Strike Back fic: A Time for Healing (Michael/Damien)

Title: A Time for Healing

Author: Jamie Lynn Miller

Pairing: Michael Stonebridge/Damien Scott

Rating: NC-17

Word Count: 11,900

Spoilers: Season 3

Disclaimer: I don’t own them, more’s the pity. Just borrowing!

Summary: Michael Stonebridge and Damien Scott leave South Africa emotionally broken men. Michael has yet to grieve for his wife and Damien’s CIA demons have returned to haunt him. Both men want to start a new life together, but until they heal and let go of their past, how can they create a future?

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A Time for Healing

By Jamie Lynn Miller

November 14, 2015

Damien Scott and Michael Stonebridge climbed the stairs to the roof of their hotel, the sun high overhead. They were silent for a moment, surveying the vast skyline of Johannesburg, each lost in their own thoughts.

The end of another successful mission. If you count the death of Michael’s wife, Damien’s CIA past rearing it’s ugly head and their commanding officer in the hospital with a gunshot wound to the stomach successful. But for Section 20, this was a win. This was the world they lived in.

Damien finally turned to Michael. “How did it play out in the end, Mike, with you and Hanson?”

“I did the one thing he didn’t want me to,” Michael answered in his smooth British accent.

“What’s that?”

“I forgave him.”

“Shit. You’re a better man than me, Michael. Kerry’d be proud.”

Michael nodded. “Thanks. And how about you?”

“What about me?”

“Did you forgive yourself?”

“For Daniel?” Damien asked.

“Yeah.”

“No. I don’t think that’s ever gonna happen,” Damien replied, and Michael looked disappointed at his answer. “You know that dream I told you about that I keep having?” Damien continued. “Keep running, can’t get away from it? Think I’m gonna stop running.”

Michael gave him a small smile. “Probably a good idea.”

“Slow things down to a walk,” Damien joked and Michael laughed.

“Gentle stroll.”

“Yeah, sounds nice,” Damien grinned.

They fell silent again for a moment before Michael spoke, his tone light.

“You know, I looked it up, by the way,” he told Damien.

“What’s that?”

“Zero,” Michael answered. “It’s not only a concept but it is a number.”

Damien laughed. “Are you fuckin’ serious? You looked that up?”

Michael became animated. “Yeah, I did. Like in 10, 20, 30…it needs zero to exist.”

Damien could barely contain his laughter. “Yeah, Mike. I don’t care…”

“Ah, but you will the next time I say ‘Go on zero’,” he winked and clapped Damien on the shoulder.

Damien shook his head in amusement, then looked back out over the skyline. He blew out a breath.

“So…with Dalton in the hospital we’ve got even more downtime coming. Thought I’d head back to the States, get on my bike and just ride,” he told Michael.

Michael took off his sunglasses. “That sounds like a fantastic idea,” he agreed.

“Then what do you say? You, me, the open road of the west coast. Do us some good. Clear our heads.”

Michael glanced down, then back up. “I…thanks, mate, but I need to go back to London. Things I still need to take care of…” he trailed off, somber.

Things with Kerry, Damien knew. He had yet to see Michael truly deal with his wife’s death. Her murder. There was a meltdown coming. It was inevitable. Now wasn’t the time for his friend to be alone. And from the look in Michael’s eyes it was the last thing he wanted, too. But he was too stubborn to say it. So Damien said it for him.

“I could stick around, if you wanted. Road trip can wait for a week or two.”

Damien saw the tension in Michael’s shoulders release and his partner gave him a grateful smile. “Thanks. I could use the company,” Michael admitted.

“Like I said, I’m here for you, buddy.”

Michael rested his hand on Damien’s shoulder. “I know you are, mate.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They arrived in London a few days later. The tension in Michael’s body returned as soon as they landed at Heathrow. They hailed a cab outside the airport and Michael gave the driver his home address.

“Actually,” Damien interrupted, “Can we make a stop first?”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Damien crouched down beside the granite headstone, the dirt still freshly turned beneath his knees. He reached out and rested his fingers across the letters etched into the surface. He had truly liked Kerry. She was funny and smart and beautiful. And truth be told, he was envious of her, because she had Michael.

Michael – who stood ramrod straight, radiating anger, looking out over the landscape of tombstones but not down at his wife’s grave.

Damien rose and rested a hand against Michael’s back. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I should’ve been here.”

Michael turned abruptly to face him, his eyes cold and hard. “And I shouldn’t have!” he yelled. He pointed down. “She’d still be alive if I’d decided not to stay!” Michael’s voice broke and he turned on his heel and strode away.

Damien watched him go, his heart breaking for his partner, for the pain he was going through. He was now more glad than ever he offered to accompany Michael back home. Because an explosion was coming. And Michael would need someone there to pick up the pieces.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The cab ride to Michael’s house was made in silence. When they arrived, Damien followed him up the short walk to the front door, where Michael hesitated.

“Hey, we don’t have to do this right now,” Damien told him. “It’s been a long day. We can get a couple of rooms at a hotel tonight. It’s okay if you’re not up to this.”

Michael shook his head. “No. Avoiding it’s not going to make it any easier,” he replied, then withdrew his key and unlocked the door.

Damien followed him inside, where he paused, looking around. It was as if two people still lived there. Like Michael was out for a jog and Kerry out shopping and they’d both be home soon. There was a book open on the side table next to the couch, Kerry’s sweater draped across the chair, Michael’s shoes near the door, a grocery list taped to the refrigerator. It was like walking into a time capsule.

Michael had buried his wife, buried his emotions, closed the door and walked away.

Damien put his bag down and watched as Michael wandered through the living room with a haunted look before going upstairs with his bag without a word. Damien let him go.

He instead made himself useful by opening up the windows, bringing in some much needed fresh air. The kitchen was his next stop. Not surprisingly, the fridge and cupboards were nearly bare. He found several menus on the table, which he shuffled through before deciding on Indian. His stomach rumbled as he thought about food, as neither of them had eaten since breakfast before their flight and it was now early evening. Getting a good meal in them would do them both some good. He picked up the phone and called in their take away order.

While Damien waited for their dinner he took a closer look around Michael’s home. He’d only been there the one time, mainly in the kitchen talking with Kerry. The small living room was furnished simply and with a woman’s touch. Not surprising, since Kerry lived here alone the majority of the time while Michael was gone halfway across the world. There was a bookcase filled with knick-knacks, mainly small porcelain statues of animals, flowers, children – all by the same artist. Must be Kerry’s collection. There were framed photographs, too. Mostly of Michael and Kerry but a few of just Michael in his various military uniforms throughout the years. One photo in particular caught Damien’s attention – a very young Michael in fatigues, looking somber and determined. He couldn’t be more than eighteen years old. Damien realized then that he knew practically nothing about Michael’s past, about his childhood. And for that matter, Michael knew nothing of Damien’s. Just not a topic you discuss when you’re hunting terrorists.

There had been silence for awhile upstairs and Damien was about to go up and check on his partner when he heard movement, footsteps in the hallway, a door opening and closing, the sound of a dresser drawer being pulled open. Michael must be unpacking. Damien left him to it and sat down in the chair, unsure of what to do with himself. There were several magazines on the coffee table, which he picked up and looked through. Mainly entertainment related but the last one…Parenting Today.

Damien dropped his head. Shit. Kerry had obviously forgotten this was still in the house. He remembered Michael being over the moon that his wife was pregnant. And then when she lost the baby…one more thing that he’d yet to see Michael deal with properly. One more topic he’d compartmentalized and locked away. Damien rose and tossed the magazine in the bin in the kitchen, trying to spare his friend even more grief.

He was about to step outside for a smoke when there was a knock at the door. Their food had arrived.

“Michael! Dinner!” Damien called up the stairs as he opened the door and paid the delivery boy, accepting the delicious smelling curry. His stomach rumbled again as he placed the bags on the kitchen table.

Michael joined him a minute later, looking drawn and tired. “Thanks,” he told Damien. “I wasn’t even thinking about food.”

“No problem. Hope curry’s okay. Haven’t had good Indian since we were in Delhi,” he smiled.

Michael didn’t answer, simply picking up his box of food and walking into the living room. Damien frowned, concerned. He retrieved a couple of beers from the refrigerator, one of the few things in there, intending to give one to Michael. But when he went into the living room he saw that his partner had brought out a bottle of whiskey – a clear indication of his intention that evening. And that was fine with Damien. If Michael wanted to get drunk and shut down for awhile, Damien wasn’t going to stop him. He would however, stay sober himself and look after his friend.

Which is exactly what he did. He sat in the chair and nursed his beers and ate his curry. And he talked. It was mostly a one-sided conversation as Michael stared off into space as he ate and drank and drank some more. Damien rambled on about their upcoming road trip, about all the sights they needed to see on the west coast. Everything from the Bigfoot Museum to the House of Mystery to the Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix memorials.

Michael nodded every once and awhile, but was mainly focused on his whiskey, withdrawing more into himself, staring into his glass like all of the answers he sought were at the bottom. It didn’t take long before Michael’s eyelids began to droop. Damien knew the long day of traveling combined with the stop at the cemetery and his general emotional state of mind since walking into the house had left him exhausted. Add in copious amounts of alcohol… Damien caught the glass as it slipped from Michael’s fingers, his partner’s head lolling back against the couch as his eyes finally closed, sinking into blissful unconsciousness.

Damien sighed heavily. He hated seeing his friend like this. He wished there was more he could do for him than just be here and look after him while he struggled to come to terms with Kerry’s death.

But for now it was all he could do. So he swung Michael’s legs up onto the couch, took off his boots, got a pillow under his head and pulled the blanket down off the back of couch and draped it over him. He lightly squeezed Michael’s shoulder. “Get some rest, buddy,” he whispered.

Damien himself wasn’t tired, so he dug in his bag for his cigarettes and lighter and stepped outside onto the front step for a smoke. It was a beautiful summer night. The sun was just starting to sink below the horizon, painting the sky in shimmering shades of pink and orange.

Damien lit up and inhaled deeply. He glanced up and down the street at the quaint neighborhood. For the first time in a long time Damien wished he had his own home to return to after missions. He barely remembered a time when he didn’t live in military barracks or in some crap hole in the wall apartment in one foreign city after another.

Children’s laughter caught his attention and he watched as two young boys ran out of a house next door, kicking a soccer ball back and forth across the road. Unbidden, the thought entered Damien’s mind that they were the same age Daniel was when…

Damien cursed and threw down his cigarette in anger, tamping down on it viciously with his boot. Fucking Christy Bryant barreling back into his life after all these years, stirring up long forgotten memories, raising demons he thought he’d put to rest. His throat closed up when he thought of his mini breakdown in the Section 20 crib and he swallowed deeply. He never wanted to be that vulnerable in front of his teammates ever again. To show that kind of weakness. But he’d been blindsided by Christy’s reappearance and had no choice but to relate the sickening reason why he’d walked away from the CIA. What he’d done. What he’d become.

Damien watched the boys laugh and play for another long minute, until his vision blurred with tears he refused to let fall.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The nightmare came that night, as he knew it would.

He watched through the binoculars as young Daniel unexpectedly followed his father to his car, smiling and carrying his school bag, and climbed in the backseat.

 

His heart seized up in his chest. This couldn’t be happening…this couldn’t be happening…

 

He threw down the binoculars as his target got in the driver’s seat. He knew it was pointless. He was much too far away to stop the inevitable tragedy but he ran as fast as could. He could make it…he had to…

 

Seconds later the explosion blew apart the car, utterly destroying it. Flames shot up into the air, sending shards of metal in every direction.

 

He reached out desperately… “NOOOO—“

“—OOO! NO!”

Damien’s agonizing cry echoed throughout the guest bedroom as he sat straight up, his hands reaching out in front of him, grasping nothing but air. He could feel the heat, smell the C4…

Still caught up in the nightmare, Damien fought against the hands that were suddenly on his arms.

“Let go! I can save him! I can save him!” he cried out, voice breaking, trying to pull away.

The arms instead came completely around him, holding him tight. “You can’t, Scott…you can’t. I’m so sorry…”

His partner’s voice broke through the lingering haze of the nightmare and Damien sagged, finally coming fully awake, breathing hard against Michael’s shoulder. He felt one of Michael’s hands cup the back of his neck. “Let it out…I’ve got you, mate…”

Emotionally raw, he gave in, knowing he was safe with Michael, the only man he trusted his very life to. The sob burst from his chest and he held onto Michael as he cried, truly cried for the first time in seven years. For the young life he had taken.

Michael held him while he poured out his grief and anger and guilt, until he was utterly and completely spent. His head felt like it was stuffed with cotton and it took effort to raise it from Michael’s shoulder. When he did he immediately averted his eyes from Michael’s.

“I’m sorry,” he rasped, throat raw, reluctantly pulling back. Michael unwrapped his arms from around Damien and he immediately missed their warmth, their strength.

“Don’t apologize,” Michael told him gently. “Talk to me instead,” he encouraged. “I know you said you can’t forgive yourself. But not keeping it bottled up inside might lighten the burden.”

Damien hesitated, wiping his hands across his face and taking a steadying breath. This was the same reason he was here for Michael – wanting his partner to talk to him, to share his grief. To lighten his burden. He didn’t expect the tables to be turned. But maybe if he opened up, Michael would find it easier to do so as well. So he took a chance.

Damien nodded once and exhaled deeply. “My target’s name was William Parker. Married with one son,” he began, voice rough. “Originally from New York, living in Ecuador. I read his file from cover to cover. Followed him for weeks, learned his schedule. Turned out hitting him at home would be easiest. Car bomb wired to the ignition. Nothing fancy.”

Damien paused and swallowed. “I planted the bomb overnight. Every morning when Parker would get ready to leave for the office his wife and son would say goodbye on the front porch then walk back inside. The wife would take the boy to school about fifteen minutes later. But not that day.”

Damien cleared his throat. “I have no idea why, but for some reason Parker decided to drive his son to school that day. As soon as I saw Daniel follow Parker to the car… I was far enough away that I was watching through binoculars. I knew I had no chance to save that little boy. But I tried. I swear I tried…” he trailed off, voice breaking.

Michael looked stricken, hearing all of the details. He reached out and put a hand on Damien’s leg.

“I was finished with the CIA and Christy Bryant right then,” Damien continued. “I walked away the next day. I felt…dirty. I wasn’t a soldier anymore. They turned me into a goddamn assassin. And that still haunts me. What I did, all the people I killed in cold blood, including a ten year old boy, in the name of the United fucking States. That’s why I can never forgive myself,” he finished.

There was compassion and understanding in Michael’s eyes. “I’m so sorry you ended up going down that path after Delta. Fucking Grant,” he spat out.

Damien shook his head. “She tried to do the right thing in the end. She gave me a second chance. To let me do what’s right. To save lives instead of take them. Section 20 is a way for me to redeem myself. And you’re a big part of that,” he told Michael. “Thank you for always trusting me. For having my back. For helping me to be a soldier again.”

Michael rested both his hands on Damien’s bare shoulders. “You’re a good man, Damien,” Michael told him forcefully. “You need to forgive yourself. Don’t let your past define you. And I mean this truly – you’re the best partner I’ve ever had. No one else I’d rather have at my side when my life is on the line.”

Damien was suddenly aware how close Michael was. He could sense his body heat, smell his clean scent, see the blues and greens in his eyes. And feelings he’d been ignoring for the past two years suddenly flared to life. Feelings he’d suppressed because Michael was married, and off-limits. But Michael wasn’t married any more…

He must have given away something in his expression, for Michael’s eyes widened slightly and he pulled back, regarding Damien with a mixture of surprise and curiosity. His reaction threw Damien off-balance and an awkward silence descended upon the room.

Michael finally broke it by clearing his throat and standing up. “Think you can get back to sleep?”

Damien nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m good. And Mikey, thanks. For listening,” he said sincerely.

Michael smiled. “Anytime, mate,” he answered, then walked out of the room and closed the door behind him.

Damien blew out a long breath and stretched back out on the mattress. Michael’s strange expression flashed in his mind and he tried to make sense of it. It wasn’t one of repulsion, which opened up doors Damien never even considered. It’d never crossed his mind that Michael wasn’t 100% straight. He’d never considered being with Michael anything other than a fantasy that he’d jacked off to more than once. But now…?

With that optimistic thought in mind, Damien closed his eyes and drifted off back to sleep, his dreams now filled with hope instead of tragedy.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The sun was up the next time Damien woke, the smell of breakfast cooking pulling him eagerly from his bed. After a quick stop in the bathroom he was padding downstairs in his boxers and bare feet.

He found Michael in the kitchen, dressed in his running gear, standing at the stove, two frying pans going and bread just popping out of the toaster.

“Aww, where’s your apron, honey?” he greeted his partner, who answered him with his middle finger.

Damien chuckled. “Where’d all this come from?”

“Went out early for a run,” Michael told him. “Stopped at the market on the way back and picked up a few things.”

Suddenly a smell grabbed Damien’s attention and his eyes widened. “You made coffee?” he questioned his British tea drinking partner.

Michael handed him a steaming mug. “Consider this an apology for last night. For getting drunk and passing out on you.”

Damien wanted to savor his first sip, but instead grimaced at the bitter taste. He immediately started hunting for milk and sugar. “Do me a favor, buddy. Don’t ever do that again if this is how you’re gonna reward me,” he cracked. Michael looked offended and Damien laughed. “You just stick to your tea and leave the real drinks to the real men,” he smirked.

“Oi!” Michael laughed and took a friendly swing at Damien, who easily ducked it.

“Seriously, though,” Michael said. “That was rude of me. I appreciate you being here and I was a shit host.”

Damien shrugged. “We both had a rough night. We can call it even.”

Michael nodded. “Roger that.”

“So what’s the plan for today?” Damien asked as Michael put a plate piled high with eggs and sausage and beans in front of him.

“I need to go into town,” Michael told him. “Things I need to take care of with the bank, the solicitor, at HQ, too. I’ll probably be gone for most of the day.”

Damien nodded, swallowing down a mouthful of breakfast. “Anything I can do around here for you? Anything you want…packed?”

Michael hesitated. “No…I’d like to go through her things myself,” he answered quietly. Then he forced a smile on his face. “You just relax and watch some rugby on the telly. You know, a sport real men play. With no padding. Unlike your ridiculous American football. Which isn’t even played with your feet!” He threw his hands up.

“Oh you did not just insult the greatest American sport!” Damien fired back. “And rugby? They wear spandex for crying out loud! That’s for the ballet, not sports!”

Both men stared at each other and burst out laughing. It’d been a long time since Damien had heard Michael really laugh. It was music to his ears.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

There was no laughter that evening when the two of them met up again. Damien had gone shopping earlier in the day and picked up enough staples to last them for about a week and was returning the favor by cooking dinner when Michael arrived back home.

He looked exhausted. His suit coat was now draped over his arm, his shirt wrinkled and his tie undone. His face was drawn and his eyes dull. Having to tell people over and over all day that your wife was dead could take a lot out of a man.

Without a word Damien handed Michael a beer as he walked into the kitchen.

Michael nodded. “Thanks,” he said flatly, sitting down at the kitchen table heavily.

Damien flipped over the burgers in the frying pan. “How’d it go? Get everything taken care of?”

Michael took a long pull from the bottle. “Pretty much. There are some things Kerry’s parents need to be a part of, but other than that…” he trailed off, staring down at the kitchen table.

Damien quickly assembled a hamburger with all of the typical American fixings and set it down in front of his partner. “Go on. Bet you haven’t eaten all day.”

Michael looked at the burger unenthusiastically. “I’m sorry you went to the trouble, mate, but I’m not hungry.” He stood, taking his beer with him and went upstairs.

Damien watched the retreating form of his partner with concern, his appetite now gone as well.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It was quiet upstairs for awhile then Michael came back down dressed more comfortably in a t-shirt and sweatpants and went out into the back garden, to a small shed. He was carrying a few empty boxes when he returned. He went back upstairs without a word, though his expression told Damien he was not really prepared for the task ahead.

Ten minutes later a crash and an angry yell from Michael had Damien sprinting up the stairs and barreling into Michael’s bedroom.

The dam had finally broken.

He watched as his distraught partner picked up a small porcelain statue from Kerry’s dresser and hurled it at the wall. It shattered, the pieces raining down to join another pile already on the floor. He turned and grabbed a third statue, another hoarse cry tearing out of him as he destroyed it as well. Then he turned abruptly back to the dresser and viciously swept everything off onto the floor.

The anger and pain etched on Michael’s face tore at Damien and he moved quickly over to him, taking hold of one of his arms. Michael turned on him with a yell and swung at him blindly with a wild punch. Damien easily ducked it and used his partner’s momentum to turn him around, pinning his arms down to his side in a bear hug. Michael struggled, his face red and his chest heaving.

“Stop, Michael, stop!” Damien pleaded, as he used all of his strength to bring them both down to their knees.

The fight went out of Michael then and he doubled over, eyes clenched shut as the first sob tore through his body. Damien quickly released him and moved around in front of him. He rested Michael’s head on his shoulder, one hand on the back of his neck, Michael’s own hands gripping Damien’s waist – a mirror image of the previous night.

“I’ve got you, buddy…” Damien assured him as Michael finally gave in to the grief he’d refused to let himself feel for so long.

“I can’t…I can’t…” Michael repeated as he cried.

“Can’t what, Mike? Talk to me,” Damien encouraged him, gently squeezing the back of Michael’s neck.

It took a long moment for Michael to calm his breathing and lift his head from Damien’s shoulder. His eyes were red rimmed and haunted.

“I forgave Hanson, but I can’t forgive myself,” he rasped.

“Forgive yourself for what? None of this was your fault,” Damien replied, confused.

“For the way I treated her!” Michael sat back on his heels, his voice anguished. “First I was unfaithful to her with Kate and then after that by thinking of someone else when we were in bed together.”

Damien tried to hide his surprise at Michael’s last statement as his partner continued.

“She deserved so much better than me. Why didn’t I just let her go? Why wasn’t I honest with her? With myself? She’d hate me but she’d still be alive.” He paused, swallowing hard. “We’d grown apart but I still cared for her. And I killed her, Damien. I killed her…” his voice broke and he dropped his head, covering his face with his hands.

Damien took hold of his friend’s arm. “No,” he said forcefully and Michael raised his head. “That sick fuck Hanson is to blame. You did nothing wrong.”

Michael knocked Damien’s hand away. “I started this! I killed his brother. That’s on me.”

“You’re not psychic, Michael! There was no way you could’ve known the kid was gonna snap and start killing his teammates. He tried to kill you. You had no choice.”

Michael’s expression was bleak. “Hanson told me there is death in everything we touch.”

Damien hesitated. On the surface Hanson was right. Death followed them everywhere. But when you looked beneath the surface… “That’s the difference between Hanson and us. He killed because he liked it. We take lives to save others. Don’t ever forget that, Mike.”

Damien hoped his words were getting through but it was hard to tell. Michael sighed deeply and rested his head against the side of the bed.

“I’m tired, Damien. I’m so fucking tired.”

“I know, buddy,” Damien replied sympathetically. He stood and reached his hand down for Michael and helped his partner stand up enough to then sit on the side of the bed.

Damien swept his arm out. “Leave all this, okay? We’ll get it cleaned up in the morning. Try and get some rest.” He squeezed Michael’s shoulder and started walking to the door.

“Damien.”

Michael’s voice stopped him and he turned.

“Thanks for being here, mate.”

Damien nodded. “Always got your back, buddy.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Hours later, in the middle of the night, Damien was awakened by his bedroom door opening. He sat up, concerned, when his partner walked into the room.

“Michael? What’s wrong?”

Michael remained silent, instead dropping to his knees beside the bed. He was illuminated by the moonlight coming in through the window and Damien could see a myriad of emotions on Michael’s face – pain, loneliness, longing.

“What – “ he started, but cut himself off when Michael lay a hand on the side of his face. Damien blinked, confused, but then his eyes widened in understanding as Michael leaned in to kiss him.

Damien abruptly pulled back, Michael’s hand dropping to the bed. “Michael. Stop.”

Michael’s expression was hurt and confused. “Why? I know you want this. I saw it in your face yesterday.”

Damien shook his head, his voice low. “We can’t do this. You’re hurting, and you’re alone. And me…I’m messed up, Mike. You saw that yesterday, too. Neither of us is in the right headspace for this.”

He rested a hand on Michael’s bare shoulder. “Don’t think for an instant I don’t want this. But I can’t lose you, Michael. You’re the only friend I have. And if we do this right now when we’re just feeling, not thinking…It would kill me if you regretted it in the morning. I can’t take that chance.”

“I want this. I do,” Michael told him.

“Then you’ll still want it in the morning,” Damien replied. “There’s no rush, Michael. We both have some healing to do first. Especially you.”

Michael nodded, but the hurt and rejection was still there. He stood quickly and started to leave but Damien snagged his wrist.

“Wait,” he told him. Going back into that bedroom with all the memories it held would do Michael no good. And truth be told, he didn’t want him to leave.

“Don’t go,” Damien said softly. “Stay. Just…sleep. You don’t need to be alone.”

Michael released a breath, unspoken thanks in his eyes and walked to the other side of the bed. Damien shifted to one side and Michael slid in beside him. He had “slept” with his partner numerous times over the past several years. But there was a difference between sharing a piece of cold, hard ground in the middle of some god-forsaken country with one eye open on constant alert and sharing a real bed, wearing nothing but their underwear. Damien could feel Michael’s body heat all along his back, hear his soft breathing…he found his partner’s close proximity relaxed him like nothing else and he closed his eyes.

It was the best sleep he’d had in months.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

At some point during the night Damien had rolled over, so when he woke in the morning he was looking straight into blue-green eyes that were regarding him steadily.

“I still want this,” Michael whispered.

Before he could stop himself, Damien impulsively leaned in and closed the tiny distance between them. Michael’s lips were soft and warm against his own. The kiss was brief and chaste – a promise. When Damien leaned back Michael was smiling at him. His partner nodded in understanding and rolled from the bed.

Damien turned onto his back as Michael left the room. He blew out a breath. It’d been a long time since he’d been with a man. John Porter’s face flashed in his mind. It was always just casual sex between them, blowing off steam during and after missions. But he wanted more than that with Michael. Which is why he couldn’t screw this up.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

The atmosphere in the house seemed lighter. That small kiss had put a brightness back in Michael’s eyes that didn’t dim when Damien joined him after breakfast to help pack up Kerry’s things. Damien swept up the remains of the statues and the other items strewn about the floor while Michael started folding up Kerry’s clothes.

“What are you going to do with everything?” Damien asked as he handed Michael some sweaters from the top shelf of the wardrobe.

“Take most of it to our church,” Michael answered. “They work with several shelters in the area. It’ll be nice to know Kerry’s things will help a lot of people.”

Damien reached up for the remaining sweaters and felt a book between them. Curious, he slipped it out. It was a photo album. He looked at Michael. “Can I?” he asked, not wanting to stir up memories if Michael didn’t want him to.

Surprisingly, his partner nodded his head. “Sure, go ahead.”

Damien was expecting photos of Michael and Kerry, but instead it was Michael’s baby book. Damien couldn’t stop his chuckle at infant Mikey’s chubby little face and bald head. He sat down next to Michael on the bed and playfully smacked his stomach. “Good thing you lost that baby fat,” he joked and Michael grinned.

There was a large photo taking up most of the next page – baby Michael held between a petite brunette and a tall man in a military uniform.

“Your parents?”

A hint of sadness crossed Michael’s face. “Yeah.” He reached over and touched the faces. “Amelia and Connor Stonebridge.”

“Are they gone?” Damien asked quietly.

Michael nodded as he flipped the pages, Damien watching infant Michael grow into toddler Michael.

“I lost them both by the time I was three,” Michael told him.

“God, Mike, I’m so sorry.”

He turned another page and toddler Michael was now being held in the arms of a much older woman.

“My grandmother,” Michael explained with a smile. “She was the only family I had. She took me in and raised me until I was seven. I loved her. I really have no memories of my parents, but of her I do.”

He turned the next page. A smiling seven year old Michael was holding up a blue ribbon for something, his grandmother next to him looking proud, a hand on his shoulder.

Michael flipped one more page. It was blank. “She died shortly before my eighth birthday and I was put into care. I spent the next ten years in and out of various homes.”

Damien’s eyes were full of sympathy for his friend. He’d thought he’d had a crappy childhood, but it was nothing compared to what Michael went through.

Michael closed the book and rested it on his lap. “This is all I have of my family. When I got older I looked into my father’s military career, how he died, serving his country. It suddenly gave me a direction for my life, I knew what I wanted to do, something to work toward. Follow in his footsteps. I joined up as soon as I finished school.” He pasted a smile on his face. “And the rest as they say is history.”

Damien squeezed Michael’s shoulder. “Your dad would be damn proud of you, Mike. Your mom and grandmother, too.”

Michael nodded and swallowed deeply. “Thanks, mate.” He slapped Damien on his leg. “What about you? What does the Scott family tree look like?”

Damien chuckled ruefully and shook his head. “It’s got a lot of broken branches, buddy,” he answered. Michael was looking at him expectantly so he continued with a shrug. “Mom, dad, couple of brothers. My parents split up when I was twelve and my dad moved out of state. Didn’t really see much of him after that, which is just as well.” Visions of his drunk, violent father filled his head and he blinked to chase them away.

“I was a bit of a troublemaker when I was a kid,” Damien continued.

“Shocking!” Michael cracked and Damien laughed and gave him the finger.

“Hated school, had no desire to go to college or work in one of the auto factories, which was about the only prospect in Detroit. Then an Army recruiter came to my high school and gave a speech. I ended up talking to him for a long time afterward. Sounded like it was a chance for me to do something with my life, a way out of a lot of things I was trying to escape. I signed on the dotted line when I turned eighteen.”

He shook his head. “Didn’t exactly turn out like I thought it would,” he said.

“Been a bit of a rocky road, eh?” Michael commented.

“You could say that. For both of us.”

“Yeah, but here we are, still standing. Right, mate?” Michael said, bumping Damien’s shoulder with his own.

“Propping each other up, more like it!” Damien smiled.

Michael laughed then turned sincere eyes on Damien. “I’d never let you fall, Scott.”

“Same here, Mikey. Same here.”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“I’ve been thinking about what you said last night,” Michael said to Damien as they sat outside in the back garden later that afternoon having lunch.

Kerry’s things had been packed and sorted into piles – items to donate to the church, personal things Michael was going to keep and mementos for Kerry’s parents. The church was sending a car around in a few hours and Kerry’s father would be by next week. Damien knew boxing up everything about the woman he had once loved had been painful for Michael, but cathartic as well. One more step on the road to healing.

“I don’t think I can sort things out in my head if I’m here,” Michael continued. “Too many memories. I need some space. I’ve got a mate who has a cottage out in the country. It’s pretty isolated. Near a small river. He uses it for fishing and hunting. Thought I’d give him a call, see if it’s empty. Fancy a trip to the woods?” Michael asked hopefully.

Like Michael even needed to ask. He’d follow his partner anywhere. “Did you say hunting? As in guns? Sign me up, dude!” Damien grinned.

Michael rolled his eyes. “How did I know the mention of firearms would get you excited? The cottage isn’t stocked with AK-47’s, Scott. We’re a little more civilized here when it comes to hunting pheasant.”

Damien pretended to be offended. “What, you think I can’t shoot some bird with a dainty rifle?”

“I think you should put your money where your mouth is,” Michael smirked.

Damien held out his closed hand to his partner and they bumped fists. “Oh, it is on, dude!”

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They arrived at the cottage later the next morning, having checked out a Jeep from Section 20 HQ the previous afternoon. It was exactly how Michael had described – isolated in amongst the trees with a small branch of a main river flowing just behind it. Inside the cottage was one large open space with a bed, a couch facing a fireplace, a small kitchen with a table and chairs and a separate bathroom off to the right of the kitchen. There was a gun cabinet in one corner next to a rack of fishing poles. Damien nodded approvingly and dropped his bag on one side of the bed, a thought passing through his head wondering if they’d be sharing it or if one of them would be taking the couch. He hoped that before they returned back to London it would be the former.

They set about unpacking the supplies they’d brought with them and then Michael disappeared outside. Damien followed a few minutes later, cracking open a beer and taking a long drink. He spied Michael down by the river, staring at the moving water, seemingly lost in thought. Damien decided not to disturb him and sat down in one of the two chairs next to the fire pit. He hoped the time here would do Michael some good, help him make peace with the past and put it behind him.

But what about himself? He told Michael that they both needed to get themselves together before they could move forward and he had no fucking clue how to do that. How do you let go of the guilt of taking a child’s life?

Damien looked at Michael again, at his friend struggling with his own demons and suddenly an idea began to form in his head. A child… He might not be able to help himself, but he might be able to help his partner. He needed to make some phone calls.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Later that afternoon Michael handed Damien a double-barreled shotgun and several cartridges in preparation for pheasant hunting.

“Still fancy a wager?” Michael grinned.

Damien loaded the gun and snapped it closed. “Bring it on, dude!”

“First one to bag a bird wins a pheasant dinner, cooked by the loser,” Michael suggested.

Damien chuckled. “Hope you brought your apron, buddy!”

The two soldiers crept through the brush, all senses on alert, shotguns at the ready. Having never hunted pheasant before, Damien knew Michael had the advantage, but his competitive nature was determined not to let his partner win this bet. He’d never live it down if a bird got the better of him.

The snap of a dry branch under his feet startled not only Damien but the two pheasants hidden amongst the brush ahead of them. The birds immediately took flight and two shotguns snapped up. Twin blasts rang out simultaneously and two birds dropped from the sky.

Damien lowered his weapon, realizing in the split second before he pulled the trigger it wasn’t a pheasant in his crosshairs, but Christy Bryant. And with the swift and deadly accuracy Michael just displayed, he had to wonder if it was Hanson in his partner’s sights instead of the bird.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Damien popped the last piece of his pheasant in his mouth with a satisfied sound. Having called their hunt a draw, they shared the kitchen duties cleaning the birds and preparing their dinner. They set up the spit they found in the tool shed next to the cottage and cooked the birds over a roaring fire.

Damien set his empty plate on the ground next to him and picked up his beer. He studied his partner, sitting across the fire from him. There were still shadows in his eyes, but the anger seemed to have waned, which was a good sign.

Damien’s phone calls earlier had proved fruitful. By tomorrow everything should be set and he could tell Michael what he’d done. Maybe it would help chase the last of the shadows away.

“Mikey? How’re you doing?”

Michael nodded. “Good. Better,” he answered and Damien could hear the truth in his voice. “You?”

“Yeah, same here,” he lied and Michael instantly gave him a look that called him out on it.

Michael leaned forward. “What can I do to help you, Damien?”

Damien looked into the flames, as if the answer was hiding there. His voice was low. “I don’t think you can, buddy,” he answered honestly.

He dropped his head back against the chair and watched the embers take flight into the night sky. Watched as they flared bright then drifted away. If only it was that easy to let anger and pain and guilt float away. A memory niggled at him. Of candles and water and a ceremony he once saw. Maybe there was a way for him to finally heal this wound inside him. And Michael’s as well.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

They shared the bed that night. There wasn’t even a conversation or any hesitation. It was what they both wanted. What they needed.

The bed was narrower than the one in Michael’s guest room, his partner’s body heat even closer to his back that night, his breath soft on Damien’s neck. When he closed his eyes he imagined Michael’s fingers ghosting across his back and he shivered, aching to turn over and capture his mouth with his own, to touch every inch of Michael’s body.

Laying there with Michael, desperately wanting more, made Damien more determined than ever to free himself of the ghost of a little boy and concentrate on what was really important. What was right next to him.

“Mike?” he whispered into the dark. “This…this is you helping me.”

Michael’s warm hand on his arm was a balm to his tortured mind and he let himself drift off to sleep where there were no dreams to run from that night.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Instead, the nightmares ran to Michael.

Damien startled awake in the middle of the night when he felt his partner push against his back.

“Mike?” he mumbled, rolling over to face him.

Michael didn’t answer, his eyes tightly closed, his brow furrowed and jaw clenched. His head was moving restlessly on the pillow, his breathing sharp and shallow. Damien watched as his partner’s body twitched again and he made a choked off sound deep in his throat.

Damien sat up and put a hand on Michael’s bare shoulder, shaking him slightly, trying to wake his friend from his nightmare.

“Mike? Mike, wake up…”

With a sudden gasp Michael’s eyes flew open, unfocused at first, instinctively reaching out, disorientated. His hand connected with Damien’s chest and Damien took hold of his wrist.

“It’s okay, Mike,” Damien said quietly. “You were having a nightmare.”

Michael blinked. “Oh shit. Damien…” he panted, closing his eyes briefly, his body still shaking. “I’m sorry.”

Damien shook his head and squeezed and released Michael’s wrist. “You’re entitled to your fair share of nightmares, too. Anything you want to talk about?”

Michael blew out a long breath and ran his hand over his face. He swallowed hard. “I was back in the park. With Kerry,” he started. “I didn’t even hear the shot. Suddenly she was just falling against me…” His voice went rough. “Christ, Damien, there was so much blood…”

It was the first time Michael had spoken about what exactly happened that fateful afternoon and Damien’s heart twisted inside his chest. And there was nothing he could say or do that would erase that image from Michael’s mind. But maybe he could replace it.

“Tell me how you two met,” Damien said to Michael.

Michael blinked. “What?”

Damien settled back down against his pillow. “Tell me a story, Mikey.”

Michael gave him a small smile, realizing what Damien was trying to do. “It was a blind date, actually…”

He talked for a long while, until sleep reached up and took hold of him once again and he drifted off mid-sentence.

Damien stayed awake until dawn, watching over him, as partners do.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Despite reliving pleasant memories of Kerry before falling asleep, Michael was subdued in the morning over breakfast. The brightness was gone from his eyes. The nightmare had been a definite step backwards for his partner, and Damien hoped what he was planning for that evening would put Michael’s healing process back on track.

“I’m going to go for a walk,” Michael told Damien as they finished eating. “Might be gone for awhile.”

“Take all the time you need, buddy,” Damien replied, squeezing his partner’s shoulder as Michael walked past him and out the cottage door.

Damien was thankful for the time alone and he picked up his phone and dialed a familiar number.

“Richmond? It’s Scott. Is everything done?”

“Good morning to you, too, Damien,” came Julia’s voice over the phone. “Yes, the funds were transferred last night.”

Damien nodded. “Thanks for all your help with this, Julia.”

“No problem. I think it’s sweet, what you’re doing for him,” she replied. “How’s he doing?”

“Up and down,” Damien answered honestly. “I’m hoping this’ll help.”

“Well you’ll have to wait for awhile to tell me how it goes.”

“Yeah, why’s that?”

“New orders came through. My holiday ends in two days. But don’t worry,” she said quickly before Damien could speak. “You and Michael aren’t being recalled. Dalton and Baxter are headed to Beirut. Undercover work. I’ll be setting up the crib.”

“Dalton’s out of the hospital?” Damien said, surprised.

“Checked herself out,” Julia replied.

Damien shook his head. “Crazy bitch. She’s not going to do anyone any good if she’s not ready to be back out in the field. You watch your back, okay?”

Damien could hear Julia smile. “Copy that. You boys get some rest. You earned it. We’ll see you back in London.”

Damien ended the call, pleased that his idea had come together, but concerned about Julia and Baxter heading off on a mission with a commanding officer that was most likely not fit to be leading a Girl Scout troop let alone an undercover operation.

Trying to put his worry aside, Damien headed out to the tool shed next to the cottage, carrying the two candles he’d found under the sink. He had to work quickly before Michael returned from his walk.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

It wasn’t long after Damien finished his project in the tool shed that Michael returned to the cottage, looking more worse for wear than when he left. Damien blinked at his appearance – his eyes were red, there was a smudge of dirt on his face and the knuckles on his right hand were scraped and bleeding. So much for a peaceful walk in the woods to clear his head.

“Shit, Mike. What the hell happened?” Damien asked as he approached his partner, reaching out for Michael’s damaged hand.

Michael knocked Damien’s hand away. “Nothing,” he replied tersely and went to brush past Damien, but Damien snagged his upper arm, halting him.

Damien could feel the tension in his partner’s body, could see the grief was back in his eyes, the pent up anger still within him that needed an outlet other than what a helpless tree versus his fist could provide. Hell, he wouldn’t mind a workout to blow off some steam, too.

Michael pulled his arm away. “Back off, Scott,” he warned.

Damien pulled off his shirt and tossed it to the ground. He made a “come here” motion with his hands. “Come on, let’s do this. Get it out, Michael,” he told him as Michael swiftly removed his own shirt, his jaw clenched. “Who am I? Hanson?” he asked. “Or am I you? Still wanting to beat yourself up over something that’s not your fault?

Damien’s words hit their target and with an angry yell Michael was on him, slamming them both down onto the ground. They rolled over and over, each man trying to pin the other, both soldiers nearly evenly matched in their skills.

For the first furious minute and a half it was a true wrestling match, Michael’s anger apparent in every move he made. Then Damien felt the shift in his partner. His aggression seemed to drain away, the taught muscles in his body relaxing. And suddenly it wasn’t a wrestling match…but foreplay. Hands no longer sought to pin the other to the ground, but to map the other’s body. Fingers slid over sweat slicked skin, brushed over a flat nipple, hands cupped a taught ass, legs tangled together as they rolled on the ground. Michael wedged a leg between Damien’s and Damien ground his hips up, sliding his hardening cock along Michael’s thigh, seeking blessed friction.

Michael’s breath caught and he faltered, giving Damien the opening he was looking for. In an expert move, Damien got Michael onto his back and straddled him. He grabbed Michael’s wrists and stretched out over his body to pin them above his partner’s head, bringing their chests and groins in contact with one another. And he was pleased at what he felt.

Michael was hard, too. Damien immediately felt heat flood his own groin again and he pressed down against Michael’s arousal with his own. Michael went limp then, looking up at Damien with eyes blown wide with desire. Both men were breathing hard and Damien could feel Michael’s heart pounding against his own bare chest. Damien relaxed his hold on Michael’s wrists and in the blink of an eye, Michael had their positions reversed.

Damien’s couldn’t stop the small groan that escaped as Michael blanketed his body with his own, and his hands settled on Michael’s waist, gripping his jeans, holding him in place, pressing their erections together. They stared at one another, the moment hanging suspended in the warm summer afternoon. Damien saw the conflict in Michael’s eyes, knew it was reflected in his own. As much as they wanted this, wanted each other, they’d made a promise, and neither had fulfilled their end of it yet.

Reluctantly, Damien released his hold on Michael and let his hands fall to the ground. Michael released a breath and tipped his head down, touching his forehead to Damien’s before slowly moving off of Damien’s body. He stood, then reached down a hand and pulled Damien to his feet as well. Damien caught a flash of a wicked smirk on Michael’s face and the next thing he knew he was being pulled into the ice cold river right behind his partner. He surfaced with a sputter and a laugh, his ardor sufficiently cooled. Michael popped up next to him and Damien splashed him like a five year-old.

“Fuck you!” Damien grinned.

“Only if you’re lucky,” Michael winked, then walked up out of the water.

Damien threw his head back and laughed. Seeing Michael able to channel his aggression and anger into arousal so quickly was progress in Damien’s book. And well worth the impromptu cold shower.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Later that evening Damien set his chair next to Michael’s in front of the fire. It was time to tell his friend what he’d done.

“Mike – “

“Damien – “

They both began at the same time, then stopped and smiled.

“You first,” Michael told him.

Damien cleared his throat. “I’m finding it really hard to help myself. To get past what I did. So I thought maybe I could help you instead.”

Michael cocked his head to the side. “What do you mean?”

“I know how much Kerry loved kids, how badly she wanted the baby,” Damien said, then pulled a folded piece of paper from his back pocket and handed it to Michael. “So I made a donation, in both your names, to an adoption agency in London. Thought Kerry would want to help these kids find good homes.”

Michael swallowed hard as he read the document. His eyes were bright when he looked back over at Damien. He reached over and squeezed Damien’s shoulder.

“Thank you, mate,” Michael said, his voice thick with emotion. “Kerry would love this.”

“You’re welcome. I hope it helps you, too,” Damien said.

Michael nodded. “It does. More than you know,” he replied sincerely. He squeezed Damien’s shoulder one more time then released it. He smiled at Damien. “I think we’ve been partners too long. We’re starting to think alike.”

Damien’s brows drew together. “What do you mean?”

Michael took a piece of paper out of his own back pocket. “I knew this process was going to be harder on you than me. You’ve been carrying Daniel with you a long time. I was wondering what I could do to help you make peace with his death, do something positive.” He handed Damien the paper. “So I had Richmond do a little research and found the private school Daniel was attending in New York before he went to Ecuador. And I set up a small scholarship for underprivileged kids, in Daniel’s name, sponsored by you.”

Damien’s jaw dropped. “Mike –“ he started, his throat threatening to close up. “This is…thank you,” he rambled, finding it hard to express his gratitude, so he reached over and squeezed Michael’s arm, saying it without words.

“You’re welcome, mate,” Michael smiled warmly at him.

“I’ve got one more thing, for the both of us,” Damien said, then stood and went over to the tool shed. He returned holding the two square paper lanterns he’d made, fastened down to pieces of driftwood from the river.

“The fire reminded me of something,” he began. “After I left the CIA I just drifted around. Spent a lot of time in Japan. I saw the Buddhist monks perform this ceremony to honor and remember the dead.” He removed one paper panel from each lantern. He handed one to Michael, along with a pen from his shirt pocket. “You can write a message if you want, to say goodbye, anything, really. Then we’ll light a candle in each and put them in the water.”

Michael took the panel and the pen. He looked thoughtful. “Yeah…I like that,” he said quietly, then looked down at the blank panel.

Damien sat down with his own panel. He hesitated for a long minute before he began writing.

Dear Daniel,

 

Words can’t describe the guilt I feel whenever I think of you. But I want you to know your death wasn’t in vain. It changed me. Made me a better person. I’m no longer that cold-blooded killer. Now I do all I can to save lives. I’ve been carrying your ghost with me for too long. It’s time I let you go, so we can both find peace. But I will never forget you.

 

Damien blew out a long breath and closed his eyes for a moment. Just writing that down started to lift the weight and release the pain. He glanced over at Michael as he finished writing as well. He ran a hand over his face and looked up at the sky before turning emotional eyes on Damien.

Without a word the two men slid the panels back in place and carried their lanterns to the edge of the river. They crouched down and Damien took out his lighter and lit both candles. Then Damien reached out and placed his lantern in the water.

“Daniel Parker,” he whispered as he let the lantern go.

“Kerry Stonebridge,” came Michael’s quiet voice next to him.

Both men stood and watched the lanterns float away into the night, the candles bright in the dark, taking with them their burdens of guilt. Damien didn’t try and stop the single tear that escaped, saw the same wetness on Michael’s face. He put an arm across Michael’s shoulders, felt his partner’s hand come to rest on his back. As the lanterns faded from view Damien took a deep breath. He felt lighter than he had in seven years. He had truly let Daniel go. Michael turned to look at him and Damien could see the shadows were gone from his eyes, replaced by another emotion. One that made Damien’s heart skip a beat in anticipation.

Michael moved to stand in front of him, resting his hands on Damien’s hips. He leaned in close, his voice barely a whisper.

“I still want this…”

Michael’s words hit Damien deep inside and he felt his heart pound in his chest. He surged up against his partner. It was time to keep that promise.

The kiss was warm and deep and strong. Damien groaned as their tongues slid sensuously against one another and he wrapped his arms around Michael’s back, pulling him even closer. Michael responded in kind, one arm wrapping around Damien’s shoulders, his other hand coming to rest on Damien’s ass, pressing their groins together. Damien groaned again as he felt their hardening cocks slide against each other. And suddenly he wanted more.

Not breaking the kiss, he walked Michael backwards a few steps until his partner’s back came to rest against a tree. Michael spread his legs and Damien settled between them, his hands now gripping Michael’s waist. Damien shifted his hips back and forth, pushing his jean covered cock against Michael’s over and over, driving their arousal even higher. Both of Michael’s hands were on Damien’s ass now, clutching, encouraging Damien’s movements. Michael groaned sharply and Damien pulled back, breaking the kiss, then dropped to his knees.

“Shit,” Michael breathed as Damien fumbled with the button and zipper on Michael’s jeans before finally pushing both them and his underwear down around his ankles.

Michael was long and thick and uncut, his erection now jutting out proudly. Damien reached out and gently pushed back the foreskin, exposing the head of Michael’s cock. Michael hissed and dropped his head back against the tree, his eyes sliding closed. Damien felt one of Michael’s hands cup the back of his head, the other gripping his shoulder as he leaned in and took Michael in his mouth.

Michael’s most intimate taste exploded across Damien’s tongue and twin groans filled the night air. Damien took in as much of Michael’s cock as he could, feeling the head bump against the back of his throat before he pulled back. He set up a rhythm then, using his hand to stroke and his mouth to suck, pushing his tongue against the bundle of nerves below the head and into the slit, swallowing down the burst of precome.

The noises Michael was making went straight to Damien’s cock, as he drove his partner closer and closer to climax. When Michael took a sharp breath and his hips jerked forward, Damien hummed around Michael’s cock and stilled his movements. He looked up and locked eyes with Michael, wordlessly encouraging him to continue, resting his hands on Michael’s waist.

“Fuck,” Michael panted as he slid his cock in and out of Damien’s mouth, pushing himself toward completion.

It wasn’t long before Michael’s movements faltered, his grip on the back of Damien’s head and his shoulder suddenly tightening. His eyes squeezed closed and his head dropped back against the tree again.

“Damien…” he ground out in warning. “Oh fuck…”

And then with a sharp cry he was spilling hot and wet down Damien’s throat, his cock pulsing. Damien’s own cock jerked in response, releasing a stream of precome as he swallowed down Michael’s release. He pulled off and surged up his partner’s body, claiming Michael’s mouth for a bruising kiss, the sight, sound and taste of Michael coming putting Damien right on the edge himself.

Michael got a hand between their bodies and cupped Damien’s cock, squeezing. Damien whined into the kiss and pushed his erection into Michael’s palm before pulling back.

“Christ, Mike…please…” he panted, his head spinning.

Michael nodded. “Inside…” he breathed.

The trail of clothes started at the cottage door the moment it closed behind them and they were naked by the time they crossed the room to the bed. They tumbled down onto the mattress, limbs tangled, kissing hard. Damien rolled Michael onto his back, thrusting his hips, his cock desperate for friction, for release, to be inside Michael when he came.

“Mike…” he ground out, breaking the kiss.

Michael nodded and spread his legs. “Guess you’re lucky after all,” he smirked, winking.

Damien barked out a laugh then leaned down and kissed him swiftly before rolling off the bed and scrambling for his duffle bag. If there was something Damien was never without it was condoms and lube. Items in hand, he was back on the bed in moments. He reached for Michael then paused as a thought crossed his mind.

“Mike? Have you…before…?” he trailed off.

Michael chuckled. “I’ve spent my entire adult life in the military, surrounded by men. You do the math.”

Damien’s eyebrows rose, honestly surprised at Michael’s answer. And maybe a bit disappointed. As high school as it sounded, he wouldn’t have minded being…

As if reading Damien’s mind, Michael tugged him down. “You might not be the first,” he told Damien, voice deep. “But you’ll be the only one that’s ever mattered.”

Damien blinked, truly moved by Michael’s words. Not that he’d ever admit it. Like he said, high school and all that. So he gave Michael a patented Damien Scott smart-ass grin. “You’re such a girl.”

Michael rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Shut up and fuck me, you wanker.”

Damien’s blue eyes went dark. “Thought you’d never ask,” he growled, leaning down and claiming Michael’s mouth again.

The kiss was deep, their mouths slanting against one another, their arousal escalating once more in the span of only a few heartbeats. Michael lifted up his hips and Damien felt his partner’s cock getting back in the game, sliding against his own rock hard one. Damien broke the kiss then and reached for the lube as Michael spread his legs and bent them at the knee, allowing Damien to settle between them.

Damien paused again, looking down at the naked man laid out before him like a fucking buffet. And he wanted a taste. He leaned over and started at Michael’s neck, licking away the light sheen of sweat, tasting the salt of Michael’s skin. Michael closed his eyes with a sigh and tipped his head back, his hands coming to rest on Damien’s shoulders. Damien continued his exploration, running his palms over the smooth, tight skin of Michael’s chest. He brushed his thumbs over both flat nipples and Michael twitched at the sensation. Intrigued by the reaction, Damien leaned over and licked across one, hard.

“Yeah…” Michael breathed, his hands flexing on Damien’s shoulders.

Encouraged, Damien put his mouth over Michael’s nipple and sucked, licking at the little nub until it hardened into a pebble. Then he gently bit down and tugged. Michael’s entire body jerked, his fingers digging into Damien’s shoulders.

“Fuck…” Michael swore, his hips pushing upwards again.

Damien smiled at the reaction and lifted his head slightly, kissing his way down Michael’s taught abs until his chin bumped against Michael’s rapidly hardening cock. He sat up then and took Michael’s erection in his hand, pumping it once, twice, feeling it swell against his palm.

Michael shifted restlessly, his breath coming faster, eyes wide and dark. “Damien…”

Damien released Michael and picked up the lube once again, this time coating the fingers of his right hand generously. He reached down, never breaking eye contact with his partner, fingers searching out the small puckered muscle. He rubbed against it until Michael nodded then slowly slipped one finger inside. Michael closed his eyes then, head tipping back against the pillow, mouth falling open with a silent groan.

Michael was tight and Damien stretched him carefully, with one, two and finally three fingers. Damien’s arousal was at a peak by then, his cock so hard it ached, listening to the noises Michael was making, feeling him press down against his fingers, trying to get them deeper. He needed to be inside Michael. Now.

He withdrew his fingers and Michael groaned as they slipped from his body. Damien quickly reached for the condom, his hands practically shaking as he tore open the packet. Before he could remove the latex Michael was sitting up, taking it from his hands and removing it himself. Damien couldn’t stop the sharp intake of breath as Michael wrapped his hand around Damien’s erection and pumped it hard, twice. He pulled Damien’s head down for a deep kiss then ever so slowly rolled the latex down Damien’s hard cock. When he reached the base he cupped Damien’s heavy balls and rolled them in his palm, tugging slightly. Damien jerked and broke the kiss, his head spinning. Who knew putting on a condom could be so fucking sexy? Michael grinned and winked at him and with a smile Damien pushed him onto his back.

Michael bent his legs again and moments later Damien’s cock was slipping inside his partner’s body for the first time. Both men were breathing hard by the time Damien pushed in the last inch. Damien paused then, looking down at Michael, watching the myriad of emotions cross his face, knowing his own reflected the same.

Michael reached up and cupped a hand around the back of Damien’s neck and gently pulled him down, their foreheads nearly touching.

“It was you…” Michael said quietly. “It was you I was thinking of when I was with Kerry…” Then he was kissing Damien long and hard.

Damien groaned sharply at the knowledge and started moving, sliding his cock nearly all the way out of Michael before pushing back in. He lifted his head as Michael wrapped his legs around his waist, deepening the penetration. As much as he wanted to draw this first time out, Damien had been on the edge for too long and he set up a quick rhythm, Michael’s body gripping him like a vise.

He felt his heart pounding in his chest, the first twinge of his orgasm start deep inside. He wanted to let go right then and let it happen but what he wanted more was to watch Michael fall apart beneath him first. To know he could make this hardened soldier shatter.

So he shifted slightly, changing the angle of his thrusts, his cock searching for that spot deep inside Michael that would make him come undone…

Michael gasped sharply, his grip tightening on Damien’s arms. “Fuck! Right there…harder…” he pleaded, eyes blown wide and dark.

Damien obliged and moments later Michael was shaking beneath him, crying out Damien’s name as he came, his cock spasming between their bodies, painting their chests with his release. Damien let go then, his orgasm racing up his spine like lightning and he gasped with the intensity, his cock pulsing, filling the condom with thick, wet heat. Michael’s mouth was on his then, kissing him slow and deep until they were spent and boneless.

They were both smiling when the kiss gradually ended.

“Don’t you look like the cat that ate the canary,” Michael smirked, laughter in his eyes.

“Yeah, well, you’re looking pretty satisfied yourself there, dude,” Damien grinned, then reluctantly shifted off of Michael, his softening cock slipping from his partner’s body, Michael making a soft sound of disappointment.

Damien disposed of the condom then snagged the first piece of clothing he found – Michael’s shirt – and hastily cleaned them both off before setting back down on the bed. Michael rolled him onto his back and Damien sighed contentedly as Michael covered his body with his own. He mapped the muscles of Michael’s back with his fingers as his partner dipped his head down and kissed him languidly.

It was long minutes before they moved apart, lying on their sides, facing each other.

“So,” Michael began with a smile. “Tell me about this road trip. Where exactly are we going?”

“West coast, buddy,” Damien answered with a grin, picturing he and Michael on their bikes, roaring down the highway. “I’m thinking from Alaska to California.”

The smile faded from Michael’s face and he studied Damien intently for several heartbeats. “That’s quite the journey you want us to take. Requires commitment.”

And suddenly Damien knew they were no longer talking about motorcycles.

Damien nodded, his voice strong and sure. “I’m in this for the long haul, Mikey. Are you?”

Michael’s answer was just as strong. “Till the end of the line, mate. Till the end of the line.”

THE END

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