1997, Rebel Stronghold
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
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, nothing had prepared him for the onslaught
of pain. He knew, then, that he'd got it this time.
it for certain, when he heard voices and the sound of
engines, getting rapidly closer. He frantically cut
the entangled parachute ropes, managing to wriggle out
of the harness. He could already make out individual
voices, but he still tried to pull himself up to get
out of there. Still 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.
it went black, and the pain didn't matter anymore.
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
blackened 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 defenceless body, rendering his face a bloodied
and swollen mess. Worse than any session, anything he'd
ever had done to him - in the name of lust. This was
real, and more destructive than anything else in his
life had ever been before.
antagonise your captor. He remembered, the mantra
was stuck in his mind, but then the 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:
Hubert, Sergeant First Class, 546798362."
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.
didn't know most of those answers, couldn't tell, and
wasn't sure if he would have, had he known. Nothing
to say, nothing to admit to, except for:
Hubert, Sergeant First Class, 546798362."
audible at times, and hardly human.
had no idea how close he was to getting killed, didn't
realise that the faction that had captured him was warring
with another that wanted to see a better use of the
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.
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 recognised 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 again, cold,
on the ground.
of bodies, a small room. One single source of air and
light in a tiny, iron-clad window high above. Hundreds
and hundreds of bodies, so crowded none of them could
do anything but stand.
couldn't sit, couldn't lie, couldn't stand, the pain
was unbearable. So was the stench, the filth, the heat
and the smell of death and decay. Excrements, piss from
the guards, shit and blood and fear from the prisoners.
Hooch couldn't move, unable to get to the little water
that was given out, brackish and teeming with parasites.
But the only other option was death.
to stand and die of pain, death to lose the fight and
be trampled underfoot, death to get to some of the contaminated
food and water, death not to gain any, and death to
was the best option. Pain didn't kill. If Hooch knew
anything, he knew that. Had 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.
refused to be one of the corpses that were shuffled
towards the front every morning. Those 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.
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 but 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 ready,
always be waiting and would always want him. The 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
AM and Matt sat bleary eyed at the breakfast counter
in his kitchenette, shovelling corn flakes down his
neck while watching CNN. Half-heartedly listening to
whatever was going on on the screen, while reaching
for the carton of milk to pour more into his cereal
before it got soggy. The milk never hit the bowl.
soldier. Special Forces. Captured. Video. Demands.
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, leg at a strange angle.
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 ...
Matt jumped up, the remote clattered across the table
and onto the floor, followed by the bowl of cornflakes.
Bloodied. Beaten. Injured. Tortured.
November 1997, Rebel Stronghold
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. Saw nothing
in his memories but flashes of a smile, and a joke he
could not remember anymore. 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 ones, which
could hardly see anymore, and lips that were cracked
and had forgotten how to speak.
The voice asked, rough and worn, like his own. If only
he hadn't screamed that much and still had the strength
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, he'd lost every
care, every squeamishness. Survival. Life. Death, he
had almost lost the zest for either. Existing, barely.
didn't question why they helped the foreigner; the prisoner
with the fair skin, unlike any of them. 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.
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
..." Matt whispered to himself, dialling Dan's
number. "Come on!" He had to do something,
or he was going insane, and Dan was the first and only
man who'd come to his mind. Dan with his connections;
Dan with his Spa. It was well after 7 AM, but he didn't
care that he'd get the bollocking 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.
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
the ringing stopped and a faint snick told him the phone
had been picked up. When a sleepy voice answered the
phone, Matt blurted out, "Dan?"
Back in New Zealand, Dan was trying to wake up and make
sense of the voice at the other end of the phone. Pushing
himself up in bed, after a glance over at Vadim, he
sat and rubbed his face. "Who is it?"
Dan, I need your help. Hooch, captured. Video, CNN,
and Hooch ..."
on!" Dan looked across at Vadim who'd rolled onto
his side and blinked up at him. He mouthed 'Matt' to
Vadim and shrugged. "One thing after the other,
calm down. What's up with Hooch?"
hard, trying to get his thoughts back together, Matt
forced himself to calm down. He was a soldier, he should
be able to do that, but this time it was different.
It was personal, and he didn't know how to deal with
it. "I saw Hooch just now on CNN, there is no way
I was mistaken. They didn't give out his name, like,
but it absolutely was Hooch, even though he looked hardly
human. He was captured, beaten, something wrong with
his legs, looked close to death, and it's about some
random shit from some godforsaken goddamned country!"
Breathing again, against the anger, the nausea, and
the unspeakable fear of losing Hooch.
Dan was awake from one moment to the next, "do
you know anything else?"
that's why I call. I don't know what to do, Dan. No
one to ask, no one to talk to, don't even know his fucking
family! You're the only one I can think of who might
be able to help. The Spa, stuff, you ..." Matt
was desperate and when he trailed off, the pain was
robbing his voice.
aye, let me think." Dan looked at Vadim, then,
"Matt, send me all you know in an email, every
detail from that video, and we get going. There might
be someone ..." frantically thinking of all the
men in the Spa, but none jumped at him with. "We
do what we can, okay? I'll get right onto it, you just
send me everything you know. I'll keep you up to date
all the way."
Thanks, Dan." Matt was too choked to speak and
he hung up.
Dan stared at the phone for a moment.
was fully awake now, sitting up and looked at him, the
question across his face.
got Hooch. Matt saw him in a video. He's in a bad
was not surprised. Or, yes, he was, but he wasn't incredulous.
He knew what Hooch looked like as a captive. He knew
Hooch beyond the man's silent superiority, his remote,
aware state. "Markus", he said. "He can
make things happen. The Red Cross guys."
damn, you're right. Have to find the number. He's got
too bloody many."
the other reaction set in for Vadim. Worry. Captivity.
What if there was a man like Konstantinov. "Oh
fuck", he murmured and leaned back against the
wall. He didn't doubt that Hooch was well prepared to
survive the situation, unless, of course, he allowed
that American superiority to shine through the mask.
But he also knew that in the race between torturer and
victim, the torturer always won.
fuck." Dan frowned, pushing the duvet away to get
up. "When I say 'bad state' I mean bad state. Apparently
tortured, Matt hardly recognised him, and he said Hooch
looked as if he'd had his legs broken or something."
Dan emerged in the kitchen half an hour later, he was
partially dressed. No way he'd be able to go back to
sleep. "Markus is on the trail. He promised to
let us know anything he can but pointed out several
times that he's got to be careful. This is really unofficial,
but he understands that Matt is going mad. I'll call
the kid now."
that. I'll have a shower." Vadim stood. Broken
legs. Thinking of that body, broken, made him feel nauseous.
A response to his own torture? Or pity. Compassion.
He knew how strong Hooch was, how resilient. Mentally
strong. If he managed not to piss off the torturer ...
and Matt was the one who was in the position of helplessness
and of being much closer to Hooch than he was. He needed
whatever support they could give him. "You could
invite him. Or we meet him. Help him ..." Being
tell him that." Dan emptied the mug of strong,
black, over-sweetened coffee in on go, before heading
for the phone, but he stopped mid-way and turned back.
"Thank you." He smiled slightly, "for
thinking of the kid. Matt isn't made of the same stuff
as ..." a slight hesitation, "us." He
touched Vadim's shoulder. "Hooch is your friend,
you know him better than I do, perhaps even better than
Matt does. We both know he'll make it, if at all possible,
but I'm not sure if Matt has the same trust."
smiled. "I don't think he'll be very rational about
it. How could he." He touched Dan's hand on his
shoulder. "Go, make that call."
Dan returned from the phone call, he was deep in thoughts.
Matt had sounded out of his mind, yet had to keep himself
together and head into work. It was the not-knowing,
the keeping up appearance and pretending to wear the
mask, that was the worst. But Matt kept going, stuck
in the US.
they could do now, was wait.
November 1997, Rebel Stronghold
screams reverberated through the compound. The last
man had found his worst weakness, and was manipulating
his hips with both hands.
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 the
worst. 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. Forget everything
except for 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.
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."
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 kick into his kidneys, and didn't know
when he was thrown back into the other hell. The crowded
cell that contained those inexplicable acts of human
November 1997, New Zealand
night, Dan was torn out of his sleep again, half-drunk
with tiredness, he reached for the phone. "Aye?"
was awake from one second to the next.
Thank fuck." Dan pushed himself up in the bed,
switching the phone onto loudspeaker for Vadim to listen
in. "You got anything?"
..." hesitating, "listen, Dan, what I tell
you is a very careful balance act between the confidential
and the really not official, you understand?"
do. Fuck, I do. Just, tell us. Anything you can tell
us will help."
The sound of a cigarette being lit and a voice in the
background. Dima, no doubt. "Hubert Bozic was alive
the last time the delegation had contact with the rebels,
and that was a few hours ago."
fuck!" Dan closed his eyes for a second. "And?"
now it gets tricky. The US sent off a rescue mission,
as expected, but it failed. Unexpectedly, at least according
to the US. Your friend Hooch wouldn't know any of that
and would probably have lost all hope by now."
Dan nodded, listening intently. "It's been how
Dan frowned. "What's happening next?"
now here is the better looking part. The ICRC was contacted
to negotiate on the behalf of the rebels. We can't get
into action before the US has agreed for negotiations
on their behalf. We are now in limbo, but at least something
is happening, and bearing in mind that their rescue
operation fell flat, it can only be a matter of hours."
let out a sigh of relief, even a tiny bit of good news
right now would make the world of difference to those
to whom it really mattered. "Hang on, I give you
Vadim." Handing the phone across, Dan nodded to
Vadim, already dialling Matt's number on the mobile.
He got Matt onto the line after a few rings and told
him everything Markus had let him know.
Markus' voice. "I wanted to ask you something.
When did you last see your friend, and do you have any
idea in what physical shape Hooch was before he headed
to a mission? Hooch is tough, perfectly trained."
Vadim smiled. "Delta are supermen, well worth chasing.
In all seriousness, they are the apex of what the American
military can do with the male body." Too tough
for females, in any case, or at least none had made
it yet. "Mentally, he's strong. He'll keep together,
no doubt, unless he mocks them. Then he's fucked."
I was aware of the physical side of things, but it's
good to know the man's mentally in peak shape. Is there
anything the delegation might need to know about Hooch?
We are hoping to be able to send someone in if not today,
then tomorrow. I know they are frantically working,
but as always, our hands are bound until both sides
agree to negotiate and the US seems reluctant to lose
more face than it already has. It's a matter of hours,
though, but the command chain isn't always the fastest."
living with a young US Marine, called Matt. Maybe, if
your delegation can tell him that Matt's been thinking
of him or something ..." Were there words to make
Hooch understand what those felt who were waiting and
agonizing? "That his buddies have been thinking
of him? That we'll do whatever it takes to help him."
Maybe not the right thing to say. Depended on whether
Hooch had accepted he'd need help. "Or something
about our prayers answered." Americans did that,
the praying thing. Talk about faith and prayers in such
situations. No atheists in fox holes, wasn't that an
I'll try, I'll let them know. Every little helps, each
connection to the outside world." There was a sound
in the background and Markus trailed off for a moment,
"Dima wants me to send his best wishes and he's
saying something unintelligible in Russian that I don't
understand." A smile in Markus' voice, "but
I think it's meant to be a good thing." The voice
in the background again, then the sound of subdued laughter.
"Yes, it is, a good thing. Anyway, I got to be
off, expect a call as soon as I have more information."
smiled. "It's time to learn a civilised language,
Markus. You're missing out on half his obscene jokes
if you don't speak his peasant Russian. Will talk to
you later." He switched off the phone when Markus
hung up after a short huff of laughter.
November 1997, Rebel Stronghold
was cradling his broken arm, no strength, no voice left
when he got kicked back into the cell once more. 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 almost didn't care anymore, except for
those thoughts that kept him alive. The number. The
name. The face, the body, the smile, even though he
couldn't remember the voice anymore.
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
for what? Living? In that hellhole
that didn't allow breathing, that had the guards above
use the prisoners' bodies as latrines, the unbelievable
stench for which he had no words, no thoughts, except
for 'everything'. Since it was all and everything and
everywhere around him, like a thick molasses that made
it impossible to draw in air.
time, he let himself fall back, back, into the bodies,
not trying to find leverage nor hold himself, 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
those arms were back and pulled him up. He protested,
didn't want them, how dared they, how
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 once more, until
the morning, when - against all odds - he was once again
not amongst those who got shuffled towards the front,
out of the door and onto the pile.
November 1997, New Zealand
was surfing the net for any scrap of information, but
it seemed the CNN had had its knuckles rapped for showing
the video, and the case of the missing US soldier had
vanished from the screen and the web. Even his insider
news sources were quiet about it.
of the members of the Spa had any further information,
except for background story, about the warring faction
in that country, and who they were dealing with, and
just what Hooch had meant to be doing in that country.
they could do was wait. Dan kept in contact with Matt
best he could, keeping him up to date with any scrap
of information that Markus passed on.
November 1997, Rebel Stronghold
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 eventually, blinking against
the sudden light. It hurt. Hurt his eyes, astonished
that anything could actually hurt in a new different
First Class Hubert Bozic, US Delta Force?" A female
was pretty, he thought, once his eyes had adjusted to
the light, and he wondered why the hell the last shreds
of his memories had been replaced with a woman. Blond.
Face illuminated by something. Torch. Not sunlight.
Hurting his eyes. Still.
you understand me?"
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.
have to tell me your name." The voice insisted,
foreign, and Hooch, unable to find
one single clear thought, couldn't understand why he
noticed the accent.
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. No worse than every second,
each breath and heartbeat.
that 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 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.
he came to, he was in a different place. A room. On
the ground. Space. No stench. Lying still, and 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 realise
the man was wearing rubber gloves.
you understand me, Sgt Bozic?"
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
" so hard to form words beyond
name and number, "have to
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."
me what happened, while Dr Mirabeau is working on making
you more comfortable."
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
stabilised 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 really mattered
if he lived or died.
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." Non-committal, but then, "especially
the Marines." This was all he needed to hear, and
he knew and understood. Matt. Vadim. Matt.
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, floating, a blanket over his body, and
a bottle of water and edible food beside him. Clean.
Lying down. Lying. 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.
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.
was asleep, for the first time in an eternity in hell,
and he knew that from now on he would not just vanish
anymore. 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 without a name nor number, to be 'missing
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.
she was all he had.
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 hat had been greedy
enough to ignore the rules of ethical behaviour.
was push and pull for a while, until finally, the rebels
agreed his release, under conditions and demands that
never saw the light of day outside of some US headquarters.
November 1997, United States of America
hardly any sleep in the last 72 hours, Matt had slowed
down, reactions and it took him a moment to catch on.
desperately tried to figure out if he heard anything
bad, or worried, or ... anything in Dan's voice.
the sound of a cigarette being lit, "I was distracted
was sure he could hear something ... a smile?
have good news from Markus."
is it?" Matt stood up, pacing the living room.
is free." The smile was now very audible. "He's
as we speak in a Red Cross medevac plane, being flown
to the US base down there."
Yes!" Matt suddenly shook, all the adrenaline of
the past days and nights flooding out and he was trembling,
feeling hot and cold at the same time. He had to sit
down when his knees threatened to buckle. Hand shaking
like a leaf, he had to concentrate to keep the phone
close to his ear. "How is he? What else do you
know? Tell me more!"
on, I don't know much else, just that he's alive and
he'll be alright. Whatever the fuck that means."
Dan was clearly grinning now, "they'll sort out
the surgery over at your place. Markus said he won't
be able to keep tabs on him the moment he's handed over
to the US military, but he gave me a couple of numbers
for you to find out more. Hang on
was desperately scrabbling for a pen, but the damned
thing kept falling out of his hand. He finally managed
and with hardly legible script, he wrote the numbers
down. US numbers.
said you should contact the family, since they're the
most likely ones to be up to date."
know." Matt shook his head, not sure if he wanted
to cry or laugh. He'd hardly kept it together at work,
how could he now? "I don't have their fucking address.
I'm just a buddy, remember?"
shit, but you use those other numbers, they'll help
a mate." The smile was back in Dan's voice. "We'll
do the same, Vadim is already on the line. We'll let
you know anything we find out, okay?"
buddy." Matt felt something crawl up inside his
chest and choke his throat. "Thanks. Thanks for
... for everything."
mention it. You're a friend and Hooch's a friend. I
last did it for Matt, the 'understand', something Hoch
had said so often in his Southern drawl. He couldn't
say anything else except for a choked "thanks"
and switched the phone off. Leaning forward, elbows
on his knees, he just let go. Burying his face in his
hands the fear, worry, pain and horror of the last days
were pushing their way to the surface and he sobbed
with relief, until exhaustion took over.
December 1997, United States of America, Military
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.
Pale 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.
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 healed but
angry, and he wanted to hurt whoever had done that.
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. 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.
Hooch's husky drawl tore Matt out of his catatonic state.
The voice disused and coarse.
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.
trembling hand raised to his face, his head dropped,
elbows on his thighs, and he covered his face with his
hand 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
stop, though. Couldn't get his goddamned act together
again, 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
remained silent, left hand in his lap, the right lay
on his chest. Silent, as long as it took Matt until
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,
realising that he couldn't go back to pretending he
was nothing but a goddamned buddy. He looked up, eyes
red rimmed, and studied Hooch's impassive face, the
dark eyes, and the whole, silent, man. It had never
been an issue before, until now. Now that 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.
shook his head, unable to say what he thought, let alone
what he felt.
didn't say anything either, looking up at Matt in silence,
without a twitch. Not that Matt had expected anything
else 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
was about to get up and get away, when Hooch opened
his mouth, and Matt stayed put, leaning down, to hear
the quiet murmur.
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
cum, going straight to my cock and blowing my mind.
The smell of your sweat right after sex ..." Hooch
paused, pulling in a breath. "And when I wasn't
sure if I could make it through another hour, then 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
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 fibre
of his being what Hooch had just said in too many words.
More than he'd ever used before, and without those three
simple ones that would have sufficed.
felt his eyes sting again but a smile grew on his face.
Too much, again, but of an entirely different kind.
" his voice trembled, "scrunch
up my face." Couldn't trust his voice, as shaky
as his hands.
grinned, he looked as if he had shrugged if that didn't
hurt too badly.
I do." Matt whispered, "but it's better than
throwing your underwear onto the wet bathroom floor."
let out a dry huff of laughter, grimacing at even the
slight jostling of his body.
fell quiet again. Companionable now in the silence,
looking at Hooch while vigorously wiping his eyes, then
settling into a shaky 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
more minutes." One of them announced as she walked
past and Matt sat down for the last time. Just a few
more minutes before he had to leave and fly back to
his own camp.
smiled at Hooch, who unexpectedly murmured, "I
want to hear that sound again."
and voice twisting Matt's guts in the most delicious
way. "You will." He whispered.
nodded, lips quirking up in the customary miniature
grin, before he reached out with his good hand and took
Matt's hand for a moment. Grip almost as strong as ever,
holding longer than a buddy should.
February 1998, United States of America
weeks later, Hooch was let out of hospital and subsequent
aftercare. Refusing to go back to Fort Bragg, where
he wouldn't have anyone take care of him and would have
to get 'hospitalised' again, and equally refusing to
be taken to his family down south, he demanded to be
sent to a friend instead. In his special circumstances,
the request had been granted. A friend who had a small
apartment and time to take care, which he lied about,
and who was willing to take over the task, which was
nothing but the truth. And so he had been flown to the
nearest town, then taken in an ambulance across to the
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 an hour later. Hooch
somehow managed to get into the elevator, and with the
help of walker and crutches to somehow - and lord knew
how - back out again, and then into the wheelchair.
Being able to get about, no matter how laborious and
painful, gave him a sense of freedom that was unparalleled
to anything he'd experienced since the mission.
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 made it, though, and
the independence had made up for all the pain. Even
though he'd left the drugs in the living room and really
couldn't face getting up, not even for a piss.
Matt called out from the minuscule hallway.
the bedroom." Even shouting caused pain and Hooch
rolled his eyes at the sheer annoyance of it all.
couple of seconds later Matt stood in the doorway. Still
in uniform, running a hand over his scalp. The smile
in his face grew bigger and bigger until it lit up his
whole face, grinning from ear to ear. "Shit, man.
Never thought I'd be so glad to see you dressed
on my bed."
you try taking the fucking socks off with that."
Pointing at the pelvic brace over his jeans. When his
shirt sleeve moved up, Matt saw that the plaster was
I?" If possible, Matt's grin grew.
my socks off?" Hooch groused, his eyes betraying
what he felt, and that was everything but grumpiness.
the brace. I promise to put it back on."
could start with the socks." Hooch grinned, peering
up from his supine position, head raised with the two
pillows on Matt's bed. "Or with yourself."
I could, like, do that, or I could kiss you."
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.
did I hurt you?" Matt's alarm was almost comical,
if it hadn't been so goddamned endearing.
just too horny."
grin was part relief and part wickedness. "I can
do something about that
" His hands were
on the brace and then Hooch's trousers, before the other
could say anything, 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 pants, 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.
know." Hooch drawled.
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. Not much better the burn wounds,
those small round dots that were scattered across Hooch's
upper body with no sense nor system.
get back into shape. I'll make you a recovery PT programme
when you can use the gym." Matt looked up, smiling,
and Hooch nodded.
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?"
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.
Matt came up, surprised and confused, "why not?"
Can't get tested yet."
" Shock, fear, worry and
confusion warred in Matt's face. "But they didn't
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.
risk must be almost none."
had every other shit, though."
not that, come on, it's not possible."
don't care." Hooch reached for Matt's shoulder,
managed to pull him closer and up. "I'm not going
to risk you. You understand?"
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." He smiled.
suck you with a condom."
no more goddamned rubber." Too many gloves that
had touched him in the hospital.
nodded, getting 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
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,
he ignored the pain. Matt stroked faster, adding twists
and using everything he'd ever known about his lover's
preferences, until 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 realising that part of Hooch's desperate
attempts to remain still - and his complete abandon
- was the blinding pain in his pelvis, fuelling the
drew back, hand still on Hooch's cock, as he grinned
down on him, watching him pant for breath, face sweaty,
but something in his expression that he'd never seen
before. Something above and beyond mere lust. Alive,
maybe that was it.
alright?" Matt murmured.
shit. Couldn't be better." Hooch grinned, started
to laugh and stopped himself immediately. Laughing was
torture in itself. "You?"
alright." Matt smiled, wiping his hand on the bed
Hooch looked at him, grinning.
got me." Matt laughed, "but how?"
want to watch. Stroke yourself."
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.
to see you." Hooch murmured, and Matt obliged immediately.
Ripping the tunic off, the t-shirt flew to the ground
straight after, he returned to stroking himself. Muscles
rolling and bunching beneath smooth skin. Perfectly
chiselled 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 stroke,
each 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,
almost punishing, and his breath came fast and noisy.
went over the edge with a strangled sound, cum splattering
onto Hooch, panting, tensing, and catching himself in
the last moment before he was about to 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.
was right." Hooch murmured.
sound you make when you cum."
stared at Hooch, remembering every word in the hospital.
Hooch waved him down, pulling him into a kiss instead,
only letting go of his neck when he broke the kiss and
murmured, "You. You are quite something."
was confused, but Hooch said nothing else, too exhausted,
and he let Matt take care of both of them, by getting
out of the rest of his kit and wiping them down.
to go onto the couch?" Matt smiled, his hand splayed
out on Hooch's chest, fingers covering two of the burns.
me an hour? Pretty damn wiped."
Matt looked for the blanket, "mind if I stay?"
just snorted softly and Matt lay down once more beside
him, 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
he lifted his head after listening to Hooch's ever more
regular breaths, he watched the face, relaxed in sleep.
Forging this image over all of the ones of the past.
Alive. Nothing else mattered.
two hours later, Matt had managed to settle Hooch on
the couch in the living room, in a pair of shorts underneath
the brace, to watch a 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.
looked up and grunted a nonsensical question as Matt
came back from the kitchen, dropping a letter into his
shrugged, gestured towards the letter before wandering
back into the kitchen to grab a couple of fresh Buds.
He stalled midway, fridge door still open, inhaling
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.
he stepped back into the main room of his small apartment,
Hooch was holding the letter in his hand, and looked
up at him. "Why?"
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 leaning
his head back to look at Hooch.
had enough." It was simple, when it came down to
it, but Hooch raised his brows.
" Matt shrugged and pulled in a lungful of
air. He had, being a Marine was what he'd always wanted.
As a kid, playing soldier, as a teenager, and finally
as a man. Young man. Before he realised 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
Wrong, and Matt drew in another breath, expelling it
noisily. "No. Been a while, but, like, thought
I'd gotten used to it." He shrugged once more.
something to do with me." Hooch made it a statement
not a question, and Matt grimaced, while the other's
expression remained completely neutral. At least Hooch
didn't ask him if he knew what he was doing, accepting
Matt's decision as what it was: final.
shook his head, looked down at the Bud in his hand,
then 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 the south 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 stood up. "The only fucking way to find out
anything at all, like, if you were even alive, was to
phone Dan, hoping with his Spa he might have contacts.
I was so fucking desperate, I would have tried anything.
If he hadn't known know a Red Cross bigwig who fed him
some information, how the fuck would I have ever found
out anything? And even when Dan told me you got a visit
from the Red Cross, you couldn't fucking write to me,
could you? Fucking hell, no! Only family, and 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 or not!"
was fuming, but Hooch didn't show a reaction, except
for a quiet, "do you?"
you?" Hooch calmly repeated, and Matt felt as if
all air had been driven out of his lungs. Deflated,
he sat back down on the sofa.
nodded, folded the letter and placed it back on the
looked at him in confusion, then shook his head with
a frustrated grunt. Hooch was still as exasperating
at times as he'd always been, and Matt really didn't
appreciate feeling like an idiot right now. Sometimes
the man talked, but more often than not it was back
to the one-syllable answers. "What the fuck does
a job offer."
Matt leaned closer, "what?"
They want me to train Delta. Stationed in Fort Bragg."
Hooch shrugged, "no more battlefields."
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. Look at Dan and Vadim, they did crazy shit in
their forties." Pointing at Hooch's pelvis, "and
the injury's not cause for retirement from active duty?"
not. They'll know in a few months. Recovery can be up
to a year, need to get my strength back as well."
what are you going to do? They can't, like, force you,
shrugged, "no, not yet."
Matt drew in a breath, "that's alright then. Back
to normal when you're back to health and strength."
Exasperation was creeping into Matt's voice.
what?" Matt leaned forward that abruptly,
he almost slid off the chair.
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.
now?" Matt raised both brows.
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."
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 and gay oriented."
burst into laughter, immediately followed by a sound
of pain, which almost made Matt jump. "You'll be
Matt grinned. "Question is, where do I settle down?
I have no fucking clue."
not fucking serious!" Matt's eyes widened, "that's
right next to Fort Bragg."
Hooch's half-grin was back in place. "Camp beds
the fuck are you going to explain, like, living with
a gay guy? Because I'm fucking sick of lying."
shrugged. "Spare room."
Nobody's going to swallow that."
too high profile now." Hooch shrugged. "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?"
grinned. "It might just work if I take the obvious
'gay' out of the gym, but you're fucking crazy."
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.
March 1998, United States of America
few weeks later, when Matt came home from work on a
Friday, the strong scent of freshly brewed coffee greeted
him. He could get used to that, to someone being there,
someone who didn't answer when he called out. "Hey,
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.
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.
noticed a letter on the table, unfolded, the A-4 sheet
pointing the other direction. Curious, he turned it
round and skimmed over the letter while taking a sip
of the strong, black coffee. Stopped. 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.'
grin that spread across Matt's face threatened to split
it side-to-side and he jumped off the chair. "Hooch!"
Hollering the name across the apartment, but Hooch,
hair still wet, towel around his hips, and leaning on
his walker, was already standing in the doorframe.
the ear-splitting noise?"
damn well know, buddy."
raised his brows in the most infuriating manner he managed.
What does and mean, you dickhead?"
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?"
rolled his eyes while unbuttoning the BDU's. He pushed
them down, together with his briefs underneath. Baring
himself down to his knees, and then 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?"
laughed with exasperation. "You're insufferable."
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?"
it doesn't I don't give a shit." The sudden, husky
quality to Hooch's voice caused Matt to take in a sharp
that case ..." Matt murmured, giving his hips a
slight twist, "fuck me, Hooch."
hadn't realised how much he'd missed Hooch's rare, shit-eating
March 1998, New Zealand
same week, the phone rang, but this time at a perfectly
acceptable time of day. It was Dan who answered, he'd
been in his study, organising the next Spa event. It
was Hooch and Dan was surprised at his genuine sense
of joy when he heard the unmistakable drawl. Somehow
Hooch had become a friend as well and he hadn't even
noticed it happening. After a short conversation, Dan
hollered downstairs, "Vadim! It's Hooch!"
dropped the pen on the pad. He'd been making notes for
a conference, based on some new reports he'd received,
but that was forgotten when he hurried up the stairs.
"Coming!" He rushed into Dan's room and took
the phone, while Dan smiled at him, nodded, and then
left the room to grab a coffee. "Hey. Are you okay?"
not bad. I should have called earlier." A pause,
"how are you?"
good. I'm good. Shit, it's good hearing you."
The smile was all too audible in Hooch's voice. "Was
wondering, any chance to see you? Here?"
... guess you can't or shouldn't fly yet? Sure I can
come over." He looked at Dan, who had come back
with two mugs of coffee, and touched his shoulder.
A pause, "are you going to bring Dan?"
I'd like to see him. When can you make it Stateside?"
me check." Vadim checked the wall calendar. "Next
thing we have lined up is in three weeks. We could head
out right away or in four weeks, after the conference."
hadn't followed the conversation and was looking at
Vadim, questioningly, then sat down to sip his coffee.
you make it now?" Hooch asked.
looked at Dan. "Can we fly out to the US right
nodded. "To Matt and Hooch?" It hadn't been
difficult to cotton onto the conversation. "Sure.
I was planning a Spa event in Europe, after the conference,
but I could organise an ad hoc one in the US before
that." He smiled, "it'll be good to see them
nodded, then returned to the phone in his hand.
I'll book the flights and call you then. We could actually
have a holiday over in the States. Always wanted to
see the Grand Canyon, even though it's just more bloody
rocks." Smiling affectionately at Dan, who winked
buddy. I'll let Matt know." With that, the line
went dead. Hooch had never been one for drawn-out good
put the phone down. "He sounds alright, by his
standards. A bit emotional."
Hooch? This must have rattled him more than I'd initially
thought." Dan shrugged and smiled.
know, as emotional as he can sound." Vadim shook
his head. "States, then. I'll call our travel agent
and make the arrangements."
nodded and finished his mug. He'd have to get organising
before they were off.
April 1998, United States of America
arrived on the Saturday morning, trying to be patient
while going through the increasingly annoying customs
and immigration. They were both tired, Vadim more than
Dan, but they soon found a taxi and made their way to
was good to see Matt again, Dan thought. Matt who had
grown up since he'd last seen him, a fact that Dan couldn't
quite put his finger onto the how and why, but something
was different about him.
Hooch, who had got up and was standing in the small
living room, supported on two crutches, was another
matter. The man had become wiry, had lost that much
muscle definition that it was clearly visible in the
shirt and jeans he was wearing. With the brace over
the trousers, he almost looked skinny. It was the glimpse
of a healed wound, small and round, visible in the open
collar of the dark green shirt, which made Dan twitch
before he caught himself. A cigarette burn. Almost where
he'd placed Vadim's, a lifetime ago.
unbidden notion of 'twins' was disconcerting and caught
him out for a second, before he smiled and pulled Hooch
into a very careful half-embrace, which was more than
touching a shoulder and less than a hug.
that really, what Hooch wanted, was to talk to Vadim,
Dan got Matt out of the apartment and into town, under
the pretence that he needed clothes and since the kid
had been that successful a personal shopper a few years
back, he needed his expertise. They were soon gone,
taking Dan's and Vadim's luggage with them, to book
into the hotel close by, with the promise that Dan would
get a quadruple espresso in the shopping mall.
had just left, when Hooch quirked a half-grin at Vadim.
"Now comes the fun of sitting back down. Should
have used the walker but I'm too fucking vain."
Turning, he made his way to the couch, which had been
set up with an abundance of cushions.
way I can help you? Won't tell. Would have never happened."
Vadim stayed close, as if to lend Hooch strength by
physical proximity. He didn't expect Hooch to actually
accept help, but hoped he would.
I'm alright. Not that I wouldn't accept help ..."
Hooch shuffled himself into position, "I'm beyond
that," lowering himself down with a suppressed
grunt, "but every little thing I can do on my own
feels like a victory." He finally settled back
in the cushions that kept him propped up, and flashed
a grin at Vadim. "Thanks for coming." He placed
the crutches to the side and looked up, when Vadim picked
up the unspoken cue.
all ears. All yours." Vadim sat down and moved
the stuffed chair closer. He was leaning forward, elbows
on his knees.
huffed a toneless laugh. "You got one on me."
Reaching for another cushion to stuff it a bit further
under his hip. "Yeah, I need to talk to you. I
need your help." Admitting that was doubtlessly
hard for him.
do you know about bad dreams?"
than enough." Bad dreams. Vadim pressed his lips
together, but he felt a chill in his face. Hooch. Fucked
up. Just like him. Thoughts whirling in his head at
that, impressions, the old Hooch and their games, Konstantinov.
seen a shrink, do you still have them?"
They are ... rarer, now. Not as bad. I'm managing it."
It wouldn't be a surprise if Hooch had PTSD, none at
all. "I can give you the number of my 'shrink'.
He's good, but it's not easy. He said everybody reacts
differently, bad dreams are fairly normal. The question
is how long the symptoms stay with you. If they stay
around, it's proper PTSD. Bad dreams, emotional alienation,
fits of rage. Flashbacks."
not that bad." Hooch tried to reach for the half
empty mug with by now cold coffee, frowned, and gave
up half way. Vadim took the cue and handed it to him.
He wanted to touch him, too, but wasn't quite sure whether
it was welcome. How much he could touch before it would
don't wake up screaming, I'm not angry, not alienated,
not disassociated." Hooch shrugged, took a mouthful
of his cold coffee, "just stuck in the images,
the smell. It's the stench that's haunting me, I sometimes
think I can still smell it."
can only imagine." Vadim sat back done, moving
even closer, until his knees almost touched Hooch's.
"They had a good go at you, too, the way you look."
He indicated his own throat. "Bastards."
..." Hooch drawled, then smiled unexpectedly. "Funny,
though. Remember what you told me once? About not alienating
your captor? And that nothing else mattered but to survive?"
Hooch stretched out his arm as if he tried to put the
mug back, but rested his hand on Vadim's knee instead,
fingers touching cloth that was warmed from skin.
I really hoped you'd remember that much. You can be
infuriating. I'm glad you didn't piss them off too much."
Vadim covered Hooch's hand on his knee with his. The
touch felt good. He was alive.
fucking ironic that being a masochist is what got me
through. I knew that pain was a good thing. I could
rely on it. Pain meant I was still alive, and most importantly,
pain wouldn't kill me. Its absence would." Hooch's
dark eyes were intense, focused on Vadim. "And
I remembered a lot of things that I'd never believed
were of importance. People. Friends. My ..." he
trailed off and leaned his head back on the couch.
proper lover." Vadim glanced to the door where
Matt and Dan had left, then back to Hooch. "See?
Maybe you don't need a guy who's fucked you up beforehand
to fall a little for somebody. It's definitely saner."
looked at Vadim from under his dark lashes, with his
head craned back. "It's different. I love Matt,
I understand that now. As much as I can love, but I'm
not explaining those shades of grey to him. No need
to." Hooch's fingers twitched in Vadim's. "But
I actually need you. This time more than ever."
here, Hooch. I can give you whatever you need from me."
No whys, no hows, no whens. It didn't matter, really,
all that mattered was that on some level, they needed
each other, they fit together in a certain way, complemented
each other. It defied classification, analysis. Vadim
still wasn't quite sure what he felt for Hooch, only
that he felt. "I'm clear about my emotions.
That's why I had to walk away in the first place. To
think, to make sure that I knew what was going on. It
was more irrational than that. More painful, but that
is what happened in the meantime."
thought I was clear about my emotions, but I realised
that I wasn't. I am now, though... Regarding myself,
I haven't got a fucking clue, and that's why I need
you." Hooch pushed himself up to sit, grimacing,
he had to keep changing his position. "I need to
know if they fucked me up. If the stench that is still
in my nostrils will remain, if the bad dreams come to
haunt me big time, if the memories of torture and death
are going to bite my ass and rob my strength."
think I start to see where this is going. You want me
to ... test that."
I need you to take me further than ever before."
fuck." Hooch searched and found Vadim's eyes. "I
might not even get there, but if I break ... I trust
you to put the pieces back together."
Vadim nodded towards Hooch's brace. "Will you heal
have to, even taking a shit hurts." A self-deprecating
huff of laughter followed. "It'll take a while,
can be up to a year before I'm 'fighting fit'."
Vadim nodded. "I can do that. I'll do it."
Of course he would. He had to, he wanted to. Help, have,
destroy. It was all one blur and he'd have to think
about it for longer to work out what the underlying
buddy." Hooch leaned back again and the smile that
ghosted across his face betrayed a sense of relief.
"But first I have to sort a few things. With Dan
and Matt. Damn that goddamned newfound wisdom."
Hooch flashed a grin, as sharp as it had ever been.
I found that wisdom thing a killer." Vadim grinned,
glad that the topic was off torture for the moment.
"Anything you need right now?"
could do with a beer, and if you want me to suck you,
I wouldn't say no."
swallowed dryly. "Can't say no ... I'd trade you
you get me out of this damned brace, anytime."
Hooch's grin had come back full force. "But first
..." he did lean forward, despite the pain, and
put the mug down at last, then crooked his finger to
beckon Vadim close, "the beer can wait."
biggest challenge was to find a position that wasn't
too painful, but Vadim couldn't resist, and he ended
up standing between Hooch's legs, holding him close,
offering a little support, and perversely, the fact
that Hooch was fragile and in pain increased the pleasure
- Hooch wrestling his own pain, shudders and breaths,
small sounds betraying the discomfort, but Vadim could
only think that despite the pain, Hooch really wanted
to blow him. Hooch took the pain, embraced it, and there
was this terrible tenderness in himself, the relief
that Hooch was there, alive, all one intense mess of
emotions that added edge to the physical pleasure.
after Vadim had returned the favour, and despite his
best efforts to steady Hooch's hips, Hooch had come
with suppressed sounds closer to pain than lust, but
it had been lust and fulfilment that was written across
his face when he relaxed back in the cushions.
the old Hooch, he fell asleep soon after, and it was
Vadim who closed the shirt and pulled the black denims
back up over the random scattering of cigarette burns.
He fixed the brace once more, patiently waiting for
Hooch to wake, while watching him sleep in peace and
was shortly after Dan and Matt had returned in the afternoon,
carrying a barrage of bags, when Hooch called out from
the living room.
Dan." Hooch turned his head, lifting himself up
to half-sit, he'd been in the same position for too
long. "Can I have a word?"
Dan shrugged, glanced at Vadim, who just looked at him
before following Matt into the bedroom to rifle through
the stuff Matt had made Dan buy.
you'd want to talk with Vadim, not with me." Dan
smiled and sat down on the comfy chair beside the couch.
I did." Hooch looked at him, and Dan thought once
again, how much he could understand that Vadim had fallen
for that man.
Dan held the package out to Hooch, who shook his head.
of those health crap scares from the US of A?"
really. Hadn't smoked for so long after that shithole,
it wasn't hard not to, when they told me I shouldn't
because of thrombosis."
forgot about that." Dan smiled ruefully. "Bug
on its back, aye?"
let out a huff of laughter. "Legs in the air, yeah
... wish I could, but still no fucking of this bug here."
Matt finds other ways though, eh?" Dan smiled,
concentrating on the unlit cigarette.
he does." Hooch trailed off, watched Dan for a
moment, then pointed at the cigarette. "Go right
ahead. Matt's a health freak, but I know he'd let you
get away with murder."
a friend and you helped him, he'd do anything."
Dan frowned, "didn't do much and besides, I wouldn't
want anyone to feel indebted." Shaking his head,
he lit the cigarette nevertheless. "Apart from
that, it's Markus who should receive all the thanks.
He's the guy who got the info to Matt and it was quite
a struggle to get info without breaking any of the secrecy
also got the woman to mention Matt, without any mentioning."
Hooch nodded, then pushed his empty soda can towards
Dan as a makeshift ashtray. "Thanks."
what?" Dan looked up, surprised, "getting
the info to Matt?"
And for understanding."
friendship." Dan inhaled the smoke deeply, watching
it curl back out of his nostrils. "And more, but
I let him do what he feels he needs to do. It goes both
ways and it works for us."
raised a brow and said nothing, forcing Dan to elaborate.
been in love with you for a few years. Since Berlin."
Dan shrugged and smiled. "That's on top of being
your friend, but that's okay. You're everything I was,
might have been, am not, and could never be. Don't tell
me you don't know that." He let out a small huff.
"You even look like me - just younger, less ..."
scarred, he wanted to say, and then he shut up, realising
just what had happened to Hooch.
anymore." Hooch flashed a humourless grin.
an idiot." Dan replied quietly. "Sorry."
raised his brows, smoking slowly.
wish it had never happened, but taught me a few things."
Hooch pushed himself up further until he sat, propped
up by cushions.
important. Who I love. That I love."
tensed up, after all this time, but just for a second.
Vadim." Hooch smiled. "That's your department."
makes you so sure?" Dan smiled.
I said, I learned a few things."
something else, aye?"
need to see Vadim. I need to know if I ... if they broke
more than my bones." Hooch's voice had taken on
a different quality. A compelling mix of strength and
frailty. "I need to understand if I still exist."
leaned forward, forgetting the cigarette between his
man I was. The Delta. My core. My strength." Trailing
off, "... me."
you need Vadim for that?"
nodded. "I need him to destroy me, disassemble
me, so that I know if the core is still intact."
He tilted his head to look fully at Dan. "Vadim
is the only safe bet, and he knows me. Knows I have
no ... used to have no limits. I don't play safe. He
won't kill me and I know he can do it."
Dan exhaled quietly, leaning back in the chair and remembering
the cigarette. Pulling in a lungful, he took his time
to exhale. "You want my blessing for that? You
don't need to, you know that I am fine with what you
know, but I need you to understand."
of the things I've learned, of what's important. The
small things that go under the skin." Hooch slowly
let out a breath. "When it got really bad,"
echoing his own words, "when I was close to let
death take over, it was two things that kept me going.
One, what Vadim had taught me: don't aggravate your
captor. You have to survive. At all costs. Play along,
your pride is of no consequence, only your life is.
I remembered that early on, and it got me through some
... encounters." He shrugged one-sided, but there
was only tension about him, no pretended ease. "Two,
the memories and images of Matt. The little things,
a smile, a habit, a grin, a touch in the morning, a
sound during sex, a laughter at night. All that goddamned
normality. Everything that I'd thought was of no consequence
in the greater scheme of my life and my job, but then
it was all that I wanted to see and feel and know again."
Hooch fell silent, breathing, as if the long speech
had drained him of energy. "I guess, when I realised
that I love Matt, something clicked. Up here,"
pointing to his temple. "And now I am not sure
if I could go back into combat, even if I hadn't taken
the instructor post."
fear you've become too human?" Dan smiled and snipped
the cigarette butt into the empty can. "I know
the feeling." Reaching across to place a hand on
Hooch's shoulder, he gave it a squeeze. "It's a
you've become too 'weak' for the job?"
understand ... and a really intense session with Vadim
would tell you one way or another?"
nodded again, "but not just that."
letting go of Hooch's shoulder, Dan sat back once more.
have ... bad dreams. But Matt doesn't know."
but I don't scream. Just wake up, sweating. I don't
want him to know."
was Dan's turn now to nod. He understood all too well,
knew exactly what it was like to be helpless, watching
another suffer. "You should see a shrink. Vadim
did, and it changed his life."
not there yet. I need to know first ... shit, Dan, part
of me is a masochist, an extreme one. That is either
not going to change or going to completely blow up in
my face. I need to know. Need to understand what the
fuck happened to me and how I'm going to deal with it
in the future."
that's why you need Vadim, to figure out the whole shit,
warts and all."
smiled, "still a bit odd that you want my blessing,
because it is really not necessary."
it a new-found social nicety." Hooch answered with
a smile of his own.
Dan shook his head. "I won't be jealous, if that's
what you ask. You should know that by now." Leaning
closer, "and I do understand."
buddy." Letting out a breath, Hooch sank back into
Matt?" Dan asked after a moment.
doesn't know anything about that part of me."
think that's wise?"
I think that's shit, and that's why I'm going to tell
him about the man he doesn't know."
be okay with it eventually." Dan nodded, "he's
a good kid."
so much of a kid anymore."
I call that a fucking kid." Dan grinned.
everything's relative." Hooch pulled a face. "Just
wish I'd told him earlier. Never thought it was an issue,
and that it wasn't his business. Figured what I did
when I let off steam, had nothing to do with him. Seems
and all that?"
fool yourself," Dan grinned, "you have been
in a relationship with him for years. I reckon about
five at least."
brows rose with incredulity.
trust me, mate." Dan patted Hooch's shoulder again.
"I'm old and wise, you said so yourself."
of." Dan winked. "But really, he'll understand.
Eventually, because he'll want to understand. He loves
you, and you might even get a thorough fuck out of it."
track mind ..."
have a reputation to uphold." Dan got up, found
his cane and stood, then pointed to the cane with a
grin. "You're lucky, at least you'll get rid of
thing, I'd never be as dexterous as you are with it."
gets you everywhere, aye?"
picked up the empty cans. "It certainly gets you
into our house with me out of it."
do you mean?"
mean that the safest and best place for doing whatever
you need to do with Vadim is our home. I'll be away
for a couple of weeks when you need me to."
..." Dan leaned down, close enough, he could have
kissed Hooch had he wanted to. "I understand a
lot more than you might think." Quietly, with a
smile. He turned and walked into the kitchen to get
a couple more drinks, leaving Hooch to stare after him.
few days later, after Dan and Vadim had headed off to
explore the State before flying back, Hooch was making
his round on the crutches, the walker discarded. He
was getting better, but the pain had only eased minimally.
Still, he could piss and shit without major disasters
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 chiselled face, and that perfect body, right now
more or less hidden beneath t-shirt and shorts. Young,
unspoiled, and if he could help it, Matt would remain
him for a while, undisturbed, until Matt lifted his
head, cottoned on that he was being watched, and cast
a smile at Hooch. Another of those motherfucking dazzling
smiles. The sort that made Hooch's knees go weak and
his mind step onto a merry-go-round that didn't quite
understand why this particular man, this 'kid' had managed
to crawl beneath his skin and settle down inside his
heart. Matt was really quite something.
anything you like, buddy?" Matt grinned.
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.
A lazy fist connected gently with Hooch's shoulder once
he had manoeuvred himself to sit. Stretching his legs
out, Hooch grimaced when he realised he had to lean
forward to get to the Bud. Shit planning.
be better." Hooch glanced to the side. "I
just managed to take a shit without screaming in pain,
I call that a glorious day."
laughed, "thanks for the gory details."
you would appreciate it."
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 football
game. Hooch realised only a while later that he had
no idea who was playing. He didn't care, he only had
one thing prominent on his mind. And wasn't attack always
better than defence.
Drawn to the game, Matt took a moment before he turned
his head, looking at Hooch. "What's up, buddy?"
got to tell you something."
turned into a right chatterbox lately." Matt grinned,
taking a mouthful of his beer.
the quip, Hooch went straight on. "I never told
you that I'm a masochist."
are you talking about?" Matt laughed. "Was
there something, like, in your lunch today?"
Hooch shrugged, twisting to look at Matt. "But
I think it's time to tell you about the rest of me.
When I meet Vadim? We don't just fuck. We 'play' prisoner.
Just, that we don't play. I need to be beaten and fucked
up until I crack."
fucking kidding me."
why the hell do you tell me? Now? What's the point?"
need you to know."
what, five years? I don't fucking believe it, you bastard!"
Because I didn't tell you, thinking that this part of
me had nothing to do with you?"
because you fucking lied."
not telling me!" Matt's eyes were ablaze, and Hooch
realised he'd never seen him that angry and hurt. It
was the latter that Hooch cursed himself for.
I had told you, what good would it have done?"
would have tried to be for you what you needed."
Matt," Hooch's voice turned softer. "You don't
have it in you."
What the fuck are you telling me? You say, like, I am
a girl? I don't fucking have it in me?"
not you, Matt."
not what you said."
shook his head. "It's what I meant."
up from the sofa, Matt was fuming. "What you said
is that I am not what you want."
bullshit and you know it."
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. That you need
it because it is part of you and because otherwise you
go fucking insane with the pressure or whatever the
had never seen Matt like that, and he couldn't help
but admire the sheer energy of the explosion.
that is not telling me that I'm not alright?
That I'm not missing something?"
Hooch quietly interjected, looking up. "You don't."
fucking kid me." Matt's hands were in fists and
he started to pace the small living room. "I thought
we had a relationship?"
do now. The question is if we had."
always came back."
because you were convenient. And pretty."
what?" Matt put the beer back onto the table
with a mighty thud. "Convenient? You asshole."
were. Not saying that's what you still are."
have the guts to tell me that?" Matt shook his
head, obviously hurt. "Convenient? Like a fucking
Hooch said quietly, looking at Matt with a neutral 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."
Fuck you, Hooch."
but you are."
are pretty, I'm a man. I'm not pretty."
would you rather be?. Handsome? Adorable? Perfect? Stunning?
Gorgeous? Breathtaking? Beautiful?"
of it and more."
Matt groused. He deflated, ad some of the anger taken
out of him, but the sting was still there. "You're
Hooch smirked and beckoned Matt closer.
and I'm outgunned. As usual." Rolling his eyes,
Matt reached for the beer again, but a hand on his arm
never been outgunned."
fucking kidding me."
told you before, Matthew Donahue, you are quite something.
Outwitted, perhaps, but never outgunned."
do my best for a blowjob."
said nothing, 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 realised that you mean the world to
me? That you are my sanity, my laughter, my lust, my
love, my heat and cold and everything? If I told you
that, would you think that translates to 'convenient'?"
swallowed, staring at Hooch wide-eyed. "N...no."
right. Now shut up, Donahue, and tell me that you'll
spend the rest of your life with me."
pronounced his next words very carefully: