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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.

 
 
2002-2005
 
 

Early Summer 2002, Fayetteville

Hooch went to his club every month or two, almost always on Friday night and returning Saturday lunchtime. There were occasional phone calls, too, and a week once a year that Matt never commented on, just as he didn't comment on the club. That was Hooch's business, and Hooch's alone.

Perhaps forewarned by Mandy's observations, Matt began to notice the knowing looks in his direction from his clients. Less conscious of having to hide all the time, he surprised himself when he accepted the first frank approach from Greg, one of his personal training clients, and then some of the others after that. Usually after-hours in the gym, in the personal training rooms or treatment rooms.

Hooch called them Matt's 'nibbles', and seemed to be supremely comfortable with his occasional indulgence. 'Nibbles' was a good way to describe them fun, temporarily satisfying, but somehow not feeding the hunger quite enough.

* * *

"You realize that you've never so much as asked me in for a coffee?" Greg asked one Friday evening, putting on his clothes after their latest meeting. "We've been having some fun for the past three months, what's wrong with your bed?"

Matt froze as he was pulling on his t-shirt, and then forced himself to relax. "I'm not the only one in the apartment," he kept his voice light.

"So what? Your buddy's a homophobe?" Greg laughed, as if he'd just made the funniest joke in a decade. "It's not a secret you're gay." He shrugged on his sweater jacket and straightened back up.

Matt snorted, covering up the first reaction of relief that Greg was so completely off the mark about Hooch. "No, he's not. It's not that." He pulled down his t-shirt and then ducked under the massage table to retrieve his shoes.

"What is it, then?" Greg made a grab for Matt's ass and squeezed one firm buttock with an appreciative grunt. "You think military guys get the heebie-jeebies when in close contact with two gays?" he grinned.

Matt caught Greg's wrist firmly. "Leave it, Greg." His voice anything but joking. "He doesn't bring anyone up to the apartment, and neither do I."

"Hey, what's up with you?" Greg was taken aback and not a little put-out. "Lost your sense of humor? What the hell's wrong with you and your roommate?" His eyes narrowed as he pulled his arm out of Matt's grasp, calculating. "Or is it not just your roommate?"

"Nothing is 'wrong'." Matt pulled on his shoes, keeping calm despite the thudding of his pulse around his ears, knowing that he had to deflect Greg's thoughts before they went in the wrong-the right-direction. "He's my best friend," he said at last, "but that doesn't mean I let him know everything I do."

"Don't tell me you're trying to keep from him that you're gay." Greg sneered, which gave his usually handsome face quite an ugly distortion. "I've got news for you, buddy, that's too late That sounds like bullshit to me."

''Firstly,'' Matt began, tying his shoelaces with a nonchalance he didn't feel, ''Hooch is neither blind nor stupid. I imagine he's worked out by now why I quit the Marines.'' He straightened up. ''Secondly, I don't get why you're so pissed. This isn't anything more than a bit of fun.''

"Yeah, I get that, but I'm not used to being a bit of fun that has to be hidden away." Greg frowned. "What the fuck's wrong with drinking a coffee together? That's part of being fuck buddies in my book."

"Let's go out for a drink sometime," at least the worst had been headed off. "It's no secret, but neither Hooch nor I bring anyone up. That's the deal."

The easy smile was back on Greg's face within an instant. "Okay, buddy, if that's the deal, that's alright." He took his gym bag and threw his towel on top. "Next week same time after cardio?"

"Sure," Matt nodded, glad the tension was diffused. No-strings fun was meant to be just that. "Have a great weekend."

"You too." With a wave of his hand and a last smile, Greg sauntered out.

The gym was deserted, and Matt quietly locked up and turned the lights off before heading upstairs. It was Hooch's Friday in his club, so he planned an early night with a few movies. When he opened the door to the apartment, he was taken aback.

The TV was on and Hooch was sitting on the sofa, bare feet on the couch table, a bottle of lager in his hand. He craned his neck as Matt entered and greeted him with a quick smile. "Hey."

Matt blinked. "Hey," he echoed automatically. "I thought you were going to the club this weekend?"

Hooch took a mouthful of the beer. "Got called into a late meeting. Couldn't be bothered to go to Raleigh after that." He hit the mute button on the remote. "Working late?"

"Nah, just meeting up with Greg after his session." Matt shook his head. "Just give me a minute, I need a shower. You had dinner?" he asked on his way to the bathroom.

"Had a burger on my way home." Hooch called after Matt, before turning his attention back onto the TV, the sound back on.

Matt ducked into the shower, washing quickly, then dashed to the bedroom for clean clothes, before heading to the kitchen to throw together a salad. He sat down on the couch next to Hooch. "Whatcha watching?"

"Soccer." Hooch glanced at Matt with a raised eyebrow. "The ball, the green field, the guys in shorts should have given you a clue."

"Soccer." Matt repeated, as he stabbed at a mushroom. "You going to the club next weekend then?"

"No, I'm okay. Don't need to, yet." Hooch leaned across a little to stare pointedly at the mushroom Matt kept spearing repeatedly. "I reckon it's dead by now," he commented drily.

Matt looked up. "Yeah, but you never can tell with the bastards." He shoved the mangled remains into his mouth, and swallowed without chewing.

"You don't act like someone who's just had some fun with a guy." Hooch finished the last dregs of his beer and put the bottle onto the table.

"He complained that we hadn't gone out for a coffee." Out loud, it sounded ridiculous.

"So he fancies you. That's not a surprise, is it?" Hooch hit the mute button once more.

"No, " Matt finished the salad and put the empty bowl on the table. "Just weird. It was never meant to be anything than a bit of fun, and all of a sudden he was getting pushy and asking to come up here."

"He's falling for you." Hooch shrugged, but a hidden line of tension in his shoulders betrayed the indifference . "One day one of your 'nibbles' would. Those guys aren't stupid."

Matt snorted. "You'd have thought they knew better. At least Greg seems to get that I won't bring him up here, even if he thinks it's because 'military guys get the heebie-jeebies around two gays'."

"Good one." Re-crossing his ankles on the table, Hooch projected a casual unconcern . "What should they know better, though?"

Matt frowned. Unusual for Hooch to be probing quite so much. "They should know better than to think it's more than just a bit of fun. It's not as though they don't know about the others, after all."

"Yeah, right, and they all think you're actually single. What's to stop any of them having a go at becoming more than a bit of fun?" Hooch rolled his head to the side, resting on the sofa's back, looking at Matt.

"How about me saying 'No Thanks'?" Matt met Hooch's gaze.

"Without a reason?"

"Would I need to give one?" Matt paused, "and why would you care what I tell them?"

Hooch shrugged. "Just figured you might get annoyed with a persistent one." Neatly avoiding the second question.

Matt scratched the side of his nose. "Greg took it well enough, and he's the only one who's pushed for anything so far. Neil hasn't been around for a bit, and Tom and Craig are only out for a bit of no-strings fun."

Hooch huffed a laugh. "You're collecting a stable."

"You said you didn't mind," Matt said doubtfully. "Do you?"

"Of course I don't mind." Nothing in Hooch's face, voice, or demeanor gave any signs to the contrary. "I've never in my life said anything I don't mean. You of all people should know that." He flashed a quick smile.

Matt answered it, relieved that the weirdness seemed over. "That's okay then. I'm beat, I'll wash this up and go to bed." He picked up his bowl and headed for the kitchen area.

Hooch didn't say anything while Matt did the washing up, and was still silent with his eyes on the game while Matt occupied the bathroom, but when Matt came out to make his way to the bedroom, Hooch hit the mute button again. "I guess you're not up for sex tonight?"

Matt stopped in the doorway and turned around. "I'd probably fall asleep," he said frankly. "Unless you want to do all the work?"

"Depends on you telling me what kind of work it is you want me to do."

Matt furrowed his brow. "You've lost me."

"I meant, is there anything you want me to do, or you want to do to me, which we haven't done yet? Things you get from the other guys but not me, or are the other guys just variety?" Hooch looked at Matt with open curiosity.

Matt blinked. Hooch had never said anything of the sort before, whether in terms of sex or other men. "No," he shook his head. "They're just a bit of fun, and I thought you were going to be out this weekend anyway." He stayed in the doorway, curious at what Hooch would come up with next.

"Okay." Hooch nodded and to all intents and purposes the case was closed. "I let you sleep unmolested, or don't you let them fuck you?"

Matt who was turning to go into the bedroom, paused for a second. "I don't think I have, no. Not even all that much actual fucking to tell the truth."

Hooch hit the off button on the remote and stood up. "I'm asking too much, huh?"

"Surprised me, is all." Matt turned back around. "You've never asked before, and I don't ask you about the club."

"I'm not you." Hooch walked towards Matt.

Matt stood, waiting. "No." He tilted his head. "Do you want me to stop?"

"No, I don't." Hooch squeezed Matt's bare shoulder. "As long as you don't fall in love with any of them."

Still a little perplexed at Hooch's sentimentality, Matt snorted. "Course not."

"Good, because you're mine. It works both ways."

Matt smiled. "You coming to bed?"

Hooch turned towards the bathroom. "Yeah, be with you soon."

Matt shook his head, wondering what had got into Hooch before sliding under the covers. He hadn't been lying, he was exhausted from a busy week and the enthusiastic session with Greg, and wanted nothing so much than a good night's sleep before the early Saturday morning spin class he was due to lead. By the time Hooch slipped under the covers Matt was already out like a light, snoring softly.

Hooch reached out to brush his palm along the smooth skin. Matt didn't stir, the touch too light, just as he has intended, and with the lights off, Hooch settled in to sleep.

The next morning, Hooch was back to his usual silent self, and didn't revisit the baffling conversation of the night before.

 

2003

 


Spring 2003, Fayetteville

Things continued as they had been, the only small difference was that Hooch seemed to take particular care to greet the 'nibbles' by name if he saw them at the gym.

In early 2003 activity at the base intensified, and Hooch was back to working the long and intense hours as he had in late 2001, while the preparations for the invasion of Iraq built up.

In some ways it was easier than in 2001, because this was more like a war than an invisible enemy to be fought on unclear territory, but in others the stress of the insane workload was even greater. Hooch had stay on base again, not even managing to get back to the apartment every other weekend, and he once more felt the frustration and pull of wanting to go out there with his boys, be active, go on operational duty. That part hadn't diminished at all in the last two years.

He was simultaneously exhausted-physically and mentally-and full of tension, when he finally managed to get home one Saturday lunchtime.

Matt was in the kitchen, snatching a quick lunch in between classes. "How are you holding up?" he automatically went to the fridge to get out more food to prepare for Hooch.

"I don't." When Hooch entered the kitchen it was clear to Matt how frayed around the edges he really was, and how utterly exhausted. His usually tanned skin had a grey tinge and there were dark shadows under his eyes, which made it all too clear that despite his exhaustion, Hooch hardly slept. Or perhaps because of it. The last sixteen days had wreaked havoc on Hooch, who leaned against the doorway, arms crossed in front of his chest, still in uniform.

Matt's eyes widened as he looked at Hooch's worn-out state. "Food," he said firmly, pushing the plate of cold cuts in front of Hooch, "then bed." Words curt. "Do you need to plan anything?" he asked, remembering the last time Hooch had been under so much strain.

"Yeah. Yeah, I do." Hooch let himself be manhandled into a chair at the table, where he stared at the food for a while, as if unable to switch off enough to eat and not just stuff down fuel to keep going. "But I don't have much time."

"How long?"

"Back tomorrow at seventeen hundred hours." Hooch finally picked up some of the bread and cuts, layering a sandwich. "Not enough time to go to the club."

"Can you call him?" No need to mention who Matt meant.

"Yeah, I have to try." Hooch stared at the sandwich in his hand, as if he'd forgotten just how to eat. "It won't be enough." He looked up at Matt, the expression in his face ranging between demand and pleading. "I need you, too."

Matt looked at Hooch with surprise. "What do you need me to do?" Need, not want.

"I'll be given orders on the phone. Usually I do things myself, or it's in my head, but this time I need you to carry them out." Hooch finally bit into the sandwich.

Matt swallowed, feeling his fingers clench. Thinking of what happened last time, and how he could never, ever let that happen again. "Yes. When?"

"Tonight, or I won't be able to wind down enough to sleep." The 'again' unspoken. "If I can't get him on the phone, will you fuck me hard, really hard?"

Matt held back from making a flippant response, knowing that it was the last thing needed. He settled for a nod, not trusting himself to speak with his suddenly dry mouth.

"Thank you," Hooch said in a quiet voice around a bite of his sandwich, that tasted like straw.

Matt looked at Hooch, then at the food and said, "I'll order in tonight." Even though he knew that Hooch would barely taste it. "Why don't you have a soak in the bath? My last client finishes at 1700."

"Okay." Hooch nodded and kept eating, taking meticulous bites, in a robotic fashion. He suddenly looked up. "Matt?"

"Hmm?" Matt had to turn back to Hooch from where he'd been putting away some clean plates in the cupboard.

"I want you to know I'm not a sissy. I'm not just stressed like a pansy-assed loser. I want to go out there and it drives me insane that I can't. It's fucking unbearable."

Matt wanted to reach across the bench to touch Hooch, but that was the wrong move now. So he settled for words. ''No, you're the furthest thing from one. '' He looked at the clock. ''I gotta go. See you in a bit.''

Hooch watched him leave, his face stony.

* * *

When Matt returned to the apartment after his last client of the day, still sweaty and in gym kit, he found Hooch sitting on the couch, dressed in a pair of gym shorts, staring into nothing. His cell firmly gripped in one hand.

"Hooch?" Matt called quietly, alarmed that Hooch hadn't seemed to register his entrance.

Hooch looked up, the sudden hyper-focus of his dark gaze on Matt. "He'll call back. They're out."

"Ah," Matt nodded. "I'll go shower first then."

"No!" Hooch's reply came as sharp and fast as a bullet. "Don't. I want you…" he was cut off by the cell phone ringing, and without checking who it was, he answered the call without saying a word.

Raising an eyebrow, Matt moved to the kitchen counter, keeping his eyes on Hooch who was concentrating on the call.

"Yeah." One word, sharp and cutting, then silence on Hooch's end once more, listening intently. Finally another "yeah," followed by, "understood." With that he put the cell down and turned his head towards Matt. "Can you keep me tied up for twelve hours?"

"Twelve…" Matt trailed off, looked at the clock, then at Hooch. Swallowed. "Alright. With what?"

"Anything you can find." Hooch shrugged, "as long as it's sturdy and I can't get out of it. Leather belts?" He stood up, his body so tense, every muscle appeared sculpted. "Gag me, and don't let me come, no matter what. Fuck me, with your cock, with a dildo, with anything you can find." Hooch's voice had become hard as shards of metal, and as cutting. "Just fuck me."

Matt swallowed, hard. "The bedroom, then," he choked out.

Hooch moved immediately, and without being told, he got onto the bed, face down, spreading his arms and legs.

Matt stood frozen for a moment, before going to the wardrobe and rummaging for something, anything that would do the task asked of him. Eventually, he found a handful of leather belts, and a large cotton scarf from goodness knows where. Opening the bottom drawer of Hooch's bedside table, he found Hooch's collar, and the toy collection he'd long known about, but never seen.

Hooch's hands were clenched into fists, and his long legs trembled with a tension he'd been holding in for too long. He didn't move, but sensing Matt's hesitation, he spoke quietly. "Anything, Matt. Anything and everything, no matter how much." He paused, and the emphasis on the last word was compelling: "Please."

"Yes." Matt moved, rummaged in the drawer, then shut it. A sound behind Hooch, then movement as Matt slipped a sleeping mask from an airline amenity kit over Hooch's eyes, the nearest thing he could find to a blindfold.

Hooch's breathing audibly relaxed once he was in darkness, for a reason Matt couldn't understand, and wasn't going to explore right now. He had been set a task, and he was going to help Hooch, keep him from being unable to function or-worst of all-from breaking his promise and go off again and perhaps get himself killed this time.

He picked up the belts next, turning them in his hands, contemplating what to do, before tying Hooch's wrists and ankles to the four posts of the bed. He was careful, never having done this before, but Hooch urged him on.

"Tighter." Hooch's voice was low, partly muffled by the bed sheets. "Make me hurt."

Matt gulped, but obeyed, stretching Hooch out as far as he could go. Picking up the cotton scarf, he brought it around Hooch's mouth, pulling tight and gagging him.

Hooch's body, spread and tense, was all rock hard muscles and sinews, fists clenched in anticipation and need for something Matt had promised to give without knowing what it would take.

Stepping back, Matt paused to admire the movement of muscles under smooth skin, the play of shadow amidst the fading light. "Should I put the lamp on?" he asked, before he remembered that he'd gagged Hooch. "No," he answered his own question. "No."

He moved closer, getting on the bed, and kneeling between Hooch's spread legs.

Hooch said nothing, did nothing, just waited. Remaining tense and wound up like a far too tight coil, ready to snap any moment.

Already half hard, Matt flipped open the lid of the lube and stroked himself, moving closer to Hooch, hand on the tense back. He could see how Hooch was doing the exact opposite to what he should: he didn't relax his muscles, clenched his ass instead, to get more pain.

He took a deep breath, moved forwards, hands spreading Hooch as far apart as he could, fighting against him, ready to force himself in. He could feel, rather than see, Hooch trembling under his fingertips.

This wasn't about wanting, not even about sex; this was all about giving Hooch what he needed, and Matt dug deep into his self to find all the anger he'd ever felt at Hooch's antics and how helpless it had made him over the years. He fucked Hooch, who didn't need him right now, but anyone who would do this to him, no matter who. He fucked him and tried to hurt him, which went against everything Matt ever was. He kept him tied up, re-tightened the leather that held Hooch's body spread, fed him energy drinks throughout the twelve hours, rammed the dildo into his ass until Hooch screamed and panted, and never let him come, not until it was dawn, and Hooch collapsed into an exhausted, sated, heap.

Matt was trembling too, as he untied Hooch's limbs and crawled into bed beside him, pulling up the covers before sleep claimed him.

* * *

It was after noon when Hooch woke up. His body aching, the skin around his wrists and ankles almost raw, and his ass stinging, still feeling the shadow of soreness deep in his guts. It was good; it was enough. The last twelve hours had given him a valve to let off the tension, allowing him to return to the core and find equilibrium, without tearing his own self apart.

He opened his eyes and turned his head towards the sound of steady breathing. Matt. Matt, who 'didn't have it in him' and yet he had done for Hooch what he'd asked for, and Hooch knew what that meant. He reached out to touch the short, tousled hair, stroking gently.

Matt woke, leaning into the touch. "Mmmmm?"

"Thank you." Hooch said quietly, far more in those two words than a whole speech could convey.

Matt blinked, calm. "You're welcome."

Hooch was silent for a long while, stroking Matt's hair. When he finally spoke again his voice was still as soft. "You hated it."

"Not my thing," Matt said at last. "But yours."

"Was there anything you liked?"

"You," Matt smiled. "Mine. All mine to do with as I wish." Leaning into the caress. "The tying up I didn't mind," he added, serious, "but something other than the belts, next time."

"Next time?" Hooch's eyebrows rose. "You would do it again?"

"If you wanted me to."

"I don't want you to do anything you hate, because if you continued to do that, you'd hate me one day."

Matt was silent for a while. "Maybe," he reached out a hand, touching Hooch, "but you're more important than that. We could give it another go, when it's just fun. And maybe you could do it to me."

"That would be a first." Hooch chuckled softly, his face visibly relaxing. "But I'll do it, for fun I can do anything."

Matt smiled. "For now, what I need is a couple more hours sleep."

"I'll see you when you wake up." Hooch leaned forward to place a ridiculously chaste kiss onto Matt's lips.

Matt laughed, and then closed his eyes and burrowed into the pillows.

 

2004



Late Spring - Early Fall 2004, Fayetteville

Earlier that week, Jeff had returned from a several-weeks posting in Montana. With Hooch being a lot less of an ogre than he had at first appeared to be, Jeff asked him to meet for lunch at the canteen, to check in with what's been going on at base.

They never got to talking about anything that had happened at Fort Bragg, because Jeff had started to enthusiastically describe the charity he'd seen at work close to the Montana base: Horses for Heroes. Even if Hooch had wanted to stop him, he wouldn't have succeeded without serious intervention, so impressed Jeff had been by the charity's work with the first waves of injured veterans returning from the Gulf. Working with the horses, getting the men and women into the saddle, had a remarkable effect on the veterans with issues ranging from amputations, over a diverse range of physical disabilities, to mental issues, such as the ever growing numbers of PTSD sufferers.

Hooch listened to Jeff's words with interest, and an idea began to form in his mind.

* * *

That evening, when he returned home, he was deep in thought and even less vocal than usual.

"What's up?" Matt asked, when Hooch didn't move nor greet him when he came through the door.

Hooch hummed, his only acknowledgment as he kept clicking away on his laptop, set up on the dining table. A long pause, a couple of clicks, and then he swiveled the laptop with a flourish, presenting the screen to Matt. It showed the website for Horses for Heroes.

"What do you think?"

Matt looked at it, and at Hooch. "You want to go to Montana?"

"Jeff told me about the charity." Completely ignoring Matt's question. "Would be good to have that here."

"And?" Matt realized that this was one of Hooch's weird-ass trains of thought where he expected Matt to be able to read his mind.

"Isn't that obvious? Horses." Hooch looked up, dark eyes alive, "horses, Matt."

"What about horses? Can you, um, start from the beginning?"

"What?" Hooch stared at him, dumbfounded. "You didn't know I..." he trailed off when realization hit him. "Damn. No, you didn't." He ran a hand through his hair then kicked back in his chair. "I spent my life on horseback, before I joined up. Pretty much all eighteen years of it, minus the baby stage."

Matt's eyebrows went up, but then it made sense. The passing reference to the ranch and the cattle money, back when Hooch had dropped the bombshell that he was loaded. "Ah," Matt nodded, "you want to start it up?"

Hooch didn't hesitate. "Yeah. I got the investment money for horses, equipment, stable, paddock. I'd need volunteers and at least one member of permanent staff. I know jack shit about the psychological stuff, but I know how to ride a horse."

"Are you going to talk to base about it?" Matt sat down at the dining table. "Got to be at least a few guys there who'd know something?"

"Good idea, but how the fuck do I go about finding the rest?"

Matt thought for a second. "I've got to have a ton or more of shrinks at the gym, and Mandy can scare up any number of volunteers for anything."

"Just need some proficient horsemen," Hooch added after a moment, "or horsewomen." He crossed his arms before his chest and looked at Matt. "This can work. I bet you anything that being on a horse is good for anyone. Was for me, I hardly ever got off."

Matt scratched the side of his nose, still slightly perplexed at Hooch's new train of thought. "Shouldn't be difficult, not here. I'll have Mandy put the word out." He paused. "Do you want me to do anything?"

"No, I'm alright. I better get on with it right away."

True to his word, Hooch threw himself into the idea with the same energy, dedication and excellent planning and executing skills, as he had always done for his military missions.

* * *

Matt hardly ever saw Hooch off the phone or the laptop screen during the next weeks- when he was home at all. The reports he was getting were positive, and Hooch's tenacity and focus began to pay off quickly. Having the funds helped.

Hooch was out and about one Saturday, checking up on a few potential paddocks and sites for stables, when the landline rang in their apartment.

"Hello?" Matt answered warily. Not a lot of people had the number, and fewer would call on a weekend.

"Hello?" the voice at the other end was female, Texan. "Hubert?

"Uh, no, it's his…roommate. I'm Matt." Matt frowned in concentration, and came to the conclusion this had to be someone from Hooch's family, but no one had ever called the landline. "Can I help you?"

"Oh, hello Matt," she paused, "sorry, I should have said. I'm Sofia, Hubert's sister, I was wondering if he was around? He's asked me to send him some of his old things and I was just making sure I had everything he wanted."

"Sorry, no, Hooch is out, probably all day." The 'Hubert' sounded so very wrong in Matt's ears. "Is his cell off? I could note down a message."

"Oh, thanks. I tried before but yes, his cell's off. Could you ask whether it's just his boots and belt and gloves and hat that he wants, or does he want the old ribbons and things as well? I'm so glad he's getting back into horses again. Ask him to call me if he wants anything else, otherwise I'll send all this off on Monday."

Matt's eyes had widened at the list, and he had to bite his lip not to ask any further questions. A roommate wouldn't be that curious. "Okay, I'll do that. I tell him to call you back before Monday." He added, "nice talking to you."

"Thanks." A pause, "nice to put a voice to a name, too. Bye." The phone call ended with a soft 'click.'

'Name'? Matt's brows shot up as he stared at the phone. He hadn't expected Hooch to ever mention him to anyone in his family. Still bewildered, he replaced the phone on its charger, then went to fix himself some lunch.

* * *

Hooch returned a few hours later, short hair tousled, boots and black denims splattered with mud, but a satisfied look on his face.

"You look pleased." Matt observed redundantly.

"Found the perfect location. Stables need renovating, but foundations are intact, and paddock is large enough, complete with training yard." Hooch shrugged out of his jacket, before bending down to unlace his boots at the door. "Price is higher than I'd initially budgeted for, but have organized a call with my financial adviser in Texas, to see what can be done."

"Speaking of people in Texas," Matt began, "your sister called. She wants to know if there's anything else you want apart from," he paused and looked at his neat notes, "your boots and belt and gloves and hat, like your old ribbons and things. And she's glad you're getting back into horses."

Hooch looked up, one muddied boot in hand. "She did?" He stood still for a moment, thinking, before placing the boot down and working on the second. "I can't believe they kept the trophies. Stupid sentimentality."

Whatever Matt was going to say first, he bit back. He settled for: "trophies."

"Yeah, what about them?" Hooch hopped on one sock-clad foot, while pulling the boot off the other.

"What did you use to play?" Matt asked, genuinely curious. "You've seen all mine."

"Horses." Hooch huffed a laugh and walked over to the couch. "I'm Texan, guess what I did with them." He grinned, unusually cheerful.

Matt blinked. "I'm not sure I want to."

Hooch's response was a short, but full-out laughter. "Nothing more exciting than rodeos. I did bareback bronc riding."

Matt shook his head ruefully. "Figures, and now?"

"Now I'm too old and fucking worn out to fall off bucking horses and get back up without an ambulance." Hooch was about to sit down on the white leather sofa, but a pointed look from Matt at his muddy denims made him stop in his tracks.

"Off and into the laundry basket," Matt inclined his head towards the bathroom where said basket was located, "and call your sister." He called after Hooch's retreating back as Hooch stalked off.

"Bully!" Hooch's voice came from the bathroom, but-as expected-he did exactly as he was told.

* * *

Hooch had quickly showered and changed into a fresh pair of black jeans, his staple civilian wardrobe, and a t-shirt. Sitting in his study, bare feet on the desk, he dialed Sofia's number on his cell.

"Sofia Bozic Callahan," the voice crisp and professional.

"You don't have my cell on caller ID?" Hooch's way of greeting, the good humor still lingering.

"Hubert!" the voice was surprised. "Perhaps it's because you don't call me more than once or twice a year. What on earth are you up to?"

"Maybe I don't call you more often because you insist on calling me 'Hubert'." Hooch re-crossed his ankles up on the desk. "I started a branch of a charity for veterans."

"Oh," she seemed momentarily taken aback, "you did?" Ignoring the comment about his name.

"Have you heard of Horses for Heroes? Deals with injured veterans. Figured that was a good idea."

"No, no I haven't…" she trailed off. "It sounds interesting and something that would suit you. Would you like me to send anything else apart from your old things? Is there anything I can do?"

"No, I got everything I need here and I don't want any of my old stuff. Throw it all away. My horse gear will do." Hooch thought for a moment. "Did they keep my saddle and tack?"

"No." Hey voice was regretful. "They sold it when they sold your horses."

Silence on Hooch's end for an uncomfortable length of time. Finally just one word: "Okay." If his voice was hard as steel and sharply cutting, it remained unmentioned. "Nothing else I want, then. Tell them to throw the other shit out."

"I will." Simple words. "Your roommate sounds nice. Another soldier?"

"He was. Runs the gym now." Hooch was starting to become cagey. All too quickly the good humored man was gone.

"Oh." Sofia paused. "Have you known him for long?"

"Why?"

"Just curious is all," Sofia had a touch of nervousness to her voice, "you've never spoken about any of your friends, and I'd never thought that you'd share an apartment off-base with anyone."

Hooch sat up straight, feet off the desk, and his back rigid. "You said yourself we talk twice a year on the phone. I forget your birthday and I forget everyone's Christmas. I only visit Texas when I absolutely have to. You wouldn't call us close, would you?"

"No," a pause. "I'll box up your things." Another pause, "and Hubert?"

Hooch frowned, hating that name, hating it more than he'd ever be able to explain to her without destroying some of her last illusions about her family. "Yeah."

"Is Matt the Marine who visited you when you were in hospital after your last mission?"

The smallest sound escaped Hooch as he pulled in a shocked breath, followed by a tell-tale hesitation he couldn't control. "You saw him." A statement, since a question would have been redundant.

"Well, yes," Sofia sounded confused, "I did, and he was the only visitor listed for you in the book. I've been wondering ever since you mentioned you were moving off-base."

"Wondering about what?" The sharpness and alertness remained at the front of Hooch's voice.

"Wondering if he was the same Matt you mentioned you were sharing the apartment with."

Another pause, too long for Hooch's usual quick wit. "Yes. He is." No other explanation, and there wasn't going to be anything else Sofia would be able to pry out of him.

"Oh," another pause. "I'll send your things on Monday." She knew that she had already got more out of him than expected. "Let me know if there's anything I can do for your new organization."

"You mean the offer? If yes, any help with the books is appreciated."

"Any time. I'll look into charity tax exemptions for you, too."

"Thanks. I'll send you the paperwork. And Sofia," Hooch added, "you'll find I'm using my inheritance for this. So you know."

An unladylike snort, but then a smile. "Thanks for the warning. I'll remember not to be in the same room when father finds out."

"Fuck him." Hooch shot out, before his brain had engaged.

A shocked silence. "I'll not mention it to him, then."

"Do whatever." The damage was done. "It's my money, not his. I don't care if you tell him or not." He wasn't going to retract what had slipped out, couldn't undo what he'd done. "It's not your problem, Sofia, don't worry about it."

Another long pause. "I have to pick up Martin from soccer," it sounded genuine, not an excuse. "But before I go-Hubert?"

Hooch groaned. "Yeah?"

"Look after yourself."

The hesitation this time was different, as Hooch slowly pulled in an audible breath and released it equally slowly. "That's no problem anymore."

"Good." The phone call ended with a soft click.

Hooch put his cell down, gently placing it onto the desk. He remained in his chair for a while.

* * *

Several weeks later, Hooch was at an equine rescue facility where he had arranged to inspect a couple of horses that had previously belonged to a bankrupt trail riding business. They were on the elderly side, which was why the company's liquidators had not managed to sell them with the rest of the horses, but gentle and quiet and calm, and perfect for what he had in mind.

After discussions with the manager, and making arrangements for the horses to be delivered to the property that he'd bought, Hooch was distracted by the sound of a shrill piercing neigh from the barn, together with the sound of frantic kicking against solid boards.

"What else have you got in the stables?" Hooch called the manager back. "What's up with that horse?"

Cyn followed his gaze and shook her head. "It's Lucifer. He came in six months ago, starved and horribly mistreated, he'd been locked up in a filthy tiny stall almost since he was a foal. We've tried all we can, but we simply can't place him or adopt him anywhere with good conscience. No matter what we try, he can't be handled by anyone, and he's too dangerous-we've already had any number of near misses." She gave a sad shrug. "We've just managed to get him into the barn to wait for the vet tomorrow." No need for her to say why.

"Lucifer?" Hooch's brows rose. "Who named him that?" He listened to another barrage of high pitched neighs and frantic kicks. "Can I see him?"

"It was 'Luke' when he came, but the longer name became quite appropriate soon after," Cyn's voice was dry. "You're welcome to, but mind any appendages. He's a big boy, and a fast one."

"Yeah, don't worry. I used to ride broncos." Hooch turned back to the stables, following the noise to a single box, where a dark, wild horse was rearing up, hammering against the box door in front and kicking the stable wall in the back.

Hooch approached slowly, letting the frantic horse see him coming. Pausing when the horse screamed and reared, but not retreating. Stopping at the door, while the horse backed into the corner, trembling, he leaned against, but not over, the door. "Hey," he said softly to the horse.

The horse's fear was palpable in the air. Fear fuelling aggression, the hardest kind, but Hooch just stood still. Close. Non-threatening. "Hey, Lucifer." Hooch kept talking with the same gentle voice. "Stupid name, huh?"

The horse shifted restlessly, but didn't rear or kick. A large horse, as Cyn had said, rippling with muscle under the glossy dark coat, which was drenched with swear. Ears pricked, listening to Hooch.

"You'd kill me if I tried to come close, wouldn't you?" Hooch said softly, with a chuckle in his voice. "So I won't, not now, but I make you a promise: I will get close, and I will ride you one day." He stood and watched the horse, taking in everything. "I never break a promise." With that he walked out slowly, without any sudden movement or noise, and looked for Cyn.

She was outside, waiting for him. "You're in one piece," she observed. "Crying shame about Lucifer. He's such a stunning colt, but we don't really have any choice, not when he's so dangerous."

"I'll take him." Hooch stated, and before she managed to get a word in, he raised his hand. "I know what I'm doing. I'll give Lucifer a home, he doesn't have to die. I know how to deal with wild and frightened horses. I'll take him."

She looked at him steadily, measuringly, before nodding. "The paperwork's in the office."

"Thanks." Hooch was about to turn towards the office, when he stopped. "You're welcome to check up on the horses any time."

"You may regret that. I'll probably be around your place all the time. Your idea sounds fascinating."

"Not my idea, I copied it from Horses for Heroes." Hooch smiled. "We need volunteers who know what they're doing."

Cyn smiled and scratched the side of her nose. "I'm sure I can find more than a few people to come by and lend a hand." They had reached the small building that served as an office. "It would not be a good idea to transport Lucifer with Daisy and Minnie, but we might as well organize it all now."

"I'll get some guys to help with Lucifer's transport later." Hooch agreed, as they went inside to deal with the paperwork, which took some time.

* * *

Later that day, after the first two horses had been safely taken to the new charity stables, and with Lucifer staying for another couple of days before Hooch could organize help with the transport, he finally made his way back home. Somewhat tired, definitely hungry, and surprisingly content.

Matt was in the apartment, working on an assignment for his nutrition course when Hooch arrived home, and raised his head at Hooch's entrance. "What are you so cheerful about?"

"I got myself a horse today. His name's Lucifer." Hooch grinned, unlacing his boots.

"Lucifer." Matt looked at Hooch steadily, "figures." He closed the textbook that he was reading from, then saved his work and closed the lid of his laptop, knowing that no more work would be done. "How did that happen? I thought you were going out to look at some retired old-timers to plod around in circles."

"I was," Hooch shrugged, "but there was this horse, dark colt, real good stock, but mistreated and frightened. They called him Lucifer, because he's out for everyone's blood." He left jacket and boots at the door, and walked over to where Matt was sitting. "The horse is aggressive because it's frightened. It was about to be put down. No one could handle him." He shrugged again, "so I got him."

Matt stayed still for a moment, before standing up. "You might act like the tough-ass Delta, but you're just a softie inside, aren't you?" Just a hint of a smile from him.

"I'm not!" Hooch was adamant, and he crossed his arms in front of his chest for good measure. "It simply made sense. I have experience in riding wild horses, have tamed a few, too, and that horse is going to be an excellent one when it's realized it has nothing to fear."

"Ah-hah," Matt nodded sagely. "Whatever you say." Clearly disbelieving. "Are you planning on taming and riding him?"

"Of course. Pretty pointless to own a horse otherwise."

Matt hummed thoughtfully.

"What?"

"You used to be thrown off wild horses, yes?"

"Sure," Hooch huffed a laugh, "that's the point of rodeos."

"That was before you fractured your pelvis…"

Hooch's grin immediately fell. "Ah, shit."

Matt hated the way Hooch deflated, and quickly offered, "I could research supportive braces for you. Just to make sure."

"Sure thing, buddy."

Matt chuckled at the 'buddy'. "When do I get to meet this demon?"

"We'll transport him to the stables in a couple of days, once I've organized some guys to help. Want to come along?"

Knowing he was being challenged, Matt rose to the bait. "Sure."

"That's sorted, then." Hooch's grin was back, "you'll like him."

* * *

Lucifer's transport turned out to be as much of struggle and hard work as his name suggested. They needed four men and all of Hooch's and Cyn's expertise to eventually get the frightened and aggressive horse into the trailer and after a short journey, into his new box in the charity's stables.

All of them were exhausted, but Hooch had taken the brunt of the work, staying the closest to Lucifer as was possible at this stage, without getting killed.

He leaned against the stable wall, pulled off a glove, and wiped his sweaty face with a satisfied grunt. "Thanks, buddies."

The others seemed ready to drop, and looked from Hooch to the still nervous horse, as though Hooch was insane. "Time for a drink, then?" one of them asked.

"Sure, I could do with one." Hooch focused on Matt who'd been staring at him in a strange way. "What about you?"

"Umm," Matt was uncharacteristically inarticulate, "yeah, that sounds good."

Hooch studied Matt for a moment longer, then pulled his other glove off. "Okay, guys, meet you at the bar in twenty. I'll finish off here." Everyone except Matt started to move. "Matt, I could use your help."

"Sure…" Matt was still sounding a little dazed.

As the others left to drive to the bar, Hooch opened the door to the washroom and beckoned Matt inside. "So," Hooch started as he closed and then locked the door, "why are you staring at me as if I'd grown horns?"

"You look…" Matt swallowed hard. "That was hot."

An amused grin began to spread across Hooch's features. "Does that mean you're into cowboys? I never knew that about you, Matt Donahue."

Matt blinked and came back into himself at the teasing. "Makes me wonder why I didn't know either." Stepping closer, until he and Hooch were nose to nose.

"So, that means skin tight denims, boots, broad belt and shirt do it for you, huh?" Hooch rumbled.

Matt's hands went to Hooch's chest, lying them flat against the sweat-soaked cloth. "I think they do." Matt's mouth so close that Hooch felt his breath, more than he heard the words.

"You want to do me, huh?" Hooch murmured, their lips touching as he spoke. "Right here and now. With my denims down enough for you to fuck me, huh?" Pushing forward, until he ground his crotch into Matt's, hard cock against hard cock.

"God yes." Matt pushed back, "against the basin, so I can see your face in the mirror."

"Looks like it's going to be a dry run." Hooch didn't appear perturbed by the lack of lube, just turned round and moved the few steps to the large basin, then gripped the stoneware firmly, and bent forward. Low enough for Matt to fuck him, and high enough for his face to show in the mirror. Dark eyes fixed on Matt through his reflection, urging him on silently.

Matt fumbled with both their belt buckles, tugging on Hooch's jeans, pulling them down with difficulty, before moving to his own. He pushed Hooch hard against the basin, who didn't say anything, but his breathing had become harsh and fast, bracing himself.

"Shit, no lube," Matt swore, panted, then spat into his hand. Not enough, but better than nothing, and Hooch relished the burn of a dry fuck.

"Doesn't matter." Hooch willed his muscles to relax, to ease the breach. "Come on!" Urging Matt, who obeyed, forcing his way in as Hooch shoved back against him, panting and plastering himself against Hooch's sweat-soaked back.

"So…good…" Matt groaned, going deeper, fingers clawing at Hooch's hips, pushing harder against the basin.

"Yeah, shit," Hooch gasped out, recklessly pushing back against Matt, while his own cock chafed against the stoneware basin with every thrust. "Fuck me!"

Hard and fast against the basin, reaching around to roughly take Hooch in hand, it seemed barely seconds before they came, and Matt crashed even more heavily into Hooch, crushing him against stone, forehead against the mirror, arms and hands shaking where they gripped the basin.

Hooch chuckled breathlessly, a rumble against Matt's chest. "If I'd known you react like that to my old riding kit, I'd gotten a horse earlier." Blindly reaching behind himself, he patted Matt's hip.

Matt panted, still catching his breath. "If I'd known, I'd have got you a horse myself." He slowly withdrew, pulling up both their jeans, but not cleaning either of them.

Hooch turned round and fastened his belt buckle himself. "I'm going to leak," he smirked, "sweat, cum, leather and beer." Hooch reached behind himself and pulled a Stetson off a peg. Battered, faded and worn, he tipped the hat down low over his face and grinned. "Doesn't get better than that."

 

2005



January 2005, Fayetteville

Right after Christmas and New Year, Hooch had been spending every free minute at the stables, working hard on getting the charity into full swing. He was rarely home, and when he returned at night, he was so physically exhausted, he fell asleep almost immediately.

He didn't notice that Matt spent more time downstairs with Greg, his time eaten up by the charity, and most of all by Lucifer, who he was training every day, if possible.

He didn't notice anything until he came home one night to find the apartment dark and deserted, no Matt there. A noise from the parking lot caught his attention-Matt, being dropped off by Greg after a night out.

Despite himself, Hooch looked out of the window, watching the two men in the deserted parking lot, illuminated by yellow street lights. They were laughing, and Greg pulled Matt back inside for what was obviously a kiss.

Hooch froze. The coke can in his hand crushed by suddenly tensing fingers.

Matt got out of the car, still laughing, and walked to the gym door, a spring in his step. Greg was waiting until Matt was inside, before driving off in his stylish little car.

Matt's steps were still light as he made his way up the stairs to the apartment and opened the door. "Hey," he sounded surprised, "you're home early."

Hooch was still standing at the window. "Hey." He turned round to face Matt. "You were out with Greg." A statement.

"Yeah," Matt dropped his keys in the habitual place, and Hooch saw that he was carrying a camera case, top quality, that he'd never seen before. "Photography masterclass."

"Are you in love with him?" The question came out as if shot from the hip: straight to the point.

Matt blinked, recoiled as though slapped. "No," he said too quickly, "just friends. You've never objected before."

"I've never before seen you together with any of your guys."

Matt thought for a moment. "You haven't? Ah, no, it's lunch usually, so you wouldn't."

Hooch hadn't left his position at the window, crushed can still in his hand. "Matt, I'm not objecting to you fucking other guys." He chose his words carefully, but each of them was as straightforward as the next. "Never have, never will, but what I saw didn't look like a fuck buddy. He's the same guy who a few years ago complained he'd never been up here, isn't he?"

"Greg? Yes, he was." A pause as though Matt was thinking. "Yes, he was." he repeated.

Hooch nodded. "Photography masterclass?" latching onto the other unknown.

"Well, yes," Matt was too used to the way Hooch's mind worked to be surprised at the quick shift, "been getting into it more lately, time I learnt how to use a camera properly."

Hooch's fingers relaxed their grip on the crushed can fractionally. "I asked you back then and I ask you now: is there anything you want me to do, or you want to do to me, which we haven't done yet? Which you think you can't get from me and need to get from others? Or are they things I can never give you, like being out openly?"

"Is that what this is all about?" Matt sat down heavily on the couch. "Course it sucks, having to stay in the closet, but…"

"No." Hooch finally moved from his frozen stance. He put the crushed can onto the table and sat down side-on to Matt on the L-shaped couch. "It's about me seeing you out there laughing with a guy with whom you've been out to a new hobby I didn't know anything about, who took you home, and with whom you've been having sex with for years. This is simply about me being..." Hooch hesitated, then used the most fitting word, no matter how that made him look, "worried you've fallen in love with someone else."

"Shit," Matt said, after a breath. "He's a good guy, sure, and we have fun, and he's a friend....but...no."

"Are you sure he knows that?"

"Course he does," the reply was a bit too quick.

"And what about the others?"

"The others?" Matt leaned back. "What's got into you?" he thought for a second, "but for what it's worth, there isn't anyone else at the moment, not since Tom took that new job in Turkey and Craig and Paul got together and moved to San Fran."

Hooch nodded slowly and thoughtfully. "I guess Greg knows that he's the only one."

Matt shrugged. "I suppose so."

"And he knows I've been hardly ever home lately."

"Not that he has any idea we're not roommates." Matt, as always, conscious of Hooch's safety, but now it was entirely the wrong thing to say.

Hooch froze, sitting straight as if he'd swallowed a rod. "Yeah, shit." Anything else he wanted to say got caught in his suddenly too-tight throat. He sat in silence until he swallowed hard, forcing the words through. "This isn't going to work."

"What isn't?"

"I could reassure you that I don't mind. That it's okay, no problem, I don't care who you fuck. They are your nibbles, nothing else. But it's not true, because I saw you together and it fucking..." Hooch stopped, taking a forced breath. "Anyway. I have no right to be jealous." The admittance that he was jealous, as unexpected as his return to Matt's apartment, so many years ago.

"You go to your club." Somehow Matt made it sound reasonable, rather than petulant.

"Yes, I do. That's why I have no right to…anything." Hooch could have pointed out that he had no idea who the men were who did things to him and his body, that he'd never seen anyone, didn't speak to anyone, didn't care about anyone, but he couldn't bring himself to do so.

"Do you want me to stop? The fucking or the friendship?"

Hooch shook his head. "I don't know. On their own they are fine, but together they are more."

Matt sighed, and got up to go to the kitchen for a glass of water. Silently offering the same to Hooch, who shook his head again. "Then what? It clearly pisses you off, no matter how much you try to hide it, and these last few months…"

"I've been away too much." Hooch finished the sentence for Matt. "Is that it?"

"Oh, please," Matt came back to the sitting area, "don't make me sound like I'm pining. The charity's important, and you're doing a great job with it. Just that I would have liked to know you still lived here, instead of being this shape in the bed that appears when I'm asleep and is gone by the time I get up." He turned the glass in his hand, staring at it, before looking up at Hooch.

"Then what do you want me to do?" Hooch was floundering. After all this time he still found it difficult to get to grips with everything a relationship entailed. "Give me some help, here."

"Want?" Matt slumped back. "What I want is to be able to go out with you in this town without having to watch every move we make; to not have to be careful about every word I say when I'm talking about you so it doesn't look suspicious. But we can't do that, I know. This," he made a vague movement vaguely taking in the whole apartment, "is the only place we can be together. And let's face it, I rather miss the sex lately."

"Yeah." Hooch's voice was low. "Is it just sex we have when we spend time together?"

Matt's smile was small. "It's never been just sex for us, has it, at least not since you turned up on my doorstep after we left the Gulf." A statement, not question.

"No, it's not. If it were I wouldn't feel…" searching for words again, Hooch had never felt like this before, and he didn't know how to describe that hurt at seeing Matt with Greg. "Anyway, it's not." He ran a hand through his hair. "But with your job here, mine on base, the charity I'm trying to set up, and your new hobby, how are we going to do that relationship stuff?"

Matt bit back a laugh. "Probably the same way that we've always done the 'relationship stuff'. For two people who live together we do less than we did when we weren't. And," he shrugged, "if you need a hand, I can come out to the stables. And…aren't you curious as to what I take photos of?"

"I guess if you come out to the stables to help, we could combine that with the sex thing." At long last Hooch relaxed. "So what are you taking photos of? Greg?"

Matt almost smiled himself, remembering the time in the washroom at the stables. "Not just," Matt answered the question, and reached for his camera. "Others, too." He turned it on, set it to view the photos and passed it to Hooch, who started to flick through the images.

Hooch didn't say anything for a while, took his time, looking at each and every of the shots: all of them of nude male bodies, and all of them amazing images, capturing the beauty of skin and muscles perfectly. He handed the camera back when he was finished. "Wow." That was all, and it came out stunned and clearly in awe.

"Thanks," Matt ducked his head. "Don't suppose you'd want to pose?"

"Would you like me to?"

A single word. "Yes."

"Then I will. Guess we could combine the photography with the sex stuff."

Matt laughed, "that's part of the fun."

"Want to get started now?" Without waiting for an answer, Hooch swiftly pulled his shirt up and over his head.

Matt fumbled with the camera, fingers suddenly clumsy. "Why not?"

Hooch bent over to pull off his socks, then opened belt buckle and buttons, and pulled the whole lot down by lifting his ass off the seat. His briefs followed the next moment, before he poured himself onto the couch. Leaning back, legs splayed open, a hand touching his cock that slowly began to show interest at the new scenario. "I guess you're not planning on showing my face."

"No," Matt shook his head, "nobody's. Just to be safe."

"In that case…do you want me hard? Want me to spread my ass? Want to fuck me and take shots of your cock inside me?" Hooch's slow grin spread, and suddenly Matt realized something about Hooch he'd never been fully aware of: the man was an exhibitionist at heart.

Matt had to stop his hands from shaking, or else he'd drop the very expensive camera. He swallowed, then tried to answer the grin. "All of the above."

"Then let's get started." Hooch pulled up one knee, opening wide, and began to stroke his cock to full hardness. If this was going to be how they spent relationship-time together, indulging Matt's new hobby, then he was damned if he didn't throw himself into it with all he had.

* * *

The following week, when he was due to meet Greg for lunch, Matt was ready for a difficult conversation. One where he had to be careful what he said, enough truth, and enough left unsaid, that Matt could not give Greg what he wanted, no matter Greg's protestations to the contrary.

Greg listened, his usual smile fading, angry at first, but reluctantly accepting in the end. Friends, still, but the sex was over. When Greg accused Matt of having a hopeless crush on his roommate, Matt did not deny it, and left Greg to his conclusion, knowing that it was the safest assumption for Greg to make.

It would keep Hooch protected, and their relationship as secret as it could be.
 
 
2006
 
 

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