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I feel like I owe you an explanation, or an apology. More likely both. After Afghanistan I was too glad to be alive, too exhilarated by fighting at your side again, to say everything I should have said. My thanks barely scratched the surface.

You asked me to keep in touch, and I said that I would. You asked me not to come to you about a mission again, and I said that I wouldn’t. But the truth is, I can’t keep both of those promises.

You are the most remarkable man I’ve ever served with. Not just because of your skill as a soldier, although that is also remarkable, but because of the way you commit to things so whole-heartedly. Once you make a decision, you invest yourself in it completely, accepting all the consequences. I’m not sure you realize how rare that is.

And because you refuse to let war consume you. For all the battles war has won over you, you still refuse to back down, to give up on the hope of having something more.

Even when I’m the one facing you.

I admire that, because it’s a battle I surrendered a long time ago. I gave up everything to a military career.

That’s why I came to you about the Afghanistan mission. I wanted to see you again, and the only way I know how to make any kind of connection anymore is on a mission.

And that’s why I can’t keep in touch.

If I do, I know I’ll ask for your help again. No matter how resolved I am not to ask, to respect your desire to build a life for yourself, I know I’ll convince myself that this mission can’t succeed without you, or that you need to acknowledge that part of yourself again. I’ll convince myself, because I want so much to make that connection, to have you at my side, to belong to the same thing because we can’t belong to each other.

If I truly love you, then the promise I have to keep is to let you find the life you want. To not ask. And the only way I can keep that promise is to say goodbye.

I hope you find the life you want.

I hope you remember me well.

Goodbye, John.

Your friend,
Samuel Trautman


Sam knows that writing the letter is a bad idea when it first occurs to him. He knows it when he sets pen to paper. He knows it when the word ‘love’ spills out from under his fingers. He knows it when he’s done.

Sam said too little in Afghanistan, and too much when he sat down to try to fix that. He can’t help but laugh--it’s deeply appropriate that there should be no middle ground with John. Either you’re all in, or you lose.

He should throw out the letter. Hell, he should burn it. It’s dangerous as hell. But he doesn’t. He seals it in an unmarked envelope, and he slides it into the bottom of the document pocket on the inside of the lid of his briefcase. Sam never touches it, but he knows it’s there, and it helps him keep his promises, both of them. He writes other letters to John, and he doesn’t ask for his help. He starts to believe maybe writing the letter wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

Of course, that’s when it comes back to bite him in the ass.

Major Littleton has hated Sam ever since Sam stepped in and salvaged a mission that had gone to shit on Littleton’s watch. Any real soldier would have been glad for the lives saved and the objective achieved, but Littleton wasn’t so much a soldier as he was career military, with an emphasis on the ‘career’. Sam knows that Littleton has it in for him, but he doesn’t quite realize how far the man is willing to go until he opens his briefcase one day and realizes that it isn’t his briefcase.

Staring at the generic contents--no files, no personal items, and certainly no letter--Sam knows with absolute certainty who has his briefcase and what is coming next.

In the end, he has enough strings to pull to keep him from a dishonorable discharge, but not enough to hang onto an honorable one, nevermind to stay in the service. He gets to keep his pension. It’s small consolation after being told that, despite forty years of dedication, he is “incompatible with military service”.

Sam now understands all too well what John was feeling when he wished his country loved him as much as he loved it.

John. He hasn’t written to John since Littleton started the discharge proceedings with the letter as evidence. Even if the Army hadn’t been watching Sam like hawks, ready to seize upon the slightest evidence that there was more to his ‘homosexual conduct’ than one letter, he had no idea what he would have said. Sam had never told John that he was gay, not even after John got out of the service, not even when John was struggling with accepting himself, a process Sam has had to go through more than once.

So he stops writing. He gets exactly one letter from John, a response to Sam’s last communication that had clearly been mailed before the shit hit the fan, and then nothing more. During the discharge proceedings, Sam was glad for that--less evidence. But as the months pass afterward, he starts to wonder if the news has somehow reached John in Thailand, or if his answers were always obligations and not proof of friendship.

Sam’s general discharge is five months in the past when the doorbell rings. He looks up from where he’s sitting at the kitchen table, reviewing documents on behalf of a veteran’s rights organization, so startled that the bell rings again before he manages to get up.

John Rambo is standing on his doorstep.

“John!” Sam says, and then stops, as much at a loss for words now as he had been before.

“Colonel,” John greets him. He looks cleaner cut than Sam is used to seeing him. John in his memory is synonymous with dust and sweat, with humid heat and the tang of blood. Seeing him in blue jeans and a neat white shirt, the sleeves rolled up to the elbows, is almost disorienting. “Can I come in?” John asks after a minute, adjusting the strap of the duffle bag slung over one shoulder.

Idiot, Sam chides himself. “Of course,” he says quickly, stepping back from the door and waving John inside. He hesitates before closing the door. “I’m not a Colonel anymore, you know.”

John half turns back to him. “You earned that title a dozen times over,” he says. “I don’t care what your discharge papers say.”

Sam smiles and finishes closing the door. “I appreciate that,” he says. He wants to tell John to call him Sam, but can’t quash the fear that John won’t use his name even if asked. “Can I get you something to drink?”

“No, I’m fine.” John wanders into the living room and drops the duffle bag behind the couch. Sam follows, leaning against the wall just inside the living room and watching John look around. He takes in the furniture and the outdated TV set and the large, professional photos on the walls--all landscapes of some of the most beautiful places in the world, because sometimes Sam needed the reminder. Eventually, John’s gaze finds Sam again. “I’d have been here sooner,” he says, “but it turns out that entering Thailand without a passport and living in a monastery for four years makes getting back to the States kind of complicated, especially when you’ve got a criminal record.”

Sam has to chuckle. “Doesn’t the Presidential pardon help with the criminal record?”

“If you’re a bureaucrat, it actually makes it worse,” John says dryly.

And Sam hadn’t been in any position to call in favors this time. His smile fades. “As pleased as I am to see you again, I’m not sure why you came,” he admits. “There’s nothing you could have done, even if you’d been here sooner.”

“I know,” John says. “That’s not why; I didn’t even know what was happening until it was over. I came because of this.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a square of dusty, creased, much-folded paper.

Sam’s breath stops for a minute. It can’t be the original, of course. The Army still has the original. But he has no doubt what John is holding.

John looks down at the square and turns it over in his hands, but doesn’t unfold it. “You made one hell of an enemy, that they went to the trouble of finding me just for the off chance I’d be pissed enough to make this whole thing worse for you.”

“Are you?” Sam asks. John’s shoots him a look that makes it clear that’s a stupid question. Sam smiles faintly. “I had to ask. A lot of people have handed me unpleasant surprises lately.”

“I’m not angry,” John says. “I’m confused.” He waves the letter. “You seemed pretty convinced you couldn’t keep in touch and also let me move on with my life. But then you did. So what changed?”

Sam could say that he was mistaken, that he was never in love with John, or at least that it didn’t last. It would be the easy way out, the way that doesn’t risk their friendship. It would also be sheer cowardice. When he’d been in the service, Sam had had a hell of a lot more reason not to speak up than fear of John’s reaction, but that’s not the case anymore. John deserves better from him.

“If you’re asking if I’m still in love with you,” Sam says calmly, “then the answer is yes, I am.” John goes still like he didn’t expect that answer. Slowly, he slides the letter back into his pocket. After a moment, Sam realizes he’s still waiting for an explanation. “Writing that letter clarified some things for me. Everything in it was true, but I wasn’t aware of all of it until I was done writing.” Sam pauses. “I should have destroyed it, afterward. But having it, being reminded why I wrote it and what I learned in the process, helped me remember why I shouldn’t ask you to come on a mission with me again. Instead of choosing between staying in touch and letting you have your life, I could choose between staying in touch and risking my career.”

John pushes off the couch and steps up to Sam. “You regret it?” he asks. “Considering that you lost your career.”

Only a few months had passed between Afghanistan and Littleton finding the letter. Only a handful of letters from John. It shouldn’t have carried anywhere near the weight that his career did. And yet… “No,” Sam says. “I don’t regret it at all.”

John smiles, and Sam is struck by how long it’s been since he’s seen that. “You had it backwards, you know,” John says. “You wanted us to belong to the same thing because we couldn’t belong to each other. But that’s not how it is. We can’t belong to the same thing, but we can belong to each other.”

Sam stares. “But-- You don’t--”

“Yeah, I do,” John says. He steps in even closer. “I always have, Sam.”

It’s the first time John has ever called Sam by name.

Another step, and they’re standing so close now that Sam can feel the heat coming off of John’s body. They’re breathing the same air. The wall under Sam’s shoulder feels very far away. Slowly, very slowly, Sam raises a hand and brings his fingertips to rest on the line of John’s jaw, his eyes dropping to John’s lips. John doesn’t move and doesn’t speak, as if he knows that it’s going to take a minute for it to sink in that this is real, that it can actually happen.

Sam looks back at John’s eyes. They’re clear and focused, John absolutely present. After a moment, John settles a hand on Sam’s hip. Suddenly everything feels steadier, more anchored. Sam’s gaze goes back to John’s lips, and then he’s leaning in, and he’s kissing John, and John is kissing back.

It’s been so desperately long since Sam kissed anyone that the rush of sensation is almost overwhelming. It’s heat and slickness and gentle sucking that reaches deep into the pit of his belly and tugs. John closes the last gap between them, their bodies pressing together, and Sam’s other hand comes up and slides into John’s hair, not that he needs to be held still.

Neither of them deepens the kiss, but it goes on and on, lips meeting and parting, a graze of teeth, a hot puff of breath before they come together again. Sam’s heart is pounding so hard he can feel it in his fingertips.

Sam finally forces himself to pull back, not because he wants to stop but because his body is rapidly remembering how good it is to be touched, and he’s honestly not sure what will happen if he doesn’t take a moment to get a hold of himself. At almost sixty he shouldn’t be worrying about losing control, but John, John, John.

So he pulls back, but he doesn’t go far. They’re still holding each other, and John looks as overwhelmed as Sam feels. “Do we need to stop for a minute?” Sam asks. “Calm down and…” he trails off. Talk? Think? Both seem unnecessary.

“No,” John says intensely. His grip on Sam tightens. “We don’t need to stop. We don’t need to think about anything but each other. We’ve made enough sacrifices, both of us.”

For a moment, the part of Sam that sacrificed everything on the altar of his career protests. But John is here, all his focus and commitment fixed on Sam, and he’s right, Sam’s career is already over, and none of the sacrifices made any difference. Instead of answering, Sam pulls him into another kiss, this one deeper and hungrier, because to hell with control.

John is right there with him, kissing back with equal fervor, pulling their bodies together. He’s hard, and so is Sam, and it feels so good, it’s been so long. This time when he breaks the kiss, it’s only to say, “Bedroom.” John nods, and Sam forces himself to move away from John so that he can lead the way.

When he gets into the bedroom, Sam turns and finds that John has removed his shirt. Sam’s breath catches and he pauses, suddenly self-conscious. John is all strength; Sam is nearly sixty and doesn’t train nearly as much as he’d like to. It shows.

But John doesn’t seem to care--he tosses his shirt aside and closes the distance between them, reaching out to tug Sam’s t-shirt out of his pants. His hands slide underneath when it comes free, hot against Sam’s skin. It feels good, but Sam can’t help the way he twitches, at first. John doesn’t stop, but after he’s stripped off Sam’s shirt he says, “Been awhile?”

“More than ten years,” Sam admits, but that isn’t all of it. In that time, when someone has touched him, it’s been to cause pain. How can he explain that?

“Yeah, me too,” John says, and Sam remembers that he doesn’t have to explain anything, not to John.

John starts the kiss this time, and it’s easier, somehow, to touch John and to let himself be touched while they’re kissing. It takes a minute, but they both stop flinching when fingers find a scar or a vulnerable spot. Sam’s hand drops, slipping the button of John’s jeans loose, but John stops him before he gets to the zipper. John pulls back just enough to speak. “Boots,” he explains.

Sam’s gaze drops and he has to chuckle, because they’re both wearing combat boots, fully laced and not the sort of thing you can kick off in the heat of the moment. They end up sitting side by side on the end of the bed, each removing their own boots, periodically glancing sideways and breaking into snorts of laughter all over again.

Once they’ve kicked their boots off they take care of their own pants, too. As good as the idea of undressing John sounds, this is easier and faster. Once they’re naked Sam doesn’t hesitate to pull John close again. His breath stutters at all that warm skin and firm muscle pressed against him. John kisses him briefly, then bends his head and applies his mouth to the line of Sam’s throat. Moaning, Sam holds onto John and lets his head fall back, eyes sliding shut.

It’s getting easier to relax, to let himself soak in John’s touches, to enjoy the slowly building throb of pleasure. John works his way down Sam’s throat and across his collarbone, but by the time he reaches Sam’s shoulder Sam is impatient to kiss him again. John yields to a gentle tug easily and Sam brings their mouths together. Kissing John just keeps getting better, this time made more intense by the heat of John’s skin against his and the press of their cocks urging them onwards.

Sam thinks maybe he could stand there kissing John forever. John is the one who gets them up onto the bed. Sam expects John to press him down, but he lays down and pulls Sam half on top of him instead. “Touch me,” he urges Sam, and it finally occurs to Sam that although they’ve both been alone, at least Sam chose it--John never did. John wants to be touched, connected. We can belong to each other.

Well, it’s not like it’s a hardship to touch him. Sam gives John another brief kiss before propping himself up on one elbow and using his free hand to stroke the strong curves of John’s chest and the hard, flat lines of his belly. John doesn’t so much as twitch when Sam’s hand skims the hollow of his armpit, exposed where his arm is curved above his head to allow Sam freer access, but he flinches hard when Sam’s fingers pass his elbow and quickly brings his arm down.

Sam just drops his hand to John’s belly and trails it lower instead. He knows all too well the memories that even the suggestion of restraint can unearth, but John asked to be touched and Sam’s not going to deny him that in favor of retreading painful memories. The relief in John’s eyes when Sam doesn’t stop, just redirects his touch, is quickly eclipsed by pleasure as Sam traces the length of John’s thighs before letting his hand slide inwards and upwards.

John’s eyes close and his mouth opens in an almost silent gasp when Sam gathers the hot weight of his balls into one hand. Sam can’t tear his eyes off of John’s face as he slowly, carefully fondles John. John’s expression is full of pleasure, but it takes a minute before the flex and bob of his throat releases a low, heavy moan. The sound goes right to Sam’s cock and his touch firms up, not entirely intentionally, and John moans again, his thighs spreading. He lifts his hips a bit into Sam’s touch and Sam goes almost breathless.

He’s always known, of course, that John trusts him, but there’s a difference between trusting The Colonel and letting himself show Sam his soft underbelly. So to speak.

After a minute Sam moves his hand up to stroke John’s cock, but instead of moaning again John just hums and opens his eyes. “You want to move things along?” he asks. He doesn’t sound particularly intent on moving things along for his own sake.

“No,” Sam says. “Just exploring.” He abandons John’s cock and goes back to teasing his balls and John drifts off into that sea of pleasure again. His mouth is relaxed and Sam gives into the urge to kiss him. John turns his head to make it easier and they share long, slow, deep kisses while Sam caresses him and rubs his own cock against John’s hip.

Sam’s not really thinking about it when his fingers slide back. He’s stroking hot, tender skin, he’s letting his palm take the weight for a moment, and his fingers reach back and down and that skin is tender, too, and then he’s stroking John’s hole and John is gasping into the kiss. Sam breaks the kiss and lifts his fingers, but doesn’t move his hand. “Okay?”

“Yeah,” John says. His voice his rough, his face flushed. He licks his lips. “That something you want?”

Just the possibility that fucking John might be an option is making Sam throb. He’s proud that his voice is even, if deeper than normal, when he speaks, “If you want it.” Sam lets his fingers make contact again, gives John a little stroke. He’s always been willing to play dirty.

John’s mouth turns up at the corner like he knows exactly what Sam is doing. “I want it,” is all he says.

Sam swallows. “I’m not going to be able to touch you as much if I’m on top of you,” he says, and maybe that sounds strange, but he thinks John get what he means.

John chuckles. “Who says you have to be on top of me to fuck me?” He pushes himself up off the bed, dislodging Sam’s hand, and presses Sam down onto his back. Slinging one leg over Sam’s body, John comes to rest sitting astride Sam, takes a hold of his wrists, and pulls his hands to his own waist. “See?”

Sam slides his hands around John’s waist and down a little, stroking the skin but mostly pressing into the curve of John’s ass. “Clearly,” he responds, drawing his hands up along the long muscles of John’s back and then down again. John rocks into the touch, which also means he brushes against Sam’s cock--intentionally, Sam is sure. “There’s lube in the bedside table,” he says.

John leans over to retrieve it, and Sam takes the moment to stuff a pillow under his head and shoulders so that it’s easier to look at John, rather than the ceiling. “Have you done this before?” Sam asks, when John hands him the tube.

“Once or twice,” John says. “Way back, before ‘Nam.” The lube spills over Sam’s fingers, leaving a puddle on his belly. Better too much than not enough, though. Sam reaches around behind John and rubs slowly at the tightly clenched muscle. “That doesn’t mean you need to be so careful with me,” John says, pressing back against the touch.

“We’re both out of practice,” Sam returns, but he pushes one finger carefully into John’s heat.

John moans, and there’s no discomfort in it, no hesitation in the way he rocks onto Sam’s hand, so Sam keeps going. John’s breath doesn’t so much as catch until Sam presses a third finger into him. That’s his only reaction, just a hitch in his breathing, but Sam pauses anyway. It only takes a minute before John relaxes again and rolls his hips to move Sam’s fingers inside him.

There’s something about the amount of control that John has over his body that is incredibly arousing. Sam is aching with readiness, even though neither of them has done anything beyond rubbing against against his cock in passing. He pumps his fingers into John a little faster, a little harder, and although he doesn’t entirely mean it as a cue, the look John turns on him says he’s got the point regardless.

“You going to go off if I touch you?” John asks.

“I’m not sixteen,” Sam says dryly.

John snorts, but doesn’t ask again, just scoops the lube up off the bed. He slicks up Sam’s cock, and for all that Sam is a long way from sixteen, he moans unevenly, his hips jerking up into the touch.

John doesn’t tease, finishing quickly and tossing the lube aside again. He kneels up, sliding off Sam’s fingers, so Sam takes a hold of his hips instead. John doesn’t really need steadying, but that’s not the point.

Sam clings to his control desperately as John slowly slides down on him. The heat of his body is incredible, the slick clutch of him better than Sam could have imagined. John’s got his eyes closed and his head tipped back as he takes Sam in, but Sam keeps his eyes open, drinking in every detail.

Eventually, John settles down onto Sam’s hips, Sam’s cock fully buried inside him. He breathes for moment, and then licks his lips and opens his eyes again.

For a moment all Sam can do is hold onto John and stare at him. John’s not sweating, but he’s naked and flushed and looking down at Sam with dark eyes. He’s here and he’s real and he wants Sam. Even better, John looks just as amazed that they’re here together.

Sam remembers that the whole point of this position is so that he can touch John, so he moves his hands, palms sliding over John’s flanks, thumbs trailing up the side of his belly. Sam just barely grazes John’s nipples, but John’s breath catches. “Good?” Sam asks, lightly rubbing the tight nubs.

“Yeah,” John’s voice is rough. “Almost as good as this.” He moves, and Sam almost doesn’t have time to register it before the rush of pleasure spikes his nerves. John’s thighs flex as he lifts up, his body stroking Sam slow and intense, and then he pauses for a single breathless moment before descending, taking Sam’s cock inside again.

“Again,” Sam demands, clutching John’s waist.

John doesn’t tease him, just obeys, his eyes never leaving Sam’s as he rides him, slow but inevitable. Sam can’t thrust, not in this position, but he can’t help the way he rocks up into the movement, tries to meet John, to fuck him a little deeper.

“Come on,” John says. “You know what I want.”

He does. Sam touches John everywhere he can reach, traces scars and palms his thighs as the muscles bunch and relax, curves his hands over John’s ass and presses his fingers into the dip of his spine.

John responds to every touch by riding Sam a little faster, clenching down on him a little harder. Maybe he’s rewarding Sam, maybe it’s just how he’s feeling the pleasure Sam can see in his eyes and the flicker of his tongue over his lips and the sheen of sweat that starts to gild his skin. It doesn’t really matter which it is--Sam loves seeing how his touch drives John on either way, loves making John gasp and moan, loves how it feels when John’s body strokes and squeezes him.

“Sam,” John groans as he sinks down onto Sam’s cock again.

“John,” Sam gasps in answer, hands on John’s hips, pulling him down a little harder, squeezing because it’s so fucking good.

“Tell me what you want,” John says. He covers Sam’s hands with his own even as he fucks himself on Sam’s cock again. “Tell me, I want to hear it.”

Sam spreads his fingers so that their hands weave together. “I want to spend the rest of my life with you,” he says, holding John’s gaze. John’s eyes widen a little, but he seems transfixed even as he continues to move. Sam goes on. “I want to wake up next to you every morning. I want to be there for you when the nightmares come. I want to figure out what makes you happy, and I want to figure out what makes me happy, and I want to do it together.”

Sam pushes himself up into a sitting position, John helping and moaning as it changes the angle of Sam’s cock inside of him.

“I want to come inside you,” Sam says, putting his arms around John and holding on. They’re really only grinding against each other now, too close for either to move much more, but sparks of go ricocheting down Sam’s nerves regardless. “I want you to fuck me. I want to kiss you until my lips hurt. I want--” John interrupts him with a kiss, rough and hungry, so urgent that he can’t focus on breathing and has to break away with a gasp. “I want to feel you come apart in my hands and I want to come apart in yours.”

John moans loudly and his cock throbs and pulses, come spilling slick between them. Sam clings to his control long enough to enjoy the sight of John losing it, but then he’s gone, too, climax rushing through him. He feels a little wrung out afterward, and John ends up holding them both up until Sam can manages to ease back down onto the bed, John following.

“I’m going to get something to clean up,” John says after a moment. He kisses Sam quickly, then rolls out of bed and heads into the en suite bathroom.

Sam stretches, smiling at the occasional ache.

When John returns, he sits on the edge of the bed to clean them both up, and then hesitates there until Sam tugs him back into bed. “Nobody has it all figured out right away,” he says, guessing at John’s thoughts. “We just have to work with each other.”

“We’ve always been good at that,” John allows.

They’re quiet for awhile. Eventually, John slowly raises his hand, cups Sam’s cheek, and lets his thumb drift over Sam’s lips. “By the time I got here,” he says quietly, “I had myself mostly convinced that that letter was fake, or that you’d blame me for the way it destroyed your life.”

“But you came anyway,” Sam murmurs. “And I’m glad that you did.”

John presses their foreheads together. “Me too. Me too.”


In the months after John arrived on his doorstep, Sam realizes that on a lot of levels his discharge hadn’t really sunk in. He’d been keeping the same schedule. He’d joined a veteran’s rights organization with the idea of keeping himself busy and hadn’t picked up any hobbies or projects that weren’t connected to the Army. He’d still been thinking of himself as a career officer. Maybe that, as much as John’s own silence, was why he hadn’t contacted John once the discharge was final.

John’s arrival yanks Sam out of that delusion, hard. Everything changes. Most of it is amazing, the companionship and connection he’d accepted he’d never have. But it also means he has to mourn the loss of his career and the men he’d thought he’d shared bonds of blood with who have washed their hands of him.

So when Sam sees Major Littleton--in the grocery store, of all places--he sees red. He doesn’t even realizes he’s taken a step forward until John’s hand tightens on his arm he realizes John has stopped him from taking more than one step. When he glances over at John, John’s expression is dark. “I don’t like seeing that look on you,” John says quietly. “What’s going on?”

Sam forces himself to take a slow breath and nod in acknowledgment. “The… gentleman who initiated my discharge proceedings is over by the bread,” he explains.

John looks; Littleton is the only person at the display, so there’s no uncertainty. “The guy is an asshole,” John says, “but I have to admit that part of me wants to thank him.”

“John,” Sam says, slowly smiling, “that’s perfect. I think I’d like to go introduce you.”

John snorts and shakes his head, but follows anyway, which is agreement enough.

Littleton turns as they draw near, realizing that someone is heading for him and not just in his general direction. When he recognizes Sam surprise crosses his expression before it settles into a slight smirk.

Sam beams at him as if he were a friend instead of the man who ruined Sam’s career. The smirk falters a little. “Major Littleton!” Sam greets him cheerfully. He doesn’t slap the man on the back, but it wouldn’t be that far beyond the face that he’s putting on.

“Mr. Trautman,” Littleton says, putting just a little too much emphasis on the ‘mister’ to be subtle.

“I don’t believe you’ve met my partner, John,” Sam introduces them, and touches John very briefly at the small of his back just to make things absolutely clear. John just nods.

Littleton’s smirk fades the rest of the way. “Your… partner?”

“It was a surprise to me, too,” Sam says. “If I thought there was any chance John could be interested, I might have actually mailed that letter instead of carrying it around as a reminder than I could never have everything I wanted.” Sam turns to John and his smile softens and grows more genuine. “I don’t know how he got a hold of it, but thank God he did.”

“But it cost you your career,” Littleton all but sputters.

Sam turns back to the Major. “Well, it’s not how I would have chosen to go out,” he allows, “but I’m fifty-eight, so I had less than four years left before retirement. That seems a small price to pay for the love of my life.” That might be laying it on thick, but Littleton looks like he bit into a lemon. It’s beautiful. “Anyway, I should leave you to your shopping,” Sam says. “I just thought you should know that everything really did work out for the best.”

They walk away before Littleton can get a reply out. Once they’re out of earshot, John says, “The love of your life?”

Sam shoots him a glance. “Too much?”

“No,” John says slowly. “No, that sounds pretty damn good.”

“Good,” Sam says. This has turned out to be an excellent day. And, he realizes, smiling, there are only more of them ahead.