Chapter 1 - Back to Business
“If one of us ends up in a body bag it’s bound to be you.”
It was freezing cold outside when I first met Sam Curtis and, my God, so was he. I’d never met anyone so cool and disconnected from the emotions of other human beings in my entire life and it made me wonder what on earth Harry Malone thought he was doing, partnering us together. And half the time it wasn’t so much what he said to me that seemed to continually push me away from him, it was the way he said it. He had this cocky, slightly sarcastic, ‘You’re American so you’re probably not going to get this’ way about him that pressed the button inside my head labelled ‘Punch Now’ and it took all of my will power not to do so. Did he mean what he said about liking the odds because I’d be the one out of the two of us who’d end up in a body bag? Or had my sense of humour simply taken a day off?
Granted we seemed to work together well but I found I didn’t feel connected to my new partner in any way. How could I, when he never let me into his world? We socialised with the others on the team but he continually kept me at arm’s length. I realised he was a little older than me but I’d had more than my fair share of life experience so far and I didn’t appreciate being treated like a kid. I’d never had a partner before, in any part of my career previous or current, but I had imagined that when I did it would be better than this - that we’d be closer. And it made me a little sad that it obviously wasn’t meant to be, at least not with Sam.
But then, only a few hours after the ‘body bag’ comment, there he was, crouched by my side holding my hand to help me brace myself over a ticking time bomb rather than getting clear like I’d told him to. We both tried to make light of the situation but I saw something in his eyes, and am convinced that he saw something in mine, that altered our relationship the fraction it so desperately needed.
And then I had to go embarrass myself in front of him by allowing him to witness one of my nightmares. It wasn’t his fault that I slept longer than I’d intended. I was just so tired because I hadn’t dared sleep on the flight. He wasn’t to know that I made sure I never slept for any longer than a short nap without taking sleeping pills, no more than he was to know that the lack of pills meant I couldn’t stop the nightmares. A lesser man might have taken advantage and laughed at the stupid Yank having a bad dream but Sam ... well, my dream seemed to break through the wall of ice completely. One minute I was watching the replay of my family being massacred around me and the next there he was, shaking me awake, sitting on the edge of my bed while I tried to pull myself away from the horrors of the gory visions still spinning around inside my head.
“Hey, are you alright? You want to talk about it?”
I stared up at him in the dim light of the room and found myself having to reach for the bedside lamp switch so that I could see his face clearly - I had to confirm what I was hearing in his voice. But yes, it really was there, finally - the proof that Sam Curtis cared.
So what that he immediately tried to send me off track by making me focus on work - the damage had already been done. I’d seen through him and realised in that moment that he wasn’t the ice man I thought he was after all.
I found myself wondering if I’d be able to melt him even further.
It didn’t take me long to realise that I’d cocked up in relation to my new partner. I have a slightly macabre sense of humour sometimes and I hadn’t gone to the trouble of getting to know him well enough to find out if he would get that or not before unleashing it on him. I regretted my comment about him being the one to end up in a body bag almost as soon as I’d said it, but afterwards we were so busy trying to save Tom that I didn’t get a chance to take it back.
And then Chris, tired because unlike me he hadn’t been able to sleep on the plane and understandably stressed because he had been nearly blown up by a car bomb, had a nightmare that disturbed the short rest he had allowed himself. Poor sod. Yes, I admit, I did find myself feeling sorry for him.
For a moment or two I was unsure of what to do. Should I sit on the bed or should I keep my distance? In the end that only thing that seemed to work was a firm hand on his shoulder and, after that, I had to sit down to avoid looming over him and making him possibly feel worse.
Under the circumstances I wasn’t surprised to hear him having the nightmare but I was completely taken aback by the vulnerability in my new partner’s eyes as I woke him.
My God, the look in his eyes... they made me want to hold him, tight. And it was only our lack of a proper relationship up to that point that stopped me.
He shut me down fast when I asked if I could help, but somehow I instantly understood why. Now wasn’t the time. Diverting him from his thoughts I suggested a drive over the suburban hairdresser’s salon that our quarry had telephoned earlier that day and, eagerly enough, he accepted. And now I had what I wanted – a long drive ahead of us and Chris all to myself with no distractions.
As I pulled out onto the Western Avenue and moved the car into the middle lane I took advantage of the privacy we now had and tried again.
“If ever you wanted to talk, Chris...”
“About what?” I glanced across towards him as I drove and saw him frown.
“The reason for your nightmare.”
He sighed, loudly. “I don’t get why you want to know. There’s no possible way you could understand and there’s nothing you can do to help.”
Well, that told me. Concentrating on my driving I tried not to look as crushed as I felt. After all, I’d only been trying to get to know my new partner better and this felt like a distinct knock back.
The journey continued through the darkness in an uncomfortable silence. Chris turned his head to look out of the window, totally taking me by surprised when he spoke again.
“My wife died,” he said, so quietly that I instinctively took my foot off the accelerator a little to reduce the noise levels in the car. “At our wedding two years ago. She was shot along with both our parents and close family. I have nightmares sometimes but, I promise you, they will never interfere with my work. Is that what you wanted to hear?”
“Chris ... I,”
“Just leave it, Sam. Please?”
Out of respect for my partner and the fact that he had lowered his defences enough to share at least part of his terrible story with me, I left it. For now, at least. Hell, I was just thankful he’d shown a little trust in me.
So Chris was a widower at the tender age of 27? Life really wasn’t fair sometimes. I opened my mouth to ask him something else but, taking a glance to my left and seeing him still staring out of the window into the darkness, I immediately thought better of it.
We carried on driving into the night.
Episode 2 - Phoenix
“Look, if it doesn’t work, I go with you.”
Another day, another dollar, another potential opportunity to blow ourselves to smithereens. And still Chris seemed to be almost continually amazed that I was prepared to forfeit my life in order to save his. Twice now he’d set off some kind of explosive device and twice I had stayed with him until we had been able to disarm it - together. What I didn’t understand is why he seemed so surprised by my actions. We’re partners, aren’t we? We had been put together by Malone to do a job but, more than that, to protect each other, to get through whatever trials we are set and to get through them together.
So there was no way I was about to leave him in that tomb to be blown to bits by the mine he had stepped on.
Chris’ face took on an ethereal quality as he contemplated his fate. But what fascinated me was how his expression really started to reflect his true thoughts once he realised that, wherever he was about to go, I’d be by his side.
Could this be the moment that he at long last learned to trust me? And what had I done to deserve such lack of faith up to that point?
It didn’t escape my attention that as we crashed to the floor it was his arm around me, protecting me from the force of the blast, not the other way around.
And when he hauled me upright from under the cloud of dust and debris a mad thought crossed my mind that...well, yes... that he was about to kiss me.
And in a flash I knew that if he had, it wouldn’t have been one way.
As we walked away together confused thoughts tumbled through my head. But he’s straight, isn’t he? He was married, wasn’t he? That means he must be straight. I’d thought ... well, I’d thought there was no way he’d be interested in me, not in that way.
Oh boy, I needed a drink.
As Sam walked towards me from the men’s room, still brushing dust off his jacket, I pushed the full glass of beer towards him and watched as he drank a third of the cold frothy liquid in one go.
“Dusty in tombs,” I remarked, quietly.
“Yeah,” he replied, sitting on the stool opposite me as he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth to clear the froth away.
We sipped our beer in silence. I wanted to ask him more about what had just happened but didn’t know quite where to start. How do you begin to tell your work partner, the man that just risked his life to save yours, that you were overcome with an intense desire to kiss him?
Sam finally cracked, breaking the silence. “Anything wrong?” he asked, softly.
Staring at him, wondering how to respond, I couldn’t help but notice how amazing his eyes were - silvery green, clear and bright.
“I ...” Great start, Keel. I tried again. “Thanks. For saving my life. Again.”
“You can’t have thought I would have left you there?” he asked, a half smile on his lips.
I hesitated, immediately aware that my automatic reply of “No,” lacked conviction.
“Have some faith in me, Keel,” he said, his voice betraying how let down he felt.
“I do,” I said, hurrying to put it right. “Honest, I do.”
“But I always seem to be getting myself into trouble.”
“And worrying about whether I’ll be there to get you out of it?”
I looked into my beer glass hoping it might contain something far more helpful than beer. “A little,” I admitted.
He reached out and covered his hand with mine, demanding and receiving my full attention. “Chris,” he said, making direct eye contact with me, “I will never let you down. I’m your partner, all the way, and I want you to trust me.”
“I know, sorry,” I replied, feeling a little awkward with his hand on mine. “I’m an over emotional American.”
“And I’ve been insensitive.”
“No you haven’t.” And then it came to me, that I really did trust this man - possibly the first person I had really trusted since Teresa. “Not at all. I guess I didn’t doubt you at all, not really.”
“So what was it?”
Squirming a little on my seat I struggled to find the words. “It’s not your fault, Sam. I just find it hard to ... connect with other people.”
“In case you get too close and they get taken away from you again?”
How does he do that? How does he know exactly what’s inside my head and put it into words like that? I tried again. “You made a huge sacrifice for me today. Offered to, oh, I don’t know, walk by my side to the afterlife rather than leave me to my fate.”
“And you’d do exactly the same for me,” he said, with absolute confidence.
I smiled at him, delighted when I got a full blown Curtis special back. I felt all my concerns melt away. “Yeah,” I said, happily. “I would.”
“Another beer?” he asked, finally removing his hand from mine and standing up.
I checked my watch then looked up at him and nodded. “Three.”
We still had time, before the Navy came to get us, to get really, really drunk.
Episode 3 - Tusk Force
“Stay with me, Chris, come on now. We’re gonna get through. Stay with me.”
I tried hard not to think about how bad our situation really was but the facts kept smacking me in the face. We had no food left and I was pretty sure our water wouldn’t last far beyond the end of the following day. We were too far away from civilisation for our phones to work, we had Jaeger and his crew probably after us, we were lost in the middle of a hostile and very wild environment and Chris ... He’d done so well today, considering the pain he must be in, but how long could he really be expected to go on for?
As I thought through our limited options Chris mumbled in his sleep and I instinctively moved around our small campfire towards him.
Africa gets unexpectedly cold at night and as I put my hand on Chris’ forehead it became clear that he was running a temperature. I lay next to him, moving closer to the side of his body that was away from the fire, hoping to shield him and keep him warm. Unfortunately my movements must have disturbed him and he woke before I could prevent it.
“Sam? What’s wrong?” His words sounded slurred.
“It’s okay,” I replied, propping myself up on one elbow to find Chris gazing at me with half open eyes. “Try to sleep.”
“Leg hurts,” he admitted. “Keeps waking me up.”
“You need your rest.”
“And you don’t?”
“Of course I do, and I will. But for now I just want you to sleep.”
“Always bossing me around...”
I couldn’t believe we were bickering but had to admit it felt strangely reassuring.
“Hey, Chris,” I said, a strange memory suddenly struggling to the surface. “Remember Soho, that kid in the ladies coat?”
Chris smiled weakly at me, but at least it was a smile. “You mean the guy with the handbag? Jesus. Sure I do.”
“What on earth did he think he was doing in that bar? He looked like he was about to be eaten alive by the rest of the clientele.”
“No wonder he came to sit with us.”
“Why? We were undercover, if I remember correctly. Do you think we looked safe?”
Chris gave a weak laugh. “Compared to the rest of them, in that bar on that particular day, sure we did!”
“Kept saying he was waiting for someone but they never came.”
“He needed to just go home and give his Mom her coat and bag back before something bad happened to him.”
Chris shivered and I moved an inch closer. “Must be tough though,” I commented, “wanting to come out but not being sure how to.”
“You think that’s what he was doing that night?”
“He looked like a frightened rabbit,” I said. “Yes, I think it was his first attempt to try to meet someone.”
“And instead he met us.” Chris closed his eyes. “Perhaps he thought we were a couple,” he continued, faintly.
“Yeah,” I replied, watching Chris’ breathing even out as he started to fall back asleep. “Maybe he did.”
“Stay with me.”
“Always,” I said, keeping my voice soft. “Now go to sleep. I’ll be here.”
In the remorseless heat of the African sun, he carried me to safety. He’d said he would if he had to, but I hadn’t believed him. And now he held me in his arms in the back of the Land Rover, protecting me from the bumpy ride over the rocky terrain. I almost couldn’t believe we’d made it – a plane crash, three hundred miles walk, no map and me with a broken leg. But somehow Sam had got us through.
I peered up at him, my vision still hazy.
“Hey, you okay?” he asked, his eyes full of worry and concern.
I reached up a shaky hand to touch the dried blood on the side of his face. “Are you?” I croaked.
“Better than you,” he smiled. “Just.”
“You carried me, didn’t you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“I said I would,” he replied, the arm he had around me tightening for a moment.
Just then the Land Rover hit a boulder, sending shock waves of pain down my leg. I felt consciousness leaving me again as my fists closed on the material of Sam’s vest.
I’m sure I heard him tell me that he loved me and to hold on but I must have imagined it.
Sam doesn’t love me, he’d never say such a thing. It was just my wishful thinking.
Episode 4 - Hostage
“The Police...They’re not getting in our way, are they, Sir?”
It’s true to say that it was an unusual case - a terrorist come freedom fighter taking over a TV station in order to conduct an on air trial against the man who had so wronged the people of his country. But it was the kind of incident that we were well trained for and, once briefed, we fell into our roles easily. Malone, once he had dealt with the unhelpful interference from the Police, put his trust in his team and rightly so. I’m fairly sure I even saw a hint of pride in his eyes as the arrests were made and the case was wrapped up.
We are Professionals, after all - every step of the way.
But when the adrenaline levels fall at the end of a case, it’s then that you see the true people behind the professional masks.
Spencer, a sweet guy who has fought against a poor upbringing, bullies and subsequent inadequate schooling to fight for a place in the job he loves.
Malone, a man who appreciates the finer things in life - if only he could get time to enjoy them.
Me, finally in a job where my gender didn’t stand in my way, hoping to climb the ladder to the very top.
Chris, burying his tragic past by throwing himself into a new life and career.
And Sam, Mr Cool who puts on a front to everyone. Anything rather than tell the truth about his life and feelings.
And yes, I am aware that my analysis of Sam seems a little harsh in comparison with the others. It’s time I admitted to myself that Sam simply isn’t interested in me and there’s nothing I can do to change that.
With a sigh, I collected all my equipment together and walked out of the TV Centre to the car park where I saw Sam and Chris in the distance. Their black clothes should have screened them from view except I am perhaps more attuned to them than most people and I spotted them quickly. They seemed to be arguing at first, Chris was gesturing wildly and seemed angry, but then Sam leaned forward and softly touched Chris’ face, the gesture so tender it made me stop in my tracks and take a sharp intake of breath. I’d heard that Chris had been hurt, beaten up by the police officers when he was checking out the roof, but nobody had made a fuss about it – not even Chris. It now seemed obvious that any tender loving care that Chris needed was being provided by his partner. Except now it seemed more than that. As I watched, Sam turned his back to me which meant I couldn’t see Chris any more. It’s like they were standing in the same shadow. But I could swear from Sam’s body movements that...
Where they kissing? No, I was imagining it, I must have been. But on the other hand...
My God. How blind had I been?
“Look, Chris, I understand you don’t feel the need to go to hospital but I’m not leaving you until I’m sure you’re okay.”
“Stop mothering me, Curtis. I’m fine.”
I slammed the front door shut behind me and pushed Chris up the stairs to his flat, guiding him through the dining and living areas straight into his bedroom.
“Now,” I said, firmly. “Sit.”
Chris sat on the edge of the bed, looking up at me warily. “Sam ...” his tone of voice contained a very clear warning which I chose to ignore.
“Deal with it,” I said. “There were two coppers on that roof. I know you’re bloody good at hand to hand combat but that’s still two against one. Now tell me where it hurts and let me make it better.”
A strange smile came over Chris’ face. “I’ve seen that film too, you know.”
I looked blankly at him. “What film?”
He touched his left elbow with his right finger, and lifted his arm for my inspection. “It hurts here,” he said, a grin on his face, complete with dimples. “But if I’m Indiana then that makes you Karen Allen.”
Oh, that film. Happy to play along, I leaned over him indulgently so that I could kiss his elbow.
“And here,” he said, touching his bruised cheek.
Again, I bestowed a healing kiss, moving to sit down on the bed next to him.
“Here...” he whispered, lightly touching his bottom lip, which did indeed have a trace of blood on it.
Obligingly and very, very, gently, I kissed his bottom lip. I felt Chris smile and I pulled back. I didn’t feel like smiling, I felt confused, exposed. And I knew that Chris wasn’t joking anymore, he was serious.
I tried to put voice to my worries. “Chris ... I’m sorry. I...”
“Sorry? What for?” Chris pulled away from me a little, presumably to get a better look at me.
“You were married. You can’t want ...”
I blushed. “Yeah.”
“Don’t label me, Curtis. Yes, I was married, but things change. I changed.”
I closed my eyes, knowing the blush I could feel on my face wasn’t going anywhere too soon. My heart was racing and I had this urge to get out of here, fast.
All my life I had listened to my instincts and I wasn’t about to stop now. I had no choice. I stood up.
“Sorry,” I stammered. “You’ll be okay now, yeah? I’ll see you at work tomorrow.” I nearly fell over my own feet in my effort to get out of the room, finishing with one more lame, “Sorry,” before leaving, trying not to focus on the confusion on Chris’ face.
Could I really have cocked that up any more if I’d tried?
Episode 5 - First Strike
“So how do you get in CI5?” “You don’t. They find you.”
“Don’t you just love the glamour of international travel?” I pounded my jacket into the shape of a roughly formed pillow and rested my head on it, tutting loudly.
“What’s your problem, Curtis?”
“Unless it’s escaped your attention, Keel,” the sarcasm was coming in waves now, “we are in a swamp.”
“Sure we’re in a swamp,” replied Chris, looking around him. “But swamps can be nice.”
“Nice?” I replied, incredulous. “How, exactly?”
Together we had set up a temporary camp far enough away from the military outfit we were following to escape detection, but close enough to be alerted by the sound of engines should they get on the move again. They had driven relentlessly through the swamps into the small hours but, finally beaten by the pitch darkness and inadequate roads, had finally made camp amongst the trees, allowing us to follow suit.
And so, in the dark humidity of the Louisiana swamp, we huddled down in our sleeping bags and tried to make the most of the chance to rest.
“Well,” said Chris, still trying to think of an answer to my question. “It’s quiet.”
“You think so?” I sniggered, closing my eyes and trying to zone out the noise of chirping crickets, hooting owls and the other vociferous miscellaneous wildlife that seemed to be moving ever closer to us.
I heard the unmistakable rustling sound of a sleeping bag as Chris wriggled nearer to me.
“So quiet and private, you’d never see another living soul,” he added.
“And that’s good because?”
“Oh I don’t know, Curtis, maybe because it’s good to have the chance of a little one to one with nature?”
“Who needs nature?” I found myself replying, sarcastically. “Give me a nice comfortable motel room any day.”
“I’m sure there’ll be one, once we’ve finished here.”
I rolled over to face him, his features only just visible to me in the quarter moonlight.
“A nice hot shower,” I said, with feeling.
“Soap,” he reached out tentatively and ran a finger lightly down the bristles on my cheek. “And a shave.”
The feeling of his finger on my face and, after the mess I’d made of things before, the fact that he’d been brave enough to make the gesture at all, combined to send a shiver down my spine. “I’ll have you know stubble is considered very attractive,” I whispered, worrying that I was imagining what appeared to be some very obvious body language.
I’m not really sure what happened next. It was so dark I couldn’t be one hundred percent sure but it appeared that Chris loomed over me slightly, blocking out any remaining moonlight.
And then a feather light softness pressed against my lips, followed by ... nothing.
I gasped, blinking in the darkness, trying to focus on something, anything.
And then Chris rolled back away again, letting the small amount of available light back into my vision.
“G’night, Sam,” he said, his voice slightly shaky and lacking in its usual confidence.
I couldn’t even bring myself to reply.
If this was Chris’ idea of revenge then he had beaten me, completely.
Sleep? Now? I think not.
“Came close today,” said Sam, as he finally emerged from the shower.
“Yeah, we didn’t do badly, the two of us against a whole squadron of soldiers.”
“Three of us,” he corrected.
No, I really did mean the two of us. “You mean that damn Cop? She just got in the way.”
“What’s she ever done to you?”
I glared at my partner, hoping to silence him but knowing I had no real hope of doing so. “Let’s just say I haven’t always got on with Cops from Southern states.”
“And you’re not going to tell me why, are you?”
I smiled at him, shaking my head in reply.
Still towel drying his hair he came and sat down on my bed. “Nice to get clean again,” he commented, his voice soft.
“Yeah. You’re lucky I left you any hot water.”
“I noticed you stayed in there a while. Chris ...” Sam sounded hesitant, unsure. Then he reached out and took my hand, turning it over and examining it, seeing how red raw I had scrubbed it. “You do realise we didn’t make direct contact with the radioactive material, don’t you?”
“I know,” I felt myself blushing. “It’s crazy.”
“No, it’s not. I understand. Found myself doing the same before I realised.”
Now that surprised me. My logical and cool partner actually admitting to doing something as crazy as me?
Sam moved a little closer. “But you’re okay now, yeah?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I replied. He was so close now I couldn’t look him in the eye in case he saw what I was trying to hide. So instead, I concentrated on his mouth. He has a beautiful mouth, not overly wide, but with narrow and perfectly formed lips. I found myself focussing on them as I closed my eyes.
And then he was kissing me.
I had to be dreaming again, right? Only I didn’t usually have dreams like this.
Should I open my eyes?
I risked it.
He broke the kiss.
“Sam?” I whispered.
For a moment I thought he was going to pull away. Silvery green eyes watched me intently as if he was deciding what to do.
“Don’t, Chris,” he murmured. “Just... don’t.”
Yeah right. Anything you say, Curtis. Heaven forbid that this should lead to anything that meant you had to explain your feelings.
Then his lips closed on mine once more.
And this time I wasn’t going to let him get away.
Episode 6 - Samurai Wind
“Oh come on, Chris, get real. We’re paid to do a job and if we happen to get blown up along the way we’ll be lucky to get a memorial service.”
“Come and see,” said Backup, her whole body language radiating how smug she felt about her achievement.
As Malone walked down the steps towards her I made to follow, before realising that Sam wasn’t moving from his position on the wall.
“Sam?” I said, “You okay?”
“Take this, Chris, please,” he said, holding out his gun to me with a shaky hand.
I’d only just grabbed the weapon when he slumped forward, eyes closed, only missing a fall down the entire stone staircase by sheer luck. I threw both our guns onto the floor and rushed to his side.
“Mr Keel?” asked Malone, looking up from the entrance to the underground bunker. “What’s wrong?”
“Shrapnel wound, Sir,” I replied, helping Sam to sit up and rest with his back against the wall.
“I see.” Malone looked like he was trying to decide upon the best course of action, in his usual logical way. “Once I’ve made sure the hydrogen cyanide is secure we will make our way back to the Chopper. Can you get Mr Curtis there safely?”
“Then do so. We will catch up with you on the beach. I take it there are no other personnel to worry about?”
“Not that I’ve seen, Sir.”
Malone nodded and continued following Backup into the bunker while I reached for Sam again.
“Come on,” I said, heaving him upright and slinging his good arm over my shoulder.
“I can walk by myself, you know,” he replied, his voice now as shaky as his legs.
“Sure you can,” I said, indulgently. “Now, let me help you.”
It didn’t happen very often but my partner needed my help and I wasn’t about to let him down - even if he fought me every step of the way.
I suppose it was inevitable. Although my arm had felt for some time now as though it was on fire, the adrenaline had done a fantastic job of keeping me going. But no-one can keep that up for long. Within a few short seconds I was out for the count. As Chris started to half carry me back to the beach I found myself thanking my lucky stars that I had someone who cared about me. As tends to happen with me, when I’m in pain I end up wallowing in a bit of self pity and today was no exception. We’d run backwards and forwards enough times for me to know exactly how far away the beach was but suddenly it just seemed a totally unreachable goal. I slumped a little further down, causing both of us to slip on the rocks. My vision blurred as the pain bit further into me.
“Not far now, Sam.” Chris’ voice broke through the throbbing haze of pain as I tried to hold on enough to walk. I felt Chris’ arm around my waist, taking almost all of my weight now until finally, blessedly, we were on the beach once more.
Chris deposited me carefully on one of the back seats of the helicopter and then reached for the radio, presumably to call in to Spencer.
And the redness in my vision faded to black.
I felt hazy, unsure, like I wasn’t sure if I was awake or dreaming.
Hands on my shoulders, fixing the harness across my chest. Fingers on my forehead that ran gently through my hair.
“It’s okay Sam,” Chris’ voice whispered close in my ear.
“Watch yourself, Chris.” A woman’s voice broke through the mist in my head. It was Backup.
“What do you mean?”
“In front of Malone. Don’t make it so obvious.”
There was a pause, or perhaps I’d just blacked out again. Then Chris said “How long have you known?”
“Since I saw you together at the TV studios.”
“It’s okay, I haven’t said anything.”
“Backup ...I ...”
“Right, I think that’s everything.” Malone’s booming voice made me jump and the instant burst of pain in my arm made me groan again. “All ready to go now?”
“Yes, Sir.” Chris’ voice again. I moved my face towards the direction of the sound. ”The sooner we get Sam to a doctor the better. I think the wound is infected.”
“Then let’s go. Mr Keel, in the back with Mr Curtis, please. Miss Backus, radio through to Naval Intelligence and update them. And let’s get the hell out of here.”
And then the clamour of noise, movement and a strong current of air as we took off.
I moaned again and felt an arm slip around my shoulder, holding me close. I melted into the warm closeness of my partner’s body as he held the pain at bay.
Chris would look after me.
Everything was going to be okay.
Episode 7 - Skorpion
“Sam, how long’s it been since you got laid?”
I hadn’t been to Sam’s place much. It always seemed to be my apartment that we ended up at which was a shame because, while my flat was modern, all clean lines with its cemetery view, Sam’s house was a proper home.
He’d never said if he’d bought it himself or if it was inherited from family or as a result of a past relationship, but however he came by it he obviously stayed there because he loved it. And I could see why. The end terrace cottage in a leafy side road in Hammersmith was the perfect hide away from the chaotic world of CI5. When you stepped through the door it gave you such an insight into the real Sam Curtis that I could fully understand his reasons for not inviting many people back – I think he wouldn’t want them to see the real him.
I mean to say, it even had a real fire in the lounge.
Putting my feet up on the coffee table I cupped my hands around my coffee, laced with rum, I might add, and breathed a sigh of sheer relaxation.
“Okay?” Sam walked in from the kitchen and sat on the sofa beside me. He always looked so much more relaxed once he’d changed out of his work clothes and I gazed favourably at his track bottoms and sloppy t-shirt.
“Mmm...” I replied, sipping at my drink. “Gorgeous”.
He blushed a little. “We aim to please.”
For a moment we sat in comfortable silence, watching the fire crackling in the grate, warm and cosy and safe from the rain that was now falling steadily outside.
It should have been perfect but something was on my mind and, unlike my partner, I tend to talk about what is worrying me.
“She was pretty,” I said, eventually.
Sighing, Sam reached over to the coffee table to get his wallet and pulled a ten pound note out of it. The same ten pound note I’d given him earlier.
“Not pretty enough,” he said, holding the money out to me.
I didn’t take it. “And Boston’s a really nice place.”
“Chris,” Sam moved slightly closer to me as he pushed the money into my shirt pocket. “I don’t care how nice Boston is, I won’t be going there to visit.”
I put my cup down and turned towards him. “So, how long has it really been since you got laid?”
Sam’s eyes narrowed as he tried to work out if I was joking or not. “Chris?” His uncertainty came through in his shaky voice and I took pity on him.
“Sam, I won’t play games any more. I think you know what I want. I’m just not sure it’s what you want too.”
He blushed again. I was doing really well tonight. He opened his mouth to speak but nothing came out. I was obviously making him feel uncomfortable and that really hadn’t been my intention and so, instead of trying to make the silence work for me, I came to his rescue.
“I won’t push you, Sam, but I won’t be taken for granted either.”
He visibly pulled himself together to try again. “I know, Chris, I know. I just need a little...”
“Time? Balls? Whichever one it is, I’ll be here when you’re ready.”
This time he didn’t blush as much as wince in response to my rather tetchy reply and he moved slightly away from me.
“Don’t shut me out, Curtis,” I said, keeping my voice low.
This time Sam turned fully away, moving his body so that he had his back to me. His shoulders slumped forward and his head was down. The sight of his obvious despair made my heart flutter a little.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, as softly as I could. “Talk to me, Sammy.”
I had to really strain to hear his reply but it sounded like “I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.”
Such a basic error and in this game basic errors can get you killed. Chris knew I was coming from the other side of the building. Under no circumstances should you place yourself behind the target, not when you know your backup is coming towards you. I could so easily have missed the two gang members and shot Chris. It was dark, smoke filled, bullets flying everywhere, it so easily could have happened.
And it’s all very well for Chris to have such blind faith in me. “Since when do you miss?” he said. Well I have missed in the past, I’m not a bloody superhero. And if I had shot Chris, my god, I don’t know if I would ever have forgiven myself.
Chris seems to have moved into my life, my world, my heart, without so much as a warning coming my way. And I don’t know if I’m ready. If I lost him, Jesus, if I’d shot him today ... I’d be a complete mess. I can’t lose him. And I’m not sure I can cope with any relationship where the loss of the other person means so much. Not in a job where the loss of human life is so much a part of our daily existence.
Men died today. Chris, thankfully, didn’t, but only down to luck rather than good judgement.
I can’t do this. I just can’t do this.
Chris’ voice finally filtered through the fog in my brain.
Like the coward I truly believed myself to be I kept my back to him, resting my elbows on the arm of the sofa so I could bury my face in my hands. His hand tentatively came to rest on my shoulder.
“I didn’t mean to say anything to upset you.” Oh God, he sounded mortified, like he’d done something really badly wrong. It was enough to make me turn around but I still couldn’t look him in the eye and was relieved, if a little surprised, to have him immediately pull me into an embrace. I hugged him back briefly but then pulled back, keeping my head low and trying to maintain some level of control.
I took a deep breath. “It’s been a few years,” I mumbled.
“Since I last got laid. With a man, that is.”
“Oh. Erm. I guess I was only joking when I said that. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to pry.”
“I know,” I replied, still avoiding any kind of movement that would result in eye contact. “But it’s true. My last relationship with a man was a few years ago, when I was in MI6. It... didn’t end well.”
“Sam, you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
“It’s not that,” that made me finally look up at him. I needed him to understand. “It really didn’t end well. I can’t, I mean, I’m just not able to talk about it. Not yet.”
“But one day?”
I nodded. “One day.”
Chris looked crest fallen, to say the least. “Whatever it is, it’s gonna stop you wanting me, isn’t it?”
“No,” I replied. How on earth was I going to explain how I felt if I didn’t feel able to talk about Carl? “I just need to take it slow. Things happened in the past and, it’s just, I don’t want history to repeat itself, I suppose.”
Chris smiled at me. How can dimples put the world to rights so easily? “We both have history,” he said. “And I’m sure when we both feel ready we’ll share what happened to us. But as long as we both try our best to do the right thing, promise to be honest and to look out for each other, we’ll get through anything that comes our way. I’d like to give that a try, Sam, if you do?”
I nodded again, meeting his eyes, trying hard not to look the way I felt – a naive frightened virgin. I knew I was failing as I felt myself blushing.
“You okay, Sammy?”
“Just kiss me,” I managed to stammer out of dry lips. “Please. Just kiss me.”
Thank heaven Chris was good at taking orders.
He kissed me.
Episode 8 - Choice Cuts
“Find him, Mr Curtis. Find him!”
I’d been undercover before, many times, but this one really affected me in more ways than one. Yes okay, I was attacked, drugged, dumped in the boot of a car and tracked through the woods all night until I collapsed. But I could cope with that kind of treatment any time I had to. What affected me most in Richmond were the days leading up to that, when I was living in the homeless shelter.
I’d had what can only be described as a privileged upbringing which had meant I had been able to do whatever I wanted when I left college. Which was a good thing, because I knew I needed the backing of my entire family if I were to achieve my ambition of becoming a Navy SEAL. Years of work and training studying demolition, combat diving and going through jump school brought me to the peak of physical conditioning that was required to join the elite force.
My family were so proud of me.
When I lost them in the massacre, well, it nearly broke me. Why had I survived when they had all died? And although I tried to return to my job in the Navy, I simply couldn’t do it. I needed to start again somewhere fresh, where no-one knew my past and where I wouldn’t have to keep explaining myself. Even now only Malone really knew the true extent of how badly I was affected back then.
It was the family’s money that helped me moved to the UK, gave me a cool place to live and meant I was able to support myself while I searched for the right job. Financially, at least, I had been very lucky and didn’t have to work if I didn’t want to. I did want to, of course, but it has always been nice to have that financial cushion to fall back on.
I would give up every single penny to have my family back with me again.
But if the tragedy hadn’t happened it was very doubtful I would ever have met Sam.
These were the thoughts that swirled around my head during the time I lived at the Homeless Shelter. The sadness in my eyes was genuine, not forced, as I slumped into a kind of depression, not as bad as when my family had been killed but low enough. I was away from my partner and waiting for a butcher to jump me and steal my kidneys – it did not do much for my sanity, I can assure you, and I hardly slept a wink.
I tried to pull myself out of the attack of the blues by focussing on some of the other people at the shelter, marvelling at their ability to look on the bright side as they struggled with the bad hand that life had dealt them. And they gave me a little more strength to carry on.
And when the hammer finally fell and I found myself trapped inside the trunk of a car, I knew Sam would be out there looking for me.
I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t homeless. I had Sam.
“Why don’t you get some rest?”
Because, Mr Malone, my partner is out there, God knows where, at the mercy of a bunch of organ grabbing lunatics. So no, I will not get some rest.
Backup looked at me funny when I dropped her at the motel but within a few minutes I was back out on the streets, driving up and down over and over again, searching for Chris.
Why hadn’t he checked in? Why had he been walking down some back alley in the dark? But I suppose he was meant to play the part of the sacrificial lamb so it wouldn’t have done any good if he’d stayed safely tucked away in the shelter.
God, I hated this job sometimes.
What price a friendship? A night’s sleep? I’d pay that, gladly. But whatever the cost and despite all my best intentions, I still couldn’t track Chris down that night.
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so low. Visions of the prostitute lying face down in a ditch with huge ugly scars where her kidneys had been removed from came flooding back to me. The thought brought bile to my mouth and I pulled over for a moment, not at all sure I wasn’t going to be sick.
For a small town Richmond kept itself very busy at night, which didn’t help my search because it was harder to spot anything untoward going on.
But apart from the ruined mobile phone that Backup and I had found earlier, there wasn’t a trace of my partner. And my imagination was going into over drive.
Finally, at around 6.30am, I reluctantly gave up and went back to the motel to collect Backup.
I had failed the one person in my life who meant the most to me and all I knew was that if I ever got a chance to talk to him again, then I would tell him the truth. The truth about how I felt about him and what I wanted from our relationship.
I found myself praying to a God I didn’t believe in, begging that I would get that chance.
And then, he was back! He swaggered into our temporary operation centre as if he didn’t have a care in the world. He was filthy dirty, battered and bruised, smelled like a farmyard and looked completely exhausted but to me he was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen. Mindful of Malone staring at us both and of Backup’s warnings when we’d been on Nomine Patre, I kept my emotions firmly in check.
But in my head I made myself one little promise. Just wait till I get you alone, Christopher Keel.
Episode 9 - Miss Hit
“Yeah, I’m talking team. Ours. Not sharing everything with every visitor who drops by.”
We had it all under control. Chris had intercepted our man and I was providing cover. It was going perfectly, right up until the moment the idiots from the Drug Squad shoved me back against a shipping container and made me watch – and listen – while my partner was shot at. Three times. The stupid bastards. And even though a voice in my head was shouting at me ‘He’s wearing a vest!’ I still couldn’t get to Chris fast enough. He had been knocked unconscious from the force of one of the bullets hitting his him smack bang in the middle of his chest. Vest or no vest, that was going to hurt.
And as Malone tore into us over our lack of success on the mission my brain was somewhere else entirely. It was the last straw. I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t be involved with someone I might lose at any moment. It was screwing with my head too much, over and over again. Every mission where Chris got hurt or lost knocked me down another peg.
My built in professionalism kicked in as we worked through the case and tried to track down Franco Cardulucci. I even got a sense of justice out of bullying the guy from the Drug Squad who had put Chris in the line of fire.
But just as I was trying to work out how on earth I was going to broach the subject of our relationship with Chris, the FBI sent us Abby Prentice. Tall, blond, beautiful and clever, she was my way out. Handled right, she was the safe option to show Chris that I wasn’t interested in him anymore. I could let him down gently without hurting him.
That was my plan and I was so stupid that I really believed it.
The trouble was, Chris took an instant dislike to our overseas visitor. I was so big headed I honestly thought that was because he could tell I liked her. Not, as turned out to be the case, because he could sense there was something not quite right with her story.
Ignoring the obvious signs I reeled Abby in and pushed Chris away. Right away - before it was too late for us both.
I just didn’t think he’d push back.
I love being right and I was right about Abby - I knew straight away that something about her didn’t smell right, and it wasn’t just her perfume. But with Sam walking around after her with his tongue hanging out I found no pleasure in being right. Did it make me feel better to shoot her in the head? I tried not to analyse that too closely.
But it did make me feel better to tip the contents of my glass of Barolo Opera all down the front of Sam’s suit. Childish, maybe. But, hell, it felt good.
“What was that for?” said Sam, looking down at the mess the wine had made of his light grey suit. “Jesus, Chris.”
He made to take the jacket off but I put my hand on his arm, stopping him. “You’re a bastard, Curtis.”
“Yeah?” Sam’s eyes narrowed. “Well maybe you ought to check with my Dad on that one.”
Backup strode across the office towards us. “Malone is just over there,” she said, gesturing towards our boss who was busy topping up glasses. “I suggest you two take this outside before he notices.”
“And who asked you?” I said, turning on her aggressively.
“Chris,” the warning tone in Sam’s voice was clear. “She’s right. Let’s go down to the car park for a minute. I need to talk to you.”
“Sure thing,” I replied, my voice dripping in sarcasm as I opened the door. “After you, partner.”
We stepped lightly down the stairs and through the door into the underground car park that ran beneath the CI5 building. Prepared to get everything off my chest about the way Sam had flirted with Abby during the case I was a little stunned when he immediately took the upper hand, pushing me back against the concrete wall with an arm across my windpipe.
“I’m glad we’ve got this chance to talk,” he said, fixing me with an icy stare. “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking during this case and I’m sure you can see things can’t go on the way they are.”
“You’re right there,” I replied, pushing him away and standing as tall as I could. “Abby.”
“What about Abby?”
“What the hell did you think you were doing?”
“We were meant to be working with her. I thought she was with the FBI.”
“Not that,” I said, pushing him backwards again. “You believed her, not me.” Another push. “You wanted her, not me.”
“It’s not that I don’t want you, Chris. I just can’t...”
“I don’t wanna hear what you can and can’t do, anymore, Curtis. You’ve made it perfectly clear how things stand for you. Well this ends now.”
“This?” Sam looked confused, flustered, and as if things were suddenly moving faster than he had wanted them to.
“Us,” I explained, looking him right in the eye. “It ends now.”
He swallowed. “You don’t mean that.”
“I don’t mean work, but I do mean all this kissing, and flirting, and uncertainty. I don’t need this in my life and I don’t need you pawing every blond who comes within spitting distance. I deserve better than that. And I won’t hang around while you decide whether I’m good enough to be worth the risk.”
“No, that’s not...”
“I don’t want to hear any more.” Venom made me emphasise every single word.
Sam stared at me in silence. I couldn’t tell from the expression on his face whether he was about to punch me or break down.
“I’m going home,” I said, my voice calmer now. “I suggest you do something about your suit before it stains.” And, before I had to witness any messy aftermath, I walked over to my car and climbed in.
It was over.
Episode 10 - Orbit
“My people know your faces! Wherever you go, they will find you.”
“Miss Backus has the address. I want you both over there right away, Mr Keel.”
I stared at Backup and shrugged, still confused. After all, I was still half asleep and sitting on my bed wearing nothing but my boxers - at least Backup had the advantage of being fully dressed.
“But I don’t understand, Sir.” I said into the phone, trying again to make sense of what I was being told. “Sam was fine when we left him earlier. He’s asleep in the next room.” Backup shook her head at that, indicating that she had already checked.
Malone took a sharp intake of breath, leaving me with the distinct impression I was about to be shouted at long distance. I wasn’t wrong. “Well, if the message I’ve just received is anything to go by, he is not fine now!”
“May I hear it, Sir? Please?”
“Ask Miss Backus to read the message that Mr Spencer has sent to her phone. Perhaps then you will believe me.”
Backup flipped her phone open and started to read aloud in her clear and concise manner. “Nobody, especially not you Feds, gets to treat me this way. If you want your man back then get to 359 West Street, Wilmington. Know this – this is my warning. I could have easily have killed him. Do not mess with me again.”
“How do we know it’s Sam?” I asked, still not convinced.
“Because, Mr Keel,” Malone sounded very much like he was at the end of his tether, “Mr Curtis is the only agent I have not been able to make contact with. Tell me again what that drug baron said when you handed him over to the FBI in Texas, before you started on the Professor Ricard case?”
“Well, he wasn’t too happy!” I sniggered. “Said we were all dead men. That his people knew our faces.” I paused, feeling my throat go suddenly dry. “And that wherever we went, they would find us.” I stared at Backup, finally realising what was going on.
“And when did you last see Mr Curtis?”
Grabbing my phone, Backup thankfully took over talking before Malone could realise that I was suddenly unable to. “The three of us had dinner together, Sir. We checked in to this motel to get some sleep before our flight and then you called us. It hasn’t been more than...” she checked her watch, “three hours.”
“The bastard had us followed to Wilmington,” I muttered.
“Get a move on, please,” instructed Malone.
“Yes, Sir,” replied Backup. “We’ll check in when we get there. Over and out.”
Ending the call she gave me the phone back and picked my trousers up off the floor, throwing them at me. “Get dressed, Chris,” she said. “And make it fast.”
Hey, I can move fast when I want to, and suddenly I found I really wanted to. I dressed in record time and followed Backup out to the hire car, bouncing a little on the balls of my feet as I felt the adrenaline rush. Backup evidently knew what was good for her and was making for the passenger side leaving me to slide into the driver’s seat.
“Call up the address on the satellite,” I instructed her as the car screeched out of the parking lot.
“Hope the motel owners don’t think we’re skipping out without paying the bill,” she mused as she tapped digits into her phone. “Take a right, here.”
Between the speed of my driving, Backup’s map reading skills and the fact that the town streets were empty so late at night, it only took a few minutes to reach the address and I parked right outside, looking up at the dark, boarded up house.
“You take the front, I’ll take the back,” I said, getting out and slamming the door shut before receiving a nod of affirmation from Backup.
“No surprises, Chris,” she said, causing me to look at her with confusion. “I’m not Sam; I can’t read your mind. If you’re going to do something then tell me.” She took out her headset and put it on.
“Yeah, sure,” I replied, following suit. As an afterthought I grabbed the flash light from the back seat. It was the middle of the night and the house was in complete darkness.
We split up and I ran quickly around the back of the building which appeared to be locked up and deserted. All the windows were covered in wooden boards and the doors had metal security cages fitted. There was no sign that anything had been disturbed recently.
Backup’s voice crackled into my earpiece. “Anything?”
“Negative,” I replied. “No way in, either.” I shone the torch about the back yard. “There’s an out building of some kind back here. Am checking it out.”
“You don’t want to search the house first?”
“Let me check this out before we smash all the doors down in the house, okay?”
“I’ll be right there.”
Without giving Backup the time to catch up with me I strode across the yard and drew my gun from its holster, nudging the rusty garage door open. I shone the torch inside its inky depths and was about to walk in when Backup appeared at my side, placing a hand on my arm in warning.
“It might be trapped, Chris,” she said, her voice a hushed whisper.
“What is this fixation you have with booby traps?” I asked, cocking my head to one side as I regarded her carefully.
“Just think about it, Chris. We get a message to go to this address from a completely untrustworthy source. Of course it might be trapped.”
“Give it up,” I said, dismissing her fears as irrational as I pushed the door fully open and stepped inside. It was full of carpentry equipment, a huge bench, tools, a vice...and there, sticking out from behind the bench, my torchlight beam fell across a naked body, lying on its side and facing away from us, the feet and hands tied with wire.
My head spun for a moment but I recovered quickly and surged into action, thrusting the torch at Backup as I fell to my knees beside what I knew had to be my partner’s body, not that it was in the least bit recognisable in the small beam of light the torch provided in the pitch blackness.
“Jesus! Sam?” I schooled my fingers not to shake as I felt for a pulse. “Backup, can you find a better light?”
Backup immediately started to search the darkened space, moving things about in her attempt to find a light source. “Is he alive?” she asked.
“I... I can’t feel a pulse. Wait.” Behind me I heard Backup saying “Yes!” just as I thought the same thing. There was a pulse. Faint, but it was there. Backup cursed a few times and then, a miracle, we had light!
“I found this old camping light,” she explained, as she carried it closer to me. “Well?”
“Yes, he’s alive,” I said, now concentrating on trying to undo the wires that were cutting into his hands and feet.
“Here. I found this on the bench.”
Gratefully I took the offered wire cutters from her and put them to good use before carefully trying to turn Sam over. Running a quick eye over him he appeared to be un-injured, not counting a few scrapes on his hands and legs from being thrown onto the concrete floor. In the better light afforded to me I was just able to make out a needle mark on his upper arm, a small circle of congealed blood drawing my attention to the area.
“He’s been doped up.”
“I’ll call Malone,” Backup replied, stepping outside presumably to get a better signal.
I shrugged out of my jacket and lay it over Sam, tucking it in and under to try to protect him from the cold. His body felt like ice and, instinctively, I pulled him towards me, cradling him on my lap.
“What have they done to you, hey, buddy?” I muttered, only just beginning to realise what had happened.
That son of a bitch drugs baron had taken my partner, naked and sleeping, from his bed, drugged him and brought him to this hovel and left him there – all to deliver some sort of twisted warning. And I had slept right through it all. Even if Sam forgave me, I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to forgive myself.
It’s completely possible that nothing in my entire life has ever surprised me more than, after the weird couple of nights I’d just had, waking up in my own warm, comfortable bed, relatively unscathed, with my partner curled around me in a deep sleep.
For a moment I genuinely couldn’t remember how I got there – everything was so jumbled up in my head.
Chris and I had worked well together on the Professor Ricard case, but there had been an elephant in the room the whole time, and I don’t mean Backup. I was still brooding over Chris’ decision to keep me at arm’s length on a personal level, and he was doing a very good job of pretending that he didn’t care. As the case was wrapped up and we booked into the motel, I made a conscious choice not to share a twin room with Chris – something that we normally do without even thinking about it. He glanced at me as I booked three rooms with the receptionist but didn’t say anything and Backup didn’t seem to notice anything untoward, so the three of us said our goodbyes and went to our respective rooms for a much needed rest.
After that my memories became blurred. I know I took a shower and think I went straight to bed. It was testament to how truly exhausted I was that I didn’t wake when the security of my room was breached. The first realisation I had that there was an intruder was a stabbing pain in my upper arm. I think I tried to get up and fight them off but, to be completely honest, I don’t clearly remember. And that was it until I woke up in the back of the hire car being driven to hospital by Chris and Backup.
Moving carefully so I wouldn’t disturb Chris, I rubbed at my upper arm to feel the pin prick from the needle. The hospital hadn’t been able to establish exactly what I had been injected with but whatever it was it certainly did its job and knocked me out for a good few hours. Long enough, we established, for the message to be delivered and for Chris and Backup to be despatched to find me.
With no other injuries and Chris offering, insisting, that he would take care of me, we were sent away quite readily by the doctor on duty. I remember there was some discussion about whether I was fit to travel but I don’t recall taking part in it. We only had to wait for Backup to bring our belongings from the motel and we were cleared to go.
And then, my head still pretty much in a confused mess, we flew back to the UK and home. I know I slept through the entire flight, completely exhausted.
Had we even handed the case back over to the FBI? I couldn’t remember - even now I’m not sure.
“Hey,” a sleepy, rumpled Chris emerged from the covers and gazed at me, bleary eyed. “How do you feel?”
“Like an idiot,” I confessed, rolling over to face Chris who immediately draped his arm around my waist.
“Even CI5 agents can’t be on our guard in our sleep,” he murmured, reassuringly.
“But if we both hadn’t been such drama queens after the Cardulucci case...”
“...We would have been sharing a room,” he finished for me. “Yeah, I know, Sam, but as much as I’d like to be I can’t be by your side twenty four seven. Hell, I never want to let you out of my sight ever again but that’s just not an option. For as long as we do this job we’re gonna find ourselves targets at times. It kills me to think it, but that’s the truth.”
I closed my eyes and moved an inch closer to Chris, luxuriating in the secure warmth of his arms. It was then that I became aware of something else. The realisation that perhaps something more than just comfort was being offered.
“You’re not wearing any pyjamas.”
“Ten out of ten for observation, 3.7.”
“But I don’t understand. Does this mean...”
“Does this mean what?”
I rubbed my face against Chris’ shoulder and he tightened his hold. “Take pity on me,” I murmured. “Everything’s a bit of a blur still. Are we...together again?”
“If you mean did I feel like my own heart had been torn out when I realised that you’d been kidnapped, that I blamed myself for not being there with you, that I would have changed places with you like a shot, and that as a result of these feelings I finally realised that we were meant to be together, then yes.”
I hugged him even closer, a warm sensation that I didn’t really feel qualified to evaluate flooding through my body.
“Well that’s okay then,” I admitted.
“We were made to be together, Sammy,” he said, muttering the words into the top of my head as he pressed his lips against my hair.
“Thanks for coming to find me,” I whispered.
Chris pulled the covers almost over our heads, effectively shutting out the world. “Did you ever doubt me, for one second?” he whispered back.
I shook my head in reply, before drifting back to sleep once more.
I was home.
Episode 11 - High Speed
“First rule – never get emotionally involved.”
Chris and I returned to our hotel room and started to strip off the black clothes we had worn during our fruitless search of the Bluckner Racing garage. I was half way through pulling my jumper over my head when the tight roll-neck caught over my face as I tried to pull my arms up and out but before I could wriggle free a hand stilled my actions.
“Slowly, Sam, there’s no need to rush.”
Keeping my head caught in the thick black fabric, Chris ran his hands under the jumper and over my body.
My reply, “What do you think you are doing?”, came out so muffled through my self-imposed gag that even I couldn’t work out what I’d said.
“Now, now, Sam,” said Chris, a hint of humour in his voice. “You’re my mechanic, remember? That makes me the boss, so you have to do as I say.”
“But I can’t breathe,” I snuffled through the fabric.
His hands paused on my chest, one palm against each nipple. “Well...” he said, reluctantly, “I guess I can give you a bit of fresh air. But I’m still the boss, deal?”
Chris pushed my jumper upwards so that it, at last, cleared my head and then he pushed it back, but not off. My arms were now trapped behind me by the thick woollen material and although I could force my way out if I really wanted, I got the distinct impression that I wasn’t supposed to.
“Thank you,” I said, spitting out a piece of black fluff.
Chris leaned his body against mine, pushing me back against the wall as he gifted me a kiss on the neck that turned into something that I was pretty sure was going to leave an, oh so classy, love bite.
“Do you have any idea what you looked like, leaning over that car in those overalls?” he murmured, his breath brushing against my skin.
“A mechanic?” I suggested, getting a tickle in the ribs for my cheek.
His hands ran down my sides and started to fiddle with my belt buckle.
“Try tart,” he replied as he unzipped my fly, carefully.
“That’s a jolly old fashioned English word for a modern American male to use.”
“What would you prefer?” he mumbled as he palmed my cock with his hand.
A conversation. He wanted a conversation now. I tried to concentrate on my limited knowledge of American slang words. “Oh, I don’t know really. Hooker? Hustler? Whore?”
“All of the above,” he said, a teasing smile flashing my way.
“So, exactly how did you end up being the rich and suave driver, while I got chosen to be the grease monkey?” I asked, closing my eyes and relaxing back against the wall as Chris pulled my jeans down to my knees.
“You really need to ask?”
“I can do suave if I need to, oh fuck!” I couldn’t help my reaction. My eyes flew open to watch as Chris sucked my now exposed cock deep into his mouth.
After a moment or two of fervent sucking he released me with a wet lick and looked up at me, blue eyes twinkling. “I love it when you talk dirty.”
“Engine oil, grease, grime... Is that what you mean by dirty?”
“Naughty,” he replied before dipping his head again to lick along my length.
The restrictive pullover was starting to frustrate me, something I suspect Chris was revelling in. “Are you going to let me out of this thing?” I asked, flexing my arms against the fabric a little.
Chris stood back up and pressed against me, kissing me deeply as he pushed his cock against mine, before pulling back slightly and tilting his head to one side as he considered his reply.
“No,” he said, a grin playing across his lips as he pulled me forward and turned me to face the wall. “I don’t think I am.”
Episode 12 - Souvenir
“I wouldn’t be standing here now if it wasn’t for Carl Dietrich. I owe him, him more than anyone.”
I’m an insensitive fool and no-one can convince me otherwise. It’s just that Sam really did seem to be okay. We’d set up Malone with his holiday cocktail, admittedly in the vain hope that he wouldn’t rip us to shreds for not calling him back from his holiday sooner, we’d been dismissed and everything seemed peachy. What I didn’t anticipate, and should have done if I was any kind of partner, was losing track of Sam as soon as he was free to go.
Within thirty minutes of us being dismissed for the night I received a call from a worried sounding Backup who, after asking me where I was, did nothing to hide her surprise that I wasn’t with Sam. Apparently I should have guessed that he would need some support after a case that had affected him so personally. Apparently it was my job to find him and make sure he was okay. And, of course, she was right – on both counts.
That night my partner nearly drove me nuts. For hours I raced from town to country and back again, trying to think of where he might be. Until finally, nearing midnight, I had what was either a flash of inspiration or my very last resort. And it paid off.
I zipped my jacket closed against the driving rain as I strode across the car park to the London bound platform of Gerrards Cross Station and, breathing a huge size of relief, at last saw Sam sitting on the same bench we had found Carl in such terrible condition only a few days earlier. It had been pouring with rain all evening and Sam looked soaking wet, hunched forwards, his head resting in his hands. The Station Master stood in the sheltered doorway of the waiting room, looking anxiously out at this late night passenger who didn’t seem to want to leave.
“Sam?” Tentatively I perched on the edge of the wet bench. When it appeared I was going to be ignored, I tried a gentle hand on Sam’s shoulder. His only reaction was to slump even further.
I tried again. “Sam, you can’t stay here. They want to lock up for the night.” I reached out with my other hand to touch his. It felt like a block of ice. I squeezed it, hard. Slowly he straightened but turned his head away from me, keeping his chin low, evidently not wanting me to see his face.
“Let me take you home, buddy, yeah?”
After an initial pause he reluctantly nodded then slowly, painfully, got to his feet. I put a hand under his elbow to help him steady himself, then threw an apologetic smile at the bemused Station Master while we gradually made our way through the gate and out to the car.
The drive home was somewhat surreal. The rain fell so hard it turned the roads into rivers, Sam stared at the glove box as if it were the most amazing thing he’d ever seen, and I knew that there was no way I was leaving him on his own in the state he was in.
When we arrived at his cottage I had to virtually manhandle him out of the car and took his keys from his pocket in order to let us in through the front door. Steering him into the lounge I helped him out of his sopping wet jacket and sat him down before running upstairs to grab a towel.
When I returned and held out the towel I got my first look into my partner’s eyes and as we finally made eye contact he seemed to crumple before me, his eyes filling with tears.
“Sam?” I threw the towel on the sofa and sat beside him.
“I failed him,” he replied, his voice a mere whisper in the night. “He came to me for help and I let him down.”
“You did your best, Sam,” I said, putting an arm tentatively around his shoulders, still unsure of his reaction.
“My best?” He made a sound like a cross between a sob and a hiccup. “Carl’s dead.”
A tear slid down his face and how could I possibly ignore that?
“But you still have me,” I said, softly, before pulling him into my arms. “And I’m not going anywhere. Not ever.”
His shoulders shook violently as he sobbed out his grief. I watched over him like a sentinel, guarding him as sorrow carved its cathartic path through his memories. Life would never be the same for him now, I knew that. But I also knew that through the darkest times of heartbreak we somehow find strength to carry on. To live for the person we’ve lost. He would never forget Carl just as I would never forget Teresa. But we have to live on so that they can live with us, in our hearts and minds.
And I knew that, thanks to what had happened to Teresa, I could help Sam with Carl, and as the full realisation of this hit me a hidden place deep in my heart broke all over again.
Later, when I’d pulled myself together somewhat, we lit the fire. Then Chris sat by my side in the cosy warmth of the room and gave me the confidence and freedom I needed to finally talk openly about my relationship with Carl Deitrich. I had never trusted anyone enough to disclose what had happened to me during my last few months at MI6 and the fact that I was able to, at last, tell my story, spoke volumes about Chris’ character.
“I was young,” I began, as if that excused me of everything. “MI6 trained me and when they sent me to Berlin I thought I knew it all. I was wrong.”
“What happened?” asked Chris, his voice soft.
“They threw me to the lions.”
“How very Christian of them.”
That brought a smile to my lips, the first for several days, and I relaxed a little more. “They sent me in without backup and, when the shit hit the fan, it didn’t take much for everyone to realise they were going to leave me there. They weren’t even asking for an exchange.”
“Oh, Chris,” I blinked the hovering tears away, determinedly. “The man you met was a shadow of who Carl Deitrich really was. I hero worshipped him. He was older, dynamic, worldly wise and handsome. I looked up to him like a father figure, at first, and then...” I felt myself blushing, “As a lover. He got me out of Berlin when everyone else had given up on me.”
“They ‘retired’ him because of what he did. Because he saved me.”
Chris nodded his understanding then stared into the fire, apparently not sure whether to ask something or not. “You don’t have to answer this...”
“Well, once it was all over, why didn’t you stay together?”
“We didn’t get a chance. Afterwards, I was in hospital for a long time.” Chris looked up at me with concern evident on his face but I pushed forward, determined to gloss over the injuries I had sustained. “And Carl was forced to go abroad again.”
“After a while it became obvious that I couldn’t stay with MI6. I didn’t trust them anymore. Something happened, I don’t really know what, but Malone became involved and before I knew it I was seconded to CI5 and the rest you know.”
“I’m sorry he died,” said Chris, quietly. “But you can’t blame yourself for it anymore, Sam. You do know that, right?”
“I should have...”
“The world is full of ‘should haves’ and ‘what ifs’. No-one can live that way.”
I looked up at Chris, forcing the tears to stay hidden as I thought back to what had happened in the hospital. “You didn’t see how he died. He was unprotected, injured and alone. And they shot him in the chest at point blank range, at least twice. I got there too late to stop it.”
“You did your best. You have to realise that people were out to get him and you couldn’t have prevented what happened.”
I shook my head. “The world won’t be the same now he’s gone.”
Chris put his hand on my knee, grounding me. “I understand it hurts right now, I do know that,” he said. “It’s impossible to even imagine a world without him in it. And it’s part of what you have to go through, just to process what has happened. But trust me, you need to remember the good times and mourn his passing without blaming yourself. He wouldn’t want you to carry this weight.”
Chris, who usually possessed the ability to light up the world whenever he smiled, looked even more devastated than I felt at that moment. I knew he was thinking about his wife and channelling his own grief to help me with mine, and I immediately pulled him towards me into a close embrace.
“We’ll just have to be there for each other, then, won’t we?” I whispered into his ear as we hugged.
“Always,” he replied.
Episode 13 - Glory Days
“Guys like that always live to fight another day.”
After the visit to the Whitehouse it all got a little confusing. We were all meant to be making our way back to London that afternoon but Malone was doing his usual trick of making it obvious that he knew something that I didn’t and before I knew it I found myself in the VIP Lounge in Departures and Chris wasn’t with us.
“Mr Curtis,” said Malone, as the three of us walked over to the seating area, “Mr Keel asked me to give you this.” He handed me a white envelope.
“What is it?”
“We’ll just get a coffee while you take a look, shall we? What kind of coffee person are you, Miss Backus? A cappuccino perhaps? I must admit I rather like those syrups they put in a latte...”
As they wandered away I stared at the envelope for a second before ripping it open and pulling out the letter that I found within. Something in me reacted to the sudden stress of the situation and a headache surged into life as I tried to focus.
Still more confused than I had ever been before, I started to read.
First, I apologise for not doing this face to face but I have a good reason - I wanted to give you the freedom to make your own decisions without me piling on the emotional blackmail. I know you have a wonderful life in London, a career, home, family, and I can’t even begin to think of you leaving all of that. But I do care about you, so much, which is why I am writing to you now.
While working at The Whitehouse on this last case I have been offered the chance of a position in security within the President’s own team. This is a great opportunity for me, made even greater when it was made clear that there is also a role for you here, Sam.
After Teresa died I thought I could never live in the States again but now, with the help and support you have given me, I feel able to move on properly as opposed to the running away I was doing when I joined CI5. I would like to try, at least, to re-build my life here. And I would like to do it with you by my side, Sam. In case you haven’t realised yet, I love you.
I know I am heaping the pressure on you and I’m sorry to do so, but you have two choices now. Fly back to the UK with Malone, and heaven help me I wouldn’t blame you in the least for deciding to do so, or leave the airport, grab a cab and come and find me at the hotel.
I won’t try to persuade you either way – it has to be your choice. I want you to go with whatever your heart tells you. And if I’ve timed things right then I will wait here until 5pm, after which I will assume that you have decided to leave. And I won’t blame you Sam, not one bit.
I won’t say any more because you already know how I feel.
My vision blurred as I reached the final few words. A voice in my head was telling me not to panic, he wasn’t leaving me, and I should pull myself together. Blinking to try to clear my vision I looked up at Malone who, while chatting to Backup and drinking his coffee, was also keeping a discrete watch on me. Did he know what the letter said? Had Chris already handed in his notice and, even if Malone was happy with that, how would he feel when he found out that Chris wanted me to go with him?
Did I want to go with him?
My head felt like it was going to explode and I nervously ran my hand through my hair. If only Chris had given me more warning, more time to think.
Checking the departure board I saw that in reality I only had a few minutes before the call would come and then I would be on a plane bound for Heathrow. And it was only an hour away from the deadline Chris had given me.
Is that why Chris had done this, so that my decision would be instinctive? But I’m not like Chris, I need time to think things through. I tried to bank down the rising panic as my heart started to race. There’s the house to think about, my not always straight forward relationship with my Dad, not to mention my career at CI5 which I had fought so hard for. And Chris wanted me to walk away from all of this without even giving it proper thought?
Malone gave me a sympathetic smile as I stared at him. Oh, he knew alright.
Think, Curtis, think. I’m trained to work well under pressure. Chris loves me and he wants to start a new life together in the USA. And, in reality, what is holding me back? But if I go I’ll be leaving everything I know behind me and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
Once, not so long ago he used the word ‘Always’. I’d believed him then and now he’s done this to me.
But if I don’t go and find him right now I might lose him forever.
That last thought made me feel physically sick as my stomach churned and I wondered if the strange roaring in my ears was being caused by a passing jet.
I needed to talk to Chris.
My head spun as I stood up much too quickly, the letter still clenched in my hand.
Across the room Malone stood too, with Tina close behind him.
I closed my eyes which, I realise now, was probably a mistake. When you’re feeling travel sick they always tell you to keep your eye on the horizon. Without a visual focus to concentrate on my body went into an immediate protective shut down.
There was the sound of a clear and firm voice saying “Mr Curtis, are you alright?” while I briefly wondered why the floor was tilting so dramatically away from me and then... nothing.
I can’t believe I’d read things so badly wrong. I realise I’d given Sam no time at all to think things through when usually that was totally against his preferred way of working, but I had wanted him to act on his gut reaction. And, obviously, his gut reaction was to go back to the UK. I really, honestly, thought we meant more to each other than that. But maybe that was my fault. Maybe I should have been brave enough to talk to him face to face, because then he could have explained why he didn’t want to stay with me. This way I’m left with so many unanswered questions while he’s on a plane to Heathrow probably thinking exactly the same. And while we have phones there’s nothing quite like talking in person.
I’ve been so totally stupid and a coward to boot. I should never have written the letter and now it was all too late. I would never get back what I had so carelessly thrown away.
I sat in the opulent hotel lounge and contemplated a future without Sam in it, something I honestly hadn’t thought I was ever going to have to do. I simply hadn’t given the idea that Sam would say ‘no’ any house room at all. And to say I was in shock was an understatement.
As the clock in the hotel lobby struck the half hour, drawing even more attention to my stupidity at giving Sam a full thirty minutes longer than I’d said I would, I stood up and picked up my jacket from the back of the chair.
I’d made my bed, now I was going to have to lie in it. I had a new career to look forward to and I was going to have to start my new life without Sam, the one person who had come to mean everything to me.
Like I said, stupid.
Except for losing Teresa, I had never before felt so wretched, lost and unhappy. And it was entirely my own fault. I had nobody to blame but myself and life was never going to be the same again.
I put my hand on the chair back, needing the support it gave as the full realisation of what I’d done to both Sam’s life and my own came crashing down around me.
I felt lost and I wasn’t sure I’d ever truly find myself ever again.
“You have no idea what you’ve put me through, you inconsiderate egotistical bloody Yank, but if you take one step further then there is every chance I’m going to be forced to throw you through the hotel window and I really don’t care how many panes of glass get broken in the process.”
As a declaration of love I admit it needed some work but, as I turned around to meet my future, I realised it was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever said to me.
Sam had come back for me. And I was never going to let go of him, ever again.