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Deliverance is available in paperback and as ebook from Camouflage Press.

Deliverance © Marquesate and TA Brown 2011. All rights reserved.


Late Summer 1998, Fayetteville, North Carolina, United States of America

It smelt of wet carpet and of tile grot. Of crumbling plaster and fresh paint the realtor had hastily slapped on in a spirit of forlorn hope to make it look slightly less depressing. A large building that had once been a furniture workshop and showroom, most of it double-height, though there was office space on the second floor that had been used by the managers and could be easily converted into a small apartment well, small to civilians. For a former Marine, it was going to be positively palatial compared to some of the places he'd lived in. Even with the addition of a roommate, his Delta-instructor best bud who happened to be moving into the spare room.

Despite its run-down state, the building itself was solid. It was cheap, well located in a decent part of Fayetteville, it had a large parking lot and it was his.

Matt dumped his rucksack down onto the ground and walked around, kicking up swirls of dust. He picked his way around the space, the morning sunshine flooding down from the windows set in the clerestory-style roof. There were smaller offices and storerooms on the first floor, the pipes already in a good position for the wet areas, and the wide expanse of space, dividable in so many ways, which filled in his mind's eye with fitness equipment, a sound system, and the long shopping list of gym gear living in his head. Or, more reliably, on the new laptop computer in his bag.

The other man in the room had been silent as Matt moved around. He was so still and unmoving, he seemed to barely disturb the air. Specks of dust settling in his dark hair, Hooch stood, slightly leaning on a cane, dark eyes tracking Matt's movements.

Matt took a deep breath and turned around. Despite the times he had visited here to inspect the building, the long hours spent on the phone with the realtor, the bank, the insurers, the builders, the architect and what appeared to be every single remotely responsible local government body in Fayetteville possible, the realization that he had only taken the first steps towards his new dream had set in. His name on the title deed. A frighteningly large amount owed to the bank. Pages and pages of sketches and plans and specifications and a team of guys ready to start work the following day. "Well? What do you think?"

"It's big," Hooch commented. "How much did you pay?"

Money. The question of money again. The only time they had fights over the last months at Matt's apartment was over money and the fact that Hooch tried to pay his way in a manner that infuriated Matt, and Hooch just wouldn't get it.

Matt hoped his sigh was inaudible. While overflowing enthusiasm was probably out of the question, it would have been nice to have some sort of appreciative comment. "It was a bargain, actually," he said, voice level.

"How much?" Hooch repeated, dark eyes in line of Matt's sight, like a sniper rifle.

There was that feeling again, the one he'd had far too often in the recent months as Hooch recovered. The feeling that he was being inched into a corner. Matt said the figure. It wasn't something he needed to keep a secret, but the fact that Hooch had pushed for it, that was the bit that stung.

They never told you about this part of living with someone. Or else nobody else had a someone quite like Hooch.

Hooch nodded once. "I'll pay my way. If I'm going to live here, I'll pay you rent."

Could he not wait more than ten minutes after getting here before taking that up again?

"Does your…" Matt stopped. Hooch's parents were completely off-limits as far as conversation went, so he was stumped as an example. "No." There, one word. Not hard, was it?

"Why not?" Hooch put the full force of his pig-headedness into those two words. He'd had months of boredom to perfect it, cooped up in one place, unable to do most things on his own, let alone go out and do his job. He'd never again go on a mission, and it drove him insane, far worse than he'd expected and he'd expected a lot. But he'd pushed it all down; down and away. The constant pain had been the least of his troubles.

"You're my…" Matt started. What were they, actually? It wasn't 'boyfriend', that was trite and laughable, certainly not 'husband', and he ran through the various unsatisfactory options-lover (too icky), mate (eww), partner (too…no). Stumped, he tried again. "It's not as though we're just roommates. You just…can't…" Matt trailed off again. Hooch had been increasingly insufferable as he regained his strength, as though all the energy that he wasn't using for his physical recovery was channeled into being an unbearable prick.

"Okay. We're not roommates, we're not even fuckbuddies. Does that mean you get to keep me and I don't get to pay my share?" The laser-beam stare was back in Hooch's eyes. His whole body strummed with energy; an energy he couldn't expend, no matter how much physical therapy he did, and that goddammed, infuriating, fucking cane was a symbol of how he was most definitely not himself.

"We'll share. We'll work something out as we go along. Like everyone else does when they move in together. But. You. Are. Not. Paying. Me. Rent."

"Then what am I paying?" Hooch's fingers drummed onto the cane's grip, in an ever faster beat.

Matt threw up his arms. "Whatever one part of a couple does when they move in together! The bills when they come in and you're there! Flatware with bent prongs and where none of the teaspoons match! A couch that doesn't match anything I have! A movie collection that doesn't fit on the shelves! A bed that doesn't fit up the stairs or in the door! Stuff! We. Will. Fucking. Work. It. Out." He was vaguely aware that he was shouting at the top of his lungs.

Hooch opened his mouth as if to retort, but merely drew in a sharp breath. He stared at Matt, while the tension in his body shifted perceptively from fight to something entirely else.

The distinct downside of having a shouting match with someone who didn't talk was that it tended to end in a most unsatisfactory way, and Matt finished with: "we don't have to work it out today, or tomorrow, or to anyone's fucking schedule. It's home, and nobody can fucking say what we fucking can or can't do here. Just…I don't know…just look at it. This, this is the fucking beginning and…it's the beginning…"

"…of what?" Hooch voice was quiet. "Of what is this the beginning?" Up close, Hooch's pupils were blown wide, and he had stilled completely except for his breathing.

"…of…us…" How was he supposed to be coherent when Hooch did that? It felt disturbingly like being stared down by a cobra. A horny one.

"How is that 'us' going to be?" Hooch's voice had dropped another octave, until it hit a low rumble.

Matt swallowed, then stared straight back.

"Whatever we want it to be." He had no idea how he kept his voice steady while being bored into by those eyes, "and whatever we call it, but we're a couple, and couples don't pay each other rent."

"Matt…" Hooch drawled, his low voice leaving no doubt about his intentions. "I give you my word, no more talk about rent if you give me your word: stop treating me with those goddamned motherfucking kid gloves you've been wearing for the past months. Stop it," he drew in a slow, shaky breath, "right now."

Matt's eyes flicked downwards, then back up to Hooch's face. "Okay…" His eyes drifted back down. "You can not be serious." This directed at Hooch's crotch.

"Have I ever been not serious?" Hooch raised his eyebrows, cast a quick glance across the dusty and empty space, then stopped at one of the steel girders. "Fuck me, right there." He nodded towards it, "and I'll never mention rent again. I'm going batshit crazy, here. I need…damn, Matt, I'm going fucking insane when you treat me like I could fucking break. I don't give a shit about rent, or rooms, or money or however the fuck I'm supposed to behave as part of a couple. I. Just. Want. You."

The very first thought, whether Hooch's pelvis would be up to it, faded. Matt closed his dropped jaw, looking for a suitable place. "Fuck, if this is all it took to stop you acting like a spoilt brat, I should have done this weeks ago."

"Yeah, you should have," Hooch murmured. He dropped the cane to the floor, kicked it aside as if discarding the past months, and started to move towards the steel girder. "Fuck the pelvis, fuck no lube, fuck everything, but fuck me. Now."

Matt glanced towards the girder. "Not there, it'll leave marks you don't want to explain to the medic." He scanned about for an alternative, "the reception desk." Already there, only a few feet away, and made of smooth carved wood. Bolted into the floor, it hadn't been removed when the previous tenants had left, and was the perfect height.

Hooch nodded, and steered them towards the desk instead. Only letting go of Matt when they reached it. He opened his fly and pushed down his black denims and briefs underneath. Impatient, when he turned around and bent over, bracing himself on the desk. Elbows on the hard surface, as far down as he could go.

With fumbling fingers, Matt pushed Hooch's jeans and briefs down further, before unzipping and shoving down his own. He cursed his suddenly dry mouth as he tried to get enough spit.

Hooch craned his neck briefly, saw Matt floundering, and reached out to catch Matt's hand. He couldn't twist that far, but Matt got the picture and leaned forward, to have Hooch spit on his hand.

Hooch spread his legs as far as he could, then braced himself for the onslaught that would be dry and painful. Deliciously, goddamned painful; tearing into him and casting away all the boredom, the pent-up energy, the badly ignored hatred of his body that had let him down and that wouldn't allow him to be again who he'd always been. Reckless. Dangerous. Demanding, and…

"Fuck!" Hooch groaned out, arms trembling on the desk, his shoulders so taut, he could feel the tension ripple down his spine, only to concentrate in the one point of his body, that was forced to open up.

Matt's breathing was harsh, sweat beaded his forehead, as he concentrated on forcing his entry. Discomfort for him, too, and how he relished Hooch's surrender that was everything but. The way Hooch's breath came whistling through clenched teeth, small, suppressed sounds that urged Matt on, that showed how much he wanted the pain, wanted every single ounce of strength Matt could give him, as he buried himself in Hooch's ass.

With the ever increasing thrusts, Hooch gasped out Matt's name, forced him on, harder, no holding back. To make him forget the last months, and it was good, so goddamned good, that he pushed Matt's hand away, as he tried to stroke his cock. He wanted to feel the pounding, the strength, the craved-for ache of Matt's cock deep within his body.

Hooch lost himself, forgot everything but the lust that kept spiraling higher the harder and faster Matt let loose. When Hooch came suddenly, bucking and crying out with relief, with pain, with everything that he'd needed for so long, he took Matt by surprise.

Matt's own release, no matter how much he was lost himself, suddenly made sense of one word, one confession, months ago: masochist. And he came with the intensity of knowing that he had given Hooch what he'd needed. He'd made him come apart underneath his hands and body, and he was so much in love with that motherfucking bastard right now, that he pulled Hooch up against himself, kissing the sweaty neck, and just holding as he shuddered through the come-down.

Hooch calmed in Matt's arms, his heartbeat slowing down, until it beat steadily.

"You are quite something, Matt Donahue." Hooch rumbled hoarsely.

"Am I?" Matt murmured into Hooch's ear, feeling, rather than hearing their heartbeats merge. "Something good, I hope?" he teased as he carefully eased his way out.

"Yeah, all good." Hooch took in a deep breath, and reveled in the soreness and the knowledge he'd be a sticky mess, hidden beneath respectable clothing.

Matt quickly righted himself before pulling up Hooch's briefs and jeans carefully, but not quite as slowly or gently as he had been when helping Hooch dress in the last few months.

Hooch turned around with a grin on his face. Relaxed and sated, all tension gone for now. "So, about that rent…" he let out a sharp gust of laughter at Matt's immediate eye rolling. "Calm down, you fucked some sense into me. I get it now. The gym's your new life and you want to pay for it, and couples don't pay rent to each other. I need you to understand that it's a new life for me, too. I want to pay for the apartment."

Matt nodded slowly. Hooch's stubbornness over the money thing finally made sense. "Deal." He paused, then rephrased what he was going to say, "do you wanna look at the upstairs?"

"Yeah, if you get me my motherfucking cane?" Hooch quirked a rueful grin. Stairs were still a bastard.

The cane had somehow ended up halfway across the room and Matt went to pick it up. The cane, that last remaining aid, and Hooch actually asking for it was enough of a concession in itself.

The stairs were behind one of the doors near the reception, which Matt thought would have been damned inconvenient when the space above was being used as an office, but gave a measure of privacy to an apartment.

It had cheap synthetic carpet and paper-thin walls, the memory of office furniture and the smell, like the rest of the building, of dust and abandonment. On opening the door at the top of the stairs, there was a reception area, meeting room and boardroom with a less-than-inspiring view of the parking lot, which would be their living area and kitchen. The remainder of the space was divided into a number of rather depressing offices, where the status of the previous inhabitant was painfully obvious by size and windows. Matt and the architect had decided to reconfigure these into two good-sized bedrooms, a compact study, and a bathroom.

Climbing the stairs reminded Hooch once more of what they'd just done. He relished the soreness, following Matt and looking around the place. Calm, with the tension and anger literally fucked out of him, he gave a shrug.

"I don't have a fucking clue how it's going to look like, I have the imagination of a gnat. You do what you think is right, and let me pay for this place." He hesitated, turned his head to look at Matt, as he tried out a new word for the very first time. "Our place."

The word made Matt smile. "Deal. But you gotta tell me if you hate something."

Hooch gave a rare, bright grin. "I veto pink."

Matt laughed. "Done."

A new life, for both of them, as Hooch had said. And wasn't that fucking amazing.


Fall 1998, Fayetteville

Once the builders got started, work was underway remarkably quickly. Carpet ripped up, floorboards polished, walls put up, mirrors installed, wet areas tiled and plumbed, a truly amazing amount of wiring and cable, and the all-penetrating smell of fresh paint. Matt thought that the place looked like the aftermath of an earthquake, but it was his.

It seemed that every waking moment was spent talking to the builders, meeting with the architect, and setting up the rest of the business: arranging for the equipment to be delivered, interviewing new staff, finding himself flooded with enquiries from freelance trainers who wanted to use the gym as a base, while getting used to the strange feeling of being without Hooch all day, every day, unlike the past months.

Hooch had returned to Fort Bragg a couple of weeks ago, when he'd been signed fit for desk duties, just when the builders started in earnest. He had moved temporarily into a room on camp, where he should have felt at home in the impersonal four off-white walls. Yet he didn't, because nothing was as it had been before his capture.

Besides, the desk job was driving him insane, cooped up day and night within offices, while his old team was getting ready for another mission.

They caught up mainly on weekends still feeling their way around their new life.

* * *

Friday lunchtime, and Hooch was ready to leave camp, but the prospect of spending the weekend in a building site didn't appeal at all. He almost called Matt with an excuse to stay in Fort Bragg, but he wouldn't lie to Matt and there was no real point in staying with a team that was no longer his. He grabbed his daypack and made his way back to the gym, forced to drive a rented car, because he couldn't easily climb into his truck yet. With that extra annoyance, his mood had deteriorated further by the time he reached the gym.

The place was almost finished, though the smell of the polish on the hardwood floors and the various solvents and sealants were enough to singe the hair. When Hooch stepped through the entrance door, he recoiled from the stink, then looked around. The equipment had started to arrive, it was stacked in big boxes and shrouded in protective plastic wrap.

Matt was sitting in a paint-splattered office chair in the office he had claimed as 'his' the makeshift desk full of the various brochures, files and paperwork he had accumulated.

Facing him across the table was a perky looking blonde of about eighteen, who was earnestly pointing out items in a furniture catalogue.

"Who are you?" Hooch demanded from the girl.

"Hi!" she stood up quickly and held out her hand, seemingly unfazed by the pissed-off man in uniform. "You must be Captain Bozic! I'm Mandy!"

Hooch's brows shot up, then steepled in a pained expression. At least he found the decency in himself to shake her hand. "Mandy. You work here now?"

She nodded enthusiastically. She was cheerfulness and bounciness and sunshine. Behind her, Matt hid a smile behind his hand.

"Oh! Do you guys want anything for lunch? I'm just going to be headin' off down for a couple of catalogues for the apartment. This is so cool!"

"Right." Hooch tried to sort his thoughts, but he had a headache forming behind his eyes, and the last thing he wanted to do was to deal with an over-excited terrier in female form. "I don't know." He looked at Matt over her shoulder, with an expression that quickly became one of helplessness. "Do we?" before he realized what he'd said. 'We'. Shit.

Matt didn't seem to notice as he handed over some bills. "Just a some sandwiches and a couple of bottles of soda on your way back."

She put the money into her purse and headed out the door, stopping on the way to admonish a painter roughly three times her size for leaving open cans of paint at the very edge of the dropsheet.

They watched her go, waiting until she was well into the parking lot before Matt asked. "Well? Any particular reason you want to maim my new receptionist?"

Hooch was still staring at Mandy's retreating back, when Matt's words filtered through. "Huh?" He turned round, felt barely suppressed frustration well up, when he caught the look on Matt's face. Open, accepting, with the hint of a fond smile coupled with fatigue. The last he could do, Hooch realized, was to not add to Matt's stress. This relationship stuff was hard, he'd never before had to take really someone else's feelings into consideration.

Hooch scrubbed the heels of his hands over his face. "You don't need my shit mood. Got enough on your plate." He made an abortive movement across the building site.

"No," Matt agreed, "so what's pissed you off so much this time? Other than, of course, the complete and utter buttfuck here. Any other girl would probably have freaked and if you're going to be in the habit of sending them into hysterics, I'd like to know."

Hooch let out a breath he hadn't been aware he was holding, and set the daypack down. "Just the job." At Matt's expectant gaze he understood he was supposed to elaborate. If this was what people in relationships did, damn, it was tricky. "My old team's getting ready to head out."

Things made sense to Matt, then. "Ah," trying, damnit, for the right words, "the missing it or the sinking in?" He kept his distance, not touching Hooch like he wanted. Too many people just outside the door, painters, plumbers and electricians, who could come in at any time.

"I don't know." Hooch shook his head, rubbed his eyes again. He was damned tired and wasn't that ridiculous, since all he'd done was paperwork and his physical therapy. "Not being part of it, I guess." He shrugged again as if it all meant nothing, while it was anything but. He didn't feel like dealing with it right now, and so he changed the subject. "How's the upstairs going?"

Matt snorted, "even further from finished than here, but the painters haven't got there yet, so it doesn't reek as much. Come and see."

Upstairs, the walls of the apartment had been rearranged into the new plan, but were still bare plasterboard. The tiling had been done for the open kitchen area and the bathroom at the same time as the wet area of the gym, so while the bathroom was fully functional, if unpainted, the kitchenette was still nothing but some taps with a bucket underneath, a fridge, and a microwave precariously balanced on a cheap table.

Matt had been living amongst the mess while most of the work was carried out downstairs, the workmen venturing to the apartment only when they needed to wait before continuing the job downstairs. An air mattress on the floor of one of the bedrooms indicated which one Matt had claimed.

Hooch did a 360 degree. "Holy shit, you live in this? I didn't expect it to be that bad." Suddenly a hell of a lot less pissed off than before. "Guess my own shit takes on perspective." He reached out for Matt to pull him close. The place was a building site of the worst proportions, but at least they were alone. Touching Matt, holding the strong and firm body close, had never lost its appeal, and it still gave him a sense of grounding. "And that," he jerked his chin towards the air mattress, "is your bedroom?"

Matt's chuckle was only partly muffled by Hooch's neck. "Officially, I guess." He stopped. "How much space do you think you'll need for your stuff? Though there'll be space in the other room of course, and your study down the hall."

"I'll need about the size of my CFP." It was good not have to explain to Matt. They both knew which backpack he meant. "I don't have 'stuff'. Table top for my laptop, space for my kit, spot for my toothbrush and razor, and a place to sleep, that's all I need." He mock-headbutted Matt. "The latter preferably not on my own."

"Not while I'm here, and not while you're here. Though probably with a better bed." Matt wanted to pull Hooch down onto the mattress but that was going to be an all-or-nothing effort. Hooch would get pissed off again if he suggested trying to go down slowly, but at the same time Matt didn't fancy explaining things to Hooch's medical team. He settled for tightening the embrace, hoping Hooch didn't notice his quick calculating look down to the mattress. "We need the spare for guests anyway."

Hooch had noticed the glance, hardly anything went unnoticed with him. "What guests are you expecting?"

Matt snorted, "Short list, I know…" he trailed off. Not a lot of people who knew; fewer who could carry the burden even if they were trusted.

"What about your, you know…" Hooch hesitated, then forged on, "…your family?" This was unknown territory and he had no idea how to tread, but they'd been skirting around the subject of families for ages. With Hooch's an absolute no, he was unsure about the subject of Matt's.

Matt shrugged a shoulder. "They know that I'm gay, yeah, since before I joined the Marines. They're used to DADT, but with them, it's all or nothing. One invite and you're likely to get all of them Mom, Pop, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, hell, even the cat and dog in here. So, no, for reasons of space." A pause, not quite knowing how to bring up the subject. "Mom's been talking about Thanksgiving. What do you think?"

"They know about me?" The sudden note of panic in Hooch's voice all too obvious.

"They know there's someone, and that he's still in," Matt replied. "They're not stupid. They know I didn't quit, move halfway across the country to a place I've never been to which has an enormous Army base, and tell them that I'm still in the closet, just because I woke up one morning and felt like it."

"Okay." Hooch's face and sudden tension was anything but okay. "I'm shit at families. Shit at relationships. Shit at all that normal stuff. Hey, fuck, shit at ninety-eight percent of life." He ran a hand through his short hair, "and the two percent I'm good at is fighting and fucking!" He tried to reach for Matt to pull him onto the mattress.

Matt's first instinct was to grab Hooch and do just that, but stopped. The gym was still full of workmen, and Mandy was due back any moment. Though he'd locked the door behind them, someone banging on it seeking his attention would be almost as bad as them coming in. More importantly, sex really wasn't what Hooch needed, even if it was what he said he wanted.

Matt stepped forward and took hold of Hooch's forearms, feeling the tension strumming through him. "Much as I'd like to screw you, or better yet let you screw me, through that goddamned uncomfortable mattress, that's not what this is about. You are quite extraordinary, Hubert Bozic, so don't give me that bullshit, and of course stuff's going to be different with us than with regular joe shmoes."

"Are you telling me you want me to visit your family?" Hooch had faced unspeakable dangers, went alone and on foot into the Mog, but this, this was above and beyond anything he'd ever handled. "Goddammit, they'd hate me!"

Matt recoiled, the blustering defense coupled with the obvious 'why?' both dying before they made it out. "Course I do-we're partners." He tested the word, so new and he could count the number of times he'd said it out loud on one hand, "and why wouldn't they trust my taste in men?"

"Because I'm not what they'd want for you. I have the social skills of an amoeba, and know fuck-all about living a normal life. I can't stand too many people around me, and don't like talking." Hooch shook his head, "and because of me you still have to live a lie."

Matt blinked. "They trusted me to know what I was doing when I enlisted," he stepped forward again, "do you think they'd do any different now?" He kept his voice low, oddly reminded of a summer camp, many years ago, trying to coax some wild creature towards him. "I know it's soon. But…just think about it." No lies, no false promises, it wasn't as though he could say 'and we can leave at any time if you're uncomfortable' because frankly, the sheer logistics of getting from Flint back to Fayetteville was a nightmare at the best of times, let alone Thanksgiving.

"Okay." Slowly and hesitantly, unlike the Hooch everyone-except Matt-knew. "I'll think about it." Hooch moistened his lips. Damn, when had he become such a pussy? He was determined to cope, no matter what, and he forced himself to let some of the tension out of his body. "Tell me, how much would it mean to you?"

"Honestly?" Matt thought, "I can't say I wouldn't really want you to meet them. They'll like you. My Mom's a great cook and she'd want to feed you up." Keeping his voice low, "but seriously? What matters to me is you, and if you don't want to come, then we won't." The words hovered between them.

That was it, the crux. Hooch wanted the same, 'what matters is you', and wasn't that another first in his life. "Alright." He nodded once, his decision was made. If he could walk into hostile enemy territory, he could dam well go to a family Thanksgiving, especially if it was the family of the one person that truly mattered: Matt. He'd paid a high price to learn that lesson.

He was going to treat this like any other mission, and to hell with everything else.

Matt let out a breath he hadn't thought he'd been holding, and one of his motherfucking big smiles spread over his face. "Good."

* * *

When they came back downstairs, Mandy had already been and gone. The table had been cleared of most of the clutter, and two bulging bags containing sandwiches (labeled with fillings) were in its place. A couple of bags of chips, two large bottles of coke with condensation dripping down their necks, and a couple of large paper cups, one filled full with ice, completed the arrangement. On one end of the table was a high stack of catalogues with pages helpfully marked with slips of paper.

Mandy wasn't far, though. She was audible from the main area, doing an inventory of the deliveries and talking on the phone to suppliers. Clearly, Hooch's life wasn't the only one that was being ruthlessly, efficiently and cheerfully ordered into place.

They sat down to eat at the desk. Hooch in his customary silence, more thoughtful than usual, while Matt rifled through the catalogues and checked out Mandy's notes.

"How old is she again?" Hooch asked eventually.

"Eighteen," Matt grinned, "you can just tell she's an Army brat, can't you? Needs the job to pay her way through college, sounds like she doesn't get along with dad's new wife or mom's new boyfriend. Most importantly, she's a good deal smarter than Cheerleader Barbie she pretends to be." He looked down at the empty bottle he was holding in his hands. "It'll all be okay."

"Good," Hooch nodded, "and you should get her to enlist, she'd whip any platoon into shape." He finished his coke and pushed the almost empty bag of chips away. Setting the bottle down with a thud, he turned and looked at Matt, fixing him with the intense stare that meant nothing else was on his mind, and nothing else mattered right now.

Hooch waited until Matt looked up at him, and then offered a half-smile. "Yeah, it will okay."


Thanksgiving weekend, 1998, Flint, Michigan

Civilian air travel was awful at the best of times, let alone Thanksgiving, where it seemed that the entire country was on the move. Complete with screaming children, excessive luggage, and the inability to do anything so simple as read a schedule.

It didn't help that Matt's stomach was turning into knots. What had seemed like a fantastic idea only a few weeks ago now loomed far too close, as they headed to the taxi stand. It wasn't helped by a usually quiet Hooch being positively silent and focused, as if preparing for a covert ops.

The streets flew by, at once familiar and alien, before stopping in the suburbs in front of a plain brick house with a high white picket fence. Matt let himself in through the gate but before they had climbed the stairs to the front door, it opened to a friendly looking woman with a huge smile of welcome.

"You're here at last!" Matt's mom pulled her son into a warm hug while nodding at Hooch, "and you must be Hooch. Welcome and thank you for coming all this way and bringing Matt with you."

Hooch shook the woman's hand. He'd done his intel, his recce, and brushed up on the lingo. He knew at least theoretically how he was supposed to behave. This included not packing any weapons not that he'd been able to smuggle them through civilian air travel anyway. "Pleased to meet you. Thank you for having me here."

Matt knew Hooch's tone and the polite facial expression. It was the one that screamed 'professional' at him.

She led the way up the front steps, through the door into the house, and up the stairs. The two men followed in her wake, until she stopped in front of a door near the back of the house. "Just put your things in Matt's room, we're down in the kitchen when you're ready."

Behind the door was a small, tidy bedroom, spotlessly clean. There were little plastic figurines lined up on the windowsill, football trophies holding pride of place on the bookshelves, and Marines posters covering the walls, some looking rather tattered around the edges. The space was dominated by a large wooden bed that didn't quite match the rest of the furniture: newer, and made up with crisp linens with the tell-tale sign of being freshly out of the packet and the first time through the washing machine.

"I've put the extra blankets and pillows on top of the wardrobe, if you boys are cold. Come down when you're ready, everyone's nearly here." With that, Matt's mother disappeared out the door and down the stairs.

Matt looked at his silent partner, who'd made a choking noise at the last sentence.

"This…" Hooch finally said, pointing at the bed, "isn't your bed. Is it?"

"Um, no." Matt shook his head as he dropped his bag on the ground. "This is new from last time. I used to have a single."

"Your. Parents. Bought. A. Double. Bed. For. Our. Visit." Hooch pronounced every word very carefully, staring at the offending piece of furniture as if he was looking through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. "Oh fuck." He dropped his backpack and scrubbed the heel of his hand over his face. He hadn't expected that; hadn't even expected to stay in the same room as Matt. And now, not only in Matt's old room, looking like it probably had before he'd joined the USMC, but a bed that had been specifically bought for two men to sleep in. Two men. Matt and himself. Fuck. That was too much too soon. No closets to hide in here.

"I told you that they know," Matt felt slightly defensive, "and considering how many people have got to be here this weekend, it's a damn sight better than the floor or the couch in the den." He sat down experimentally on the bed, the mattress was firm, and there was a thick goose feather pad on top. "Everyone's used to not asking." He wasn't sure whether this was to reassure Hooch, or himself.

"Yeah, I know they know. Confronted with the practicality it throws me for a loop." Hooch sat down next to Matt. "I've never been part of a family like yours. The ranch is big, maids, gardeners, the lot, and my parents played the socialite hosts. I haven't got a fucking clue how to fit into a real family, least of all as part of a gay couple."

Matt smiled, trying to be encouraging. As much as he'd pushed for this, the reality was something else. He'd always thought that he'd be able to come out as soon as he'd left the Marines, that his family could stop having to tiptoe around certain things. But now, since he was with Hooch, all those years of family conspiracy would have to continue for a while yet. "You ready to face the horde?"

"Give me five minutes and that patented smooch of yours and I'll be as ready as I'll ever be." Being on a mission was one thing, but having to show more than just a blank game face was entirely another.

Matt chuckled and obliged with the kiss, which, though it didn't last quite the five minutes, was still entirely satisfactory.

He stood up, waiting for Hooch to collect himself, and then exchanged one last look before heading out the door and down the stairs, where a small, fast-running object attached itself to Matt's leg.

"Uncle Matt!" The little boy got everybody else's attention, and they were immediately swamped by what seemed like a never ending herd of very tall, very loud, and extremely friendly people, all trying to hug Matt, slap his shoulder, introduce themselves to Hooch and drag them both into the dining room simultaneously.

Hooch suffered through the onslaught of boisterous, welcoming, and most of all tactile people with what he hoped was a friendly smile plastered across his face, which might or might not have had more in common with rictor mortis. He kept checking Matt's position in the room from the corner of his eyes, keeping him in line of sight at all times. Just like he'd do on a mission.

Eventually, they were separated, and Hooch had to fight on his own in the middle of the family that kept asking him questions, one talking over the other; telling him stories, welcoming him into the family and pushing beer into his hand, while wanting to know how long they'd been together and what he was doing in his job and and and and…until Hooch was ready to jump up and run. Holding the beer bottle in a white knuckled death grip, his dark eyes wildly searching for the exit. He couldn't answer those questions; couldn't bear the close proximity of all those strangers. He knew they meant well, but he couldn't cope with.

"Hooch, dear," came a voice, "I wonder if I could trouble you to give me a hand with something?" Matt's mother, who'd appeared out of the midst of people around Hooch.

"Ma'am?" Hooch looked up, disoriented for a split second, and wasn't that a shit reaction time for an elite soldier. "Yes, of course, Ma'am." He stood up immediately, relief barely disguised on his features, and followed her less like an obedient puppy and more like an eager IED sniffer.

She led him into a small room off the kitchen, where a couple of trestle tables was laid out. They sat down at one which had plates with cute rabbits on them. Since not everybody was going to fit onto the table in the dining room, clearly these ones had been set aside for the children.

A tumbler with something stronger than beer materialized in front of Hooch. "It's Anne," Matt's mother smiled, "Ma'am makes me feel old, much as I adore hearing it in that Texan drawl." She paused. "Forgive me, but you looked a little overwhelmed with my brood."

"Anne. Got it." Hooch nodded, then allowed himself to take in a deep breath, slowly expelling it as he accepted the tumbler with a thanks. "I'm not used to…" hesitating, "family. I'm sorry." He took a mouthful of the brandy, relishing the burn down his throat. "I've never been to a Thanksgiving dinner." He couldn't call the formal affairs at the ranch Thanksgiving dinner, and he'd been avoiding them for ages.

There was compassion in her eyes. "Then we'll just have to make sure you have a good one this year," a pause, "and you're family to us now, too, even if you're far away in Fayetteville." She didn't reach out to touch him, as though she knew he wasn't tactile the way Matt was, that he'd be uncomfortable with the contact. "Matt sounds like he's very happy there." There was a way that she'd said it, both an inquiry if he chose to answer, or an observation if he didn't.

Hooch drained the brandy to give himself some time. If he was ever going to be successful on this mission, he had to continue the recce to know where he stood. "Matt…" Hooch trailed off, then made a decision and looked at her. "What has he told you?" The 'about us' implied.

If anything, her smile broadened.

"Oh, Matty. You wouldn't think it, but he's always been very careful with what he says, what he does. He's never made a decision lightly, and most certainly not in who he loves."

How it had broken her heart for all those years her Matty had been caught between the man and the job that he loved. At first, she'd thought that it was a civilian, and it had been the strain of a dual life on and off base. She'd had her suspicions for the last couple of years, but when Matty had called her to say that he'd quit the Marines and was moving to Fayetteville, she'd realized that she was way off the mark.

Hooch nodded. "He's the one who's always known what he wanted."

She inclined her head, "and no matter what he's said in the past, it was obvious what you are to each other the moment you walked up that drive."

That hit Hooch like a sideways punch. "It is? What is it that gives it away?"

She almost said, 'because mothers just know,' but held back, given what Hooch had said earlier, and how his own mother likely did not know. "A feeling, I suppose. It's hard to put into words. The way you look out for each other, how you don't take your eyes off him for very long, how you two need to almost remind yourselves to stand a little further apart."

"You think strangers would notice, too, or is it a family thing?" Hooch asked.

She chuckled, warm and motherly, refilling his glass. "Neither. It's knowing Matty, and knowing what I was going to see. I wouldn't worry too much people see what they expect to see, after all. Even Matty's pop was shocked, when he told us he was gay, just before he enlisted. To this day, I don't know what took more courage. Besides," the very slightest pause, "if Matty was old enough to go to war, he was old enough to decide who to love."

Hooch nodded, and with the brandy refilled, he kept drinking. He'd barely known this woman for more than an hour and he felt more comfortable with her than he had with anyone other than Matt for a long time. Or perhaps it was the brandy talking on an almost empty stomach.

"Welcome to the family," Anne raised her own glass, "we're all so glad that Matty's found someone who appreciates him."

"What's not to appreciate about Matt? He's remarkable." Hooch smiled his half-smile, took a last mouthful, and felt his tongue loosened. As far as missions went, he was well and truly outclassed by this woman. "I was worried," he spun the empty glass in his fingers, "cradle snatcher, not house-trained nor socialized." He paused, "one could think that of the two of us I was the tougher one, what with my job, but it's Matty who always knew what he wanted. Took me torture to figure it out."

Her eyes had widened at the mention of torture, but she didn't say a word. It was not the time, nor the place, not here, not how. Instead, a rueful chuckle. "Ah, 'Matty', yes. It's so easy to forget, with him being the youngest. He'll always be my baby, even when he's long outgrows the old names."

"Yeah, and he'll always be the kid to me, because I'll always be ten years older." Hooch felt comfortably mellow. He hadn't been able to drink anything stronger than weak lager for so long, thanks to medication, the brandy was having quite an effect on him now.

She poured a last, generous splash into Hooch's glass. "I'm not too sure how much longer pop is going to be able to hold the horde back from their dinner, but I promise they're all much better behaved when they're at the table."

He glanced towards the door and the main room. "Your family has been asking me questions. I understand that, but most of them I can't answer. I don't want to be rude."

She nodded. "I'm sure by now Matt's managed to get a word in sideways and reminded everyone just who happen to be stationed at Fort Bragg, and…" she paused, "as you will notice in time, it is almost entirely impossible to offend any of my brood. Unless, of course, you disparage football, hockey, hunting or fishing."

There was the distinct sound near the door of hungry children wanting their dinner.

"I'm in no danger, then." Hooch's smile came easier now that he wasn't on edge anymore. "Back into the lion's den?" He finished his brandy and stood up. Once more ready to face the family that was so much like Matt, just in a very large dose.

* * *

They made it seem accidental, but it was probably by design that Hooch found himself sitting between Matt and his mother, and across from Matt's fishing-fanatic brother, who, after establishing that Hooch was from Texas and lived in Fayetteville, immediately spouted a bewildering lecture of fish species and river systems of the South. Anne had been right clearly Matt had spread a quiet reminder to the rest of the family about topics of conversation best avoided, though to a casual observer the impact seemed negligible. Everyone still had lots to say, much centered on Matt's antics as a child, stories that made him alternatively blush and cringe.

Far more at ease now, Hooch relaxed even further throughout the meal. Zoning out of the lecture on fish species and rivers, with the occasional nod and inquisitive grunt, he relished the food that was truly divine. He hadn't had a home cooked meal like this in…not ever. His parents' cook had been too professional to create anything but sleek perfection. As it was, he realized after a while that he was enjoying himself more than he'd ever believed possible.

He even laughed out loud when Matt's mom heaved more turkey meat, mashed potatoes, dressing and gravy onto his plate, because evidently he "wasn't eating enough, was too wiry, and she had to fatten him up," which made Matt smirk and elbow him with a 'told you so' expression.

Though everyone felt stuffed to the gills by the time the older children came in to help clear the table, they all suddenly found the elusive extra dessert stomach when the table was re-laid and filled with pumpkin, apple and pecan pies, and cookies for the kids. By the time dinner was finished, Hooch's polite offer of help was adamantly refused (much to his relief) and they settled in for an after-dinner drink.

When it was eventually time for bed, Hooch was quite relaxed.

Matt shut the door behind them and gave Hooch another of his legendary smooches, tasting of pumpkin pie and nutmeg. There was a mischievous expression on his face as he pulled away from the kiss. "In the interests of full disclosure, my parents are just on the other side of that wall," he nodded towards the far side of the bed, "how quiet do you think you can be?"

"Are you fucking kidding me?" Hooch shot a glance at the wall towards Matt's parents' bedroom.

The grin got wider. "I think you deserve a reward for being so well behaved," there was a wicked gleam in Matt's eyes, as he quickly undid Hooch's jeans and pushed them down, together with his briefs. He got down on his knees and nudged Hooch against the closed door. "Making small talk and not scaring the kiddies, that deserves something very nice." His breath was warm against Hooch's groin.

"Shit." Hooch let himself get pushed against the door. "You get turned on by making out in your teenage bedroom?" Despite the teasing, he was already showing the stirrings of interest. Not that Matt had ever failed to arouse him. Whenever and wherever.

Matt kept looking up at Hooch while he gave a few playful, quick laps, barely flickering over the skin and leaving only the faintest hint of coolness. "Not the first time this room's seen a bit of making out," his eyes glanced over a few feet to Hooch's left, "and more I lost my cherry just over there, you know."

Without giving Hooch a chance to respond he swallowed him down with practiced ease, barely pausing as Hooch's cock met the back of his throat.

Whatever mockery Hooch was about to come out with, it was swallowed, literally, by Matt. All thoughts of teenage Matt were gone, as the adult one gave pleasure to Hooch.

Which he did with his usual meticulous skill and the occasional glance upwards at Hooch, eyes gleaming, as if daring him to make more than a few muffled sounds.

Hooch clenched his fists at his side, no contact, except for the heat of Matt's throat, his tongue that knew all the sensitive places, and his hand. Hooch's face contorted with the effort of control, but no sound came out from between his gritted teeth, not even as he came.

Matt took much longer than was really necessary to swallow every drop, ensuring that Hooch was clean with long, lazy swipes of his tongue, before standing up and doing Hooch's fly up again. The kiss this time was softer, almost languid, just letting Hooch taste himself as well as the faint ghost of nutmeg.

Once he got his heartbeat and breathing back under control, Hooch took hold of Matt's shoulders and pushed him back at arm's length, studying him with an ever growing smirk.

"You, Matt Donahue," he finally said, "are going to pay for that. Undress and onto the bed. It will be christened tonight, and in absolute silence!" He reached to grope Matt's hard-on through his trousers.

With a raised eyebrow, and pretending a nonchalance that his strangled gasp and increased breathing betrayed, Matt stepped back out of Hooch's grasp. He pulled his sweater up over his head, before kicking off his shoes and pulling down his trousers. The room was small enough that it was only a few steps backwards to the bed, and he landed on it with the faint puff of feathers in the duvet as it was hastily pushed to one side.

Hooch remained standing at the side of the bed for a while longer, feasting on the sight of the perfect body, laid out before his eyes. Not touching, not talking, just looking while taking his fill, until he moved onto the bed at long last, still fully clothed.

For the next hour, he took his time to explore the body he knew so well, attempting to re-learn it all over again, with only his lips, teeth and tongue. He almost had to gag Matt, to keep him from making noises he couldn't hold back, until he finally, mercifully, allowed him to come.

"You bastard," Matt's grin was weary and his voice hoarse, as though the effort of keeping quiet had put strain on his vocal cords. He looked up at the ceiling, where a few glow-in-the-dark stickers remained, then returned his gaze to Hooch. "I thought you said a proper christening," the pointedly looked at Hooch's crotch as he spread his legs further, lying back on the pillows.

"You trying to tell me you never got fucked in here? I thought you'd lost your cherry in this room." Hooch let his finger run all the way down from Matt's smooth throat, along the chest, down to his spent cock.

"Hmmm…" Matt's purr was noncommittal, "not for more than ten years, not in this bed, and not by you." He pushed up lazily into Hooch's hand.

"In that case, one more day won't matter." Hooch flashed a downright mean grin, then stretched out beside Matt. Still fully clothed, hands beneath is head, he looked up at the glow-in-the-dark stickers on the ceiling. To all intents and purposes ignoring his more than half-hard cock. "Go to sleep, kid. I'm a middle aged man who needs his rest."

Matt made a muffled sound of outrage but there was no budging Hooch when he was in one of his moods. Grumbling about sneaky, unreasonable, sadistic Deltas, he turned onto his side, careful to present a tempting sight of muscled back and butt, and then, to all appearances, obeyed and went immediately to sleep.

Hooch chuckled quietly, eventually got up, but not without running his hand all the way along the smooth, bare flank. Soon after, the sound of the shower running came out of the bathroom, and a few minutes later the mattress dipped when a slightly damp, fully naked Hooch climbed into bed behind Matt. He pulled Matt against his body, holding him. Something he'd never done before the capture.

The house was silent, and it didn't take long for Hooch to fall asleep, lulled by Matt's steady breaths and the warmth of his body.

* * *

Arms, bodies, pain and stench, death, filth and ever more bodies. Fear, all-encompassing; fear he'd never admitted. Fear to give up, just give into the pain and the stink and let himself fall down, far down, down into the darkness.

Hooch woke with a start. He was drenched in sweat, on his back, while the sleeping body beside him lay curled up, making a soft snuffling sound. Hooch lay still, trying to force his wildly hammering heart to calm, while ruthlessly pushing back down the sound of terror that tried to rip out of his throat. The cover was off his body, sweat cooling in the air. The last thing he wanted was to wake Matt. He couldn't bear for him to know, not Matt, not having to explain to him that there was more of a legacy from his captivity than the scars from cigarette burns and pelvic surgery.

When he had himself under control, with the same recklessness he applied to anything in his life, he slipped out of bed and searched for shorts and t-shirt. He couldn't stay in the bed, not with the damp patch of his terror and sweat on the sheets. He padded quietly downstairs and into the kitchen.

He only dared to switch on a small light above the sink, and while he'd love a hot drink, he didn't want to wake anyone, nor felt it appropriate to make himself at home in a home that wasn't his. So he merely filled a glass with cold water from the tap and sat down at the kitchen table, sipping the water while staring into the faint glow of the single lamp.

A movement in the corridor alerted him to someone approaching. Hooch looked up a few seconds before Anne appeared in the door. She gasped and held a hand against her chest at the sight of him, illuminated in the faint glow. "Oh," she said, "sorry, you gave me a bit of a fright. Is everything alright? I was just getting myself a cup of peppermint tea would you like one too?"

Hooch half stood, but sat back down when she spoke. "Yes, anything, please. Tea is fine. Thanks." Carefully avoiding her question if everything was alright. What was he to say? Things were okay, of course they were. If only he didn't dream of that goddamned stench.

She seemed to sense that he needed silence, as she boiled water and readied the tea. Soon, she had two large pottery mugs full of the brew and placed one in front of Hooch.

"When my dad came back from the war," she said in a conversational tone as she sat down, "he had trouble sleeping nights now and then, particularly if it was in a new place. It made for interesting family holidays, to say the least." She turned the mug in her hands, as though conscious that chatter was the last thing that Hooch needed.

Hooch looked at her without any expression, until a ghost of a smile crossed his face. "None of your kids could ever hide anything from you, right?"

She smiled. "No, but we've been very lucky with our brood. None of them have felt the need to conceal anything. Discretion, sometimes, of course." Letting that hang in the air, and allowing Hooch to pick up on it or not, as he chose.

Hooch nodded. "Fine line between concealing and discretion," a pause, "and protection."

"But a line nonetheless." Anne's fingers tapped on the handle of the mug and Hooch was struck by how similar in shape they were to Matt's. "He never hid from us that there was someone. He simply never said who. And might I say that we are very glad to find out who it is."

The ghost of a smile crossed Hooch's face again. The similarity in speech and manners was striking, and oddly comforting, too. "Thank you, but you don't know who I really am, what I've done, what I've seen."

She tilted her head. "I don't have to. In any case, I am fairly sure you're not allowed to tell me." She reached out a hand and put it on his forearm. "You and Matt found each other, and you let him bring you here. That's all that matters, here and now."

A minute twitch of his arm, an automatic reaction he could not control, before he relaxed into the touch. "I just…" he trailed off, studying the hand on his arm. He finally looked back up. "Tell me, Anne, do you think Matt would ever feel sorry for anyone?"

"Of course," the answer was immediate, "but that's not the question you're really asking, is it?"

Those steady, penetrating eyes, just like Matt's, bore into him.

"No, it's not. Of course not." A rueful smile flitted across his face. "I should have asked if he'd ever pity anyone." Again this almost-there smile, and then a shake of his head. "No, wrong again." He met her gaze straight on, with a fearless one of his own. "Do you believe he would ever pity me if he knew I am perhaps not as tough as thinks?"

Her eyebrows went up. "First, I think your particular starting point of toughness is rather off the far end of any normal scale. Second…" she hesitated, "forgive me if I pry, but Matt's already nursed you through a very bad illness or injury?"

"Yes," Hooch nodded once, no more than a curt jerk of his chin. "Almost a year ago now. I came out of my last mission with a broken pelvis." The art of understatement one he'd learned too well.

She didn't pry further into the injury. "I thought so. I think if he was going to pity you, it would have been then. But no, I don't believe he did, because that's simply not how the two of you work, is it?"

"No, but there's something he doesn't know. Something that isn't physical." Unspoken that for Hooch physical injuries were acceptable. Others…not.

Clarity, then, and understanding in her eyes. "Matt is very perceptive, you know," another pause, "and a much lighter sleeper than you might suppose."

A deep furrow appeared between Hooch's eyes, as he pondered her words. "But if he knows, why does he pretend he doesn't?"

"Ah, well," Anne's fingers curled around her mug, "probably for the same reason we never said anything to my dad about his sleepless nights." She took a sip, "pride is a touchy thing, isn't it?"

"Yes." Hooch took a sip, then studied the green tinged contents of his mug. "Matt…" he finally looked up, "I don't want to…" he shrugged and his face contorted for a moment in an expression of helplessness and frustration. "I don't know."

"We always do want to keep them from knowing the horrible things in the world, as though if they didn't know about it, somehow it would mean that the world wasn't all that bad." After a pause, that seemed to stretch out forever, "true enough that even most Marines won't have seen or gone through the things you have but that doesn't mean he doesn't know very well." She sipped her tea. "Dad never really did do anything about his sleepless nights. There wasn't much that could be done, back then, even if he had sought help. They all wanted to simply forget, but that's not possible for anyone, even if they wish it."

"Yeah," Hooch's voice was soft, "that's it. If I pretend he doesn't know then it didn't really happen. It's bullshit, though."

The length of his silence matched her earlier one. Time for thoughts and understanding, perhaps even the beginnings of some realizations.

"I respect your opinion, Anne. What would you do?"

"Let him know, from you, and not just guess." She put the mug down gently. "He may or may not be able to make things any better, but I suspect both of you will be the better for it. You both are burdened with too many secrets already, and maybe he can be upfront to you, too. I suspect he's been trying to make sure you're too exhausted at night to dream."

Hooch's eyes flew open at the last bit. One thing to talk about what was innermost with her, another for the mother of his lover to imply them having sex. "I…" he stammered, "yeah, I guess, Matt…" Despite his best efforts, he colored slightly, hiding his discomfort behind the mug as he drained the last of his tea.

"I'll talk to him." He sat the empty mug down. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Anne tried not to smile at Hooch's fluster and fumbling. "Anytime," she added, as Hooch left the kitchen, and she finally let herself grin widely into her cup. She'd been worried about him, but strangely, though clearly Hooch was a dangerous man to others, she didn't doubt at all how much he loved her baby boy. And that, at least for now, was what she cared about. The rest could wait, a very long time if need be.

When Hooch returned to the room, Matt was awake and sitting up, the covers bunched around his waist. "Hey," he looked anxious, "something wrong?"

"Hey." Hooch sat down on the bed in his shorts and t-shirt, pulling himself up to lean against the headboard. "Everything okay now. Had some tea with your mom." He looked at Matt, studying the handsome face and that goddamned perfect body, and yet all he could see right now was what he knew resided beneath the attractive exterior. "C'mere a sec."

Matt scooted closer, but there was still a wary concern in his eyes. "The last time you went all funny like this you told me you were a masochist," he grumbled, "any new surprises?"

"Not quite." Hooch chuckled low, as he wrapped his arm around Matt's shoulders to hold him close. It felt damn good, and it had only taken him a few years to realize that. "How often have you noticed me waking up in the middle of the night?"

Matt froze momentarily, then relaxed. "Less often than when you first came to my old place," he said, after a few moments' reflection.

Hooch huffed. "And you never said a word." He mock-slapped the top of Matt's head with a couple of fingers, taking his time before he continued. "It's always the same. Always the room we were locked up in."

Matt's frown was hidden in Hooch's shoulder. "Nightmares? Or memories?"

"Memories." Hooch looked down and right into Matt's eyes. "I never told you any details, I didn't want to burden you, but…" he shrugged gently, "I made that decision without giving you the chance to decide for yourself. You're no sensitive flower, you're a tough guy, Matt, I don't always keep that in mind." He took a slow, deep breath. "It's time to ask you now: do you want me to explain what I dream of?"

Matt nodded. "Yes," he moved out of Hooch's grasp and tugged at the covers, "but you should get under here. Central heating's not that good." Pausing while Hooch pulled off the t-shirt and slipped out of his shorts, then got under the covers, before Matt scooted up close again, a hand ghosting over the scars left by the cigarette burns. "Never wanted you to think I was digging, not when I didn't know when I was going to hit a mine."

Hooch held Matt close, looking up at the ceiling, the night light still on. Not having to look at Matt while talking made it easier, and for once he allowed himself some cowardice. "I fractured my pelvis in the landing, you know that, and you know I was tortured. Cigarette burns were the easiest, much worse to be dropped from a height, landing with my broken pelvis, and then manipulating the broken bones." Hooch's voice was matter-of-fact, nothing else would do. "That's not what I dream of, though. What I didn't tell you was the place I was locked up in. A room with hundreds of men, all prisoners. So many, we stood crammed, pushed against each other. The stench…I can't get rid of it. Piss, shit, sweat, decomposing flesh. Each morning the corpses were shuffled towards the door." Hooch paused a moment. "Eventually, I wanted to let myself fall back and give up. That would have meant death, but I couldn't care anymore. That's the worst, knowing I gave up then." He paused again, forcibly relaxing his hand and his fingers, which had gripped Matt tightly. "I was saved by kindness. Fellow prisoners held me up, made me swallow food and liquid, took the weight off my pelvis. It's their arms I literally owe my life to."

A movement in his arms as Matt shuddered, and then stilled. "Yes." Because what else could be said that wouldn't add to Hooch's burdens? Matt's hands soothing Hooch, his chin on Hooch's shoulder. "Often?" he asked. "You don't toss and turn or anything…you just…stop…so it's hard to tell when it happens."

"Not that often." Hooch threaded his fingers into Matt's hair. It felt good, for more reasons than he'd ever cared to examine. "Had a lifetime of having to be silent in any situation, guess that's helping now." He let out a soft sound of brittle amusement. "It mostly happens when I'm in a new place, a new situation. Never figured I'd need stability and routine in my life. I've turned into a boring old fart."

"You? Never." Matt wriggled closer. "Plenty of new stuff this weekend, too." He stopped. "You said you talked to Mom…she tell you about grandpops?"

"Yeah, she did. That why you enlisted?" Hooch let his fingers run down to the back of Matt's neck, rubbing circles over the short hair there. "She also told me you made sure you tired me out every night so I'd sleep dreamless. Now that was fucking embarrassing."

Hooch wasn't the only one who evidently found that embarrassing, as Matt burrowed into Hooch's shoulder. "Oh, she would do that," he groused, "not that you seemed to object." He added, then sighed. "When I was a kid, I wanted to be just like grandpops. He was at D-Day, the works. I used to think of him, what he'd have thought, what he would have done, when I was in the Gulf." A pause. "He died when I was ten."

"Did you ever feel you were doing what he did?" Hooch increased the pressure of his fingertips. "I wanted to believe that what happened to me was for the good of our country, but it didn't work. The country knew jack shit about the reason why I was out there."

"Not quite the same thing, now, is it?" Matt sighed, "or at least it didn't…doesn't feel like it."

"Not the same thing at all, no matter what bullshit they feed us." And yet he still did his job. "The newscast…you mentioned it once, in the hospital. You saw me." Hooch didn't quite make it a question.

"Worst moment of my life," Matt's voice was muffled, "I think that was when I knew you meant more to me than anything. All the more so that…" He trailed off. No point re-iterating the craptastic situation after Hooch's capture: Matt unable to get any information or even seek any out, without raising some very awkward questions. Just getting to see Hooch at hospital had involved new heights of ingenuity and outright lying to achieve. Not to mention having to skulk around the corridors to avoid Hooch's family.

"Hey," Hooch murmured, "I'm here now, in your goddamned teenage bedroom, and I'm only sometimes back there in my dreams." He craned his head so he could look down at Matt. "I'll even go see a shrink if you want me to, or have a mug of hot cocoa before bedtime, if you prefer." Hooch smiled, one of his rare ones, which warmed the darkness of his eyes. "I belong hide and hair to one Matt Donahue with a loud family and a very clever mom."

"And you haven't even managed to survive brunch yet," Matt answered the smile, "I swear, I've never been able to work out how she gets Thanksgiving dinner and brunch done every year." He freed a hand from the tangle of duvet and ran a finger down the length of Hooch's nose. "As for the rest of it, we'll just take it as it comes. If I can be of any help…"

Hooch followed the fingers with his gaze until he was cross-eyed. "If I wake up again from that dream, can I wake you? Seems that being talked out of that godforsaken place of my dreams works quickest." He gave Matt's neck a squeeze. "I am making the assumption we'll soon be sleeping in the same bed every night. The apartment's almost finished?" He yawned, the late hour finally catching up with him. "I'm looking forward to informing my superiors of my change of address."

"You know you can wake me anytime" A chuckle from Matt, "I'd like to see the looks on their faces." Then, serious, "you think any of them know?" Unspoken 'about us.'

"I don't think they know, and if they do, they carefully don't want to know." Hooch looked positively amused. "They'll soon have a hard time 'not knowing'."

Matt chuckled quietly, his fingers lightly tracing up Hooch's cheekbone. "Sleep? We've got another few hours yet before the madness starts again and you promised a proper christening of this bed."

Hooch smiled a little. "Not sure I can right now, Matt."

One of Matt's rueful smiles, as he deliberately misunderstood. "I'll let you get away with it, for now, after the heart-to-heart and all. But I'll be gagging for it in the morning, just to warn you," echoing Hooch's words earlier in the night.

"As long as you don't mention your mom along the way, I am sure I'll be ready and waiting." Hooch slid down and onto pillow before reaching for the light. He held Matt close, his arms around him, as they went off to sleep at long last.

* * *

Matt was grateful that his body clock was still on Marines time when he blinked awake in the hazy predawn, still curled around Hooch, who was still asleep, his face relaxed. Unusual in itself, because Hooch tended to drift away during the night.

Unwilling to wake Hooch just yet, Matt slowly inched himself away. Propping himself up on an elbow, he took in the rare sight. Even during his recovery, Hooch was almost always awake before him.

A minimal shift in breathing would alerted Matt to Hooch sliding from asleep to awake. "Still a frog, not a prince yet, no matter how long you stare." Eyes still closed, a smile stole onto Hooch's features, keeping the frown at bay for a while longer.

Now that deserved a proper kiss, and Matt dived in. "Enough of the fishing for compliments," he said as he came up for air, "but I think that's enough to wake Sleeping Beauty?" He wriggled closer suggestively.

Hooch chuckled in the back of his throat. "You could always try to kiss me awake lower down."

A wicked grin spread over Matt's face as he pressed closer, feeling Hooch harden fully. "I think you're quite awake already," he reached over and behind Hooch to the dresser, where he'd left the lube.

Hooch was tracking him with his eyes, lying as still as a stature. His grin, though, began to widen, as Matt pulled the duvet back over them and moved about. Somehow, not being able to see what Matt was doing under the covers, made it all the more erotic. A few moments later Matt had straddled Hooch and was looking down at him.

"It's time for a swap of places." Hooch's voice remained quiet, always aware of the parents asleep in the adjacent room. He flipped them both over, letting the covers slip off, as he loomed over Matt, grinning down. "I bet you my ass that you won't be able to stay silent."

With the wager on, he threw himself into preparing Matt, like he'd throw himself into any mission: with utmost focus and equal skills. He knew just how to speed enough and yet not too much, before he buried himself into Matt's body, unleashing the strength of his own to give ultimate pleasure, his own secondary right now.

Matt's gasp at Hooch's entry was only barely muffled, and the grip on Hooch's arms tightened as Matt fought to keep silent. Usually a vocal lover, the effort to keep quiet showed in the tension in his muscles and his tightly gritted teeth, fighting against Hooch's skill and the urge to cry out. When he came, he bucked and bit his lip, but made no sound.

Once he had his breath back, he smirked up at Hooch. "I do believe that means I get to collect."

Hooch hadn't come yet, holding himself back for Matt's benefit, and he stilled any movement at Matt's smirk, matching it with one of his own.

"Right now?"

Matt's smile grew lazy and replete, like some big cat lazing in the sun as he tilted his hips upwards. "I suppose you can finish what you're doing first."

Hooch immediately began to move again. Long, slow thrust, gentle still.

Matt looked like he was going to purr, but remembered the terms of the bet and raised his arms to grasp the headboard. Watching Hooch from under hooded lids, clearly enjoying himself.

When Hooch let go he didn't do it with absolute abandon, but with a single focus that burnt through Matt. All of Hooch's lust and need, all of his strength, gathered in one point only, in the connection between their bodies.

Hooch made hardly any sound, controlling himself except for his harsh breath, and when he came, his eyes flew open, looking straight at Matt, as he shuddered through his orgasm.

Eventually, when he'd calmed down after collapsing on Matt, sweat and cum between their bodies but neither of them caring, he murmured sleepily, "guess you won."

Matt chuckled and held him tight, enjoying the weight and the sound of their heartbeats thudding together, but not the sound of the radio-alarm turning itself on in the next room, followed by movement. "But not in time to collect," he said softly into the almost-asleep Hooch's ear, before easing himself out from under Hooch, sliding out of the bed and pulling the covers up over Hooch before finding some clothes and padding to the bathroom.

* * *

The next few days were spent with Matt's family, the two of them being constantly overfed both in the house and when Matt took Hooch to all his old haunts. He was introduced as Matt's buddy from back in the Gulf War, in need of some good old-fashioned feeding up at Thanksgiving, which was true for Hooch, who hadn't been back to his normal weight yet. It got easier around Matt's large, loud and loving family, as they realized that Hooch wasn't as tactile as they were, and that they needed to give him space.

By the time they were ready to go, Matt's mother dropped them off at the airport with plenty of encouragement to come again, and boxes of cookies and cakes to take with them because they "could both do with some home cooking." She was surprised to find herself embraced by Hooch, who murmured "thank you" into her ear before letting go.

Matt gave one of his grins as they waved goodbye, just before heading to the boarding gate. "Told you you'd like them," he said to Hooch, as he shouldered his rucksack and balanced the box of cookies.

Hooch answered Matt's grin with one of his own. It was an odd feeling, he thought, but not at all an unpleasant one. A home, a partner even a proper family unlike his own, things that had been the furthest from his mind the day he had enlisted, two decades ago.


November 1998, Fayetteville

When they returned to Fayetteville, Hooch stopped at the threshold of the apartment, staring, because the whole place had been finished while they'd been away. When he asked Matt how the fuck he'd managed to get anyone to work over the Thanksgiving weekend, he just grinned and shrugged.

The apartment had clean and simple lines, leather, white and chrome, with comfortable furniture that was just right for two tall and fit men who didn't give a crap about nicnacs and for whom the idea of interior decorating brought them out in hives.

It was the first true home Hooch had ever had since he'd joined up at eighteen, and even the ranch had never truly felt like home, except for the stables and the wide open land. This place, though, did, and it scared the shit out of him, because it was so goddamned good.

The bedroom got christened that night when Matt demanded the payment of Hooch's lost bet, and the next day saw a pleasantly sore and almost mellow Captain Hubert Bozic deal with a piece of admin in his life he'd never expected to deal with: the cancellation of his quarters on base and the change of his address.

A part of him had hoped that it would just slip by in the black hole that was administration on the base, but unlike countless other forms that had disappeared, it was not the case. The polite but firm summons to the office of the Colonel came all too soon.

The seriousness with which this triviality was being taken, was evident straight away. The Colonel was sitting at his desk, frowning, when Hooch came in. "Sit, Captain." It was between a request and an order.

Hooch's face immediately settled into the blank expression he'd mastered no matter the circumstances. This was going to be a pissing contest, he could read the signs as if written in neon capitals above his superior's head. "Good morning, Sir." Hooch greeted despite the lack of courtesy he'd received, and sat down. Two could play this game, and while he wasn't a Colonel he'd had more years of experience in the field than any of the more senior staff could ever dream of gaining. Besides, what did he have to lose? Not Matt, no matter what. Everything else paled in comparison, he'd learned that lesson during captivity.

"I see you're moving off base, Captain," the Colonel stated the obvious. "Quite sudden, isn't it?"

"The apartment hadn't been ready until now."

Hooch leaned back in his chair, legs a little open, staking his claim of the space and of his position in the pecking order. No superior had ever intimidated him, and this one wasn't going to change that.

Eyebrows raised, the Colonel looked down at the forms. "True enough, but you've never done so before. I see it's above a gym. Have you considered the security risks of such a location?"

"Yes." Hooch's gaze went slowly back to the Colonel's face. He wasn't crossing his arms just yet, but the invisible barrier could be felt in the charged atmosphere. A pre-emptive strike suited him better than defense. "I know the owner. He's got security clearance and is aware of the necessity of security measures due to my active status."

"Yes, I see, Mr. Matthew Donahue, recently Gunnery Sergeant, USMC, honorably discharged." The Colonel looked down, "I see that you stayed with him during your recovery. A friendship of long standing, I take it?"

"Since the Gulf, Sir." Hooch wasn't giving his superior even the fraction of an inch.

"I see." A completely unnecessary flipping of some papers in Hooch's file. "Unusual." Equally nonverbal, but a faint undercurrent of disapproval. "You'll be sharing the apartment with him?" The question came sideways, like a switchblade in an alley.

"I have my own room." Hooch's answer came just as quickly and as precisely, without a change in his neutral expression nor a blink of his eyes.

The Colonel made a noise that on anyone else would have been a dissatisfied grunt. "Convenient," a mountain of meaning in the word, "a qualified PTI keeping an eye on your condition."

"It is, isn't it, Sir?" Hooch wasn't going to budge, wasn't going to offer his superior even the tiniest hook to latch on. The man couldn't ask, after all, that was what DADT was all about and thus he didn't have to tell. "I'm lucky."

A narrowing of eyes, and momentary speculation. The Colonel was an arrogant, unpleasant sod, but far from stupid, and he was rapidly putting together a few loose threads. "I gather so." Lips thinned, moved, as though he was working out what to say next. "A long-term arrangement?"

Bastard. Hooch knew exactly what he meant. He hyper-focused, just like he would during a mission. "That depends on the circumstances."

"I see," another unnecessary shuffling of papers. "I see." The Colonel paused, seemingly deep in thought, "and what are those circumstances?"

"The rent, for example." Hooch deadpanned.

Another not-grunt, as wheels visibly turned behind those disapproving eyes. "I see." A pause, considering, "quite a change for you, since you've lived on base for all of your career." No mention of just how many years that had been. "Remember that you'll need to be careful out there in ways you haven't needed to be on base."

"I am perfectly aware of any additional security measures, Sir." Hooch didn't acknowledge anything else. "Is that all now, Sir?"

The other man looked like he'd sucked on a lemon. "Yes, Captain," he said curtly, "so long as that's understood."

"Perfectly, Sir." Hooch stood up and saluted, then turned sharply to make his way out of the room.

Once outside he couldn't help the ugly grin appear on his face, as he went back to his office. He had men to train and a medical appointment that afternoon, he didn't have time to dwell on a stuck-up officer who'd probably like to see him fall.

Yet something inside of him raised its head, an itch he'd buried deep down for so long, but which he once more pushed away. Not yet. It wasn't time yet.

* * *

When Hooch returned home that evening, later than usual but still with the novelty factor of actually returning to a home, Matt was throwing something together in the kitchenette. Hooch figured it would be some sort of lean meat and some sort of salad. Matt's culinary skills were marginally better than Hooch's nonexistent ones, but his interest in nutrition was a lot more developed.

"Hey," Matt flashed a bright smile, "something wrong?"

"Just a stuck up bastard of a superior." Hooch shrugged and dropped his pack near the door.

Matt made a noise of sympathy, "that sucks." He laid out plates and glasses on the dining table.

"Yeah, especially as he kept going on about my change of address." Hooch went to the fridge and took out a large bottle of carbonated water. He looked at it, put it back into the fridge, then pulled out a beer instead.

Matt visibly tensed. "Do you think he's guessed?" It was a strange feeling: he didn't have to be wary for himself anymore, but he had to be for Hooch, which was a lot more nerve-wracking.

"I'm damned sure. The guy's as subtle as a tank." Hooch cracked open the beer bottle and finished half of it in one long draft, before sitting down at the table. "Of course, he couldn't ask."

Matt visibly relaxed, taking Hooch's words at face value, as he dished out the food and added a bottle of water for himself. "I never thought to ask but do you think anyone on base is going to be a shithead about us?"

"Apart from that dickhead? No." Hooch poured Matt a glass of water. "None of the guys I worked with ever gave a shit about where I want to stick my dick." He watched Matt help himself to the salad, then got a smaller portion for himself. "That's precisely what's pissed off the Colonel."

Matt made a non-committal sound, "and your guys would just see what they expect to see anyway, even if they did give a shit." He took a piece of meat. "How's it going on the other side?" Leaving it open for Hooch to interpret whether he meant as a trainer, or an officer.

Hooch's fingertips involuntarily fluttered against the beer bottle, before he took control and stilled them. "It's not the same." His gaze slid away from Matt, concentrating on his chicken with a little too much focus to be convincing.

Matt had to remind himself not to hover too obviously, because that would piss Hooch off. He settled for eating in silence for a few minutes. "No, it wouldn't be," that sounded neutral enough, leaving Hooch room. It was a funny thing, this living together, no more passing by and being 'Central Station', but a true, honest to goodness couple.

Hooch finished the chicken and most of the salad, fork and knife still in his hands, unmoving. Eventually he took in an audible breath and looked at Matt. "Part of me hates it. Really fucking hates it. Other part knows I'm too old even without the injury. Still having trouble with the first part. Makes me itch."

Sympathy was generally inappropriate around Hooch, and platitudes an even worse idea. All the more so now, when there really was nothing anyone could do. "Ah," Matt settled for the monosyllable, and for giving Hooch space.

That got a lightning-fast grin from Hooch. There and gone again, but the after effects lingered around the corners of his eyes. "Yeah, 'ah'." He put the cutlery down. "As for good news, phys exam today came back clear. X-rays show the fracture's completely healed and the MD thinks I'm fit for all the duties of my new role."

Matt answered the grin with one of his own, longer lasting. "That's great," it was mixed with relief. "Pity this is as close to anything with bubbles we've got." He looked at the carbonated water. "Or else we should have a toast to new beginnings."

"Don't feel like celebrating. It's a new beginning alright, but except for being here in this place can't find that much to celebrate." Hooch twisted the almost empty beer bottle in his hand. "Give me time, Okay? Need to get my bearings in the new job."

Matt looked like he was going to say something else, but settled for nodding instead. "'kay," he echoed, giving Hooch a long look. Caring, but not intrusive, letting the other man sit with his thoughts.

"Thanks." Hooch smiled before falling silent as well, until Matt finished his own meal. "Have we got any dessert?"

There was a look on Matt's face, slightly chagrined, that Hooch didn't quite understand, until Matt went back into the kitchen area and came out with a plate with red velvet cupcakes, frosted with cream cheese and decorated with little red sugar hearts. "How did you know? Mandy brought them in today." He paused, as though considering whether to confess something, "they're very good." The words were reluctant.

Hooch showed his teeth in a sudden smirk. "Did the saintly Matt break down?" Still grinning, he reached for one of the cupcakes, greedily biting into it. "What's the occasion?"

"Belated housewarming, she said," Matt watched Hooch with amusement. "She was certain that you'd like them because you're a Southerner, too, and she was horrified when I told her that I've never had them before." He took one off the plate. "You can have the rest, if you like," he added rather unnecessarily at Hooch's covetous look.

"Looks more like a Valentine's offering to the attractive boss to me." Hooch swallowed the last bite of the first cake and reached for another. "What with all the hearts."

Matt opened his mouth to counter Hooch's remark with a reminder that it was November, not February, and most importantly that he was a good ten years older than Mandy, until he realized it was exactly the same gap between him and Hooch. Mandy really wasn't all that much younger than he had been the first time in that safe house in Saudi Arabia. "I hope not," he said after a moment, "that would be the last thing that I need, but I doubt it. She's bound to have plenty of boys her own age after her she's not going to look at her old boss that way. And despite the ditziness, I think she's too sensible to risk it."

Hooch nearly sprayed cake crumbs across the table with his sudden laugh. "Old boss? How old is she? Eighteen, nineteen?" Hooch leaned back and grinned. "Last time I checked, you knew damn well how good you look, and while it would be annoying for different reasons," he gestured between Matt and himself, "I think Mandy fancies you. Cupcakes with hearts? Dead give-away."

Matt was frowning. "No, seriously, I don't think so. Not that either of us can claim to be an expert on women. If you're right, though, at least it'll be good cover, and I'll have an excuse to say 'no' to her if you are right."

"What would that excuse be?" Hooch clearly didn't believe Matt.

Matt gave him a look. "I don't screw staff. Figuratively, literally or in any other sense."

"Do you screw roommates?" Hooch flashed a predatory grin.

Matt returned it, glad at least that this part of Hooch remained unchanged despite the earlier low mood. "Only those who help with the dishes first."

"Bastard." Hooch countered good naturedly, but got up and grabbed their plates. "I'll buy a dishwasher."

Matt snorted under his breath, and said something inaudible about people who couldn't fill up a sink, but got out a tea-towel to dry and put away the dishes, the shared domestic chore somehow soothing in its normality.

When the last dish had been dried, Hooch pushed Matt forward and against the sink. "And now?" He moved his hips against Matt's deliciously perfect ass.

Matt pushed back, "and now we go into the bedroom, like proper, civilized people." He threw a grin over his shoulder as he slipped out and sauntered off towards the bedroom.

"Civilized. As if." Hooch followed Matt in record time and kicked the door shut behind them.

* * *

Though the early days were difficult, particularly since they were starting in the winter, Matt's gym quickly began to take off. Word-of-mouth spreading and he soon had a core, loyal clientele that was split between the active and ex-military and the gay professionals that seemed to grow by the week. Much to Matt's amazement, the gym broke even months ahead of schedule, and he watched with satisfaction as the mortgage was steadily paid down.

Mandy proved to be an organizational wizard, had the gym running like clockwork, while somehow fitting in her college classes around the operating hours. Save asking for a few days off for exams twice a semester, Matt scarcely noticed a break in the bubbly, ruthless efficiency and the smiles and cheerfulness that permeated the gym.

The red velvet cupcakes had started a tradition, and Mandy often brought in cakes and cookies and pie for Matt and Hooch. 'Love offerings' Hooch continued to tease, but Mandy never gave any indication that she saw them as anything other than her boss and his roommate, two military men who couldn't bake but needed some treats. She had an irregular series of no-hoper boyfriends, none, in Matt's mind, good enough for her, and certainly not deserving of the momentary gloom that each caused at the inevitable breakup.

Hooch settled into his new job best he could, never quite making his peace with not being out in the midst of danger anymore, but very much getting into training 'his boys' and relishing the responsibility of preparing them to the very best of their ability and beyond to face the worst possible situations. He rapidly became the most feared, and the most loved and respected training officer in Fort Bragg. Anyone who was good enough to be selected for Delta training was equally looking forward to and being apprehensive of being drilled by him, because Hooch demanded everything and more, while respecting them as they respected him in return.

Domestic life settled into a comfortable routine, as comfortable as living with Hooch could be. His most redeeming trait, that of always and everywhere being up for sex and never waning in his appetite for Matt in whichever and whatever way they wanted, balanced out all the annoying traits of being mostly silent, occasionally obnoxious, and sometimes oddly sociopathic.

All in all, things were settling in nicely in Fayetteville, and life was as good as it could be.

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All characters are fictional. Any similarities with living or deceased people are coincidental. Deliverance is intellectual property of Marquesate and TA Brown. Copyright © 2011. All rights reserved.


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