and a faint, protesting sound settled the matter. Sam shuffled closer and laid one hand on Chris' arm and the other over his mouth, then squeezed the arm gently. He was close enough to see Chris' eyes fly open. The slim, muscular body tensed. Sam lowered his head to speak quietly into Chris' ear.
"Everything's okay. You were making a bit of noise, that's all."
Chris relaxed and Sam lifted his hand away. But he couldn't drag his eyes away from Chris' face. He should never have allowed himself the indulgence of that daydream under these circumstances. After a moment Chris turned his head away and Sam took a silent breath trying to find words which would ease the awkwardness. In the quietness, the snapping of a twig sounded almost as loud as the explosion had earlier.
Instinctively, their heads turned towards the sound and Sam caught sight of a flash of yellow light. Someone was searching the woods. It didn't sound as though there were any dogs, but in any case, their hunters, if that was what they were, were too close for them to have a hope of running. They'd have to take a chance on being well enough hidden not to be seen. With a quick, silent movement, Sam wrapped his arms protectively around Chris' pale head and dragged it against his shoulder, bowing his own head over his partner.
They stayed like that long after the sounds had moved away. Then Chris moved restlessly and Sam released him. Chris lifted his head. Their cheeks were so close together that Sam could feel the warmth of his partner's breath. Then they both moved at the same time. Their lips brushed against each other's, not quite a kiss. Not quite not a kiss, either. Sam blinked in surprise and stared down at Chris' face, unreadable in the dark. He made out the gleam of Chris' teeth as his lips parted and took a deep breath. It was now or never.
This time there was no doubting it was a kiss, and a particularly nice kiss it was too. A strange mixture of desire and hesitation, on Sam's part, at least. What Chris was feeling, he had not the slightest idea. Then Chris shuddered and pulled away.
"Sam, I can't..." he sounded, suddenly, very vulnerable.
He pulled Chris closer, just holding him. "It's all right. This isn't exactly the best time and place for it. Why don't you get some more sleep?"
A silent laugh shook the body in his arms. "Sleep? Are you kidding?" But Chris relaxed against him and, within minutes, was fast asleep again.
A day and a half later they were on the outskirts of a small Bavarian town, wearing worn and grubby jeans, flannel shirts and tramping boots. All securely stashed in a convenient drop days ago, ready for their arrival. The next step was to find the hotel they'd been booked into, and have a desperately needed shower and shave. Sam shouldered the hefty backpack and glanced across at Chris, wondering what was going to happen once this mission was over. The Incident, as he was beginning to think of it, had not been discussed between them, nor had Chris shown any sign that he was willing to try it again.
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Chris had started down the path, and now was looking back over his shoulder, his face impassive, as it had been since the Incident.
Sam tightened the belly strap of his pack. "Well, I wouldn't mind a car, or even a bus, actually."
"Lazy bastard." Chris grinned suddenly.
His mood lightening dramatically, Sam followed him towards the road.
The good mood lasted until they reached the hotel.
"What do they mean, there's only one bed? Didn't Backup reserve a twin?" Chris scowled and was showing every sign of becoming the Ugly American personified.
Sam turned back to the concierge. Her English was almost non-existent, which made his long unpractised German their best hope of communicating. After a prolonged and confusing exchange he turned back to his partner. "She says that they only have double beds. She says that there aren't any extra rooms available." He held up a finger to avert the outburst that was obviously building. "And she says that there aren't any rooms available anywhere in the town. It's some kind of festival or something."
"Well, we can go to the next damn town."
Another exchange followed, and Sam felt his heart sinking. "There's no train today. This town isn't on the main route. The last bus left over an hour ago."
"Cabs?" Chris was beginning to sound desperate.
"They've all been chartered for the entire weekend by some convention. Americans, she said." Sam couldn't help grinning at Chris' expression. "Give it up, mate. We're stuck."
Chris groaned. "Tell me they have showers. And food."
Sam flung an arm around his partner's shoulders. "They have showers. Lovely, hot showers, and all the sauerkraut you can eat." He ducked, just in time.
The shower seemed to be taking an awfully long time. Sam wandered about the room restlessly, fingering his itchy jaw occasionally and looking out the window far more frequently than was really necessary. It was a perfectly good room, and if it had been a twin room, there would have been no problem with it. He hoped Chris was going to leave him some hot water, but even if he didn't, he'd rather have a cold shower than put up with more complaints from the American. Gloomily considering the sleeping arrangements once more, he decided a cold shower would probably be a good thing.
At length the bathroom door opened and Chris came out, still towelling his hair dry. Sam grinned. "You really wear those things?"
"What's wrong with them?" Chris looked down at his T-shirt and boxer shorts with a puzzled frown.
"Well, for a start, they're not likely to let you in the restaurant dressed like that."
Chris shrugged. "I'm not going. I'll eat in the morning."
"Fine." Sam headed for the bathroom.
The water was still hot. As he showered and then shaved, Sam felt himself slowly relaxing. It wouldn't be so bad. He could sleep anywhere, and in the morning they could get the first bus to Vienna and then fly back to London. And there, Chris would either get over his bad mood, or ask to be assigned to another partner. One way or the other, life would get back to normal. He just had to get through the night.
He looked down at himself rather doubtfully. He always slept naked, but that certainly wasn't an option tonight. And, unlike Chris, he didn't wear T-shirts, or boxer shorts. The only underwear he did have with him were briefs which in no way concealed what they covered, and they didn't cover very much anyway. But since that was all he had, it would have to do.
When he returned to the bedroom, Chris was already in the double bed, as close to the edge as possible and lying on his side with his back firmly turned. Rather thankfully, Sam slipped under the covers as close to the edge on his side as he could manage without being in danger of falling out. For good measure, he rolled onto his side, facing outwards, and tried to ignore the body heat emanating from the other side of the bed.
It worked, after a fashion. He fell asleep and dreamt of Chris.
Sam had intended to sleep late, maybe nine or ten a.m. He wasn't very impressed to find himself awake in the early hours, probably because of that damn dream, though it hadn't, for a change, been a sexual one. Then a quiet sound at his back alerted him to the real reason. Chris was having another nightmare. He wouldn't be able to sleep again until it was over, but even so, he was reluctant to intervene, considering what had passed between them in the last few days.
Then another sound, more insistent, more desperate, made the decision easier. No matter how Chris reacted, he couldn't bear to listen to this, and he doubted Chris would want him to. Sam rolled over and touched Chris' shoulder lightly. "Hey, mate… wake up."
Chris came awake with a shudder and a gasp. Sam caught a glimpse of wet lashes and overly bright eyes before Chris turned his head away.
"I'm okay. Go back to sleep." The words were mumbled almost inaudibly.
He was tempted to do just that, and leave Chris with what dignity was left to him, but something about the quality of the silence that followed disturbed him profoundly. He moved a little closer. "You want to talk about it?"
Chris hunched his shoulders and buried his head deeper into the pillow. "It was just a dream."
"Some dream, to leave you in this state. What was it about?" He didn't think Chris was going to answer, then the other man rolled onto his back and glared at him.
"I was dreaming about my wife, all right? Is that what you want to know?"
If that was meant to hurt him, it succeeded. But he wasn't going to allow Chris to divert him. "What happened? Divorce?"
Chris shook his head slightly. "She died."
"Shit, that's rough. Were you married long?" Sam fought the urge to reach out and hold his partner. He suspected it wouldn't be appreciated.
There was a long silence. Just at the point when Sam had decided that Chris wasn't going to answer, he heard a small sigh. "Three hours, twenty seven minutes."
For a moment everything seemed to stand still, then his heart began to beat again. He sucked in a huge breath as his lungs began to protest.
"Oh Christ…" he pulled Chris into his arms and held him as the American began to cry.
He'd seen other men cry. He'd even cried himself, once or twice. But he'd never seen anything like the quiet, contained intensity of this man. Chris hardly made a sound, but his body shook with sobs, and tears scalded Sam's bare chest. It lasted for less than a minute, by Sam's estimation, and then Chris tried to pull away.
Sam refused to release him. "Tell me about it, Chris."
"Let go of me." But, after a brief resistance, Chris capitulated. "There's nothing to tell. A terrorist group put out a contract on Teresa's father. The hit man crashed my wedding reception. He just opened fire indiscriminately. We got the hit man, but he was killed before he told us who hired him. One day I'll find them."
Sam frowned, chasing a half-forgotten memory. Then the image in the photograph came clear in his mind. Chris, in uniform, a beautiful young woman wearing white, and an older man, also in uniform. "Keel? You're that Keel? I remember hearing about that…"
Chris remained silent, but Sam didn't need his confirmation. Chris hadn't mentioned the half of it. Ten people had been killed that day, including Chris' bride and her father. A whole family wiped out in less than five minutes. No bloody wonder Chris had nightmares.
But the American was becoming restless, and reluctantly Sam loosened his grip. Chris rolled away from him; as far away as possible.
"A lot of people remember that. That's why I accepted the invitation from Malone. One of the reasons, anyway."
"Malone knows?" Silly question. Of course Malone knew. Malone always knew. Chris must have come to England only a few months after the shooting.
"He was a friend of Teresa's father." Chris sounded bored now, but Sam wasn't fooled. He must have come because Malone had offered him the chance to find his wife's killers.
"I'm sorry, Chris. Really sorry." He pushed himself up onto his elbow and touched the stiff back. "If there's anything I can do…"
"Like what?" Chris' voice was sharp with impatience. "Take her place?"
Sam bit back his first, hurt, response. "No. I wouldn't offer what I can't deliver." He examined Chris' face, paler than usual, his eyes shadowed and reddened with tears. "I can't help the way I feel, Chris."
"I know." Chris rolled onto his back and looked up at Sam. After a moment his eyes slid away. "I'm sorry. It's not fair to take it out on you."
"It's okay." Sam laid a hand against Chris' suddenly flushed cheek and their eyes met once more. After a brief pause Sam bent his head and kissed the American.
This time it seemed, for a while at least, as though Chris would go along with him. Then he pulled free again, breathing fast. Sam stifled the temptation to curse and rolled over to the edge of the bed. He swung his legs free of the covers, trying to hide his erection from his partner, and headed for the bathroom.
Waiting for the water to run hot, Sam forced himself to calm down. It wasn't Chris' fault. His partner was vulnerable and hurt, and Sam wasn't helping things by coming on to him. And right now, he had a persistent itch that was badly in need of scratching. Sam dropped his briefs and stepped under the steaming water.
It didn't take him long to relieve the itch. After the last few, incredibly frustrating, days he'd got so wound up that all it took was a light touch on his cock, a squeeze of his balls, and it was over. Sam sagged against the wall of the shower, then gave up the unequal struggle and slid down to sit with the now scalding water cascading over him. He'd have to get up soon, so he could turn down the heat, but for the moment it was bearable. Then the shower door opened.
Chris was there. Naked, aroused, and looking very nervous. "Oh, shit."
Sam stared up at him. "I wasn't exactly expecting you." He held up his hand and Chris gripped it instinctively. He used the grasp to lever himself to his feet, though his knees still felt rubbery. "Come in."
While Chris made up his mind, Sam fiddled with the mixer, setting the water to a more comfortable heat. He turned to find Chris staring at him from a distance of about four inches. He didn't want to start another discussion; Chris had pretty much thrown his cards on the table now, and Sam intended to examine those cards very closely. Starting with a prolonged and thorough kiss.
This time Chris didn't back away and when they parted there was a long, satisfied silence. Sam watched the flushed face and the downcast eyes for a moment, then reached for the soap. Chris didn't make a sound as Sam spread a frothy lather over his chest and arms, but as his hands moved downwards over Chris' flat belly, the grey eyes widened.
That wasn't the only response Chris made, Sam was pleased to note. His cock, already half hard, lengthened and stiffened up very nicely. He ran his fingers lightly over the long slender cock, examining by touch every texture, every raised, blood hot vein. Chris shuddered, his head dropping back against the shower wall, his hair darkened with water.
Sam pressed against his side, still pumping the rigid shaft with measured strokes. He didn't want to end this too quickly. Soft moans escaped Chris occasionally and his hips began to move in time with Sam's stroking. He bent his head to kiss Chris' wet shoulder, and explore the base of his throat with a cautious tongue.
A gasp and a quick, urgent thrust made Sam tighten his grip instinctively and Chris cried out sharply as he came. A thick jet of pearly liquid shot over Sam's forearm and was instantly sluiced away. He slid an arm around the other man's waist to hold him as he swayed.
"Steady, Chris. I've got you." He held on a little longer, then moved away when Chris showed signs of being able to support himself.
Their eyes met and Sam smiled weakly at his partner. Then Chris leaned towards him and they kissed again. Chris' uncertainty seemed to have vanished, at least for the moment, and they stood under the hot water, bodies pressed together while they explored each other's mouths.
But it was too early in the morning, and they'd both been too short on sleep for too long. Sam backed away and turned off the shower. "Come on, mate. We need to get some sleep."
They dried themselves in silence and Sam resolved to give the American plenty of space. So, when they reached the bed, he simply slid under the covers, and lay on his back well and truly within his own territory. Chris did the same but, Sam was pleased to note, without resuming his sleeping gear. A good sign, he thought, and let himself drift into sleep.
It was beginning to seem like he was fated not to get enough sleep. At seven thirty Sam was awake again, this time with the kind of finality that told him he wouldn't be going back to sleep. His stomach was quietly protesting the length of time since he'd last eaten.
Chris, damn him, was sleeping like a baby.
Sam slipped out of the bed and stretched, yawning. The hotel would by now be serving breakfast… he should leave Chris to sleep and go eat. He dressed hurriedly.
Half an hour later he was back, still hungry, but with a bag of goodies guaranteed to please even Chris' early morning bad temper. He unpacked it and lifted the lid off one of the coffee containers, then waved it gently under Chris' nose. The eyelids with their sandy fringing flickered and lifted slowly.
Sam grinned. "Breakfast time, matey. Wake up."
A grunt was all the response Chris was capable of making, but he dragged himself upright with some eagerness. Sam handed him the coffee and set about opening the cardboard cartons. He'd made the selection with some care, trying to guess what would please his partner most, and it seemed to have paid off. They munched through a huge pile of savoury and sweet pastries in appreciative silence.
"Better?" Sam grinned as Chris drained the second of his coffees and tossed the cup back into the bag.
Chris yawned and rubbed his fingers through his hair. "Thanks."
At this time in the morning, it was the most gracious response he could expect. "That's okay. I've done some checking on the transport situation. No trains again today. They don't come here on the weekends. There's a bus in half an hour. We could make it if we hurry…"
"Or?" Chris looked at him patiently. Obviously waiting for option number two. They knew each other too damn well.
Sam shrugged. "The next one after that is ten thirty. Two and a half hours away. But it's an express. They'd probably reach Vienna within half an hour of each other."
Chris stared down at the crumb strewn bed cover. There wasn't much doubt as to how they'd spend those two and a half hours and they both knew it. He shrugged a shoulder negligently. "Might as well take the later bus, I guess."
"Are you sure, Chris?" Sam watched his partner carefully. He didn't want to take a chance on this backfiring later.
He shrugged again, his mouth tightening. "Sure." With a sudden gesture, Chris swept all the remaining detritus of their breakfast onto the floor.
"You can be such a pig sometimes." Sam leaned forward and stroked his cheek. Then he kissed him.
This time Chris showed no hesitation and the kiss went on and on until they were both breathless. Sam pushed him back against the pillows and began to caress the smooth bare chest with practised fingers. To his relief, Chris accepted it without a murmur, his body arching into Sam's touch. Even better, he slid his arms around Sam's body and stroked his back through the flannel shirt, pulling him closer.
It wasn't long before Chris was flat on his back with Sam partly on top of him, their legs entwined in spite of the cover that lay between them. Sam trailed hot, urgent kisses down over Chris' throat and shoulder, finally reaching a nipple. He seized it eagerly in his mouth as Chris heaved beneath him with a startled cry.
"Going too fast, am I?" Sam pulled back a bit, panting already.
Chris shook his head and grinned. "I just wasn't expecting it. I didn't think gay guys…" he stared up at Sam, suddenly uncertain.
"Boy, have you got a lot to learn." Sam flashed him a quick smile and lowered his head again.
Just to make sure Chris got the message, he paid great attention to those tight pale nipples, sucking and nibbling and teasing until Chris was moaning helplessly, his hands stilled on Sam's back, before shifting lower. He drew lazy circles with his tongue around the American's navel, dipping into it occasionally, to the accompaniment of gasps from above his head.
His hands drifted downwards, pushing the covers before them until Chris' body was completely exposed. Sam shifted slightly and tossed the bedding down onto the floor.
"Now who's a pig?" Chris was watching him, a hint of anxiety in his face.
Sam simply grinned at him. "Just relax. I'm not going to do anything drastic."
"Yeah. Trust me, Chris." Sam bent his head over Chris' belly, running his tongue lightly down the line of hair from navel to groin. He kissed the smooth, sweaty skin and licked the sensitive crease at the top of Chris' thigh, sending shudders through his partner.
"Sam!" Chris' voice was strained, and his hips rose up against Sam's lips.
He took the slim hips in a firm grasp, holding his partner still. His tongue slid over the thick vein on the underside of Chris' cock, caressed the slick cockhead, and travelled back down to his balls. Desperate fingers clutched at Sam's hair and Chris let out a strangled moan. Sam laughed softly at the thought of how Chris was going to react to his next move.
Unconsciously anticipating, his hands slid down over Chris' thighs, drawing them apart. His head dipped down between them and his tongue flickered over the soft puckered opening, feeling it pulse sharply at his touch. He lingered there while Chris moaned and writhed helplessly, then trailed back over the now tight balls, up the length of the trembling cock and took it deep into his mouth.
Chris cried out and thrust up wildly, almost choking him. Sam grabbed him by the hips again, trying to control his movements, mostly succeeding. After a moment Chris relaxed a little, allowing Sam to suck deeply, steadily. Shudders ran through the American as Sam deepthroated him, sliding back up the length of his cock until just the cockhead remained in his mouth.
Their eyes met across the length of Chris' body and Sam released his cock reluctantly. But he wanted more than he could get from giving his partner a blowjob. He crawled back up the bed until he could kiss Chris' delectable mouth and, belatedly, Chris began to undress him.
The long fingers trembled as they slipped the buttons on Sam's shirt. Not about to take any chances on his partner changing his mind, Sam pulled the shirt over his head as soon as enough buttons had been undone. The grey eyes widened slightly as Chris' fingers slid over his chest hair and Sam grinned.
An abstracted nod was all the answer he got. Then a stray touch on his nipple made Sam gasp sharply. He leaned forward, closing his mouth over Chris' and tonguing him deeply. Their bodies pressed together urgently; all at once, it was no longer a game and Chris seemed just as desperate as he was. Their bare chests rubbed against each other and Chris' hands slid down over Sam's back as if he was trying to learn his body by touch alone.
"Oh God… Chris…" His body was aching with a hunger too long denied. Sam fumbled with his jeans and got them open somehow. It was Chris who pushed them down off his hips; Chris who tore at his briefs and pulled him closer.
The shock of that first touch of their cocks left Sam breathless and dizzy. He moaned helplessly and thrust with mindless hunger against Chris' groin. It was met with equal desperation as the slim body beneath his heaved, returning thrust for thrust. The pressure built, insistent and absolute in its demands, until nothing else existed but the heat of their bodies and the ragged sound of their breathing.
Chris' body tensed against his suddenly, and Sam caught a glimpse of the sandy head tossed back, eyes closed, mouth gaping in a choked cry. The hard cock driving against his belly flailed wildly for a moment, then pulsed, spattering his chest with milky droplets. Sam moaned and pressed closer, driving hard against Chris' belly. He buried his face against Chris's throat, feeling the first fluttering contractions in his gut that signalled the end. Then it rushed upon him; a long delicious shudder and hot flood of wetness between their bodies, leaving him spent and satisfied.
Chris was still beneath him, his breathing slow and steady. Asleep. Sam grinned happily and slid off his partner to lie alongside. He was happy enough just to watch the other man sleep, for a while. And when he got tired of that, he was pretty sure he knew how to wake the American in a way that wouldn't get him into trouble…