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In All But Name 4

brothers in arms

part i

Summary: The final long chapter in the Quiet Strength series. With a party looming, there is relative calm. Relatively speaking. But then where relatives are concerned, calmness is rarely as it could be.
With many thanks to Gary and Joy for your valuable assistance throughout the series, and to all others who have helped and held my hands. Played hell with the typing, though...

Paul had butterflies in his stomach as he entered the drive after work. Good butterflies, he thought. Happy ones, even. He was shattered, though, having worked long hours over the last week, including the entire previous weekend. It was all in a good cause, however, so he didn't mind. In fact, he was really looking forward to the result. A long weekend off - five whole days of celebration.

It wasn't their anniversary as such, but they were treating it as if it was. Ten days before had been the fourth anniversary of Jack joining them, and in fourteen days' time, it would be the sixth anniversary of Paul and Daniel's relationship. So they'd come to a compromise. In two days' time they'd have their 'official' anniversary; kind of like the Queen's birthday during June in the UK. Today was Thursday; Saturday was 'it'. The big day. The party.

Friday was going to be spent in preparation, making sure the house was spotless, the food was prepared - or at least in a state where it could be quickly prepared on the Saturday morning. The drinks needed buying...

At least the builders had finished in the cellar, as had Daniel's 'finishing touches'. They hadn't had a chance to test out the new room but Paul was certain that he was going to end up in the sling at some point that weekend. He certainly hoped so.

In a way, the best thing was that he wasn't going to work on Monday or Tuesday, either. He'd have time to recover from the weekend, as would the others. Daniel had been working flat out since the girls had gone home, as had Jack. Jack had had to fulfil orders and he'd spent more hours in the workshop over the last week or so than he'd done in the previous month, Paul reckoned. As for Daniel...

The poor guy was exhausted, but he wouldn't let up. A flood of translations had come in, he'd needed to finish the playroom and of course, there were the usual day-to-day things such as helping Paul and Jack get over their own stress. If the guys hadn't known that Daniel needed it as much as they did, they would have hidden their own needs.

Of course, there was one possible spanner in the works in the shape of...

His thoughts were cut off as he switched off his ignition. A little renewed excitement at the prospect of seeing the guys again, mixed with the expected nervousness for the weekend, combined to put a little bounce in his step as he entered the house.

"Hi, honeys, I'm home," he joked.

He was met by two pairs of arms engulfing him in a huge hug and kisses peppering his face.

"Excited?" he teased.

"Just a bit," Daniel conceded. "You?"

"Oh yeah. A bit nervous, too."

Daniel pulled back and stared in his eyes.

"Paul, you know we can..."

"Dan, it's okay. It's what I want. It's why I invited them. And if they work out the other side of our lives, then I'll deal with it. I'm not going to hide it."

Daniel drew in a deep breath through his teeth.

"Okay, if it's what you want." Then he grinned. "You always get what you want."

Paul gave him a 'who me?' face and kissed him briefly. A quick look at Jack asked him if he was okay with it and he got a wink back in reply.

"So, dinner?" Daniel suggested, pointing towards the kitchen.

"I'll just quickly go get out of these things," Paul said, heading to the bedroom. "Won't be long."

He left the others and scooted into the bedroom, flung his suit on the bed as he got it off, got into the bathroom and washed rapidly and then returned to the bedroom and threw on jeans and a T-shirt, all in record time. He grabbed his wrist bands and collar and took them into the kitchen for Daniel to put on him. No matter what he was wearing - or what he wasn't - he didn't feel dressed without them.

Over dinner they went over their plan of action. Their staying guest was turning up on the Saturday morning; all the others would be ferried back to their various homes by a fleet of taxis Daniel had organised. Paul's excitement grew with each plan finalised, something that wasn't unnoticed by the others. Somehow he missed the silent conversation that passed between Jack and Daniel - that and the amusement in both men's eyes. They were so planning something.

Dinner over, Daniel caught Jack's eye again and gave him a small nod and a more enigmatic smile than La Gioconda. Jack seemed to react by sweeping up the dinner plates and dumping them in the dishwasher. Daniel's next move was to grab Paul by the tops of his arms and haul him to stand up, pulling him so close to his body that Paul could immediately feel the heat from Daniel's skin through both his and Daniel's clothing.

"Say nothing," Daniel murmured into his ear. "Do only what I tell you. Understand?"

Paul nodded, swallowing hard in anticipation. He'd had a feeling they might play that evening, but he hadn't expected a surprise scene being dropped on him.

"Downstairs. Now."

Daniel kept hold of him tightly as he pushed him towards the cellar door. Paul stepped, careful not to trip and pull Daniel down on top of him, more out of concern for hurting Daniel than himself. He knew that his self-appointed main purpose in life was to protect Daniel and serve him well.

By the time they reached the bottom of the stairs, he was shivering with excitement. More so when Daniel steered him past the first playroom door and took him to the new room. He hadn't been allowed inside it since the builders had opened up the wall between the two rooms. He hadn't been in the old room since then, either, and he was desperate to see what they looked like now. The only clue he'd had had been the hint that both rooms were very different from each other.

Daniel had, in fact, kept the old room much as it had been, except the manacles had been taken down and placed in the new one. It was still in the 'friendly' terracotta colour, which could look more menacing when the red light bulbs were switched on instead of the white ones. But the new one was very different.

"Time to shut your eyes," Daniel said as they reached the door.

Obediently, Paul shut his eyes, hearing as he did Daniel tap the code to the lock on the door and Jack's footsteps as he came down the stairs. Knowing that Jack was going to be involved, too, added to the thrill.

There was a click and he knew that the door was open. Daniel pushed him slightly and he stepped into the room, still with his eyes shut. He was almost unwilling to open them, a little afraid to discover what awaited him.

Another click behind him. He guessed that the lights had been switched on, but he couldn't see any light through his eyelids.

He heard some movement. Daniel let go of him with the whispered instruction to keep his eyes shut and not move. He used his hearing to place the men in the room and realised that they were whispering something he couldn't make out, somewhere on the other side of the room. A few moments later, quiet footsteps came toward him and he knew that it was about to begin.

"You may open your eyes," Jack told him.

He did as he was told and it took him a little while to adjust. The light was incredibly low, the walls were dark - a midnight-blue if he'd seen it in normal light. Daniel had placed low voltage lights in strips along the floor of the room. Paul wondered if the square they were marking out was the actual size of the room or if Daniel was playing optical tricks with him by bringing them further out from the wall. There were other lights on the ceiling, putting out a low, blue light, in the exact opposite position to the floor lights. Each of the floor and ceiling lights were pointing slightly into the room, so seeing the walls was incredibly difficult.

The only thing he could see with any clarity was the sling that took pride of place in the centre of the room, and he could only see that because there were a few small lights near each of the pulleys that hung from the ceiling, holding it in place.

Daniel watched his reaction carefully, praying that Paul liked this. Jack had seen it as he'd worked on it; had, in fact, helped him plan the positioning of everything. Jack knew better than most how to psyche out the opposition with mind games. His advice had been sought and gratefully received. Daniel, while imaginative and devious on a good day, hadn't been taught the art of interrogation. Not that they'd be questioning Paul, but some scenes required a similar mindset, where Paul would be kept on edge at all times, never knowing what the others would do next or where the scene would take him, not unlike a prisoner interrogation in the murky world of covert ops. Paul had been on both sides of interrogations so he knew and appreciated the games - knowing, too, that no matter how well trained you were, or how much you had prepared, the questioner always had the advantage.

Paul's eyes checked out the sling and he couldn't help but smile. Daniel, as ever, was trying to scare him a little and reassure him a lot by what he had done. The lights surrounding the pulleys made the sling stand out of the darkness. He could also see how strong they were, how big the bolts that held them to the steel-reinforced concrete ceiling, how thick the chain...

He tried to find Daniel in the dark and made out his shape in silhouette. Without saying anything, he gave Daniel a small nod. Only then did Daniel move.


Paul was surprised that the order came from Jack but he stripped immediately without comment. He knew he was in for a great night, one where both his sides would be catered for. His sensual side - the one that Daniel loved the most, and his military side - the one which Jack seemed to deal with much better. Jack didn't really do the sensual with Paul unless Daniel was directing him. Not that he couldn't, and not that he didn't enjoy watching Paul react to touch or taste, but he was more comfortable giving orders.

When he was naked, however, Daniel finally moved.

Paul watched as the shadow that was Daniel became clearer until he could just about make out his face.

"Lower it," came the order.

Paul remained still as despite the lack of name, he knew that Jack had been the one to receive the instruction. He heard the chink of metal as Jack released the lock on the floor which held the chain in place, swiftly followed by the unmistakable sound of the chain passing through the pulleys.

"That's it. Right, now, I think we have to deal with my pet. He hasn't had time to get himself ready for me, has he?"

"No, Daniel," Jack agreed. "What do you want me to do?"

Daniel hummed as he walked around Paul, trailing his finger over Paul's chest and snagging the chain which connected his nipple ring to his navel ring. Paul made no sound even though he wanted to at least catch his breath.

"I think we should do something about it. Take him next-door and lay him on his back on the table. Attach his hands to it and open the bottom of the table."

Jack entered the still dark older room and reached around the wall, flicking the nearby switch but quickly turning the dimmer down until the light was at a more comfortable level for their dark-accustomed eyes. Paul followed him closely and lay on the table without further instruction from Jack, putting his hands above his head for Jack to attach him.

Daniel, meanwhile, went to the wet room next to the playroom. Earlier in the day, he'd decided that today would be the day that the new room was used. He knew that over the next few days they wouldn't get much of a chance to make love, let alone play, so tonight was going to be a good night. And Paul was going to try something he had never tried this way before. Not that Daniel had ever done it like this, either, and he wasn't sure that any of them would like it. Paul was free to say no, and they were all free to say 'never again'. Somehow, he guessed it might happen again, though.

He picked up the things he'd prepared earlier and took them into the playroom. Jack's eyes widened but he said nothing. This had never been part of the play before.

As Daniel put the things on the side, he said, "I'm calling a time out for the moment," catching the others' attention immediately. When he was sure he had it, he continued. "I know we haven't done this in play before, but you will need one anyway, so..."

"Go on," Paul gasped.

"I want to add a little alcohol to the mix," Daniel continued. "Just a little. I want you relaxed, not drunk. Are you willing?"


Daniel had to laugh at Paul's rapid reply.

"You are so easy, Paul. You'll try anything, won't you?"

"More or less," Paul replied with a grin.

"Okay. I'll count to five and we'll be back in the scene."

Paul shut his eyes and waited for the count. Jack looked at Daniel with a raised eyebrow and he got a grin in reply. With a shrug from Jack, he counted slowly, "One... two... three... four... five."

Jack undid Paul's bindings and removed his plug, taking it directly to the wet room to clean it. He wondered at Daniel's motives for this, but then decided that it was usually safer not to question him or else he could get very confused.

Daniel, meanwhile, was greasing up the nozzle to the enema bag. As he picked it up, he lowered the nozzle a little to let a bit of liquid drop out so that no air would be pushed inside Paul.

"Lift your legs a bit."

Paul did as instructed and felt the wet nozzle as it was pushed inside him. Daniel pushed it until it was almost in, leaving just enough out so that he could safely pull it back out when this was done. The bag lay on the table next to Paul so that it wouldn't start emptying into him until Daniel was ready. Jack was back in the room the moment he was ready.

"Right, I'm going to start now," he said.

Jack watched as Daniel slowly raised the bag of water with a little very expensive vodka in it (only the best for Daniel's pets, of course). There wasn't a huge amount of liquid, he wasn't using this as a punishment, but he did want to see how long Paul could hold it. He took his time, letting it gently drip inside him. When it was all done, he ordered Jack to undo Paul's wrist bands and then to open the door and jam it open, just in case Paul needed to rush to the bathroom. Daniel, meanwhile, stood to Paul's side and rubbed his stomach.

"Hold it as long as you can, pet," he murmured. "This is about your self-discipline. How much you can make yourself do. When you've had enough, you may go directly to the bathroom. Use the shower to finish cleaning yourself for me. Maybe if you like this, we can go further in future, but I need to start this gently with you."

His voice was low and hypnotic and Paul used it to focus on to ignore the discomfort that was already starting. He wasn't used to this depth of enema - he usually went for the quick clean. This time it was much more intense.

As the liquid had filled him, Paul had felt some pressure inside him, increasing his level of discomfort. After a while, he felt a sharp pain gripping his stomach, giving him a cramp and his face contorted. Daniel watched him carefully, wanting to tell him to give up but also mentally encouraging him to go on. He nearly ordered Paul to give up when he saw sweat breaking out on his brow, but managed to keep his mouth shut.

Paul fought the initial gripes in his stomach. He had never considered this as part of play before, even though he knew that some of his slave friends did it almost routinely and enjoyed it. To him, an enema was a necessary evil, but now he was getting an understanding of why his friends liked it. The pain was intense but so far, it wasn't unbearable. It made slipping into sub-space easy, he realised. Then he snapped himself out of it. The last thing he wanted to do was to send his mind elsewhere - he needed total control over his body at that moment. With that realisation came another, more painful gripe and he opened his screwed shut eyes widely. Daniel saw the look and reacted immediately, lifting him off the table and escorting him to the wet room, depositing him on the toilet and then leaving him in peace as his guts rebelled.


Jack heard the toilet flush, soon followed by the sound of the shower being switched on. Daniel watched his face, trying to gauge his reaction to this. In the end, he realised he couldn't figure out Jack's thoughts.




Jack didn't answer immediately but Daniel gave him time. Finally, he shrugged. "I don't get it."

"Does it bother you?"

"No. Not at all. I just don't get it."

"Okay. I won't do it with you. Unless maybe you change your mind one day. You know what to do if you do."

Jack nodded. He wouldn't have to ask Daniel but just give him the enema bag.

Their attention was caught by the sound of the shower switching off.

"Go get him," Daniel instructed. "Alcohol gets absorbed directly when it's given like this so he's going to be feeling a little woozy. Oh, and put on his ankle bands when you've brought him back."

Jack scooted into the wet room as Daniel wandered back into the new room; the 'dark room' as he'd christened it in his mind. A place where he could play darker games with his baby... He chuckled to himself, thinking that he was doing his Dick Dastardly impersonation again.

He wondered if he should fist Paul this time. It was tempting, really tempting. But in the end he figured it would be better to do something that Jack could join in. Besides, Paul was giving off vibes which told him he wanted a damned good fucking. He could so do that.

By the time he'd put the lube to hand (on a small table with wheels which he figured would be a great addition to the playroom), Paul was back with Jack at his side.

"Are you done?"

"Yes, Daniel."

"Good. Come here."

Gingerly, Paul made his way to Daniel's side, trying to readjust to the change in light again. As he'd stepped through the doorway, Jack had reached back and switched off the old room's lights so he was plunged back into darkness.

A knot of nerves settled in his stomach as Daniel took his arm and led him to the sling, Jack soon at his other side. Between them, the men were both comforting and unnerving, playing as they were at being menacing. They both knew he loved this; loved being taken, made to submit... loved his entire self being overwhelmed by sensation, fear and excitement. He shut his eyes, shut down his mind, allowed his body to be manipulated into position and soon found himself lying on his back in the leather sling. The smell of new leather assaulted his nose and he let out a quiet groan of pleasure which didn't go unpunished. A tweak of his nipples reminded him that 'don't speak until you're spoken to' included sounds as well as words.

His feet were raised and he felt his ankle bands being clipped to the sling, high up, out wide, his ass now exposed to the others, totally unprotected. Next, his arms were raised and his wrist bands were given the same attention. If it hadn't been for the reassuring feel of the leather straps under his back, he would have felt like he was suspended purely by the wrists and ankles; something which held an appeal.

Once in place, Daniel told him that he was being raised; a piece of information which allowed him to brace himself as he first heard the chink of the chains and then felt himself move.

He had no idea how high he was, had no idea what was going to happen next. Was Daniel going to play with him all night or was this going to be a quicker, trial session with the sling? He couldn't begin to guess, especially as Daniel wasn't saying anything to him.

Daniel looked carefully at Paul as he lay in the sling, patiently waiting for him to act. He loved the sight in front of him, wanted to make it last as long as possible. Jack stood to his side, obviously not as patiently as Paul, but he didn't say anything. Daniel put his hand on Jack's shoulder, pulling him close so that he could whisper to him. Jack presented his ear obediently and grinned when he heard, "You want to fuck him?"

He turned his head slowly and whispered back, "Ya, sure, youbetcha."

Daniel couldn't help but laugh at that and he shook his head in mock exasperation. Handing Jack the lube, he said, "Just wait a minute."

Jack took the lube and deliberately - and as loudly as he could - unzipped his jeans. The sound distracted Paul from Daniel's movements so he was surprised when the next moment, he felt a clamp on each nipple. In reaction to his natural yelp, Daniel grabbed his balls and squeezed them, deflating his hard cock and taking his mind off his chest immediately. Just as the shock wave of pain from his groin started to dissipate, Daniel pinched his thighs. Moments later, there was a tug on his navel ring. Each time he felt he could breathe again, Daniel gave him a new pain to think about. His cock grew hard again, getting impossibly so when Daniel stopped pinching and started biting, marking his shoulder, his arm, his stomach and his thigh.

He was so caught up in Daniel's actions that he completely missed Jack moving in-between his legs. Daniel distracted him further by kissing his mouth so hard that Paul thought he was going to be eaten alive. He was so stunned when Jack thrust inside him, he nearly bit Daniel's tongue off.

Daniel pulled back, grinning like an idiot as he watched Paul screw his face up and tilt his head back, his mouth open, gasps of pleasure filling the otherwise quiet of the room. Jack wasn't paying much attention to Paul's top end, he was far too enamoured of his ass.

The sling allowed him to stand more or less still, pulling Paul towards him and pushing him away when he'd hit Jack's body. Paul felt himself moving fast, heard the noise of the chains hitting each other, heard the squeak of the new leather as it moved. None of it made any difference to how he felt. The only thing he needed to know was that Jack was going as deep as he could, as hard and as fast as he could, and that he, Paul, felt fucking amazing.

He was almost oblivious to the fact that Jack had come but he knew the difference when he felt Daniel pushing inside of him. Jack's cock was the longer one, but Daniel's was a good deal wider, answering his desire for more when he needed it most.

Daniel looked at Jack and smirked. Buying this sling had been a work of genius, he thought. Fucking Paul had never felt so good. And he knew, too, that decorating the new room this way had worked. Paul was completely elsewhere and in a really short space of time. He knew that in future, sense games would take on a whole new dimension. He'd be able to remove Paul's senses, make him work at guessing what was going to happen next. But for now, it was time to finish it.

A nod to Jack had him move right next to Paul's body. Daniel sped up, literally hammering into Paul as hard as he could. Desperate cries came from Paul, 'Yes! Now!' begging Daniel to let him come. A final nod in Jack's direction and Jack took Paul's cock in his hand and started working him quickly. That was all it took; Paul spilled violently, yelling harshly as he came and wringing Daniel's climax out of him.

When it was over, Daniel withdrew from him, paradoxically gently after what they'd been doing to Paul. He staggered to Paul's side and leaning over, peppered him with kisses.


Soon Paul felt the bands being unclipped from the sling, his arms and legs being gently lowered and massaged. A vague thought that he wanted his brain massaged to bring it back to life forced a little giggle from him, but the others ignored it. They knew he wasn't really with it at that moment - so mission accomplished.

Daniel picked him out of the sling and carried him to the door. They all knew Paul could walk if he had to, but they also all knew that this offered Daniel comfort, so Paul allowed it without comment, wrapping his arms around Daniel's neck and snuggling his head against Daniel's shoulder.

Jack cleared what little mess they'd made and then followed them upstairs and to the bedroom.


Daniel lay Paul on the bed, swiftly gathering some tissues from the bedside table and using them to clean Paul up. As soon as he was done, he lay down next to him, urging Jack to hurry up and lie down on Paul's other side. The three exchanged soft kisses and touches, using it as a time to come down from the high of their play. Eventually, they calmed.

"So, you like the new room?" Daniel finally asked, smiling broadly.

"Damn right I do," Paul agreed enthusiastically. "Jack?"

"Hell yeah. I foresee lots of fun."

Paul's face took on a thoughtful look and the others watched him, waiting for his next words.

"On the subject of seeing," he finally said, "we won't be able to record anything in there, will we? I mean, it's too dark."

He was surprised to see a self-satisfied grin on Jack's face.


"It won't be a problem. Though you may look a little green when you watch it."

Paul thought for a moment then asked, "Night vision cameras?"

"Yup. There are two types in there; night vision and ordinary. Um... Should I have said that?" he turned to Daniel, worried that he'd spoiled a future surprise.

"It's okay," Daniel soothed. "We put in a few different light sources," he explained. "I won't tell you what they all are, that will have to come as and when we play in there," he teased, getting a smile from Paul that told him he couldn't wait. "Some days it will be lighter in there, though, so we can record it with the normal cameras, but play like today's will be night vision."

"Wow," Paul sighed. "It reminds me of..." He shut up quickly. "Sorry, that's classified."

"Paul," Jack growled. "You can't do that to us. Besides, we're cleared."

Paul laughed. "How about I tell you in general terms?"

"We'll keep it to ourselves," Daniel promised, eagerly awaiting Paul's reminiscences. He didn't often talk about his past work, mainly because like Jack's, it had nearly all been highly classified, but when he did mention past events - in those general terms - they'd ended up fascinated (or horny, depending on the story).

"Okay. Um, can we get under the covers first, please? I'm getting chilly."

Daniel rolled off the bed and stripped off his clothes immediately, Jack copying him but a little more sedately. As they did, Paul crawled under the covers and waited for them to return. He loved being in the middle, even if only for a while. Daniel would undoubtedly return to his customary position to sleep in, but for now, he'd make the most of being held by both the guys.

He lay on his back, flicking his eyes from one man to the other, putting his arms around them both in the way that Daniel usually did. They responded by snuggling close and using his chest as a pillow. Daniel wouldn't usually end up like this with Paul - if he needed a cuddle, it was normally Jack he went to - but tonight, this felt right.

"Go on," he pushed, wanting to hear the story.

"Right. Well, we - um, my team and I - were somewhere I can't mention, but it wasn't in this country. We were in counter-terrorism-cum-counter-espionage, as you know, so a lot of our work was in observation of targets."

"Spying," Jack snorted.

"No, just intelligence gathering."

"There's a difference?" Daniel teased.

"Yes, there is. We were going after active cells, trying to prevent attacks, mainly on US or Allied forces. Spies work everywhere, even against allies."

He launched into his lecture and the others started to snigger, prompting him to pinch them both. They both knew precisely what he'd done and why and were just teasing him for the sake of it.

"You want this story or not?" he snarled - his tone mitigated by the fact his fingers were gently stroking where he'd pinched them.

"Sorry," Daniel muttered, "go on. Please."

Paul readily forgave them and continued. "We had to use infrared cameras in this one particular place where two of the male targets of this suspected cell would go. Every so often they'd sneak away from the others in the gang and would meet up in this small room; not more than a glorified closet, really. We wondered why. The others seemed to be preparing some major hit and so we couldn't see why these young men would want to conspire against them - they all seemed to have the same agenda. So while most of my team were watching the rest of the gang, one of my team and myself had to sneak around the back of the building they were in and get a microphone and two infrared cameras into this closet. While the men were with the others, he and I drilled - by hand - a few small holes into the brick wall and placed the mic and cameras in them. We knew from watching the small window that they never put the light on, so as long as we made sure the holes were completely blocked and didn't allow any light in, we were pretty sure we wouldn't be discovered. Then he and I sneaked off to a van we had parked in a deserted industrial area parking lot around the corner, and waited for what we were sure was going to be a plot against the others."

"Why there? Why not with the rest of your team?" Jack asked, needing to picture the whole technical set-up in his head so that he could compare notes with his own past.

Paul indulged him. "We had managed to get the rest of their building bugged - at least some of the main rooms - before they'd moved in," he explained. "One of my team had discovered that they'd rented this set of empty offices and we posed as cleaners working for the real estate agents and cleared out the place but hiding some tiny cameras and microphones. We hadn't had the time or the resources to bug every room, so we had to choose the most likely places we'd get technical planning and so on. Those bugs were good quality and we were able to watch them from a building further down the street where we wouldn't be seen ourselves. Unfortunately, when we had the idea for this cupboard thing, the only remaining tech wasn't so good and had to be monitored from nearby, so Sash and I volunteered to do it. Our CO was only too glad to let us go," he laughed. "It was cold there."

At those words, the others unconsciously moved a little closer to Paul, totally oblivious to their movements. Paul didn't call them on it but made the most of the contact.

"Go on," Daniel urged. "Were they conspiring? And who was Sash?"

"Yes," Paul replied, his voice telling them that there was a lot more to come. "But not what we thought. And Sash was Sascha, aka Lieutenant Aleksandr Mikhaelov, son of a Russian immigrant. He was hot," he added with a grin, knowing it would annoy the others.

"Stop teasing and get on with it," Jack grumped.

"Oh, all right. Seeing as you're asking so nicely," Paul said wryly. "We got the call that the two men looked like they were heading our way, so we switched on the cameras and mic before they entered the room. Within moments, they were both in there, the door was shut and we heard them whispering. Sash turned up the volume on the mic but we still couldn't work out what they were saying, so we hoped that the recording would tell us later. He had the cans on, trying to figure out the words, and I was glued to the little split-screen we had which showed us the two camera angles. It didn't take me long to work out why they were sneaking off like that."

"Oh? What was it?" Daniel pushed.

"Well, the kissing and the groping were a bit of a giveaway," he answered deadpan, getting a groan from the others.

"So? What happened next?" Jack asked, just knowing that wasn't the end of the story.

"So I nudged Sash," he said, a grin spreading over his face.


"And he couldn't take his eyes off the screen."

Sascha watched, his eyes fixed on the images of the stripping men. Paul had half an eye on them, but he was much more interested in the bulge in Sascha's pants. He took a chance - these guys weren't going to be talking tactics for a while, he was sure. He put his hand on the headphones on Sascha's head and pulled them off.

"I don't think," he said more calmly than he felt, "that we have to worry about them conspiring. Do we?"

Sascha swallowed harshly, knowing Paul had noticed his reaction and was now a little afraid of his captain.

"No, Sir," he replied, his voice betraying how he felt.

"Sash, how many times do I have to tell you? Drop the 'sir' when it's just us."

"Yes, Si... Paul. Sorry."

Paul smiled at him gently. "Don't be sorry. We're a team, right?"

Sascha nodded.

"Team takes care of its own, doesn't it? Don't we?"

"Yes. We do."

Paul looked deliberately at Sascha's groin and then back at the screen.

"They're putting on a good show, aren't they?"

"Oh yeah," came the desperate reply.

"Almost... inspiring, wouldn't you say?"

"Yes," he whispered.

Paul took the final chance and put his hand on his fly buttons, running his fingers gently over them as a hint. Sascha took it and took Paul's hand in his, moving it away, then like a stone, he dropped to his knees and almost tore open the buttons that stood between him and Paul's cock. A few moments later, he had Paul's pants pulled down far enough and then his boxers. A quick look up at Paul's face convinced Sascha that he was going in the right direction and he dropped his head down, taking Paul's now very hard dick in his mouth, starting slowly at the head then taking more and more into his mouth.

Paul let it go on for a few minutes then whispered urgently, "We can't take long. Too much danger of being caught."

That seemed to inspire Sascha even more. He reached down and undid his own jeans, letting his cock spring out and groaning quietly with the relief. Sucking hard, he started to jerk himself off but Paul caught his arm and held it fast.

"No. I'll do it," Paul told him. "Just..."

Sascha got the message and used his hands to encourage Paul to come instead. The excitement and the threat of discovery meant Paul wasn't going to last so he allowed himself to come quickly, pouring hard down the lieutenant's throat.

As soon as he'd caught his breath, he urged Sascha to stand upright and in-between his legs. Then he grabbed Sascha's ass in both his hands and pulled him close, swallowing the younger man's cock in one go.

Sascha couldn't believe what was happening. He'd had few chances to be with a man since he'd joined up, and never with a more senior officer. And this one was good - he really knew what he was doing. He only held off for a minute and then came, holding onto Paul's shoulders so hard his fingertips left small bruises.

Paul wiped his face with the back of his hand and grinned at Sascha.

"Jerking off leaves evidence," he advised him. "You'll soon learn how to not leave any traces."

"Yes, Sir," Sascha replied.

Paul didn't remind him of his previous 'order' but told him to do himself up. By now, the others in the room were clearing up. Sascha picked up the headphones again and listened in but got nothing more than a few whispered words - which seemed like words of love rather than conspiracy.

Redressed, Paul played back the audio recording and listened carefully. The only thing that had recorded had been what had happened in the room, there hadn't been any ambient noise from the van, so he felt confident that what had gone on between him and the young man wouldn't be discovered. He opened the van's windows to air it, letting out any smell of sex in case another one of their team should enter it. Then he climbed into the driver's seat, ordered Sascha to buckle up and drove back to base with the promise that they'd do that again sometime.

"And did you?" Daniel asked, rubbing his semi-hard cock against Paul's leg.

"Hell yeah," Paul chuckled. "Whenever we got the chance."

"You'll have to tell us about it sometime," Jack said, moving so that he could kiss Paul's shoulder and neck. Daniel joined in on Paul's other side.

"Absolutely," Paul gasped. "When we've recovered from this story." Then he dropped down the bed a little and turned his head to Jack, catching Jack's mouth with his and kissing him hard. Daniel ducked his head a little lower and caught Paul's nipple ring with his tongue, playing with it and tugging it, getting the desired result quickly. Paul's arm - the one around Daniel - frantically stroked and pulled at him, urging Daniel to do something. Sliding between Paul's legs and slowly rubbing against him, Daniel did.

Daniel was assured that there were no traces of their private life left upstairs. Paul's bindings, Jack's sheath, their collars and bands and so on had all been hidden in drawers full of clothes or moved downstairs to the playroom, as had any of the girls' toys from their room. When they played the next day, as they probably would, they'd do it solely in the cellar. He wasn't prepared to have anyone discovering anything 'accidentally' and he was afraid that they'd forget to clear up the following day. Now convinced, he ordered the others to get ready for bed. It was getting late and he had one more thing to do before they went to sleep. As they washed up, he went to a drawer in their bedroom and took out a small bag, carrying it to the bedside table and putting it down. Then he retreated to the bathroom and got himself ready, a few nerves of anticipation and excitement settling in his stomach.


In bed, the others watched him carefully as he sat against the pillows in-between them, knowing he was going to say something. They both lay down, facing him and looking up at his face, waiting for him to gather his thoughts.

"I was going to do this on Saturday," he said, "but frankly, I don't want to wait. And... well, Saturday is going to be busy," he added. "I want us to have a little privacy."

"Dan? Is everything all right?" Paul asked, his voice full of concern.

Daniel looked down at his face and smiled softly. "Everything is fine," he assured him. "Would you pick up that bag from the table, please?"

Paul turned over and did as he was asked, passing the bag directly to Daniel.

Daniel took it and opened it, looking inside it but not touching the contents straight away.

"Remember when I gave you the rings," he started, getting murmurs of agreement from the others. "I told you that it was the first part of a two-part gift."

"Yes," Jack answered for them both. "To be honest, I'd forgotten about that."

"Me, too," Paul agreed.

"Well, I hadn't," Daniel said with a grin. "I asked Lisa to make two things. The first was the set of signet rings. The second was this."

He put his hand inside the bag and brought out three more small boxes. Putting the bag down first, he placed the boxes on his lap. The others sat up, their eyes on the boxes, wondering just what he'd been up to now.

"I told ya, Daniel, I'm not having my nipple pierced," Jack joked. "No matter how pretty the ring."

Daniel laughed a little and leaned over and kissed Jack's nose.

"Promise, it's not that."

"Phew. 'Cause you know I'd do anything for you, but that's pushing it."


"Yeah. So? What's in it?"

Daniel laughed again. "Patience, Grasshopper." He put his hand on one of the boxes and looked like he was going to open it but paused. "Even if they woke up and allowed gay marriages nationwide," he said quietly, "we wouldn't benefit from it because no way in hell would polyamorous relationships ever be accepted by the general public; at least not for a long time," he added a little sadly.

The others reached out and stroked his arms, offering and receiving comfort from the small contact.

"So," he said a little more brightly, "if we want to show the world in a way that they'll understand, we have to make a gesture towards their standards and traditions. I mean, I know that you guys and I are as married as any straight couple will ever be. We've even gotten married in a way. If we went to live on Abydos, we'd certainly be considered to be as married as anyone else there, that's for sure; both socially and legally. And I know that we've marked our relationship with the signet rings and the tattoos, but those are symbols that only those in the know understand. So, I got Lisa to make these," he said, and opened the first box.

Paul and Jack watched with eyes wide open as he lifted the lid. Inside it was another ring, but this time, it was unmistakably a wedding band. However, because it was Daniel that had thought of this, it looked a little different than normal.

Lisa had, with a technique not known to Daniel or the others, taken three strands of coloured golds and plaited them together. Each of 'their' colours were equally bound and twisted right around the ring. The plait (which she had flattened somehow so that it wouldn't stick too far into their other fingers) seemed to sit on top of a plain, thin, flat wedding band in yellow gold.

"This one is yours," Daniel said, turning to Jack.

Stunned, Jack held out his left hand.

"Do you want this?" Daniel whispered.

"More than anything," came the equally quiet reply, but completely heartfelt.

Daniel slipped the ring on Jack's fourth finger, then lifted his hand and kissed the ring.

"Love you so fucking much," he murmured passionately, not needing to say it any louder.

Jack didn't know how to answer. He could have repeated it, but he didn't have to. Daniel knew. Instead, he grabbed Daniel quite fiercely and kissed him so hard that Daniel forgot to breathe.

When they broke off, Jack's eyes had tears in them. "Jesus, Daniel," he gasped, then shook his head because he didn't know what else to say. Daniel smiled and nodded at him and not for the first time, Jack was glad that they could read each other so well.

Eventually, Daniel turned back to the other boxes and opened another one, looked at it, shook his head and then opened the other one. In it was an identical ring except that the inner band was in red-gold.

He took it out and turned to Paul.

"Paul? Would you wear it?" he asked, almost pleading.

Paul gave him his left hand without hesitation.

"I'll never take it off," he promised wholeheartedly. "Never."

Daniel seemed to physically relax at that. He hadn't really doubted it; in fact, this was the only time he'd been nervous about the idea. It was just when it had come down to it, there was a nagging possibility...

He shut that idea out of his head. No, there never had been any possibility. It was only his own insecurity that made him think that.

With a smile that seemed to light up his face, Daniel put the ring on Paul's finger and repeated his words and actions with Jack. As soon as he'd kissed Paul's finger, Paul wrapped his arms around Daniel's neck and hugged him hard.

"What about you?" Jack finally broke in.

"Huh?" Daniel turned and looked at him, reluctant to leave Paul's arms.

"Your ring?"

"Oh, it's here," he said, almost dismissively, putting his hand on the box.

"I know that," Jack sighed. "What? You were just going to slip it on?"


Jack shook his head, took the ring from him.

"Paul, his hand if you please?"

Paul grinned and caught hold of Daniel's left hand, holding it in Jack's direction, slipping his fingers between Daniel's and freeing his ring finger for Jack.

"Thank you," Jack said, winking at Paul.

A small nod from Paul had Jack slipping the ring on Daniel's finger.

"You didn't ask," Daniel teased, rubbing the ring with his thumb and smiling broadly.

"Oh?" Paul said, slipping his arms around Daniel's waist from behind him and kissing his neck. "Will you marry us?" he chuckled.

"Let me think about it."

His response was pretty much what the others thought it would be and he soon found himself pinned to the bed and being tickled until he caved.

"YES!" he finally yelled, laughing so hard he thought he was going to be sick.

"About time too," Jack snorted, getting a sniped reply from Daniel which got returned in shed loads.

Paul cleared the bed of boxes and bag, pulled the covers over them and slipped into his customary position.

"You're right," he yawned. "Especially in your case."

Jack and Daniel looked at him in confusion.

"You've always bickered like an old married couple," he said, fighting down another yawn. "It's about time you made it official."


Daniel was too happy to sleep. Jack and Paul were out cold, tucked under his arms and seemingly holding onto him for dear life. A wave of fierce protection for the men washed over him and he held them close, then he softened his grip and shut his eyes. He had finally got what he wanted. Had had it for a while. Just now everyone would know it.

As Jack had said. About time, too.

Paul woke first and groggily looked around at the others. Daniel had turned to face Jack in the night and was currently lying on top of him in pretty much the same way Jack had fallen asleep on him. He couldn't help but smile when he saw Jack's arms wrapped firmly around Daniel as if he was trying to stop him leaving in his sleep.

He slipped out of the bed and heard a muffled, 'coffee?' coming from somewhere near Jack's armpit.

Laughing to himself, he left the room and headed directly for the kitchen.


Daniel opened his eyes as he felt Paul moving and responded automatically. His word - or more likely the vibrations from it - woke Jack.


"Go sleep, 'searly."

Jack opened his eyes anyway and moved until he was as close to Daniel as he could be.

"You okay?" he asked as Daniel reacted, trying to plaster himself to Jack.

"Yeah. You're warm," Daniel replied with a happy sigh.

Jack laughed quietly, holding Daniel tightly. "Are you okay about tomorrow?"

Daniel looked up from his comfortable position and shrugged. "Yeah, I guess. It's what Paul wants. I just hope that it goes as well as he thinks it's going to go."

"You worried?"

"A bit." Daniel pulled out of Jack's arms and sat up. "I mean, he's taking a chance. I know his colleagues are probably the least likely to react badly, but humans are humans..." he sighed shaking his head.

"We're not going to come out and say we're in the Scene," Jack offered.

"True," Daniel agreed. "But some may well guess. It all depends on how they use the knowledge they get. If they accept it, then he's going to be okay. But if they tell everyone else..." He shrugged again, not knowing what else to add.

Jack wrapped his arms around him again and said, "Look, Paul wouldn't have suggested this if he feared them. His job doesn't depend on him hiding out and hell, they'd be much worse off without him there. I think he's safe enough."

"Yeah, I get that. Which is why I agreed in the first place. I just don't want him being teased or picked on, that's all."

"He's a big boy, he can take it," Jack reminded him.

Daniel sniggered and looked at him. "Well, we both know that," he said with a laugh.

The door opened and Paul entered the room carrying a tray, getting very confused when they both looked at him and burst out laughing.

Jack wondered if subbing for Daniel was necessarily always a good thing. Oh, he didn't mind being told what to do usually, but Daniel had made him work out again, saying it was for his own good. He didn't feel so good, that was for sure. He ached. But then watching the others get hot and sweaty had been very pleasant. Very pleasant indeed. Of course, there was the good bit; the bit where Daniel had told him to go soak in the bath after he'd finished, then the better bit where Daniel had joined him and was now kissing him senseless. That bit was the best of the lot. Or maybe the best bit of the lot was when Daniel started to jerk him off...

The sound of the shower being turned off reminded him that Paul was in the shower and was now coming out. Daniel broke away from him, looking up and waiting for Paul to emerge. As soon as he did, Daniel beckoned Paul to come close. When he was in reach, Daniel pulled him to kneel and started to kiss him, then he stopped, letting Jack take over. Paul reacted predictably and Jack decided to make the most of it. With a look at Daniel for permission, which he got, he twisted himself around until he was in the right position and then took Paul's hard cock in his mouth.

Now this, he thought, was a great way to start the day. He loved doing this for Paul; hell, he loved doing this for Daniel, too, but Paul was so damned... appreciative, he figured. No, that wasn't quite it. Daniel appreciated it very much, but he was more stoic, more like Jack. Paul reacted; he moaned, he gasped, he ran his fingers through Jack's hair... It was a particular pleasure to make him come like this.

As soon as it was over, Paul kissed him in thanks. Daniel asked him to make breakfast saying that they'd be out before the water got cold.

With a laugh, and a little wobbly on his legs, Paul left them alone.

Daniel turned to Jack with a grin.

"You feeling horny?" he teased.

Jack shrugged. "No more than normal, I guess." He flopped back into the water and grinned. "These days, it's a case of the spirit being willing but the flesh taking a bit longer to get with the plan than I'd like."

Daniel laughed out loud and joined him under the water as far as his shoulders, thinking that this huge bath was one of his best ideas yet. He pulled Jack into his arms and held him close, kissing him softly in-between words.

"I know the feeling," he said. "Don't know if you noticed, but I didn't wake up hard this morning. Not sure if that's a good thing or not," he added.

Jack sympathised with him. "When I was younger, especially when I was in barracks, I wished that wouldn't happen to me. Waking up hard and not being able to do a damned thing about it was really frustrating," he moaned.

Again Daniel laughed, though sympathising, too. "I know how you felt. I went on a lot of expeditions at a time when I was almost permanently horny. Sharing tents with young, often good-looking, sweaty men... Let's just say I'd seek out a place near the dig site where I could go jerk off as often as I could."

Daniel felt Jack relaxing in his arms and decided to finish the conversation started in bed.

"Jack, how are you feeling about tomorrow? More to the point, how are you feeling about our guest arriving?"

Jack wasn't sure how to answer. He wanted tomorrow to come, he wanted their 'guest', but he knew what Daniel was getting at.

"It'll be okay," he said with a shrug. "She's cool."

"I know that, but she's smart. She's going to guess..."


"Are you really okay with that?"

Jack turned in his arms and sighed. "I have to be. Besides, like Paul, I'm sick of hiding out. She may well freak out initially but she'll get over herself and carry on as normal." Then he asked, "What about you, Daniel? How are you going to deal with her?"

Daniel groaned. "I have no fucking idea whatsoever, Jack. If she asks me something straight out, I'm probably going to have to answer honestly or directly. I get the feeling she's going to have a hold over me."

Jack laughed out loud. "Hell yeah," he moaned. "You and me both, babe. You and me both. Just comfort yourself with the knowledge that I can't lie to her either."

Breakfast was over and Daniel was scooting around the kitchen, making a list of the last few ingredients he needed for the following day. Most of the food would be ready-made; cardboard packages, filled with vol-au-vents, quiche and other pastry-based snacks. In the freezer were the spiced chicken wings which he'd roast in the morning. Today he needed to get the steaks and other fresh ingredients for the salads and barbecue. He prayed that the weather would hold out. It may be late September but so far, the weather was still warm and the forecast was good for the next few days. He added 'part-baked bread rolls' to the list, thinking that a huge basket of warm fresh bread would be a welcome sight.

Jack was in the cellar, checking out the booze they already had down there. The chill of the one, unheated room made it a great place to keep their various bottles and cans and Jack noted how many bottles of wine, spirits, champagne and beer were already there. He'd take it back to Daniel and they'd work out what they were prepared to use at the party and how much would need to be bought to quench the thirsts of the guests. And there'd be quite a few guests, he thought. Not only their staying guest and most of Paul's workmates (pretty much all of the ones that weren't on duty that weekend), but their closest friends from the club and other parts of their private lives. His only regret was that Sam and Janet weren't able to get there. Cassie had been disappointed that she couldn't be there, either, but a short trip away with her college had put paid to that.

Back up in the kitchen, he found Daniel at the table with Paul, going over the final food list, making sure that nothing had been forgotten. He sat with them, showing them his own list and they finalised the shopping details, none of them particularly looking forward to it.

"I guess we'd better go do it," Daniel sighed when they were done.

The others were about to agree when the phone rang. Groaning, as he just knew it wasn't going to be good news, Daniel got up and answered it. Jack and Paul heard his side of the conversation but all they could get was that Daniel wasn't particularly happy. When he returned to them, he slid the list in their direction.

"Sorry, guys," he apologised, walking to the study and beckoning them to follow him. "An urgent translation has just been emailed to me. SG-9 are in it up to their necks apparently. As I'm not there to do a running interpretation, they've asked me to translate a basic greeting and then stay online. They're going to keep the gate open and pass messages between us. There's a classical Greek specialist on his way, but he's off duty and lives over an hour away from the base, so it's up to me to keep things going until he can get there."

By then he'd opened up the door and booted up his computer. "You're going to have to go shopping without me," he added, turning and giving them a sympathetic smile.

"Typical," Jack muttered. Then he winked at Paul. "Anything to get out of shopping."

Daniel howled, "Get out of here!" but called them both over to his side first where he kissed them before letting them go. "Don't forget anything," he mumbled, as he sat back down and opened up the document.

Jack and Paul retreated, but not without looking back at him. Daniel was already paying them no more attention. He was rapidly translating the words, using both the classical Greek script and the Roman transliteration so that Kovachek could read it directly, passing it to their captors to read if he got confused. With his head down, the tip of his tongue between his lips, they knew he was now concentrating so hard on what he was doing that a bomb going off in his vicinity would probably not be noticed until a few minutes later when he'd wonder what that noise had been. Knowing that, they left him in peace, grabbed the list and left the house.

"Who's paying?" Jack asked as Paul got in the truck next to him.

Paul looked at him with a grin. "Don't worry. I'll pay."

Jack grinned back. "Sweet."

Daniel switched his computer off feeling both relieved and exhausted. The linguist had taken longer to turn up at the base than expected because of a traffic jam but had finally gone through to a less tense situation than it could have been. In the end, paper messages had been coming direct from the leader of the people that held SG-9, which then got scanned into the computer and sent directly to Daniel. He translated them for the SGC's information, and gave an English copy of the Greek message he was sending back. Somehow, he managed to get close to negotiating their release like that.

It shouldn't have surprised him that SG-9 had ended up in trouble with these people. The ancient Greeks were notorious for mistrusting outsiders. Their word for foreigner had been the same for barbarian; barbaros was in fact the root of the English word. All foreigners had been treated with such suspicion until proved to be philos or ekthros, friend or enemy.

He was glad that Dr. Markham would sort things out, though. He liked SG-9; they were doing a difficult job and somehow seemed to have the patience of saints, at least compared to some of the military teams.

Hearing the clunk of the heavy door close behind him, he headed into the living room and sat on the sofa, ready to relax until the guys came home. He ran a few possible play scenarios through his head for that night, to take away any remaining nerves in the men. He also knew he was trying to ignore his own nervousness about the next day and failing.

Of course, everything that he'd discussed with Jack that morning was true. That they would deal with everything as it happened, if it happened, but his natural protectiveness had a habit of overriding his ability to deal with things logically. He was way more anxious about the party than he would admit, and his mind was running away with itself, conjuring up images where Paul was tormented at work and Jack lost his f...

Before he could sink further into introspection, however, the phone rang again.

He cursed under his breath as he got up and walked to it, thinking that Markham couldn't have screwed things up this quickly. Could he?


Daniel put the phone down and wondered if panicking was something that a dom was allowed to do. Because that's what he wanted to do right now and it was something that he was starting to do, whether it was allowed or not. He had ten minutes to get himself under control.

Dammit, he'd been prepared for everything to happen the next day! Not today. He wasn't ready. He couldn't cope with his plans being thrown out. And given what he'd just heard on the phone, things were way worse than he could have previously imagined. He nearly started to hyperventilate. He needed to get under control, and fast. He needed...

He looked at the door to his study and felt the draw to the knife on his desk get stronger and stronger. Maybe just a little cut would help? He tried to fight that thought, the logical side of his brain arguing fiercely with the emotional side. His legs were on his emotions' side and before he knew where he was, he was back in his study and standing in front of his desk, staring at the suede sheath that held the constant support he'd had throughout his adult life.

As he debated whether to do it, his nerves suddenly took over again, his heart beating faster, his legs shaking, his stomach churning.

Paul could lose his friends the next day. Worse, Jack, because of this phone call and what it had contained, could lose a hell of a lot more.

Checking his watch, he saw he had less than five minutes.


Watching the blood as it trickled down his leg, he felt himself start to calm. He congratulated himself on having the foresight not to touch his arm, the one place that would be seen for definite the next day. When he was calm enough, he grabbed the roll of microporous tape he kept in the desk drawer and covered up the long cut, then hitched his trousers back up and walked to the door, looking more calm than he really felt.

When he heard the buzzer from the gate, he answered it and let the cab driver in. Holding his head up high, he walked to the door.

"Can we go home, yet?" Jack whined as they walked down the fifth shopping street of the morning.

"Not yet. We've still got to get the smoked salmon and you know Daniel likes it to come from a particular deli. It won't be long," he soothed, trying not to laugh.

Jack hated shopping with a passion he usually reserved for the Goa'uld. In fact, Jack was convinced that retail society was a Goa'uld invention, designed to make human lives a total misery. However, his theory that all major retail chain owners were probably Goa'uld might have been taking it a little too far, Paul thought. After all, some of the shops were quite tasteful, both in their décor and in what they sold, and no one could accuse the Goa'uld of being tasteful.

They'd spent their entire shopping time arguing as to whether snakes were really running the world's economies or not. Jack was definitely convinced they were, and was quite happy to go visit some headquarters to prove it. Despite having to couch their words in nickname terms so that no outsider could understand what the hell they were talking about, they'd had a lot of fun deciding who was definitely a snake and who wasn't. Neither of them disputed the fact that Bill Gates was probably one.

Paul was glad, however, when they entered the deli. Daniel could take over his side of the argument when they got home.

"Mary, I'm glad to meet you in person at last," Daniel said with a smile, stepping out of the house to retrieve her suitcase from the cab driver.

"Daniel, I'm sorry to drop this on you," she replied with a smile of her own. "Especially..."

Out of the back of the cab came a man they hadn't been expecting. Daniel had seen many pictures of him but he'd have recognised him in a heartbeat without them. Patrick O'Neill was the spitting image of his brother; a little taller and broader, a little older, too, but essentially the same as Jack.

"Patrick. Welcome to our humble abode," Daniel joked.

"Thank you for having me, especially at such short notice," Patrick replied, taking Daniel's offered hand. He looked at his mother with a frown, telling Daniel in that one look that Patrick had been bullied into coming. No doubt, Mary O'Neill, psychologist, mother, and holy terror (according to Jack) had a very good reason for bringing him there, not to mention turning up a day early without informing Jack. Hopefully, Daniel thought, he'd find out about it.

He paid the cab, thinking it would be the polite thing to do, then carried Mary's case into the house, figuring Patrick was big enough to take his own.

"Do you have somewhere for him to sleep?" Mary asked a little sheepishly.

"Of course, it's not a problem. Why don't I take you to your rooms straight away. You can settle in then meet me in the kitchen. I'll put something on for you to drink. What would you like?"

"Tea, if it's not a problem?" Mary asked. "I've heard about your coffee habit."

Daniel laughed out loud at that. "Tea is not a problem. Ordinary or herbal?"

"Just ordinary tea, please," she replied thankfully. "Pat?"

"I don't mind. I'll drink pretty much anything."

"I'll bet you get used to drinking what you're given when you're visiting?" Daniel asked, showing Pat into the spare room.

"You could say that."

"Hold that thought. I'll show your mother into her room then I'll be back to show you where to put things. It's a little complicated in this room."

He led Mary to the girls' room, thinking that would be the best one, and thanking his lucky stars he'd made sure they were ready the day before. He'd been thinking that clearing away all signs of their private life would have been protecting Paul during the party, as the bathrooms that led from the spare bedrooms were going to be used by the partygoers, so anything that belonged to the girls was in the playroom, and the recording equipment in the spare room was safely locked behind closed doors.

He showed her where everything was then swiftly returned to Pat. Mary had promised to explain everything to him before he left the room and he'd said he'd hold her to that.

Entering the spare room, he took a long look at Patrick, who was sitting on the bed and looking very lost.

"Pat?" he called gently. "Are you okay?"

Patrick looked up at him, a little bewildered, then he answered. "I'm fine. Just a little tired, that's all."

Daniel smiled at him. "Look, I'll show you what's what in here, then you lie down and take a nap. Undoubtedly the others will be back before long, so make the most of the peace and quiet."

He pointed out the drawers and wardrobe that Patrick could use, apologised that his bathroom would be used the following day, mainly because it was the nearest to where the party was being held, explained that the locked cupboards held computer equipment that he didn't want the partygoers getting their hands on (he felt that was a truthful, if innocent, explanation) and then left him to get some sleep. By the time he'd finished, he doubted that Pat had heard even half of what he'd said.

In the kitchen, he had the kettle on and some coffee brewing as he waited for Mary to turn up. He wasn't angry with her for dropping this on him but he was a little annoyed as it had thrown out his plans. No way could he and the guys play that night now and his last chance to settle all of their nerves had gone.

She entered the kitchen a little guiltily, as if she knew how much she'd thrown him for a loop.

"I'm sorry," she offered, moving to the chair that Daniel pulled out for her.

He poured the boiling water from the kettle into the teapot before answering her.

"You had a good reason, I take it. Something to do with the fact that Pat is so damned exhausted?" he suggested.

She nodded. "I'd decided that as I was coming down here for this party and the conference next week, I'd go back to Chicago and stay with him for a couple of days first, you know, make a vacation of it."

Daniel nodded, getting a china cup out for her, one which Jack had made when he was experimenting with different thicknesses of clay.

"That's a beautiful cup," she commented.

"Jack made it," Daniel answered proudly. "It's only ever used for tea. Somehow tea tastes better from something as fine as this."

He knew they were making small talk until they were both sitting together, but he let it happen, knowing that Mary would get to the point soon enough. Jack was so like her that he felt he knew her intimately, even though they'd only ever spoken on the phone.

When his coffee was ready and the tea had steeped for long enough, he poured them both then sat across the table from her, passing her the tea and awaiting her next words.

"I'm afraid for him, Daniel," she said bluntly. "I've never seen him look so tired. He's always worked hard for his parishioners, he's one of the most dedicated priests I've ever met. But this is ridiculous. It's like he's driving himself too far, too hard. I took one look at him yesterday when I arrived and got on the phone to the bishop."

Daniel laughed at that. It was precisely the same thing that Jack would have done. He remembered when he'd pushed himself hard once at the SGC - harder than normal. Day and night had been spent either at his desk or on a mission, until one day, Jack had entered his office, taken a good look at him and snapped. Up till that moment, Daniel had been hiding how tired he was. It was guilt that had driven him. Robert's death had weighed heavily on his mind and he had subconsciously tried to deal with it by taking on Robert's workload. Jack had phoned up the General and insisted on another archaeologist being hired as soon as possible and on Daniel taking a break, insisting to the point where Jack had physically manhandled Daniel until he'd left the base.

That thought struck Daniel and he realised he had an idea about Patrick.

"Go on," he prompted. "Has he said anything?"

"No, just that he's busy at the moment. I had a talk with his curate and young William said that Pat's been doing things that he, William, could do. There was no need for him to do all the work. He could easily have spread the load but he didn't seem to want to."

"I wonder..." Daniel started, picking up his mug and sipping the hot coffee.


He shook his head rapidly as if he was shaking it back to full consciousness. "I'm not sure," he said. "I may have an idea."

"I thought you might. It's why I brought him here. I didn't call you because it was only this morning did the bishop call back and say he'd arranged cover for Pat this weekend. I'd checked the flight timetable and we only had time to grab our things and go. Every time I seemed to get the chance to call you to give you more warning, something happened to stop me, right up until we were out of town and nearly here. If it wasn't too much noise in the background - I have real difficulties hearing those damned cellphones without background noise, let alone with it - then it was no signal, or I'd have to move from one place to another..."

She sighed heavily and Daniel realised that the worry of the last twenty-four hours had been taking a toll on her, too. She wasn't the spring chicken she seemed to think she was. Jack had warned Daniel that she was in denial about being in her late seventies, as if denying it would mean it wasn't true. She hadn't even completely retired from her job, taking private clients at home on a more part-time basis but still involving herself wholeheartedly in their cases. It was why she was off to a conference which would start on the Monday in one of the hotels in the Bay area. She was delivering a lecture on post-traumatic stress in children to a whole bunch of elite psychiatrists and psychologists from all over the world.

"Why did you think I might figure something out?" he asked curiously.

"Jack says you're good at winkling things out of people," she informed him. "And good at guessing motives. You'd have made an ace detective in his humble opinion."

"Jack? Humble?" Daniel scoffed.

She thought for a moment then shrugged. "You got me," she surrendered. Then she asked, "Are you going to let me in on your theory?"

"It's not so much a theory as an inkling," he conceded. "I'd need to talk to him about it to be sure. But..." He stopped and drank some more coffee, unsure as to whether to go further.

"But?" Mary prompted.

He shrugged. "When I was feeling guilty about something or other, I'd throw myself into my work. I was just wondering if there was something that would make him feel guilty. The initial thing that struck me was that the two things that would make a dedicated priest feel guilty would be either doing something considered a terrible sin, such as having an affair with a parishioner - something I doubt very much is the case - or," he took a deep breath, "a crisis of faith."

Mary shook her head. "Not Pat. He's totally devout..."

Daniel put his hands up to stop her. "Does that preclude him from having such a crisis?" he asked. "If he wasn't so devout, then surely any doubt that had arisen wouldn't have affected him so badly?"

She sat back in her chair, his words rattling through her brain.

"You know, I think you may be onto something," she agreed. "I hadn't even considered that. I thought he was just trying to get something done, that maybe he had ambitions."

"To make bishop?" Daniel asked.

"Possibly," she replied.

"That's a possibility," he agreed. "But he's like Jack, isn't he? Jack never sought promotion. He'd work hard because it's his nature to. Look, you know he and I were on the same team, don't you?"

"Yes, of course. You and the others were the only things he'd talk about when he was at that last base. Not that he ever told me what you did," she added sadly.

"I wish he could have," Daniel soothed. "Maybe one day you'll find out. I promise you, you'll be very proud of him when you hear it."

"What makes you think I'm not proud now?" she snipped, almost sounding as if he'd doubted it.

He put his hands up in surrender. "I didn't mean that, Mary, and you know it. Just that it'll add to how you feel. Anyway, to get back to the point, Jack worked like a Trojan when we were there, even when he seemed to be messing about, he was on duty. He didn't get promoted, didn't look for promotion. Actually, he didn't want it. All of his promotions had been pushed on him up till then, too. I can't see Pat seeking elevation either."

She nodded slowly, considering his words. Then she laughed. "Jack said you knew him better than anyone," she said. "I see what he means."

"He's my longest standing friend, Mary. I love him dearly."

She said nothing for a moment, then said, "Yes, I know. About that..."


"Jack's never told us what your relationship really is, you know."

"Oh?" Daniel's heart was in his stomach but he tried to control his voice.

"I know about his sexuality," she offered. "He told me he was gay when he was a teenager. Surprised the hell out of me when he got married, but I was happy that he seemed to be happy with Sara. It was such a tragedy." She said no more, suddenly afraid that she'd gone too far.

"It's okay, Mary. I know Sara, I know all of what happened. If I could turn back the clock to make everything work out, if I could bring Charlie back for him, I'd do it in a heartbeat. But that's in the past. They had their difficulties, none of which had anything to do with him being bi and everything to do with his working so damned hard. What happened to Charlie was the final straw for an already difficult marriage. He wanted to die when he lost him. He wanted that so much. He still blames himself for Charlie's death, you know, so please, I'm begging you, don't bring the subject up. He'll talk about him, of course, but we try not to remind him of that sad time."

"Of course, I understand," she sighed sadly. "He wouldn't talk to me then. I tried to get him to talk but he wouldn't."

"Mary, he wouldn't talk to anyone back then. It took... shall I say, extreme circumstances before he even mentioned Charlie to me. Over the years, I've heard more, but I'm sure there's a lot more I haven't heard. I wait until he offers before I bring up the subject."

She took a little comfort from that then pushed further. "So? Are you going to explain about the three of you?"

"Do I have to?" Daniel asked plaintively.

She laughed at him. "Probably not. I would like some more information, though."

"Tell me what you know," he prompted.

"I know that you and he have been friends for what, ten? Eleven years?"

"About that," he agreed.

"And that he talked about you a lot for the first few years, then he clammed up whenever I mentioned your name for quite some time. Then he started talking about you again as if nothing had happened. After a few more months, he talked more and more and I guessed, from the way he talked about you, that there was something more than just friendship going on."

Daniel nodded, agreeing with her but not offering any more information.

"But he was talking about his 'new friend' Paul, too," she continued. "And that really confused me. At first, he was sounding fond of him, but he was talking about the three of you together and he sounded really happy about it. When he was injured and the three of you moved in together, it had me wondering if the three of you were together. Which you must admit, sounds a little odd."

"Would it be a problem?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

She didn't answer him immediately as if she was considering his words. Finally, she shook her head. "Jack's happier now than at any other time in his life," she said. "During Charlie's lifetime, his entire focus was that little boy, but he wasn't always happy, because he couldn't be with him and do his job at the same time. But now, I think he's always happy."

"I try to make it that he is," Daniel said firmly. "He's been through enough."

"And you haven't?"

Daniel shrugged. He didn't want to talk about it.

"So, I'm right? The three of you are an item?" she teased.

Daniel held out his left hand and showed her the wedding ring.

"When did you...?" she asked, holding his hand and looking intently at the ring as if it held the answers to her questions.

"Last night," he laughed. "I'd planned it a while back but it took our friend a few months to make them."

"They were made by hand?" she asked surprised.

"Oh yeah. She's good."

"She certainly is. It's beautiful. I take it the others are the same?"

"Yes. Only Jack's base colour is the yellow gold and Paul's is the red."

"There's a reason?"

"Yes. But I'm not going to explain."

She laughed out loud and promised not to ask.

"I don't have to ask if you're serious, then."

He shook his head, not answering that as he didn't need to. He knew she knew. Something, however, did worry him.

"If Jack didn't tell you about us, I suppose he hasn't told Bridget or Patrick, either," he mused.

"I don't suppose he has," she agreed. "I wouldn't worry about Bridie, she'll think it's a hoot and wish him luck," she added with a grin.

"From what I've heard about her, I think you're right. But Pat?"

"Now, that's another story," she said glumly. "He's not a narrow-minded bigot," she said, jumping to his defence. "It's more a case of him living in a very narrow world." Then she screwed up her face. "No, that's not fair on him. What would be closer to the mark is that his mind just doesn't go there, if you know what I mean. Not so much that he's against gay relationships, he just doesn't think about them. Unlike some, he's not anti anyone. He'd go out of his way to help everyone. But I can't see him considering what goes on in anyone's life. Gay or straight, it wouldn't make any difference to him. He takes his vow of celibacy deadly seriously and we've never even discussed more, should I say earthly matters?"

Daniel nodded, understanding her. "Perhaps he'll accept us, then. I hope so. My biggest worry is that our relationship is going to cause some friction between Jack and his family. He's so close to you that it would break his heart if that happened."

"I understand. What about your family? And Paul's?"

Daniel shook his head. "I don't really have any and Paul's... let's say they're not relevant and leave it at that."

Mary wanted to ask him more but felt instinctively that it would be a bad move on her part so she nodded and dropped the subject. She'd probably probe Jack when he came home. Talking of whom, she thought, where was he?

"Oh, he's shopping for tomorrow. I was supposed to take them but got a call from work. Just as well, really, or else I wouldn't have been here when you came."

"It's an ill wind," she agreed with a smile.

As they spoke, Daniel heard the familiar sound of the truck pulling up outside.

"Speak of the Devil," he muttered. "I think that he and another fallen angel have arrived."

He stood up and walked to the kitchen door, ready to help the men with the shopping. Mary stood, too, but Daniel turned and put his hand up.

"You should rest," he said. Then, at a raised eyebrow from her, "Let me tell him you're here, please?"

She nodded and he went out to the drive to help the guys, finding them arguing over whether Donald Trump was a Goa'uld or not. He decided he didn't want to get into that argument on the grounds of his mental health.

"There's someone here to see you, Jack," he said calmly.

Jack stopped what he was doing and stared at him.

"Oh? Who is it?"

Daniel took a deep breath. "Your mother," he said, as if it were nothing. Jack detected that he was holding something back.

"Yeah? What else is going on, Daniel?"

He shrugged and put his hands in his pocket, kicking the ground almost nonchalantly.

"Um, your brother's here, too," he said. "Uh... he's resting in the spare room. He's exhausted. It's why your mother brought him here."

"To rest?" Jack asked, starting to walk towards the house.

"I guess."


Daniel shrugged. "She seems to think that I'll be able to help get whatever's bothering him out of him. Don't know where she got that idea," he added, staring at Jack.

Jack said nothing but picked up a couple of bags from the truck and walked into the house. As he walked away, Daniel grabbed his arm.

"She knows about us," he said. "But she doesn't know about this." He pointed to his signet ring. "At least I didn't tell her."

Jack looked into his eyes with gratitude and then continued into the house.

Daniel moved to the truck to help Paul, who'd been standing by it and watching the others intently.

"Dan? Is everything all right?" he asked when Daniel was next to him.

"I think it will be," Daniel answered. "At least I hope so."

"Ma. It's good to see you," Jack said as he put his bags on the table. "Must admit I wasn't expecting you today, but Daniel's explained why."

"Are you annoyed?" she asked, standing up and walking around the table towards him.

Jack looked at her and shook his head.

"No, I'm not," he said quietly. "Just wish I'd had some warning, that's all."

"I'm sorry. I just reacted when I saw him so tired."

He nodded, understanding why she'd acted. They hugged, holding onto each other tightly, then Jack kissed her head and broke away.

"You know about us?" he asked, pointing out to the guys who were still by the truck.

"Yes. I wish you'd told me yourself..."

"I know. But it's not easy to come out and say it. It took me a couple of months to accept being in a triad as it was. Now, of course, I wouldn't be anywhere else."

He looked at the shopping and knew it had to be put away, but he wanted to talk to his mother in private. So he went to the door, called the guys in and took his mother by the hand to sit by the pool.

"Tell me more about it, Jack," she urged as they sat together on the swing seat.

"What can I say? I fell hopelessly in love with Daniel, but he was already with Paul. Lucky for me, Daniel loved us both."

He sat back in the seat and told her what had happened - seriously editing the more personal side of it and keeping the D&S out of it totally. He just emphasised the friendship and the love, telling her how happy he was. He prayed that she would really accept it, because he knew just how hard he was going to have to work on his brother later and he could do with the back-up.

Patrick opened his eyes, still feeling exhausted. The past few months had been hard on him. Part of him was annoyed that his mother had virtually kidnapped him from his parish, but he knew her too well and loved her too much to remain annoyed. She was only being a good mother, he knew. He wanted to thank God for being so blessed by having such a mother, but something held him back.

Instead, he got up and looked around the bedroom, trying to get his bearings. He vaguely remembered Daniel talking to him about locked cupboards and bathrooms but he couldn't put it all together in his head. He couldn't ever remember feeling so tired. Not even when he'd been at a retreat after praying and meditating for over thirty-six hours straight. Then he'd been tired but elated. Now, he was just out of it.

He managed to make a decision that coffee would probably help him wake up.


"Patrick. Would you like that drink now?" Daniel asked as he walked into the room.

"Er, yes, please," came the still sleepy response. "A coffee if there's one going."

Paul snorted. "There's always coffee on the go in this house," he said, walking towards Patrick. He put out his hand and shook Pat's. "I'm Paul if you didn't guess," he introduced himself. "Glad to meet you at last."

"Same here," Pat replied warmly. "I've heard so much about you two that I feel..." He stopped and shook his head. "No, I don't feel like I know you," he said suddenly. "I know some things about you. Jack tells us what you've been getting up to, the things that he's been doing, but I don't know you."

Daniel handed him a coffee and motioned that he should sit down. A quick look at Paul had him finishing putting things away and Daniel sat opposite Pat much like he'd sat with Mary earlier.

"What do you want to know?" he asked.

"I don't know," Pat replied. "Everything, I guess. How did you guys meet? What do you do? Jack said something about Paul working with victims of crime and he keeps talking about you translating stuff for the Air Force, but then I'm sure he said you were an archaeologist, too, so I'm confused."

Daniel smiled at that and nodded. "Ah, well, I'm an archaeolinguist as well as an archaeologist. Having said that, I speak a lot of modern languages too. I work for the Air Force as a translator but I also do other ancient linguistic things."

"Yes, didn't he say you'd published a book?"

Daniel told him about the book, not connecting the work with the Air Force for obvious reasons. Pat was naturally very impressed and Daniel was relieved, thinking that it would keep the conversation away from their relationship. He was even more relieved when Jack re-entered the house by the time he'd finished explaining Paul's job and how they'd met. Paul, Daniel thought, was a coward, because he'd made good his escape as soon as he could, not wanting to face any revelations that could cause a scene.

"Pat!" Jack called out. "I'm really glad you came."

Pat stood up and Daniel couldn't help but grin as he saw the two brothers hug each other.

"It's good to see you, Jack," Pat said sincerely. "Daniel's been very kind to me but I still have a lot of questions to ask you."

"Ack! We've got plenty of time, Pat. Let's take it as it comes, shall we?"

Pat was mollified a bit but he was still very curious. There was something about the set-up in the house which wasn't clear and he was too tired to figure out what it was. He knew that until all his questions had been answered, he couldn't settle. He also knew that it would help if he knew what the questions were.

Lunch had been entertaining. Mary had picked up on the fact that the guys didn't want to just come out and say what their relationship was to Patrick and that he needed to be gently brought around, so she'd regaled Daniel and Paul with stories of Jack as a youngster, giving Daniel plenty of blackmail material for future use. He couldn't get over the fact that of all three of her children, Jack had been, in fact, the quietest and best behaved as a youngster, and the priest, Patrick, had been the handful. That hadn't meant that Jack hadn't got into trouble, though, and she seemed to revel in the stories she told. Jack and Patrick spent the entire mealtime trying to get her to stop, but Daniel and Paul egged her on with enthusiasm.

By the time the meal was over, Jack was complaining, "Ma, they're never going to drop it now. I'll never live this down."

Mary just grinned back and winked conspiratorially in Daniel's direction.

Daniel noticed that and winked back, but something about her behaviour towards him had him wondering if she'd guessed that there was more to their relationship than met the eye. Whenever she was talking, she would weight her comments in his direction, rather than spreading them evenly between him, Paul and Jack. He wasn't going to bring the subject up, however, as he really didn't want to discuss their private life.

Leaving the kitchen, Patrick suddenly said, "Am I putting anyone out by staying here?"

Jack froze. Seeing that, Daniel said carefully, "No, Pat, you're not. You're in the spare room. Like I said before, I apologise that tomorrow it's going to be pretty much an open house with regards to the bathrooms and so on..."

Pat put up his hand. "That isn't a problem," he said. "But this, while it is a decent-sized house, doesn't strike me as being so big as to have two spare rooms."

Daniel looked at Jack and nodded slowly. Jack knew now that he'd have to come out to his brother; he couldn't put it off anymore.

"Pat," he said, trying to remain calm. "Why don't you come with me?"

Daniel wanted to go with him but he forced himself to hold back. A quick shake of the head stopped Paul accompanying Jack, too, as he could see that Paul was as unhappy as he was about leaving Jack alone. He knew, however, that Jack wouldn't want company just at that moment.

"Mary?" he murmured as they walked away.

"Yes, Daniel?"

"Will he be okay?"

She didn't answer immediately. "I don't know," she finally said. "I hope so."

"So do I," Daniel whispered, nerves suddenly taking over his body.

Paul stared at him and he noticed Daniel's eyes flicker over towards his study's door. Knowing what that meant, he determined to distract him.

"Dan, he'll be fine," he assured him, taking Daniel's hand and leading him to the living room.

"I'm scared for Jack," Daniel admitted frankly.

"I know. Me, too. But you have to trust him to deal with it."

Daniel nodded, not answering.

Mary watched them and saw the pain in Daniel's face. At that moment she knew just how hard it would hit not only Jack, but Daniel and Paul, if Pat rejected his brother now.

"Um, Jack?" Pat said as he walked into the men's bedroom. "That's a big bed..." His voice trailed off as the implications of the size of the bed suddenly dawned on him.

As Mary had said, he wasn't bigoted, but his mind just hadn't gone there, hadn't been able to imagine a three-way relationship. So this was a shock.

"All three of you?" he asked in surprise.

Jack nodded, saying nothing, afraid to answer in a way.

"But how? Why?"

Jack took a deep breath and let it out loudly and slowly. Then he wandered to the bed and sat on it, patting the side to persuade his brother to sit next to him. He knew he'd have to explain it in terms that his brother would get. Not that he was a total innocent, and not that he didn't understand relationships (at least from an outsider's perspective), but Jack knew that he would have difficulty grasping the concept of how a three-way relationship could be as stable as a two-way one.

He explained, in much the same way he'd explained to his mother, about how the three of them had got together. Again, he spoke only of the love and friendship, needing to show Pat that that was the basis of the triad and nothing else. Patrick listened intently until Jack stopped, then he sat back a bit, trying to mull the words he'd heard.

"I don't get it," he finally admitted. "I mean, I didn't even know you were..."

"Gay?" Jack answered for him.

"Yeah." He turned and looked at Jack. "What about Sara?"

Knowing where he was going with that, Jack put his hands up to stop him.

"I loved Sara," he said emphatically. "I still do." He went on to explain a bit more about himself, hoping that Patrick would see that he hadn't used Sara to hide behind and also hoping that Patrick would eventually be able to accept him as he was.

"I'm sorry," Patrick said when he was finished.

"What for?"

"I'm sorry things didn't work out for you and Sara, sorry - oh God, I'm so sorry about Charlie..."

Jack put his hand on Patrick's shoulder. Jack knew what he was talking about. He'd rejected his family when Charlie had died, unable to face their grief as he dealt with his own. Patrick had tried, just as his sister, mother and father had tried, to talk to him, to comfort him, but he hadn't let them.

"Don't be," he said. "I should have talked to you guys. I was so wrapped up in my own grief, I didn't see how bad you hurt, too. If anyone should be sorry, it's me."

"No, no, you don't have to be sorry. We understood, Jack. We really understood. We just wished we could have helped."

"Yeah, well, funnily enough, I got help even when I didn't want it." At Pat's curious look, he told him what he could about the mission to Abydos. Not, of course, telling him anything about the gate or the planet, but generally speaking about a suicide mission and how a skinny geek of an archaeologist had saved his life and his mind.


"Yeah. You see why we're so close?" he pushed.

Patrick nodded. "I'm sorry about that, too."

"Why? I'm happy."

"I know. But I..." He shook his head. "I'm not allowed to accept it."

"But you want to?" Jack tried.

"I... I don't know."

Jack said nothing, wishing Daniel were there to talk to Patrick, but he knew that he'd have to make a breakthrough himself.

"I understand," he said calmly. Then he looked into Patrick's eyes. "Please don't shut me out," he begged. "Please."

Patrick shook his head. Jack noticed tears in his eyes and he realised that Patrick was battling with something inside himself. Tentatively, he put his arm around his brother's shoulder.

That single act broke Pat. Whatever was going on in his head had been raging for months and now he could no longer cope.

Jack held him close as Pat cried, not knowing what else to do. He let Patrick cry himself out, as he'd sometimes let Charlie - and, on the odd occasion, Daniel - when things had got too much for him. He tried not to smile as he remembered Charlie, crying because he was too tired to sleep, when an exciting day had kept his mind running harder than his body could cope and he just didn't know what else to do. He'd cry himself to sleep, and Jack would hold him for as long as he could, until Sara told him to take him to bed.

Daniel heard the crying from the bedroom and it took all of his self-control not to go in there. Ever since he'd laid his eyes on Patrick, he'd had an almost overwhelming need to hug the man. Pat seemed to crave contact, yet all of his obvious body language said 'I need to stay apart from you'. He wasn't deceived by that, he knew that Pat had missed out on touch. It wasn't that he thought for one moment that Pat needed more than that. He respected his vow of celibacy and wouldn't dream of trying to talk him into breaking it. But even celibates needed contact, he knew. He knew that from personal experience. Just three years of enforced celibacy had had him craving touch in a way he'd never done.

A noise at the door had him look up and he saw Jack enter the room on his own. A quick look into Jack's eyes told Daniel all he needed to know and he was up and over to him, holding him tightly in moments.

"Jack? What happened?" Mary asked quietly as she approached him.

Jack revelled in Daniel's touch but felt he had to explain, so he broke from the hug and led the others back to the chairs. He told them what had happened and then added, "He cried himself to sleep." He had a sad smile as he said that.

"To sleep?" Mary asked in shock.

"Yeah. Don't know what the hell is going on in that head of his but he's not happy."

"Daniel seems to think he's having a crisis of faith," she informed him.

Daniel put his hands up. "Hey, it was only a guess. I need more from him to figure anything else out."

"I think you're right, anyway," Jack answered. "He said he didn't know how to feel about us. I could see he was torn up inside. He wants me to be happy; partly because he's my big brother and partly because he's a good guy who wants everyone to be happy. But because of the doctrine..." He shrugged. "I'm guessing that something's been going on in his parish for a while now, because Pat's one tough cookie. He doesn't break down that easy normally."

"May I make a suggestion?" Paul put in, getting everyone's attention.

"Of course," Mary replied for the others.

"How about you ask him outright?"


He put up his hands as Mary started to speak. "Something's bothering him. He knows that you know that. Ask him. Don't second-guess him. He'll tell you or he won't, but you're not going to be able to help him unless he wants you to help him."

"Paul's right," Daniel agreed. "Who wants to do it?"

He looked at the others and saw three shaking heads. "Cowards," he muttered. "Okay, okay, I'll do it. But you've got to do your part, too."

"Of course. It's not that we don't want to do it, either," Mary answered. "It's just..." She shrugged.

"It's just that Paul doesn't know him very well and you two are too close to him. I know I don't know him very well, either, but you're right, I do have a knack for talking to people." He stared at Jack. "All that first-contact stuff had to come in handy I suppose," he muttered under his breath, just loud enough for Jack, who was sitting right next to him to hear.

"In the meantime, why don't we start on the preparations for tomorrow?" Paul suggested.

Daniel looked at him with gratitude. Trust him to take their minds off things.

"So, you want that cream cheese piped into these vol-au-vent cases?" Mary asked as Daniel set out the various foods they could prepare that day in front of them.

"Yes, please. Just about a quarter of them. I've got other things to go in the rest. I think we need a selection. Jack, could you take one of the slices of smoked salmon and cut it into thin strips, please? Paul, could you chop those herbs finely?"

He directed everyone and they all started on their jobs. He himself was working on one of the desserts, baking a cake mix which would, when cooked into the appropriate small shapes and cooled, end up stuffed with a variety of sweet, thick 'sauces'; a chocolate cream, a vanilla, a couple of different flavoured fruits... each being finally decorated the following day with a matching topping - melted chocolate, fresh oranges and so on.

The atmosphere in the kitchen was light. Mary enjoyed the way the men worked together, even though they all had their own section of the kitchen to work in. The usual banter filled the air and she found herself chuckling at their antics. Paul froze when Daniel, after being particularly bossy with Jack, found himself being called 'master', but Mary didn't seem to take the joke title as anything more than just that, a joke.

Paul did notice, however, that Daniel was directing Jack a lot. It wasn't as if Jack wasn't able in the kitchen, he was. He knew that it had a lot more to do with the fact that despite his laughter, Jack was scared shitless about how his brother was going to react when he'd had time to think about things. As Daniel couldn't do what he wanted to do; i.e. dress him in leather and his collar and take him to the playroom, he was being subtly dominant, hiding it in jokes for Jack's sake so that Mary wouldn't discover her son's submissive state. Privately, Paul had told Daniel that if anything was discovered, Daniel was to say that it was only he who was submissive and that Jack allowed them to play when they wanted. Daniel wasn't sure about that, because he didn't like lying, but had thanked Paul and then decided to play it by ear. He wasn't above lying to protect the guys, he'd done it often enough.

From the doorway, Patrick watched the four prepare the food and took in the relationship with a new perspective. At lunch, he'd seen three old friends because that was what he'd been prepared to see. But now he knew different. He heard the bickering, watched Paul pick up the piping bag of cream cheese from the side and squirt some on Jack's nose as a 'punishment' for dropping a strip of salmon down his pants. Daniel acted as referee, threatening to baste both of them and give them a good roasting if they didn't behave. Mary couldn't stop laughing.

He saw what Jack had explained. Saw the love and friendship. Saw how well they knew each other. The war in his mind continued. How could something that looked so right be wrong?

Daniel had noticed Patrick standing in the corridor off the kitchen, but he didn't let on. He could see that Pat was watching them, observing how they behaved towards each other. Hoping that he was doing the right thing, he dropped a kiss on Jack's nose and licked off the remaining cream cheese. Paul complained that Daniel hadn't gone after the salmon in his pants. When Mary offered to go get it, Jack had looked scandalised, Paul had squealed a 'no thank you!' and Daniel had cracked up completely.

Patrick couldn't help but smile. He did think, however, that they needed a calming influence on them or else it would degenerate into a food fight. Somehow his mother often started things like that...

"Is there anything I can do to help?" he asked as he walked in.

"Put the kettle on, please!" Daniel replied, his voice sounding grateful. "I think we're about done here for now. I just have to wait for the cakes and things to finish baking. We can't do any more except clean up before they've cooled down."

Relieved that he wasn't being treated like someone who'd just broken, Patrick made his way to the kettle and filled it.

"Would you like me to put some coffee in the pot, too?" he asked.

"Ah, Saint Patrick," Daniel sighed. "I knew I liked you."

Pat froze at the nickname and Daniel immediately knew he'd said the wrong thing.

"Guys, clean up," he said under his breath, then he took Patrick by the arm and led him out of the house.

"Getting a little stuffy in there, don't you think?" he said as he virtually pushed him to sit by the pool.

Patrick looked up into his eyes and again Daniel saw how lost he was. He sat next to him and looked at his fingers for a moment, then looked ahead.

"So, are you going to tell me what's going on?" he asked. "'Cause I can see that something's bugging you. Jack can see it, Mary can see it... hell, Paul who doesn't really know you from Adam can see it. And just in case you're wondering, you may be bigger than me but I can still kick your ass into the city and back if you tell me nothing's wrong."

Patrick laughed out loud.

"Jack said that you were as stubborn as a mule."

"Tell it like it is," Daniel replied with a smirk. "I'm a stubborn S.O.B., a cantankerous bastard and a bull-headed pain in the ass. On a good day."

Patrick laughed again. "I was being polite," he retorted. "Actually, compared to what Jack says, what you said was polite."

"This is very true."

"So why do you love him?"

Daniel turned to look into Pat's eyes, needing him to know that what he was about to say was the truth.

"That's easy," he said. "He makes living worth my while. He gives me joy I've never known before. He's given me friendship, unconditional love, and a stability in my life that I've never really had."

"Wow. And Paul?"

"Pretty much the same with him. With Jack, it came first in the form of friendship. Then I got the love and friendship from Paul. Of course, after that it blossomed into something else with both of them."

"But they are so different. How can you love them equally? I take it you do?"

It was Daniel's turn to laugh, but gently. "Of course. Do you love Bridie more than you love Jack?"

"No! Of course not."

"But Bridie's your big sister and Jack's your younger brother. They're so different..."

Patrick put his hands up in surrender.

"I get it."

"I hope you do. I can't split my love for anyone, I can't stop loving anyone. I loved my wife more than life itself, Patrick. I still do and always will. But that will never get in-between the guys and me, and they don't stop me loving her and they won't interfere with my relationship with my in-laws. I also hope to God we don't come between Jack and you and your family, because that is not what we want."

"I still love him," Patrick said swiftly.

"But will you accept him?"

The question was gentle but steely and Patrick had a hard time answering. "I want to."

"Then do it. Don't let anyone tell you how to think, dammit."

When Patrick laughed this time, there was no humour in it.

"But, for the last thirty-odd years, that's precisely what I have done."

"Because of your vocation?"

Patrick nodded. "I've followed doctrine and tenets, preached what I've been told to preach. I've ministered to my parish in the way I was told..."

"But now you know in your heart that something isn't right?"

Patrick nodded again without answering.

"How can your relationship be wrong?" he finally whispered. "You love each other. It's even obvious to me. To be honest, I've dealt best with celibacy by being oblivious to physical relationships - any relationships, gay or straight. I saw the love between married couples as that 'sacred' love blessed by the Church and frankly ignored any other relationships. Not because I didn't care about the others, but because it was easier for me. The coward's way out, I guess. I dare say my brother priests all have their own way of dealing with it, but it's always worked for me."

"Do you regret taking that particular vow?"

"Sometimes." Then he shook his head. "It's not the sex," he said, "it's the companionship."

"The hugs?" Daniel offered.

"I guess."

"I understand. For the three years that Shau're was missing, the only contact I had when I was in my right mind... er, I can't explain, it's classified, but I never willingly broke my vows," he put in quickly. "The only contact was when Jack would sometimes hug me, whether I wanted it or not."

"He's good at knowing just when to do that, isn't he?"

"Tell me about it. There have been times where I'd have killed anyone else that touched me, but he just battered down my barriers and held me so damned tight that I thought I'd stop breathing."

"You must have needed it desperately."

Daniel nodded. "I did. So very desperately."

He saw in Patrick's eyes a deep understanding of that need and put his hand on Pat's, holding it tightly for a moment before letting it go.

"How about you tell me what's pushed you to think this way now? As you say, you've been a priest virtually all your adult life. Why not have doubts at the beginning? When you were young enough to question everything you were told."

"Back then everything seemed so simple. Have faith in God and the rest will work itself out. And for a long time, it did. But now I think I was just blind to the suffering around me; not physical suffering, but mental anguish."

He stood up and indicated that he would like to walk, so Daniel took him away from the house and through the gate at the end of the drive. They crossed the road and Patrick saw for the first time the spectacular scenery on that side of the road. It was only a matter of about fifty feet to the edge of a cliff from the road at that point and still without words, Daniel led him down the side of it on what was a fairly precarious path down to what Daniel called privately a 'secret cove'. No one ever seemed to use the tiny cove but them as apart from the men, no one lived near enough to the cove to really know about it unless they sailed around the various bays.

When they reached the bottom, Daniel said, "We come down here in the summer sometimes. Paul and I do most of the time because Jack doesn't really like coming down that path. He does fish here occasionally, but he complains because he doesn't seem to catch much."

"You've been to the cabin?" Patrick asked with a grin.

"All too often. And no, he doesn't catch anything there either."

"Tell me about it. Before he married, he and I used to try to take short breaks together up there. I used it for peace and meditation. I guess fishing is his form of meditation."

"Oh yeah. I go up there and read a lot. These days, when Paul comes with us, he tends to potter around, taking care of us and cooking big, 'old-fashioned' meals, if you know what I mean."

"I do. Simple but tasty and filling, right?"

"Right. We all do what it takes to relax completely there."

They walked along the sand, taking off their shoes and socks and letting the wet sand fill the gaps between their toes.

"A few years ago, a nice pair of young men came to my parish. Both were devout Catholics," Patrick suddenly said. Daniel looked at him to let him know he was listening, but he didn't say anything, forcing him to continue. "I guess I was my usual oblivious self. I just thought of them as two, hardworking, pleasant young men who would come to confession regularly and church every Sunday. They were polite and helpful and volunteered in the soup kitchen run by the parish and some nuns that are with us. Everything was going well. I visited them a few times at home and in my mind, they were just two friends from college that were sharing until they'd gotten themselves somewhere individual to live. After all, sharing is quite normal these days because of the cost of living."

Daniel nodded, having a sinking feeling where this was going but again, saying nothing.

"After they'd been with us about eighteen months, a few of the less charitable parishioners started rumours about the men. When the rumours came to me, and they weren't pleasant to hear because of the way they were spoken rather than the content, I told the person telling me that speaking ill of someone like that could never lead to any good for the rumourmonger, let alone the victims of the spite. I was very cross and gave a sermon on the same subject that Sunday. It seemed to work for a while. I saw a few guilty-looking faces in the congregation and the two young men, I think, guessed what was going on."

"I'll bet they appreciated your support," Daniel said, thinking that he needed to reinforce Patrick's sense of what was right.

"I think they did. Anyway, it settled, as I said, but then, about six months later, they started again. I got angry with the rumourmongers again but one of them told me to visit the men and ask them outright."

Daniel stopped and turned to face the sea.

"What did you do?"

"I was unsure. I knew what the rumours were. They were saying that the two men were gay and living together as a couple."

"How did you feel about that?"

"Again, I wasn't sure. I liked the men. They were good, kind people who lived their lives according to the scriptures... But if they were truly living in a physical relationship like that, they were breaking the scriptures. It was a dilemma."

"I understand. If you like, I could argue theological philosophy with you?" he offered with a smile.

"Perhaps later. I'd like that. I have friends of different religions. My best friend is the local rabbi. But we agree to disagree on some things, agree on others, and generally play chess and shoot the breeze whenever we get together."

"Okay. How about I give you something to think about?"


"If I remember rightly, there are two mentions of homosexuality in the bible. Well, there are two in Leviticus, both having their very own verse as opposed to the two chapters with what to do to lepers and twelve verses proscribing nudity. And don't get me started on how many proscriptions there are against adultery in the very same place..." he muttered. "And I stand to be corrected here but I seem to remember St. Paul having a go at sodomy, but hell, he thought women should be owned by men, so forgive me if I don't hold him in high regard."

"He was a man of his time," Patrick said with a shrug.

"And therein lies the whole crux of the argument. Each of the laws and proscriptions were written thousands of years ago. You may be surprised to know that there are census records of the time showing that men were living together as couples and paying taxes as such, so if it wasn't a big deal then, why should it be one now? And believe me, you are not living according to the scriptures because they disagree with themselves! Think about it. The most powerful sermon Jesus gave was the Sermon on the Mount, right?"

"I suppose."

"But what was he saying there?"

"He took the laws from Leviticus and..."

"And reinterpreted them, reinvented them, changed them," Daniel put in.

Patrick nodded. "You know the Bible?"

"I've read it on numerous occasions. Along with the Torah, the Koran... and all in the original scripts so I don't have to endure the dire translations," he added with a grin.

"Show off," Patrick muttered, making Daniel laugh.

"Think about this. The dream of Peter on the roof of the house. In Acts, I think."

"Chapter ten," Patrick confirmed.

Daniel smiled and said, "He's hungry in this dream and in front of him is put a load of food which, according to Leviticus, he couldn't eat. He says he's never eaten anything that's unclean. This argument rages on until the voice says something like, 'What God has cleansed, do not call unclean.' In other words, who the hell are you to say what's unclean and what isn't?"

Patrick agreed with him.

"The general interpretation, because of the context of the dream and the circumstances which led to it, is that it was okay for Peter to preach to the uncircumcised Gentiles, and not just the circumcised Jews, right?"


"But it doesn't say you have to preach to anyone as long as he's straight. It could be - and should be in my view - interpreted to say you preach to all mankind. And who are you to say whether someone's sexuality is clean or unclean? It could be God-given. I know that the Pope is the head of your church, Patrick, but can you really say that whatever comes out of his mouth is direct from God? Last time I looked, he was just a human in an important position."

Patrick said nothing, thinking about his words. Then he said, "So the men may have been that way because God felt it the right thing for them?"

"I wouldn't want to say that," Daniel replied. "I wouldn't want to put words in God's mouth. But by the same token, I wouldn't want to disagree with it, either. As you said, they were good people and they loved each other. If you believe that love is a God-given gift, then how could what they had not be the right thing?"

"You understand," Patrick said suddenly. "You see my predicament?"

"I do. And so will the others."

"What should I do?"

Daniel turned and started to walk back to the cliff. "That's up to you," he said. "You have to decide whether you ignore the proscription against homosexuality and minister to all your flock, or you follow the rules and deny them the Eucharist. No one can decide that for you. I think that you know my opinion - even if it is the opinion of a total agnostic - would be for you to tend to all your parish. But I can't and won't try to influence you. In the end, you have to do what you believe to be right. You have to interpret the Bible yourself. If you feel you can't remain in the Church as a result, then I'm sure there are other denominations out there which will let you preach as you see fit. Whatever you decide, however, you will have the total support of your family and your true friends."

"Thank you," Patrick puffed as they headed up the narrow path. "I appreciate your insight."

"Hey, it's what friends and family do for each other, isn't it?" Daniel replied. He stopped walking and turned around. "Jack and Paul are the only family I've really got, at least the only family I am able to have regular communication with. That makes you part of my family, whether you want me or not," he added with a grin. "I promise you, I'll do whatever I can to help you out. But in the end, it has to be your decision. I can't and won't influence your decision. If it were just a matter of changing jobs, it would be easier, but this is your life we're talking about. Your faith. I understand how important that is to you."

"Even though you have no faith yourself?"

"I have faith. Just not in God," Daniel answered with a grin. "I believe in my friends, I believe in doing the right thing and I have faith that in the end, good will win out over evil. But only by education and total acceptance. That is my faith, Patrick, and it's every bit as important to me as yours is to you. Let me quote Thomas Paine to you. Right at the beginning of his text, The Age of Reason, he made a statement of his faith, something that struck such a chord in me that I learned it off by heart. In it he said, 'I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.'

"Well, okay, I don't agree with the one God thing, but I could certainly hope for that happiness," he added with a grin. Then he continued, "The next things he said were things that I agree with wholeheartedly.

'I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavouring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

'But, lest it should be supposed that I believe many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.

'I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.

'All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolise power and profit.'

"Now, as you know, what he's saying is that organised religion isn't for him, he doesn't believe that it's a good thing either. His next words really underline his personal ethical stance, too.

'I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe.'

"I, like him, do not condemn your religion. I just don't think that my own religious status or moral or ethical beliefs should be either condemned or ignored. I can happily live among religious folk, irrespective of their religion, as long as they allow me my personal beliefs and disbelief. And, like him, I cannot abide hypocrisy, whether religious or secular. But perhaps the religious is worse. Saying on the one hand you love Christ and are a true Christian when on the other hand you hate someone for being different... well, it truly is hypocrisy."

Patrick nodded. "I understand all of your personal doctrine. There's a lot of it which overlaps with mine. The being nice to people, believing in friends and loved ones and so on. I am tolerant of other people's belief systems, too. But I do believe that it's my duty to try to preach to those that aren't in the influence of the Church, to save them."

Daniel turned back and shouted over his shoulder. "Now that last bit I can't agree with. Not that I'd try to stop you preaching. I never had a problem with religion, per se," he called. "What I disagree with is forcing a religion down someone's throat and using religion as an excuse to persecute others, irrespective of which religion it is. Similarly I detest right-wing fundamentalist religious cults, of any faith, which seem to be the basis of a lot of the intolerance and hatred we find. Like I said, I've read all of the main, and plenty of the minor religious texts. I have a lot of respect for those which preach tolerance, peace and love for one's fellow man. I have no respect for any that preach the opposite. But just because I respect a religion, doesn't mean I have to follow it."

He puffed a bit as he walked up the hill before saying, "Organised religion can be a force for good. It should be a force for good instead of evil. During the Second World War, the Prime Minister of Slovakia was a Nazi. He was also a Catholic priest. He believed in 'Aryanisation'. They paid the Germans to take the Jews away! That's the evil side of it. But then you have the good. Look at Poland when the John Paul II was chosen. The Catholic church was the only non-communist organisation that had any standing there. The priests supported the strikers in Gdansk. Though, if I remember correctly, the Church didn't get directly involved in Solidarity's struggle, it was definitely a support to the people, a comfort. Without the initial stirrings in Poland, the Iron Curtain may still have been up. Similarly, there are all the good charitable works all of the churches do. Look at the work of the Salvation Army, for instance. I don't actually agree with their beliefs, but I do respect their actions. Without them, many people would go unclothed and unfed. That I agree with - taking care of people. Acting as a binding force for good. In some of the countries which were once under totalitarian rule, where new-found freedoms have proved too much for society to take in all at once and chaos threatens as a result, the national churches have called for peace and tolerance and without them, perhaps anarchy could have reigned. So I'm all in favour of that sort of influence on the people."

When they reached the top of the cliff, he admitted, "All in all, I probably have more affinity with Paganism. Love of Mother Earth and respect for all her creatures..." He shrugged. "I don't see me taking part in any of the ceremonies, but it's what I can relate to most."

"One of my friends is a Pagan," Patrick surprised him. "He respects my religion and frankly, I respect his. Yes, some of the more mystic sides of things I find strange, but I get what he believes and why."

"It must be the Irish in you," Daniel teased.

"Probably," Pat admitted. "I've always felt more at home in a large green field than a city street."

"That is something I can relate to," Daniel sighed. "This place isn't particularly green, but the open skies and lack of neighbours is something that we all love about our home."

He took Patrick back through the gate, showing him the code just in case he wanted to take himself off for a walk on his own.

"What happened with those young men?" he asked as they approached the house.

"They were very hurt when I... well, confronted them, I guess. I'd tried not to make it accusatory, but it could well have come over like that. I was sorry then, I'm sorrier now." His shoulders dropped. "In the end, they moved home. I have no idea what's happened since then."

Daniel said nothing until they were at the door.

"So what is your current conundrum?"

Patrick shrugged. "Another couple has come out. Um, that's what you call it?"

Daniel nodded with a grin.

"They're being blatant about it, too. They don't see why they should keep quiet and to be frank, I couldn't really see why they should, either. Like the other couple, these women have been faithful congregational members and have done many good works. After the young men left, I had promised myself I would never confront anyone like that again, as I could see how much harm it had done. So now, I have a handful of parishioners complaining to me and I need to come to a decision. Do I stay in the church when that one particular aspect of my faith is something that I find I cannot agree with? Or do I leave and try to do something else?"

"Or do you stay and try to fight it from the inside?" Daniel offered.

"That too."

"What do you want us to do?" he asked. "How can we help you on a practical level?"

"I don't know."

"We could look into alternate vocations. Look at Paul. The Air Force was his vocation until hiding his sexuality became harder and harder, and he began to feel less and less like supporting an oppressive law by hiding out. Now, he's happier than he's ever been, helping others directly. You could look into something like that. You'd still serve your God, Patrick. You'd still serve the people as a religious man. Perhaps it's time for you to change track?"

"Perhaps. But..."

"But being a priest is all you've ever known and you're scared," Daniel shrugged. "Tell that to Jack. He didn't have a choice after having his legs shot from underneath him. But he'd already decided to leave anyway. Like you, he'd spent over thirty years doing something he passionately believed in. If you decide to leave the priesthood, you won't necessarily be changing your vocation, just the direction it's going, that's all. Unless, of course, you decide to become a pole dancer or something," he teased with a wink.

Patrick looked at him in shock and then he laughed loudly.

"At my age?"

Daniel shrugged again. "Pat, you're only a couple of years older than the man I love. Trust me, I'm not the only one that thinks he's hot. You'd get plenty of work."

He stepped inside the house and saw three faces looking up at him in surprise as Pat's nearly hysterical laughter followed him through the door.

"Daniel? Why's he laughing?" Jack asked as Daniel got close enough.

"Oh, I suggested a new occupation, that's all," Daniel replied with a wicked grin.

Patrick had entered the room and heard that.

"Yes, he certainly did," he said, still laughing. "Could you imagine me as a pole dancer?"

Paul stood up, looked him up and down, and in a seductive, purring voice he said, "Sure can, honey," with a wink aimed at Pat.

Mary was shocked but laughed, too. Patrick's laughter was genuine, he was enjoying the joke. She knew that a few months before the same suggestion would have been greeted with stunned silence.

Jack patted Pat's shoulder and offered him a beer. Daniel suggested he sit in the living room with everyone else, which he did. With a beer in his hand, Patrick started to relax; still confused, still wondering what he should do, still doubting the strength of his faith and his devotion to his church, but definitely seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. He made one decision, though. No matter what his decision, no matter if he returned to his parish with a new fervour for preaching the Gospel, he would continue to love his brother and would now love his... brothers-in-law, he guessed. In common law if not in actual law.

He watched Daniel sit on the sofa, Jack lie on it with his head on Daniel's lap and Paul sit on the floor in-between Daniel's legs. He listened to their stories of working together, severely edited naturally, and about some of their friends. He accepted that the following day, he'd be meeting some people in various scenes and lifestyles he hadn't faced before and that these people were their friends. Paul told them about his workmates who would be there. Daniel hoped that Patrick and Mary would accept their friends without question.

When Jack winced, pain suddenly shooting through his knee, he didn't have to say anything. Paul sensed it straight away and stood up, coming back moments later with a glass of water and Jack's prescription painkillers to find that Daniel had already helped him sit up. Jack muttered about them fussing, but Patrick could see how much he appreciated being taken care of as well as how instinctive their care of him was. Seeing that underlined everything Jack had been saying about how well they knew each other.

Mary didn't miss it, either, but she had already been convinced about the men's relationship. What pleased her was Patrick's body language. It was almost as if she could see the remaining mental barriers starting to break down.

She caught Daniel's eye and winked surreptitiously, looking slightly at Pat as she did. He got the message and gave her a small smile in reply.

Despite being relaxed about the men - at least a lot more relaxed than he had been - when it came to bedtime, Patrick suddenly felt lost again. Watching the three retreat to their room made it all very real. His mother, watching him from the doorway of her room, called out to him.

"Pat? Are you all right?"

He turned to look at her and dropped his head, realising he'd been caught staring at the men's bedroom door.

"I am," he replied, a little sadly.

She shook her head and bustled towards him, steering him into his room and shutting the door behind them.

"You're not going to suddenly change your mind about them, are you?" she demanded.

"No, of course not." He drew in a deep breath and then asked, "Ma, do you ever feel lonely? I mean, since Dad went... does it hit you in waves?"

She sat on the bed with a bump, reaching up to him and pulling him to sit with her.

"Oh, son, I do. I miss him dreadfully. Most days I cope, I can even get through some without thinking of him every hour on the hour..." she added with a wry smile. "But you must remember, we were married a long time. Of course I get lonely without him. And you're right, it does seem to suddenly smash me in the chest every so often. I'll be going along, minding my own business when I see two people together and all of a sudden, it's like all of my breath has been kicked out of me. I feel so very lonely at that moment."

"How do you cope?"

"It depends on where I am and what I'm doing," she shrugged. "Sometimes I'll surround myself with my friends, other times I'll sit and mope, comforting myself with lots of chocolate and a good weepy on the TV."

Patrick chuckled at that, imagining himself doing the same.

"Are you finding your vow hard to keep?" she asked quietly.

"It's not that. I tried to explain it to Daniel earlier. He seemed to get it. It's not the physical, it's the company."

"I get that, too. Perhaps it's time for you to have a change of direction."

He looked into her eyes and said, "I'm not a quitter. I'll get over this."

"Patrick, it's got nothing to do with you quitting. It's about what's best for you." She took his hands in hers and said, "You know what I think?"

"No. What do you think?"

"I think that your loneliness is just a symptom of a deeper underlying problem."

"There is something else," he admitted.

She pushed him and he told her what he and Daniel had talked about. When he'd finished she gave him a hug.

"Oh, you poor thing," she sympathised. "What did Daniel advise?"

"He didn't want to influence me," Pat shrugged. "I appreciate that. He's just given me a few things to think about, that's all."

Mary stood up. "Sleep on it, son. Maybe things will look better in the morning."

She bent over and kissed his head, then wishing him goodnight, she left.

Pat sighed, then decided that his mother was probably right.

Patrick wasn't the only one finding this difficult. As soon as Daniel got a good look at Jack in the bedroom, he could see the tension in his eyes. He made up his mind to do something about that immediately, but he knew his options were limited as going to the playroom was out of the question. Instead, he followed Jack and Paul into the bathroom and slammed the bathroom door behind him, making the others jump.

They were already all naked except for their boxers, of which Daniel reckoned Jack could afford a new pair.

He stalked him, walking up to him as if he was going to eat him, looking him up and down with hungry eyes. Paul and Jack stood stock still, almost too afraid to move or even breathe deeply.

Knowing he couldn't mention his reason for wanting to do this, Daniel just acted, deciding to take Jack's mind off everything that had happened. He stood behind him, put his right hand on one side of the back of Jack's boxers, then raised his left hand and put it on Jack's shoulder.

"Stand still," he growled.

Jack remained rigid, wondering what Daniel was up to now. He soon found out when Daniel quickly dropped his hand onto the left side of Jack's boxers and tore them apart violently. Jack shuddered, as did Paul who couldn't take his eyes off the scene. He was as hard as nails in seconds.

Daniel grabbed Jack's hands and then pushed him towards the wall, making him put his hands up on it and stand still, legs apart.

Jack's cock throbbed as he guessed what was going to happen next. He tried not to smile but even the tiny twitch that he allowed past his lips was noticed by Daniel. He found his ass being spanked hard as a result, making him even harder.

Daniel whispered something to Paul and he left the room, returning quickly and shutting the door quietly behind him.

"Remove your shorts," Daniel ordered him.

He complied immediately, excitement in him growing rapidly.

Daniel handed him back the lube he'd brought into the room.

"Fuck him," came the next order. "Hard."

Jack nearly came as he heard that but he fought down the urge and moved his legs a little further apart in readiness. He wasn't made to wait long. Paul was behind him in moments, lubed up and ready to go. Jack did his best to relax and welcome him. He felt a couple of lubed fingers pushing inside him without any hesitation and an unwelcome moan escaped his lips. He tensed, thinking that Daniel would punish him for that, but soon found that he wasn't going to, so he relaxed again. Then he felt Paul ready to push in and he pushed himself back, urging Paul to get on with it.

Paul did as Daniel ordered, even though it wasn't what he really wanted that night. Slamming into Jack as hard as he could and as fast as he could, he worked to convince himself he wanted it instead of wanting the opposite. As his hips pistoned, Jack dropped his head and from underneath his arm, he watched Daniel out of the corner of his eye.

Daniel was casually removing his own shorts and...

Jack couldn't believe it. There he was, getting the life fucked out of him and Daniel was cleaning his teeth?

He had to fight down a little chuckle when he saw that. Daniel was either the cruellest bastard on the face of the Earth or he was the coolest. Knowing him better than most, Jack decided on the latter.

Daniel was far from cool, though. As he scrubbed his teeth, he watched Paul fuck Jack in the mirror. He couldn't wait for Paul to finish, because he was so going to take over from him.

A noise from Jack warned Daniel that he was getting close.

"Don't you dare come, Jack," he warned. Putting his toothbrush down, he rinsed his mouth and then wandered back to where Paul was standing. "You, on the other hand," he purred, stroking Paul's back. "You may come now."

Daniel's calm words acted as a trigger for Paul and he let out a strangled roar, being more than aware of Daniel's desire to keep this quiet.

Panting, he pulled out of Jack and then watched as Daniel took his place, and without lube, pushed into Jack's waiting and willing ass.

Jack gasped as he felt Daniel enter him. The extra width of his cock compared to Paul's was immediately noticed. The lack of lube wasn't a problem for him; Paul's come was acting as extra lube and there was still some inside him. But the comparative dryness added to the thrill for Jack - something that Daniel knew only too well. Jack liked to hurt, liked to feel every single movement, especially when he needed to forget.

Daniel didn't let up. He let loose, hammering into Jack with every ounce of strength he had. Jack was getting what he needed; he felt every single thrust, every single pull back. He felt Daniel's fingertips as they grasped his shoulders. Just as with Paul when he was subbing, Jack found the actions sending him into his own mind, helping him ignore the pain in his cock as he did his best to hold back from coming.

Daniel's hands dropped to his hips, his movements seemed to speed up. If it were possible, he seemed to go deeper. Daniel watched Jack's body language intently as he fucked him, waiting until Jack was nearly at the point of no return before letting himself come.

As soon as he did, he pulled out and ordered Paul to his knees. Paul dropped straight away and Daniel turned Jack so that Paul could suck him off.

Jack felt his body enveloped in Daniel's arms, his cock surrounded by Paul's mouth. Daniel's hips moved back and forth gently, pushing Jack to fuck Paul's mouth but not going too deep. Paul responded by bobbing his head, taking more and more of Jack's cock with each dip down.

Jack held out longer than he'd imagined he would, but still couldn't last very long. Daniel knew that he was going to call out, so he quickly lifted his hand and covered Jack's mouth so that he could do it without alerting his - undoubtedly still awake - mother. She didn't need any encouragement to tease them; she'd been doing that all day.

When it was over, Daniel turned Jack in his arms and then kissed him deeply, holding him tightly in his arms. Finally, he broke away, pulled Paul over to them and hugged and kissed him briefly before telling them to finish getting ready. Then he left them alone, and Jack with a wry grin, took off the remains of his boxers and threw them in the bin.

Daniel awoke to the smell of coffee. He was about to thank one of the men when he realised that they were both wrapped in his arms. He opened his eyes warily and saw Mary standing next to the bed with a tray of steaming mugs.

"Thought you would like to get up gently. There's still a lot to do before the party starts," she said matter-of-factly.

"Uh, thanks," he replied, still not quite awake.

The others had their eyes open, too, their military training having them detecting an intruder pretty quickly.

"Ma?" Jack groaned. Daniel was about to let him go but instead, he hugged him closer for a moment.

"You look comfortable together," Mary said with a grin, sitting on the side of the bed.

"Um, we are," Paul replied sleepily.

"Strange. That sort of position isn't usually comfortable," she said, her voice curious, but also there was a note of 'I've guessed something' there, which Daniel picked up on immediately.

"They got used to it for me," he stated. "I find it helps me sleep."

She nodded, then waited for them to sit up, still under the covers, before handing them out the mugs and picking up one of her own. Daniel presumed she wanted to talk without Patrick overhearing.

"Is something wrong?" he asked.

"Wrong? No. Nothing's wrong," she said, that same tone still there.

"So? What's up?" he pushed.

She laughed quietly then put her mug back down on the table and reached over to Daniel's right hand, taking it in hers.

"Nice tattoo," she said casually. "The monogram is beautiful." Their arms had been covered the day before so she couldn't have seen it then - and, Jack realised with relief, neither could Patrick.

"Er, thanks," he said, getting a little nervous.

"And the whip. A strange thing to have," she added with a grin.

Daniel shrugged as well as he could. "Indiana Jones," he said. "It's an old joke between Jack and me."

"Ah. So, what's with the collar on Paul's arm?"

Jack froze. He looked at Daniel and Mary saw an unspoken conversation going on between them, wondering - and not for the first time - at how well they knew each other. When she saw defeat in Jack's body language, she knew she'd be answered.

Daniel looked at Paul who shrugged a bit more enthusiastically, while trying not to spill his coffee.

"I'm Daniel's sub," he said.

Mary raised an eyebrow as if she was trying to fake surprise, but Daniel had already sussed out that she had guessed. He wasn't surprised to hear her say, "Jack? What's on your arm?"

Reluctantly, Jack pulled his right arm from under the cover and showed her, trying to keep his demeanour calm. He was waiting for some sort of negative response, even though he knew her to be one of the kindest people he'd ever met. So he was shocked - and not a little put out - when she harrumphed and said, "Figures," as he showed her his arm.

"Whatd'ya mean?" he demanded.

"You never could make up your mind about anything," she teased.

Crossly, he pulled his arm back and concentrated on drinking his coffee as Daniel and Paul fought back their desire to laugh at him.

"So, how does this work?" she pushed. "If Paul's your sub, who's Jack's?"

"Me," Paul said with a shrug. "When Daniel wants a break, Jack takes over for him."

Again Mary raised an eyebrow, but this time she wasn't faking the surprise.

"Two masters? Isn't that a bit greedy?" she asked with a grin.

"We are not his masters," Daniel snapped. "He's no slave. And neither is Jack. We don't work like that."

She put her hands up in apology. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to get it wrong. In my experience, I have only ever met masters and slaves. I must admit to knowing only a little about your... lifestyle."

"Fair enough," Daniel replied. "What do you want to know?"

Mary picked up her mug again and thought about her response. As her questions formulated in her mind, she found herself drawn to addressing Daniel, even though she knew the others would speak to her directly. Somehow, she knew it was the right thing to do.

So she questioned them about their lives, trying not to probe too deeply but still trying to wrap her head around it all. Each question was answered plainly, yet Daniel's tone was warning her to tread very carefully for Jack's sake. She took the hint and showed no sign of disapprobation towards her son whatsoever, helping him to relax a little.

"Don't worry, son," she finally said. "I understand and I don't find it shocking or anything like that. All I see at the moment is that you're happier than I've ever known you, so whatever it is you're doing, you're doing it right."

He looked up at her and into her eyes, seeing she meant what she said. With a great sense of relief, he smiled back at her and thanked her.

"Uh, Ma," Jack suddenly said as Mary looked like she was about to stand up and go.

"Yes, Jack?"

"Don't tell Pat, please. I don't think he could deal with this."

She shook her head. "I won't. I agree. He's dealing with enough at the moment as it is. However, you must prepare yourself for the fact that he might guess, especially when he meets your friends later in the day."

Jack nodded sadly, afraid of upsetting the status quo with his brother.

"I don't think it will be so bad," Daniel soothed. "When I invited our friends, I specifically asked them not to mention our particular lifestyle for Paul's sake. Um, you know, because of his workmates. I think they're going to have enough to deal with when they discover that the three of us are together without adding to the pot. Some will undoubtedly guess, others may not. It really all depends on how aware they are of different scenes, I think. If you don't look for something, you don't necessarily see it."

Jack relaxed a little at that, remembering Daniel's conversations with their friends. In trying to protect Paul, he had inadvertently protected Jack. He gave his lovers a small smile and then returned to concentrating on his coffee in an attempt to put the coming day out of his mind.

"So, Daniel, you seem to know Paine's works well," Pat said over breakfast as he and Daniel continued the previous day's conversation.

Daniel nodded. "I read the Age of Reason when I was quite young. I found it fascinating. Like I said yesterday, I didn't agree with everything he said but a lot of what he wrote made a lot of sense to me."

"I've never read it," Pat said thoughtfully. "Perhaps I should."

Daniel shrugged. "It wouldn't hurt," he agreed. "Paine gives extremely well-thought-out logical arguments against religions - all religions - but he wasn't an atheist, he believed in the existence of God just not the authority of the Church. What could help you would be if you could find some rebuttal of his arguments. If you could refute the logic, it could strengthen your own arguments in favour of the Church."

Pat screwed up his face. "Why would you encourage me to think like that?"

"I told you, I'm not against religion or faith. In the right hands, it can be a good thing, bringing great comfort to those who believe. I grew up in Egypt initially and my ayah, uh, nanny, was a devout Muslim. She believed wholeheartedly and was a good and kind woman who felt that treating others with respect and being hospitable and charitable, even though she wasn't wealthy herself, was the right thing to do. After living with various foster families, some better than others, I was taken in by a family of devout Jews. I only knew kindness and unconditional love from them. When we worked together," he pointed to the other men, "our General was an earnest Christian. George was one of the fairest, most decent men I've ever met."

He looked to the others for confirmation and got it enthusiastically.

"Absolutely," Jack said. "He was one of the best COs I ever had. He wouldn't allow any of his people, officers or men, to bully their subordinates, or treat anyone with disrespect. When we came into contact with native peoples, we were under orders to respect their ways. Any prisoners that were taken were treated kindly, not just to the minimum required by law but very humanely. He wasn't a walkover," he added with a grin. "He was tough, demanded respect and good behaviour, but because he was a man that did as he expected others to do, he got what he asked for without question."

"Sounds like a good man," Patrick mused.

"He is," Daniel agreed. "So you see, I only have the utmost respect for people who genuinely live by their faith. If you use your faith as your reason to live a good life, then I will support you, whoever you are, totally. I happen to believe that the vast majority of people who do that, though, would be good without their respective faiths, but if it encourages charity and general peace, then I'm happy.

"What really pisses me off is the extremist side of things. Whether it's political, using the religion as an excuse for war or violence, or 'religious', and I say that in the loosest possible way, where someone uses a religion - whatever religion it is - as an excuse to persecute others, such as with the Spanish Inquisition or the pogroms in Eastern Europe and Russia, or any of the many, many similar acts throughout the world. A mini holocaust happened in Spain, one which people seem to forget. Jews were forcibly converted or burned at the stake if they didn't leave their homes. Conversos, those that converted, weren't trusted and at the word of a single friar, Torquemada, they were murdered! The irony of that was that Torquemada's heritage was Jewish, too. And that's something we see a lot of with homophobia. Men who deny their sexuality strike back, often using religion to 'prove' that they are right, usually because they can't face what they are. If they didn't have someone in authority telling them that homosexuality is 'wrong' in the first place, the chances would be they'd probably accept who they really are a lot more easily and wouldn't strike out at others like them. There would be less violence, fewer 'excuses' for it. This crazy 'denying who you are because someone in authority tells you it's wrong to be what you are' has been seen in many societies and cultures. It's even happened that light-skinned black people have denied their heritage and persecuted their own people because of the racism they encountered in their daily lives," he sighed, shaking his head sadly.

"Unfortunately, organised religion is one of the 'authorities' that encourages the possibility of that sort of extremism starting. All you need is someone of that nature in whatever church it is, to rise to the top, and you're in trouble. Look at how the Crusades started and the disasters they caused, and are still causing after hundreds of years."

Patrick started to counter some of Daniel's points, agreeing with them in principle but pointing out the many good works that had only been done because a religion had been organised. Daniel again countered with the fanatics, using cults to illustrate his point, telling Pat that there seemed to be an upsurge in the numbers of so-called Christian cults with political agendas.

Jack, Paul and Mary looked on in both awe and amusement as Daniel and Patrick debated theology, wondering if at some point they'd come to blows. The debate seemed to heat up from time to time but was also tempered with lots of good humour. As they talked, the others picked up the finished breakfast dishes and generally cleaned up, then left them to it, thinking that they'd stop when they'd had enough.

"I'd better light the barbecue soon," Jack sighed. "You know how it goes, if you don't start early, it takes twice as long as you'd expect."

"Do you want any help?" Paul asked.

"Nah. You take it easy. When your pals come, you're going to be really busy," Jack teased.

Paul poked his tongue out and sat on the sofa, suddenly becoming aware of the fact that he was alone with Mary. He would rather be naked and alone in the playroom, attached to one or other of Daniel's devices. He offered her a nervous smile and waited for her to speak.

"You don't say much, do you?" she said thoughtfully.

He shrugged. "The others usually say what I'm thinking," he replied. "I speak when I have something to say."

"Do they listen?"

"All the time," he said nodding enthusiastically. "If you're worried about... " He nodded towards the kitchen where the debate was still raging. She nodded back, getting his meaning straight away. "Absolutely not." He smiled wickedly. "Believe me, Mary, I'm not put upon, and neither is Jack. Daniel lives to take care of us. Just because we live our lives differently to others doesn't mean that love isn't the basis of our relationship."

"Oh, I get that, sweetheart, I really do. It's plainly obvious. I think I'm going to need to do some research on the subject."

Paul shrugged. "That might help," he agreed. "But don't think that what you read will necessarily relate to us. Or any of our friends, for that matter. None of us are particularly stereotypical."

She laughed. "I am not surprised by that. Besides, nothing Jack has ever done has been average."

Paul laughed out loud in reply. Then he got a wicked thought.

"Do you know what he's doing for a living now?"

"His pottery," she nodded.

"Do you know what he makes?"

"Well, I had my tea in one of his beautiful cups yesterday," she replied.

Paul sniggered. "Come on. I'll take you to his workshop and show you what's in his display cabinet."

Mary was out of her chair as quickly as she could move, quite unaware that while Paul may well be the quietest of the three, he was the one with the most wicked sense of humour.

Jack was ready to kill Paul. His mother hadn't stopped teasing him about his work. And even though she wasn't in the slightest bit shocked by what she'd seen, she'd ribbed him mercilessly as if she had been. Unfortunately for Jack, Daniel and Patrick had stopped their debate and Daniel was now sticking up for Paul. Not to mention that their first guest had arrived in a cab and Paul was greeting her enthusiastically.

"Alice! Thanks for coming," he called out, walking towards her quickly. "And for coming first. I was really hoping you'd be early."

"It's my pleasure. Besides, this way I get you to myself for a while." She got out of the cab and watched it pull away, Paul using a remote control to shut the gate behind it as soon as it was on the road.

"Are you going to introduce me?" she asked as the rest of the family surrounded him.

"Of course. Alice, this is Daniel, this is Jack," he said first pointing to the guys, then he added, "and this is Mary, Jack's mom, and Patrick..."

"Jack's brother?" she put in. "Just guessing, of course."

The others caught on to why Paul liked her so much straight away. She plainly had a good sense of humour and was quick-witted with it.

They ushered her inside and started to chat, going over what was planned for the party.

After a while, Paul took her outside and showed her around the property so that they could have a chance to chat. Paul informed her of what had happened over the past twenty-four hours so that she wouldn't drop Jack in it with his brother.

"You said they were gorgeous," she sighed after a while. "But you didn't say how gorgeous. Is Patrick free? Because he's as hot as his brother."

Paul burst out laughing. "Oh, he's single," he agreed. "Unfortunately for you, he's a priest."

"Dammit. There's another one to add to the list."

"What do you mean?"

"The best ones are either married or gay, as they say. Now I can add, or celibate. Sheesh."

"Um, Daniel?"

Daniel stopped walking to the bedroom and turned around to face Patrick.

"Hey, what's up?"

"Look, I was wondering," Pat started, then he stopped, looking unsure of what he was going to say next.

"Pat, out with it," Daniel encouraged, his voice more gentle than his words. He could see that something was bothering him and wondered what it was this time.

Pat looked up and shrugged. "Would you mind if I didn't stay for the party?"

"Of course not, but if you don't mind me asking, why?"

Pat shrugged again. "I'm just not really in the mood for a party," he sighed. "I wouldn't exactly be the life and soul of it if I stayed."

"Nobody's expecting you to be," Daniel replied. "But if you really don't want to stay for it, then that's fine. I understand. Sometimes I don't feel like I'm much of a party animal myself." He thought for a moment and then asked, "Where will you go?"

"I don't really know. I thought I might go into town. You know, have a proper day off," he added with a grin. "Do the tourist thing."

"Sounds like a great idea. Do you want me to call a cab for you or would you prefer to borrow one of our cars?"

Pat shrugged again. He hadn't thought that far ahead.

"Tell you what, would using Jack's truck be okay?"

"He'd be okay about that?" Pat asked in surprise.

"Probably not," Daniel laughed, "but you can leave him to me. He'll be fine," he said, smiling back at Pat in a reassuring way.

"Then thank you. What time will the party finish?"

"We've got cabs booked for about six this afternoon. It's not going to be a night-long party, just a daytime barbecue thing."

"I'll be back in the early evening then."

Daniel led him into the kitchen where he got the truck's keys.

"Go on," he said as he handed them over. "Before Jack looks."

"I just want to get my collar on," Pat said taking the keys.

"Why? I thought you wanted a day off."

Pat looked at him with almost pained eyes.

"I don't feel safe without it," he finally said. "It offers me great comfort."

Daniel smiled warmly. "Believe it or not, I understand that better than you could possibly imagine." At Pat's quizzical look, he added, "Jack and Paul with their Air Force uniforms. It gave them something to hide behind, I guess." He didn't mention the correlation with their own collars, naturally.

Thanking him again, Pat made good his escape.

"The truck?" Jack squeaked, making Daniel laugh.

"Jack, he wouldn't have felt comfortable taking my car or Paul's, you know that."

Jack muttered something about simple priests who wouldn't appreciate the Lexus Paul drove or Daniel's sporty MG. Underneath, though, he knew that Daniel was right. Borrowing his brother's truck would rest a lot easier with Patrick.

"You could have asked," he said.

"Would you have said 'no'?"

"Well, no," he admitted.

Daniel patted the bed. He'd finally made it into the bedroom to get changed and had taken Jack in there with him. Jack dutifully sat and waited for Daniel to speak.

"I think he was kind of desperate to get away," he said. "I could see it in his eyes, Jack. The last thing he needed was to even have a joking argument with you. Yes, I should have asked, and I apologise for not doing so, but I did what I thought was the right thing at the time."

"I know you did," Jack soothed. "And I'm not really annoyed." He looked into Daniel's eyes and saw him smiling gently at him, but something still worried at him like a terrier with a bone. "Why didn't he want to stay? Is he freaking out about me again?"

Daniel shrugged. "A little, I guess. Not in the way you think, though."

"Oh? What do you mean?"

Taking a deep breath, Daniel formulated his thoughts, then he let it out before speaking again.

"Pat's whole image of you has changed overnight," he said. "All your life, he's seen you in one particular way. The only image he had of you up till he arrived here yesterday was of a once married straight man, a father, who'd spent years in the Air Force. Undoubtedly even hearing that you'd become an artist when you'd retired had been a shock to him - a more gentle one, admittedly, but still a shock because it was so different. I think that finding out you were gay was not the surprise you think it was. Yes, there was the religious problem, but having spoken to him, I am convinced that even without you being in a relationship, he would have accepted that because he really doesn't want to be phobic - it doesn't sit right with his personality. It's purely the image change that he's having difficulty with."

Jack thought for a while then said apologetically, "I don't really get what you're saying."

"Okay, how about turning this on its head? You see Pat as what? A gentle man?"

"Yes. Absolutely."

"A devoutly religious man?"

"Yes," Jack agreed.

"Kind? Caring? Good?"

"I'd say that nails him."

"Right. What if you suddenly discovered that underneath it all, he wanted to be something other than a priest? Maybe after only ten years as a priest, he'd left the priesthood and become a boxer? How would you have reacted to that?"

Jack looked at Daniel with his eyes wide open in surprise.

"It wouldn't be right. That's not Pat at all."

"How do you know?" Daniel asked. "How do you know that it's not what he dreamed of?"

Jack didn't know how to answer. He shook his head dumbly.

"It would be a complete image change for you, wouldn't it? You wouldn't know how to look at him. The image that you'd grown up with over the years would suddenly be different from the image he was projecting."

This time Jack nodded.

"This is what's happened to Patrick, Jack. It's not the fact that you're living with two men that's thrown him, it's not really the fact that you're gay. It's that the Jack he thought he knew turns out to be a different Jack. He'd have been just as shocked if you'd left the Air Force to become a monk or a priest. Your mother wasn't surprised because she already knew about your sexuality, had in fact had known for many years. She was just as surprised that you'd married as Pat was to discover us in your life. You'd turned her image of you on its head."

"Okay, I think I can get that. So, he just needs time?" he asked hopefully.

"I think so. I think he needs to get away, wrap his head around it and he'll accept it wholeheartedly. It would have helped if he wasn't going through his personal turmoil," Daniel sighed sadly. "You should have seen his face when he told me, Jack. There was so much pain in his eyes. It is so against his nature to react negatively to anyone. Being pushed to confront those men tore him up inside."

"I can imagine," Jack murmured. "When he was a teen, he was a bit of a tearaway, as Ma told you. But he was never bad. He got into fights - gang on gang shit - but he never stole things or vandalised things or picked on someone weaker or picked on someone because they were different. He got into trouble with his own gang because of that," he laughed hollowly. "It was an Irish gang, you know the way it goes in big towns," he added, looking at Daniel.

"I grew up in the Bronx," Daniel shrugged.

"Yeah. You know what it's like. Anyway, there was an Italian gang in the next block. Now, Pat would get into fights with individuals if he was on his own, or the gang if he was with the gang, but one day they saw one of the Italians on his own and his gang were about to attack him. Pat stopped them. He said it wouldn't be fair. They were calling this boy racial names but Pat ordered them to stop it. He couldn't bear the thought of picking on this kid - who was no angel himself, by the way - just because he was Italian. He 'got' gang fights. He got the turf wars. He just didn't get the hatred that went with it. It wasn't long after that that he started to think about the priesthood," Jack finished.

"I can imagine that," Daniel replied. "Getting into gangs is too easy for kids. Getting out of them in one piece is much more difficult. It's a testament to his character that he managed it. It also reflects in how he is now. It's easy for him to be in the 'gang', if you can see the church like that."

"I must admit I'd never seen the church as a gang."

"It's a subculture. Admittedly a huge one, but it's one nonetheless. It has specific beliefs, a specific hierarchy, rules - a uniform for certain members such as the priests, monks and nuns. You can't belong to it without going through certain initiation ceremonies..." He shrugged. "It's an anthropologist thing," he said with a grin. "We see virtually everyone in similar terms. There's no real difference between the gang culture, the church and the military except for the basic doctrines which rule each organisation. There's no difference between them and us as we are now. We have a structure, a perceived hierarchy..." He stood up, opened up the drawer in the top of the chest and picked up one of the collars. "A uniform," he said, smiling. "It's a typical subculture."

Jack laughed. "You are too weird for words," he teased. "You see so much in things that the rest of us never do."

"It's my job, Jack. Anyway, are you okay now? Still freaking out?"

Jack wondered how Daniel knew he'd been silently freaking when he'd heard Pat had gone but then he realised that Daniel always knew shit like that. Besides, he had a little 'turning on the head' of his own to do.

Daniel had his hand on the door handle and was ready to leave but he was waiting for Jack to reply first.

"I'm fine," he said, smiling to underline it. As Daniel opened the door, he asked, "What about you?"

Daniel froze.


"Aw come on, Daniel. I saw your leg. I thought you said you wouldn't hide it."

Daniel shook his head. "It wasn't that, Jack. I wasn't hiding it. I'd forgotten about it, honestly. It was just your mother called, you guys were out, I..."

Jack was on his feet in seconds. He heard Daniel's words tumble out of him and felt bad for mentioning it.

"Hey, it's okay. You had your own freak time didn't you?" he asked gently.

"Yeah. But it was over quickly. I'd been prepared for her to come today. I was looking forward to it. And when she called to say she was bringing Pat and you weren't here... I panicked," he said, looking embarrassed. "I needed control and fast and a quick cut was the easiest way."

"Daniel, it's fine. I'd have been annoyed if you'd done it when we were here and hid it, but if you say it was when you were on your own then I understand."

"If you'd been here I probably wouldn't have done it," Daniel whispered, then he froze again. "Sorry, that sounds accusatory. It wasn't."

"I know. I get it. Come on, they'll be wondering what we're up to."

He put his hand on the door and pulled it open. His heart nearly stopped when he saw his mother standing on the other side of it looking shocked. She quickly regained her own composure as the men fought to get theirs back.

"There you are!" she said. "Paul asked where you were. Some of his friends have come."

"We're just on our way," Jack said, though he looked at Daniel as he said it.

Daniel's eyes gave nothing away. He'd got his mask up again, ready to ignore any looks of curiosity.

"Where is he?" he asked.

"Near the barbecue, I think."

"Thanks. I'll just go..." He waved his hand in Paul's direction and made his way out of the awkward situation.

Jack looked at her.

"Not now, Ma," he said firmly.

"Jack, I'm not going to interfere."

"I know. But you're not to say anything, either."

He could see the need in her eyes to help Daniel, but he also knew it would be a mistake to try.

"Ma, it's been going on for years. He's got it under control. There's nothing you can do. If you mention it, if you try to 'help', you'll end up freaking him out. Trust me on this one. The only people he can talk to about it without reacting badly are Paul and me. If he mentions it to you of his own accord, then fine. But it's for him to talk, not for you to ask, okay?"

She nodded.

"If you're sure, sweetheart. But you have to know I'll do what I can to help."

"I know. Just do as I ask and you will help, I promise."

Patrick parked the truck, got out, locked it and then stood looking around him in confusion. If he was honest with himself, he couldn't have said how he'd got where he was.

Much as he didn't know that Daniel had figured him out, he was trying to wrap his head around his new-found knowledge about his younger brother. Strolling away from the truck, he remembered to memorise where he'd parked it before wandering off and tried to figure it out.

He couldn't believe what had happened. Since when...? He shook his head. He knew the numbers, he knew the dates... he just couldn't understand that the Jack he thought he knew had never existed. Part of him was angry that Jack had never told him before, but the rest of him sympathised. Something Jack had said the day before explained it.

Jack had never expected to get together with Daniel - let alone Paul. After being divorced by Sara, he hadn't expected to get together with anyone ever again. Jack hadn't said anything about his sexuality when he'd been a teenager because their father had been alive. Their dad had been a good man, a great dad, but he was terribly old-fashioned and he wouldn't have dealt with the knowledge very well. It wasn't as if he'd been spiteful or anti-gay specifically. If he'd had a victim to deal with who'd been gay, he'd have dealt with him or her as he'd dealt with everyone, trying to solve whatever crime had been committed. But his own son? That would have been a step too far and both Jack and Patrick knew it. Maybe he'd have accepted it in the end, but the risk had been too great. So Jack hadn't said anything, had met Sara and married... when would he have said it? How could he have told his priest brother? Pat understood; he couldn't until he had to.

He sighed, mentally shrugged and decided to walk. Where, he didn't know, but he was going to walk.

Paul's stomach was fluttering with both excitement and nerves. His friends were all there, gathered around in bunches as people tended to in parties and he was flitting from one group to another, making sure they were all happy. Their other friends had arrived, too, and at that moment, Daniel was taking care of them while Jack held court at the barbecue as he was wont to do. So far, his relationship with the men hadn't been apparent to anyone that didn't know them, but he knew it was only a matter of time. That was reinforced when Daniel wandered over to Jack and started teasing him.

Paul couldn't help it, he stopped talking to his friends and watched as Jack was obviously trying not to laugh and Daniel worked harder at making him do so. Mark and his wife Frances were with them, egging Daniel on. Eve and her slave Philip strolled over to them. None of Paul's workmates would guess that both women were mistresses, they were in 'mufti' at Daniel's request. Watching them, Paul guessed that the women were actually relieved to be 'off-duty' at that moment and he wondered if Daniel felt the same way. It was hard to guess with him sometimes. Daniel's desperate need to be in control all of the time sometimes overwhelmed him to the point where despite his conscious desire for control, he had an unconscious desire to let go. Knowing when that point had arrived was something Paul wasn't always sure of and neither was Jack. It was a fine line they trod daily.

However, Daniel seemed to be happy for now, so Paul relaxed a little. When Daniel said something that finally made Jack burst out laughing, causing Jack to drop the tongs onto the side table and turn around and grab him, drawing him in for a deep kiss, he started to chuckle.


He reluctantly turned away and looked at Oliver who had spoken.

"Oliver? What's up?"

"I was about to ask you that. You seem to be miles away."

"Oh, just looking at something. Can I get you a drink?" he asked, trying to change the subject.

"No thanks, I'm fine," came the reply. "By the way, this is a big place. Do you live here alone?"

Here it comes, Paul thought. Am I ready for this? A loud bark of laughter came from Jack and it was soon joined by the less familiar laugh of Daniel and he realised he was more than ready.

"No, I don't. Hang on."

He turned away and waved at the men. Jack indicated that he'd be over in a moment, he had to turn the steaks again, but Daniel was at his side within seconds.

Smiling broadly, Paul wrapped his arms around Daniel's waist.

"Dan, this is Oliver," he started, then introduced the others in the group. "Angelo, Rachel, Katrina, Juan and Chris."

Then he said to the group, "This is Daniel."

His smile told them everything they needed to know.

Oliver, however, had a sly look on his face.

"You're together?" he asked in mock-disbelief.

"Absolutely. This is our sixth anniversary," Paul replied proudly.

Daniel picked up on Oliver's undertone and waited for the next comments to backfire. He stood behind Paul and wrapped his arms around his waist and rested his head on Paul's shoulder, kissing his ear in comfort and smiling at his friends. The group said 'hello' to him, some of them surprised that Paul's partner was male, others surprised that he had a partner at all. They'd had no clue as to his personal life whatsoever up till that point.

"It's strange," Oliver suddenly said.

"Strange? What's strange?" Paul asked.

"You've been together so long and yet you have an open relationship."

"We don't have an open relationship," Paul stated firmly, tilting his head so that he was facing Daniel. He saw a slight wink from Daniel and gave one back.

"Oh? So you don't know he's cheating on you?"

Oliver's voice was a bit of a conundrum to Paul. He couldn't tell if he was being nasty for the sake of it or was genuinely trying to point something out to a friend. Whatever, it didn't matter.

He sighed, turned in Daniel's arms and teased, "Oh Daniel, you haven't been chasing the women again, have you?"

"Who me?" Daniel asked in 'surprise'. "Never." Then he winked at Paul again and without turning his head, he called, "Jack! Come here, please!"

Jack heard the call, guessed what was likely going on and reluctantly turned the control of the barbecue over to his mother and the gang of friends. Despairing that it would get cooked properly, he made his way over to the guys.

Paul let go of Daniel's body with one hand and took Jack's nearest in it, pulling him close.

With a straight face - one honed over years of practice - he called out his friends names again and then said, "Meet Jack. It's our anniversary, too. Our fourth."

He had to fight down a laugh as his friends' faces dropped in disbelief. Instead, he made the most of being taken into both Daniel's and Jack's arms and being held as close as possible.

"The three of you?" Juan squealed. "Oh man, you are such a dark horse."

"You don't know the half of it," Jack growled. Then he took Paul away from Daniel for a moment, hugged him, kissed him, then let him go. He dropped a kiss on Daniel's nose then excused himself. "Gotta get back to the barbecue," he said dramatically. "I just know it's gonna get burned otherwise."

He left Paul's friends still standing in shock and tried not to laugh his ass off.

Patrick had no idea where he was. He'd walked and thought for a couple of hours and was starting to feel a little hungry. As he thought that, his nose picked up the scent of coffee and his eyes trawled the street until he saw a café. It only took a minute to reach and soon he was sitting just inside it, in a window seat with a coffee in his hand and a sandwich on a plate in front of him. He ate and drank distractedly, staring at the people who were wandering up and down the road.

Finally paying attention to his surroundings, he realised he'd walked into the Castro area and couldn't help but smile wryly. All his life he'd been told by the church that homosexuality was wrong, divisive, bad for the family... And yet he saw smiling faces, sad faces, single people, couples, families... Apart from the increase in same-sex couples compared to an average city street, it looked pretty much the same.

A pair of men, in their late thirties Pat guessed, sat at one of the outside tables. The one had been pushing a buggy and he locked it securely and left the other to care for it while he entered the café to get some things. The other removed another baby from his chest, leaving the baby in the sling but bouncing it on his knee. The kids looked happy, the one in the buggy, a kid of about three, was blowing bubbles and even over the noise of the street and the café, Patrick heard the baby cooing and the man who was bouncing him - his father, Pat supposed - was laughing sweetly at him just as any other dad would. Okay, he realised, he had no idea what these people were like at home with their kids, but then, he knew that he was in the same position with all families. The kids were clean, well dressed, looked happy and cared for... surely that was what a family was all about? That and nothing else. Did it matter that there were two dads and no apparent moms?

He knew for a fact that there were plenty of bad heterosexual families out there, knew better than most from the children who'd been brought home by his own mother when he was a child himself. He'd learned then that for a child, the right things were love, security, stability and parents - or a single parent - who would do their damnedest to give their kid the best start in life. Money had nothing to do with it, things had nothing to do with it. Love had everything to do with it. The bouncing baby started to giggle in that delightful baby way and his father looked at him with so much love - and so damned proudly - that Pat couldn't help but smile the broadest smile he'd had in months.

The sight took him back to Charlie as a baby and his other niece and nephew, his sister's children. He remembered how Jack and his brother-in-law Reuben would look in the same way at their kids, so proud of their offspring that he thought they'd burst like one of the bubbles that were still popping up from the buggy.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the other dad struggling with a big tray full of the things he'd bought and looked up.

"Do you want some help?" he asked.

The man smiled. "I'm nearly there, thanks." Then he rolled his eyes. "Kids, eh? They're such a handful, even when they're so small."

Pat laughed sympathetically. "I remember my brother and sister saying the same thing about theirs. And then the kids grow up so fast..." He nearly added 'if you're lucky', but couldn't bring himself to dampen the man's smile. "Make the most of them," he settled on. "This is one of the best times of your life. When they grow up and leave the nest, you'll wonder where the time went."

"Oh yeah. I feel that with Sean, our eldest. He's three already and it only seems like yesterday we were bringing him home from the hospital. And yet he's already got a social life more active than mine! We're having to check out the schools now to make sure he gets into a good one." He sighed as he said that, still smiling.

"But it's worth it?" Pat prompted.

"Hell yeah. It's worth everything."

"I wish you all well. They're fine children."

The man smiled again and thanked him, then motioned that he'd better get out there before all hell broke loose.

Pat chuckled to himself and watched as the man put the tray on the table and picked the older child up, trying to bribe him with some carrot sticks to put down his bubbles. He wasn't succeeding.

Paul was feeling a little overwhelmed and quite hot; though that, he thought, was probably a reaction to the food and drink he'd been consuming in large quantities.

His friends, for the most part, had teased him gently about having two partners, but it had all been as he'd expected, good-natured teasing, filled with pleasure for him at being so happy. Oliver, on the other hand, was being a bit of an enigma and he wondered how things would change when they returned to work.

Oliver wasn't being bitchy, which kind of worried Paul. He usually bitched his way through the day. It was as if he was deliberately holding back. Paul knew that thinking about this wasn't going to solve it, so he decided on the more direct approach.

"Oliver, may I speak to you for a moment?" he asked, putting his hand firmly on the man's arm and leading him away from the crowd.

"Sure," came the slightly nervous reply. "What's up?"

"I was about to ask you the same thing," Paul stated bluntly. He stopped walking and turned to look into the other man's eyes, a tactic which seemed to freeze him in his tracks. "Do you have a problem with me?" he asked, trying to sound casual.

"Problem? Why would I have one of those?" His voice was filled with bluster and Paul knew he'd already hit the nail on the head.

"I don't know," Paul replied dryly. "Why would you?"

Oliver said nothing but Paul could see that he was thinking.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he said, trying to sound hurt.

"Oh puh-lease," Paul drawled, his tone suddenly changing. From blunt to cat-like, he added to it by padding around Oliver and looking him up and down as if he were prey. "You seem to forget something, Oliver. I was trained to read the opposition. Body language is as natural to me as English. I learned to hear what wasn't being said as much as what was. To guess what was going to happen even when nothing was happening. I learned to threat assess. A neat trick, especially when you're face-to-face with death."

He heard a hitch in Oliver's breath.

"You didn't know I've faced death, did you? Well, I have. On many occasions. So as you could imagine, being faced with anything less than that doesn't really impress me. Look around you," he ordered, waving his hand. Oliver did as he was told yet he had no idea what he was looking at. "See all of this?" he asked, getting a nod in reply. "It's mine. Mine and the guys'. We didn't get here by rolling over when someone started up on us, we got here by fighting against the odds, defeating prejudice. We've all faced things you couldn't begin to imagine. And we'll fight to the death to keep it. But more than that, more than this place, we'll kill to keep our relationship intact."

Oliver was getting more and more confused. What was Paul talking about?

"See the people here?"

He nodded again, unwilling to speak.

"They're my friends. They, too, will fight on my side. So, if you're thinking of starting something when we return to work, believe me, you will lose. No matter what you say, no matter how much trouble you try to stir, I. Will. Win."

Oliver was about to open his mouth to say, "But I wasn't...", when Paul turned on his heel and walked off. He ran Paul's words through his mind and determined to keep his mouth shut.

Paul had definitely realised that something had been going on in Oliver's head, but he'd misread one thing. Oliver hadn't wanted to hurt him. But he had been incredibly jealous of him. No matter that every Monday was filled with Oliver's tales of who he'd picked up on the weekend, what 'gorgeous' guy had succumbed to his charms, he craved a relationship but never managed to hold onto one. When he'd arrived at Paul's house, initially he'd been impressed by it, but then he'd always known that Paul was wealthy, so he'd dismissed it. But when he'd seen Daniel, who was looking as good as he'd ever looked in Paul's not so humble opinion, and realised that Paul had a relationship, too... Jealousy had flared. Jack's arrival on the scene had just added to that.

How could he do it? Paul was one lucky son of a bitch. Money, a home to die for and two men in a stable long-term relationship with him.

Part of Oliver wanted to wish him luck. The rest hated him with impunity.

Knowing he wasn't going to solve anything and now, fearing Paul and his friends, he gave up and went to find his landlady and confidante, Alice. She'd sort him out, he knew.

Daniel had spent the day watching Paul, mostly surreptitiously but every so often, he'd make it obvious, giving Paul a look that warned him he was going to get fucked hard later that evening. Paul was grateful that he had put his rings on in the morning as otherwise, he'd have been fighting an erection all day.

Jack had had fun, enjoying being in charge of the barbecue and directing operations as if he were back in the Air Force. Paul had teased him, saluting him every so often, calling him 'sir'... The friends that knew them best had spent most of the day laughing at their interaction.

As the afternoon had gone on and heated up, Paul had taken the chance and removed his shirt. That had had the expected result, his workmates surprised yet again to see that underneath it, he was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt which left nothing to the imagination. His body jewellery was plain through it and his tattoo came in for some close inspection. Paul had noticed that Oliver had seen the collar on his arm and figured that he had guessed what it meant, but not long after, Paul had had the opportunity to flex his muscles and Oliver had got the message. Paul was Daniel's sub, he was not a doormat, and woe betide anyone who mistook the one for the other. Paul also figured that his other friends had probably not guessed at the meaning, although they were impressed by the monogram, the one thing that really meant the most to him, too.

After the food had been eaten and Jack had been able to leave the barbecue, they retired to the grass near the pool, chatting and drinking, Paul safely wrapped in Jack's arms most of the time, Daniel lying behind Jack and holding both men as best he could.

Paul's work friends took the opportunity to question him about his life and to find out a few things that they hadn't known. Some hadn't even known that he'd been in the Air Force, so finding out he'd been a major was quite a shock to them. One thing was plainly obvious to both Paul and his lovers, and that was that his friends were happy for him. Only Oliver was staying quiet, but any remaining apparent hostility had either disappeared or calmed. Paul had made sure that he heard about a few of the troubles they'd been through to get what they had, including Jack's injuries and having to hide out. If nothing else, it would show Oliver that the good life hadn't been handed to them on a plate. Perhaps that would temper his jealousy.

Paul could only hope.

Pat entered the small chapel he'd found with trepidation. He'd wandered around, leaving the one district, entering another and ending up not knowing where he was. Looking for a few minutes' sanctuary, he guessed a church or a chapel would give him that.

When he entered it, however, he was surprised to see a service of some sort going on. Not being a man to reject other denominations, or even religions, he decided to stay, slipping into the pew at the back. In the past he had attended a synagogue and a mosque at the invitation of each place's leader. He'd attended Communion in the local Anglican church, too. He and his fellow religious leaders in his area worked deliberately like that to encourage ecumenical harmony. So a visit to a non-aligned chapel was nothing out of the ordinary for him.

He listened to the pastor, a man who seemed to speak from the heart and with great passion. Before long he found himself caught up in the rhetoric. A bit of an evangelist himself, he appreciated the man's commitment and hung onto his every word.

The words entered his head, the passion entered his heart. Unfortunately, the context was lost. Each word became an individual rather than part of a sentence or phrase. The fact that the man was preaching seemed to be more important than what he was preaching. Pat missed a few important points as he tried to work out what was being said. He'd forgotten that a clever orator was no more than a magician, using words and tone of voice in place of smoke and mirrors. Whether someone was preaching religion or politics, the best - or rather, the most effective speakers were the ones that could command an audience. Without their abilities in oratory, for example, Hitler and his contemporaries may have had a much harder time gaining acceptance for policies which would otherwise usually have been looked at more critically. He also forgot that some people faked their real beliefs and used religion as a means to preach politics, often of the extreme variety. All of Daniel's warnings about people like the man in front of him were forgotten as he got caught up in the atmosphere, the 'hallelujahs', the clapping...

"Phew!" Jack exclaimed as the last cab left the drive. "That was fun, but it was a long day."

The others agreed with him and Daniel shooed him into the house.

"Go, lie down, Jack. Get off your legs for a while. We'll bring everything in. You, too, Mary. You've been running around all day. Shoo!"

He waved his hands and nearly bullied the O'Neills into entering the house. They went in, protesting that they were all right, but neither of them wanting to incur Daniel's wrath.

Daniel took a moment to hug Paul close.

"You okay? I saw you having words with that guy, uh, Oliver."

"He'll be fine," Paul replied, loving being held and hugging Daniel back. "I think I've scared him off starting anything."

"He was jealous of you," Daniel observed.

Paul shrugged. "What do you expect? He took one look at you, then at Jack, of course he was jealous of me!"

Daniel laughed. "Maybe," he conceded. "But watch your back."

"Promise. I have my eyes open, hun. And you saw how the others were. They're happy for me. For us."

"Yeah, they're a great bunch. I'm glad to have met them at last."

He looked around the garden and sighed.

"Pity they're such a messy bunch. Come on, let's get this lot cleared up."

Thanking the heavens that they'd bought a ton of disposable plates, cutlery and cups, they picked up some bin bags and started to clean up the garden.

"Tired?" Jack asked as his mother collapsed into the armchair.

She looked at him in a 'what do you think?' way.

"I'm getting old," she finally admitted. "Dammit."

He laughed. "Tell me about it. Sometimes those two run me ragged. Don't know where they get their energy from."

She laughed back at him, then more seriously asked, "Is that a problem for you, Jack?"

"In what way?"

"Well..." She paused, unsure how to phrase the next thing tactfully. "They are a fair bit younger than you. Do you worry that they'll lose interest or...?"

He shook his head before she could finish.

"I used to. Not anymore. We need each other, Ma. In ways I can't explain. Not because it's a secret but because I just don't know how to. They need me as much as I need them." He screwed his face up. "That came out wrong. We love each other, it's not just a need. It's more than that. It's..." He stood up and walked around, running his hands through his hair. Finally he stopped. "Would you think I was odd if I said it was a physical thing? And I don't mean sex or that sort of physical thing, but here." He pointed to his heart. "I feel it like it is a block living there. They do, too."

She didn't answer but her face encouraged him to talk.

"I loved Sara. I mean, when we met, she made my stomach flip, my heart seemed to flutter. She could turn and smile at me and I'd end up grinning like a moron. That's all it took! But if one of those guys smiles at me like that, it's even more. If one of them is down, or hurting, it's like a hand has grasped my heart and it's being squeezed. It physically hurts me! I know it's the same for them." He ducked his head down, then half-looked up. "Crazy, eh?"

She shook her head.

"No, son, not in the slightest. Lucky, but not crazy."

He smiled back, relieved that she got it.

"We'll always be like this. For Daniel and me, we always were, we just didn't know it. When I'd see him hurt on a mission, it was like I was being torn apart. I've found out since, it was as bad for him."

"What about for Paul? How was he when Daniel was away?"

"It was even tougher for him in a way. At least I was with Daniel most of the time. Paul had to make do with second-hand reports. When he heard that Daniel was hurt and he was stuck in DC, unable to get to him, unable to speak to him until Daniel was released from the infirmary, it used to drive him insane with worry. When I joined them, it made it slightly easier. I'd be able to pick up the phone and call him, to reassure him. And fortunately, we were only there a few months after I joined them, so that didn't happen much. I just wish I'd known about them beforehand so I could have called him personally."

"Would you have, though?"

"Once I'd gotten over my jealousy, yeah," Jack replied with a grin. "At first, though, especially at that time, I'd have been a pig to them and I know it. I can't say much about it, but Daniel had been tortured during the mission before he and Paul got together. It wasn't the worst he'd had and he was able to physically recover quickly, but I was being a bastard to him and he couldn't come to me."

"Had you been tortured?"

"Not as badly as him, but I'd gone through enough to know what he'd gone through."

"Nothing permanent?" she asked, more worried now.

"No. Just electric shocks. Been there, done that," he spat bitterly.

"What about nightmares?"

He smiled. "Plenty then. None now." He pointed to his tattoo. "Daniel's magic wand," he said with a chuckle.

She laughed back. "You never cease to amaze me, son."

"Are you sure you're okay with that?" he asked cautiously.

"Ah, Jack, I have to admit I don't get it, but that's purely a personal reaction. Professionally, I understand the need to substitute one way of dealing with things with another. All I can say is what I said before. You're my son, I love you, and as long as you're happy, I'm happy. This works for you. Maybe some of my older patients would have benefited from entering your lifestyle but the publicity surrounding it is rarely positive, so if I'd mentioned it, I could have been struck off!" She shook her head. "Frankly, I'd rather see my patients dressed in leather than in straitjackets."

He laughed, a hollow laugh, understanding just what she meant.

She looked over at the kitchen as she heard the others enter it, then leave with empty bin bags, ready to continue cleaning up.

"It's how he deals with whatever it is, isn't it?"

Jack said nothing for a moment, then he shrugged.

"I won't give you details, Ma, but believe me, he had reasons to start..." He drew his fingertip across his arm, illustrating a cut rather than saying the word. "It's amazing he held onto his sanity at all." He leaned forward, conspiratorially. "His first boyfriend - a guy I've come to admire from what I've heard about him - taught him that he could be 'in charge'. It helped control his actions, gave him an inner strength I've never seen in anyone else. By being our dom, he's in control of himself and gives us the chance to switch off and forget the past. It works both ways equally."

Mary's hand went to her chin in the classic 'thinker' pose, even though she was unaware of it. Eventually, she nodded slowly.

"It's really under control?" she whispered.

"Yeah. You heard what he said this morning. Everything was planned, under control, but he was nervous for Paul because today was like coming out the first time for him in a way. Others may well have guessed he's Daniel's sub, just from the tattoo. As you say, publicity isn't always good, so that got Daniel nervous. When you called..." He put his hands up. "Don't take that the wrong way, Ma. You did the right thing. If I'd known about Patrick beforehand, I'd have said 'bring him'. We get that you had to rush him here, honest. But for the moment, it freaked Daniel out a bit. We weren't here so he needed to get under control in a hurry. He just returned to his long-standing coping measure. He's been doing it for nearly thirty years, so you can see why he relies on it."

"Oh yes," she sighed. "I've seen so much of it. There seems to be an upsurge of it at the moment. I still have difficulty trying to understand why, but at least there isn't the same psychological stigma there used to be. I meant what I said this morning, sweetheart. If he wants to talk, I'd be happy to listen."

"I appreciate that, Ma, but you have to understand. There's only been one psychiatrist he ever had any time for and he stopped seeing her twenty-five years ago. Before her and after her, he got the wrong ones." He sat back in his seat and sighed sadly. "The first one he saw, he'd just lost his parents. This bastard was one of the old school. He was eight years old and he was told not to cry, that it wouldn't bring them back. If he didn't want to be a wreck or picked on for being a cry-baby at school, he should toughen up."

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph!"

Jack had to laugh. He only ever heard that from his mother when she was really mad.

"What happened next?"

"He went to live with another family - they were all short-term placements at the time - and the next shrink thought he was a cold, hard-hearted kid because he didn't talk about his parents or cry."

She shook her head in disbelief.

"He must have been very confused. No wonder he doesn't trust us."

"It's nothing personal, Ma," Jack put in.

"No, I can see that. Poor thing." Then she looked at Jack and asked, "You said 'after' the good one. What happened?"

Jack shrugged then told her what he'd told Mark about MacKenzie and the rubber room. Mary lost any colour in her face for a moment, then went red with anger.

"Ma, calm down. It's over. Don't mention it to Daniel, please. Not unless you want a tirade on the ineptitude of certain quacks."

She laughed as hollowly as Jack had earlier.

"Promise I won't, darling." She turned and looked again at the kitchen because the others had returned for the last time. "It's amazing he hasn't turned out to be a mass murderer. Some would have used a past like his as an excuse."

Jack shrugged. If his mother heard the whole story, she'd be even more amazed.

Patrick came home feeling like he was on cloud nine. The words had been so inspirational, he thought he was flying. When he entered the living room, he saw the others looking exhausted, his mother almost asleep in the armchair, Jack alone on one sofa, watching the TV, Daniel and Paul snuggling together on the other, only half-watching the TV, preferring to talk in low voices instead.

"Pat," Jack said, looking up. "Hey, did you enjoy your day?"

The others looked up to see a smiling Pat beaming back at them.

"I most certainly did," he said, then went on to tell them all about the 'wonderful' preacher he'd heard as he sat next to Jack.

Paul noticed that Daniel had tensed at Patrick's words and stroked his arm to soothe him. Seeing that, Patrick suddenly got annoyed.

"I thought you respected people's faith," he snapped.

"I do," Daniel snapped back. "When they respect others'." He sat up and stared at Patrick. "What was the name of this 'preacher'?" The words were obviously in quotes as he spoke, annoying Patrick further.

"Reverend Todd Stipe."

He had no idea why the men seemed to bristle at the name.

"So, what did he have to say?" Daniel asked calmly. Too calmly.

"He was preaching the Word, what do you think?" Patrick sniped. He had no idea why Daniel's attitude was really annoying him but it was.

"The Word?" Daniel retorted. "What word would that be?"

"What's your problem?" Pat asked.

"My problem?" Daniel stood up and walked around. "My problem is that this so-called preacher has been stirring up trouble in town. He's fighting against gay rights, wants to get homosexuality made illegal again. He's using religion to cause fights. Paul's recently been dealing with the victims of gangs of vigilantes who have been inspired by this 'Man of God'." The disdain in Daniel's voice was obvious.

"Well, I'm sorry that's happened, of course," Patrick replied, "but that doesn't make Stipe a bad man. Just because some hotheads have taken into their minds to..."

"HOTHEADS? Is that what you think? He's not just influencing them, he's telling them that by attacking those not like themselves, God will reward them! Dammit, Patrick, open your fucking eyes! Not all professed religious people preach love and tolerance. Some of them use religion to their own political ends!"

"I know that! But I was there! He didn't say anything like that!"

"TODAY!" Daniel practically screamed. "You have no idea how people like this work! You went to an open house meeting. Of course he was preaching the things the public want to hear. It's how the police are having a hard time pinning anything on him. If you're spotted by Stipe's cohorts in the congregation as a likely candidate, you get invited to private 'prayer meetings'." He looked at Paul for confirmation.

"That's what one of the thugs said when he was arrested," Paul replied. "Basically, once there they get drawn in - it's a cult, no more, no less. But it's a right-wing cult. Violently anti-gay, violently anti-abortion, violently pro-gun. They want this country to be run by gun-owning white, straight men and for their women to be kept at home, pregnant. Everyone else is seen as unacceptable." He looked at Pat. "Sorry to say, if they were ever in any sort of power, the Catholic church could find itself kicked out of the country. These people are not religious. They're political extremists."

"Typical!" Patrick blasted them. "If you had your way, anyone with a hint of an evangelical streak in them would be jailed!"

Daniel lost it. If telling Patrick... if it took this to open his eyes, then so be it.

"Is that what you think?"

Daniel's voice had gone quiet and he got Jack and Paul's attention immediately.

"Danny..." Jack called, but Daniel ignored him.

"Have you any idea what I suffered at the hands of a so-called deeply religious 'evangelist'? HAVE YOU?!"

Patrick didn't reply, he shook his head silently, swallowing hard.

"When I was ELEVEN years old, I would get beaten. Every. Single. Day. And why? Because I wouldn't be baptised into his fucking church."

Patrick started to lose his colour but he couldn't say anything, his whole body was frozen in space and time.

"And when the BEATING wasn't enough, he decided that tying me to a bed and RAPING me, day after day after fucking DAY might make me change my mind! Of course, who the hell believed me? Nobody, because he was a 'man of God'! So don't you dare tell me I'm wrong here. I've heard it all before. I've seen it all before. People like Stipe should be SHOT."

Daniel's words permeated Patrick's brain and suddenly, he went green and ran off to the nearest bathroom. Jack and Mary followed him closely.

Daniel, shaking like a leaf, headed zombie-like to his study.

Paul did a double take and realised that in seconds, he had been left alone. The click of the heavy study door told him where at least one person, Daniel, was in there. Heart in his mouth, he followed.

He didn't bother knocking, he just tapped in the code and entered. His heart sank when he saw what he'd been afraid of.

Sighing sadly, he put his hand on Daniel's right wrist and stopped him. Then he lowered him to the floor, kneeling with him and holding him, rocking him in his arms.

"Enough," he whispered. "It's not helping, is it?"

Daniel didn't answer, he just stared at the mess on his arm and the knife in his hand.

"You said doing it like this doesn't help. It's just punishing you, isn't it? You don't need to be punished, babe."

Paul continued to rock him gently, waiting for his next cue.

"I know telling him that hurt you. I know you want to control the hurt. But doing this without thinking just makes it hurt more and you know it. Please, Dan, for me. Put the knife down."

Daniel didn't move but soon his grip on the knife slackened. Paul took that as his cue and carefully, so as not to alarm him, he slipped his hand until he could take the knife safely, then gently removed it, taking more care to place it on the ground rather than drop it. Then he wrapped his arms tighter around him and held him as close as he could.

Daniel kept staring at the blood seeping out of his arm, obviously trying to project his memories into it so that they, too, would drain away. Instinctively, Paul kept silent, until he became worried that Daniel was losing too much blood.

"Is it true?" Patrick gasped when he stopped being sick.

"Every word," Jack replied calmly, rubbing his brother's back.

"I didn't know."

"I know. He doesn't exactly want that to be common knowledge."

"I see why he hates..." Patrick started, but Jack shook his head.

"He hates people like Stipe. Not people like you. I thought you understood that."

"I can't believe I was so gullible," Patrick moaned.

"You didn't know," Jack shrugged. "Now you do. Next time you decide to go listen to an unknown preacher, maybe you'll do a little research first. Daniel will be the first to say that some - no, most are genuinely good and he'd fight to the death to allow them to preach."

"I wouldn't blame him if he hated us all."

"But he'd blame himself. It would make him as bad as Stipe in his eyes."

Patrick nodded.

"I need to apologise to him."

"Not yet. Give him time."

"Where is he?" Mary asked. She'd got up and looked into the living room when Patrick was being sick. "He's not in the living room."

"Aw shit," Jack groaned. "Look, are you okay?" he asked his brother.

"Yes. Go to him."

Jack got up and went directly to the study, just knowing that he'd be in there.

As he arrived, he heard drawers being opened and shut. Quickly, he tapped the code and entered the room. He saw Paul rooting through Daniel's drawers, looking for something.


"Bandage," Paul replied. "This tape's not enough."

"Wait here."

Jack jammed the door open and got to the kitchen quickly, pulled a new bandage from the first aid kit and ran back to the study, ripping the packet open as he went. He was on his knees next to Daniel in moments, Paul already back down on the floor, holding Daniel again.

Daniel was still elsewhere in his mind. They had no idea where he was, or when for that matter. All he could do was stare at his arm.

"I'm going to bandage this up, Danny," Jack said.

It was only when the bandage went on, breaking Daniel's link to the blood did he look up.


Feeling Paul's arms around him, he looked into Paul's eyes.


"Shh, hun, it's okay. Let us get you covered up then we'll go for a lie down, okay?"

"'Kay." Daniel's voice was quiet, almost drunken. Then he tensed.

"Sorry, did I hurt you?" Jack asked.

"No. Pat. What about Pat?"

"He's okay, Daniel." Jack grinned wryly. "He got a bit sick. You really shook him up. But he's sick 'cause he's upset for you, not with you. Even now, knowing what he does, he finds that sort of thing unbelievable. It's so against his nature to hurt anyone that having a friend who's suffered at the hands of someone like that really makes him queasy."

"'m not his friend," Daniel whispered. "He must hate me."

"Hate you? Why?" Paul asked. "You haven't done anything wrong."

"Turned against him."

"No, you just opened his eyes. Saved him from getting involved with the wrong people. He appreciates that," Jack soothed. "There, all done. You really made a mess this time, Danny." Jack's voice was gentle, not disapproving, and that helped a little. "Come on, let's go lie down, like Paul suggested. Don't know about you but I could do with an early night."

"I guess," Daniel murmured.

Between them, Jack and Paul got him to his feet and steered him to the door.

As they reached the bedroom door, Jack saw his mother beckoning to him. He looked at Paul, flicked his eyes towards his mother and got a nod in return.

"Ma, I'll be with you in a minute," he called, then carried on taking Daniel into the bedroom and then into the bathroom. "Paul, get him ready. I'll go get a fresh bandage."

Blood had seeped through the first one and Jack was now worried that he'd need stitches.

"Daniel, would you mind if I asked Ma to come look at you? I think you might need some of those cuts stitched."

Daniel looked at him in horror. He'd never needed stitches for a self-inflicted cut before.

"Danny, please," he begged. "Just a look."

Slowly, Daniel nodded, unsure of where this was leading.

Jack reassured him. "If she says it's necessary, I'll call Mark, okay? He wasn't drinking today 'cause he's on call tonight anyway."

That seemed to work as he got a slightly more enthusiastic nod from that.

Paul brought a stool over to him and sat him in front of the sink. Then, as he spoke gently, he removed Daniel's shirt and T-shirt, then cautiously undid the bandage.

He got a clean flannel out of the cupboard and soaked it in warm water, then after rinsing it out, he carefully dabbed it on Daniel's arm. Daniel didn't even flinch, as if he still couldn't feel anything.

Jack returned soon with a fresh bandage in his hand and his mother on his heels. She made her inspection as brief as she could, and as matter-of-fact as she could, trying hard not to mother him as she did it.

"I think you're going to get away with it," she sighed. "Put the bandage on firmly, but not too tight. Don't want to cut the blood supply off."

Jack did as he was told and she checked it, agreeing that it was on okay. Then she gave in to her feelings and bent over, pulling Daniel into her arms and giving him a big hug.

"I know you don't want to talk about it, darling," she crooned, "but I'm ready to listen if you want to. I promise, I won't interfere but I want to help."

He looked up into her eyes and smiled sadly. "Thanks," he whispered. "But there's nothing left to do."

She nodded in understanding. "Perhaps not. You don't need to bottle it up, though."

He laughed hollowly. "But that's what I need to do. This is what happens when I don't."

Sighing, she kissed his head, then left them, indicating to Jack that she still wanted to talk to him. Again Paul nodding, letting Jack know that he'd take care of Daniel.

"I'm just going to check up on Pat," Jack said. "I'll be back soon. Is that okay?"


Daniel's one-word dismissal told Jack that he shouldn't be long. He left, wanting to get back as quickly as he could.

"How is he?" Patrick asked. He was now in the living room again with a large whisky in his hands.

Jack shrugged. "As good as could be expected."

"I can't tell you how sorry I am."

"It's okay. Like I said, you weren't to know. This is why Daniel keeps it quiet, though. He's afraid that from now on, you guys will treat him like he's made of glass."

"He's made of granite," Mary retorted.

Jack shook his head. "He was turned into granite. People made him that way. Life made him that way. It's the only way he can cope."

"I think I see why he needs the both of you," Patrick spoke up.

"Oh? Why's that?" Jack asked, really curious.

"To make up for what he's lost," came the reply. "I don't mean that he's using you, Jack, I don't mean that at all. But if you've lost a lot in your past, you'd go one of two ways. Either you'd shut yourself off to stop yourself getting hurt again, or you'd give yourself more to cover..." He stopped speaking, not wanting to say 'if he lost one of you'. He didn't have to say it, Jack knew. "I don't think it's a conscious decision, either," he continued. "It's an inbuilt need. He said to me he can't stop loving people, no matter what."

"That's true," Jack agreed.

"So he's opening himself up to plenty of potential hurts. But by loving more than one, he stands a better chance of being loved by at least one back."

He took a sip on the whisky before reiterating, "I don't mean this in a bad way, Jack. I truly believe he loves you and Paul like few could imagine. I know he does. I know that losing either one of you would likely drive him into a deep depression, but, by having another one of you here, it would give him something to live for. Does that make sense?"

"I guess," Jack shrugged. "I doubt he thinks of it like that."

"No, he probably doesn't. And it doesn't lessen his love for you or demean it in any way. That's not what I'm saying."

"I get that. I don't feel like he's using me, if that what you're worried about."

"Good. I don't want to be the cause of any wedge between you, Jack. I promise, that's the last thing on my mind."

"I know. Look, I need to get back to him. Are you two okay?"

Patrick nodded. "I'd like to apologise to him, but I'll do it in the morning."

"Can you wait and see if that's a good idea?" Jack asked. "He might want to forget it."

"Okay. I'll wait for you to tell me. But if you think it's for the best, you could apologise for me, please? A total, unreserved one. The last thing I want to do is hurt anyone."

"He knows that, Pat. He shocked you like this to open your eyes, to protect you from the evil - and that's what Stipe is. If ever there was a case for the devil incarnate, this guy's it. It's a Daniel thing."

"A Daniel thing?"

"Yeah. He'll hurt himself to stop others hurting. It's his way."

Pat flopped back in his chair and sighed, shaking his head.

Jack turned to look at his mother. "Ma?"

"What can I say, son?" she asked plaintively. "I know what I want to do."

Jack laughed. "Tomorrow," he said. "You can hug the shit out of him then."

She laughed back. "Goodnight, Jack."

"Yeah. Night, both. Feel free to..." He waved his hand at the drinks cabinet and then the kitchen. "Whatever." With that, he turned and headed for the bedroom.

Daniel was in bed, wrapped up in Paul's arms. It was unusual for him to be in that position but at that moment, it was the only thing granting him comfort. As he became more and more aware, his arm started to hurt like mad.

Jack quickly got himself ready for bed and decided to get in on his usual side so that he could help Paul comfort Daniel in the middle. A wince from Daniel, however, made him think twice and he started to get back out.

"No, stay," Daniel called.

"I hurt you," Jack replied.

"You never hurt me."

Jack sat back on the bed and took Daniel's hand in his. "Want a painkiller?"

Daniel thought about it for a moment, then nodded. "Sorry."


"This," he held out his arm.

"Don't be sorry. I'll be back in a tick."

As Jack went to get the pills, Paul moved slightly.


"Do you want Jack to hold you?" Paul asked.

Daniel screwed his face up.

"Don't you want..."

"What do you want?" Paul insisted.


Daniel turned until he was facing him, his injured arm on top of Paul's body. Paul responded by holding him even closer.

"Thank you," Daniel whispered. "I know you hate seeing it."

"I love you," Paul shrugged. "I just hate seeing you hurt, that's all."

"Love you too," came the sighed reply. "You knew what I needed."

"I hoped I did."

"You knew. Thank you."

"Hey, how often do you know what I need?"

Daniel's body seemed to retreat.

"I was promising you a treat tonight, wasn't I?"

"Oh, please, Daniel. We had a great time today, you gave me more than I could dream of. You've given me how many of my needs and wants over the past six years? You're entitled to a night off."

He dropped a kiss on Daniel's nose.

"Besides, playing with Jack's family here is kinda weird, you know?"

Daniel sniggered, agreeing with him.

"It's like we're hiding out again."

"Yeah. But in a good way."

Paul joined in the sniggering, which soon turned to giggles. When Jack rejoined them, they were laughing out loud. He shook his head in disbelief before joining in.

Daniel's stomach was in his mouth as he entered the kitchen the next morning. His arm hurt like a son of a bitch and he was heading straight for the medicine cabinet.

"Good morning, son," Mary exclaimed.

He froze in his tracks at her choice of endearment, then decided that it was just her way as she tended to use a lot of them.

"Morning, Mary," he replied. "Is the coffee on?"

"Of course. I'm already well trained."

He allowed her a small laugh, swallowed the painkiller and then joined her at the table, still unsure of where the morning was going to go.

She poured him a coffee and sat opposite him.

"Did you sleep well?" she asked.

"Yes, thanks. You?"

"Oh, you know. I'm getting old, I don't need so much sleep at night. Wish I could get through the day without wanting a nap, though. It's like being a baby again."

He couldn't help it, he laughed again at her words. There was something in her tone of voice which encouraged a good mood.

She had to spoil it by taking his left hand in her right and asking, "How is it?"

He removed his hand, trying not to look like his mood had just popped.

"Fine. Throbs a bit, but I'll live. Thanks for looking at it last night."

"My pleasure," she said, then screwed her face up as if annoyed with her choice of phrase. She'd been glad to be of assistance, but a pleasure? Perhaps not. "Could I look at it again this morning? I think it's going to need a new covering."

Again, blood had seeped through, but it didn't seem as bad as before.

He steeled himself and nodded.

"A bit later, okay?"

"Of course. Let the pills do their job. I'd suggest soaking the bandage off if it looks like it's stuck on. That should stop any scabs being ripped off with it."

As they spoke, Patrick entered the kitchen, looking like he wanted to run away.

"Morning, Pat," Mary called, trying to sound normal.

Daniel looked up at him with trepidation. Both men seemed worried.

"Daniel, I'm sorry," Pat started, ignoring what Jack had said the night before. "I should have listened to what you said at the beginning and I'm so sorry."

Daniel put his hands up. "I'm sorry," he replied. "It's not my place to influence anyone's beliefs and I apologise for that."

"Please, no," Patrick said, moving towards him. "You were trying to protect me. Thank you. I just wish it hadn't had to hurt you so much."

Daniel shook his head, then shrugged with a resigned grin. "I'm used to it," he said. "I'm just glad you don't hate me for it."

"How could you think that?" Pat asked in shock.

"It could have seemed like I was blasting your religion. That isn't what I was doing. Just that small group - maybe not so small in numbers, but compared to the good people they're a small group. As soon as you'd started talking about this 'wonderful preacher', I'd had a feeling it was Stipe. He's the only one being talked about at the moment, and mainly because he's scaring the shit out of town. The vast majority of people here are..." He shook his head. "I was going to say 'tolerant', but I hate that word. It implies that there's a need to be tolerant of something and I find that exceedingly patronising. I supposed 'accepting' would be better. It's more a case of people not even thinking there's something odd or wrong to start with, so why should they have to be tolerant?"

Patrick nodded, understanding what he meant. In the church he found similar attitudes to other religions. Some people had no time for others, even hating them. The majority fell into one of two camps - the more 'politically correct', actively being 'tolerant' but coming off as being insincere as they managed it. The rest just lived and let live, seeing no difference in people who worshipped - or didn't - elsewhere. Patrick had always been in the latter camp, not understanding distrust of other religions. He now knew that his tendency to shut himself away, letting the world happily tick around him, had left him naïve and vulnerable to potential problems. He vowed to himself that he would most certainly educate himself, whether he returned to the church or not.

Talking of church.

"Um, I don't want to seem insensitive," he said. "But you wouldn't happen to know if there's a Catholic church nearby, would you? I haven't missed a Sunday mass unless I've been too sick to go in decades and frankly, I don't want to miss it this week. I think I need to go, to help me put a few things into perspective. Maybe seeing it from the congregation's point of view will help me work a few things out."

"Of course," Daniel agreed. "I... Hang on, I'm sure I can find out."

By now, Jack and Paul had arrived in the kitchen, keeping quiet as they listened to the men sort out their difficulty. As Daniel stood to go to his computer to see if there was anything on the city's web site, Jack said, "There's a load. Try St. Dominic's on Bush Street."

At Patrick's astonished look, Jack explained. "I may be well and truly lapsed, but I'm still Catholic. I think the mass service starts at 11:30. Do you want me to take you?"

"Um... you don't have to, Jack."

"Jack, you could lend him your truck again. Give him directions?" Daniel urged.

"You could take me, too," Mary stated. "It's been a few weeks," she admitted guiltily.

Daniel guessed that she had picked up on his need to get the others alone and he smiled gratefully at her. Her wink, however, didn't exactly do much for his libido, making him want to behave himself when she wasn't there, because he damned well knew she knew and would probably tease the shit out of them later.

Jack was about to open his mouth and argue when Paul poked him and he shut up.

It was agreed, Jack reluctantly handed over the keys and drew Patrick a map while he and his mother went to get ready. It was only ten o'clock, but they were both eager to get out. Mary because she wanted to leave the men alone for a few hours, Patrick because he felt he should give Daniel a few hours to breathe easily. He had no idea that Daniel planned to be breathing heavily as soon as they'd gone.

With Mary and Patrick out of the way, Daniel bent over the table where the men were now sitting and murmured, "Eat up, drink up, get to the bathroom, get yourselves ready for me, and when they've gone, get your asses down to the playroom."

Saying nothing, Jack and Paul looked at each other, looked at their meals, looked at each other again, then ate as fast as they could.

Daniel didn't move from the living room until a few minutes after the gate had locked behind the truck. Mary had said that she'd take Patrick out for lunch and they wouldn't be back till about two. Daniel was positive she'd told them that so that they knew how long they had to play. He wasn't sure if he loved her or wanted to kill her.

The men had already gone down to the playroom and were waiting for him. He had one thing to do before he went down there. He was still feeling upset about how he'd reacted to Patrick's words the night before. He didn't want to go down there, appearing weak. Not that the others would think that, he knew, but at that moment, looking at the clean bandage Mary had put on him, he felt it.

A quick detour into their bedroom, he got what he wanted and then headed directly to the playroom, his heart beating hard.

Jack needed this, he was still privately freaking that his mother had found out everything and about coming out to his brother. Paul needed it too. Facing his friends and dealing with Oliver, the one he'd expected to be the most difficult and proving to be so.

Daniel needed this. He needed to get himself back under control, get his life back under control. He was not going to let up until he had succeeded.

When Daniel entered the older playroom, he found the others waiting for him. In case, by some stretch of the imagination, they were still there near two o'clock, he'd allowed them to go down dressed. At least they'd have some clothes to hand if they had to dress in a hurry later on.

They took one look at him and both men felt weak at the knees. He was in leather, top to toe. Jacket, trousers and boots. His hair was slicked back, his earring was in, his contacts in place of his glasses. Everything about him screamed alpha male and both reacted by getting hard.

One thing Daniel knew he couldn't do was leave a mark on them that could be seen by anyone so he was going to have to be careful. That just added to the excitement.

"What am I going to do?" he purred.

Simultaneously, Jack and Paul thought - but didn't say - "Any fucking thing you like."

He seemed to think for a while, then smiled.

"Follow me," he ordered, then walked into the new room.

The lights were initially low, still set to that from the last time so that when Daniel flicked the switch, it returned to its previous state.

"Stand over there," he said, pointing to a space near the sling.

As they did as ordered, he raised the lights slightly, still only the ones on the floor and ceiling which blanked out the view of the walls. They stood to attention and noticed that he had brought a chair from the edge of the room and was sitting on it.

To Daniel, this was fantastic. The room was dark, but the lights from above the sling acted like spotlights, highlighting them for him. They could barely see him, as if he was an interrogator sitting behind the desk with the lights aimed at them.

"Major Davis," Daniel suddenly said, getting both their attention immediately. "I think you should take care of the Colonel. Don't you?"

"Yes, Sir," Paul gasped. "What should I do for him, Sir?"

"I think you should start by removing his clothes, don't you? How else are you going to be of service?"

Paul didn't reply, he just moved directly to Jack's front and started to undress him.

"Take your time, Major," Daniel purred. "I said take care of him, didn't I?"

"Yes, Sir," Paul replied, doing as he was told.

He took his time, concentrating on kissing Jack's skin as he exposed it. Jack did his best not to react, needing to be his stoic self throughout this if he were to get the best out of the play. He kept quiet, even when he saw Daniel disappearing into the shadow, then catching him out of the corner of his eye heading for the other room. He said nothing, just allowed Paul to trawl his body with his tongue, run his fingers over his skin, set him on edge...

He didn't really notice when Daniel re-entered the room, the crop in his hand along with a few other toys.

Daniel sat back down on the chair, putting the toys on the floor but keeping the crop in his hand. He watched as Paul did his job, stripping Jack slowly, covering each exposed inch with kisses, touches, licks... He ran the crop over his groin, getting hard and excited, but ruthlessly stamping down on his desire to come right now.

But then he stopped, stood up, undid his zip and got out his cock, stroking it until it was completely hard. There was no rush today, no reason he couldn't have time to recover. Given the mood he was in, it wasn't going to take him long to do that, so why not indulge himself?

"Stop," he ordered as he sat back down, and Paul stopped immediately.

He'd got as far as removing everything except Jack's shorts and felt a little frustrated that he wasn't going to be allowed to finish the job.

"Come here," came the next instruction.

He was on his knees and made to get up, but Daniel called, "On your knees, Major," using his rank as if it were somehow an insult. Paul shivered with excitement at the thought. He crawled over to Daniel, keeping his head down, stopping only when he reached Daniel's feet.

Daniel opened his legs, lifted Paul's head by grabbing his hair and pointed towards his cock. Paul got the message and started to work, instinctively knowing that he had to only use his mouth.

He took the head of Daniel's cock into his mouth and sucked, running his tongue over the head and into the slit before taking more into his mouth. He moved it up and down, sucking, stopping, licking...

Daniel loved it. He tried not to come too soon but at the same time, he wanted to come straight away. To take his mind off what was going on, he looked over to Jack who was still standing to attention, but looking at them, watching Paul work and trying to hide the smile on his face.

"Like watching this, do you, Colonel?" Daniel asked.

Jack looked up and into Daniel's eyes.

"Yes, Sir," he said.

"You want the same?"

"If you allow it," came the reply.

"Hmm. Maybe. Maybe I have something else in mind for you."

Paul got annoyed that Daniel was talking and not concentrating on what he was doing, so he sucked harder, took him further down his throat.

Daniel laughed. "Look at him. The slut," he teased. "Want me to come in your mouth, do you?"

Paul moaned, taking him down to the root. Still laughing, Daniel turned his full attention back to Paul and gave himself over, pouring down Paul's throat as he stroked the back of his head.

"That's better," Daniel purred. "Now I won't be in such a rush to come so we can play a while longer."

Jack and Paul held back groans. They knew there were there for the duration, now.


Daniel had finally got them both naked after a lot of teasing with the crop; a few slaps here and there, he drew it over their bodies as if he was painting them. He allowed them to get hard, then forced them to lose their erections, eventually putting thick rings on them to hold them erect. Now, he was stepping things up and moving on to part two of his plan.

"How are your knees, Colonel?"

"They're fine, Sir."

"Good enough to get on all fours?" Daniel's voice was firm, warning Jack to tell him the truth or else.

"Yes, Sir. For a while, at least."

"Good. Down you go."

Jack dropped carefully onto his hands and knees. Paul was already kneeling up at Daniel's feet having stayed there all of the time.

"Open your legs as far as you can without losing your balance," Daniel instructed.

Jack did as he was told, splitting his legs wide and opening his ass, ready for anything.

"Very good," Daniel praised, rubbing the crop over Jack's ass. "Want some of this?" he taunted, flicking his wrist slightly.

Holding back a gasp, Jack said, "Yes, Sir. Please."

"You're as big a slut as the Major here, aren't you?" Daniel baited him, slapping the crop's keeper onto his skin rapidly, time after time, making the skin go red in the pattern which Daniel slapped him.

"Yes, Sir," Jack moaned.

"That's enough of that, I think. You're enjoying it too much. Major, shuffle backwards. I want you to kneel in-between the Colonel's legs. Ass in the air, just like him."

Paul dropped onto his hands and moved backwards, and in the same doggy-style position as Jack, he slotted in-between Jack's legs until their asses were facing each other and Daniel called a halt in his movement.

"I'll bet you're wondering what I've got in mind, aren't you?" Daniel tantalised them. "Well, you're about to find out."

Neither man could really see what he was doing, though they caught a little movement out of the corner of their eyes. What they were missing was Daniel opening the lube bottle quietly and covering his fingers. Jack was the first one to discover that as Daniel went straight to two fingers, pushing them inside him without ceremony and plastering his insides with as much lube as he could get in there. Jack was confused. He couldn't imagine what Daniel had in mind. Paul was no better off when Daniel did the same to him.

Both, however, were soon to get a clue.

Taking one of toys he'd brought in, he covered each end of it in lube. Then he took the long, thick, double-ended ribbed dildo and pushed the one side into Jack, right up to the middle.

"Move back a bit, Major," he ordered.

Paul was starting to guess what was going on, the groans from Jack as he'd struggled to take the thick dildo into him had been a bit of a giveaway. He had to fight a groan of his own as he backed onto the other side of it. Daniel held it firmly in the middle so as not to hurt Jack. When their asses were nearly touching each other, he stood back, moved to the light control panel and tapped in a number, getting a pre-set light setting when he pressed 'enter'.

"Look to your sides, gentlemen," he purred.

Both men turned their head to the right and saw what Daniel wanted them to see. Jack already knew about the lights and the mirrors on the walls, but he hadn't expected to see anything like this. He could see himself on his knees, Paul mirroring him. He could just about see the middle of the dildo between them. He could see clearly Daniel standing to their side, gently slapping the crop across his own hand and staring at the pair of them, a wicked smile on his face.

"Hmm, there's something missing," Daniel said. "I know. Don't go away."

When he moved into the other room to retrieve what he'd forgotten, Paul whispered, "Don't go away?! Where the fuck does he think we're going to go like this?"

Jack shushed him, trying not to laugh out loud. It was closer to hysteria, he thought. This was the most incredibly erotic and yet silly position that he'd ever been in, he decided.

Daniel was back in in moments and he knelt next to them, putting a few things on the floor, then reaching back and picking up the other things he'd taken in earlier.

"Right, time to decorate you for me, I think," Daniel muttered, mainly to himself.

He picked something up, put his hand under Jack's chest, and then clamped two, small padded nipple clamps on him. To each of those, he attached a small weight. He did the same to Paul, then sat back on his feet and looking at them both. They watched his every move in the nearest mirror and could see what he was up to. When he picked up a couple of strands of thin leather, they wondered what he was going to do next.

It didn't take long before they found out.

He wound the one around Jack's balls, then wound the other around Paul's. Next he took the other ends and tied them together, leaving enough room for the men to move without castrating themselves, but not a huge amount of room. Then he took another strand of leather and tied it around the head of Paul's cock, clamping another small weight onto it and pulling Paul's, already bright purple cock to the floor. Jack bit his lip rather than say 'no', knowing that he was about to get the same thing.

When he was finished, Daniel picked up his remaining items, moved into a crouching position, clipped a dog lead onto each man's neck collar and then stood up. He tried not to laugh out loud as he caught the chair with his foot and pulled it until it was central, held both the leashes as if they were a horse carriage's rein and with a 'giddy up', he urged them to move.

They gingerly pulled away from each other, right up until the point where the leather thongs stopped them, then they pushed back towards each other. Using the mirror as a guide, they worked together, fucking themselves on the dildo, time after time. As they pushed back, the damned thing hit their buttons. As they pulled forward, the tug on their balls and cocks both pulled them back from the edge and pushed them closer to it.

Daniel was getting turned on again. Just watching them do this for him - and it was only for him, he knew. Why else would they do this? If Jack wanted to get fucked, he'd ask him or Paul to do it. Ditto Paul with him and Jack. But they were going at this with enthusiasm. The one thing Daniel had to watch was the effect the bindings were having.

He listened to their groans and pants, watched them both in actuality and the mirror. When he came to the conclusion that they were getting as close as they could, he stopped them.

"I think you need to take a break," he said, once again kneeling at their sides.

Looking casual, he swiftly undid the leather thongs and then the clamps, getting gasps from both of them as the blood rushed back to their sore nipples. He wondered for a moment how he wanted to end this, then he grinned.

He decided that that day would be a messy day.

"Colonel," he purred.

Jack looked at him, his head snapping around, ready to do his bidding.

"You may stand up."

Daniel reached for the dildo and held it as Jack slid off it, gritting his teeth as the ribs ran over his prostate again. He carefully stood, his knees popping. A quick look to Daniel reassured his dom that it was, in fact, just a reaction to kneeling and he wasn't in pain.

Daniel sat back on the chair and beckoned to Jack to come close. Jack took the couple of steps towards him, his hard cock bobbing in front of him as he walked.

"I'm going to remove your ring. Come at your peril," Daniel warned.

Jack counted backwards, thought the thoughts that usually turned him off, did anything he could not to come as Daniel ran his hands over his balls before undoing the ring. He felt himself build up and screwed his face up in an effort to hold back. Daniel grabbed his balls and tugged, the pain pulling him back just far enough to hold off. He looked at Daniel with gratitude.

"Major. Lie on your back."

The dildo was still inside him and it was difficult for him to move, but Paul managed it.

"Open your legs, draw up your knees."

He did as he was told and then saw Jack stand in-between his legs at Daniel's command.

Daniel stood behind Jack and started to kiss his neck and shoulders, running his hands over his body, lingering on his sore tits and then on his ass. When Daniel's hands moved forward again, Jack knew he could come before long. One hand took his balls, rolling them around, fingering them, stroking the skin. Then the other hand grasped his cock, gently at first, then more firmly. Daniel whispered, "Come all over him, Jack," and he did.

"Very pretty," Daniel praised as he held onto Jack tightly, pushing his own, recovered and re-covered cock towards Jack's ass. Maybe later, he thought to himself. But then again...

Paul lay still, the come on his skin cooling and making him break out in goose bumps. That, combined with the lack of knowledge about what Daniel was going to do to him next, had him continually shivering from the excitement and praying that he'd be allowed to come soon.

Daniel bent down and grabbed the dildo in Paul's ass, twisted it for a while, pulled and pushed it, then he pulled it out, leaving Paul with a sense of relief, frustration and loss all at the same time. Relief that Daniel's torture had stopped, frustration that he still wasn't allowed to come, and loss from the emptiness.

"Stand up, Major," he ordered, standing back up himself.

Paul was up in moments, praying that he was going to get some attention soon. His chest and stomach were sticky but he revelled in it.

"You know, the hierarchical structure found in the military often leads to a lot of unfairness," Daniel said suddenly, making them wonder where the hell his brain was taking them now. "I mean, look at you two. Major Davis, you've just been used by your superior officer as somewhere to dump his load. Not fair, is it?"

Paul didn't know how to answer that. He didn't care! He loved it - and Daniel knew that. Dammit, what was he supposed to say? In the end, he looked at Daniel and shrugged.

"Perhaps you should get your own back," Daniel replied with a grin, knowing the conundrum he'd set. "Colonel, come here."

He led Jack to the chair, told him to put his hands on the seat and to open his legs. Then he called Paul over.

"I think you should fuck your colonel, don't you?" Daniel said to him. "Later, you can tell me if you ever did that. I want to know about the superior officers you fucked. Or if it was all one-sided. Did they use you?"

Paul grinned. Daniel was obviously in storytelling mood. He could go for that, and possibly surprise the hell out of them, too.

At Daniel's directions, he covered his dick with lube and pushed it inside Jack. He knew what he was supposed to do, at least for now. He grasped Jack's hips and pounded into him hard, making the most of being allowed to top. Much as he preferred to bottom, dammit it felt good once in a while.

Jack didn't care one way or the other. Paul felt good to him, too. Daniel, on the other hand, was enjoying watching rather than doing. That wasn't to say he was staying out of this. As Paul fucked Jack, Daniel ran his hands over Paul's ass, sometimes allowing his fingers to stroke Paul's hole, making him twitch involuntarily. When he could see that Paul was about to come, he grabbed his waist, pulled him back all the way out and laughed as Paul came all over Jack's ass.

"There," he teased when Paul had finished. "Doesn't that look good? Look at his ass, shining like that," he continued. "Not so superior now, are you, Colonel?"

Jack shook his head, still bending forward as he hadn't been given permission to stand. Daniel saw that he needed to move and grabbed his arm, pulling him upright. Then he ran his finger over Jack's ass and through the mess, lifting it up and putting it into Jack's mouth. Jack sucked on it, looking Daniel right in the eye and positively smouldering, Daniel thought. It was certainly having the desired effect on his lover, Daniel had to run his hand over his cock and down to his balls, grabbing at them to stop himself going off bang.

Still staring into Jack's eyes, he said, "Major, go into the other room."

Paul did as he was told and waited for Daniel to make his next move.

Daniel, meanwhile, was still staring at Jack. Deciding to turn the tables back on him, he ran his hands over Jack's chest and tweaked his still sore nipples. He fought back a smile when Jack's face tightened as a result.

"Well, let's see what we're going to do next," Daniel murmured. "You've been fucked. Perhaps Paul should get fucked? I'm certainly nearly ready to do that. Are you ready to watch?"

"Yes, Sir," Jack whispered harshly.

"Perhaps," Daniel replied. "You might change your mind. Follow me."

He broke eye contact and walked into the other room, knowing that Jack would do as ordered.

When they got in there, he took Jack directly to the cross and strapped him to it, facing it, and facing the paddling bench at the same time. Jack's head peered out over the space in the top and he wondered what sort of show he'd be getting now.

"I wonder if you can recover soon?" Daniel suddenly said. "And how I'm going to make you come again."

Jack swallowed hard. Twice in one session didn't happen very often for him these days, and even rarer without assistance. But if anyone could get him hard again, he knew it was Daniel.

Daniel started by putting a long, thick vibrator up Jack's ass, but not switching it on for that moment. He let Jack wonder as he led Paul to the bench, bending him over the high side and fixing his wrist bands to the bottom. Then he kicked his legs apart and attached his ankle bands to the bottom of the high side, leaving him totally secured, his ass high in the air and open for use. When he'd done that, Daniel stood back and held his left elbow in his right hand, his left hand holding his chin as he thought what to do next.

"Major, tell me," he said, catching the others' attention. "Did you get used a lot by superior officers?"

Paul thought he hadn't been used enough, but knowing where Daniel was going with that, he said, "Quite often, Sir."

"That's not on, is it? Not right at all," Daniel said, trying to sound indignant. "Perhaps I should punish the Colonel, just for you."

That wasn't up for debate and both men knew it, so they kept quiet.

Jack also knew why Daniel was doing this. He still hadn't thrown off the anxiety of his family finding out about him and needed to shut his mind off completely. He hadn't got that far yet and Daniel was determined to give him some relief, even if it was only for a few minutes.

Rather than use his bullwhip, which would leave marks on Jack's arms if he wasn't extra careful, Daniel picked up the cane he'd bought with the intention of using in a little roll play. Naughty pupils could be so hard to control, couldn't they?

He wandered over to Jack, showing him the bamboo cane and grinning as he did. It wasn't a pleasant grin and for a moment, Jack had that fleeting thought they both got sometimes, that Daniel really meant it. It was only fleeting, and they both knew it was a crazy thought, but he was such a good actor that Daniel could really scare them sometimes.

"They used to say in British schools, 'six of the best'," Daniel said as he stood behind Jack. "But as you're an adult, I think you can take more than that."

He got closer to Jack and whispered in his ear, "Focus on it. Try to feel each stroke. Think only of this."

Jack nodded silently and waited. Daniel wouldn't go too far, he knew. He trusted him. He had to trust him. As he thought of this, his mind started to cloud. When the first stroke - one which wasn't hard - hit him, he felt it but it was the only thing he was conscious of.

Daniel flicked the cane with such speed that soon Jack was unable to distinguish one stroke from another. Twenty strokes in less than five seconds on one butt cheek, the same on the other. Jack didn't have time to gasp, let alone moan, before it was all over. His ass was glowing red and he felt something cool being slicked onto it on the palm of Daniel's hand.

"Feel good?" Daniel asked.

"Yes," Jack hissed. "Thank you."

He didn't like the wicked chuckle that came next from Daniel. "You may think twice about that in a moment."

Before he could even try to figure out what Daniel meant, he discovered the meaning. Daniel put down the aloe gel he'd pocketed when he'd picked up the cane, returned the cane to the rack, and then came back and switched on the vibrator on 'low'. A constant buzz filled his ass, rubbing the damned thing against his prostate and urging him to get hard again. He couldn't believe that he was already a bit hard, and most definitely turned on, mentally, if not physically.

"Watch," Daniel ordered as he stood behind Paul. Then he returned to his previous, nastier character. "You know, Major, the trouble with you is that you just beg to be used, don't you?"

"Yes, Sir," Paul gasped. He'd been unable to watch Jack's caning but he'd heard it and wondered if he was due for the same.

"Well? Are you going to beg me?"

"Please, Sir," he replied. "Use me."


"Any way you want. I'm yours."

Daniel counted from twenty in Arabic. It was that or come in his pants.

"Thank you," he teased. "I'll take you up on your invitation." He stood back and looked at Paul's ass. "You know, that isn't as pretty as it could be. Today, I have a taste for red and shining. So, we'll have to adjust a few things, I think."

Paul fought back the groan that threatened at that. He didn't dare look up at what Daniel was taking down from the shelf or the rack of whips this time. He guessed what was happening when he felt Daniel's fingers slicking him up again and something big - he didn't know what - pushing inside him. Like Jack, he was recovering quickly and having no ring on him now, was free to get hard again. He was just glad that his ass was up high because if his cock had been rubbing against the bench, he'd come all over it before long.

Daniel twisted the plug in his ass for a while, stimulating him, and despite being shackled, Paul writhed a little, pushing the ribbed plug against his gland even more. He continued writhing for a moment, even after Daniel stopped. He stopped dead when he felt the paddle being brought down on his ass, hard. He wondered if he should try to retreat to his sub-space but decided against it, wanting to feel every slap, wanting to be aware when Daniel finished this off.

He was doing a good job, Daniel thought. Paul's ass was turning redder by the moment. Just as pretty as Jack's. Well, red had always been one of his favourite colours.

Daniel was hard again, really hard. Paul's ass was very tempting...

He threw the paddle down, pulled the plug from Paul's ass, freed his twitching cock and without lubing it, he thrust into Paul's hole. Paul let out a yell of pleasure. At last, he thought... Then he stopped thinking.

Jack watched intently as Daniel let loose, fucking Paul like it would be the last time he'd get the chance and he was making the most of it. His own spent cock took interest and he felt himself get harder and harder with each thrust into Paul. His hips twitched as far as his binding allowed, moving in time with Daniel.

Daniel grunted as he moved, throwing off the mantle of dom and just concentrating on fucking Paul harder than he ever had done before. It felt good, it felt better than good. There was enough lube inside Paul to let him move but a friction built, the heat rose. Paul, desperate to come himself, flexed his ass muscles and was rewarded with Daniel roaring as he came, pumping everything he had out of his balls and, whether by luck or design, Paul didn't know which, hitting his gland with the jet. Whether he was allowed to come or not, Paul came, covering the side of the bench and the floor beneath him, calling out Daniel's name over and over again.

When Daniel pulled out, he rushed to undo Paul, then gathered him into his arms, kissing him, dragging him down onto the floor and rolling around with him as they kissed desperately, finally gentling until they were able to break apart.

"Daniel?" Jack called, pleading with him in that one word to help him out.

Daniel nodded, got up onto his feet, quickly undid him and got him off the cross, then he dropped to his knees and swallowed Jack whole.

Jack forgot where they were - the scene wasn't important anymore. The only thing that mattered was Daniel's mouth on his cock, Daniel's hands on his thighs, urging him to move, to fuck his face. Jack complied, running his hands through Daniel's hair, twisting it in his fingers, pulling it tight, holding his head.

"Fuck, yeah," Jack growled. "Yeah."

Paul got up off the floor, unwilling to be left out of this any longer. As soon as he was next to Jack, he dropped back down onto the floor, grabbed his ass, pulled the dildo out and then plunged his tongue inside him, picking up the dried remains of his own 'visit' there earlier and humming with pleasure as he remembered it.

Jack didn't know his name, let alone anything else. Daniel's mouth was magical, Paul's tongue tantalising. He shut his eyes tightly, imagined himself watching this scene from the side - seeing himself and the others. That image was hotter than any film he'd ever seen, any paid actor rolling around or being held down and fucked. He yelled out loud and shot down Daniel's throat, reaching back with one hand and pressing Paul's face tightly into his ass.

"Fucking hell," he cursed as it all ended. "I..." Then he stopped. What could he say?

He grabbed Daniel and brought him back up, tugged at Paul to get him up, too, then the three of them stood, holding each other as tightly as they could, dropping kisses on whatever bits of skin they could access until they all calmed.

Finally, Daniel said, "You two clean up here. I'll go run the bath. Hurry up."

He looked at his watch and saw that it was twelve thirty. They'd been at that for two hours. It felt like two days, he was so exhausted.