Title: Stormy Weather
Series: Yes - part 10 in Conversations
Author: Alyse (alyse@CI5Ops.co.uk
Archive: CI5 Operational Control (http://www.CI5Ops.co.uk) , Britslash
Category: Curtis/Keel.

Rating: NC17.

Spoilers/Warnings: No spoilers. No warnings. Angst and sex (surprise, surprise)

Summary: The boys finally get some time together

Feedback: Yes please, to alyse@CI5Ops.co.uk.  Constructive criticism welcome, flames will be used to melt chocolate, and we all know what I'll do with that :)

Disclaimers: They belong to Brain Clements and David Wickes Productions. They don't belong to me - if they did we all know what they'd be doing. I don't make any money from this. I have nothing but my own warped imagination and therefore I'm not worth suing. :)

Kudos: Many thanks to my excellent beta Lou, for the eagle eyed spotting of typos and soothing of fevered brow and to Ariadne for listening to me rabbit and for letting me try out dialogue and for helping me refine it. And nagging. Did I mention the nagging? :)


Conversations 10: Stormy Weather


by Alyse

 

Part One

With narrowed eyes and a steady hand he aimed at his target. He couldn't miss; too much was riding on this. His breathing evened out as he entered the zone...

"Oh, for God's sake, Chris, just throw the bloody thing into the bin and get it over with."

Damn it! Missed. He glared at his partner, but Sam was smirking at him unrepentantly. "Guess this means you're cooking dinner," Sam stated smugly.

He scowled. "You may live to regret that, Sammy boy. You know what my cooking is like."

Sam raised one eyebrow at his use of the diminutive of his name, but he let it slide, merely smiling a little superiorly and replying smoothly, "Let me rephrase that then. Guess this means you're the one springing for takeout."

Chris scowled again, but only for show. He couldn't really begrudge Sam his teasing. It happened so rarely these days that his partner, his lover, actually indulged in something so light-hearted.

On the surface everything seemed fine, and Chris had to admit that the act had even fooled him for a while and he probably knew his partner better than anyone. Sam had forgiven him and all was well with Chris' world. Even the inevitable showdown with Malone hadn't gone too badly, although Chris had to admit that he may only have faced their boss' sharp interrogation with reasonable equanimity because he and Sam had spent the morning before revealing their relationship making slow, satisfying love. Satisfying on many levels; not just sexually but also because Chris had half-convinced himself that it would be a cold day in hell before he was ever let back anywhere near Sam's bed, never mind his heart.

No, even Malone hadn't been able to shatter his good mood after that, and to tell the truth the old goat hadn't even tried that hard. Oh, he'd made several token comments about the First Rule and some half-hearted threats to reassign them to other partners but Sam had managed to talk him out of it with a minimum of effort, mainly by pointing out, very politely and respectfully, several salient facts, including that they were one of the few still fully functioning teams within CI5. There was also, of course, the fact that on at least two occasions since becoming involved they'd still done their job to the utmost of their ability despite the other being in danger - first in Tennessee and then the latest job in South America. Not even Malone could argue with those facts, not that he didn't try. So, after over an hour of being grilled about every facet of their affair, they'd got away with having six monthly reviews of their partnership rather than the normal annual reviews and a stern warning that if at any point Malone even got a hint that their relationship was coming first he would haul them over the coals.

The fact that they'd got away so lightly only increased the immense feeling of well-being Chris had felt, and not even Sam's assertion as they were leaving the building that Malone must have at least guessed about them beforehand could shake that.

Two and a half months of Sam being unhappy, however, could.

Actually, he wasn't sure that Sam had been unhappy the entire time. It had certainly taken him long enough to notice his partner's low spirits. He'd simply put Sam's quietness down to a combination of exhaustion, natural reserve and some lingering nervousness about their temporary break-up. He'd only begun to wonder about it in the last couple of weeks when thankfully the new agents got into the swing of things and the pressure on the experienced - Chris refused to consider themselves as older - agents eased off, and Sam stayed quiet.

And then there was the sex. Oh, it was good - it always was between them - but he'd begun to notice something strange. Sam seldom initiated it, although he was always responsive when Chris did. In fact, now that Chris had time to think about it sometimes he was too responsive. Sometimes there was almost an air of desperation about it, as though Sam was trying to make it last as long as possible, or maybe store up memories...

He shouldn't think like that. It only ended up with him being depressed too.

And then there were the times when he caught Sam watching him, although his partner always came up with some plausible excuse if he called him on it. He sometimes felt like telling the man that he didn't need to pretend, that it was okay to look at him because he, in a sense, was Sam's. But he couldn't, maybe because on those occasions when he caught Sam looking the lingering trace of sadness in his partner's eyes, before Sam could get his guard up, stopped the words in his mouth. He wanted desperately to take that look out of his partner's eyes but couldn't think of what to say that would do that, and so was left floundering wordlessly. And then the shutters would go back up, Sam would crack a joke and he'd wonder if he'd let his imagination get away with him. Until the next time.

He watched Sam closely now, looking for those shadows lurking in his lover's eyes, but Sam was all business, his concentration focused on writing the report on their latest case. He was so focused on Sam he didn't notice Spencer approaching.

"Something wrong?" the Ops manager asked, glancing between the two of them as Chris jumped out of his skin.

"Chris is hoping that if he sits there and looks at me with big puppy eyes I'll write this report for him." Chris could only admire Sam's smooth capacity for recovery.

Spencer gave a brief smile. "Is it working?"

"No," replied Sam, not looking up, his whole attention fixed on the screen in front of him. "Personally I think he needs the practice."

Chris balled up another piece of his pad and chucked it at his partner's head. It didn't make contact, Sam swiping it neatly out of the air before it came anywhere near, once again not even looking up. Chris was mildly insulted by that. "Practice at what?" he asked.

"Spelling for a start."

"There's nothing wrong with my spelling!"

"Favour has a 'u' in it."

"Not in American!"

Sam finally looked up to give him a smug smile. "So this is a cultural flaw then? The inability to spell is a genetic trait passed down from the Mayflower, is it?"

"Hey, those guys were pioneers..."

"Pioneers in the art of creative spelling, apparently..."

"Breaking new ground..."

"Losing vowels..."

"Getting away from the stuffy British..."

Not having an answer to that Sam did the only thing he could. He stuck his tongue out like any proper English, reserved and borderline anally retentive secret agent. Chris had to laugh.

"Well someone's in a good mood." Chris glanced up at Dave Michaels, the Englishman's partner trailing after him like a bad smell. "I take it you've 'eard the news?"

"What news?" He glanced at Sam but his partner looked as confused as he was. In answer, Michaels looked to Spencer.

"I was just about to tell them," replied Spencer mildly.

"Well, don't keep us in suspense," chided Chris, itching for something other than report writing to do. "Spit it out, man."

Sam did a much better imitation of Malone than he did, but it still raised a smile. "Well, now that we are finally up to full strength, Malone wants the holiday rota reinstated..."

"And?" Chris had a feeling he knew what was coming, and he was hard pressed not to cross his fingers.

"You and Curtis have wrapped up the Kazinski case, right?"

"We're writing the report now, right, Sam?"

"Well," replied his partner dryly, "one of us is. The other appears to be struggling with writer's block." Once again he glanced at the full wastepaper basket.

Chris pulled a face and turned a hopeful look on Spencer. "We'll be finished that..." He looked to Sam for a timetable.

"As soon as you stop throwing things at me."

He pulled another face. "Soon."

"Good. In that case, as soon as you've turned it in the pair of you have a week off."

"YES!" He couldn't help it, pumping his hands into the air. A week, a full week of not getting shot at, of lie-ins and sun and sand and sex. Especially the sex. A week of Sam. If he didn't manage to put a smile on his partner's face after a week, he might as well give up.

"What's the catch?"

Trust Sam to look a gift horse in the mouth. Chris turned pleading eyes on Spencer, praying that there wouldn't be a catch. The apologetic expression on the Ops Manager's face told him there was. "Just in case you're needed you have to stay close to HQ."

"How close?" asked Chris suspiciously.

"Three hours, no more."

Damn! No Caribbean. "Paris?" suggested Sam, obviously thinking along the same lines. Art galleries, culture, cuisses de grenouilles, no chance. His expression must have said that for him because Sam rolled his eyes.

"It's November," Chris whinged. "It's cold, it's damp..."

"It's a week off..."

Actually Sam had a point. No sun, no sand but he could still have the sex. "Fine," he muttered, and then he thought hard. "Your friend still has that holiday cottage? The one in... Devon was it?"

"Don't tell me that you guys are actually seriously considering holidaying together?"

Shit, he'd forgotten that Wiersbowski was there. He glared at his fellow American. "Well," he said through gritted teeth, "unlike your partner, I actually like to spend time with mine."

Wiersbowski bristled and now both Sam and Michaels rolled their eyes, sharing a look that Chris could only interpret as 'Americans'. Sam smoothly insinuated himself into the conversation.

"Well, put it this way, Mike. It gives Chris some company in the evenings when he shoots and inevitably fails to score."

"Hey!"

"What about you?" Michaels asked inquisitively.

"Oh, I gave women up for Lent," replied Sam urbanely, once again focused back on his report.

"Since when?" Spencer wanted to know.

"Since the last blonde I chatted up turned out to be a mafia hit woman. I decided that celibacy was a better option."

He seemed completely unconcerned by his confession, whereas the three men clustered around him looked completely flabbergasted. Chris had to hide a grin, briefly catching Sam's amused eyes. "God," Sam said, finally deigning to look at his audience when he deemed that they'd suffered enough. "You lot are so gullible!"

Their colleagues shared sheepish looks but Sam's joke had done as it was intended to do - distract attention from their plans. Wiersbowski snorted and strode off, still not having completely forgiven Sam for the South American affair, while Spencer and Michaels had the grace to share an embarrassed smile.

"So..." Spencer asked, "I take it you want the time off? I don't need to find another team willing to swap with you."

"If you dare..."

"What my partner means to say, in that inimitable way of his is that yes, Spence, we will take the week just as soon as I've finished this report and Chris has added the insults to the Metropolitan Police he will inevitably think are essential."

"That's a yes, Spence, in case you missed it."

Spencer chuckled lightly and headed off, Michaels trailing in his wake, wanting to know when he and Wiersbowski could expect similar consideration. Chris watched them go with a jaundiced look in his eye.

"Why the hell do you think Michaels agreed to take Wiersbowski back as a partner?" he asked idly, not really expecting a reply.

"He asked for him."

Chris gave his partner a startled look, before glancing back at Michaels. "Yeah? He doesn't look like a masochist."

"Mike has his good points, Chris."

Typically Sam, really. Mike Wiersbowski had a grudge against him and therefore he was going to be reasonable about it and ignore the veiled insults Wiersbowski threw in his direction, whereas Chris just itched to rip the son of a bitch's head off. "Michaels hit him," he pointed out reasonably.

"They hit each other," Sam pointed out gently. "And with the stress they were under..."

"We didn't resort to hitting each other."

That sad look flashed through Sam's eyes. "No, Chris. We just spontaneously combusted."

It was the first time that Sam had actually referred to their temporary break-up since the first morning when he'd woken up with Chris beside him. They both avoided the topic, to be frank, not wanting to reopen the wounds when they were so fresh. Even now, a couple of months down the line, they didn't talk about it. Maybe that was where they were going wrong. Maybe that had something to do with the unhappiness he could feel in Sam. Lost in his thoughts, he watched Sam working on their report, trying once again to figure his partner out, as unsuccessful as he usually was.

"If you're that bored, why don't you go and get some target practice in. Looks like you could use it," Sam broke into his reverie, smiling again and glancing rather pointedly at the overflowing wastepaper bin surrounded by balled up scrap paper.

Chris scowled. "Not bored and don't need the practice."

"Chris..." Sam began in that 'patient' tone of voice that told Chris he was working up to something Chris wasn't going to like. "We get to go and play when I've finished. I'll do it a damn sight faster if you're not sitting opposite, sighing loudly because you're bored out of your mind and throwing things at my head for a little light relief."

Chris flushed slightly, not realising that he'd been so noisy. "What about the report though?"

Sam gave him a steady look. "As always, you can read it and change anything you want before we turn it in. Now get. Go do something useful." Get out of Sam's hair, in other words.

He couldn't leave his partner struggling with it on his own though, not and live with himself. Well, okay he could live with it but Sam might have a problem for all his partner's seeming generosity. He gave another heavy sigh. "Okay, pass the evidence over. I'll do the appendices."

It was probably the worst part of report writing but the look of sheer surprise on his partner's face almost made volunteering worthwhile. Almost. Still, he thought, brightening up. Sam would owe him for this, and he intended to take full payment over the next week or so.

*****

Part Two

"What is it with them?"

Backup sighed and looked up from her study of printouts. It was always amazing to her that in this day and age the agencies they were supposed to be working with had no problems with providing information in hard format but were chary of sharing it electronically, which meant that she and Richards were reduced to a manual trawl for patterns instead of being able to run some of the sophisticated algorithms that the hacker could cook up. Still, monotonous it may be but it was a break from the hectic activity of the last few months.

"What is it with who?" she asked Wiersbowski a little irritably.

"Those two," he replied, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. She followed the line of his gesture to Curtis and Keel, who sat on the opposite side of the room apparently engrossed in the report they were writing.

Richards had also looked up, and he snickered softly. "If Keel is report writing without complainin'," the Londoner said, "'e must be sickening for somethin'."

"Holiday," answered Spencer, coming up beside them on silent feet, still absorbed in his rota. "They want it, so Keel has no choice but to help Curtis write their report for once."

"That's what I mean," insisted Wiersbowski. "Those two."

Backup suppressed another sigh. Ever since their South American mission she'd had to listen to a stream of complaints from the American, everything from Sam being a cold hearted son of a bitch for leaving his own partner rotting in the jungle while concentrating on the mission to veiled suggestions that the only reason he'd extracted the other team was because he had a soft spot for Backup herself. She'd grown very tired of it very quickly and only her normal diplomacy had prevented her from demonstrating her unarmed combat skills to an unappreciative audience. She knew that Wiersbowski didn't mean to be a pain in the ass - the American just seemed to bear grudges, even if they weren't merited. Sam didn't seem to care though, mainly because Sam didn't seem to care about anything at the moment but Chris.

"Those two what?" she asked with visible patience.

"Well, holidaying together. What's with that?"

"They're mates," replied Richards, a little nonplussed.

"Yeah, but they've been living in each other's pockets for months..."

"So?"

Here we go, thought Backup.

"Well, who would want to go anywhere with Curtis?" Wiersbowski asked. "He's a cold son of a bitch."

Wasn't life wonderful when you weren't disappointed?

"They're mates," repeated Richards, frowning a little. "An' no matter what you think, Mike, Sam's a good guy. 'E's a good laugh..."

"He's charming," added Backup, leaping in to defend her friend. "He's fun to be with..."

"'E always buys his pint." To Richards, that was the clincher.

"A lot of people holiday with friends," interjected Spencer calmly.

"I don't," scowled the American.

"Prob'ly cos you don't 'ave any," murmured Richards, unable to resist getting a dig in.

Wiersbowski's scowl deepened, but he knew better to comment when the Londoner was on a roll. He contented himself with muttering darkly, "If I didn't know better, I'd say they were gay."

Richards howled with laughter. "Those two? Gerroff. The pair of them 'ave worked their way through the bleedin' typing pool, or as good as."

Spencer wasn't laughing, Backup noticed, but was watching Wiersbowski with cool eyes. "If I were you, Mike," he said mildly, "I wouldn't go around spreading rumours like that. People might ask why you spent three days staying with Dave last month."

"My flat flooded!"

Spencer gave the man a sweet smile that had Backup giving him an internal cheer. "If you say so." He glanced down at his rota again. "Anyway, I've agreed that you and Dave can have a week off in three weeks time, providing nothing comes up in the meantime. Okay with you?"

"Fine," muttered Wiersbowski, gazing sullenly at the Ops manager from under lowered brows.

"Yeah," chipped in Richards cheerily. "Dave can 'elp you repaper your flat. Interior design should be right up his and your street." He chuckled heartily at his own joke while Wiersbowski turned his glare on him, to no effect, before stalking off, his outrage clear in his stiff back.

"What's his problem?" the hacker wanted to know.

"Curtis, apparently," replied Spencer dryly.

"Well, that means 'e gets an earful of Keel then," Richards commented, his tone pragmatic, and then, dismissing the matter from his thoughts, he asked, "Anyone want a cuppa?"

"Why not?" Backup answered, stretching a kink out of her back carefully. She watched the hacker bound off before turning her thoughtful gaze onto her remaining colleague.

"How long have you known?" she asked him calmly.

He gave her a long, steady look, not even trying to pretend he didn't understand the question, before finally replying, "When Chris and you were in South America, and we weren't sure whether Chris would make it back. Sam... well it was obvious that Sam cared, more than just partners and maybe more than just friends. And then Malone decided to increase the frequency of their partnership reviews. They weren't the only ones - most of the partnerships were under some strain, but it still seemed a little strange when..."

"When they seemed to be coping better," she completed.

"Yeah." He gave her a little self-deprecating look. "So I started to watch them, and a couple of things started to add up." His look turned piercing. "You?"

"A while," she smiled. "At first I thought I was wrong, but then..." She shrugged her shoulders but he understood, nodding thoughtfully.

"Yeah," he said before brightening noticeably. "Still, anything that keeps Keel's temper relatively even has to be a good thing."

Before she could comment on that, Richards bounded up with some coffee and the moment passed. She did wonder idly whether or not to let Sam and Chris know, but finally decided with another internal shrug that what they didn't know wouldn't harm them.

*****

As was often the case, Chris didn't realise that he'd fallen asleep until he woke up again. His neck was stiff; sleeping with your head tilted towards a cold car window wasn't conducive to comfort. He shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat, trying to stretch muscles as much as he could given the constraints of wearing a seatbelt, and blinked blearily at the view through the front windscreen. It was very dark, no streetlights and they obviously weren't on the motorway anymore.

"Where are we?" he asked his partner, his voice still rusty with sleep.

"Almost there," Sam replied soothingly. "According to the instructions I got from Jeff and Trish it's at the end of this track."

Chris absorbed this information silently, a scowl forming on his face. "I thought we were going to share the driving?"

"You fell asleep," Sam replied a little defensively. "Didn't seem much point in waking you up - it's not that long a drive."

"Three hours," Chris stated flatly.

Sam shrugged. "So it's only three hours."

"You should have woken me up."

"You were tired."

"So are you."

Indeed, Sam did sound tired as he answered, "Well, we're here now."

Chris felt a little guilty. He hadn't meant to have a go at his lover, but it was typical of the man to carry on with something and not complain rather than ask for help. In his more pessimistic moments he wondered if it was something that Sam would ever overcome or whether he'd be stuck with a man who was unable to even ask him to take over the driving. Strange, really. Sam wasn't this touchy or reluctant to share chores in their working lives, but in their private lives...

It was that depressing thought that had him saying, "Fine. But I drive back."

Sam sighed again and replied, sounding even more tired, "If you want."

Another surge of guilt, and Chris swore to himself that he'd lay off. They were supposed to be on holiday, having fun, and yet here they were - fighting before they'd even arrived.

Actually, they weren't. They didn't fight. Chris got argumentative and Sam got reasonable and if that didn't work his partner backed off and waited until he cooled down before broaching the issue, whatever it was, again. Once again, a strange departure from their working relationship where Sam had no problem with getting in his face if he thought Chris deserved it. But once the door shut behind them at home it was a different matter - maybe because they were both still tiptoeing around to a certain extent.

He sighed heavily and sensed rather than saw Sam's concerned look in his direction. "Okay?" asked his partner, an undercurrent in his voice Chris couldn't quite identify.

"Yeah. You're right, I'm tired. Can't wait to get to bed. Wonder why that is, and don't tell me it's 'cause I don't pace myself."

At least that got a chuckle. "The home stretch."

"What?"

"This is the home stretch. We're on holiday, and barring emergencies will be for at least a week, and so you know you can relax. So all of the exhaustion you've been holding at bay suddenly hits."

He thought about this for a moment. "Sounds reasonable. Now we've identified a problem, do you have a solution?"

Sam chuckled again. "Normally, I'd say sleep for a week, but given we only have a week..."

"I don't know," Chris grinned in response. "Staying in bed for a week sounds promising. Not sure about the sleeping though."

Another chuckle and then the car headlights finally illuminated a building in front of them - a cottage by the looks of things. "This it?" asked Chris hopefully, looking forward to getting out of the cramped car and stretching his legs.

"Yep. You want to take the key and get inside, and I'll grab the bags?"

"No," corrected Chris firmly. "You get the key and I'll get the bags."

He thought that Sam looked at him again, but without streetlights and only the moonlight to go on, now that Sam had switched off the beams, it was difficult to say, Sam only a patch of darkness against a dark sky. His partner didn't comment though, just exited the car without a word.

It was almost as cold inside the cottage as it was outside; he noticed that as soon as he got through the door with their bags. There was no sign of Sam, although as he'd been switching lights on Chris did the only logical thing and followed him from lit room to lit room.

He found Sam in the kitchen, muttering to himself and fiddling with a thermostat. He was rewarded by a soft 'woomph' as the central heating came on and he gave Chris a triumphant smile.

"Let there be light?" Chris quipped.

"Let there be warmth," his partner retorted. "Should be nice and toasty by the time we get up tomorrow."

"Good," Chris replied, shivering slightly. "And talking of getting up, where's the bedroom?"

He thought he heard Sam muttering something about a one-track mind but there seemed to be no heat in it and so he managed to shut it out quite successfully and began stalking through the house.

Bedroom...? Bedroom...? A-ha... bathroom!

"Hey, Sam? You seen the size of this bath?"

His partner was tracking him down, obviously, his answer growing closer and closer. "No, Chris, since I actually haven't been here before and you know exactly what rooms I've been... Christ!"

"Big bath," grinned Chris smugly.

"Hmmm," smiled his partner in reply, raising one eyebrow sardonically. "I always knew that Trish liked her luxuries. Still, at least it isn't pink."

"Trish. Jeff's wife?"

"Partner," corrected Sam absently, still giving the bathroom a once over. "Yes, she is. We were all at Edinburgh together."

And that seemed to be the sum total of the information he was going to get. He stifled another internal sigh. He could push, he knew, but it was late, or early depending on how you looked at it, and he wanted to get some sleep. Still, if the luxury of the bathroom was anything to go by, they were going to be comfortable this week, in environmental terms if nothing else. He let his eyes drift appreciatively over the room again. Apart from the large corner tub, which rather than being sunken had the floor built up to it so that steps led into its tastefully curtained alcove, there was also a deep pile carpet, a separate shower cubicle and the normal accoutrements, all colour and design co-ordinated and screaming of vast expense.

"So, what does Jeff do again?"

"Merchant banker."

"Trish?"

"Has her own PR agency."

He nodded thoughtfully. "Ever regret that you didn't follow them into a career for the stinking rich?" he asked.

Sam gave him a wry look. "What, and give up the chance of crawling through insect infested swamps and dining on cassava root instead of caviar? Must be joking."

"I'm sure Malone is glad to hear it," he grinned back.

"I'm sure he has his regrets sometimes. But can you honestly see me behind a desk? Even one as big as Jeff has?"

Chris gave him a long, slow look, raking his eyes up and down Sam's lean frame, which was a sight guaranteed to raise his blood pressure even when hidden by Sam's bulky jumper and jeans. "I can see you on a desk," he replied honestly.

Sam looked completely confused.

"Sort of naked and sprawling there... A nice big desk... I'm thinking Malone's."

His partner flushed most attractively. "You really are a sick puppy, Keel," he muttered. "You do realise that next time I walk into Malone's office I'll have that image in my head."

"Me too," murmured Chris happily. "It's something to get me through his never-ending briefings."

Sam shook his head and sighed theatrically. Glancing up at him, Chris suddenly noted the bags under his partner's eyes and the exhaustion clear in those grey-green orbs and experienced another pang of guilt. "Hey," he said gently. "Let's forget exploring and get some sleep, 'kay?"

The suggestion earned him a wan smile. "Sounds like a plan." Sam glanced down at their bags, still clutched in Chris' hands.

"We can unpack in the morning," Chris said in answer to his partner's unspoken thoughts. "It's late, we're on holiday and since we're on holiday I pray you haven't packed anything that's going to wrinkle."

Another wan smile. "Nothing that won't keep."

Chris gave a decisive nod. "Good. Bed then."

The bed was almost as cold as the cottage, the sheets icy beneath his skin and he shivered violently until Sam joined him and he could wrap his arms around his lover and press himself into Sam's warmth. Sam didn't even make a token complaint, just cuddling back up to him. That nasty little voice in his head told him that it was just because Sam was as cold as he was and he slapped it forcefully down again. After Sam and he first got back together, before he'd started to suspect his partner wasn't happy, that voice had disappeared entirely, but now it was coming back with a vengeance. The voice of his insecurities, he knew, and this time he was determined not to listen and do something he'd regret. He tried very hard not to think about how Sam, even now more than two months after their reconciliation, had yet to tell him that he loved him.

Comforted by Sam's warm presence he was beginning to drift towards slumber when his partner's voice caught and held him on the edge between sleep and wakefulness.

"What do you want to do this week?"

He cursed to himself. Typical Sam, unable to switch his mind off until they had a plan. "Don't care," he mumbled, trying to bury himself deeper into Sam's side and hoping his partner would take the hint and let him go to sleep.

Sam sighed. "We don't have to decide now..." Good. "I just wondered..." Bad. And what was worse was that that tone was back in his voice, the one that hinted at some underlying misery that he couldn't or wouldn't share with Chris.

Chris sighed himself and dragged himself back from the brink of sleep. "It doesn't matter what we do, Sam," he murmured. "As long as I get to spend a week with you."

Sam chuckled slightly. "We can't spend all week in bed, Chris, no matter what you had planned."

Was that what his partner thought he meant? Seriously? Once again, it was too dim for him to make out the expression on his lover's face and he cursed the remoteness of this place that meant there were no streetlights to help him. He had to go with his instincts on this one, and replied, as nonchalantly as he could, "In bed. Out of it. Doesn't matter, Sam, s'long as it's with you."

"Really?"

Oh Christ. He tightened his arm convulsively around his lover, somehow trying by that one physical act to pour all of the reassurance and love into his partner that he could to undo whatever damage he'd unwittingly done or to take away any doubts that were plaguing Sam. "Really," he confirmed.

Sam said nothing else but pressed a little closer to him. It seemed to take him a long time to drop off, but eventually his even breathing told Chris that his partner had at last succumbed.

It took Chris even longer to fall asleep, listening to his partner's breathing with a heavy heart and a sense of foreboding he couldn't quite shake.

*****

Part Three

He was warm and he was comfortable, an arm wrapped tightly around him while his head rested on something that was also warm and which rose steadily with each of his partner's breaths. Chris... His head was resting on Chris' chest, tucked beneath Chris' chin, and he could hear his lover's heartbeat, slow and steady under his ear. He must have snuggled up to his partner when they were both asleep, his unconscious body ignoring the instructions that were paramount in his waking mind of not being too presumptuous with Chris, not taking things for granted.

For once he let himself enjoy the moment, enjoy the feeling of immense contentment that filled him just from being this close to the man he loved. Chris was asleep. He would never know, never have to be faced with a clinging and needy partner rather than the cool and controlled one he knew he could rely upon. Never regret coming back to Sam.

If he was honest with himself it haunted him sometimes, the thought that one day Chris would wake up and decide that he'd been right the first time and he and Sam didn't have any future together; that he would decide to cut his losses and walk out again. And if he was brutally honest he despised himself for caring that much. Not for caring about Chris - he knew that the American was probably the best thing that had ever happened to him - but for letting his doubts and his neediness consume him. It was only with a great effort that he managed to keep himself in check, not put too much pressure on Chris, not wanting him to feel as though he had to spend his entire life reassuring a borderline neurotic that he loved him and Sam thought that most of the time he succeeded. But it made him wary, wary of saying too much, of touching too much in case he couldn't stop and alienated Chris with his pathetic neediness. Instead he just lived for moments like this, when he could touch and cuddle to his heart's content and not have to worry about the consequences.

Chris stirred slightly beneath him and he tensed, ready to draw away before the American woke. Before he got a chance, the arm around him tightened slightly.

"S'nice," murmured a sleepy voice, rumbling through the body beneath his.

He let himself enjoy the moment for a bit longer. "What is?" he asked quietly.

"Waking up with you," murmured Chris again. "And knowing we don't have to get straight up."

Oh. Part of him had hoped... Never mind.

The body underneath his shifted slightly and he began to move away, apologising, "Sorry. Must be heavy."

"No," protested his lover, sleep still colouring his voice and his arm tightening again. "Like it."

Sam let himself be pulled closer, telling himself that if this was Chris wanting a cuddle it wasn't him being needy and presuming too much and knowing all of the time that it probably was, the self-loathing at his weakness threatening to rise again. He squashed it down angrily. Damn it, he was on holiday and if he couldn't just cuddle up to his lover then...

Emboldened by Chris' happy sigh as he snuggled back in, he risked placing a gentle kiss on his partner's chest, nuzzling there for a moment before settling back with a sigh of his own.

"S'nice too," came that sleepy voice again, this time tinged with amusement. The arm around him tightened for a moment again, Chris' hand skimming lightly up and down his side in an unabashed caress. For a second he envied the man his ability to reach out and touch without a second thought, not worry about being rejected or be considered needy, but with an effort he quashed that thought too. He wasn't going to spoil this, he swore to himself. He wasn't going to fuck up again. Wasn't going to drive Chris away.

With that in mind he allowed himself to return Chris' caress, a little more hesitantly, but rewarded by the rumble of satisfaction he could both hear and feel in Chris' chest.

"S'very nice," purred a voice above him, sounding much more awake this time. "Very nice way to wake up..."

He chuckled lightly. "I'll remember that."

"Do."

The arms tightened around him again for a moment, and then Chris was shuffling down the bed underneath him until their faces were level. He looked tousled and eminently desirable.

"Mornin'" he said cheekily, his dimples prominent and Sam felt his heart give that little lurch it always did in the presence of those dimples. He returned the grin automatically, a little dazzled, and the dimples deepened.

"Morning," he replied, watching as Chris' grin widened and his partner leant in for a kiss. It started off sweet and soft, but didn't stay that way for long, a tide of passion rising up to consume his lover, Chris' hunger clear in the way that he almost devoured Sam's mouth. Knowing that his partner was unrelentingly horny first thing in the morning, Sam didn't even try to slow things down, although a small part of him would have liked to have been able to savour just kissing Chris for a little longer before they moved on to what Chris classed as 'the good stuff'. Instead, he let himself get lost in Chris' touch and taste, in the feel of his lover's lean and fit body pressed hard against his, in the strong fingers stroking up his back and into his hair, in the mouth moving down his body, in the hot and hard length buried in him as a weight pressed him into the mattress.

On his face. As usual.

He came, as he always did, and felt Chris follow him into bliss, his lover's body tensing as Chris emptied himself into his body. For a few seconds he even enjoyed the feel of Chris' satiated weight on him, his partner muttering love words in his ear and pressing mindless kisses against his sweaty hair and skin.

It wasn't until Chris rolled away and dozed back off to sleep that he felt the emptiness rise up and threaten to consume him once more. Not even the arm that Chris left draped casually across his body was enough to stave it off entirely.

*****

The shrill ringing of the phone woke Chris out of his pleasant doze. For once he hadn't been reliving the past but enjoying the present, vaguely aware on some level of Sam's warm body pressed against his in all of the right places. Right up until the point when that anchor was abruptly removed.

"Hello?"

Certain facts made a connection in Chris' sleep befuddled brain. Please, he thought, don't let this be work.

"Jeff!"

Not work. Good. He sank back into the warm and inviting mattress, fully prepared to go back to sleep, but it appeared that Sam and this mysterious Jeff had other ideas. After all, who the hell kept a phone in the bedroom? Unless they were CI5 agents of course.

"Yes, we found it fine." Pause. "Took about three hours." Pause. "Yes, you can tell Trish that for once her instructions were legible."

He raised his head again and glowered blearily in Sam's direction. His partner caught the glare and shrugged sheepishly.

"Hang on, Jeff. I'll take this in the other room. Chris is still trying to get some sleep I think."

Another pause, and a quick glance in his direction while Sam obviously listened to whatever Jeff had to say. It was the glance that grabbed his attention. There was a quality in it that got the hairs on the back of his neck twitching and so he was tuned in to the subtle nuances in Sam's reply.

"Yes, he does."

The slight emphasis on 'he' spoke volumes and he frowned.

Sam threw him another unreadable glance and spoke again. "Hang on." He placed his hand over the mouthpiece of the cordless phone and this time spoke directly to Chris. "I'll just..."

"Sure," he replied, his voice deliberately toneless. He watched Sam head out, into the living room presumably, with yet another shuttered look in his direction.

He. Jeff hadn't known or hadn't picked up on the fact that Chris was a 'he'. He didn't know why that bothered him so much, but it did. Hell, Malone had told them to be discreet but somehow he hadn't thought that meant living a lie.

He. 'He' was obviously a goddamned idiot for thinking that Sam would admit they were together without being pushed to it.

With a muffled oath, he threw back the covers and sat up, dragging his fingers through his disordered hair. No way in hell was he going to go back to sleep now.

Sam was speaking into the phone when he reached the doorway to the small living room. His voice was low, probably to avoid disturbing Chris, but there was no doubting the urgency in it. Or the irritation.

"...my fault? You just don't listen."

Another pause.

"I never said that it was short for Christine, Jeff. You just assumed... Yes, okay but... Yes... Jeff!"

Another pause.

"I'm sure I said he before now, Jeff." Sam gave a little chuckle. "Although I did wonder why Trish wasn't giving me the third degree. I thought she was being unusually tactful. S'pose I know better now."

Beat.

"Yeah, me too."

Another, much longer pause.

"How do you think? You know Dad..." Sam's voice trailed off as he caught sight of Chris lounging in the doorway. His expression grew shuttered again, and Chris fought the urge to scowl. Sam's attention, however, was soon drawn back to the person on the other end of the phone, and Chris continued to lean defiantly in the doorway, watching him and making no secret of the fact that he was listening. To one side of the conversation anyway.

"No."

Pause.

"What do you think?"

Pause.

"I suppose so."

Pause.

How incredibly fucking enlightening. He was in no doubt that Sam was being deliberately obtuse, seeing him eavesdropping, and he didn't bother concealing his irritation. Sam's survival instinct must have kicked in because his lover glanced once more in his direction and then hastily put an end to the call.

"Listen, Jeff. Thanks for calling..."

Oh, thanks ever so.

"... but everything's fine. If we have any problems I'll call."

Pause.

"Uh huh."

Pause.

"Do me a favour, Jeff. Tell her I'll call when we get back and give her chapter and verse as long as she doesn't bother us this week. I wouldn't use those exact words, but you know what I mean."

Pause.

"Thanks, Jeff. Talk to you soon."

Sam disconnected the call, and placed the phone carefully on his knee before looking at Chris, his expression deliberately neutral.

"I take it that was Jeff?" The question was calm and cool and obviously not what Sam had expected, but for once Chris didn't feel like playing according to type. Keep them off balance. Sam had taught him that.

"Yes."

As always Sam was playing his cards close to his chest.

Chris nodded. "Just checking up to see we made it in one piece?" Still pleasant and Sam's eyes narrowed slightly.

"Yes."

"Nice of him."

He came and sat in the armchair opposite Sam, settling himself in comfortably and giving Sam a small smile. That only made his lover more suspicious, not that he could blame Sam. This psyching the other party out was kind of fun, although he'd be enjoying it more if he wasn't genuinely pissed at the Englishman.

"You were in Edinburgh together, I think you said?"

Sam folded his arms and glared at him. "Get to the bloody point, Chris."

He blinked demurely, all wounded innocence. "Point? I don't have a point. Just making conversation. You know?" His voice hardened. "That thing where you actually talk to one another, tell each other stuff?"

Sam actually glanced away, his expression a little sheepish and Chris moved into the coup de grace.

"And talking of talking, at exactly what point were you going to tell me that you'd told your father about us?"

There was another one of those pregnant silences, although this time Sam didn't have the excuse of someone else on the other end of a telephone line. And then his lover admitted, "I wasn't."

Shit. He let his breath out in one long exhalation, leaning back into the soft embrace of the armchair. "You weren't," he repeated flatly, more a reiteration of the facts than a question.

Sam answered anyway although he looked away as he did so. "There didn't seem much point, Chris." He shrugged. "No point in us both getting ups... annoyed about it."

Upset, his mind supplied. That's what Sam had started to say. Knowing that, he tried very hard to keep the snap of irritation out of his next words. "That's what we're supposed to do, Sam. Get annoyed together."

There was no response to that, and so he pressed further. "When did you tell him?"

Another shrug. "Night before we told Malone."

Shit again. Two and a half goddamned months, and Sam had said nothing! Not a goddamned thing. Just when he thought that they'd finally reached some kind of understanding, Sam pulled a stunt like this. "And you weren't ever planning on telling me that?"

His voice was ice, and that was probably why Sam continued to avoid his gaze. "I only really told Dad because of Malone."

He blinked again, but stayed silent, still too annoyed at his lover to show any weakness and asking what the hell that was supposed to mean. Thankfully for both his sanity and curiosity, Sam explained anyway.

"I thought, that if Malone asked who knew, the fact that Dad knew would mean both that there was no potential for blackmail and... well, that it was serious."

"He didn't ask, though."

"No, but I thought he might."

And, once again, had been calculating odds and working out strategies. Sam was good at that and he was grateful for it - in their working lives. He didn't, however, like it being applied to their personal lives. It was too cold blooded a response for him to be entirely comfortable with it.

"So, why didn't you tell me about it afterwards," he pushed.

"I told you..."

"You didn't want me angry. Well, I am, Sam. I'm angry you didn't tell me."

That finally got Sam looking at him, his lover's face assuming its normal mask-like façade.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he repeated.

Sam searched his face for a long moment before relenting. "We'd only just got back together," he explained. "And I didn't want anything to spoil that, not even Dad's vitriol."

He looked away again, the mask slipping just enough so that Chris could see the tiredness and lingering upset lurking underneath. It tugged at his heartstrings, although he didn't quite unbend enough to let the matter drop entirely. There was a note of sympathy in his voice, however, as he asked, "That bad, huh?"

Sam gave him a faint smile. "Not pleasant," he said. "Still, it's not like we were close anyway."

"No, but even so..."

"Yeah, well. It's done now. Had to happen sooner or later, and at least this way I told him and not someone else." He gave Chris a look that appeared almost hesitant and then spoke again, the words seeming to come rushing out of him. "You've got to understand, Chris. Where I come from... it's just not done. I mean, my Dad and his mates, they still use words like 'wog' never mind 'shirt-lifter'."

He had no idea what the hell 'wog' was supposed to be, but shirt-lifter he could guess at. It was an uncomfortable look into what Sam's childhood must have been like. "I take it he called you that?"

Sam snorted. "Among other things, yes." He gave Chris a wry look. "Let's just say that I don't think we'll be getting any invitations to Christmas dinner."

He honestly hadn't thought that far ahead, and couldn't think about it now. There was something else nagging at him. "Is this why you've been unhappy? 'Cause of what your Dad said?"

He'd never seen the shutters come down quite as fast before as they did now, Sam's expression becoming almost inhuman it was so impassive. "I never said I was unhappy, Chris."

Shit again.

"Sam..."

"I'm fine, Chris. I've coped with worse than my Dad threw at me. Don't worry about it."

But he did.

*****

Part Four

When they made love that night it was with something approaching ferocity. Not a deliberate desire to hurt but an intense need turned into something almost animal in its sheer abandon. A way of drowning out the pain, he thought afterwards, lying satiated in Sam's arms, listening to his lover's deep and even breathing. No matter what Sam said, his father's words must have hurt him deeply and all Chris could do was to try and persuade him that the pleasure outweighed the pain. And hearing Sam cry out in ecstasy as he came into Chris' hand was a start to that. But it was no wonder that Sam was unhappy, for all he denied it.

He only hoped that now Sam had finally managed to share some of that pain, things would get better.

*****

When he woke the following morning it was late and Sam was already up and about. He lay there, drowsing in the warmth for a few minutes and wondering how he could persuade Sam to come back to bed. And then the need for action reasserted itself and finally forced sluggish limbs to move, stumbling on still sleepy feet in search of Sam.

He found him, once again, in the small living room, lying on the couch absorbed in one of the books he'd brought with him.

"Hey," his lover said, placing the book on his chest and looking up at him. "Sleeping beauty stirs, I see."

"Hmm." Not being particularly coherent first thing in the morning he settled for leaning down for a kiss.

"I made some coffee. Real stuff, if you're interested." Sam chuckled at the beaming grin that spread across his face. "I'll take that as a yes then."

He rose gracefully to his feet, stealing another kiss as he sauntered past. "You need a shave."

Uh-huh. He needed a shower too. But most of all, he needed coffee. And Sam. Preferably in that order, for once. With that in mind he ambled after Sam into the kitchen where his lover handed him a cup of strong, black coffee.

"Is it worth talking to you yet, or should I wait until you have your second cup?"

He blinked.

"Wait then. Do you want some breakfast? Nod if you do."

In Chris' humble opinion Sam always took too much pleasure in teasing him about his inability to wake up. Far too much pleasure. He gave the matter some thought and then nodded.

"Since it's almost lunch," another teasing smile, "how about a big cooked breakfast? Sausage, eggs, bacon?"

He blinked again and then finally got his vocal chords working. "Do we have any of that?"

"I found the village shop this morning."

Which answered that question.

"'Kay."

"And yes, I bought cookies too."

Which answered the other burning question in Chris' mind. Sam was inclined to shop too restrictively as far as Chris was concerned - green vegetables, lean meat, no chocolate, no cookies. He must really be in the holiday mood if he was buying cookies with no pouting and no nagging from Chris.

"So?" prompted Sam. "Sound good?"

It sounded great and he nodded.

"Fine. Want to see if a shower will wake you up while I cook?"

"Wash my back?"

Sam already had his head buried in the fridge. "Later," came a voice from the depths. "We still have to try out that bath after all."

True. He tried not to take the refusal too personally.

Sam dragged him out of the shower to eat while the food was hot and so he didn't get a chance to shave and get dressed until after they'd eaten their late breakfast. When he finally returned back to the living room, it was to find Sam curled up on the couch again, immersed in his book. He stood in the doorway for a moment, just watching him, drinking in the sight of his lover, relaxed in t-shirt and sweatpants and yet still focused the way that only Sam could be. And then he stalked towards him on silent feet.

Sam glanced up, meeting his eyes warmly. Should have known he wouldn't be able to sneak up on him although he'd enjoyed trying. He plucked Sam's book out of his hands and tossed it over his shoulder, ignoring Sam's raised eyebrow as he did so, and leant in to kiss his lover, exploring Sam's mouth thoroughly.

Pulling back, he gave Sam a heated look, the hunger rising in him rapidly. "Chris..." Sam began, but he placed two fingers over Sam's mouth, effectively shushing him.

"Just let me do this," he said.

Sam didn't look convinced but didn't protest further, just continued to watch him, the look in his eyes unfathomable.

He moved to straddle Sam, letting his fingers trail very lightly down over Sam's chest, feeling the skin beneath Sam's shirt twitch under his touch. He permitted himself a small, cat-like smile at the reaction, glancing up to meet Sam's hooded eyes. He let the tip of his tongue ghost over his lips, a promise of things to come, feeling the shiver that ran through his lover's body at that. He leant forward and breathed on Sam's abdomen, knowing that Sam would be able to feel the heat of it through the thin cotton of his t-shirt.

Shuffling backwards down Sam's thighs, he moved his mouth lightly over the fabric of Sam's clothing, tracing a path towards his ultimate target and knowing that it was having the desired effect from the bulge evident in Sam's pants.

He reached it, and once more breathed over it, anticipation being half the fun. Sam raised himself up on his elbows, his face shadowed. "Chris..."

"Shh," he soothed, his attention focused on the task he'd set himself. "I just want to do this for you, baby."

For once he didn't get a smart-ass reply, Sam not calling him on the use of the term 'baby', and he looked up to meet Sam's eyes. The look in them confused him for a moment; not wary exactly, or even unhappy the way they had been so often recently, but something was definitely slightly out of kilter. Before he could comment on it, Sam dropped his head back onto the couch, his whole posture screaming his submission to whatever Chris wanted. Chris took him up on it, rationalising to himself that he just needed to get Sam into the mood and then everything would be peachy.

It didn't take him long to arouse Sam to full hardness. After eight months of exploring the man's body he had a good idea of all of the hotspots, knew exactly where to touch to get a response. It took a little longer to make Sam come but he used every one of his tricks to coax Sam's orgasm from him, and eventually he felt Sam's thighs tense under the palms of his hands, and then he swallowed down Sam's silent climax.

He let his head rest on Sam's thigh for a moment, stroking his hand absently up and down Sam's leg, barely registering the fact that Sam was still tense, and then he crawled back up Sam's body, resting his weight on him while he leant in to kiss him, sharing Sam's own taste with him.

Sam's mouth was slack under his, no answering pressure at all.

Confused again, he pulled back to meet Sam's shuttered gaze. He opened his mouth to call him on it, but Sam beat him to it.

"What do you want me to do?" The question was neutral both in words and tone, but once again there was that niggling feeling that something wasn't quite right. Before he could comment on it, Sam's hand trailed down his front, brushing lightly against his arousal. "I could return the favour," he said. The look on his face seemed almost hopeful.

Reassured, he leant down for another kiss and this one was returned, Sam's hand still pressing lightly against his groin while the other captured his head, stroking lightly through his hair while they kissed.

He pulled back and said, "Roll over." The hope, if that was what was in Sam's eyes, flickered and died. Confused, Chris explained, "I want to make love to you."

"You want to fuck me." It wasn't a question but a statement, and the flat tone it was delivered in had Chris pulling back and searching Sam's face for a clue as to what his lover was feeling.

There were no answers there. To anyone who didn't know him, Sam's expression was one of polite disinterest. To someone who knew him as well as Chris did, however, it set off all sorts of alarm bells, although he was flailing for a reason why.

"Isn't that right?" Sam asked almost gently. There were treacherous currents there. He could sense that but couldn't see where they were. Like an undertow just waiting for the unwary.

"Sam..."

 "Yes or no, Chris?"

Sam gave him no quarter, those silver eyes boring into him, demanding an honest response.

"Yesss..."

The word was almost torn from his throat, and even as he said it he knew it was the wrong thing to say. However, he also thought that denying it might have been even worse.

Sam nodded, more to himself it seemed than to Chris. "Figures," he breathed. "So much for wanting to do something for me."

The words stung more than he would have believed possible and his temper reared its ugly head.

"If you didn't want to make love..."

"What?" Sam arched one elegant eyebrow. "I could have said no?" His eyes caught and held Chris', merciless and cold. "I just want to do this for you, baby," he parroted. The tone was mocking, and Chris lost his cool.

"How difficult is it to say no?" he demanded.

Sam finally looked away, a brief flash of pain crossing his face. "I didn't say I didn't want to make love, Chris. I just don't want to be fucked."

"Since when?" The words were incredulous and it seemed to have the same effect on Sam's temper as Sam's mockery had had on his.

"Since you fucked me twice yesterday and I'm sore!"

"Well, why the hell didn't you tell me before we started?"

"Why? So you could decide that you didn't really want to do that for me, baby?"

It was like a slap in the face. "We could have done something else."

"Like what?"

He gestured crudely towards Sam's limp penis. "Well, not a hell of a lot now, but we could have swapped."

Sam flushed, and fastened himself up, answering icily, "I wasn't aware that was an option."

The accusation, and that was what it felt like, rendered him speechless for a second, and then he spat out, "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Sam looked away again, his body language stiff with fury. "Well, let's face it, Chris. Since the first time I rolled over for you, as you so eloquently put it, it's been pretty one sided."

"Roll over...? Christ, Sam, do you have to make it sound so..."

"Impersonal?" The icy control was back in Sam's voice. "Isn't it? Couldn't I be just anyone, as long as you get your end away?"

Chris took a deep breath, struggling to hold on to the ragged remnants of his self-control. "Sam, if you have a problem with being on the bottom..."

"I don't have a problem with it," interrupted Sam.

Another deep breath. He thought he had an idea of what the problem was, one a previous male lover had had and so he pushed on regardless. "You know, being on the bottom doesn't make you weak, Sam. It's even okay to like being there. It doesn't mean that you're not as strong as me."

As soon as he saw the flintiness in Sam's eyes he knew that was exactly the wrong thing to say.

"You know, Chris, until you pointed that out it had never even occurred to me that someone might think that it would. Thank you for sharing."

"Sam..."

"I don't have a problem with being on the bottom. The only problem I have," interrupted Sam frostily, "is with being sore. If you want something else, fine." He rose from the couch and dropped gracefully to his knees in front of Chris. "Should I suck you off?"

The idea, in the midst of all of this bitterness, revolted him, which is probably what Sam intended.

"Hell, no."

"Sorry, did I forget to phrase it correctly? Let me try again. Should I suck you off, sir."

His fury threatened to choke him as he watched Sam staring up at him superciliously, although the Englishman's eyes were still frigid.

"Tell you what, let's just forget I mentioned being sore. It sure as hell didn't worry you when you fucked me through the mattress last night. I'll just go into the bedroom like a good little bottom and lie down on the bed. I'll bite the pillow and it won't bother you; I'll just become what my father accused me of being."

The bile was rising in his throat. "You didn't say last night that I hurt you. Why the hell wouldn't you tell me something like that, Sam?"

His confusion and pain must have shown through the rage for a moment, because Sam dropped his gaze and admitted, "I only really felt it afterwards, Chris. I mean, I knew it was rough, but..." He shrugged, and then his voice hardened again. "But I'm sore now and I don't want to make love like that now."

The unfairness made him as bitter as Sam seemed to be. "And I'm supposed to know that?"

"Gee, let me think, Chris. You fuck me twice in one day, and the second time you're not particularly careful about it... Yes, I think a reasonable person might be expected to guess that."

"That's what it is with you, isn't it, Sam? I'm supposed to spend my entire fucking life guessing what's up with you, 'cause you sure as hell never tell me. I'm supposed to guess that you told your Dad about us and he didn't take it well. I'm supposed to guess that you didn't tell Jeff about us and he thought Chris was short for Christine. In short, Sam, I'm supposed to be a fucking psychic."

Sam got defensive. "I never said that you were expected to guess everything, Chris. But I do expect you to be reasonable about some things. Like not take the fact that I don't feel like being fucked as a deliberate insult to your manhood or something."

"You should have told me!"

"How? You never bloody ask!"

They stared at each other, panting heavily. Sam's eyes were bitter. "You never ask if I'm in the mood, Chris. You just assume I am. And even when it should be bloody obvious that I'm not, you push on regardless. Just like you never ask me if I want to be on the bottom, you just assume that too. I'm tired of you always assuming, Chris. And I'm tired of being something convenient for you."

"You are not a goddamned convenience to me, Sam. In fact, most of the time you're fucking inconvenient!"

The words hit home harder than he intended, Sam literally flinching back from his rage. Before he could take a step back, however, maybe apologise for his loss of temper, Sam went into full iceman mode and he knew he'd be wasting his breath.

"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Unlike Chris, he didn't yell, but the sheer glacial tone had the same effect as Chris' ranting.

"Well, let's face it, Sam. About the only place I didn't think we were having problems was sex and now I find out that even that isn't enough to make you happy. I mean, for Christ's sake, Sam, what the hell does it take to make you happy?"

Sam didn't answer, just watching him rage with that shuttered and closed in look on his face that Chris absolutely hated. He knew what Sam was doing. Sam was doing what he always did when they fought; taking a step back, removing himself from the situation and he wasn't going to let him do that this time.

"Tell me!"

He was yelling, knew he was and couldn't stop himself. Couldn't even stop himself when he saw something close to fear flash through Sam's eyes. In fact that only infuriated him more, that Sam would think so little of him as to believe that Chris could lose control to the extent of lashing out physically. He didn't stop to think that maybe that wasn't what Sam was afraid of. He didn't stop to think, period.

"What the hell do you want, Sam? Because I have tried and I have tried and nothing I do is enough to make you happy. I don't even know why I fuckin' bother!"

He was close to tears, a combination of anger, pain and sheer frustration. Everything they had was falling apart around his ears and he just didn't understand why, didn't understand where Sam's bitterness and anger was coming from. His voice dropped to a whisper.

"What do you want from me?"

"I want to feel like we have a future, Chris."

The reply was pure Sam - calm, cool and collected, and his heart sank.

"Well, get real," he spat. "There are no guarantees, Sam. Nothing in life is certain, nothing lasts forever and the sooner you realise that the better."

Sam's voice was very quiet as he replied, "So what you're saying is?"

"What I'm saying is that at the moment I don't feel we have one."

With that, he spun on his heel and stormed out of the cottage, slamming the door hard behind him. That way if the tears threatening did escape, no way in hell was Sam going to see them. He wouldn't give the cold-hearted sonofabitch the satisfaction.

Part Five

He ran rather than walked, wanting to get as far away from the source of his pain as quickly as possible. He didn't stop running until the cottage was hidden behind hills and he was out of breath from his mad scramble. And then his legs gave out as he sank down onto the cold, unforgiving earth.

Cold. Unforgiving. Sam.

His emotions were still raw, too close to the surface for comfort and the tears of rage and fury still threatened. He dashed an angry hand across his eyes, brushing them away. He couldn't have let Sam see him like this. Sam wouldn't...

Sam had.

Unbidden the image of Sam's tear-stained face appeared in his mind, from the night after their brief break-up when he'd used his key to get into Sam's flat. That was only two and a half months ago; surely his partner hadn't just taken him back to break up with him now.

I want to feel like we have a future, Chris.

Chris believed - had believed - that they had a future. Surely Sam's feelings couldn't have changed that rapidly, from pain and grief to being so cold now, to doubting that now?

Shit.

No, they couldn't.

Sam had been cold today, and angry but that didn't mean that his partner wanted him, Chris, out of his life. He'd pushed and yelled and finally got an answer - Sam wanted to be sure they had a future together. Sam had told his Dad about them. He'd been so angry about the fact that Sam had kept that nugget of information from him that he'd missed the entire point.

Sam had told his Dad about them.

Sam obviously thought that they had a future together, or at least had believed it only ten weeks or so ago. From what little of Sam's conversation with Jeff he'd overheard, Sam had known exactly how his father would react to the news, and had told him anyway. For all of the seeming calculation of telling his father before they saw Malone and for all of this talk of he and his father not being close, he'd still effectively burnt his bridges. For Chris. For this future they had together.

It didn't make Chris feel particularly good about himself. Maybe that was why Sam hadn't told him - didn't want him to feel guilty about it.

I want to feel like we have a future.

He kept turning that phrase over and over in his mind, looking at it from all angles. He wasn't particularly good at introspection, there were too many hidden booby-traps in his psyche for him to be comfortable with it, but a picture began to form in his mind. He'd pushed and Sam had pushed straight back, for once. And he'd taken Sam's words and twisted them and built pain on pain and guilt on guilt.

He'd taken those words to mean that Sam didn't think that they did, in spite of going public to Malone and telling his father, but what if he was wrong? What if Sam still believed it and only wanted reassurance that he believed it too? Sam had told his family. Chris, for all of his pushing, had told no one. Even Backup didn't count. He hadn't told her, she'd told him. What if all Sam wanted was some kind of demonstration of commitment, some sign that Chris was serious about them. Would that be enough reason for Sam's unhappiness, not getting it? That and his father's attitude?

He took that idea and ran with it for a while, staring sightlessly into the middle distance as his mind churned.

Sam. Upset. Sam upset at believing Chris didn't care for him, being so upset that his strong, controlled partner had been reduced to tears. And what had Chris done once they'd got back together?

I'm tired of being something convenient.

Shit again. Yes, today Sam should have told him that he didn't want to make love, but if he was brutally honest with himself, and there seemed little point in being otherwise now, he'd known Sam wasn't keen but blinded by his own egotism, his own need he'd pushed on anyway. He should have been more intuitive and realised that Sam was sore. It wasn't exactly rocket scientist stuff, figuring that out, for all his bitching.

Sam had been cold, calm and collected as he'd stormed out. Just like Sam had been cold, calm and collected the last time he'd pulled a stunt like this. So cold, calm and collected that Chris had genuinely believed he didn't give a fuck, right up until he'd walked into Sam's apartment uninvited.

He felt sick suddenly. Oh Christ. He'd already made the mistake of thinking that Sam didn't care when he had that cool face on and had been proved so very, very wrong. What if he was wrong now? What if Sam was as upset this time as last?

I want to feel like we have a future, Chris.

And how had Chris shown they'd got a future? By losing his cool and storming out.

Fuck.

He sank his head into his hands and desperately tried to figure out where to go from here.

*****

It was growing dark and still no sign of his lover - ex-lover - lover. He wasn't sure which term was correct anymore. Wasn't sure of much except that if he hadn't completely and utterly blown it, it would be a bloody miracle.

Couldn't keep your mouth shut, could you, Sam, he thought. Had to go and lose your temper and it could very well have lost you Chris.

Why couldn't he have done what Chris wanted? Or at the very least, have tried harder to persuade Chris to make love in another way, one that wouldn't have resulted in him being unable to sit comfortably. And even if it had hurt, it would heal wouldn't it? He wasn't sure that this rift would.

He quashed the thought angrily. Even if he had given in, given Chris what he wanted, it would only have been delaying the inevitable and he'd been trying to do that for too long anyway. It had only been a matter of time before Chris decided once again that a repressed Englishman was more trouble than he was worth.

Most of the time you're fucking inconvenient.

He hissed sharply, the words still hurting, cutting him deep inside. Amazing that Chris could strike with words so lethally when he was the all-action half of their partnership and Sam the one with the linguistics background. Inconvenient. A convenient fuck and an inconvenient and cold bastard the rest of the time.

He felt cold. Not the kind of cold that Chris and others had accused him of being, just cold. The kind of cold that needs the warmth of another to drive the chill away from his body and heart. The kind of cold that needed Chris, that needed so desperately for Chris to be there, to hold him and to say that he didn't mean it. That Sam wasn't an inconvenience and that this was going to last. Forever. Because otherwise there was nothing to do but to grow older and colder as the years went by, and there wouldn't be too many of them. There couldn't be. He couldn't bear it if there were.

 

But Chris wasn't there and all he could do was sit in the dark and freeze.

*****

Part Six

Although it was growing dark by the time he finally made his reluctant way back towards the cottage, there were no lights in evidence. His heart sank for a moment, wondering whether he'd driven Sam too far, although he couldn't quite bring himself to believe that his partner would abandon him. And indeed, as he turned around the corner to the front of the cottage, he spotted their car still parked in the driveway, mute evidence to his partner's presence, if not in the building then at least in the area.

In his fury, he hadn't stopped to pick up a key but the front door wasn't locked, opening easily to his hesitant push. Which wasn't like Sam, not to secure the area, not given the ex-MI6 man's borderline paranoia. And speaking of Sam, he'd better go and find him, do some... what? Apologising? Grovelling? More yelling? For all of the soul-searching he'd been doing, he still wasn't quite sure. He hoped that he'd have some idea when he finally laid eyes on his partner. After all, he seemed to spend his life acting on gut instinct and it usually worked out. He'd just have to hope that it would serve him well in this instance too.

It didn't take him long to locate his lover; Sam was sitting in the living room in the dark, his knees drawn up to his chest and his head buried in his folded arms. When Chris flicked on the light, he looked up, startled, the expression on his face bleak. Still, at least this time Chris' impetuous actions hadn't reduced his normally controlled partner to tears, and he was thankful for that. He wasn't sure how he would have coped if he had managed to. He was feeling guilty enough already. Guilty and yet some residual anger towards Sam was still churning up his insides.

They stared wordlessly at each other for a few moments, until Sam swallowed convulsively and said, his voice hoarse and quiet, "I wasn't sure if you were coming back."

There was a world of defeat evident in those few simple words and the tone they were delivered in, and Chris felt his heart contract painfully. He wasn't sure what to say to that, and finally settled on, "Well, I did."

It came out much harsher than he intended and for once he managed to get a reaction out of his lover. Sam flinched. Even worse than that, for Chris' guilt anyway, was the pain that flashed through his lover's expressive eyes and Sam's next words, delivered in a dull monotone. "Have you come back to pack?" It seemed as though the mask had finally shattered.

The anger flared again, fed by the thought that Sam would think so little of him as to believe he'd walk out after one stupid fight. Only the expression of almost hopelessness on Sam's face stopped him from exploding again, and he managed to limit his reply to a cold, "No."

He didn't wait around to see Sam's reaction to that, escaping to the kitchen in an attempt to regain some control over his seesawing emotions; torn between wanting to take the hurt out of Sam's eyes and throttling the man. Although he hated himself for it, there was a small part of him that took some vindictive pleasure in Sam's obvious upset and the man's crumbling barriers because it was a goddamned reaction, and that at least meant that his partner felt something. He just didn't know if it was enough.

He filled the kettle more for something to do than because he was thirsty, vaguely thinking that perhaps making the Englishman a cup of tea might be a peace offering of sorts although it harked back to the morning after their break-up too much for him to be entirely comfortable with it. He had to talk to his partner, get Sam to talk to him, although how the hell he accomplished that he didn't know.

When he turned around, he realised that the time for talking had come sooner than he might have expected. Sam was standing in the doorway, his arms wrapped around himself almost defensively, the expression on his face almost pleading. He opened his mouth as though to say something, but apparently thought better of it, closing it once again and just staring at Chris, his expression now hovering somewhere close to a mixture of fear and hopelessness.

They stood staring at each other again until Sam dropped his eyes, his posture screaming out his misery. Chris sighed.

"What do you want, Sam?" he asked, his voice heavy but lacking the hard edge that had been in it only minutes earlier. "You're going to have to tell me, 'cause I'm damned if I can figure it out."

He didn't think that Sam was going to answer at first, his partner still refusing to look at him, and then Sam's soft voice drifted towards him.

"I want to know what I did."

Chris sighed again. "Sam, we had a fight. It happens..." He was on the point of telling Sam to get over it, which probably wouldn't have helped their situation much, but his partner beat him to it.

"No," he continued, eyes still downcast. "Not today. Last time. I don't know what it was that I said or did and I need you to tell me."

Chris just stared at him, confused by the sudden turn that the conversation had taken. He racked his brain, but for the life of him he couldn't figure out what the hell Sam was talking about. While he was still struggling, Sam finally looked at him, the expression in his eyes desperate.

"Last time," he started to explain. "When you... when we... broke up."

Oh shit.

"We talked about this, Sam. I told you why..."

"But you didn't tell me what I did, Chris." By now the desperation was clear in Sam's voice as well as his expression. "I must have done something. You don't tell someone that you love them and then eleven days later tell them you were wrong, unless they did something. I need to know what it was."

He didn't know what to say to that, didn't know how to put his lover at his ease and to make this all better. He wasn't even sure he could. His stunned silence didn't help matters and his partner continued, sounding even more desperate and hopeless if that were possible.

"If I don't know what it was, Chris, I might..." His voice trailed off, the expression on his face now almost completely discouraged, probably because of Chris' continued silence. He still persevered though, his tone now dull. "I keep thinking that I might do it again, whatever it is, and..." He swallowed heavily again, his expression now tired as well as defeated. "I watch everything I say, everything I do in case I... in case I drive you away again."

Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit.

"Trouble is," Sam continued with a humourless laugh almost bordering on a sob, the pain he felt now clear in his eyes, and watching it blossom there almost hit Chris like a body blow, "that I'm watching what I say and do so carefully that I end up saying and doing nothing at all, and that seems to be the wrong thing too."

"Why tell me now?" Chris managed to squeeze out through a constricted throat.

Sam gave that laugh again, the one that tore at Chris' heart. "Because I don't think I've got anything left to lose. 'Cept you, and I think I already have."

Oh Christ.

"You haven't, Sam," he whispered, the words catching in his own throat as he fought back his grief at his lover's pain. "You haven't."

Sam gave a jerky nod, the arms he had wrapped around himself tightening as he obviously struggled to maintain some control and not, in Sam's eyes at least, humiliate himself entirely. He dropped his eyes again, not looking in Chris' direction, but not before Chris had seen what he suspected was the gleam of unshed tears in them. He couldn't stand it, couldn't stand to leave Sam like that, in such pain, not when it was of his making. He'd known that he'd hurt Sam with his careless actions of two months previously, but never suspected it had been this deeply. Any lingering anger that he may have been clinging to after their fight earlier evaporated in the face of Sam's obvious distress.

He moved towards Sam and wrapped his arms around his lover, saying nothing, not daring to in case he made the situation worse. Words hadn't helped him so far. Instead he let his actions speak for him, just holding Sam and feeling Sam holding him back, his partner's grip hard and once again almost desperate before the Englishman relaxed enough to loosen it, although Sam's head stayed buried in his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," Chris risked whispering. "I'm so sorry, Sam."

Sam nodded jerkily into his shoulder, but obviously didn't trust himself to answer, whether because he was too upset or too angry now, Chris didn't know. He struggled for something to say, anything that would make this all better, but his normal quick tongue seemed to have abandoned him. Instead, he could only hold on, his hands stroking clumsily up and down Sam's back in some vain attempt to give comfort. Finally, Sam pulled back, still not looking directly at him and although his eyes were still over-bright he'd obviously managed to keep himself under control - no tears had escaped. Chris wasn't entirely sure whether this was a good or bad thing. However, he knew that letting Sam continue to bottle all of this pain and fear inside him couldn't be good.

He caught Sam's face in his hands, brushing his thumbs lightly over his lover's cheeks. "Talk to me, Sam," he begged. "Please."

He didn't even try to keep his own pain out of his voice, not sure that he could even if he wanted to, and it seemed to get a reaction out of his partner, Sam finally looking at him, his eyes hollow. Once again Sam opened his mouth and then closed it, obviously at a loss for words. Once again, he lowered his eyes to the floor.

"I don't know what you want me to say."

Oh Christ, it was worse than he thought, Sam's dull tone sending a sharp pang through him. Was this what he had reduced his strong and confident partner to? Someone who didn't dare say what was on his mind in case Chris overreacted? His anger at Sam became anger at himself.

"Is this why you've been unhappy?" he asked, his own voice barely above a whisper. "Because you've been worried that I'm going to walk out again?"

Sam's arms tightened briefly around himself and he gave another jerky nod, still staring at the floor.

"Christ, Sam, I'm not. I love you." His voice cracked on the last phrase and once more he saw a flinch going through his lover at the sound. "I know I screwed up, but I thought that maybe you'd forgiven me."

"I have." It was delivered in a monotone, which didn't do a great deal to reassure the American.

"Then why would you think...?"

"Because you won't tell me what I did!"

There was a snap of irritation about the words, and that, at least, was better than the tonelessness before; he would rather Sam was mad at him than lost in some pit of despair. It didn't last long though, the expression of frustration on his face fading back into tired despondency. Sam sank down to the floor, sitting with his back pressed up against the cupboards. He shrugged helplessly. "If you would only tell me what I did..."

"Sam, you didn't do anything." He followed his partner's example and sank down to sit opposite Sam, his whole posture speaking of his sincerity. "It was my fault..."

"These things aren't one-sided," Sam interrupted him tiredly.

"Okay," he conceded the point. "I got scared, and maybe you could have done something to stop that if I'd told you, but I didn't. I fucked up..."

"We fucked up."

"Okay, we fucked up, but aren't we doing that again?" His partner didn't have an answer to that, and Chris pressed the point home. "I love you. I don't want to lose you and I'm not going to walk out. I didn't mean to imply that I would. I just don't know how to convince you of that. Tell me what to say, Sam. Tell me what you need. Please?"

There was a long silence, and he started to despair again before Sam managed to reply quietly, "I don't know."

He tried to tell himself that at least that was honest, but it didn't stop his heart from sinking. "If you can't tell me what you need then can you at least tell me what you want?"

Another silence, before it occurred to Chris that perhaps Sam didn't know that either. "You said that you stopped yourself from saying and doing things because you weren't sure how I'd react. What things?" Another silence. "Sam, please."

Maybe it was too difficult a question to start off with. His lover certainly seemed to be struggling with it. Sam, however, seemed to find some reserves from somewhere, sufficient enough to attempt an answer anyway. "Pushing."

He kept his voice gentle as he sought some clarification. "Pushing? What do you mean, Sam?"

Sam ran his fingers through his hair, disordering it again. It hadn't taken Chris long to figure out that this act meant that his partner was wrestling with something. "Putting pressure on you. Getting clingy."

"Clingy?" Somehow that was an alien concept when it came to Sam. He couldn't imagine Sam ever getting 'clingy', if the word meant what he suspected it did. His confusion must have shown on his face, because Sam was forced to explain, his face flushed. He was obviously finding this difficult.

"Wanting to touch you all of the time. Wanting to... to hold you..."

"There's nothing wrong with that."

"All of the time?" It was difficult to say whether this time the irritation in Sam's voice was directed towards Chris or himself.

Chris bit down on his instinctive response and instead shrugged. "Maybe if you felt that you could touch me you wouldn't feel that you needed to do it all of the time."

There was no response to that other than a tired sigh from his lover. A sudden unbidden thought popped into Chris' head and he couldn't help but chuckle slightly, even though he knew that wasn't going to improve things. "Sorry," he apologised, not wanting to make things worse. "I just... I just can't imagine you ever becoming a complete cuddle bunny. Me, maybe, but not you."

That earned a ghost of a smile at least. "Cuddle bunny?"

"As long as you're my cuddle bunny."

Sam snorted. Watching his downcast face, Chris decided that it was time for a confession of his own. "Do you remember when... the first time you told me how you felt?" he began tentatively.

"How could I forget it?"

He hesitated, not sure if this was a shot or not, but since Sam's face didn't give him any clues he continued on. "I thought at the time... I mean, I wondered whether the fact that you felt the same way meant that, well that there would be more kissing."

That also got a reaction out of his partner, Sam's head jerking up as his lover stared at him in surprise. Chris shrugged lightly. "I like kissing you," he explained. "And, well, before that I had the same kind of fears. You know, how much is too much and at what point will he get pissed at me?"

Guilt blossomed on Sam's face. "Oh Christ, Chris. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have made you feel..."

"Sam," he interrupted, still gently. "I didn't tell you that to make you feel guilty. I told you that so you would see that I feel the same way, so I really doubt that you could be 'clingy' if that's what you call it. At least, not as far as I'm concerned."

Sam didn't say anything to that, just lowering his head to stare at the floor again. It was getting to be a habit and not one Chris was particularly happy with. Stifling an internal sigh, he reached out and placed a gentle hand on Sam's ankle, stroking his thumb lightly over the skin, the only part of Sam he could reach without invading the other man's personal space. Time for the sixty-four million dollar question.

"Sam? Do you love me?"

His partner nodded again, and then, seeming to think that perhaps that wasn't an adequate answer, managed to squeeze out a, "Yes."

Chris nodded back, immensely relieved on that score at least. "I wondered... I mean, you haven't said since..."

Another look of guilt crossed Sam's face, and his partner said hesitantly, "I know that it's stupid, but after last time... I mean, I told you and then..."

"And then I threw it back in your face." Another reason to hate himself, although it appeared that his partner didn't share his feelings.

"It's not your fault, Chris."

"Then whose fault is it?" Once again his tone was sharper than he intended and his partner withdrew, watching him cautiously. "I can't understand why the hell you aren't furious with me."

"I'm not angry."

"Well, you should be," Chris snapped.

"And what good would that do?" This time there was actually an undercurrent of anger in his partner's voice and Chris welcomed it as it went some way to assuage the guilt he was currently drowning in and put him on firmer footing. "It going to make you take it back? Stop it from happening? Turn back time?"

"You are angry," insisted Chris. Something snapped in Sam's eyes.

"Okay, so I'm angry," he snarled. "I'm angry with myself for caring so fuckin' much. I'm angry with the world for the way things turned out. I'm angry with Malone for putting us under so much bloody pressure without a break that we got so fuckin' screwed up. I'm angry..."

"You're angry with me," completed Chris, as his partner seemed to run out of words.

Sam slumped back, defeated. "Yes, I'm angry with you too. But I don't see how that helps."

"It helps. You were so goddamned reasonable about the whole thing, and I think I would have preferred anger. Anger I could understand, I could deal with. You were so calm..."

"Calm?" demanded Sam, interrupting him again. "Calm? I wasn't bloody calm, Chris, I was numb. I kept thinking, maybe if I don't move, maybe if I don't say anything I'll wake up tomorrow and this will all be a dream. Or he'll tell me he doesn't mean it."

"The next day..."

"The next day it was all I could bloody well do not to throw myself at your feet and beg you to take me back. Break down in front of the entire Ops staff, and wouldn't that have been just great? Tell you that whatever I did wrong I'd put it right, if you would just take it back."

"Which is what you've just said," added Chris quietly, watching his partner's rant intently. At that all of the fight just seemed to go out of Sam.

"Yeah," he answered bitterly. "How fuckin' pathetic does that make me?"

"It doesn't," Chris insisted. Sam avoided his eyes. "Sam, it doesn't. It just makes you someone I hurt very badly and who still has enough guts to give me a second chance."

"Really?" The word was sarcastic and there was still an undercurrent of anger in Sam's voice. Chris decided that he didn't want to go there. He'd said his piece, he was just going to have to hope that Sam was listening and that given enough time his partner would realise that he was right. Or, and this was more likely, file the thought away and tackle it when his partner was more receptive to some ego building.

Instead he settled on a relatively mild but completely sincere, "I'm so sorry, Sam." And he was. Oh Christ, how much damage had he done?

Sam gave him another tired look, the ire fading from his face, and nodded again, apparently not trusting himself to comment. He longed to reach out and touch him, try to convince Sam that he did care, still shaken by his lover's confession. And what was stopping him, he wondered. Up until now it had been the worry that he was imposing on Sam, somehow testing his lover's patience, but Sam had just admitted that rather than not wanting to be touched, he wanted to be, desperately by the sounds of it. How could he expect Sam to be comfortable in reaching out to him when he, Chris, couldn't reach out to Sam?

With that in mind, he finally reached out one hand and brushed that errant lock of hair out of his lover's eyes. "I'm sorry, Sam," he whispered again. "I didn't want to hurt you. I never imagined..."

Sam was watching him, his grey-green eyes wide, although Chris couldn't quite read the emotion in them. He was pretty certain, however, that it wasn't anger or disgust and so he continued. "I didn't know that I had the ability to hurt you, not really. 'Cause I'd managed to screw myself up so much that I hadn't listened to you. I thought you were calm about the whole thing 'cause you didn't really care, and it wasn't until I saw how upset you were... in the garage... I didn't..." His voice trailed off as he moved his hand down to cup Sam's cheek. "I didn't really believe that you loved me until that moment, Sam, and then I thought I'd fucked it up so badly that I'd killed anything you felt for me."

"I told you..."

"I know," Chris interrupted gently. "But I didn't let myself believe it until then. My problem, Sam. That's what it came down to. And I'm so sorry that I hurt you. And if I have to spend the rest of my life making that up to you, then I will."

Another flicker of emotion went through those eyes, so expressive when Sam let his guard down. "That sounds perilously like commitment, Keel."

"Yes," he answered, frowning slightly. "I thought that was clear." Although he'd had his doubts today, hadn't he? It appeared they'd been well founded.

"You never said."

"No, I didn't, did I?" He watched Sam closely. "I'm not fickle, Sam. When I tell someone I love them, I mean it. And I mean it for the long term." He gave a slightly bitter laugh. "I've learnt enough from experience not to promise life. But I'm sorry if I ever gave you cause to doubt that."

"Oh."

And that seemed to be the only reaction he was going to get out of his partner on that particular topic, Sam chewing his lip thoughtfully. He supposed that Sam would need to get used to the idea, especially given his own comments earlier about how nothing lasted forever.

He sat back on his heels, watching his lover closely. Sam seemed a little calmer, a little more controlled, mulling over Chris' words so far. "We still need to talk about things," he risked.

"What things?" Sam wanted to know.

"Things like what I can do to repair the damage I did. And things like when you realised that you did care for me, why you got involved with me in the first place. Those kind of things."

Sam gave him a slightly suspicious look. "That seems awfully one sided, Chris."

Chris shrugged again. "That's because that's what I want to know. So I'll make you a deal and anything you want to know you can ask me. And I'll try to answer as honestly as I can. Deal?"

Sam hesitated again. "We need to get this sorted out, Sam," Chris added persuasively. "I don't want to be having this conversation again in six months time because we didn't talk now. At least if we tackle this now we can make a start on fixing things."

"And if they can't be fixed?"

There was an undercurrent of something that sounded like anxiety in his partner's voice and so, rather than losing his temper again or taking it personally, Chris replied with as much confidence as he could muster, "It can be. We want it to work so we'll move heaven and earth until it does."

That earned him another faint smile, which was a start. "Come on," he said briskly. "Bed."

Sam sighed. "I don't think sex is going to fix this, Chris."

That hurt too, but he fought back the bitter words, knowing it was at least partially deserved. "Who said anything about sex? We need to talk and I've noticed you do that better lying down. Don't know why, maybe because you feel more comfortable that way. Maybe because you can't see my face. But if we're going to talk, it's gonna be there. Unless you want to lie down on the kitchen floor?" Another faint chuckle. "No? Didn't think so, somehow."

Part Seven

He reached down and held out his hand to his lover. Sam hesitated for a split second, so briefly that Chris was left wondering whether he'd imagined it, and then grabbed the proffered hand, using it to haul himself to his feet. Chris kept hold of it, not willing to let go because on some primitive, instinctual level, he'd managed to convince himself that if he let go he'd lose Sam. He tried to convince himself that it was a stupid, groundless fear and unworthy of him but he didn't let go until his partner was safely settled on the bed. Even then he stayed close to Sam, pulling his partner into his arms and letting Sam rest his head on his chest.

There was a long, slightly awkward silence while Sam fidgeted until he was comfortable. Chris risked another touch, lightly stroking his fingertips through his lover's hair.

"We need to talk about sex too," he said quietly, feeling Sam tense against him for a moment.

"Sex isn't a problem, Chris," his lover finally said, his voice subdued.

"Sam..." He wondered how the hell they were supposed to get past this if his lover wasn't even going to acknowledge what their fight had been about.

Sam sighed again. "Sex isn't a problem, Chris," he insisted tiredly. "It's all of the stuff around it that's a problem."

"What about earlier? What you said..."

Sam's voice sank almost to a whisper. "I'm sorry I said that, Chris. I really am."

"Forget the apologies, Sam. Just talk to me, please. "

His lover sighed. "I was sore and I was pissed off because you didn't see that. But I should have just told you instead of losing my temper like that." Chris squeezed him lightly and attempted a shrug.

"People get pissed sometimes, Sam. Say things they don't mean. You know that, right?" His voice was hesitant, hoping that Sam understood that he'd said some things too that he didn't mean. Like calling Sam 'inconvenient'.

Whether Sam understood it or not, he continued to try and explain. "Sometimes," he stumbled, "I just want... this." The arm he had draped over Chris tightened for a moment. "And sometimes," he continued, his tone matter of fact rather than cautious or annoyed, "the sex is just a way of getting there. But that doesn't mean... Oh Christ, I don't know what I mean. But I don't think that means that sex itself is a problem. I enjoy it. Really. I just don't want us to be just about sex."

He was forced to admit that maybe Sam had a point. As he'd thrown in his lover's face earlier, he'd begun to believe that sex was about the only place there wasn't a problem. It appeared that whatever the problem was, and he was now convinced that one underlying cause had to be his lover's apparent insecurity, not to mention his own insensitivity, it was starting to carry through to the bedroom rather than the other way around.

Sam. Insecure. It was a concept that had never occurred to him before, and he still had some difficulty in reconciling it with his normally calm and controlled partner. And when he tried, all that did was bring the guilt back. He had to fix this damage, had to.

"Talk to me, Sam. Please?"

He could feel Sam tense slightly again, obviously still uncomfortable with the idea of baring his soul but his lover seemed to accept that this was inevitable. Either that, or Chris had driven him so far that he felt that he had no option. "About what?"

Chris realised that he was going to have to tread carefully, not pry for the sake of it if he didn't want it to come back and bite him on the ass. He knew how much Sam valued his privacy and while he didn't want to violate that they had to start some kind of dialogue. "Anything, Sam," he said, a hint of desperation in his voice. "Tell me what you liked best at school, what your Dad does for a living, anything. Tell me what you got for your twelfth birthday. I don't care."

There was another long silence, and then Sam's voice drifted up from his chest. "It wasn't a good birthday."

Shit. He was on the verge of telling Sam to forget it, tell him something else, or even forget the whole goddamned idea when Sam spoke again.

"Mum was sick."

"Oh? What was wrong?"

Another telling silence and then, "Breast cancer. Didn't know that then. No one told me. I just thought she was going to get better, because that's what happens, right? People are sick and then they get better?"

"Sometimes," replied Chris, squeezing his lover gently.

"Yeah, well. That's what you think when you're twelve anyway."

Chris swallowed heavily. "I take it she didn't?"

Sam hesitated again. "She died two months later."

Oh shit, indeed. He wrapped his other arm around Sam, holding him tightly, Sam's head still pillowed on his chest. "I'm sorry, love," he whispered, the words catching in his throat.

Sam shrugged as well as he was able to, cradled in Chris' grasp. "It was a long time ago," he said.

It was Chris' turn to hesitate before biting the bullet. "And you and your Dad don't get on?" he asked cautiously.

Another abortive shrug. "There's no big drama there, Chris. He didn't know how to cope with two young kids, and Hayley didn't exactly make it easy on him."

"Hayley?"

"My sister."

Now why the hell had Sam never mentioned having a sister? Admittedly, Sam wasn't one to talk about his private life, even before they'd become lovers, but to never mention a sister?

"I take it you don't get on with her either?"

Sam snorted, although there was no real amusement in it. "I don't not get on with her, it's just that we have nothing in common so we only really exchange Christmas or birthday cards. She only gets in touch when she needs something. Which, thankfully, isn't as often as it used to be."

"What did she need?"

"Money, mostly." Sam sighed again, burying his head in Chris' chest while the American continued to card his fingers through the dark, silky hair. "You want to know all of the sordid details I suppose?"

"Sure. Knock yourself out."

At least this time there seemed to be a little more genuine amusement in Sam's snort. "Well, the abridged version is that I was my Mum's favourite, Hayley was Dad's and when Mum died things didn't change much. Dad tried, but you know what they say about the squeaky wheel getting the oil? That was Hayley. She went off the rails, got knocked up at fifteen so there was a new baby and even less time for me. Feel sorry for me yet?"

There was a self-mocking tone in Sam's voice and he wasn't entirely sure how to respond to it. He settled on a relatively cautious, "It can't have been easy."

"Yeah, well. It wasn't that big a deal. I got over it." Did you? wondered Chris. Did you really? "No big drama or anything. I had some trouble with my schoolwork, acted up for some attention and all Dad said was did I want to end up in a dead end job like him? I decided I didn't, knuckled down, was the first person in my family to go to University and the rest you know."

And that was it. Sam Curtis' life summed up in a few neat sentences that made it all sound so innocuous when it couldn't possibly have been.

"You sound like a little angel," he joked.

"I was far from an angel, Chris," Sam chuckled. "Believe me."

"Oh, I do. If I had any doubts on that score, what you did with Spencer's access code would have put me straight."

"Chris," Sam replied with exaggerated patience, "signing him up for a few mailing lists was nothing to what I could have done."

"Yes, but where the hell did you find those mailing lists?"

"It's amazing what you can find..."

"On the internet," completed Chris with a chuckle of his own. He hugged Sam a little tighter. "Still," he said, returning to the matter in hand. "It can't have been easy."

"You've said that already."

"Yes, and I stand by it."

"A lot of people lose loved ones, Chris, and they survive." Sam froze, seeming to realise what he'd just said. "Shit, Chris, I'm sorry..." he added sounding very distressed.

"Shh," his lover soothed. "It's okay, you're right. You do survive."

Sam hesitated again - Chris could feel that in the stillness of his lover's body pressed against his, and that forewarned him in part about what was coming next.

"How?"

He should have expected it really, knowing that he'd told Sam to ask him anything he wanted. At some point Sam was going to want to know more about Annie's death than the American had shared so far. It was inevitable, but even so there was a surge of sharp pain, almost fresh in its intensity. "One day at a time, Sammy," he breathed. "You just do it one day at a time."

"It must have been tough," said Sam, his voice subdued. He wanted to snap, 'Of course it was goddamned tough,' but what good would that do? Sam was obviously working up to something, the tension still evident in his body. He took pity on him, deciding that it was only fair that he repay Sam's confidences with some of his own.

"It wasn't easy. I think that's why I joined the SEALs really."

"A death wish?"

It was an honest question and it deserved an honest answer. "Not consciously. I got reckless for a while, but..." He shrugged, finding it difficult to put into words. "I guess an outright death wish isn't in my nature. I got angry a lot, threw myself into my work, tried to hide from the pain, but of course you can't. Mainly though I was adamant that I didn't want anyone else to go through what I went through. So that gave me a purpose."

"And that's why you joined CI5?"

"In part, yes. I know that this sounds corny, Sam, but I really wanted to do some good. I don't know..."

He trailed off but for once Sam saw straight to the crux of the matter. "Make up for living?"

"I guess," he answered thoughtfully. "In part."

"Survivor guilt."

There was a tone in Sam's voice that suggested that the conclusion wasn't just an academic one. That maybe, just maybe, Sam was acquainted with that feeling. There was so much about his lover's time with MI6 that he just didn't know about. Now, however, didn't seem to be the time to ask him about it, not when there were so many other things that he wanted, needed to ask. And after all, they'd have a lifetime for the other stuff. He hoped. It was time to give his lover a chance.

"Anything else you want to know?" he asked Sam quietly. There was another brief hesitation on his lover's part and then Sam shook his head. "Sure?" he prompted gently.

There was another pause, and then Sam's tentative question came. "When did you know?"

Know what? he wondered. About Annie? About Sam's unhappiness? He could wonder for weeks and get nowhere. "About?"

"When did you know... how you felt about... well..."

"When did I realise I was in love with you?"

"Yes."

Sam only breathed the word, and Chris squeezed his arm around him again. The question deserved an honest answer. "Seems like forever," he said. "But it probably wasn't, although it was a while before I told you. There was no big flash of lightning, or anything. It kinda crept up on me until I couldn't imagine being with anyone else." He gave another little chuckle. "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I didn't quite fall in love with you at first sight." He paused before adding thoughtfully, "I did think you were cute though."

"Cute?"

"Yeah, cute."

"Puppy dogs are cute, Chris. Children are cute. I am not cute."

He had to chuckle again at the note of almost disgust in his partner's voice. "I thought you were cute, Sam. In a 'I wouldn't mind seeing that man naked' kinda way not a puppy dog way. And I have to say that there is definitely something in a naked Curtis."

"Usually you," muttered Sam.

Once again he wasn't sure if that was a shot or not and this time he wasn't willing to let it slide. "Meaning?" he asked softly.

"Nothing, Chris. It was just a joke."

He pulled himself out from underneath his lover, moving down the bed until his face was level with Sam's. "We need to talk about this too, Sam. Now, if you have a problem..."

"I don't have a problem," his partner insisted, rolling onto his back to stare at the ceiling rather than looking at Chris, but not before the American had seen the brief flash of pain through his lover's eyes. "I just don't see how wanting to switch places every so often can be considered a problem."

"No, but not telling me might be considered a problem."

"What? You mean like telling you I'd much rather do it face to face than on my hands and knees?"

Oh fuck. He must have said that out loud too, because Sam turned his head to give him a slightly irritated look before returning to his contemplation of the ceiling. "I'm sorry, Sam. It wasn't deliberate, believe me," he pleaded. "It's just with everything else that happened..."

"You forgot?"

He really couldn't blame his partner for being pissed at him. If their positions had been reversed, he would have been steamed too. Sorry didn't even begin to cover it. "Not exactly forgot..." he tried to explain. "Just... got so caught up in other things..." It sounded pathetic, even to his own ears. "I'm sorry," he repeated sincerely. "Next time I do anything that selfish and stupid, you are well within your rights to slap me about the head a few times. I sometimes need it."

Sam just shrugged, still staring at the ceiling.

"Sam? Talk to me, please?"

His partner finally looked at him, his eyes tired. "What about, Chris? About how I make a simple request and you 'forget'?"

That stung. Before he could attempt to defend himself again, Sam spoke up once more. "'Sides it's not that I mind being on the bottom... I just..."

"Don't want to be there all of the time," Chris completed.

"It's not even that," Sam protested. "I don't have a problem with it, but I would have a problem with it if you did."

He must be tired because that went straight over his head. His confusion must have shown clearly on his face because Sam gave a quick glance in his direction and then sighed. "What you said earlier, about me maybe considering being on the bottom the weaker position. I wasn't lying when I said that thought had never occurred to me, but obviously it has occurred to you. And... I don't want you to think of me like that, Chris..."

"Which is why you never told me why you were unhappy?" Chris guessed. "Because you didn't want me to think less of you?"

"Partly," admitted Sam. "But also... I'm never going to be particularly good at talking about how I feel, Chris."

"I don't think less of you, Sam."

"Chris..." Sam sighed again.

"Sam, that wasn't my attitude. I was just... with someone once who thought that and I wasn't sure if maybe you felt the same and that was part of it. Thing was, he wouldn't even consider being on the bottom because of it and you do. But I thought, maybe you just weren't comfortable with it... emotionally I suppose. I mean, it's got to be difficult for you. Until I came along you thought you were straight, and I've pretty much turned your life upside down. And I've never really given you any space to get used to it, have I?"

Sam seemed to give this some thought. "Not really."

Chris finally managed to put voice to the question that had been plaguing him for months. "Why did you?"

"Why did I what?"

"Change your mind? After that first kiss. I mean, it didn't take me long to figure out that you were new at this." He shrugged again. "At first I thought that you may have had some experience that you hadn't told me about, but..."

"But I wasn't exactly skilful."

"No," protested Chris hastily. "You were! I mean..." He trailed off, blushing as Sam raised one eyebrow at him quizzically. "Oh Christ, Sam, you know you're good in bed!"

That forced a chuckle out of his partner. "Well, it's nice to be told it."

Chris gave him some time to gather his thoughts, but eventually had to push. "So why?" he asked again rather tentatively.

"Honestly?" The grey-green eyes burned into his for a second. "I weighed up all the pros and cons, tried to figure out what the effect of giving in would be compared to not giving in, and decided that on balance it would be less of a fuck-up if I just went for it."

"Oh." Well, he hadn't expected a declaration of love, not at that point, had he? It still hurt a little though and he tried to push that away.

"And you were unhappy," completed Sam quietly, still watching him intently.

"Sorry?"

"You were unhappy." Sam glanced away, appearing a little disconcerted by the way Chris was looking at him. "I don't know why the hell you wanted me but you seemed to and you were unhappy." His voice dropped a little. "And I couldn't bear that, not when I could do something about it."

"Sam?" His voice seemed to be coming from a very long way away. "When did you fall in love with me?"

Sam looked even more uncomfortable. "I finally admitted it to myself about a month or so before I managed to tell you," he murmured.

"Not before?" Still that strange, almost strangled tone in his voice, and it seemed to be worrying Sam, his partner darting him a quick, wide-eyed, concerned look.

"I told you, Chris..." he faltered.

"Yes, but you've also just told me that from the very beginning you were more worried about me being happy than about how it would affect you. Were willing to do whatever it took to make me happy, even if you weren't. I mean," his voice started to rise with frustration. All that time they'd wasted! "What the hell do you think love is?"

"Bloody painful," his lover snapped.

Okay, he deserved that. He chewed his lip thoughtfully, watching Sam's rigid form and knowing that he couldn't let the other man retreat back into himself. He reached out and placed a gentle hand on Sam's waist, trying to get Sam to at least look at him. He was rather surprised when Sam actually rolled over and pillowed his head back on his, Chris' chest. He didn't hesitate though, wrapping his arms around his lover and burying his face into Sam's hair, breathing in the scent of the man, luxuriating in the vast feeling of contentment that filled him at the simple act. For a few minutes he was content to just lie there, snuggling for want of a better word, but it seemed his brain just wouldn't quit. Neither would his goddamned mouth.

"Why couldn't you tell me how you felt?"

"I told you..."

"That you were scared to, I know."

He wasn't sure how to continue past that point but Sam beat him to it. "You stopped saying it."

"What?"

He could feel Sam's sigh reverberate through his lover's body. "I thought I'd just tell you how I felt when you did, you know? Just say it back, but you stopped saying it. And I wondered if that was because you'd stopped feeling it."

"No, I didn't. I just didn't think you wanted to hear it," Chris answered honestly.

Sam's head jerked up off his chest, and his partner stared at him, a frown creasing his forehead. "What do you mean?" he asked slowly.

This time Chris was disconcerted. "Well," he replied, flustered, "you didn't seem to want to know. You'd get that look in your eye, the one that says 'don't push it, Keel', so I'd back off."

Sam's frown deepened. "I never said I didn't want to hear it, Chris."

"You never said, no."

"But you got that impression?"

Chris avoided his eyes, shrugging again, tongue-tied. "Yeah, well..."

"Yeah, well, nothing, Chris," Sam snapped. "It wasn't that I didn't want to hear it, it was..." He hesitated. "It was just that every time you said it, all I could think was how much it must hurt not to hear it back. And I didn't want to hurt you, Chris. But I wasn't going to lie to you either. Not about something that important."

"So when you did know..."

"You'd stopped saying it, and I couldn't say it into a void. So I tried to show you instead."

"Show me?"

A look close to embarrassment flitted across his partner's face. "I've never let anyone else do that before, Chris, and I never will."

"Oh." He processed the thought. "In Tennessee?"

"Yes."

No wonder his partner had been upset in that hotel room when Chris turned him down at first. Not able to work up the courage to say the words, he'd made that offer instead and Chris, idiot that he was he cursed himself, had rejected him. Okay, maybe that was being a bit hard on himself, because his main concern had been that Sam would regret it, but he could see how they'd got their wires crossed.

Thinking about it he could also see another reason why Sam would be so upset about the way their roles had been recently. If he was confusing that kind of giving with a declaration of love, and Chris hadn't been reciprocating, then he was bound to feel hurt and insecure. And that was probably why he hadn't said anything earlier as well - fear of another rejection.

Sam was looking at him, his expression concerned and, unless Chris was mistaken, a little anxious. "Just thinking," he reassured him. "And Sam?"

"Yes?"

He kept his voice very gentle. "I don't need to hear it back. It's wonderful to, but sometimes it's just that I need to say it, okay?"

"Okay." His partner rested his folded hands on Chris chest and placed his chin on them, continuing to watch him closely. He seemed to be considering something carefully. Chris tried to look encouraging without trying to force his partner's hand, a difficult thing to do at the best of times never mind when you were flat on your back staring into beautiful green eyes...

He wasn't going to go there either. Like Sam said, sex wasn't going to fix this.

Sam had obviously finished mulling over what had been bothering him because he reached out with one hand and stroked it lightly down the side of Chris' face, making the American's eyes widen. Whatever Sam had been thinking about, it had obviously resulted in him deciding to let his guard down briefly. There was a softness in his gaze that Chris hadn't seen before.

No he had, he finally remembered. That day in Sam's flat on Sam's couch, when his partner had finally told him how he felt and then Sam had kissed him, touched him so gently. Once again a chill ran through him when he realised what he could have thrown away.

Sam's finger caressed his lip briefly before he let it fall to Chris' chest again. "I like looking at you," he breathed softly.

Chris swallowed heavily. "You can look at me all you want," he answered, his voice husky with emotion. And indeed Sam could as far as he was concerned. It did things to his insides that had nothing to do with arousal.

Sam smiled gently and shook his head. "I like watching you during sex," he elaborated. "That's why I want..."

"Oh," Chris sighed, his heart still doing that backflip.

"I like watching your face, and knowing that the pleasure that's there is because of me. No one else. Me."

"Possessiveness?" Chris asked quietly.

Sam frowned slightly. "No, not like that..."

"Because I wondered..." Chris hesitated and then bit the bullet. "I wondered if maybe that was part of the problem too?"

"My possessiveness?"

"No. Mine."

"You've never really come across as possessive, Chris," Sam stated quietly.

"Maybe possessiveness isn't the right word." Sam gave him a searching look and he struggled to explain, still wrestling with the idea himself. "I wonder... if that's why I wanted to be on top, subconsciously I mean. Because, as long as you let me then you were mine. And so I wouldn't have to worry about losing you either."

"Were you worried?"

"Yeah," Chris answered honestly. "For a little while, I think I was. I didn't know if you'd regret taking me back, but everything seemed fine so I pushed it to one side."

"Consciously," interjected Sam softly.

"Yeah, but... maybe I wasn't as confident about it as I kidded myself I was. I know that once I realised that you were unhappy, all of those fears came straight back, almost like..."

"Almost like they'd never gone away?"

He grimaced. "Maybe."

Sam watched him for a moment, his grey-green eyes unreadable, and then leant down and kissed him very, very gently before pulling back to gaze at him again.

"I'm not leaving you either, Chris." His voice shook very slightly. "I've been without you and twenty four hours was enough."

He searched Sam's face for a moment and then pulled him back down, almost fiercely, winding his fingers in his lover's sheaf of dark hair and pressing his lips desperately against Sam's.

"Oh Christ, Sam," he gasped when he finally pulled back for breath, still holding the Englishman hard against him. "I love you so goddamned much. I'm not going to lose you. I won't."

Sam said nothing, holding him back as tightly, his face buried in Chris' neck. He seemed content to stay there, safe in the circle of Chris' arms, just as Chris was safe in his.

*****

Part Eight

When Chris woke, his arms were still wrapped around his lover, although Sam's head wasn't resting on his chest. Instead, he was spooned around Sam, his face pressed into the back of Sam's neck and his knees tucked behind Sam's. It didn't take him long to realise what had woken him up, the heavy pelting rain against the window pane setting up a staccato rhythm that he thought rather facetiously would have woken the dead.

However, Sam's steady breathing told him that his lover was still fast asleep, and that was hardly surprising, even given the foul weather. They'd talked late into the night, about everything and nothing, finally opening their hearts to one another and he'd watched as the tension seemed to drain away from his partner, lightening his own heart in the process. Finally, Sam had drifted off to sleep, exhausted, after admitting that he hadn't been sleeping very well recently; once again a side effect of his unhappiness although he didn't say so in so many words. Chris had watched him for a while, just for the sake of looking at him, and then crawled out of bed to change into his sweatpants and t-shirt, deciding that while Sam would be perfectly comfortable in the loose clothes he'd been wearing around the house, a night in tight jeans did not make for a comfortable morning after.

And then, much happier, he'd crawled back into bed to curl up with the man who seemed to have become the focus of his life.

He was awake now though, and much as he would like to spend the day in bed, curled up with Sam, his own personal 'cuddle bunny' he reminded himself with an inner chuckle, both his bladder and his stomach were complaining. He hadn't had anything to eat since their abortive fight yesterday lunchtime and he doubted that Sam would have taken time out to dine. In fact, although he hadn't asked the question, he doubted that Sam had even moved from the couch in the time between when he'd stormed out full of righteous fury and had finally crawled back with his tail between his legs.

He needed the john and then he needed food, in that order, and he had the beginnings of an idea too.

He was humming happily to himself in the kitchen when he realised that he was being observed. Sam was standing in the doorway, leaning against the doorjamb and watching him closely, his face still having a slightly shuttered look to it but to Chris' surprise he found that now he knew what was behind that mask he didn't mind quite so much. It was there when Sam felt anxious or nervous or needed to feel in control and it was inevitable that after last night he'd feel a little raw and awkward. Chris did himself, staring at Sam for a moment and wondering what to say to break this silence.

He settled on, "You're up!" which was a remarkable observation since it was obvious that Sam was up. Thankfully his partner didn't comment, just continuing to watch him, and now that Chris knew a little better how to read him, and see past his own insecurities, he could see a trace of anxiety in Sam's eyes. "I was going to bring you breakfast in bed," he hastened to add, waving the spatula in his hand in the direction of the stove.

Sam smiled almost shyly. "There's no need for that," he said quietly.

"I wanted to." Chris' tone was soft and sincere and Sam glanced away, seeming a little embarrassed, or maybe just touched by the affection in his lover's voice. "Besides," Chris added. "It's not like it's anything too special - you know what my cooking is like. Bacon..." He lifted the lid off one of the pots on the stove to peer into the contents. "Scrambled eggs and toast. Sound good?" He gave Sam a hopeful grin and it was returned with another hesitant smile.

"Sounds great."

"Good. Want it here or do you want to go back to bed and have me bring it to you?"

That earned him a quiet chuckle. "Here's fine. Do you want me to do anything?"

"Sure," he said brightly. "You wanna grab the orange juice out of the fridge? It's almost ready."

Sam complied with his request, also grabbing some glasses and cutlery while he dished up their breakfast and fetched the coffee pot, and then they settled down in silence at the kitchen table. Chris was aware that Sam was still watching him out of the corner of his eye, obviously a little uncomfortable and he supposed that he should have expected that really. He said nothing but when he reached for the coffee he let his fingertips trail lightly over the back of Sam's hand. Sam turned his hand over and briefly caught his fingers, squeezing them gently before releasing them, which went some way to reassuring Chris that his partner wasn't having any regrets about letting Chris see some of what lay behind his shields. Well, not many anyway.

"Weather's foul," he commented rather inanely, to break the silence that had fallen between them.

"Yes," answered Sam softly. "Woke me up."

"Hmm. Have to say this is more like the English weather I was expecting when I first moved here."

Sam chuckled again. "Glad to know you aren't disappointed," he said lightly. "If you like we can make up a flask and go and sit in the car by the beach, just so you get the full effect of a British seaside holiday."

Chris raised one eyebrow at him disbelievingly. "In this weather? You Brits are crazy."

"Well, Chris, this is what you get when you holiday by the seaside in November." Sam glanced out of the window at the heavy streams coursing down outside. "It might brighten up in a couple of days. It's too heavy to last very long."

"Can I have that in writing?"

"I'm not that stupid, Keel."

Chris put his fork down by the side of his plate, placing his chin in his hand, his elbow resting on the table top and stared at Sam thoughtfully.

"What?"

"So if we can't go anywhere, what do you want to do today?"

"Is this where you suggest going back to bed?"

Sam's joke fell a little flat, mainly because his own smile seemed strained and he glanced away from Chris as he said it. Another thing for Chris to mull over, and the American finally came to the conclusion that Sam's embarrassment stemmed from their fight yesterday rather than anything since. After all, Sam had admitted that sex itself wasn't a problem, it was the stuff around it, but he must still be a little ill at ease at having to reveal his discomfort. Still watching him closely, Chris answered lightly, "And waste this perfect day?"

A half-grin from Sam, and then his partner said seriously, "I have no idea. I would suggest staying in unless you really want to try and find somewhere that's open at this time of the year. Suppose we could see if we can find a pub later that's open, have some lunch maybe? Other than that, read, watch TV, play cards..."

"With you? I know how you cheat. I'd end up broke. Or naked. Or broke and naked."

"Amazing, isn't it," sighed Sam melodramatically, obviously deciding to play along. "I suggest cards and you immediately think strip poker."

"Yeah. And?"

Sam didn't answer, just snorted with amusement again, his mind obviously back on thinking of things to do and in a way it was a relief to see him entering into the spirit of things. "Jeff is a bit of a film buff. Got a reasonable collection of black and white classics. They're probably here actually, since he's always complaining that this is the only place he can relax. So if reading is too intellectually taxing, and even you need more mental stimulation than that provided by day time television..."

"Hey!"

"... We could always dig some of those out. The Blue Dahlia, Hitchcock, film noir..."

Chris perked up. "Bogart and Bacall?"

"Probably," his lover answered. "Like those do you?"

"What's not to like? The Maltese Falcon, To Have and Have Not..."

"Lauren Bacall wasn't in The Maltese Falcon..."

"I know that! But it sounds ideal. A day in the warm, watching real movies..."

"I thought by your definition of a real movie there had to be lots of running in front of explosions," interjected Sam dryly, his attention fixed on buttering some more toast.

Okay, he'd asked for it. "Curled up with my cuddle bunny..."

Sam gave him a long, flat look. Chris grinned unrepentantly, wondering if he dared risk asking him if he could whistle. Discretion won out. "Sounds like it could be lots of fun," he completed.

Sam grunted but didn't comment further, munching thoughtfully on the remnants of his breakfast while Chris busied himself with finishing his second cup of coffee and watching him. It seemed to make his lover a little nervous, Sam glancing briefly in his direction with one eyebrow raised but saying nothing. To put him at his ease, Chris smiled, and put his empty coffee cup down almost regretfully.

"With the action packed day we have planned I think I'd better go and have a shower." Sam smiled back at him, and he was sorely tempted to ask the Englishman to come and wash his back but, in spite of his best efforts, Sam's reluctance to make love yesterday still rankled a little and made him a little chary of making a move. And so, a little hesitantly, he limited himself to leaning over and kissing Sam gently on the lips and letting his hand trail lightly over his lover's shoulder as he walked past him towards the bathroom.

Sam watched him go, the expression on his face serious.

*****

The warm water streamed over his head, washing away both the sweat and dirt from the day and the tension of the night before. He turned his face into the spray, letting it invigorate him, thinking of nothing. He was so involved in the pure physical sensations that he almost missed the sound of the shower door opening, and even then the warm arms that wrapped themselves around his waist came as a little bit of a surprise.

He leant back into Sam, the man's sheer physical presence as much a source of pleasure as the feeling of the hands ghosting over his skin, balm for his soul.

Sam turned him around and he looked straight into his lover's serious silver green eyes, alight with a hint of arousal and, more importantly, love. It was a look he'd seen in Sam's eyes more than once and if he'd been smarter he would have realised that before now. Now was not the time for self-recrimination, however. He'd been doing more than his fair share of that recently. Instead of dwelling on the past he fully intended to focus on the future and right now the future was looking very rosy indeed.

He leant in and kissed his lover fiercely, enjoying the flavour of Sam's mouth, even when masked by the minty taste of toothpaste. Sam's tongue invaded his mouth, exploring and conquering in a way he loved, in a way that sent a shaft of heat straight to his groin. He melted into his lover's embrace; let Sam pull him closer, the Englishman's hands moving possessively up and down his back, digging firmly into his flesh. He was already erect and let Sam know that, grinding his groin into his partner's hip while Sam continued to devour his mouth.

Finally Sam pulled back with a small, satisfied sound, those remarkable eyes searching his face. And then Sam lowered his head to nip and suck at Chris' neck and throat, the American letting his head roll back on his neck to permit his lover access, the bucking of his hips at each touch and the low moans escaping him ample indication of his enjoyment.

Sam didn't stop there, moving lower and lower to lick and mouth at the skin of Chris' chest before taking each pebbled nipple into his mouth, one after another, to suck gently on them. Too gently. He wanted more, wanted Sam to mark him, own him, leave him in no doubt who he belonged with, belonged to. He growled low in his throat, pushing hard against his lover's mouth and Sam took the hint, his gentle lapping turning to the sharp nip of teeth. It sent a surge of sheer sensation through the American, Chris' knees almost buckling under the onslaught. By the time that Sam's swirling tongue finally reached his groin, he was almost ready to beg for what he knew was coming rather than have to wait a second longer.

Seeming to sense his urgency, Sam didn't tease or torment him, falling gracefully to his knees in front of his lover and leaning in to take Chris into his mouth. Chris almost cried out from the sheer joy of it, his knees buckling again at the feel of Sam's hot, wet mouth surrounding him like a furnace. He looked down, and the sight of Sam on his knees in front of him, the water turning the silk of his hair so dark as to be almost black and Chris' length sliding in and out between his lover's lips was almost enough to send him careening over the edge. Only the grip that Sam's hand had around the base of his erection staved off his imminent orgasm. When he was satisfied that Chris wasn't going to come there and then, Sam's hand released him and slipped between the American's legs to stroke gentle fingers over the entrance to his body.

Chris let out a low groan which reverberated throughout his body, turning to a whimper as the very tip of Sam's finger slipped inside. Oh god, yes, he'd missed this.

Sam released him, and looked up the length of his quivering body, a question in his eyes. Chris nodded almost frantically, drowning in the sensation of Sam's finger still pressing against him intimately. His lover's lips curled up in a slight smile and then Sam was rising to his feet, still with that innate grace, and capturing Chris' lips with his own.

Once again Chris let his lover plunder his mouth, the thrusting of Sam's tongue in and out soon to be echoed, he hoped, with a more basic kind of claiming. When Sam pulled back, once again staring deep into his eyes, Chris didn't hesitate, turning away from Sam to brace his hands against the wall of the shower unit in a blatant invitation.

The blast of cold air as the door to the unit opened and closed almost chilled his heart as well as his body until he realised what Sam must have left for. And indeed his lover was soon back, clutching a small tube and foil packet and looking almost sheepish for not bringing along such essentials for a seduction scene. Chris didn't care. Chris didn't care about anything at that point but the burning need to have Sam in him, buried deep within him and making him whole.

The lean, hard length of Sam's body was pressed tightly against his back and he let out another low moan as searching fingers, this time slick with lubricant, found the opening to his body and pressed there gently, slipping in easily despite the length of time since they'd made love like this. Sam took his time preparing him, obviously anxious to minimise any discomfort and he loved him for that, for caring that much despite the heat singing between them. One gentle finger became two, a scissoring motion opening him up while Sam occasionally thrust his fingers in to brush against Chris' prostate, a forewarning of the ecstasy to come.

He was driven to the point of begging again, begging Sam for completion, the words spilling unheeded from his mouth, a litany of need. And at last his pleas were answered, something much larger and hotter than fingers pressing against him, filling him, the slow burn of Sam's entry turning to intense pleasure as Sam pressed hard against his prostate, making him see stars.

He swore and pushed back, rewarded when the move resulted in Sam slipping deeper into him and another wash of pleasure coursing through him. Sam rocked against him, each motion pushing him in deeper and deeper until at last he could feel Sam's groin pressed flush against his ass. And then his partner caught hold of his hips, holding him steady while he pulled out and then thrust hard back in again.

Chris' knees almost gave way again as fireworks shot through his body. Dimly he heard cursing and realised it had to be him. Sam's hand snaked around to the front of his body and grasped him firmly, pumping him in time with the pounding rhythm he was setting in the rear. Chris gave control over to him, happy to merely drown in sensation, letting the pleasure in their coupling swallow him whole. The precipice beckoned, and he leapt wholeheartedly, a hoarse cry dragged from his throat as his hips bucked and he spilled his hot seed into Sam's hand, to be washed away by the warm water.

His lover held him upright when this time his knees did fail him, turning to jelly, one of Sam's arms wrapped around his waist while the other braced Sam against the wall as the Englishman continued to pound into him. Sam was close. He could feel it in the tension of his lover's body, still pressed against his back, in the harsh panting in his ear as Sam thrust in and out and in the steely grip Sam had on him. And then it came, Sam's climax, the Englishman tensing hard against him and then jerking as he spent himself deep within Chris' body.

Sam's legs finally gave out and the pair of them slid gracelessly down to the floor, both of them breathing heavily. Sam pulled off the condom, tying off the end and dumping it on the floor beside them while he continued to pant.

"Okay?" he asked breathlessly.

"Oh fuck, yes."

The sheer bliss in Chris' voice had his partner chuckling softly, and then Sam was watching him, his eyes warm. Chris had a goofy smile on his face, he just knew he did and he didn't care. Sam didn't seem to care either, because even if his grin was goofy Sam was returning it with that almost shy one of his own.

"Love you," he managed to gasp out and once again he was rewarded; Sam's smile deepening happily, even though the Englishman didn't say anything.

*****

Part Nine

Sam still had that little smile on his face an hour later when the pair of them finally got around to curling up on the couch. He knew it and didn't care, not anymore. Instead, he was filled with a sense of deep contentment. Chris loved him. Chris wasn't going to leave him and even now Chris was curled up beside him, his arm draped casually but possessively over Sam's chest while his head rested on Sam's shoulder.

Now this was a holiday.

Chris seemed to be of the same mind, if the satisfied sound that rumbled through the American's body was anything to go by. It sounded remarkably like a purr, and he had to stifle a grin as Chris rubbed up against him in a move that was distinctly catlike.

Oh, he wasn't an idiot. He knew that there was a long way to go yet before the pair of them felt entirely at ease with one another, but at least now he knew that they were going to have time to do that. So they'd just take that time. What was it Chris had said last night? One day at a time? It seemed as good a credo for living as any that he'd heard, even if Chris had meant it in a different context.

So instead of worrying about it, as he'd spent the past couple of months doing, he concentrated on nothing more strenuous than cuddling on the couch with Chris and watching old movies. It had been ages since he'd done something so... decadent he supposed. Or self-indulgent. His little spare time was usually spent working out or, before Chris, trying to maintain a laughably sparse social life. But this? This he could get used to.

There was another one of those happy sounds originating somewhere from near his shoulder and this time he did grin.

"Comfortable?"

"Hmm-hmm," came an affirmative noise, Chris rising up on one hand to smirk at him, dimples well and truly in evidence. "Very comfortable. Like this."

He risked a tease. "So I gathered, if the purring was anything to go by."

"Purring? What do you mean by purring?" Chris's expression was put out but the mirth in his eyes gave him away.

"That wasn't you purring?" he enquired, the picture of innocence.

"Definitely not."

"Must have been someone else curled up on me then..."

That earned him a dig in the ribs and he squirmed slightly, laughing, before Chris pulled back and leant over him, still resting his head on the palm on his hand, staring down at him with a smile on his face. "I like this," he repeated softly, affection clear on his face. It made Sam squirm a little again, not because it didn't make him feel good - it did - but because he still wasn't quite used to it. Wanted it, but wasn't quite sure how to handle it when he got it, he supposed.

He settled on smiling back, and it was obviously the right thing to do; Chris' smile deepening into a beaming grin, throwing the contours of his face into glorious relief. Oh god, he was beautiful when he did that, and Sam had long since ceased trying to fight the wave of mingled lust and pleasure that went through him at the sight. And love, he admitted.

Chris spoke again. "Snuggling," he elaborated, in case Sam was in any doubt about what exactly he liked.

"Snuggling?" Sam crooked an eyebrow at him inquisitively. "Is that what this is?"

"Yup. Definitely snuggling. And before you start, I know that is not a purely American term."

Sam tried his best to look innocent, but he was sure that the smirk he couldn't quite hide was giving him away. "Strange. I always wondered what the difference between cuddling and snuggling was..."

"I bet it kept you awake nights, didn't it, Curtis?"

"Oh yes. You know how I worry about the semantics of these things."

"Uh huh." Chris was still smiling down at him, apparently enjoying their banter as much as he was. "So..." the American asked, his eyes sparkling. "Would a demonstration be called for?"

He pretended to give it some thought. "The difference between cuddling and snuggling?"

"Yes."

"Hmm. Possibly. And I think you'd better throw hugging in there just to make things crystal clear."

"Just to be on the safe side, huh?"

"Of course. We're CI5 agents. We need to be very clear on these things."

That earned him another dig in the ribs, and he subsided with a splutter.

"Okay," Chris said, with a smirk of his own. "This is hugging..."

He wrapped his arms around Sam and gave him a strong, but chaste squeeze, nimbly avoiding Sam's arms when Sam tried to pull him closer.

"This," he said, leaning in again for a more languorous embrace, "is cuddling. And this..." He tightened his grip a little and buried his face into Sam's neck, rubbing it gently against Sam's skin. "Is snuggling..." His voice was a little muffled but there was no mistaking either the laughter or affection in it.

Sam let himself enjoy it for a while, and then asked, still aiming for innocent, "I always thought there was more kissing involved in snuggling."

Chris' slightly flushed face popped back up again, the grin still very much in place. "You did?"

"Oh, yes. I definitely thought there was... Humph..."

His words were cut off when Chris' lips settled firmly on his. His partner was still smirking - he could feel it in the way those firm and mobile lips were curled up against his. Bastard. Wonderful bastard. His wonderful bastard.

Chris pulled back, his face even more flushed now and his hair standing up in small spikes. "That kind of kissing?" he murmured.

"Hmm," Sam murmured back, reaching for the American again.

He wrapped his arms around his lover, stroking them gently up and down Chris' back while they kissed. Their lovemaking earlier, when Sam had finally taken his courage in both hands and made the first move, had taken any urgency from it now, meaning Sam was able to simply enjoy the touching without any pressing need to take it further, and Chris seemed to be of the same opinion, for once not rushing things. Instead they traded hot and sweet caresses, alternating between slow, open-mouthed kisses and the brushing of lips across cheeks, brows and eyelids.

When they finally parted it was with a small, satisfied sigh on Sam's part and another smug grin from Chris. "So, do you feel snuggled yet?" asked the American rather cheekily. Sam responded by swatting him on the buttocks, earning himself another chuckle. "Would that be a yes or a no?"

He just snorted, watching Chris as his partner raised himself back up onto one elbow and stared down at him again, a smile still dancing around the corners of his mouth. He watched it deepen, the dimples becoming evident, and just knew that Chris was working up to something.

"Cuddle bunny..."

Chris let out a yelp as he landed on his backside on the floor, straddled by a very determined CI5 agent. Sam tried to look pissed off, he really did but a grin slipped through in spite of his efforts, mainly because Chris was lying beneath him looking flushed and still chuckling.

"Watch it... Tigger."

The word slipped out before he was consciously aware of it and certainly before he managed to stop it.

"Tigger?"

Oops. Note to self, he thought as the world abruptly spun on its axis. Even when teasing, do not take your eyes off this man. He's fast. He knew that, although he'd never actually been on the receiving end of Chris' speed and agility before. He struggled half-heartedly to escape, but Chris had him securely pinned down.

"Tigger?" Chris asked again, grinning. He turned his face away, knowing that it was burning and the knowledge only added to the embarrassment he was suffering. "Where did Tigger come from?"

"Never mind," he muttered, once again twisting to try and throw Chris off. Chris wasn't having any of it.

"Hey!" his lover teased him, his voice gentle. Sam avoided his eyes, his face still hot. "Come on. Spill."

He wasn't going to be allowed to get away with it gracefully, not when Chris was like a dog after a bone. "You bounce," he muttered, still avoiding Chris' eyes, not wanting to see the... what? Glee in them at this sign of complete soppiness? Mockery?

"I do not bounce!" Chris protested. That put Sam on the defensive.

"You do sometimes," he insisted, looking at Chris for the first time since this ridiculous conversation had started. "Besides. Could be worse. Could be Cuddle Bunny!"

Chris gave what only could be described as a whoop of sheer glee and launched an all out assault. Sam squirmed underneath him as long and firm fingers found his most vulnerable spots, sliding up under his shirt to touch bare skin. He bucked and thrashed to no effect, not managing to dislocate his lover. And the laughing wasn't helping either. So undignified. Thirty years old, a cool, calm and collected professional law enforcement agent - who was ticklish. If this ever got out, he would never live it down.

Chris finally took pity on him, grinning down at him like a loon, his laughter obviously being infectious. And then he placed both hands firmly on the ground, one on each side of Sam's head, and leant down to kiss him again, pulling back to comment, "I love it when you giggle. I haven't heard that before."

"I do not giggle."

"You were giggling."

"I was not."

"A giggling cuddle bunny..."

"Chris..."

The low warning growl worked as intended, Chris laughing and finally rolling off him, although the look he gave Sam held an underlying hint of wickedness. "I like it," he said, still smiling.

"Giggling?" The word was torn out of him reluctantly and the disgusted tone in his voice drew another chuckle from his infuriating lover.

"Well, that too," Chris replied in his soft American twang. "But actually I meant Tigger."

There was amusement in his face, but Sam was tuned enough into Chris now to realise that it wasn't aimed at him, not exactly. "No jokes about Eeyore, all right?"

Chris laughed again. "I wouldn't dream of it. Besides, if anyone was Eeyore it would be Spence. Or maybe Malone."

"No, Eeyore's too self effacing to be Malone."

"May be right there. Not you anyway." Chris didn't elaborate on that statement, just watching him with warm eyes. He reached out with one finger and traced it down Sam's face before leaning in to kiss him. "I love you..."

Please, not cuddle bunny.

"...Sammy."

Sammy, he thought as he pulled Chris' head down for another kiss, he could live with. He just wished he had the courage to say it back.

*****

Part Ten

What a day. What an absolutely perfect day, doing nothing but snuggling on the couch with his honey, although if Sam had any idea that he'd even thought of him in that context he would be one dead ex-Navy SEAL. Although... Tigger. He had to chuckle at that. Who would have thought that his lover had a secret pet name for him, and Sam had shot back with that far too fast to have come up with it on the spot. Had to have thought of it before, had to. Once again, his partner's complexities had caught him on the hop. Peel back one layer and find another. His own personal Russian doll, and he was having immense fun playing with him, idiosyncrasies and all.

Hell, he loved the man, emotional baggage notwithstanding. And he had his own baggage, didn't he?

Sam had disappeared off to the bathroom, and he was left here on the couch in the dim lamplight, curled up as he had been all day, watching some old and irrelevant black and white movie and waiting for his lover to return. Hell, counting the minutes until his lover returned would be more accurate. Sam was addictive, especially when tousled and relaxed as he had been today, and he was definitely becoming a Sam-a-holic. Had been for a while.

There was a prickling in the back of his neck that told him that he was being observed, something that had kicked in on numerous missions and saved his ass more than once. Glancing up, he spotted Sam leaning casually against the doorframe, watching him closely, his remarkable eyes unreadable.

"Hey," he said softly.

"Hey," Sam replied. His lover started to play with the buttons on his shirt, twiddling them between his fingertips while he continued to watch Chris closely. Once again, he seemed to be considering something very carefully and there was a hint of trepidation in his gaze. "I'm not sore anymore," he said, his eyes darkening and his fingers moving to the top button on his shirt, unfastening it.

Chris' heart gave a sudden lurch, mainly, he thought dazedly, because all of his blood had rushed somewhere else.

Sam's lips curled upwards in a seductive smile while he continued to watch him.

It was a close call as to which of them made it to the bedroom first.

He made sure that it was slow and careful, watching Sam's face closely the entire time for any hint of discomfort. He could do that because he also made sure they made love face to face. They'd missed out before with Chris' - not insistence, perhaps conservatism might be a better word - by making love on their hands and knees. No kissing that way and finally watching Sam's face was a joy. He hadn't noticed before how his lover's eyes changed colour when he hit that spot, or did something that just drove Sam out of his mind. Hadn't had the opportunity to see how Sam bit his lip to try and hold back the cries their lovemaking drove out of him anyway. Hadn't seen the love and desire shining clearly on Sam's face and in his eyes or felt Sam's hands on him, running over his back and down to his butt to pull him in deeper. And hadn't been able to watch as Sam came.

Afterwards, he lay entangled with Sam, his head resting on Sam's chest and listening to the soothing beat of his lover's heart. "Happy?" he asked softly.

"Yeah."

"Well, that was nice."

Sam chuckled softly. "Just nice?"

"Great? Fantastic? Wonderful?" And it had been all of those and more. He twisted his head up so that he could smile at Sam, before letting it fall back onto Sam's chest. "You okay?"

"Fine."

"Not sore?"

Sam wriggled slightly. "A little. Nothing worth writing home about."

Honesty. Wow, they were making progress. And strangely enough, there was no guilt on his part either. There was no doubt now in his mind that Sam had initiated this and that his lover had enjoyed every second of it. "But you won't be, will you? Writing home about it, I mean."

Sam snorted. "I can just see my Dad's face at that."

He hesitated and then spat it out anyway. Honesty. "I'm sorry about your Dad."

Sam shrugged, he could feel it in the shifting muscles underneath him. "I'm not."

"You're not?" That was a surprise.

"I mean - if it came down to a choice, I'd tell him all over again."

"No regrets?"

"None. Not about that. He'll come round, or he won't and I wouldn't give this up," a squeeze to demonstrate what, "for anything."

Chris held his tongue, deciding that what he really wanted to say - good - wouldn't go down very well. Instead he let his fingers trail along Sam's side, saying rather aimlessly, "It's stopped raining."

"Hmm. Might only be temporary, but you never know. Maybe we can get out tomorrow. See the sea and stuff. Be real tourists."

He couldn't suppress a chuckle at that. "Maybe." He was finally beginning to trust that, where Sam was concerned, tomorrow would take care of itself. It was strange that he was the one who leapt in without worrying about the consequences during their working lives and yet he was also the one who seemed to be the centre of calm in their maelstrom of a personal life, soothing the ruffled waves the way Sam did so often at work. The dichotomy made him think, once again, of Sam and his reluctance to rock the boat at home and yet still managing to get in his face when he felt Chris needed it at work. It niggled, nagging at him like an aching tooth and he couldn't leave it alone.

He asked Sam about it, a little hesitantly but still needing a reason, deciding that the worst that could happen would be Sam refusing to answer or fudging the question. Somehow, so deep inside he couldn't vocalise it, he knew that the question wasn't going to be enough to drive Sam back into his shell.

Sam went very quiet for a long moment, so long he was tempted to take back the question, assure his lover that he didn't need an answer. He held back though, a combination of prurient curiosity and genuine concern forcing him to keep silent. Finally, Sam opened up enough to say, his voice so low and soft Chris had to strain to hear it, "The worst thing that could happen if I got in your face, at work or out of it, is that you could leave me." His arm tightened around Chris briefly, as though the very thought was painful. "Out of work, the worst thing that could happen if I didn't push was that I would lose any self-respect for myself." He gave a reluctant little chuckle, but Chris could tell there was no real humour in it.

"And in work?" he prompted gently.

"The worst thing that could happen there is you could die, Chris. Or I could."

There wasn't a hell of a lot he could say to that, and so he settled for non-verbal agreement, once again 'snuggling' up to his lover and letting his actions speak louder than words ever could.

*****

Sam was right about the weather. It was only temporary. It rained steadily on and off for a couple of days, heavy and miserable, making the days so dark that dawn, daylight and dusk were barely distinguishable from each other. And as much as he loved 'snuggling' in front of the television with Sam as they worked through the classic and not so classic films in Jeff's collection it got to the point where Chris was virtually bouncing off the walls. He decided that the only reason Sam wasn't making Tigger jokes was because the Englishman was wary of a retaliatory 'cuddle bunny' attack.

He almost suggested that they visit the nearby village and sample the warm and watery liquid that passed for beer in this country, he was so desperate to get out of the house, even though he knew that Sam would never let him live it down. Not even the bottles of Bud that Sam had managed to procure on his provisions run made up for the sheer inactivity.

Well, there wasn't much to complain about in terms of inactivity on the bedroom front, he had to admit, and that was probably the only reason he hadn't gone stark, staring mad from cabin fever. And now that they were taking turns, although they weren't as scrupulous about it as they were at work, it meant that Sam didn't get sore or cranky, and neither did he. In fact, some mornings they made love without either of them being on the bottom, and Chris had almost forgotten that a slow slide of bodies against each other, or a mouth or hand could still feel fucking fantastic. Without the fucking.

In short, the only storm clouds on his horizon were literal ones.

But finally, just after lunch one day as he sprawled on the floor next to the couch, his head resting on Sam's leg as he stared at the TV, bottle of beer forgotten, he heard it.

Silence.

He tilted his head and listened again.

Still silent.

"Sam," he ventured. "I think it's finally stopped raining."

Sam finally pulled his head out of his book. "I think you might be right."

He bounced to his feet, catching the amused look on his lover's face and just knowing that the word 'Tigger' flashed through his lover's mind. He scowled but let it slide, too excited by the possibilities that a rainless day held. "So, let's go for a walk."

Sam sighed dramatically, but didn't comment, placing his book down on the couch and pulling himself to his feet. "You do realise," he commented as he headed towards the bedroom to put his shoes on, "that it will probably start raining again any second."

"You're an eternal optimist, do you know that, Curtis?"

"I think that's called experience."

Sam didn't grumble much, however, and what little there was seemed to be mostly for show. He didn't begrudge Sam that, enjoying the feel of the cold and still damp air against his face too much.

"Where to?" he asked Sam, not really expecting an answer. Personally, he didn't care which way they went as long as they went somewhere.

"I think the beach is only about half a mile away. Want to go and look at the sea?"

"Why not?"

Sam shrugged and smiled, starting to shove his hands into his jacket pocket. Chris gave him a thoughtful look that Sam returned quizzically, and then reached out and caught one of Sam's hands with his.

Sam flushed slightly, but didn't object as Chris watched his reaction, his own face serious. Sam looked away, but his hand remained in Chris', warm and comfortable.

It was such a simple thing and yet it made Chris feel so content it was almost ridiculous.

They walked in silence for a while, each lost in their own thoughts, following the simple track in the direction of the coast. It may not have been the most direct route for all Chris knew, but he didn't care. It was nice to be out in the open and walking for the sake of walking rather than because they were in a hurry to get anywhere.

The path led them partway down the dirt track leading to the cottage, the one they'd driven down when they arrived, then veered off over some rough grassland before twisting through cultivated fields. They ambled along the footpath for a while, still with their fingers entwined, until he could smell salt and ozone, the harsh and pungent smell of washed up seaweed and knew they were close. It didn't matter, seeing the sea. What mattered, all that mattered in the world was right here, walking alongside him.

Sam finally released his hand to clamber over a stile and he followed suit before moving to shove his by now cold hand into his pocket. He doubted somehow that Sam would want to continue to do something as soppy as holding hands for long, even when there was no one around to observe them. Sam surprised him, however, reaching out for his hand again, not even looking at him. Instead his sharp eyes were searching the horizon and following the path of a seagull as it drifted lazily above them in the chill afternoon air.

There was something so perfect about that moment, Sam reaching out for him without thinking about it and more importantly without it even seeming to occur to him that Chris wouldn't be right there, waiting for him.

Heaven.

Sam turned and smiled at him, one of those full blooded and full bodied smiles that got his heart pounding with sheer love and lust combined. A smile that was for no one but him.

"So. Want to see the sea?" he asked softly, a hint of his cockney accent slipping through as it always did when he was totally relaxed.

Chris smiled back and nodded, saying nothing because words couldn't enhance this moment. He was wrong.

As he started to move forwards again, Sam held back, a slight pressure on his hand stopping him in his tracks. It was his turn to look at Sam quizzically as Sam tilted his head to one side and gave him the same kind of intense scrutiny he'd been giving the seagull. The look in his eyes, silver in the low afternoon light, turned Chris' knees to jelly.

"I love you," Sam said.

His face hurt, he was smiling so much, and after a moment Sam returned the smile. For once there were no shadows in those eyes. "C'mon," the Englishman said. "Let's go and be touristy. Tomorrow I'll bring a flask of weak tea and we can do this properly."

Which sounded like absolute bliss to Chris.

The End


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