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Deliverance

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

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

 
 
1997
 
 

NOVEMBER 1997, REBEL STRONGHOLD

The pain was like nothing ever before, as if his legs had been ripped off on impact, but worse, much worse, and Hooch knew that he was fucked. He tried to get out of the tangle of parachute and lines, but the pain from his hip and pelvis was so bad, he blackened out for a second.

Scrabbling against the ground, trying to pull away the moment he came to, he pushed himself up to look at his legs, expecting a mass of bones and gore, but nothing. Yet he couldn't use them to get up and when he tried again, he screamed in agony. He knew, then, that he'd got it this time.

Hooch heard voices and the sound of engines, rapidly getting closer. He frantically cut the entangled parachute ropes, managing to wriggle out of the harness, trying to get out of there. He pulled himself forward on his belly, using his hands, determined to never give up, when they broke through the thicket and a boot stamped onto his hand, amidst angry shouting. Others started to kick, again and again, his head, shoulders, legs, arms and finally his hips.

Then it went black, and the pain didn't matter anymore.

* * *

"Bozic, Hubert, Sergeant First Class, 546798362." Hooch forced out, for the tenth or twelfth time. He'd lost count. Lost count, too, of the number of times he'd lost consciousness out when they dropped him, the excruciating pain in his pelvis too much to bear. Or the number of times he'd fought for his life, struggling for air, when his head had been pulled back out of the water butt. Or the number of blows and kicks that had pounded onto his defenseless body, rendering his face a bloodied and swollen mess. Worse than any session, anything he'd ever had done to him. This was real, and more destructive than anything else in his life had ever been before.

A voice shouted once more in broken English: "why did you come here, what are your plans, who else is here, who has given the orders, what are your orders, who are you," and why and what and wherefore. All he could find in himself was the groaned, whimpered, cried out, screamed and whispered answer:

"Bozic, Hubert, Sergeant First Class, 546798362."

* * *

They couldn't get any of the information out of him that they were looking for. No matter how much they beat him, how many cigarettes they extinguished on his body, and how often he passed out from the unspeakable pain of being dropped onto a broken pelvis.
He didn't know most of those answers, could only hope that he wouldn't have told. he had known. Nothing to say, nothing to admit to, except for:

"Bozic, Hubert, Sergeant First Class, 546798362."

Barely audible at times, and hardly human.

He had no idea how close he was to getting killed, didn't realize that the faction that had captured him was warring with another that wanted to see a better use of the captured resource: him. The resource that would humiliate the US further. Once they'd understood that he wouldn't talk couldn't talk, he could still be useful. As long as he was alive.

They pulled him out of his stupor once more, and he didn't resist, knew it was useless anyway. He couldn't move his legs, didn't dare to twitch lest he fell unconscious again from the pain, and being unconscious meant another barrage of mindless beating. He hardly recognized the camera that was pointed at his face, but when he did, he defiantly raised his head, angry, snarling, but all that came out was a pathetic whimper before a boot impacted in his middle, once the camera was switched off, and he let out a hoarse scream, passing out, cold, on the ground.

* * *

Hundreds of bodies, a small room. One single source of air and light from a tiny, iron-clad window high above. Hundreds and hundreds of bodies, so crowded none of them could do anything but stand.

No space, and he couldn't sit, couldn't lie, forced to stand, and the pain was unbearable. So was the stench, the filth, the heat and the smell of death and decay. Excrement, piss from the guards, shit and blood and fear from the prisoners. He couldn't move, unable to get to the little water that was given out, brackish and teeming with parasites.
One option was death.

Death to stand and die of pain, death to lose the fight and be trampled underfoot, death to ingest the contaminated food and water, death not to gain any sustenance, and death to go insane.

The other was pain.

Pain was better. Pain didn't kill. If Hooch knew anything, he knew that. He'd learned it scripted into his flesh and blood, and knew, too, that pain always brought relief in the end. Even if it was only the relief of its absence. Eventually.

He refused to be one of the corpses that were shuffled towards the front every morning. The prisoners who had died in the night and whose bodies were handed from one to another, to be thrown outside. Somewhere. Anywhere. Didn't matter, just corpses.

He mattered, though. Mattered to the memories of a young man who laughed and joked, who shared his bed and his thoughts, who touched him and kissed him, who sometimes fucked him and always offered his body. That perfect, sculpted, smooth body without a single scar. That man who'd told him he'd always be there, always be waiting and would always want him. That man to whose image Hooch clung, every time he blackened out from the pain, pissed and shat into his torn uniform, and threw up from the stench and the little he managed to get into his stomach.

 

NOVEMBER 1997, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

6 AM and Matt sat bleary eyed at the breakfast counter in his kitchenette, shoveling corn flakes down his throat while watching CNN. Half-heartedly listening to whatever was going on on the screen, while reaching for the carton of milk to pour into his cereal before it got soggy. The milk never hit the bowl.

US soldier. Special Forces. Captured. Video. Demands.

Matt put the carton back down onto the table, reached for the remote to up the volume, but stalled in mid-motion, when the badly done video flickered onto the screen, showing a soldier, soiled US uniform, no name tag, no rank nor affiliation insignia. Face bruised, bloodied, hardly resembling a man anymore. The broken body was held up into the camera while the man's head threatened to roll back, but then he lifted it, opened his eyes and…

"No!" Matt jumped up, the remote clattered across the table and onto the floor, followed by the bowl of cornflakes.

Hooch. Bloodied. Beaten. Injured. Tortured.

Hooch.

 

NOVEMBER 1997, REBEL STRONGHOLD

When Hooch was thrown back into the cell, he didn't have the strength to scream anymore. The pain had worn him down, out and gone, a shell that hardly managed to cling to those images that had kept him sane. He could see nothing in his memories but flashes of a smile, and a joke he could not remember either. Yet this time, before he hit the bulk of bodies, he was caught by arms that held him up, and dark eyes that searched his own.

"American?" A voice asked, rough and worn, like his own. If only he hadn't screamed that much and still had the strength to speak.

He nodded.

Another hand pushed something against his lips. He wanted to turn his head away, but more hands held him steady and the first ones poured liquid down his throat. Liquid. Water. Or at least something akin to it, and he swallowed greedily. Taste didn't matter anymore. Life. Death, he had almost lost the zest for either. Existing, barely.

"We help."

He didn't question why they helped the foreigner. He only knew that a pair of arms was holding him up, then three, four, and more, keeping his body off the ground, away from the feet that might trample him to death underneath, should he fall and give up from the pain of standing wedged in between hundreds of bodies; standing with a broken pelvis.
It was the first time he fell asleep for several minutes at a time, the first time in days and nights he kept the little strength he still had.

 

NOVEMBER 1997, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

It was well after 7 AM, but Matt didn't care that he'd get the bitching-out of his career, for not turning up to work in time. Couldn't go in, couldn't explain. Hooch was not just a 'best buddy', but he could never admit to it. Matt's hands were shaking and he felt sick, barely keeping himself from throwing up.

It had hit him with a sledgehammer. All the way to the core, and the image of Hooch's broken body and disfigured face, barely alive, had imprinted itself on his mind, until he was unable to see nor smell nor feel anything else.

Yet had to keep himself together somehow and head into work. It was the not-knowing, the keeping up appearance and pretending to wear the mask, that was the worst. But he kept going, stuck in the US.

All he could do was wait.

 

NOVEMBER 1997, REBEL STRONGHOLD

Hooch's screams reverberated through the compound. The last man had found his worst weakness, and was manipulating his hips with both hands.

He couldn't breathe, think, couldn't faint either, because every time the darkness swallowed him, he was beaten awake, and it was impossible to say which pain was worse. Until it started all over again, those hands, his hips, and the movements that brought him out in cold, stinking sweat; made him foam and splutter and his eyes roll back as he forgot everything about himself and anything that had ever mattered. Screaming, as if the sounds from his hoarse throat could alleviate the pain.

Cut it open, tear it out and scatter it to the winds.

It never worked. Each scream returned to his body, this finite entity that was fragile, weak, and could hardly breathe, let alone force out those words, again and again: "Bozic, Hubert, Sergeant First Class, 546798362."

They broke his arm when he tried to protect himself, and he finally passed out. Nothing could wake him, he didn't hear the angry voices, nor witnessed the arguments, didn't feel the kicks to his kidneys, and didn't know when he was thrown back into the crowded cell that contained those inexplicable acts of human kindness.

He didn't fall couldn't fall. Too many bodies, those of the dead, the dying and those who were still living against all odds. He didn't care anymore, except for those thoughts that still remained. The number. The name. The face, the body, the smile, even though he couldn't remember the voice anymore.

* * *

He could no longer protect his head or face with his arm, and perhaps he should have simply let them kill him by smashing his face and grinding his brain into the ground, but he couldn't. Just couldn't allow it, not without trying…for what? Returning to that hellhole that didn't allow breathing, that had the guards above use the prisoners' bodies as latrines. Filled with the unbelievable stench for which he had no words, no thoughts, except for 'everything'. It was all and everything and everywhere around him, like a thick molasses that made it impossible to draw in air.

This time, he let himself fall back into the bodies, not trying to find leverage nor hold himself up. Not fighting the pain nor the ultimate relief that would come once he'd slipped low enough, with enough bodies and weight on top of him, to stop breathing forever…but those arms were back and pulled him up. He protested, didn't want them to, how dared they, how…then something pushed against his lips. He opened them, no strength left to find out what it was, and simply swallowed. Whatever. Food. Water. Poison. Excrement, it didn't matter. Liquid followed, and again he swallowed, head rolling from side to side, until he managed to focus, his eyes no more than swollen slits, met by another pair, so dark, before he lost his sight and slipped out of pain, fear, stench and filth, and whatever was crawling across his body, and living inside himself. Slack in the many arms that held him up, until the morning, when against all odds he once again was not amongst those who got shuffled towards the front, out of the door and onto the pile.

* * *

Hooch almost passed out again when he was pushed through the bodies, towards the front. Clinging to consciousness with the thought that he would not be another corpse to be discarded. No. He wouldn't. He would survive another bout of torture. But instead of being pulled out and taken to be interrogated again, nothing happened. Partly being held up, partly leaning against the solid mass of bodies, he looked up, blinking against the sudden light. It hurt. Hurt his eyes, and a thought wormed its way into his broken mind: astonishment that anything could hurt in a new way.

"Sergeant First Class Hubert Bozic, US Delta Force?" A female voice asked.

She was pretty, he thought, once his eyes had adjusted to the light, and he wondered why the hell the last shreds of his memories of the young man had been replaced with a woman. Blond. Face illuminated by something. Flashlight. Not sunlight. Hurting his eyes. Still.

"Do you understand me?"

He nodded, the question didn't require him to speak. The name and number were the only answers left in his mind anyway, everything else had been burnt away. Beaten and kicked, punched, drowned and smashed away. Or just died away, amongst the stench of decay and the agony that only those arms could alleviate.

"You have to tell me your name." The voice insisted, the English…foreign, and Hooch, unable to find one single clear thought, couldn't understand why he noticed the accent.

"Bozic, Hubert, Sergeant First Class, 546798362." Name. Rank. Number. Hardly audible. That was it. Another round of interrogation, all a trick, but at least it didn't hurt right now. Not yet.

But no pain followed, instead he felt himself moved, carefully, oh so carefully, and yet he cried out hoarsely. Hardly a sound came out, even though his screams reverberated in his head, and then he was placed onto something. Lying down. Flat. On his back. The moment he was horizontal on the stretcher and the pressure was taken off the broken pelvis, he passed out. Again.

When he came to, he was in a different place. A room. Lying on the ground. Space. No stench. After a moment he made out the woman's face again, crouched beside him. Someone else, a man, touching him, and the touch felt strange. It took him a moment to realize the man was wearing rubber gloves.

"Can you understand me, Sgt Bozic?"

"Hooch," he whispered.

She smiled and nodded. "Hooch, of course. Did you understand what I said earlier? I am a delegate from the International Committee of the Red Cross, and I brought a medical doctor with me, Dr Mirabeau. We are here to ensure that you are being taken care of, Sgt…" she stopped herself, "Hooch."

"I…don't…" so hard to form words beyond name and number, "have to…go back?"

"No, not if we can help it, and trust me, we can help it. The rebel force has contacted us to negotiate on their behalf and your country has agreed."

Hooch nodded.

"Tell me what happened, while Dr Mirabeau is working on making you more comfortable."

Hooch looked at her, hardly noticing how the soiled uniform was cut off him, and how he was cleaned down. Telling her, best he could, what had happened and what he knew; what had been done to him and how he'd survived. He was put on a drip, cleaned up and sponged down, fed water clean, clear water and given bites of food. Shot full with antibiotics, his arm was set and fixed with plaster, his wounds treated and bandaged, and powder and potions administered, to kill the parasites that had taken residence in his weakened body. His pelvis stabilized with a brace, after some clean and simple clothes were put onto him, Hooch was allowed to write an open letter. He hardly managed, his hand shook too badly, too weak to hold the pen, but she helped and they gave him time, precious time. A letter to his family, but how much he wanted to write to his lover instead. His family had to do, hoping that somehow, against all odds, it would reach the one to whom it actually mattered if he lived or died.

She folded the sheet of paper, to show it to Hooch's captors for censor, before it was sent off to the American Red Cross. She briefly smiled down at him. "Hooch," it was comforting to hear his name, he thought, no longer a faceless number, "your friends are thinking of you."

Matt. Matt.

A ghost of a smile crossed his face as painkillers were shot into his body. By that time he was drifting, barely taking in how she explained they would make sure he was treated right while they were going to work as neutral intermediaries. When they finally left, he lay on his back, unmoving, a blanket over his body, and a bottle of water and edible food beside him. Clean. Lying down. No arms to hold him up, no fingers to feed him rotting scraps. No one. Just silence. Sleep. Exhaustion. The memory of someone so dear…the only memory that had survived. He slept, undisturbed, without those who had saved his life by holding him up and who continued to fight on every day and night to stay on their feet and stay alive, with no one to save them.

He didn't know that she was throwing up outside. Didn't hear her retch and didn't see the doctor wordlessly handing her a packet of tissues.

He was asleep, for the first time in an eternity in hell, and he knew that from now on he would not simply vanish. He had a name, a face, and a number that was known to the world, not just to his captors. No corpse to be shuffled out in the morning. No nameless body, burnt or ditched, and no faceless being, contorted in pain, dying alone, to be missing in action.

He had a name. He had become part of the machinery. The old lady in Geneva, as she had called it, would take care of him. He trusted that old lady.

Because she was all he had.

* * *

Hooch was not aware of the negotiations that happened outside. With the ICRC as neutral intermediary, the rebels had already gained what they wanted: the humiliation of the US, via its military, and that humiliation was broadcasted across the world on the news channels that had been greedy enough to ignore the rules of ethical behavior.

It was push and pull for a while, until the rebels agreed his release, under conditions and demands that never saw the light of day outside of some US headquarters.

 

DECEMBER 1997, MILITARY HOSPITAL, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Matt sat on the plastic chair beside the bed. Legs braced, knees open, his cap on the small side table. Hands trembling so hard, he'd been gripping his own thighs since he sat down, to keep himself from touching.

Hooch. Pale, thin and haggard, with buzz-cut head and badly shaved face. Lying on a water bed to keep the pressure off the pelvic area, supine and still, the lower left arm in plaster, and all Matt could think of was how much Hooch hated to sleep on his back.
The pelvic brace was just about visible under the sheet that had been draped over Hooch, and a drainage tube vanished beneath the cloth. Matt could see glimpses of small burn wounds on the chest, looking closed but angry, and he wanted to hurt whoever had done that.

Hooch. Alive against all odds, and all he could do was sit there, push a small portable DVD player into the other man's good hand and pretend he was just a buddy, paying a visit. He tried to come up with some stupid bullshit a buddy would utter and failed. miserably. He couldn't get a single word past that fucking lump in his throat that he couldn't swallow down, no matter how hard he tried, and it hurt like a motherfucker. Couldn't even look at Hooch, who was checking out the pack of DVDs by lifting each one to eye level. Looking at him caused the sting in Matt's eyes to get worse and he stared at his white-knuckled hands instead.

"Thanks." Hooch's husky drawl tore Matt out of his catatonic state. The voice sounded disused and hoarse.

Matt wanted to touch, kiss, hold, reassure himself that Hooch really was there, alive, but all he did was press out a desperate: "shit!" He couldn't keep it up anymore. Fuck the charade, he wanted to curse or cry, or maybe even laugh. Insanely.

Matt's trembling hand raised to his face, his head dropped, elbows on his thighs, and he covered his face with his hands when he couldn't stop the silent sobs that were heaving his chest and shaking his shoulders. He made no sound, except for one strangled choke. He couldn't get his goddamned act together, despite being all too aware of having nothing but a thin cloth partition between Hooch's bed and the next. In a ward full of nurses, soldiers, and their visitors.

Hooch remained silent, left hand in his lap, the right on his chest. Silent, as long as it took Matt before he finally drew in a shaky breath, fighting out of the breakdown with all the strength he could muster. Too much truth, too raw, too open. He rubbed his face vigorously, realizing that he couldn't go back to pretending he was nothing but a goddamned buddy. Eyes red rimmed, Matt studied Hooch's impassive face, the dark eyes, and the whole silent man. Don't ask don't tell had never been that much of an issue before, until now. He'd gone insane with the not-knowing and the fear of loss. Not just a buddy, not even a fuck-buddy, but the man he loved. He couldn't deal with the lie any more, but he was tied to its confines.

Matt shook his head, unable to say what he thought, let alone what he felt.

Hooch didn't say anything either, looking up at Matt, without a twitch.

Not that Matt had expected anything, and he shrugged, once again shaking his head. Suddenly feeling misplaced, as if this whole shit had happened to someone else and he had stumbled into a crazy soap opera. He was about to get up and get away, when Hooch opened his mouth, and Matt stayed put, leaning down, to hear the quiet murmur.

"When it got really bad, when nothing else got me through, I was thinking of you. How you tilt your head when you laugh; the way you eat your cereal really fast so that it doesn't go soggy; how you squint your eyes and scrunch up your face into a grimace, every time anyone mentions eggs." Hooch dropped his voice even more, until Matt had to lean closer to hear the whisper. "Your shit-eating grin when you wave your ass into my face, telling me to fuck you. The sound you make when you come, going straight to my cock and blowing my mind. The smell of your sweat right after sex…" Hooch paused, pulling in a careful breath. "When I wasn't sure if I could make it through another hour, I thought of your face that looks so damned young when you're asleep, and I remembered how you sometimes say my name, and how the sound of your voice makes me ache inside."

Hooch fell silent and Matt stared at him. Wide-eyed, frozen in shock. Insides churning, a pain he hadn't known before, travelling from his heart throughout his body, and it felt so fucking good. Understanding with every fiber of his being what Hooch had said in too many words. More than he'd ever used before, and without those three simple ones that would have sufficed.

Matt felt his eyes sting again but a smile grew on his face. Too much emotion again, but of an entirely different kind. "I don't…" his voice trembled, "scrunch up my face." Couldn't trust his voice, as shaky as his hands.

Hooch grinned, he looked as if he had shrugged had that not hurt too badly.

"Alright, I do." Matt whispered, "but it's better than throwing your underwear onto the wet bathroom floor."

Hooch let out a dry huff of laughter, grimacing at the slight jostling of his body.

Matt fell quiet again. Companionable now in the silence, looking at Hooch while vigorously wiping his eyes, then settling into a wobbly grin. They sat like that for a long while. Hooch checking out the small DVD player, Matt helping him, a damn fine excuse to touch now and then, while every movement could be overlooked by the nurses.

"Five more minutes." One of them announced as she walked past. Just a few more minutes before he had to leave and fly back to his own camp.

Hooch suddenly murmured, "I want to hear that sound again."

Words and voice twisting Matt's guts in the most delicious way. "You will," he whispered.

Hooch nodded, lips quirking up in the customary half-grin, before he reached out and took Matt's hand for a moment. Holding longer than a buddy should.

"Till then."

 

FEBRUARY 1998, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Several weeks later, Hooch was let out of hospital and into subsequent aftercare. Refusing to go back to Fort Bragg, where he wouldn't have anyone take care of him and would have to get hospitalized again, and equally refusing to be taken to his family's ranch in Texas, he demanded to be sent to a friend instead. In his special circumstances, the request had been granted. That friend had a small apartment and time to take care of him which he lied about and who was willing to take over the task which was nothing but the truth. He had been flown to the nearest town, then taken in an ambulance to the local hospital.

After having been checked over, signed in as an outpatient for physiotherapy and set up with crutches, walker, and been put into a wheelchair, he was given transport, which took him to Matt's apartment. Matt was still on base, working, and would arrive in an hour.

Hooch somehow managed to get into the elevator, and with the help of walker and crutches back out again, and into the wheelchair. Being able to get about, no matter how laborious and painful it was, gave him a sense of freedom that was unparalleled to anything he'd experienced since the mission.

When Matt returned home, Hooch was lying flat on the bed, fully dressed, but with the remote in his hand and channel surfing. He was glad that Matt had no idea how he'd cried out when he'd got himself out of the wheelchair and onto the bed, for the first time on his own and without any supportive aids. He'd succeeded, though, and the independence had made up for all the pain. Ignoring that he'd left the drugs in the living room and really couldn't face getting up, not even for a piss.

"Hooch?" Matt called out from the hallway.

"In the bedroom." Even shouting caused pain and Hooch rolled his eyes at the annoyance of it all.

A couple of seconds later Matt stood in the doorway. Still in uniform, running a hand over his scalp. The smile on his face grew bigger and bigger until it lit up his whole face, grinning from ear to ear. "Shit, never thought I'd be so glad to see you in my bed, even though you're dressed."

"Yeah, you try taking the fucking socks off with that." Hooch pointed at the pelvic brace over his jeans. When his shirt sleeve moved up, Matt saw that the plaster was gone.

"Can I?" If possible, Matt's grin grew.

"Take my socks off?" Hooch groused.

"No, dickhead, the brace. I promise to put it back on."

"You could start with the socks." Hooch grinned, peering up, head raised with the two pillows on Matt's bed. "Or with yourself."

"Guess I could do that, or I could kiss you."

"Not much I can do about that." Hooch's grin almost matched Matt's by the time Matt was beside the bed, kneeling on the floor, and proceeded to kiss Hooch until either of them gave up or gave in, but neither did, and so they kissed until they were both breathless.

"Shit," Hooch groaned.

"What, did I hurt you?" Matt's alarm was almost comical.

"No, just too horny."

Matt's grin was part relief and part wickedness. "I can do something about that…" His hands were on the brace and then Hooch's trousers, but when Matt pulled on the jeans, Hooch got jostled and had to clench his teeth not to groan. Matt slowed down, and together they managed to get them off, same with the briefs, until Matt could take off the socks while Hooch was getting out of the shirt himself. When Matt came back up to look down at Hooch's naked body, for the first time in months, he was shocked at what he saw. Trying valiantly to hide it, but too late.

"I know." Hooch drawled.

"Yeah." Nothing Matt could say, and so he ran his hand over the far too thin body that had lost muscle mass and definition, but none of its allure. Not all of the tan was gone, and the surgery scar, still fairly fresh, stood in stark relief. No better than the burn wounds, those small round dots that were scattered across Hooch's upper body with no sense nor pattern.

"You'll get back into shape. I'll make you a recovery PT program when you can use the gym." Matt looked up, smiling.

"Eventually," Hooch commented drily.

"Well, at least we have proof you're alive." Matt cocked his head, flashed a grin and pointed at Hooch's erection. "Been a while, right, buddy?"

"Yeah, lifetime."

"Best I remind you, then." Matt moved down, his lips touched Hooch's cock, tongue drawing out and lapping, eliciting the deep groan that Hooch had suppressed earlier. His lips closed around the cut head, intent on sucking down, when Hooch awkwardly batted at him.

"No."

"What?" Matt came up, surprised and confused, "why not?"

"I'm not tested."

"Huh?"

"HIV. Can't get tested yet."

"I don't understand…" Shock, fear, worry and confusion warred in Matt's face. "But they didn't…I mean…"

"No, they didn't, but in that shithole…I had open wounds. Anything could have gone in. Blood, saliva, shit, piss, anything." Hooch's eyes were intense, haunted, and Matt twitched visibly. The glimpse of the horror was almost worse than knowing the full extent.

"The risk must be almost none."

"I had every other crap, though."

"But not that, come on, it's not possible."

"I don't care." Hooch reached for Matt's shoulder, managed to pull him closer. "I'm not going to risk you. You understand?"

Looking at Hooch for a moment, Matt nodded slowly, acknowledging the ache that was gripping his insides. Heart or guts, he wasn't sure, just this ache that intensified the longer he looked at Hooch. "Okay."

"Handjob?" Hooch asked.

"I'd suck you with a condom."

"No, no more goddamned rubber." Too many gloves that had touched him in the hospital.

Matt nodded, got up and onto the bed to very carefully stretch out beside Hooch, still in his full uniform, boots and all. Managing not to jostle the mattress too much, he propped himself up on his elbow, grinning down at Hooch while his free hand began to lightly stroke the cock that had lost its erection. "Let's see how still you can lie…"

He moved down to kiss Hooch again, whose hand found its way to Matt's neck. Holding close, smelling, tasting, touching, and needing so goddamned much to feel alive, Hooch ignored the pain. Matt stroked faster, adding twists and using everything he'd ever known about Hooch's preferences.

Eventually, Hooch felt his balls draw up and the pain of his orgasm almost blackened him out. He cried out, nearly a scream, which Matt swallowed in a deep kiss, not realizing that part of Hooch's desperate attempts to remain still and his complete abandon was the blinding pain in his pelvis, fuelling the orgasm itself.

Matt drew back, hand still on Hooch's cock, as he grinned down on him, watching him pant for breath, face sweaty, and something in Hooch's expression that he'd never seen before. Something above and beyond mere lust. Being alive, maybe that was it.

"You alright?" Matt murmured.

"Yeah, shit. Couldn't be better." Hooch grinned, started to laugh and stopped himself immediately. Laughing was torture. "You?"

"I'm alright." Matt smiled, wiping his hand on the bed linen.

"Bullshit." Hooch looked at him.

"Okay…got me." Matt laughed, "but how?"

"I want to watch. Stroke yourself."

Matt nodded, eyes alight. "Guess I can do that." He was soon kneeling on the bed, in full view, opening his BDUs and pushing down his briefs. Cock in hand, he began to stroke, all the time looking at Hooch, who didn't take his eyes off him.

"Want to see you." Hooch murmured, and Matt obliged. Ripping the tunic off, the t-shirt flew to the ground straight after, then returned to stroking himself. Muscles rolling and bunching beneath smooth skin. Perfectly chiseled and still as unblemished as the first time they'd had sex, in a safe house in the Gulf. Matt craned his head back, being watched intensified every sensation, and he slowed down for Hooch's benefit, while tensing his abs and working with his body until each and every muscle stood out, as hard as his cock. When he sped up once more, his movements turned harsh, punishing, and his breath came fast and noisy.

He went over the edge with a strangled sound, cum splattering onto Hooch, catching himself in the last moment before he let himself fall down onto the bed. On his knees instead, struggling for breath and grinning down at Hooch, who was still watching him with burning intensity in his dark eyes.

"I was right." Hooch murmured.

"What?"

"The sound you make when you come."

Matt stared at Hooch, remembering every word in the hospital. "I…"

But Hooch waved him down, pulling him into a kiss instead, only letting go of Matt's neck when he broke the kiss and murmured, "you, you are quite something."

Matt was confused, but Hooch said nothing else, too exhausted. He let Matt take care of both of them, wiping them both down.

"Want to go onto the couch?" Matt smiled, his hand splayed out on Hooch's chest, fingers covering two of the burns.

"Give me an hour? Pretty damn wiped."

"Sure." Matt looked for the blanket, "mind if I stay?"

Hooch just snorted softly and Matt quickly got rid of the rest of his clothes, then lay down beside Hooch, pulling the blanket over both of them. Lying close, he breathed in the scent that was Hooch and yet was different. He'd be back to the old Hooch, though, he'd make sure. He'd lose the clinical scent, the otherness.

Matt lifted his head when he heard Hooch's regular breaths, watching the face, relaxed in sleep. Forging this image over all of the ones of the past.

Hooch. Alive. Nothing else mattered.

* * *

Over two hours later, Matt had helped settle Hooch on the couch in the living room, in a pair of shorts underneath the brace, to watch a Dallas Mavericks game on TV. The remains of a chicken dinner stood on the table beside him, and a couple of empty Buds right next to it.

Hooch looked up and grunted a nonsensical question as Matt came back from the kitchen, dropping a letter into his lap.

Matt shrugged, gestured at the letter before wandering back into the kitchen to grab a couple of fresh beers. He stalled midway, fridge door open, breathing deeply. Had he done the right thing? Fuck knew, but he'd gone with his gut instinct and his gut had twisted into a knot at the thought of staying any longer in the 'don't ask - don't tell' pit of lies. He shook himself out of his musings, pushed the fridge door shut with his elbow and opened the bottles. Leaving enough time for Hooch to read.

When he stepped back into the main room of his small apartment, Hooch was holding the letter in his hand. "Why?"

Matt set the beer down onto the table and slouched on the chair which he'd pushed right next to the sofa. Feeling strangely reluctant to touch Hooch right now. 'Why', a good question. It had been perfectly clear in his mind at the time of making the decision. Putting it into words was suddenly a challenge and he took a good swig from his bottle, stalling for time, before looking at Hooch.

"I had enough." It was that simple, when it came down to it.

"You loved it."

"Yeah…" Matt shrugged. He had, being a Marine was what he'd always wanted. As a kid, playing soldier, as a teenager, and finally as a man. Before he realized how very much his sexuality was himself. Lying about that part of himself? He'd managed, until Hooch's capture. Love was a strange and powerful thing, and entirely unplanned. "Had enough of the fucking lies," he finally offered.

"Suddenly?"

"Yeah." Wrong, and Matt drew in another breath, expelling it noisily. "No, but I thought I'd gotten used to it."

"Had something to do with me." Hooch made it a statement not a question, and Matt grimaced. At least Hooch didn't ask him if he knew what he was doing, accepting Matt's decision as what it was: final.

Matt suddenly raised his head in anger. Aggression born out of frustration, but damn, Hooch had changed the rules of this game entirely. "Fucking yes! It has to do with you. Not knowing, not being able to ask, just lies. Lies and more lies. No grieving allowed, not a fucking thing. Couldn't contact your family, haven't got a fucking clue where they are, and Texas is damned big. Couldn't even pretend I was your buddy, in case anyone wondered why the fuck a Marine was buddies with a Delta. No messages, not a fucking thing and I was going insane!" Matt was getting more agitated, and he stood up. "I was so fucking desperate, I would have tried anything. But who the fuck was I? Just some stupid fucking Marine who was going off the edge, not knowing if he's lost the fucking man he fucking loves!"

Matt was fuming, but Hooch didn't show a reaction, except for a quiet, "do you?"

"What?" Matt snapped.

"Do you?" Hooch calmly repeated.

Matt felt as if all air had been driven out of his lungs. Deflated, he sat back down on the sofa. "Yeah."

Hooch nodded, folded the letter and placed it back on the table. "Okay."

Matt looked at him in confusion, then shook his head with a frustrated grunt. Hooch was still as exasperating as he'd always been, and Matt really didn't appreciate feeling like an idiot right now. "What the fuck does 'Okay' mean?"

"Got a job offer."

"Huh?" Matt leaned closer, "what?"

"Promotion. They want me to train Delta. Stationed in Fort Bragg." Hooch shrugged, "no more battlefields."

Frowning, Matt tried to make sense and get an indication what Hooch thought about this, but no chance. "You're not that old yet, you got some years left on active duty." Pointing at Hooch's pelvis, "and the injury's not cause for retirement from active duty, is it?"

"Probably not. They'll know in a few months. Recovery can be up to a year."

"Then what are you going to do? They can't force you, can they?"

Hooch shrugged, "no, not yet."

"Well," Matt drew in a breath, "that's alright then. Back to normal once you've regained your health and strength."

"No."

"No?" Exasperation was creeping into Matt's voice.

"I take it."

"You…what?" Matt leaned forward that abruptly, he almost slid off the chair.

"It's time."

"Why?" Painfully aware of how he echoed Hooch, whose lips quirked into the customary half-grin. Taking hold of the waistband of Matt's shorts, Hooch twisted his fist into the fabric and pulled him up and close, while Matt could do nothing but follow the motion, letting himself drop onto his knees on the rug in front of the sofa.

"What now?" Matt raised both brows.

Hooch's fist twisted tighter, pulling Matt even closer, until there was no further to go without jostling him. "You tell me. You'll be out of a job."

Matt rolled his eyes, "I'm going to open a fitness club with the money I've saved. It'll be based on military fitness training."

Hooch grinned. "You'll be fucking rich."

"Question is, where do I settle down? I have no fucking clue."

"Fayetteville."

"You're not fucking serious!" Matt's eyes widened, "that's right next to Fort Bragg."

"Precisely. Camp beds are shit."

"How the fuck are you going to explain living with a gay guy? Because I'm fucking sick of lying."

Hoch shrugged. "Spare room."

"Bullshit! Nobody's going to believe that."

"I'm too high profile now. Don't ask don't tell? This shit works both ways. You think they're going to prove I'm not staying in my own room?"

Matt grinned. "It might just work if we're careful, but you're fucking crazy."

"No, just alive."

That sobered Matt, but before the dark shadow could touch him, Hooch reached up to draw him closer, and Matt forgot all about it during the kiss.

 

APRIL 1998, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A few weeks later, when Matt came home from work on a Friday, the strong scent of freshly brewed coffee greeted him. "Hey, Hooch!"

No answer, and Matt strained to listen. Improbable that Hooch was out and about, but not impossible. He'd been moving further and further lately, and had been coming on in leaps and bounds, thanks to the physiotherapy he meticulously followed, doing his exercises religiously.

Matt eventually noticed the sound of the shower and, as expected, the bathroom door was ajar. "Fair enough," he muttered to himself, whistling under his breath as he took his tunic off, hung it onto a hook in the hallway, and marched into the kitchenette. The coffee was steaming in the pot and he poured himself a mug before he sat down at the breakfast bar.
He noticed a sheet on the table, unfolded, the letter pointing the other direction. Curious, he turned it round and skimmed over the letter while taking a sip of the strong, black coffee. He almost burnt his lips when he stared at the writing. Putting the mug down, he pulled the letter closer and re-checked the heading. Medical Lab. Test results. Then read it once more, and then again, for good measure, where it said in bold letters: 'Bozic, Hubert. Negative.'

Negative.

The grin that spread across Matt's face threatened to split it side-to-side and he jumped off the chair. "Hooch!" Hollering across the apartment, but Hooch, hair still wet, towel around his hips, and leaning on his walker, was already standing in the doorframe.

"Why the ear-splitting noise?"

"You damn well know, buddy."

Hooch raised his brows in the most infuriating manner he managed. "And?"

"And? What does and mean, you dickhead?"

"You tell me."

But Matt didn't. Wordlessly pulling the t-shirt over his head, he flung it into a corner. Flexing the impressive muscles of his smooth chest. He wasn't a PT instructor for nothing. "Does that remind you of anything?"

"Waxing?" Hooch deadpanned.

Matt rolled his eyes while unbuttoning the BDUs. He pushed them down, together with his briefs underneath. The trousers slipped and got caught around his ankles at the top of the boots. His groin was just as smooth except for a neat patch. "And what does that remind you of?"

"Shaving?"

Matt laughed with exasperation. "You're insufferable."

"And horny."

"Now we are getting somewhere." Matt stepped closer, pulled the towel off Hooch and steadied Hooch's hips with his hands, holding him carefully, just enough to push his groin against Hooch's. He grinned at the immediate reaction. "If I fucked myself on you, very carefully, would your pelvis manage?"

"If it doesn't I don't give a shit." The sudden, husky quality to Hooch's voice caused Matt to take in a sharp breath.

"In that case…" Matt murmured, giving his hips a slight twist, "fuck me, Hooch."

He hadn't realized how much he'd missed Hooch's rare, shit-eating grin.

* * *

A couple of weeks later, Hooch was moving round on crutches, the walker discarded. He was getting better, but the pain had only eased minimally. Still, he could piss and shit without major distress, and if that wasn't a victory to be proud of, then he didn't know what was. Getting back into the living room, he watched Matt from the hallway. He could see his profile, the handsome face and that perfect body. Young, unspoiled, and if he could help it, Matt would remain like that.

Watching him for a while, until Matt lifted his head, cottoned on that he was being watched, and cast a smile at Hooch. Another one of those motherfucking dazzling smiles, the sort that made Hooch's knees go weak and his mind step onto a merry-go-round. He didn't quite understand why this particular man, this 'kid' had managed to crawl beneath his skin and settle down inside his heart.

"See anything you like, buddy?" Matt grinned.

"If I didn't I wouldn't be here." Hooch made his way towards the couch.

Matt moved over, making space for him to sit down. "Smartass." A lazy fist connected gently with Hooch's shoulder once he had maneuvered himself to sit.

"You alright?"

"Couldn't be better." Hooch glanced to the side. "I just managed to take a shit without screaming in pain, I call that a glorious day."

Matt laughed, "thanks for the gory details."

"Thought you would appreciate it."

Sitting comfortably in silence, each with a beer in their hand. Hooch had his legs up on the stool, and Matt slouched with his feet on the couch table, watching a baseball game. Hooch realized quite some time into the game that he had no idea who was playing.

"Matt?"

"Huh?" Drawn to the game, Matt took a moment before he turned his head, looking at Hooch. "What's up?"

"I got to tell you something." And wasn't attack better than defense.

"You've turned into a right chatterbox lately." Matt grinned, taking a mouthful of his beer.
Ignoring the quip, Hooch went straight on. "I never told you that I'm a masochist."

"What are you talking about?" Matt laughed. "Was there something in your lunch today?"

"No." Hooch twisted to look at Matt, "but I think it's time to tell you about the rest of me. Sometimes, I need to be beaten and fucked up until I crack."

"You're fucking kidding me."

"No."

"Then why the hell do you tell me? Now? What's the point?" Matt slammed the half empty bottle onto the table.

"I need you to know."

"After what, five years? I don't fucking believe it, you bastard!"

"Bastard, because I didn't tell you, thinking that this part of me had nothing to do with you?"

"Bastard, because you fucking lied."

"How?"

"By not telling me!" Matt's eyes were ablaze.

Hooch had never seen him that angry and hurt before. "If I had told you, what good would it have done?"

"I would have tried to be for you what you needed."

"No, Matt," Hooch's voice turned softer, "you don't have it in you."

"What the fuck are you telling me? You say I'm a pussy? I don't fucking have it in me?"

"It's not you, Matt."

"That's not what you said."

Hooch shook his head. "It's what I meant."

Getting up from the sofa, Matt was fuming. "What you said is that I am not what you want."

"That's bullshit and you know it."

"How would you see it then, if you were me? You tell me, after five fucking years, that you need to…what the fuck should I call it, get punished. And that is not telling me that I'm not alright? That I'm not missing something?"

Hooch quietly interjected. "You're not missing anything."

"Don't you fucking kid me." Matt's hands were in fists and he started to pace the small living room. "I thought we had a relationship."

"We do now. The question is if we had."

"You always came back."

"Yeah, because you were convenient. And pretty."

"Fucking what? Convenient? You asshole."

"You were, not saying that's what you still are."

"You have the guts to tell me that?" Matt shook his head. "Convenient? Like a fucking door mat?"

"No," Hooch said quietly, looking at Matt with a serious expression, "but I am telling you the truth right now. Back when it all started you were convenient. Great fun, fantastic source for sex, and…pretty."

"Pretty? Fuck you, Hooch."

"Yeah, but you are."

"Girls are pretty, I'm a man. I'm not pretty."

"What would you rather be? Handsome? Adorable? Perfect? Stunning? Gorgeous? Breathtaking? Beautiful?"

"Am I?"

"All of it and more."

"Shit." Matt groused. He deflated, had some of the anger taken out of him, but the sting was still there. "You're fighting dirty."

"Delta." Hooch beckoned Matt closer.

"Yeah, and I'm outgunned. As usual." Matt reached for the beer again, but a hand on his arm stopped him.

"You've never been outgunned."

"You're fucking kidding me again."

"I told you before, Matthew Donahue, you are quite something. Outwitted, perhaps, but never outgunned."

"Charmer."

Hooch didn't reply immediately, just looked at Matt, fingers twisting into the fabric of his t-shirt. Looking at him for a long time, before he pulled him across and close. "If I told you that I wanted to spend my days and nights with you, live with you, as my partner, because out there, in Hell, I realized that you mean the world to me? If I told you that you are my sanity, my laughter, my lust, my love, my comfort, my day and my night, my heat and cold and everything? If I told you all that, would you think that translates to 'convenient'?"

Matt swallowed, staring at Hooch wide-eyed. "N...no."

"Damn right. Now shut up, Donahue, and tell me that you'll spend the rest of your life with me."

Matt pronounced his next words very carefully:

"I do."
 
 
1998
 
 

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