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In All But Name 4

brothers in arms

part ii

Summary: The end of the series. There's a surprise or two in store for Daniel. One of them is bigger than he could have imagined.
With many thanks to Gary and Joy for their valued assistance throughout.

Patrick re-entered the house feeling a bit calmer. The sermon had been given on Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Much as Patrick understood Daniel's impatience with St. Paul, part of this letter actually underlined a lot of what Daniel believed in. The words rattled through his head as he looked out for the men who seemed to have disappeared.

For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.

For by one Spirit are we all baptised into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

For the body is not one member, but many.

Wasn't that what Daniel had said before? That all of God's people belonged to Christ? There was no mention there of 'except for homosexuals', so where was the problem with him giving communion to anyone who'd been confirmed?

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

So when those young men had suffered, all his congregation should have suffered with them. And when the men had been happy, been in love, been celebrating that love, all his congregation should have celebrated with them.

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

And it was time for him to grow up, too. To open his eyes to the realities of life. To see the suffering around him. To stop the suffering - whatever caused it. To recognise that society had changed, that what had been 'important' in the past - such as women covering their hair in public or being owned by men, or any other 'value' that no longer seemed to fit in with his own society, was not necessarily worth hanging on to. That the only values in society that were really important, that would hold the fabric of society together, were love, charity, acceptance of all and the ability to celebrate the differences between people as well as the similarities.

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Perhaps that was the key to his future. If he couldn't live the way he needed to live within the Church, then he could still fulfil his vocation outside it.

"Ah, there you are."

His mother's voice rang out and he realised that he'd followed her outside. The men were obviously making the most of the late summer sun and he saw them laying on sunbeds next to the pool. They were close to each other, of course; Daniel in the middle, the other two right next to him. They waved them over and Patrick wondered why they were all looking so relaxed - far more relaxed than he could attribute to a warm day in late September.

"Can I get you something to eat or drink?" Paul offered, standing up.

Patrick turned down his offer. He and his mother had done the tourist thing and had eaten down at the Wharf. He hadn't enjoyed a meal out so much in a long time, and he and she had giggled a lot for reasons he wasn't quite sure of. His mother seemed to find life most amusing at times, in a way that only she appreciated. Or possibly Jack got it, too, Patrick decided. He often seemed to find strange things funny. Coming to think of it, Pat thought, Bridie did, too.

Pat was more like their dad in the humour stakes. Straightforward jokes, preferably ones in which no real person or group of people were the butt of anyone's 'humour'. He found those excruciatingly painful.

Taking up the offer to sit, he settled into another chair nearby.

"You look happier," Daniel commented.

Patrick nodded. "I am, thank you. I've been taking the things you've pointed out to me to heart. I still think I need to consider my direction, but I'm starting to feel a bit clearer about it."

"I'm happy for you," Daniel answered, smiling broadly. "Like I said before, if there's anything we can do to help, please shout."

Jack thought for a moment, then he said, "Why don't you go up to the cabin for a couple of days? There's no one there, you'll get a chance to make up your mind what you're going to do without anyone telling you how to think."

They all detected Patrick's emotions as Jack said that and the three men looked at each other, rolling their eyes with impatience at him. Paul stood up and walked into the house, Daniel deciding to go with him.

"Pat, what's up?" Jack asked as they disappeared. He had a good idea but wanted the words to come from him.

"I'd love to go," he shrugged. "But..." He sighed deeply. "To be honest, I can't really afford to go. I'm not exactly well paid, you know. I mean, I have enough to live on. I have a roof over my head, I have more than sufficient money for food and bills, but there's little for saving."

Jack shook his head with exasperation.

"Pat, look around you."

"What do you mean?"

"What do you think I mean? Look around you!"

Patrick looked around, seeing the pool, the land, the large fence that went the whole way around, the house, the expensive cars...

Jack saw that despite seeing the things, he wasn't getting it.

"Don't you think we can afford to get you a ticket?" he said. As Patrick opened his mouth, Jack put his hands up. "You're my brother for crying out loud! Dammit, Pat, if you need or want something, you don't have to go without! We have more money than we need. We're not big spenders ourselves. Yes, we have a great life, better than I could ever have dreamed of, but we don't tend to have five-star holidays. At least, we had one this year but it's not a habit. And one thing you probably don't know is that whereas I am living off a good pension and making a reasonable living doing what I love, the guys are rolling in it."

"Rolling in it?" Patrick asked in astonishment.

"Paul was always well-off compared to his fellow officers. He came from a really rich family. Okay, his mother didn't exactly help him, but his dad would make sure he was taken care of. He was bought an apartment in the really expensive end of DC for his twenty-first birthday, so he never had to worry about paying rent or a mortgage. When his dad died, he inherited some stuff immediately, but this year a trust fund matured and he's worth a few million. He had more than that but he gave a lot of it away to charity precisely because we don't need more than we have. On top of that, I'm pretty certain that Daniel's actually worth a million in his own right. He never spent much of his pay when we were in the Springs, he led a pretty austere life when on his own. He had some things but he didn't do much. Over the years that he's been working for the Air Force as a consultant, he's been paid a lot. And since the book came out, he's had a number of large royalty cheques."

He chuckled to himself at that. Daniel had thought his book would have caused a stir in the academic community. He'd had no idea that it would have been an international bestseller, that his work would have held any interest whatsoever to the amateur intellectuals. Even after a few months, it was still in the 'charts' of bestselling non-fiction books in a number of countries, and was presently being translated into a number of languages, much to his surprise (and, Jack figured, his private pleasure).

"So you see," he continued, still grinning. "A plane ticket or two isn't exactly going to dent the total in the bank account, is it? But more than that, even if it did make a dent, we'd still want to get it for you. Daniel told you we'd help you out in whatever way, shape or form we were able to. If you having a couple of days away in solitude is going to help settle your thoughts, then we insist on helping you this way."

"Wow," Patrick replied, his eyes wide open. He'd guessed the men were well-off, but had no idea they were that wealthy. He tried to put it together in his mind and he came to the conclusion that they didn't act rich. Daniel dressed well, but he still gave the impression that he thought he was a penniless student. He drank the best coffee, ate good food, but he cooked things himself, kept leftovers for late evening snacks. Patrick had a housekeeper, the men didn't. They kept the house immaculate but it was still a homely place. The whole aura was one of it being a normal family home and not a house inhabited by the inordinately wealthy.

Patrick had a few well-off parishioners that he visited. One family, perhaps, was as well-off as the men. But in their places, he never felt at home. Never felt like he could put his feet on the sofa (or rather, that any of the inhabitants of the houses would do that). Here, he felt like he could do anything, go anywhere.

"Thank you," he replied with a smile. "I appreciate it. I guess I've just gotten used to doing without anything I can't afford. Don't get me wrong, I don't regret it. I don't expect to be paid lots or live in luxury..."

"I didn't think for a moment you did," Jack interrupted. "The priesthood has to be a vocation. If it were a well-paid job, it would attract those without the inner strength to be a good priest. Having enough to live on is sufficient. But I don't believe that having more than that is a sin. It's what you do with your money that counts."

"This is very true. You said Paul gave millions away?" he asked sounding amazed.

"Yeah. About two, if I remember right."

"How much had he inherited if you don't mind me asking?"

"He won't mind. He's not precious about it. And it was just over five."

Patrick was even more astounded. "It's not unusual for people to tithe their income or inheritances," he stated, "but that's four times the amount. He's very generous."

"He's very fair," Jack countered. "And we do tithe our incomes."

"You do? But you're not in a church..."

"Pat, I know it's more normal to tithe your earnings when you belong to a church, but it's not necessary. We made a decision to do it not long after we moved here. I guess we realised how lucky we were. I could have died on that last mission. I could have been permanently paralysed. The others were glad I survived. So, we chose some charities and decided that we'd give regular donations to them. We ended up choosing about thirty, giving each one percent of our incomes. Paul doesn't have an income as such now, but he changed it to the interest payments he has and also his earnings from stocks and shares. Some months the donations aren't great, other months they're significant."

"What sort of charities are they?" Patrick asked, fascinated now.

"Lots of different ones. AIDS research, naturally," he said with a wry grin. "But there are a couple of hospices in town, one of which is run by Catholic nuns, and they get a share each. Then there are educational funds, retired military funds..." He shrugged. "Basically all things we have something to do with. Oh, and we all support kids overseas."

This got Mary's attention.

"Oh? Tell me more."

He heard the interest in her voice and laughed at it. "Come on, I'll show you."


"Done," Paul said, putting the phone down.

"Good," came Daniel's reply. "The tickets are booked, too." He looked up at Paul then asked, "Do you think he'll mind?"

"Jack will knock it out of him if he does," Paul shrugged.

"Let's hope so."

A noise from the door told them that the others were coming in, so they stopped talking and waited for Patrick to make an appearance.

"Pat," Daniel said with a smile. "I hope you don't mind, but I've booked you some tickets."

"Jack has helped me put some things into perspective," Patrick replied sheepishly. "I'm very grateful."

"You're welcome. Anytime," Daniel stated. "And anything. Please remember that."

"I will. And thank you."

Paul put a piece of paper in Patrick's hand.

"What's this?"

"Details of the car rental."

"Car rental?"

"How else are you going to get from the airport? You could go by cab, but this is easier. Go to the desk when you land. I ordered a truck. You seemed to be comfortable driving Jack's."

"That's wonderful. Thank you."

Paul shrugged as if it was nothing.

"I took a chance on the dates, Pat. If you don't want to travel then, if you want to stay longer, just say. I can change the flight times, no problem," Daniel put in.

"When did you book?"

"Well, I didn't think you'd want to stay away from your parish for too long, so I booked a flight to Minnesota tomorrow morning. That will give you plenty of time to drive up to the cabin before dark. If you want to hold off for a couple of days, though, feel free. You can stay here as long as you like."

"I know that," Pat replied. "Thanks, this is just fine. I need to get away and wrap my head around everything. When do I go back to Chicago?"

"That's up to you. I've booked an open ticket. All you have to do is find out the flight times on the day, see if there's a seat and turn up."

"You are very kind," Patrick sighed. "Again, thanks."

"I've got the stuff."

They all turned round to find out what Jack was on about and when they saw what he had in his hands, Daniel and Paul grinned.

"Ah, the kids," Daniel laughed.

Jack beckoned them all into the living room and spread some papers over the coffee table.

"We all knew we didn't want kids of our own," Jack said, "but we all wanted to help kids who need it. Yes, we give money to children's charities, but sometimes, you want to get involved on a more personal level. Some charities let you sponsor a kid and by doing so, you not only make sure they have enough food, clothes, medicine and schooling, but the effects spill out into their villages, so you're helping other kids and their families, too. If your money puts a well into a village for your sponsored child, the rest of the villagers have clean water, and so on. We all chose a child on a different continent. I've got a little girl in Peru, Paul's got a little boy in India, and Daniel's got a boy in North Africa, naturally," he added with a grin.

Daniel shrugged.

Patrick chuckled at that and then said, "Tell me more about your childhood in Egypt." As Daniel spoke, Mary picked up the papers and read them, looking at the information that was coming back to the men about how 'their' children were doing and also letters from the children themselves. There were some pictures drawn by the kids, photographs of the new water pump and the new schoolroom that was being built... All in all, it gave Mary a sense that things were being done. Knowing what she now knew about Daniel, and guessing a bit about Paul's background, she understood why they wanted to let some poor kids know that someone really did care about them, even if they were complete strangers. She was particularly pleased that Jack had sponsored a child, too. She understood his motives all too well.

While Daniel was telling Patrick about his childhood - Patrick hanging on his every word - Paul was listening in, too, even though he'd heard the stories before. There was something about the way Daniel told them that made them worth listening to. He curled up on the sofa and nearly ended up on Jack's lap as he listened in.

"Good kitty," Jack murmured, stroking behind his ear.

Paul sniggered, then poked the tip of his tongue out at him in a most catlike way.

"Oh, he so is!"

Paul's voice rang out and got Pat and Mary's attention. They'd spent the afternoon crashed out watching TV, even having the evening meal in their chairs for a change. No one had had the energy to do anything else, so Daniel had got dinner delivered - getting up to the door had been as much as he had found the energy for. Since then, he and the others had flopped onto the floor in a rather strange position in Patrick's eyes, but one which seemed comfortable to them. Jack was half-laying, legs straight out, his back propped up against the sofa, his backside on a bean bag for comfort. Daniel was sitting across him, his legs over Jack's, his head resting on Jack's shoulder, again on a bean bag to stop his ass going numb. Paul was sitting in-between the bottom of Daniel's legs, his body lying back and wrapped in Daniel's arms, Jack's hand holding one of Paul's, their fingers intertwined.

"Who is so what?" Patrick asked, making Paul stammer as he realised he'd said it out loud.

"Oh, uh... um..."

Daniel started to chuckle.

"Sorry, Pat, we have a game we play when watching TV, especially when you get the so-called celebrities on screen."

"What's the game?"

"Out the celeb," Jack sniggered.

"Out the... Oh!" He did a double take then looked at them with a wicked smile. "So, which one is it?"

Daniel laughed out loud. "That one on the left."

"No way!" Pat's voice was filled with disbelief.

"Way," Paul insisted. "I mean, look at him!"

Patrick couldn't see any difference in the one man from any of the others.

"I don't get it," he admitted.

"Oh, don't worry about it," Jack put in. "We're not being serious. It's not as if we'd say it in public."

At Patrick's look of curiosity, Daniel added, "If he is, it's his business, no one else's. You don't out someone on a hunch. You don't out anyone at all, unless they're publicly anti-gay and you know they're really gay, then, I believe, they deserve it. If he is and he comes out, he'll be supported. It takes great courage to do it."

"It does," Patrick sighed. "It's a shame that it does, but that's still the case."

"It's getting less so, at least in some places," Paul said. "But if the right-wingers have their way, it's going to get tougher and tougher. Really speaking, it would be better if all could come out. That way the sheer weight of numbers would help undermine the 'phobes."

"Wish that would happen in the military," Daniel muttered.

"Daniel? What do you mean? Surely they'd get fired," Patrick said.

"True. Which makes me so damned mad. But if they could all say it on the same day," he added with a grin, "then the brass would have to rethink their policy."


"There's so many that if they were all thrown out at the same time it would throw the military into chaos," Jack chuckled. "They literally couldn't do it because they couldn't recruit fast enough or train fast enough. Believe me, I know gay or bi people in the services of both sexes that are so high up the chain, there's few people qualified to replace them. And you can't replace experience," he finished.

"How many?" Patrick asked.

"Thousands. Many thousands. At least ten percent of the total number of personnel according to one report I read. If ten percent walked out on one day, it would cause a complete collapse of the chain of command," Paul replied with a satisfied grin. It wasn't that he and Jack wanted the military to collapse, but the knowledge that the gay personnel held it together always made him grin.

"Maybe one day that will happen," Mary put in, sounding smug.

"It might not be necessary," Jack shrugged. "There is definitely a movement within the JCS to get the law changed. Especially since some of our allies changed their laws and it's been proved that there's no significant change in the attitudes in the majority of serving members or the recruiting numbers. They're having no more difficulty in recruiting than they did before. That information is finally getting through to our brass and they are more than well aware of the numbers in the ranks. It's only the politicians and a few hard line right-wing brass that are stopping it."

"I hope they change the law soon," Patrick said, surprising the others. "It can't be much fun wanting to serve your country and yet having to hide out."

He got three warm smiles back for that.

"No, it isn't," Jack agreed. "But it doesn't stop us. We serve our country, not the politicians. It's our families we want to protect. Our home. Even if it takes years for them to change the law, it won't stop new gay recruits joining up, just as we've done since the forces were established."

"What really ticks me off is when they change the law to suit themselves," Daniel muttered. At Patrick's querying look, he added, "Vietnam. Being gay wasn't a valid excuse to avoid the draft."

"It wasn't?"

"No. And if you wanted to stay in after the war and you'd been out during it, the answer was 'no'." Daniel sounded most put out by that.

"So it was okay to be gay then, but if you wanted to join now, you couldn't? That doesn't seem fair."

"It isn't fair, Pat. But then life rarely is."

Patrick shook his head in disbelief, then mentally kicked himself. Why he should have been so surprised, he didn't know.


A news item came on, full of graphic information about a violent attack. None in the room were comfortable with the news, but only Daniel spoke out.

"Dammit, look at this! We can't show a boob on national TV because kids might see it, yet they're showing all this violence! If I were a dad, I'd much rather my kids see bodies in their live state than dead."

"Too true," Mary sighed. "I have seen some kids, or rather young adults, who have been brought up so sheltered that they've literally become traumatised at the thought of sex. They hadn't been assaulted or anything, hadn't been touched in any way, but their parents would freak out so much at the first sign of sex on TV that they thought there was something wrong with them for even thinking about it. Can you imagine the effect that has on them? Especially when they're going through puberty?"

Daniel laughed hollowly. "Unfortunately, we can. A friend of ours, I won't say who in case you meet her, went through exactly that. She's in her forties now and has never been - until recently - in a truly loving relationship because she had been brought up to think that sex was 'dirty'."

"She's okay now?" Mary asked.

The men looked at each other, grinning broadly.

"Oh yeah," Jack replied.

"Daniel? What did you do?" Mary demanded.

"Me?" he replied innocently, but not answering her.

Mary determined to question him later.

Patrick changed the subject, but not because he was uncomfortable with it. Something about Daniel's personality had been niggling at him and he wanted to discover more.

"Daniel," he said thoughtfully, "tell me something. You seem to be a pacifist, yet you work for the Air Force. It doesn't seem to be in your nature to be violent, but then again I get the distinct impression from what you've said that you've been in battle and have probably killed?" He turned that into a question, hoping that Daniel would answer him.

Daniel took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

"You're right," he sighed. "I come from a bit of a mixed background and I guess it's all emerged in my own personality."

"What do you mean?" Pat prompted.

"Well, my mom's side of the family lived in Europe during the Second World War. Nick, my grampa, was in the Dutch resistance."

"He was?" Jack exclaimed. "You never said. Nick didn't strike me as being a fighter."

"You don't know Nick very well," Daniel chuckled. "And he was. He was a young man at that time. He'd tried to escape to fight for the Free Dutch forces, but hadn't managed it. So he spent the occupation hiding Jews and trying to make life difficult for the Nazis."

"Go Nick!" Jack chuckled.

Daniel laughed. "Yeah. That's how he met Oma," he added with a grin, just knowing he was going to get a reaction from the others.

"Oma?" Paul asked, trying not to sound too stunned.

"Means grandma in Dutch. And German for that matter," Daniel chuckled.

Pat and Mary looked at them oddly but decided that asking would probably not get them any closer to the answer.

Jack muttered 'bastard, you had me going then' in Daniel's ear but Daniel only acknowledged that by wriggling closer to him.

"So your grandma was in the resistance?" Paul asked.

"Eventually. She was Jewish and Nick hid her. But because she was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, they were able to get her papers which stated she wasn't Jewish. She ended up as a courier."

"You have very brave grandparents," Patrick said in awe. He had often wondered if he would have had the personal strength needed to resist in a similar way.

"Had. Nick's still alive, but Oma died when I was a baby. I don't remember her at all."

A small silence descended, then Pat said, "So you get your stubborn streak from them?"

"Possibly, but it's as likely to be from my father's side."

"Oh? Why is that?"

Daniel grinned. He knew what would be said next would surprise his lovers. "Dad's family were Quakers. Extremely stubborn pacifists," he added with a wider smile.

"Now that's something I can believe," Jack moaned. "It explains a lot."

While Daniel laughed that off, Pat asked, "So you were brought up in a Quaker household?"

"Not really. Dad didn't follow the religion but he had a great deal of respect for his parents. He was a total pacifist, too. Hence where I grew up."

"Huh?" Jack grunted.

"Jack, when was I born?"


"What was happening then?"

Jack was silent for a moment then the connection came.

"Your dad dodged the draft?"

"He could probably have served in a non-combat role, but he felt the whole conflict was immoral. Most archaeologists would return to their home countries during the off-season, but we stayed in Egypt. Dad didn't want to make the decision whether to fight or not. You see, I say he was a total pacifist, but there was one part of him that wasn't. If the US had come under direct attack, like it did at Pearl Harbour, he'd have fought to protect it. But he didn't agree with fighting a war that we had no right to start in his view."

"I can understand that," Jack murmured. "That's more like you. You'll walk away from a fight if you can, but if your..." he nearly said 'planet' but bit down on that quickly and changed it to "family is under attack, you'll fight like a daemon."

Daniel nodded. "That's about it."

Patrick felt like he understood Daniel a little better now, but then there was the one thing that he hadn't mentioned and because of his Dutch grandfather, Pat had an in for teasing him.

"Jack, you should be ashamed of yourself."

"Me? Why? What have I done?" Jack asked in horror.

Patrick couldn't stop grinning, his eyes twinkling with mischief. Daniel knew that look all too well - it was obviously an O'Neill trait - and he couldn't wait to find out what he was up to.

"Settled down with an Orangeman. How could you?"

Patrick burst out laughing when he saw the four faces looking back at him in shock, then laughed harder when they joined in.

When they calmed down, Daniel pointed something out. "Technically I'm Jewish," he stated. "Not that I was brought up in a religious home."

"How?" Paul asked.

"It's passed down on the mother's side. My mother's mother was Jewish, so technically, I am."

"I didn't know," Paul muttered.

"Does it matter?" Daniel asked, sounding surprised.

"What?! No! Of course not. I just didn't know that. It's a case of learning something every day, that's all."

Daniel relaxed a little. For some reason, Paul's words had set him on edge. Jack detected that and hugged him closer, Paul picked up on it and snuggled further into Daniel's arms.

"You're a real mixed bag," Mary teased.

"Typical American," he shrugged. "I love having a mixed background, it makes my family history a bit more interesting, I think."

"It makes you more interesting," Paul said with a yawn. "Certainly makes it harder to figure out what you're going to do next."

Daniel chuckled and hugged him, then said, "You're tired. Off to bed."

"I'm okay," Paul protested.

"Paul, don't argue," Daniel warned. "Bed. Now. You, too, Jack."

"Bossy boots," Paul moaned, reluctantly leaving the comfort of Daniel's arms.

Daniel shifted his legs off Jack and let him get up.

"I'll go, too," Mary said. "I've got a long day tomorrow."

"Excited?" Jack asked as Paul helped him stand up.

"A bit. Conferences can go one of two ways. They can be places you learn tons, or places you sleep for a couple of days."

"Sounds like military meetings," Daniel groaned, looking over at Pat to see if he was showing any signs of tiredness.

He wasn't, but Daniel figured he'd probably go to bed anyway. To show him that he could be at home there, he said, "Pat, you can stay up if you want. Watch TV, listen to music, read... whatever. Enjoy the peace and quiet," he added with a smile.

"I'll probably go to bed, too," Patrick replied. "Thanks all the same."

"It's up to you. I'll just go lock up."

He shooed Jack and Paul into the bedroom and then headed for the kitchen to lock the back door. He wasn't surprised when he found himself followed by Patrick who poured himself a glass of water.

"You okay?" he asked.

"I'm fine," Pat nodded. At Daniel's look of scepticism, he emphasised, "Really. I'm fine. I'm feeling like there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks mainly to you."

"Hey, I just pointed out what you already knew," Daniel countered. "Just sometimes you need someone to say it. And as Jack will tell you, I'm always ready to do that."

Patrick laughed, nodding again. "That you are." He leaned back against the worktop as if he was considering something. "It's always been black and white. Up till now, that is."

"Pat? What has."

"My life. My religion. The Bible says do this, I do it. The Bible says don't do that, I don't do it."

"Uh, Pat," Daniel drawled, "I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings, but it was never the Bible that said it but the Church. Think about it. The commandments say that on the Sabbath, no one should work or they should be put to death, right?"


"So why do priests work on the Sabbath?"

Patrick blinked in reply, not really having words for him. Taken literally, Daniel had a point. Of course, he could argue with him, but he understood that Daniel's point here was to show that if you were the sort of person to literally stick to the Bible, you were breaking one of the commandments just by being a priest. To allow for any religion to function, the commandments had been interpreted, not literally followed.

"And what of the graven images? The commandments strictly forbid any idolatry, don't they?"

"Yes," Patrick replied, somehow knowing where this was going.

"It's been a while since I stepped inside a Catholic church, but the last one I went into had lots of statues of saints, plenty of religious icons. Similarly inside many other denominations, you find icons of many types. Perhaps it's the Protestant genes in me," he grinned, "but I've always had difficulty in marrying that one commandment to what I've seen with my own eyes."

Patrick laughed hollowly. He understood Daniel's point.

"And one of the most important commandments. Thou shalt not kill. Not 'thou shalt not kill unless it suits you'. How many people throughout the ages have died because of religion - many religions, not specifically yours, by the way."

The only answer Patrick could give him was a sigh.

"My point is, Pat, that the Bible has constantly been reinterpreted throughout history, to suit the..." He stopped for a moment, then waved his hand. "The temperament, for want of a better word, of the people within that religion. There's a good reason Protestantism was born in Germany and took off in the rest of Northern Europe at that time. The religious stance taken by Luther suited the Northern Germanic temperament better than Catholicism. Each sect has its own base, its own beliefs, but you all have the same basic core beliefs, don't you?"

"Of course."

"Tell me, do you think that the Pope believes in God more passionately, more devoutly than the Archbishop of Canterbury?"

"Um... Probably not," Pat guessed. "I mean, I wouldn't say that at all."

"But they interpret the Bible differently, don't they? There are certain aspects of what was written in the Bible that they disagree on. Yet both men undoubtedly believe wholeheartedly that what they believe is the true interpretation."

"I'd agree with that."

"Then allow yourself to understand that your religion, your life has been based on an interpretation of what was written. An interpretation that has changed over the centuries. It can be changed again. It will be changed again at some point. Your religion was never black and white, Patrick. You just never saw the shades of grey."

"I understand what you're saying. That's what's become so much clearer to me over the last couple of days."

"I'm glad. I haven't been saying that your beliefs were wrong, Patrick. Never think that."

"No, I didn't get that impression. You know, I really think I'm going to figure this out," he smiled. He took another sip of his water and said, "Something else I've figured out is that - if you'll forgive the change of subject - I don't think I've ever seen Jack so relaxed, so comfortable with himself. Whatever it is you're doing with him, it's working."

Daniel froze. Had Pat guessed? He didn't dare ask.

In the end, he settled on, "I guess I'm bossy. But Jack needs someone to stand up to him. Both Paul and I will do that. We make him do his physical therapy, make him rest when he needs to."

"You love him," Pat stated. "That's all he needs."

"Possibly. But we worry about his physical state as much as his mental state. He used to be so very active and sometimes it hurts him a lot to be that active now. He gets depressed when he's hurting. So, we make sure he takes his meds, does his exercise, soaks in the bath or the hot tub..."

"It's why you really had the pool put in, isn't it? Not because you could, as it would appear, but because it's good exercise for Jack."

Daniel shrugged. "You got me," he laughed. "But we have fun in it, too. This summer it was a godsend on some really hot days."

Patrick didn't look too convinced by that argument, but he was more than willing to believe that Daniel and Paul had insisted on the pool to aid Jack. He looked around the kitchen and something else struck him.

"The doors are very wide," he said. "Were they like that when you got here?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, we had to have them widened. Initially, Jack could have days when he was stuck in a wheelchair. Something he detested, but it was better than being stuck in bed or carried around by one of us when it was too painful for him to put his feet on the floor."

"But the new extension has wide doors, too. You're not going to tell me that's for aesthetic reasons?"

"No. I wouldn't do that. Jack doesn't need the chair now, but he does have arthritis. There's a possibility that one day, he'll need it again. Hell, none of us is getting any younger, we could all need one in the end." He shrugged, "This is our home, Pat. We want it to be that for life. By planning ahead, it means less hassle in future. We were having a lot of work done before we moved in anyway, so doing things like widening doors was no more trouble."

"I noticed the handles and things in the bathroom attached to my room," Pat said. "I take it that used to be your room?"

"Yes. We had the extension built initially to put the gym in, but as we were at it, we figured a bigger bedroom made sense, too. Our new bathroom has the handles and bars, for Jack's bad days."

"Nothing else?" Patrick teased.

Daniel laughed out loud. "Well, I wouldn't say that we don't make the most of them." At Pat's laughter, he asked, "Tell me, does that thought bother you anymore?"

"No. Not at all," he reassured. "Like I said before, it was never the thought of sex - of any sort - that bothered me, I just didn't think about it. When you don't give something consideration, frank discussion of it can surprise you. But now..." He stopped, not sure where he was going.

"Now you're thinking about it?" Daniel asked. "Is that going to cause you any problems with your vow?"

"I don't know, to be honest. That's pretty scary. But I do think that cloistering my mind isn't the right way for me to go anymore. It worked up till now, but I feel the need to be more... with it, I guess."

"You're seriously thinking about leaving the Church, aren't you?" Daniel suddenly blurted. "You want company."

Patrick looked at him in astonishment. "I... I don't know." A look of guilt washed over him and Daniel reacted in the same way he would if it were Jack standing there. He stepped up and drew Pat into a hug.

"Don't worry," he murmured, "I'm not going to seduce you."

Pat slowly wrapped his own arms around him, stunned by his reaction to Daniel's touch. He chuckled at Daniel's words, but more out of nervousness than humour.

"It's okay to hug someone, Pat. It's not breaking your vows, I'm sure. Just remember this when you're at the cabin. It's not a sin to want someone to love. It's not a sin to want someone to love you. It's a human reaction. You've served your Church well. You've done what has been required of you and more. If you decide that you want a change, you are not to feel guilty about it. I know you'll continue to serve your God, even if you no longer wear that collar. There are many ways to do that, few of which require the sacrifice you've made for so long. I'm sure if you talk to your confessor, he'll see that, too. If he's a sensible human being, that is."

"He is," Pat replied. "He's a good man. A caring man."

"Then he'll understand and wish you well. Leaving your post is not failure. It's just a step in another direction. Life is a journey, as they say. We all arrive at the same destination, we just all have different paths. You've reached a crossroads in yours. It's up to you which way you go from now on. But whichever you choose, it will have to be your choice and yours alone. Remember you're not alone when you've made it."

Daniel knew his words were getting through to him when Pat's arms wrapped around him tighter, as if he was both offering and getting comfort. He was surprised when Pat's body reacted to the touch.

"Oh... um..." Patrick backed away and blushed furiously.

Daniel grabbed him quickly and pulled him back into the hug.

"Pat, when was the last time you were hugged like this?"

Patrick was silent for a moment, then said, "Just before I entered the seminary."

"Over thirty years ago? Dear God. No wonder you're reacting like this. Now, listen to me good. There's no embarrassment. It's your body reacting, not your head. You're not suddenly gay, you know."

Patrick chuckled nervously again, then gently broke away.

"Did you like guys or gals when you were a teen?" Daniel asked matter-of-factly.

"Gals," Pat replied definitely.

"Truly?" Daniel pushed. "There was never any curiosity?"

"None whatsoever. I didn't see what guys saw in guys. To tell the truth, I still don't."

"Then forget it," came the answer. "It really doesn't mean a thing except you've been starved for contact. At least it proves one thing," he added with a wicked grin.

"What's that?"

"It's still working. If you leave, there's hope for that relationship yet."

Patrick looked at him in shock then burst out laughing helplessly. When he finished, he looked Daniel in the eye and said, "I'm glad Jack's found you. You're a good man, my friend."

Daniel put his hand out and took Pat's in his. He squeezed it gently before letting go.

"Thanks, Pat. That means a lot to me." He turned to leave then stopped, looked over his shoulder, and with a wink he said, "There's a box of tissues in the top drawer of the bedside table. See you in the morning."

Before Pat even grasped the meaning of his words, he'd gone. When Pat realised what he was talking about, he didn't know whether to blush or laugh. In the end, he settled for both and headed off to bed.

"Is everything okay?" Jack asked as Daniel got into bed.

"Everything's fine," he reassured him. "Honest, Jack. Pat's cool. You're lucky to have such a great brother."

"I know. He used to be a terrific big bro when I was a kid."

"He took care of you?"

"Oh yeah. Any trouble from other kids and he'd be there."

As Jack said that Daniel detected Paul stiffen in his arms - and not in a good way. He turned his head, looked at Jack, gave him a 'quit it' gaze then flicked his head towards Paul to tell Jack why. Jack got it straight away and Daniel detected guilt on his face. It was no worse than the guilt he felt for bringing the subject up in the first place.

To take Paul's mind off his own less-than fantastic brother, Daniel shifted, turned Paul till he was on his back and kissed him.

It took quite a while until he broke away and gave Paul a chance to speak.

"I thought you said we were going to behave tonight," he hissed.

"Ah, I changed my mind," Daniel sniggered.

"Dan, you don't have t..." Paul stopped speaking when Daniel slid down his body and started to suck. "Oh fuck it," Paul gasped. "Never mind."

Daniel had to fight down a laugh. To distract himself, he shifted again until he pulled Paul onto his side, reached over to Jack, tapped his leg and relied on Jack's knowledge of him to know what was going to happen next.

Jack got it. He slid his hand under the pillow, grabbed the lube, covered his fingers and started playing with Paul's ass. Paul let out a long, low moan, so Jack slid his spare hand under Paul's neck and up and over his mouth.

"Shh," he warned.

Paul shut up, but decided to get his own back on Jack by sucking on his fingers instead.

"Bastard," Jack hissed, pushing his other fingers deeper inside Paul, angling for the gland but having difficulty finding it because of the position he was in. He reluctantly pulled his hand away from Paul's mouth, slid a little further down Paul's body and was soon hitting the spot with gusto.

Daniel felt the result of that, Paul's cock twitching in his mouth, hitting his throat as he lowered his head down the shaft. He didn't really want Paul to come yet, he was enjoying this too much. But because they really were all tired, he tapped Jack's leg again in a 'get on with it' way. Jack took the hint and got on with it.

Paul thought he'd died and gone to heaven. Daniel's mouth on him, Jack's cock in him... The only thing that would be better would be if...

"Dan, stop," he whispered.

Daniel stopped and looked up, grinning maniacally when Paul twirled his finger around. Moments later, he was back at his 'job', Jack was moving slowly but purposefully again, but this time, Paul had a treat in the shape of Daniel's dick in his mouth.

Jack wanted something in his mouth, too, but had to settle on biting on Paul's neck in an attempt to stifle the grunts that threatened to come out. His top arm reached around to Daniel's ass, stroking it, searching for the crack and finding it, tickled his hole to make him come sooner. He wanted to see it, wanted to see Paul take it, wanted it to push Paul on so that his ass would wring Jack's own orgasm out of him. His hips thrust that bit harder as that image entered his head - a not uncommon image, he knew, though more usually it would be him and Paul doing the 69 with Daniel fucking one or the other of them. With that thought, he remembered the sensation of Daniel's cock in his ass, could almost really feel it. He bit harder on Paul's neck, urging him to work harder, faster, just please do it!

Jack's dry finger stung Daniel's ass but he revelled in the sensation. His own hips twitched involuntarily, pushing his cock further down Paul's throat. When it hit the back Paul swallowed, the muscles spasming in reaction to the touch. In turn, the tightening of Paul's throat got to Daniel and he came, pumping everything he had into Paul's mouth. As Jack knew it would, it set Paul off. He got what he wanted, got the tightness in Paul's ass, the near desperation of the muscles to possess his cock, pulling at it, milking it, finally draining him until there was nothing left.

The three lay exhausted, trying hard to catch their breaths, regain some form of equilibrium. Eventually, Daniel moved, crawling until he was the right way up again. He inched over Paul, taking his time to kiss him as he went. Jack waited patiently, knowing he'd get the same, and when he did, he made the most of it, wrapping his arms around him and holding him close. Finally, they broke apart and Daniel rolled onto his back, automatically reaching out for his lovers and pulling them close.

"Eat up," Mary encouraged Patrick. "You know that airline food isn't exactly filling."

He chuckled to himself, thinking that his mother had never changed. If it were possible, she'd got worse as time had passed.

The others were trying not to snigger as they ate their own breakfasts. Mary was being a real mother hen that morning and Daniel now knew for sure from whom Jack had inherited that particular trait.

"Don't you three leave anything," she ordered. "Especially you, Paul. You don't seem to eat anything in the morning. Just how you get through the day, I don't know."

"Ma, sit down and eat, will you?" Jack put in as Paul ducked his head, pretending to eat but trying not to laugh. "You're scaring the guys. They're not used to tyrannical mothering."

"I am," Daniel groaned. "Believe me, I am."

"Your Jewish foster mother?" Mary asked, finally sitting down to her own breakfast.

"Her too," Daniel nodded. "But my ayah was just as bad. My parents were great, don't get me wrong, but they did kind of leave me to my own devices. Ayah made me eat, made me wash - made me go to bed on time," he finished with a sniff.

"Daniel, you were only a little kid!" Jack put in. "Someone had to tell you what to do."

"Yeah. I know. I'm glad she did, honestly. If I'd been left for my parents to bring up, I'd have been a worse brat than I really was. Ayah didn't let me get away with anything," he chuckled. Then he added, "But she spoiled me rotten, too. The five of us, me and her kids, were given treats almost daily. And lots of cuddles. She seemed to get the most out of being a mom by sitting down with us, reading to us or telling us a story which had been passed down to her, and we'd all get a turn on her lap whether we wanted it or not."

The others laughed at the image of a squirming young Daniel, trying to sit on his own but still listen to the stories and eat the sweetmeats on offer. Instinctively, Daniel looked at Paul, however, and saw a hint of wistfulness in his eyes. He automatically reached for him and put his hand on his back.

Despite her earlier misgivings about asking Paul about his background, this time, Mary determined to do just that.

"Paul? Weren't you spoiled or fussed over?" she asked gently.

Paul shrugged. "My nanny spoiled me whenever she could get away with it. But she'd have been fired if my mother had caught her."

"Was your mother strict?"

"No, not that. She just didn't care about me."

Mary was about to say 'surely not!' when she saw in Paul's eyes that it was the case. Her heart sank.

Paul could see the torment in her eyes, so he gave her a brief rundown on his childhood. By the end of which, Mary was all for getting on the next plane to DC to give his mother a piece of her mind. She couldn't imagine that attitude in a mother, even though his wasn't the first story of that ilk that she had heard. She always had the same reaction whenever she heard it. Paul's information about his father, though, cheered her up.

"He sounds like he was a good guy," she said with a smile.

"Oh, he was."

"Would he have approved of these two?" she asked, her voice teasing.

Paul picked up on that and with his usual dry tone, he said, "Probably. But he'd have wanted me to find some other poor little rich boy who'd keep me in the style to which I'd like to become accustomed."

They all laughed at his answer, Daniel and Jack pretending (and failing) to appear hurt. Mary also found that his manner of speaking soothed her feelings. No one who wasn't totally comfortable about his position in a partner's life (or in his case, partners' lives, she corrected herself) could speak to them like that. She was also beginning to understand his personality.

Even though she understood a bit about their lifestyle, no matter how often she'd been told a sub was in it totally willingly, she'd always had the mothering streak which made her feel sorry for them, as if they were being put upon. Hearing Paul stand up to the other two like this comforted her, helped her to understand that he'd stand up to them both in all things. If he was prepared to do that, no way could he be 'put upon' by them.

"What about your parents, Daniel," Patrick asked. "Would they have been okay?"

"Oh yeah. My biological parents would have accepted anything about me," he replied with a surety that nearly stunned Pat. "My foster parents - the last ones," he added, "knew."

"They did? How did they take it? You said they were religious Jews."

"They were. But they weren't Orthodox." He chuckled to himself as he remembered coming out to them. "I was just turning fifteen," he said. "I'd been pretty certain about my orientation for a good few months but I wasn't sure how to tell them. I mean, I was there in their home and part of their family because they were good, kind people. And as you say, the deeply devout can't always accept it. But one day, my hormones were kicking in, I was having a bad couple of days for any number of reasons, and I wasn't dealing with it particularly well. You know what teens are like. Rationality isn't high on the agenda at that age."

Mary had to laugh quietly at that. Having had three of her own, she knew all too well.

"Mom had told me off for something earlier in the day - undoubtedly with good reason - and I wanted to get my own back. So over dinner that night, I had the perfect opportunity. Ben, my brother, was teasing me for not taking up the offer that one of the girls in a class down from me was making. He was calling me 'innocent in the ways of women' and so on. I was getting really annoyed with him 'cause he wouldn't drop the subject, even though Mom told him to shut up. In the end, I said, 'Will you shut up? I'm not interested in her at all. Or any other girl at school.' I remember smiling rather nastily at him then, something he didn't really deserve, and said, 'I'm gay'."

"What did they say?" Patrick prompted.

Still laughing to himself, Daniel replied, "Dad looked at me, raised an eyebrow, shrugged and then said, 'we were wondering when you'd realise that' and he carried on with his meal."

"That was it?" Mary asked, joining in with his laughter because it was infectious.

"Yup, pretty much. I mean, Ben and Tzufit now had another thing to tease me about. If it wasn't that, it was acne or whatever. But then I gave as good as I got and it wasn't nasty, if you know what I mean. If they hadn't teased me, I'd have known they'd have had a problem with it. We bitched at each other all the time, but the three of us were really close. For example, I was in the same school year as them, even though they were two years older than me. We were even in the same classes in some cases. Right at the beginning, I was picked on by some of the older kids because I was pretty small. I joined that school when I was thirteen and I hadn't had the growth spurt which took me to six foot. When they heard someone pushing me around, they were over to me in a shot, grabbed the idiot and nearly made him wet himself he was so scared. Mainly of Tzufit, mind, but then she was pretty scary. If ever anyone was stupid enough to have a real go at me, they got her in their face. Or Ben, for that matter. And they didn't like to annoy him because he was a real sports jock. A smart one, but seriously fit and strong. Only they were allowed to tease me and believe me, I teased them, too."

"Sounds like a wonderful home," Mary said with a big smile.

"Oh, it was. It was fantastic. I couldn't buy that sort of support back then and they gave it unconditionally. I wasn't exactly easy."

"You still aren't," Jack muttered, then he winked at Daniel.

Daniel poked his tongue out at him.

"Children! Behave!" Mary called out, smiling from ear to ear.

"Oh, this is nothing," Paul sighed. "They're like that all the time. Usually it's a lot worse. You wait till they do their 'what, what' thing."

"The what?" Pat asked, confused.

"One will look at the other, the other will say 'what?', the first will repeat it, and it can go on for ages. Drives me insane!"

Jack looked at Daniel and grinned. Daniel looked at him, his face in mock-confusion, and said, "What?"


Paul's outburst had them cracking up.

"You two are so childish," Mary scolded. "Poor Paul. Look what he has to put up with."

The gruesome twosome kept laughing, both at Paul and Mary, and at memories of similar exchanges which had driven their team just as crazy. And poor old George... How he'd suffered at their hands.

To bring them back down to earth, Pat asked, "What are you doing for Christmas?"

Quick as a flash, Jack said, "We're putting some wings on Paul."

Patrick walked right into it, completely oblivious to his brother's warped humour.


"You know. Wings. Wand. Well, we need to stick a fairy on the tree, don't we?"

It was at this point that (a laughing) Paul got up, dragged Jack out of the kitchen and into the bedroom and, not very subtly, got his revenge.

Daniel, meanwhile, was weak with laughter, knowing just what Paul was likely to be doing to Jack and knowing that Jack was going to be well and truly embarrassed later on.

"Daniel?" Pat asked in shock. "Is Paul insulted?"

Daniel shook his head. "No, not at all," he replied, trying to regain some form of equilibrium. "We tease each other about everything and we're not exactly gentle about it. But it doesn't mean anything other than the fact that we know each other so well we can get away with it. You should hear the names Jack calls me. And believe me, Paul's getting his own back right now."

"I'd ask how, but I'm not sure I want to know," Pat muttered.


Jack was flat on his back, still laughing as Paul lay on top of him, pinning him down.

"Fairy?" he said in a mock-threatening way.

"Just joking," he tried, but failed to mollify Paul.

"Right. You know you're in trouble now, don't you?"

"Hell yeah," Jack replied, raising his hands in surrender.

Still laughing himself, Paul dipped his head down and captured Jack's mouth with his. He made the mistake of slackening his grip on Jack and before he knew it, he was tipped onto his own back, Jack lying on top of him.

"Too easy," Jack teased.

"Oh yeah?" asked Paul, shifting his legs until they were wrapped around Jack's back and holding him tightly in their grip. "Get out of that one."

Jack tried to move but found he couldn't shift as much as an inch. Paul had him where he wanted him.

"I surrender," Jack murmured, and kissed him instead of trying to escape.

They got so caught up in what they were doing that they completely missed the fact that Daniel had entered the room and was now watching them. He guessed that they weren't going any further, which was what he'd come in to warn them about as time was running short before they were due to leave. Debating whether to break them up or not, he settled on calling out, "We're going in a couple of minutes, guys," and he left the room, taking his small backpack with him, inside which were a few things he'd packed when he'd got up.


"Will they be ready to come?" Mary asked as he entered the living room.

Daniel bit his lip rather than reply and Mary looked at him oddly, then she smacked his arm.

"You have a filthy mind," she accused.

"Guilty as charged," he admitted. "And they're behaving themselves. They'll be ready."

"They wouldn't argue with you about that?" she asked quietly, not raising her voice deliberately.

"They'll argue about anything they want to argue about," he sighed. "But most of the time, they do as they're told."

"More than Jack did when he was at home," she muttered. "Ach, that's not true. He wasn't a bad kid."

"You should talk to General Hammond," Daniel laughed. "Even though Jack was his second in command, he probably had more trouble with him than with anyone else. Having said that, George knew that he only had to say that something needed doing and it would get done. Jack was prepared to stand up to him or any other general that came our way if he believed that what he was being ordered to do was the wrong thing. Hammond would listen to him when he did, knowing that Jack would only say 'no' if he had a reason." He paused, looked around and made sure that Pat wasn't in the room before he continued. "If you're wondering, he'll say 'no' to me, too, and I will listen, each and every time."

"I got that feeling," she replied. "I think I need more information, but that's the doctor in me. I always like to understand people's motives for doing things, you know?"

"Absolutely. There's no real difference between a psychologist and an anthropologist, really. Except my interest lies more in the cultural side of things rather than the individual's motivations. What makes a culture, or subculture, behave in a certain way. Why do they have the rituals they have and so on."

"I'll bet working with the military gave you a great chance to do a case study on that particular subculture."

"Oh, it did. I didn't write any papers on it, it was more personal observations."

"Did you come to any conclusions?"

The others entered the living room at that point and they broke off for a moment, organising themselves. As soon as everyone was ready, they headed for the car. Paul offered to use his car and soon found himself in the driver's seat, Mary next to him and the men in the back.

As they left the house and pulled onto the road, Mary turned back to look at Daniel.

"So? Conclusions?" she asked, picking up where they'd left off.

"In the end, it was no different from any other tightly-knit subculture. A top to bottom structure with a permanent top and flexible bottom." He looked at Paul as he said that and Mary had to look away or she'd laugh out loud. He continued in a more serious vein. "A strict hierarchy within the ranks, not just between the ranks. Within the ranks things like length of service and the sort of action people had seen would make one person of a particular rank be more 'important' than another and so on. There is a constant use of ritual, both in actual acts and in language. To be honest, there wasn't really anything extraordinary about it, unless you count the particular closeness of each team, especially ones who'd been together for any length of time."

"Sounds very familiar," Mary agreed. "Taken to its basic components, almost any subculture could be described in a similar manner. If you look at a school, you have the head teacher, the heads of department, the teachers, classroom assistants, the pupils... The pupils have their own hierarchy based on what grade they're in and what they do, what makes them popular and so on."

"Exactly. What makes it - or any other subculture - interesting is how they express the ritual and hierarchy," Daniel replied. "Any official subculture has strict rules in how things are done. Others may be more flexible in the application of it, but even there, in the least strict subcultures, there are ways of doing things and if you wish to remain a part of it, you do not step over the line. You get the strict rules in the military, but also in other government organisations, especially where civil servants work, and in groups like the Scouts or the Church. The more flexible approach turns up in private organisations, especially the more modern companies, where it's easier to break down the barriers between boss and worker."

They became aware that the others, especially the brothers, were listening into their conversation.

"You're saying the military and the Church are subcultures?" Patrick asked, not knowing anything about Daniel's previous conversation with Jack.

Jack, of course, laughed. "Trust me, Pat. You don't want to go into it. Daniel's view of the world isn't really like ours. But when you come down to it, he's right. Think about it. I had an ultimate boss. In my case, it's the president, whoever it is that happens to be in power at that time. The point is, it's the position of president that's the constant. Your ultimate boss is God. I had a more accessible boss, the chief of staff. The president's representative to the military, in effect. You have the Pope - God's representative on Earth. I had superior officers, you have cardinals, bishops and so on."

"I'd never thought of it like that," Pat shrugged.

"Most people don't," Daniel agreed. "But few people don't belong to any subculture. Even those that deliberately try to stay out of organised groups end up in a subculture of some sort or other, whether they recognise it or not."

"It sounds fascinating," Pat said.

Jack groaned. "You just had to say that, didn't you? Dammit, Pat, I have to live with that!"


They pulled up at the hotel where the conference was taking place and Mary indicated to Daniel that she would like to speak to him. He got out, as did Patrick. He let the big man say goodbye to his mother and waited for him to get back in the car before asking Mary what she wanted.

"Can we meet up for lunch?" she asked.

"What time?"

"According to the schedule, it's at one."

"Okay. I'll be here."

"Good. See you then."

With a wave, mainly aimed at Pat, she turned and headed into the hotel. Daniel got back in the car, sitting in the front next to Paul, saying that he wanted to give the guys in the back more room.

The rest of the journey to the airport was quiet, none of the men really knowing what to say next. Jack told Pat about a few of the changes they'd made to the cabin to make it more comfortable, informed him of where the fishing gear was and so on, but little of consequence was said. They pulled up at the drop off point and all got out of the car. Jack hugged his brother, telling him to come visit whenever he wanted, or to call anytime he needed to. Patrick thanked him and promised that no matter what he decided over the next few days, nothing and no one would come in-between them. The last remaining doubt left Jack and he was very relieved.

Paul shook Patrick's hand and they chatted briefly. Pat had taken to him for reasons he wasn't totally sure of, outside of the fact that Paul was basically a nice guy. Again, Patrick promised to keep in touch with Paul, something Paul was also grateful for.

Then it was Daniel's turn. He'd got Pat's case from the boot of the car and handed it to him, then he handed him an envelope.


"Just a little food for thought. Leave it till you're on the plane or at the cabin, okay?"

"Okay, er... thanks."

"Yeah, well, leave the thanks till later." He put out his hand to shake Pat's, but Pat had another idea and pulled him briefly into a very O'Neill-style hug.

"Thanks for everything," Patrick murmured. "I truly appreciate everything you've done for me."

"You're more than welcome," Daniel replied. "I just hope it's been of use."

"It has. Ah well, I'd better get going." He picked up his case, looked at the three and offered them a smile. "I'll let you know what I come up with," he promised. "Whatever it is, I'll live my life with my eyes wide open, thanks to you all. Take care of yourselves, and, if you don't mind," he added, winking at Daniel, "God bless you."

"Hey, we'll take all the blessings we can get," Jack replied, grinning at his brother. "Thanks."

Patrick smiled, nodded, and without saying goodbye, he turned and walked into the terminal.

They watched him until he disappeared into the crowd and then got back into the car, this time with Daniel in the driving seat.

"Where to?" Paul asked as Daniel turned the ignition.

"Ah, wait and see," Daniel replied. He looked at his watch. "We've got a couple of hours to kill."

Mary looked at the itinerary pinned to the conference room door and sighed. Her talk wasn't until the following afternoon, being the last one scheduled. Today, there were four different speakers, two each in the morning and afternoon. The list of subjects both piqued her professional interest and depressed her as a human being. The conference was purely on child psychology especially connected to traumatic events. Not a pleasant subject at the best of times.


She turned around and saw the owner of the voice, recognising him immediately from past conferences.

"Fred, it's good to see you again. Are you going in for this one?" she asked, pointing at the top of the list.

"I sure am. Come sit with me, we can chat during the break."

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Not because she didn't like her companion but to help her face the lecture to come.


As they turned a corner, Paul recognised where they were immediately. At his word, Jack started to pay attention and realised where they were too.

"Daniel?" he echoed.

"Uh... Well, you said you wanted to get your other nipple pierced," Daniel replied. "I figured that Master Jude would be someone good to go to. He told me he does piercings, too. I rang him the other day when I knew we'd have some time to ourselves today. If you don't want to, Paul, you can say so. I mean, I don't want to push you into this."

"No, no, it's fine. I just wasn't expecting it this morning. You're right, I'd feel more relaxed with him doing it. I always feel a bit nervous in the usual piercing studios. Probably because I'm usually surrounded by people with piercings everywhere. Makes me feel like I'm just playing at it."

Daniel chuckled to himself at that, somehow knowing what he meant.

"Okay, as long as you're happy to do it." He pulled the car into the drive, stopped it and looked over his shoulder with a wicked grin. "While we're here, want anything of yours pierced, Jack? Nipple, other ear... A Prince Albert?"

Jack just shrugged in reply. "You never know, Daniel. I might surprise you."

Daniel laughed that off, but he wondered if Jack really meant it. He figured he'd wait and see. Instead of questioning him, he opened his door and got out of the car, waiting for the others to join him. He didn't go over the rules of behaviour for when they were at Jude's as he knew they'd remember how he wanted them to be. When they stood to the side of the car as Daniel locked it up and stared ahead of themselves, he knew for sure they remembered.

"Come on, it's time to go in."

Daniel knocked on the door and moments later, it was opened by Jude's slave.

"Master Daniel," he greeted. "Master Jude is expecting you."

"Thank you," Daniel replied, stepping inside. "Is he in his studio?"

"Yes, Sir. Please, come with me."

They followed him to the studio and Jack in particular was feeling pretty excited. Daniel tried not to look at him but couldn't help but check out Jack's body language from the corner of his eye. He knew what Jude did to Jack, understood why, too. There was something about the man that seemed to attract attention.

"Master Daniel, it's good to see you again."

He heard Master Jude before he saw him and turned to seek out the source of the voice.

"Master Jude. Thanks so much for this. You are very accommodating."

"Believe me, Master Daniel, I can accommodate more than you can imagine."

Daniel laughed out loud.

"Somehow, I don't doubt that at all."

He put his hand out and beckoned Paul to his side.

"Take your top off, pet," he ordered gently.

Paul did it without hesitation, laying his clothes carefully on the chair next to him.

"Where would you like him?" Daniel asked Jude.

"Oh please," Jude laughed. "You do like to ask loaded questions, don't you?"

Jack listened to the banter which continued in a similar vein between Daniel and Jude and couldn't help but be both surprised and turned on. The atmosphere was much lighter than when they'd had their tattoos, yet Jude was still giving off the same dangerous air that he always did. Daniel ran his hand over Jack's groin as he spoke, as if knowing how Jack was feeling without even looking. Jack jumped slightly and then blushed a little. He knew he'd been caught by Daniel yet again. Not that he was worried about that at all. He knew that Daniel knew how they felt about the older man.

Daniel had to fight down a grin when he felt Jack's cock harden under his touch. He was in a bit of a silly mood for some reason, as, it seemed, was Jude. He couldn't understand why he wasn't jealous of the guys' affection for Jude, but he wasn't at all. In fact, he had to really fight his desire to let Jude 'play' with them as he knew that he'd regret it later if he did. Having said that, he still wanted Jude to play a bit.

Paul was sitting on the rack and Jude was preparing to do the piercing.

"Which item would you like placed in him?" Jude asked Daniel.

Daniel looked over the selection offered to him and his face lit up when he saw a very beautiful set of jade jewellery.

"Oh, that," he said excitedly. "Look at them, Paul. What do you think?"

Paul looked at the jade set and smiled.

"They're lovely," he murmured.

"You want them, pet?"

"Please, Master, I'd love them."

"We'll take the lot," Daniel stated, looking at Jude. "The two nipple bars and the navel ring, please."

"You've made a good choice," Jude said approvingly. "They're handmade by someone I believe you know."


"Yes, she's getting herself a name for her designs. Look how they work."

Jude picked up the one bar, a finely crafted and extremely smooth bar with nodules at each end. He held one end in-between his fingers and then twisted the other side. The end came off and they saw that she'd created a screw end for security. The bar would go through the hole and the end would be screwed back on. The ring had a ball which screwed into both ends of a break in it, holding it in place when attached to the navel. The jade was a deep-green and, Daniel thought, reflected Paul's eyes. Not that he'd admit that in front of them.

Jack stood behind Daniel's shoulder as they watched Jude do his work. First, he inserted the jewellery in the holes Paul already had and then he got the needle ready to do the new one. Daniel moved, sat next to Paul on the rack, reached down and undid his pants, taking his cock out and holding it in his hand.

He whispered, "That's it, baby, get hard for me. I want to watch you come."

Paul gripped the side of the rack and took in a deep breath. Jack watched him intently, as did Jude's slave. Jude, on the other hand, continued his preparations. He looked over at Daniel and with his eyes confirmed what they'd discussed on the phone. He was going to wait until the right moment before doing the piercing. His hands in place, everything ready, he dropped his eyes and watched as Daniel slowly but surely jerked Paul off.

Paul knew that all eyes were on his dick and that thought added to the excitement. He wasn't bothered by the thought that he was on show, he enjoyed it if he were honest with himself. He let out a moan and then bit his lip, thinking that he wouldn't be allowed to make a sound. Daniel told him otherwise.

"That's it, pet. You moan. You sound so good when you do that. Make me happy."

Daniel's murmured words drove Paul on and he groaned happily. He wanted to move, to writhe around, but that was one thing he couldn't do. So he expressed himself with sound.

"He's very infectious," Jude teased, looking at his own groin as he spoke.

"Well, you can always do something about that," Daniel replied, grinning back at him. "I certainly intend to in a minute."

"Oh? What do you intend doing?" Jude asked, taking up Daniel's suggestion and ordering his slave to kneel under the table and between Paul's legs. As his slave got into position, he undid Jude's pants and started to suck him off.

"I'm not sure yet," Daniel said. "I've got so many possibilities after all."

"Master," Paul panted. "I..."

"Here we go," Jude muttered. He had to concentrate on his job - not easy when a mouth was on his cock.

As Paul came, Jude pushed the needle through his skin, taking the bar through in moments. Paul yelled out loud, partially from the pain but mainly from his orgasm which seemed to be more intense than normal. Daniel wrapped his arm around Paul and held him close as he came down off his high. Jude concentrated on what his slave was doing and Jack watched closely as he came, silently in stark contrast to Paul.

"That's better," Jude stated matter-of-factly. The slave did his pants back up and crawled out from under the table.

Jude checked on Paul, cleaned him up and secured the bar in place.

"Are you satisfied?" Jude asked Daniel.

"Not yet," Daniel answered with a grin. "But the bar looks wonderful."

He ordered Paul off the rack and told him to go sit on the chair where his clothes were. Paul staggered across the floor, his legs feeling jelly-like. As Daniel watched him, he caught something out of the corner of his eye and realised that Jack was staring at the needles in the tray.

"Jack? Is there something that you would like?" he asked gently.

Jack shook himself. "I... I don't know, Master. It's..."

He shrugged. He didn't know why he was suddenly drawn to it.

"Well," Daniel stated, "the way I see it you have three options. You can do nothing and be left wondering what it's like. You can go home and think about it and I'll bring you here if you decide you want it. Or you can have one done now, which, if you don't like it later on, you can take out before the hole heals up. That way, you won't even notice it's been done in a few weeks. It'll give you a while to make your mind up as the holes don't heal too quickly."

Jack nodded slowly, digesting Daniel's words. "May I try, please?" he asked quietly.

"Of course you may, Jack. Whatever you want. Where do you want it?"

Jack reached up and touched his chest, still staring at the needles. He couldn't understand it. He wasn't afraid of the pain, that was for sure. But he was fifty. Did fifty year-olds do this? Wasn't it enough that he'd had his navel pierced? That he wore an earring? He looked at Daniel and knew that his lover saw right through his confusion. Ignoring the others around him, Daniel sat back on the rack and patted to his side. Jack sat next to him and felt a bit better when Daniel wrapped his arm around him.

"Social conventions and niceties," Daniel started, getting a raised eyebrow from Jack but no comment. "Are artificial," he continued. "Artificial constructs designed by those in positions of cultural power, whether political, religious or through fame, such as film stars. Society has the 'ideal' man or woman in mind at all times. However, rarely, if ever, does the ideal exist. One thing that sets humans apart from any other animal on the planet is that we have a deep seated need to be a part of the crowd but different. You might think that you're not being different from us if you have this done, Jack, that it's only making you part of a crowd. In a way, that's true. But it's a comparatively small crowd. There are fifty year-old men out there with piercings. However, there are far fewer fifty year-old men getting themselves pierced or tattooed for the first or second time. So it would set you apart as much as bind you to us.

"Having said that, there is nothing to say you have to do this. I won't think any differently of you whichever way you go. It's your body, your choice what you do with it. Not mine. Not society's. Not the Air Force's..." he added quietly, squeezing Jack as he did. "It truly is up to you what you do. I'll admit, if you suddenly went crazy and decided to have your tongue pierced, or your eyebrow or something like that, I wouldn't like it, but that's only because I don't find it attractive personally. I wouldn't stop you doing it if it was what you really wanted to do."

Jack nodded, understanding where he was coming from. Perhaps it was just that. His own perceptions of how a fifty year-old guy should behave were stopping him from doing something which was essentially harmless and potentially fun. It was his old 'snobbery' coming back and hitting him again. Deep down, far down, so far down that he had hardly known it was there, he'd looked down on those - especially of his age and older - who did it.

'Fuck that', he thought to himself. He dropped off the table and looked at the tray of jewellery which remained out on a table. He saw a fine gold ring which matched the one in his ear and he grinned.

"You want that?" Jude asked him gently, a tone Jack hadn't heard from the older man before.

"Please, Master. I'd like to try it."

Jude looked at Daniel and got a nod in return.

"Good choice. Take your shirt off and we'll get on with it, shall we?"

Daniel motioned to Paul to come back to them and whispered in his ear, getting a grin and a nod in return. As Jack sat on the rack, Paul moved between his legs, undid his pants and went down on him.

"I hope you can work to one side?" Daniel asked Jude casually.

"With a floor show like this, I could work from the ceiling," Jude replied. "You want the same effect?"

"I think so. He needs distracting."

"And what of you?" Jude asked. "You haven't been 'distracted' yet."

"Just wait and see," Daniel purred seductively, looking over at Jude's slave and then at his men as if he was either considering which of them would 'distract' him, or if all three would.

Jack was on edge; no way was he going to hold out. The mood he was in, with natural nervousness from what was going to happen to the fact that Paul was blowing him in public, pushed him quickly to the edge. His knuckles got whiter and whiter as he gripped the table just as Paul had done a short while before. Jude prepared him quickly and readied the needle, pushing it against Jack's skin without breaking it. It gave him a tingling shock, which combined with everything else made him come. He was so wrapped up in the feelings in his groin that he completely missed the fact that Jude had pierced his nipple and put the ring in place.

Paul stood up, wiping his face and grinning rather smugly. Jack was still staring into space. He nearly missed what was going on beside him.

Daniel had beckoned Jude's slave over to him (permission granted, of course), and was in the process of bending Paul over the rack, pulling his pants down and getting ready to fuck him. By the time Jack was with it, Daniel was merrily screwing their lover and the slave was kneeling behind Daniel and rimming him.

Jack felt a brief wave of jealousy surge through him but he bit down on it quickly. It wasn't real jealousy, he realised, just surprise that Daniel was allowing the youth anywhere near him. So caught up in watching his lovers, he barely noticed Jude standing behind him. He did notice when Jude wrapped his arms around Jack's bare chest and nearly nuzzled his neck as he whispered to him.

"Your master looks good," he said.

Jack nodded, swallowing harshly.

"He's treating my boy by allowing this. I think he's too soft on you all. You're very spoilt."

Jack shrugged. He didn't know what else to say.

"If you were mine, I would have whipped you raw before allowing you to be pierced."

Jack shook his head. Daniel wouldn't do that to him. Jude didn't understand them, he thought.

However, Jude understood him better than he realised. Despite having come moments before, Jack was still turned on. Jude slid his hand under Jack's waistband and held his cock firmly. Lax as it was, it twitched - more in hope than in expectation.

"If you were mine," Jude repeated, "I would use this whenever I wanted. Make you do things you couldn't believe you'd do. A man of your age being treated like a boy, that's what you'd be. My boy. You want to be my boy?"

Jack shook his head.

"No. I'm Daniel's. He likes men."

Jude chuckled to himself, withdrawing his hand from Jack's pants but still holding him closely.

"Men that make up their own minds, right?" Jude pushed.

Jack nodded.


"Men that don't care what others think of them? Men that go get pierced if they want to, get tattoos if they want to, do whatever it is that they want to do and to hell with society, right?"

"Yes," Jack hissed.

"Real men. Not followers of fashion, not air-head gym queens, not order-following robots?"

Jack nodded. He realised that Jude was underlining everything that Daniel had said to him. That he shouldn't care that he was fifty and getting pierced. That if he was eighty and wanted it, screw society, he should do it. He turned in Jude's arms and took a chance. He kissed him.

Jude was the first man Jack had kissed in many years - that wasn't Daniel or Paul, of course. It was kind of odd, but still good, he decided. Jude kissed him back, ruing the fact that he was even older than Jack and wouldn't recover for quite some time. He could so take it further with this powerful man, he thought.

A loud grunt from Daniel caught their attention and they broke apart. Jude leaned into Jack's ear and whispered, "If you ever want to come here on your own..."

Jack shook his head slowly, smiling back at him.

"I'm not just Daniel's," he murmured back. "He's mine."

Jude nodded with a smile of his own. "I know. Don't worry, I'm not going to even try to come in-between you. But a guy can dream, eh?"

Jack laughed out loud and turned to look at Daniel who was doing himself up, looking very pleased with himself. As Daniel put his hand out to Jack, Jack stepped closer, getting drawn into a hug immediately.

"You better?" Daniel asked quietly.

"Much. Thank you."

"My pleasure, pet. My absolute pleasure."

Patrick had been flying for an hour before he opened the envelope that Daniel had given him. Inside it was what seemed to be a long letter. Given that he had nothing better to do, he decided to read it there and then.

Dear Pat,

I really hope that the last few days have helped you put a few things into perspective and that we've been able to help you in some form or other.

You have no idea, Pat thought.

Anyway, I just wanted to tell you, to reinforce what I was saying, that you are the one that has to decide on your future. Not me, not Jack, not your mother - and not the Church. I know you've been a loyal member of your church and I know that you will continue to be so. That's a good thing - even to someone like me. But remember that you don't have to be a priest to do that.

Think of it this way: If Jack were to come across some, let's say, terrorist activity, what would you think he'd do? Would he ignore it? Would he call in the police? Or would he do what he'd do when he was in the Air Force? You know as well as I do that he would do everything in his power to serve his country - to serve all the people of the planet who wish to live in peace - no matter the consequence to himself. He wouldn't have to wear the uniform, he wouldn't have to be paid by the military, he'd do it because it was the right thing to do.

Similarly, you can serve your religion, your church, without wearing the uniform or being paid by them. Would there be a difference in the level of commitment between you as a layman and you as a priest? Would there be a difference in commitment to his country between Jack in uniform and not? I'm sure that the answer is 'no' in both instances. So, should you decide that the priesthood is no longer the right thing for you, you are not to feel guilt for it.

Pat thought about that for a moment and decided that he could see Daniel's point. That there were other ways he could remain loyal to his calling without having to make the same sacrifices. Perhaps he had been sacrificing too much for too long. He was only human, after all.

Of course, if you decide that you wish to stay a priest, then that's good too. But remember what I said about Paine and that one particular comment he makes. That saying you believe something when you do not is the real hypocrisy. You must, above all things, be true to yourself. If you feel you can do that as a priest, then I wish you well.

On the lighter side, and perhaps to poke fun at the 'phobes in religious society in general, I'd like to share something with you. It's been doing the rounds of email addresses for quite some time, but it is nonetheless quite apt to your current conundrum. Check out the printout attached to this.

Before you do that, remember one thing. Jack is your brother. He loves you. I truly believe that you love him. In the end, nothing else matters.

Take care of yourself, Pat. You know where I am if you need to talk.


Pat let out a long breath through his teeth when he finished reading the handwritten portion of the letter and put the papers down on his lap. He stared out of the window and watched the clouds pass by underneath him as he considered Daniel's words. He knew Daniel was right. Was still surprised by the man's attitude if he were honest with himself. Considering that Daniel was a paid up agnostic, he was very open to the idea of religion, and more to the point, the need for faith. The very fact that Daniel hadn't damned his faith when he would have had more than a good reason to, given what had happened to him, went a long way towards Pat trusting his opinions.

A steward approached him and offered him a drink. He considered asking for a whisky but realised that it was still morning, so he asked for some coffee instead. He couldn't stand airline tea, the water never got hot enough to make it properly. Bad coffee he could drink, bad tea was sacrilegious.

He waited until the coffee was given to him before deciding to look at the other paper. He wondered what it would be. Daniel had said it poked fun at 'phobes and he expected it to be some sort of silly joke. When he looked at it, though, he was surprised.

It started off as a letter to a well-known right wing religious 'adviser', thanking her for her wisdom on how homosexuality was a 'bad thing', which should be punished. Then it continued, asking for advice on a number of other religious matters.

Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanness - Lev.15:19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev.1:9). The problem is my neighbours. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I have a neighbour who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev.11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

Lev.21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16.) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)*

Patrick chuckled to himself as he read it. He understood the significance of it straight away of course. After all, if all of those things listed could be seen to be just plain silly in this day and age (if not abhorrent to a modern man), then why in God's name should he condemn his brother for his choice of partner? It just didn't make any logical sense whatsoever.

Daniel had scribbled a note at the end and it made him grin wryly.

I hope you're not offended by this. But I felt it made my point. I agree that faith is just that, and doesn't need logic or proof. I accept that. But surely, faith should be fair and also consistent? If this, if the Bible itself doesn't show that there is a distinct lack of consistency in the Judaeo-Christian religions, then I don't know what will. If you can look at this and still find a way of justifying your church's rules, then fine. Somehow, I doubt you will be able to do so. My advice is to pray on it. Perhaps your God will show you the way.


Patrick knew he was right. He also knew that Daniel was urging him to justify it to himself. He knew that Daniel wasn't trying to make him lose his faith but to adapt it to the modern day. Was that wrong?

He didn't think so. However, he knew that it would take more than a couple of days with the guys and an email to help him make up his mind.

He mentally urged the plane to go faster. He needed to get to the cabin. A few days' meditation and prayer away from the rest of the world should sort it out. Perhaps Daniel was right. God might show him the way.

Daniel was a tad nervous as he waited for Mary to turn up. He'd sent Jack and Paul home together, saying that he wanted to do some shopping and that he'd get a cab later. They hadn't questioned him, still stunned from the morning's activities as they were. Daniel had the feeling that the two of them were going to hit the mattress the second they entered the house, sore chests or not.

He laughed quietly to himself at that thought and stared at the posters up in the reception area of the hotel which was holding the conference. There were notices for the various speakers and he wondered who they were. He saw that that morning, Mary had been attending a lecture by a Dr. Griffith on the effects of natural disasters on children which was followed by another lecture on a similar subject by a doctor from another country, probably one who was dealing with area-specific disasters. He shuddered involuntarily as he automatically felt for all those children left behind. He knew how they felt.

Before he could continue to read, he felt a tap on his back which made him jump.

"Mary, you scared me," he scolded gently.

"I know," she replied, smiling broadly. "Ready to eat?"

"Absolutely. Come with me, I know a lovely place around the corner. My treat."

"Ooh good," she laughed. "Then let's go!"

They didn't speak on the way to the café but the silence was companionable rather than awkward. As soon as they arrived, Daniel ushered her inside, they found themselves a table near the window where they could watch the world go by and tried to make their minds up about what they wanted to eat.

"The seafood salad is particularly good here," he advised. "The dressing they put on it has a particular spicy tang but it doesn't overpower the seafood at all."

Mary took his advice and they ordered one each and a glass of wine to go with it.

"So?" Daniel finally asked. "Why the secrecy?"

She shrugged. "No secrecy as such," she replied. "I just wished to speak to you alone."

He laughed a little at that.

"What about?"

Again she shrugged. "You know? I'm not really sure. I mean, I want to know everything, but I also know that you, Jack and Paul have so many things you can say 'classified' to that it kind of spoils that line of conversation. Besides, I think you've probably told me all you can about your past?"

She made that a deliberate question forcing Daniel to answer.

"More or less. I mean, we haven't deliberately mislead you or anything, or missed anything out on purpose. Nothing important, I'm sure."

She nodded but said nothing more for that moment as the wine was being delivered, along with a basket of fresh rolls.

"Smells delicious," she said as the bread's aroma wafted around.

Daniel agreed with her and while the waitress fussed at their table, putting down plates and making sure that all was ready for the meal to be brought, they spoke only of the food to come. When the waitress went, however, Mary returned to her previous subject.

"How's Jack really?" she asked. "He says that he doesn't have nightmares in the way he used to. Is that the truth?"

Daniel nodded as he spoke. "Oh yes." He let out a short breath, half-amused by a memory. "When we first worked together, when we were just friends," he said quietly, keeping his voice low as he didn't want outsiders to hear him, "sometimes our missions would keep us out overnight. We were still getting used to our teammates at that time and he didn't want to admit to having difficulties on some nights."

"Why not? Surely they would understand?"

"Of course they did. But Teal'c is a warrior in the truest sense and Jack didn't want to appear too fragile in front of him. Sam, on the other hand, was a junior officer. He had to be 'the man'," he said, doing the air quotes.

"Not in front of you?" she asked.

Daniel shook his head. "He tried that on our first mission together and I saw right through him there and then and he knew it. He also knew that having 'failings' - in his eyes, not mine I hasten to add - was pretty irrelevant to me. I'd hated him on sight," he added, grinning at Mary's surprise. "It was only when he really showed that he was human and not a robot that I took to him."

"I can't imagine you two hating each other," Mary sighed.

"Don't you believe it. For the best part of five years, we went through phases of loving each other as best friends and wanting to kill each other on a daily basis."

"Like the old cliché," Mary said nodding in understanding. "Love and hate being the two sides of the same coin," she added for clarity.

Daniel agreed. "Yeah, but don't tell Jack that. You know how much he hates clichés."

She burst out laughing.

"You do know him."

"All too well, Mary. All too well."

He took a sip of his wine before continuing.

"Anyway, as I was saying, right back at the beginning, on overnight missions, there were the odd occasions when he'd get nightmares. I knew he'd be embarrassed by this, so I used to stay alert. At the first sign of a nightmare, I'd grab him and hold him for a while. Sometimes that was all it took to calm him. If it didn't, I'd shake him awake before he got too loud." After another sip of wine, he added, "He did the same for me."

She wanted to know more but instinctively knew not to ask, that Daniel would say something if he wanted to.

"Occasionally, I'd stay with him at his place, especially if we'd had a bad mission. We could pretty much guarantee that a nightmare would hit at least one of us. So we'd watch a game, eat takeout, get a bit drunk... And when one of us started yelling, the other would go to him. It's funny," he said without humour. "We'd sleep together, but it was nothing more than platonic."

"If you hadn't been looking for your wife?" she asked.

"Who knows?" he shrugged. "Somehow, I'm glad we didn't get together then."

"Why not?"

"Well, Paul wouldn't have become a part of our lives for a start," he answered. "But on the grounds that you can't miss what you haven't had, that wouldn't really be part of my argument. I wouldn't have known how good it would be to have him around. It's just that if we hadn't gone through what Jack and I went through, if we hadn't sorted out the difficulties of our friendship before the relationship started, then somehow I don't think we'd have stuck together this long. There have been one or two times, mainly when we were still working together, that without the bond we'd forged we would have broken up."

"I see. It was a form of courtship."

"In a way. A tough one, but a courtship of sorts."

The waitress returned and placed their meals in front of them and for a few minutes they ate without talking. Somehow, Daniel knew that silence wouldn't last.

"You're right, it's a good salad," she started.

They made small talk for a couple of minutes, discussing the various merits of the salad and then Daniel asked, "So, how did the lectures go this morning?"

Mary sighed and told him about the talks, and they debated the various tactics that the doctors had put forward. After a while, Mary said, "You have a good grasp of psychology and psychiatry for a layman."

Daniel snorted. "Yeah, well, I've had enough therapy, that's for sure."

"So Jack said. You only had one decent therapist?"

Daniel shrugged. "At least I had the one," he answered with a chuckle that didn't really convince Mary one bit.

Daniel knew he was in for the long haul.

As Daniel had thought, the guys had been totally wound up when they'd arrived back home and without any discussion, had headed straight for the bedroom. Foreplay was just a word in the dictionary as they fell on each other, practically ripped each other's clothes off and hit the bed more or less naked. Jack lay on his back, his legs wrapped around Paul's as he ground against him, desperate to get off and frankly not caring one way or the other if Jack wanted this or not.

He needn't have worried, if he even had been, as Jack was so not arguing. In fact, he was cursing him and urging him to move harder against him. The only clear words from him, however, came when he did.

"Fuck, yeah," he groaned. "That's more like it."

Feeling the dampness between them pushed Paul on, and he soon joined Jack in a state of satiated exhaustion. It took all of their remaining energy to grab some tissues to get the worst off and climb under the covers.

Paul lay his head on Jack's chest and Jack just about managed to wrap his arms around him.

"Better?" Jack muttered.

"Yeah. You?"

"Oh yeah. Dammit, Paul, you'd think I was a teenager, not a fifty year-old man."

Paul laughed softly. "But you wouldn't be as gorgeous as you are if you were just a teenager," he said gently.

Jack didn't know how to answer that so he squeezed him briefly and kissed his head.

"Hope Daniel doesn't mind," he finally said.

Paul shook his head.

"Nah, he wouldn't. Besides, you know he's pleased when we, er, 'spend time together'," he stated, making the last phrase sound quoted and causing Jack to chuckle.

"Yeah, you're right. Speaking of the devil, I wonder what he's really up to."

"Your mother wished to speak to him," Paul stated.

"What? How do you know that?"

"Uh, I can lip read," Paul admitted.

"I never knew that."

"Learned it for the special ops. It comes in handy when you're trying to 'overhear' someone and there's a lot of background noise."

"Wow. Why didn't you tell me that before?"

"It never came up. Didn't think of it."

"Oh. I guess. Wonder what Ma wants with him?"

Paul shrugged. "She didn't say. I think Daniel was none the wiser."

"So why didn't he say he was going to meet her? Why the cloak and dagger stuff?"

Paul let out a yawn and snuggled closer to him, being careful to not touch Jack's sore nipple as he did.

"Guess he didn't want to worry you. You know what he's like. If it's relevant, he'll tell us. She's probably just probing him for information."

"Yeah, that sounds like her. Poor guy, she's worse than Torquemada when she wants to know something. She may be small and look pretty fragile but she's a tough nut."

"Like mother like son," Paul teased.

"Hey! Who's small?" Jack snapped back, reaching around and tickling him. "I've got four inches on you."

"Three," Paul sniffed. "And not where it matters," he added, pushing his groin against Jack's leg.

Jack laughed again and turned to his side so that he could face Paul, pushing him to his side as he did. Then he figured that arguing with Paul was as pointless as arguing with Daniel so he kissed him instead.

When they broke apart, Jack noted that Paul was grinning, the smile not only reaching his eyes but lighting them up. That made him feel good. Paul's normal countenance was one of a calm, cool, collected man, and he showed few his true emotions. Few others would ever see the smile in his eyes the way he and Daniel did on an almost daily basis - depending on what was happening at work. He was so glad to be able to put the smile there that he kissed him again.

This time, when they broke apart, Paul's eyes were questioning. Somehow, Jack knew what that question was.

"I love you," he whispered, answering it. The simple statement did cover it and Paul understood. It covered why Jack did what he did, why he acted the way he did, why he liked to make Paul laugh...

"Love you too," Paul replied, then he kissed him back.

They lay there silently for a while, contemplating their own relationship, the one separate from Daniel. Comparatively new, it was nonetheless strong and growing stronger. Spending quality time together helped a lot. Despite the fact that as a triad, they did not wish to be separated, there were times when they all needed to be in their 'couples'. Jack and Daniel got the most chance, purely because Paul was at work. Though they didn't do as much as they could, working themselves at the same time in an unspoken but conscious effort to not make Paul feel left out. Daniel and Paul spent more time alone in the playroom, but didn't get much chance to do things like go out for a meal together. Jack and Paul spent even less time together, so each moment was precious.

All of a sudden, Jack got an idea and sat bolt upright.

"Jack? What's wrong?" Paul asked, sounding really worried.

"Wrong? Oh, nothing. I just thought of something."


He turned to look at Paul in a thoughtful way and then he grinned.

"How would you like to spend more time with Daniel?" he asked.

"And you?" Paul prompted.

Jack shook his head 'no' at the same time as answering, "Sort of."

"Jack, you're confusing me."

"Yeah, I'm good at that, aren't I?"

Paul didn't answer, but his face said 'get on with it or else'.

"Daniel doesn't like opera," Jack suddenly stated. "You and I do."

"True. But he'll come with us..."

"Because he's a nice guy," Jack interrupted. "Let me finish. You don't like ice hockey but you come with us. I don't really like plays or exhibitions but you two do."

"Go on," Paul urged, suddenly getting an idea of where Jack was going with this.

"How about we plan nights out as couples? At the beginning of a month, or a season, or whatever we decide is the best way, we sit down with the various programmes from the opera house, the theatres, the sports arenas, museums and so on. We can book specific evenings together. You and I could go to an opera, maybe have a meal out... spend the evening together as just us. You and Daniel could go to a play and so on."

"I see where you're going here. I'm sure Daniel would agree. If it were set out equally, maybe one or two evenings a month for each couple, there wouldn't be any of the feelings of having to go somewhere we didn't really want to, or feeling either left out or like we'd left the other one out of something. We'd all get one or two nights on our own, too."

"And that isn't such a bad thing, is it?" Jack agreed. "By the way, when you say 'night', do you mean the whole evening until we come home to bed or..."

Paul shrugged. "For that subject, I'd like Daniel to be here before discussing it. Whereas it would be nice having either you or Daniel to myself once in a while, I'm not sure I'd like to be left to sleep on my own when you two were elsewhere."

Jack nodded. "Yeah, see what you're getting at. It's that 'left out' thing again, isn't it?"

"Actually, it's more that I'm so used to having company," Paul admitted. He lay back down and tugged at Jack's arm until he lay with him. "I mean, don't you prefer to sleep like this?" he asked, snuggling back up to him.

Jack responded by wrapping his arms around Paul and holding him close.

"Hell yeah." He thought for a moment and then said, "We could maybe do it once in a while? Even if it's only one night a year each?"

"That wouldn't be so bad," Paul yawned, then he tried to get closer to Jack still.

Jack looked down and saw Paul's eyes shutting, so he stopped talking. He reckoned he could do with a nap, too.

Daniel strolled back to the hotel with Mary at his side. The meal had been a good one, but Daniel had been under the distinct impression that he had been 'on the couch' from time to time.

"By the way," Mary suddenly said, "have you ever tried to get in touch with your foster siblings?"

Daniel stopped dead. Her question had caught him off guard. Shaking himself mentally, he answered before she could question him further.

"Uh, no. Their grandmother took them back to Israel and she blamed me for her daughter's death, and that of her son-in-law, too, of course. In a way, she was right."

"How so?"

"I'd begged them to adopt me before my sixteenth birthday. I knew my grandfather didn't want me and somehow needed to have some family, real family before I officially became an adult. I'd told them that I was even prepared to convert if they wanted it. I... I didn't know that I didn't really need to," he added, grinning as he tried to deflect her attention from the neediness in his voice. He felt like that whenever he thought about that time. "Anyway, if I hadn't asked, if they hadn't agreed to go track Nick down..."

He couldn't continue. Mary put her hand on his back and stroked it gently, not really knowing what else to do.

"I know it wasn't my fault in actuality," Daniel continued, restarting his walk towards the hotel. "But I could so easily see why a grieving mother would feel that way." Shrugging his shoulders he asked, "And how could I ask Ben and Tzufit to forgive me?"

"Daniel, there wasn't anything to forgive."

He shook his head. "If I hadn't begged, they'd probably still have their parents."

"If you'd been with your wife, she might not have been kidnapped," Mary said, sounding a touch brutal. "If you'd taken your parents away from the cover-stone..."

Daniel looked at her in shock; he hadn't known that Jack had filled her in on the details. Her words hurt him and he looked like they did.

"Daniel, what I'm trying to say is that there wasn't anything you could do. It wasn't your fault. How were you to know on any of those occasions? Tell me. Go on. How could you know?"

He shook his head but said nothing. He knew she was right, but he also knew that a tiny part of him blamed himself for all three events, the Gamekeeper's mind games with him not withstanding. Logic rarely if ever played a part in emotional rationality - an oxymoron if ever there was one.

"That doesn't take away the fact that they would be alive if I hadn't asked them to go on that plane," he snapped.

"How do you know? How do you know that they wouldn't have died the following day on a trip to the shops? How do you know they wouldn't have gone back to Israel and been killed in an attack there? How do you know, Daniel?"

"I don't believe in fate," he spat.

"Neither do I. But, neither do I believe that what happened was your fault. We cannot know what would have happened to them. If your brother and sister were as wonderful as you say they were, perhaps they didn't blame you either."

Daniel shrugged. He remembered the bitterness of their grandmother when she arrived to collect them and the bodies of his parents to take them back to Israel for burial. He'd felt total hatred from her and had hated himself just as much.

They arrived at the hotel and he said goodbye to her, saying that he wished to go shopping before going home. He also told her that he'd send Jack to pick her up when she needed it, telling her to phone as soon as she got out of the last lecture.

Feeling a little lousy for bringing the subject up and hurting him, she agreed. Before he left, however, she put her hand on his and held it tightly.

"I didn't mean to upset you," she offered.

He nodded. "I know. I'll see you tonight."

Then he turned and left her, walking out of the building without looking back.

Mary sighed as she watched him leave. She knew that she'd had to say it, but that didn't help. She also couldn't help but see the fifteen year-old hurt boy that Daniel had been rather than the forty year-old man that he was. She put that down to her age. Most people looked young to her now.

She looked at the poster which described the next talk and her heart sank.

"Post traumatic stress in children in war zones.

Presented by Dr. B. Meir."

It had been bad enough to hear about children suffering at the hands of nature, but man-made trouble made it worse somehow.

Plucking up her courage, she entered the room and found a seat. Not long after, a man in his early forties entered the room and stood at the front. A polite applause rang around the room and soon settled down for them to listen to him.

"My name is Binyamin Meir," he started, his voice accented but with a slight American twang. "And I suppose I should start by describing why I became a psychiatrist in the first place."

Mary listened intently as the man spoke, something hitting her hard with each sentence that came from him. By the time he'd spoken for a few minutes, she'd determined to catch hold of him before he left the room.

"Somehow I knew I'd find you in here," Daniel teased gently, entering the bedroom and putting a bag down by the side of the bed.

He sat on the edge and kicked his shoes off before lying down next to Jack and draping his arm over his waist.

The others knew not to ask if he minded as they also knew he wouldn't.

"Can't blame a guy," Jack replied.

Daniel shook his head.

"No blame," he replied.

"So, what did you do?" Jack pushed.

Daniel wondered if he should tell him about his mother, and in the end, decided he may as well. He explained how they'd met for lunch, had talked and how Jack had been booked to chauffeur her at the end of the day. It seemed so insignificant that the others were nearly fooled.

"What's upset you, Dan?" Paul asked softly.

Again, Daniel shook his head.

"Nothing, really. She just asked a bit about my past... Let's say that sometimes it puts me off balance. That's all it is. Nothing serious, that's for sure."

"If you're sure?" Jack prompted.

"Absolutely." Daniel snuggled a little closer to him and then asked, "So, you two are up to something. I can tell. Out with it."

Jack looked at Paul in amazement. Daniel never ceased to amaze them with his perception.

"Ok-ay," Jack drawled. "We were wondering if we should..." He ground to a halt, wondering how to put it.

"Should...?" Daniel prompted.

"Go on dates," Paul put in. "But only two of us at a time."

Daniel pulled back and sat up.

"I'm thinking that this is going to be one of those long convoluted explanations," he said. "I need a coffee. Come on, get dressed and meet me in the kitchen."

He rolled off the bed and headed directly to the kitchen, his mind running at a hundred miles an hour as he tried to work out what the guys were up to this time.

The others weren't far behind him, knowing instinctively that they'd have to explain everything quickly so that he wouldn't get the wrong end of the stick. The coffee hadn't even brewed by the time they sat at the table.

"Okay," Jack started. "It's like this. We have four separate relationships going on here. The three of us, you and me, Paul and you, Paul and me."

Daniel nodded, half-watching the coffee pot as if watching it would make it go faster.

"Most of the time, it's the three of us together, and I think I can safely say that for all of us, that's the preferred option, right?"

He got enthusiastic 'yesses' from the others at that, perhaps a little more enthusiastic from Daniel than he would have expected. That told him that in the short time from his initial announcement to that moment, Daniel had already thought that they were somehow losing interest in the triad. He knew that it was probably purely because of what his mother had said to Daniel earlier that had made him think that way when it wasn't something he'd thought of in quite some time.

He decided to tread very carefully from then on.

"But sometimes," he tried, "I want to be a bit selfish and have you - either one of you - to myself for a few hours. Not that I don't want to be with the other one, which ever one it is," he added quickly.

The coffee machine was ready and Daniel poured them all a mug, sitting with them as soon as he could.

"Go on," he urged.

"Couple this with the fact that Paul doesn't like ice hockey much, or baseball for that matter, but you and I do, and you don't like opera but Paul and I do..."

"I think I see where you're going with this," Daniel interrupted, frowning when Jack laughed at that.

"Sorry, Daniel. That's pretty much what Paul said."

Daniel grinned and nodded.

"You don't like exhibitions much, do you?" he asked gently.

"Not really. It's not that I'm not happy to be with you but..."

"I get it, Jack. So, what's the plan? I take it you have one?"

"We thought we'd get a programme of activities," Paul explained. "Maybe one night a month for each 'couple'?"

They got the same question that Jack had asked about whether night meant the whole night or not.

"We didn't want to think about that," Jack admitted. "It's not that we'd want to be away all night, but it might be fun once in a while. As long as we do this equally, it shouldn't lead to any jealousy or anything, should it?"

Daniel didn't say anything but they could tell it was because he was thinking rather than because he wasn't happy about it. In the end, he got the look that told them that he'd sorted something out in his mind.

"Okay, once a month, we 'date'," he agreed. "I like that idea. To be honest, I don't like the idea of dragging you to places that you don't really want to go and I don't like the idea of you going just to please me."

"We thought of getting the programmes of the various places in advance," Paul suggested, "so we can plan our nights out."

"Sounds good to me. But I think you're right about on the odd occasion staying out all night. How about on the Saturday nearest our birthdays?"

The others looked at him in confusion so he explained.

"I don't think we'd want to spend the actual birthday night away from home," he said. "Of course, if the birthday is on a Saturday, we could shift it to another day instead. It's Jack's birthday first. So on the nearest Saturday, he gets to pick an event that he wishes to go to, whichever one of us is the likely candidate then goes on the date. If it's you," Daniel said to Paul, "then when it's my birthday, Jack will spend it with me. Then on yours, you and I get together. Once a year should make it a very special occasion."

The others thought about that and worked out the various configurations in their minds. It worked out, over the years, as two in a row for each of them and one 'off'. They also knew that if it was a particular success, after a year or two, they might increase the number of nights. Somehow the nights that were enforced on them when one or other of them had to go away weren't mentioned, as if they didn't count.

Despite his initial mental resistance to the thought of 'dating', Daniel actually was quite pleased with the idea. There was a difference between wishing to spend time alone with one of the guys and not wanting to be with the other one. The fact that they all saw that lightened his heart. So did the fact that Jack and Paul wanted to spend time together. It could have been worrying, but in fact it meant that they were getting even closer. Just as he'd hoped they would.

"Doctor Meir," Mary called out as everyone started to file out of the conference room to take a coffee break before the start of the next lecture. Some people, naturally, were gathering around the man and she was finding it hard to get his attention. She called his name again quite sharply and his head snapped around. "Please, Doctor, I need to speak to you urgently," she said.

"I'm sorry," he replied. "I've just promised to speak to Professor Hessner," he said, pointing at a tall bearded man who seemed equally desperate to have his attention.

"Just for a moment, I won't detain you," she said.

He looked pained, wondering what to do. To make his mind up, and to check that her hunch was right, she put her hand on his arm and tugged the taller man until he came down to near her level.

"The boy," she said. "The one you talked about."

"What of him?"

"Was his name Daniel?"

He looked at her in shock, turned to the professor and said, "I'll catch up with you later." Not giving any more explanation, he put his hand on Mary's arm and walked her away from the crowd in such a determined manner that everyone got out of their way.

When they had some space, he stopped and said, "Right. You've got my attention."

Grinning to herself, Mary started to speak.

They missed the call that the next lecture was about to start, they just continued to talk and ignored the world about them.

"I guess I'd better go get Ma," Jack yawned.

They'd spent the afternoon lazing around and doing nothing. The weather hadn't been good enough for them to laze outside, so they'd retreated to the living room and read or watched the TV, depending on personal taste. All three had sat together, though, unwilling to separate from each other.

"She said she'd phone when she wanted picking up," Daniel replied lackadaisically, not looking up from his book.

As he said it, the phone rang and all three laughed quietly.

"That's Ma for you," Jack chuckled as he got up and picked up the phone.

Daniel hardly listened in to Jack's side of the conversation and he missed the surprised 'oh!' from him. Paul didn't and he looked over to Jack, catching his eye. Jack looked at him, looked at Daniel, shook his head slightly and got a discreet nod back from Paul. Whatever Jack had heard, he didn't want Daniel to find out just yet. Not that that helped Paul's curiosity at all.

Paul stood up and offered to get Daniel a drink, an offer greeted with a side-tracked 'hmm?'

"Drink, Daniel. I'm getting one. Do you want one?" he asked with amused patience.

"Ah. Coffee?" he tried.

"Duh?" Paul replied with a grin.

"Thanks." Daniel gave him a big smile and then ducked his head back down to continue reading.

Paul pointed to the kitchen and Jack nodded. He said goodbye to his mother, saying he'd be with her as soon as he could get there. Then he bent down and kissed Daniel's cheek.

"Just going to get her," he said when he'd got Daniel's attention.

"Okay. Drive carefully. Um... Shall we eat at home or out tonight?" he asked.

"Depends on whether you want to cook or not," Jack replied. "I'm easy. And no comments from you, wise guy."

Daniel laughed back, said he'd give it some thought and then returned to the really interesting book that he'd bought earlier in the day.

Jack headed to the kitchen, whispered something in Paul's ear and ignoring the shock on his lover's face, he kissed his cheek and left the house.

Paul ran the implications of the news through his mind, got over the shock quickly, grinned and headed down to the storeroom in the cellar which held the various drinks. Picking up a couple of bottles of champagne, he put them in the tall fridge that they had in there which usually held Jack's beer. He didn't want to put it in the kitchen fridge, just in case they weren't required. Somehow, though, he thought they might be.

He ran up the stairs and poured Daniel's coffee, entered the living room and put the mug on the coffee table next to him and switched off the TV. The lack of noise got Daniel's attention and he looked up.

"I'd rather read," he said, picking up his book. "Your coffee's on the table."

"Thanks," Daniel replied, looking at the table. "Where's yours?"

Paul smacked his head. "Forget my head if it weren't screwed on," he muttered. "Must be getting old."

Daniel laughed at him and watched as he returned to the kitchen to get the coffee that he hadn't really wanted in the first place. That would teach him to think of excuses, he thought to himself.

Jack put his hand on the key to turn off the ignition and realised that it was shaking. Excitement? Terror? He didn't know. This could be the best or the worst thing to happen to Daniel, depending on which way it went.

Shaking himself, he got out of the car and locked it up. Then he gathered his courage and headed to where he'd arranged to meet his mother. He determined to find one important thing out before he allowed this to go any further. Whatever happened, he was not going to allow Daniel to get hurt again. It would happen over his dead body if necessary.

He saw his mother sitting at a table in the hotel's bar with a dark-haired man. That had to be him, he decided. His mother looked up and beckoned him over. Jack pointed to the bar and bought himself a beer first before joining them. He felt he needed it.

When he sat, he stared into the man's eyes as if he could decide anything about him just by doing that. It didn't help.

"Binyamin," Mary said, "this is my son, Jack. Jack, this is Binyamin Meir. Daniel's foster brother."

Jack put his hand out and Binyamin took it, grasping it firmly.

"I'm glad to meet you," Jack said cautiously.

"You don't sound it," came the reply.

"I guess that depends on a number of things."

Mary sat back and watched the male posturing, trying not to be amused by it but failing.

"Such as?"

"How do you feel about Daniel? I won't let you go to him if you have any negative feelings towards him. I'll kill you before allowing you to hurt him."

Binyamin chuckled loudly.

"Mary said you'd be that protective of him. I'm glad he's found someone like you, Jack. I promise you, I've been trying to find him for nearly twenty-five years. I didn't know where he'd gone and whenever I thought I'd got a lead, he disappeared again. Your mother tells me that Daniel thinks we might have blamed him for our parents' deaths. We didn't and we don't. It's a long story, and one I dare say Daniel would like to hear, but I promise you, we want our brother back."

Jack heard the passion in his voice and was totally convinced. Nobody could fake that. Neither could they fake the slight tremor of excitement in the man at finally being close to finding his long-lost brother.

Before he would take him home, however, he figured that some things should be ironed out to smooth the way.

"Has Ma told you about us?" he asked.

"She's alluded to the fact that your household is slightly odd," came the reply. "However, she hasn't gone into details."

"I take it that Daniel living in an odd household doesn't surprise you?" Jack asked, teasing slightly.

Binyamin shook his head, laughing out loud.

"If he didn't, I'd be surprised. There never was anything straightforward about Daniel. It was one of the things we loved about him."

"I can relate," Jack said, grinning wildly now. "He's always kept me on my toes."

"Tell me about him, Jack. Give me some clues, please. One thing I know about Daniel is that you can't show any sign of disapprobation toward him, even out of sheer shock from some information about him. He'll either come out fighting or he'll withdraw. He never managed to find a middle way when dealing with that sort of thing. Which is weird, as you can argue with him, point out mistakes he's made and so on, and it's like water off a duck's back."

"It's just the personal things," Jack agreed. "I get it. He's still like that. If you were to criticise us, he'd come out fighting. If you look horrified about something he does, he'll withdraw."

"So, tell me. Prepare the ground."

Lifting his beer to his mouth, Jack took a sip, sat back in his chair and told him all he needed to know.

Daniel suddenly realised that Jack was taking longer than he should have and he was getting worried.

"Dan, don't worry," Paul soothed. "His mother is probably talking to her colleagues. You of all of us should know what those sorts of gatherings are like."

"Of course, you're right," Daniel agreed. He tried to pick up his book again but didn't find that he could settle.

Paul put his own book down, took Daniel's off him and put it on the table, then he pulled him to lie on the sofa next to himself. He decided that kissing Daniel might take his mind off Jack for a while. He hoped it would take his own mind off what was about to happen.

Like Jack, he didn't know how Binyamin would react and was slightly terrified that things could go wrong. On the other hand...

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a car pulling up on the drive.

He broke the kiss getting a 'hmm?' from Daniel who hadn't heard the car.

"They're here," Paul said, making to pull back from him.

"Oh. They won't mind," Daniel replied, pulling Paul back down for another kiss.

"Maybe not, but I'm sorry, Daniel, kissing you is weird for me when Jack's mother is around."

"Wuss," Daniel accused, not meaning it at all.

Paul laughed and rolled off the sofa, twisting to his feet and standing straight up, just in time as the door opened and Jack walked in. He looked at Jack and got a nod in reply.

"Come on, Dan," he urged. "Up you get."

"Do I have to?" Daniel whined, putting his hand out to be pulled up as he said it.


Daniel had his back to the door and he didn't see the others walking into the living room. He heard Jack cough as if trying to get his attention and he turned, ready to tease Jack about being jealous of him hugging Paul when he saw Mary standing next to a tall man.

It took him a moment, but he recognised him straight away. For a split second, he had a flashback and thought of his foster father. Logic quickly told him that it wasn't Gil, but Ben.

"Ben?" he asked, needing confirmation as his heart thudded in his chest.

"Hey squirt," came the reply. "Long time, no see."

Daniel let go of Paul and started to walk towards him, then his legs went faster and moments later, he was being swept into a huge hug.

"Oh my God," Daniel whispered, holding onto him and not wanting to let him go for fear of him slipping away again. "I can't believe it."

"Neither can I," Ben replied, hugging him just as hard.

The others gathered together and watched the reunion, unable to take their eyes off them. All three were smiling fit to burst.

"I thought you hated me," Daniel murmured.

"Never, Danny, we never did. I'll explain everything, I promise, but we never hated you."

"Wouldn't have blamed you."

"I know. Blamed yourself though, eh?"

Daniel didn't reply but he didn't have to. Ben just hugged him closer still.

Paul tugged on Jack's sleeve and nodded towards the kitchen. Jack agreed, reluctant to leave Daniel at that moment but wanting to give them time together. He quietly ushered his mother with them and they left them alone.

All the years of longing threatened to overwhelm Daniel and he wasn't helped by the sensation of tears as they hit his neck. Not his, his brother's.

"I missed you so much," Ben whispered. "Tzu missed you too. We couldn't tell you, we couldn't find you."

He broke from the hug and saw tears in Daniel's own eyes.

"I need a drink," Ben muttered, giving Daniel a warped smile.

Daniel laughed at the same time as he sniffed back the tears. Tears of joy, of gratitude, but also tears of grief as he was reminded so much of his foster father.

"Come on. I guess I need one too."

He led him to the sofa, only just realising that the others had left them. For once, he was glad.

"What do you want?" he asked, opening the cabinet.

"A brandy will be fine, thanks," Ben replied.

He poured them both a drink and then sat next to him.

"Our grandmother was angry," he started. "But only because of the grief. Mom was her only child," he added with a shrug, even though he knew that Daniel already knew it.

"I understood that," Daniel replied. "All too well."

"I know. But the thing was, what you missed was the fact that Tzu and I argued with her long and hard about it. We begged her to find you, to bring you over to Israel to be with us. We knew you'd rather be back in the Middle East than in a New York orphanage again."

Daniel laughed hollowly. He'd dreamt about that, night after night after night.

"Anyway, it took us a few months of persuading her. By then, it was too late. They said you'd left the area. Your caseworker had retired a week or so later and had literally upped and left the country."

"I remember her telling me about it," Daniel said, thinking back. "When we were discussing what I wanted, she told me that she was going to retire to... where was it? Oh, I remember. She had family in Brazil and she was going to live on a ranch with a cousin of hers."

"If she'd retired a week or two later, it might not have mattered."

"Surely they'd have had records?" Daniel asked.

"Oh, they did. Until there was a fire in the archives."

Daniel shook his head in disbelief. It was as if life had conspired against him. Despite his previous assertion that he didn't believe in fate, he was beginning to wonder if it did. Surely no one else had that much bad luck, did they?

"What happened then?"

"Grandma gave up, insisted that we couldn't find you. Neither Tzu nor I knew where to look or how to look. We kept trying, every so often. We didn't stop. When that book came out, we knew it was you that had written it as no one else with your name would have had the brains to solve that sort of mystery, and we were excited. It gave us a lead. We tried to get in touch with you through the publisher but we were fobbed off..."

"Ach," Daniel moaned, dropping his head in his hands. "I asked them to do that. If I'd known you were going to get in touch, I'd have told them to call me."

"I know. Guess you didn't want any attention, eh?" Ben prompted gently.

Daniel shook his head. "There are a number of reasons. Some personal," he said, nodding towards the kitchen, "some practical. My life over the last ten years has been spent working for the Air Force doing classified work."

"You in the Air Force?" Ben asked, his voice teased.

"Who knew?" Daniel replied with a grin. "Civilian, of course."

"Of course."

"Funnily enough, I'm glad I work for them."

"Or else you wouldn't have met the guys?" Ben asked softly.

"Yeah. And I love the work. It's mainly translation work these days, but I used to be on a front line team. Er, don't ask, please. I don't want to keep anything from you but..."

"I understand, Daniel. I did national service. I understand the concept of classified. Not to mention my job requires a similar silence."

"Huh? What do you do... Oh. You're a shrink?" Daniel asked in surprise as he put two and two together.

"Who knew?" Ben echoed.

"But why? You were always going to be a medical doctor like Dad."

"I changed my mind," Ben shrugged.

Daniel looked at him suspiciously.

"Okay, you got me interested in it. I realised that you weren't the only kid who'd been through a whole load of shit, more so in a country where there's periodic war and a shit load of bomb attacks and so on. When I saw that your psychiatrist actually did make a difference to you, at least the one that Mom set you up with, I knew I could do something to help, too. I couldn't help you, but..."

Daniel put his hands on Ben's and held them close.

"Don't you believe it," he scolded. "You and the rest of the family helped me way more than Dr. Berkley. I mean, she was good and the fact that she didn't treat me like I was some sort of naughty brat made it easier for me to trust her, but it was your help, your patience and your plain acceptance of me, warts and all that made the difference, Ben. You never made me feel like I was an outsider, or weird..."

"You were weird," Ben sniffed.

Daniel burst out laughing. That was precisely the sort of teasing of him that had helped him be accepted and understand that he was a part of the family and not some kid who was about to break in two. He'd already done that. Ben and the gang had stuck him back together again.

He suddenly stopped laughing and Ben watched as he started to cry. There wasn't a single reason for it; twenty-five years of missing the man next to him perhaps, memories of how he'd been when they'd first met maybe... He didn't know. But it was just a pressure valve releasing itself after a whole load of steam had built up.

From the doorway, Jack watched, trying not to be seen. He was terrified of this blowing up in his face, but so far, it seemed to be good. He wasn't bothered by Daniel crying, seeing that Daniel's big brother was currently doing the same and they were hugging again. In fact, that comforted him. Daniel hated showing strong emotions. He did it with the guys, but even they usually only got to see his love for them, or his stellar temper when he was angry with others. Emotions dealing with missing someone were ones he didn't like to show them too often. Daniel didn't like them in himself, hated feeling so lonely - the sensation he always got when he was missing someone, whether he had company or not - and it often manifested itself in him shutting down and locking away his heart. Jack understood Daniel better than most on that front.

He retreated back to the kitchen where he was quietly questioned on what he'd seen.

"Do you think he's going to be okay?" Paul asked when Jack finished.

"Sure. He's gotten his big bro back. Of course he's going to be okay."

"Are you going to be okay?" his mother asked.

"What do you mean?" he replied in shock.

"Not going to be a bit..." She stopped talking and waited for him to fill in the blank.

"Jealous?" he asked. "That's what you're saying, isn't it?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. You do know he's going to want to spend time with him."

"Of course he is. Tell me, Ma, do you think he'd want to stop me... I don't know... say, going on holiday on my own with Pat?"

She shook her head. "No, I think he'd be worried all the time you were away, but he wouldn't stop you or come between you."

"In this case," Paul stated, "for Daniel read both of us. We want him to do this. Whatever he decides to do will be fine by us. We're glad he's found his family again."

"And you?" Mary prompted gently. "Do you wish you could be like that with your brother?"

Jack automatically wrapped his arm around Paul's shoulder as if to protect him from the question. However, Paul shook his head defiantly.

"Absolutely not. I mean, it would be nice if my brother was a more pleasant human being. It would be nice if my mother was a human being," he muttered under his breath, getting a laugh from Jack. "But I've never known them to be like that. You can't miss what you didn't have."

He moved from under Jack's arm but reached out and took his hand, leading him to the table. They all sat around it and waited for him to continue as they knew that he was.

"Without wanting to sound incestuous," he started, getting a raised eyebrow from Jack which went with the grin on his face, "Jack and Daniel have been brothers to me. Are brothers to me. Look out there, Mary. Ben isn't Daniel's brother by blood, but he's as good a brother as anyone could ever wish for. They say you can't choose your family, but I beg to differ. I would have chosen my father if I could have. I would have chosen a better mother if I could have. In a way, I guess I have..." he added, his voice trailing off.

"Alice?" Jack asked.

Paul nodded. "She's a very motherly character," he explained, mainly to Mary. "She was engaged as a young woman to a lovely man, apparently. But he was killed in Vietnam near the end of the war. She never married after that."

"That's sad," Mary sighed.

"It is. She'd make a wonderful wife, I'm sure. She's kind and loving, and she would have been a fantastic mother."

"So you've adopted her?"

"We kind of adopted each other. I told her about the guys and our lifestyle before anyone else found anything out."

"How did she react?"

"It was irrelevant to her. She loves me as a friend, she mothers me in many ways and she's someone I could turn to and talk about anything without any censure from her. All she was was glad that I have them."

"I'm glad you've got someone like that," Mary replied. "You know you can speak to me about anything, too?"

Paul beamed at her and nodded enthusiastically. "I know. Thank you."

Mary shrugged. "I've gotten myself two more sons-in-law," she said, her eyes twinkling as she did. "And, it would seem, more relations than I'd counted on," she added, nodding towards the door.

"Can't be bad, eh?" Jack asked, still grinning.

"Absolutely not."

"So you see?" Paul went on. "You can choose family. You don't need blood relations to be happy. I'm happy. Truly happy. So no, I wouldn't wish to change people that can't be changed. I don't wish things had been different because to do that would make me live in the past and in hope. That's not something that's very positive or helpful and I'd probably end up at the funny farm."

"Hey, careful when you say that," Jack teased. "There's two shrinks in this house. They might take you up on it."

Paul laughed and then Mary got her chance to tease some more.

"I'm sure you have something here I could use as a straitjacket? But wouldn't that be a tad pointless?" she asked as they both looked at her in shock.

"Whatd'ya mean?" Jack asked.

"Oh, I'd have thought that tying you two up would be a pleasure for you both."

She laughed out loud as both men blushed brightly and dropped their heads into their hands. Jack knew that he was going to live to regret his mother ever finding out about them.


Daniel looked up and saw Paul standing in the living room.

"Paul," he replied with a smile. He and Ben had been catching up on a few things, mainly him telling Ben what he'd been up to over the years, at least, as best as he could.

"I hope you guys don't mind, but we ordered some food to be delivered. It'll be here soon."

Ben looked at him a little awkwardly.

"Er, I'm grateful for it but..."

Paul put his hands up.

"It's from Cohen's," he interrupted. "All kosher, I promise."

Ben smiled.

"Thanks. I hate to put you to any trouble."

"None whatsoever, honestly. We often get food from them, it's a great restaurant. Even better that they deliver. I didn't know what you'd want so I've ordered a range of things. We can have a buffet-type meal. Put everything on the table and pitch in, as it were. To be on the safe side, I stuck to fish dishes," he added.

"How did you know?" Ben asked.

"Oh, I've been around," Paul shrugged. "I doubt I know all the rules and so on, but I know the basics. What I don't know is if the restaurant is strictly kosher in the truest sense, but all the ingredients and dishes are within the rules."

"That's okay. I'm not overly strict about it. As you say, as long as the ingredients are on the list, it's fine. The only time we're very strict is around Passover. Then it's new pots and pans and so on..." he muttered. "The wife loves that time of year," he added with a grin.

"Wife?" Daniel asked. "You never said you were married."

"Hadn't got that far," Ben replied. "Come on, let's go to the kitchen. I'll tell you all about the family."

"Can't wait!" Daniel said enthusiastically, standing up and putting his hand out to pull him up.

As he walked closer to Paul, Paul noticed that Daniel's eyes were a tad on the red side. He diplomatically failed to say a thing about it, but he did put his hands out to him and drew Daniel into a hug when he was close enough.

Ben, also diplomatically, continued out of the room, allowing the men a moment to themselves.

"You okay?" Paul asked quietly.

"I'm fine. A bit emotional," he admitted, "but happy."

"I'm so glad," Paul said emphatically. "I can't tell you how happy I am about this. Jack, too."

"I know. Thank you. It means so much to me."

Paul squeezed him closely and then let him go.

"Come on, let's get in there with the others. You don't want Jack telling Ben any of your secrets, do you?"

"Oh God, no! Quick!"

Paul watched Daniel as he sped into the kitchen and couldn't help but feel a tad wistful. Mary had been closer than she'd realised when she'd questioned him. Not that he had lied when he'd answered her, but privately, over the years he'd wished...

He shook his head and determinedly strode into the kitchen, not wanting to miss out on any teasing that was bound to come.

With dinner delivered and being eaten, they soon settled down to discovering more about Daniel's foster family.

"Here," Ben said, getting out a small leather case from his pocket. He pulled out a picture and showed it to him.

"That's Tzu?" Daniel asked, looking at his sister. "Wow, she's still looking good," he said with a smile, not waiting for an answer. "She's married?" he then asked in shock. Of all three of them, even given Daniel's outburst over the dinner table all those years before, she'd been the one of the three voted least likely to marry.

"Yup. For the last eighteen years."

"Wow. So? Who's the family?"

"Her husband's Adam. He emigrated from the US not long after we did. Their kids are Rachel and Rebekkah."

"How old are they?" Mary asked, looking over Daniel's arm at the photo.

"Rachel's nine, Bek's seven and just like her mother," he added with a wry grin.

"Poetic justice," Daniel sniggered.

"Hell yeah. They're good kids, though."

"Your nieces," Paul pointed out gently.

Daniel smiled broadly back at him, nodding enthusiastically. "They're lovely kids," he said to Ben, wondering what was to come next as Ben was holding another photo in his hand.

"I'll get Tzu to send you the photo album," came the reply.

"I'd love some copies," Daniel put in but Ben shook his head.

"No, your album. Look, when we figured out that it would take us a long time to find you, we decided to keep a record of our lives. I guess it's the sort of thing that kids think of," he continued sheepishly. "But there's a whole load of photographs from the last twenty-five years or so."

Daniel looked up at him in shock, but smiling too. It just underlined the thing that Ben had been saying, that they'd really wanted him around. He inwardly cursed himself for choking up and getting more and more overwhelmed by the news he'd been hearing.

"Thank you," he whispered, his eyes dropping back down to the picture of his sister and her family. "I don't know what else to say."

Ben shrugged. He hadn't wanted to reduce Daniel to tears, but it seemed that he'd done nothing but that since arriving.

"What's on that photo?" Jack prompted.

"Oh, that's my family," Ben replied, glad to change the subject slightly. However, he knew that chances were, Daniel would crack again and pretty soon.

"She's lovely," Daniel said, pointing at Ben's wife.

"Esther," Ben said, nodding. He reckoned she was pretty cool, too.

"Trust you to go for the blonde, though," Daniel teased.

Ben shrugged again. It had always been a point of teasing between them that Ben went for the 'dumb blondes', which when at a time that Daniel's hair had been at its fairest, was just one of 'those' jokes between them.

"She's a doctor," Ben said proudly. "Just like Dad, a paediatrician."

Daniel grinned broadly at that news. Somehow it seemed to fit.

"Who are the kids?" he asked.

"Ah, the baby - sheesh, listen to me. She's ten and I'm calling her a baby. Anyway, she's Miriam."

"After Mom," Daniel sighed quietly.

"Yeah. She's the eldest girl in the family, so... It seemed like the right thing to do."

"It's a nice name," Daniel offered. "What about the boys."

"The next one up is Gil. He's eleven. Er, we kind of rushed having all the kids at the same time," he added with a grin.

"Get it over and done with?" Mary teased.

"Something like that," Ben laughed.

He let Daniel consider the choice of name. Their father's name.

"Who's the eldest?" Jack asked, somehow knowing what was to come without asking.

"That's Daniel," Ben said quietly. "Well named, too," he added quickly. "He's always getting into one scrape or another."

Daniel snorted and they looked at him. His head was down and he was concentrating hard on the photo. Whether he knew it or not, tears were streaming down his face. Paul reached up and tentatively put his hand on Daniel's back, an act which seemed to stun Daniel into awareness.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, then he put the photo down and left the table.

Mary looked like she wanted to run after him so Jack put his hand on her arm.

"Give him a moment, Ma. He's not upset, he's not unhappy. He's just overwhelmed, that's all. Don't forget, he talked himself into thinking that he'd lost the whole family. Knowing now that he was never away from them has just taken him by surprise. It's going to take a good few days for him to even regain some sort of equilibrium, I guess."

He looked up at Ben and saw him nodding and grinning, too.

"He's fine," Ben agreed. "He'll be back in a minute, looking pretty sheepish and then wanting to continue as if nothing had happened."

While Daniel was out of the room, he leaned close to Jack and asked, "Do you think he's going to...?" He didn't say it. Jack had warned him that Daniel was still cutting himself so that he wouldn't comment on the tape on his arm.

Jack shook his head.

"Nah, he'd have to go into his office for that. Besides, he's a bit out of control of his emotions at the moment, but it's not a bad thing in this case."

In the bathroom, Daniel washed his face as he got himself back under control. He couldn't believe how he was reacting. Oh, he'd have expected to have cried a bit, he realised, but so much? What was wrong with him? As he splashed the cool water over his red eyes, he thought logically. It had been a long time since he'd seen his brother. In that time, he'd thought of him constantly. But in all that time, he'd never once truly believed without hesitation that his foster siblings would have missed him as much as he'd missed them. After a while, he thought they'd have forgotten him. The photo album, his 'nephew'... All proved that he had been missed and the feelings were completely consuming his heart and brain. He felt like he was being eaten alive.

He couldn't believe it. He was happy. Truly, amazingly, wonderfully happy. He had two men in his life, both of whom he loved more than he could have ever imagined loving anyone and who loved him the same way. He had a wonderful home, a job he enjoyed, friends he loved to see... and now he had his family back. His dream come true.

And yet...

He didn't know what to do. It was like his life was suddenly snowballing out of control and he didn't understand why. That was what frightened him. He couldn't do anything about it, either. If he went into the office, they'd know why he'd gone in there. He couldn't do that. It would hurt Ben and that was the last thing he wanted to do.

The bathroom door opened and Daniel realised that he'd been staring in the mirror.

"So that's where you are," Jack said gently, smiling softly at him. "I was getting worried that you'd gotten yourself flushed down the toilet, or lost in the bedroom or something."

Daniel laughed, it was the easiest thing to do.

"A bit much, eh?" Jack asked quietly, wrapping his arms around Daniel and hugging him closely.

"Yeah," Daniel admitted. "I..."

"Jeez, Daniel, anyone would be drowning in tears in the same circumstances. Anyone with a heart, that is. You don't think that we don't understand, do you?"

"I know you do. I just don't think that I do."

Jack had no idea how to answer that. He kind of understood, but knew that there was no way he could totally understand. In the end, he just hugged him closer still.

"Hey," he said, as if greeting him after waking.

Again it made Daniel laugh.

"Hey," he replied.

"Love ya, you know," he said, matter-of-factly.

"I know," Daniel whispered. "God, Jack, I know."

"So you know that we're here for you, don't you?"

"Yes. I'm sorry that I'm such a fucking wreck, Jack."

"Hey, it's pissing you off, not us. Come on, hun. Let's get back to finish dinner, eh? Paul said he's put some champagne in the fridge..." he offered with a grin.

"Sounds good," Daniel agreed. "Just give me a moment, would you?"

"Sure. Don't be long though," Jack replied, letting him go. "Nothing worse than flat champagne, is there?"

He left Daniel smiling and returned to the others.

Daniel felt like a prize idiot. He couldn't help it, though. All of a sudden it was like a veil he hadn't known he was wearing had been lifted and he was seeing and feeling everything more sharply. That's what he told himself, anyway, and that was how he determined to deal with it. All he needed now was for the others to pointedly ignore the fact that he'd been away from them for about ten minutes.

Fortunately for him, they did.

Over the next few hours, they got tipsy, laughed, exchanged stories, laughed some more and started on the second bottle of champagne.

Ben watched as Daniel fussed over Jack and Paul, probably without even realising it.

"You know," he teased, "for a goy, you're too much like a Jewish mother."

He didn't understand why all the others burst out laughing. Somehow, he knew it wasn't because of his joke.

"Danny?" he asked. "What's up?"

"I'm sorry," Daniel replied, still laughing. "It's just..." He sighed, trying to get himself back under control - but this time from the drink and laughter. "There's a reason I was called Daniel," he said.

"I don't understand," Ben said, looking confused and making Daniel laugh again.

"Something I didn't discover till I was in my twenties," he finally tried again. "Nick's wife, my grandma, she was Jewish. I'm named for someone in her family."

He saw Ben 'do the math' and the light suddenly dawned on him.

"And you were prepared to convert!" he cried out, laughing out loud. "You didn't need to."

"I know. I'd have needed to learn, but..." Daniel shrugged. "I honestly didn't know. Nobody ever told me."

"Why not?" Mary asked, wondering why parents so interested in the past wouldn't have informed Daniel of his own heritage.

"Nick didn't tell me because he was broken-hearted when she died, so he never spoke of her. At least not until I was an adult. You see, she'd gone with him on an expedition and caught some tropical disease or other. He blamed himself. Mom never said because she wasn't religious herself, so I guess it wasn't important to her. Not to mention, we lived in Egypt at a time when being Jewish there wasn't likely to be a good thing," he added with a sad sigh. "She probably thought it would be safer to be assumed to be Christian, or non-religious. Even though my Dad wasn't religious as such, I heard a lot more about that side of my family. His parents were dead by the time I was three, so I don't remember them. I think he felt it important to tell me about them. Mom still had her father so she probably didn't even guess that I'd lose the chance to find out about her side. It's not as if they could know what would happen to them," he finished.

"I guess not," Mary replied. "We never think something will happen to us when we're young."

Daniel agreed, but then he looked at Ben who seemed to be cooking something up in his mind.

"Out with it," he ordered. "You're planning something."

Ben laughed out loud. "Actually, I was wondering if you'd like to come home for my son's birthday. He'll be thirteen in a couple of weeks."

"His bar mitzvah," Daniel stated without asking.

"Yeah. I know he'd love to have you there. I'd love to have you there if you can come."

"Hell yeah," Jack put in. "He can go, can't he, Paul?"

"Absolutely. You can't miss that, Daniel. It's too important. A day like that happens only once in a lifetime for him. You have to go to it."

"But he doesn't know me," Daniel replied, a little bashfully.

"He knows of you," Ben insisted. "I've told him all about his uncle."


"Well, not all," Ben laughed, looking at Daniel's horrified face. "I mean, I didn't tell him what you did to Mrs. Diamond if that will make you feel better. I just told him about some of the things we got up to."

"Mrs. Diamond?" Paul asked, extremely curiously.

Daniel dropped his head into his hands and groaned.

"You had to mention that, didn't you?" he complained. Then he looked up, his eyes twinkling as he remembered. "She was our English teacher. We happened to be in the same class for about half our lessons. She was a complete and utter battle-axe. Let's say that one day I'd had enough and leave it at that, will you?"

"Oh no, Daniel. You don't get away with that," Jack warned, moving till he was right next to him and placing his hands in a very dangerous position as Paul practically sat on his lap to stop him moving. "Talk, or we tickle you."

Ben laughed out loud, glad to see that Daniel was getting the same amount of teasing that he'd got with them. He knew how much it meant to Daniel, that it proved his acceptance.

"You bastard!" Daniel howled.

"Language Daniel!" Mary scolded, setting all the others off and making Daniel blush as he stumbled over an apology.

Jack looked at his mother and winked. She got it, too.

Eventually, after much tickling, Daniel cried 'uncle' and told them about the event. How he'd planned revenge for being kept in for something so trivial that most other teachers wouldn't even have remarked on it. And how she had had to retreat from the classroom, much to her embarrassment, trying not to scratch. But he never let on just how he'd got the itching powder in her underwear. Some things were better left unsaid.

Daniel chuckled to himself as he remembered that moment. It had elevated him to class hero for quite some time, and everyone soon learned never to put themselves in a position where Daniel would have to take revenge.

"What was the school like?" Mary asked. "You said the other teachers were okay?"

"Oh, it was wonderful," he stated. "Mom taught there and though it was technically a Jewish school, they let me in anyway. It wasn't a religious school as such, though there was an element of it. I mean, it wasn't religion first and other subjects later, it was the other way around. I was excused all the services but I actually volunteered to study Hebrew and so on. I mean, it was within my sphere of interest anyway and they seemed glad that I was genuinely interested and respectful.

"Even though I was in a class two years older than my age, most of the time I didn't get any trouble. Certainly no more than any kid got at some point in their school career. Which is more than I could say for some of the other schools I went to," he muttered. "Anyway, I fit in better there than anywhere I'd been except for when I was at school in Cairo. I didn't have a problem with language or anything."

At Paul's questioning look, he explained. "In our school, about half the kids spoke modern Hebrew at home, including us."

As soon as he said that, Ben burst out laughing.

"Ben? What's so funny?" Jack demanded.

"Oh, just remembering when Daniel first came to us. Mom kept reminding us to speak English in front of him. We hadn't known about his early years at that point. Anyway, one day, in perfect Hebrew, he says, 'Oh, don't mind me. I'll pick it up,' and carried on with what he was doing. It was only then that we found out that he spoke fluent Arabic. The two languages are related, and he had listened to us carefully, able to understand more than we could realise."

"Caused a few red faces on their parts," Daniel sniggered, getting a kick from Ben for his troubles.

To try change the subject, Ben asked him for some paper.

"Huh?" Daniel muttered, going to get some anyway.

He returned moments later with the pad and pen left by the phone, giving it to him and wondering what he was going to do with them. He watched as Ben scribbled some numbers down and he realised that they were phone numbers.


"My numbers, er, that one's the cell, that one's the home phone," he explained.

"And the third?"

"It's Tzu's. You might want to wait till morning, 'cause she's probably fast asleep right now and..."

"She still hates being woken up?" Daniel asked, laughing.

"Got it. You might not get the greeting you were hoping for."

"Understood. It's about ten hours ahead there?"

"Yeah, about that."

"I'll call her in the morning our time," Daniel said. "You'll be here, won't you?" he added, sounding a little worried.

Ben sighed. "I'm sorry, I have to return to the hotel tonight. All my stuff is there."

Daniel's face fell so Jack stepped in. "How about you come stay tomorrow?" he asked. "Stay till you have to go home. It'll give you guys more time to catch up with each other."

"I'd love to do that," Ben replied enthusiastically. "I can change my flight back tomorrow. I was going to be going the day after, but I can leave it till the weekend, I'm sure. I'm not due back to work until next Monday."

"Are you sure?" Daniel asked. "What about your family?"

Ben shook his head. "Believe me, they'll understand and be glad for me to stay. I'll give them a call and let them know I've found you. They've heard about you, my Daniel knows all about his 'uncle' and would love to meet you. They'll be as thrilled that I'm here as I am." He grinned broadly. "I wish I could be here when you call Tzu, though. Somehow I think I'll hear her screams from the hotel!"


Daniel watched as his brother's taxi drew away from the house and didn't leave his vantage point until he was out of sight. In fact, he continued to stare into the distance, unmoving.

Jack stepped up to him, not wishing to frighten him but wanting him to move rather than stay there all night. Gently, he put his hand on Daniel's shoulder.

"You okay?" he asked.

Daniel turned and grinned. "Yeah." He looked at Jack and his face frowned. "Am I awake?" he asked.

"If you're not, I'm not."

"Good. So..."


"So that just happened, did it?"

Jack chuckled. "It happened. That's your bro, Daniel. You've found him again."

"Your mother found him," Daniel replied. Then he frowned again. "How did she find him?"

Jack took him by the hand and led him to the swing seat by the pool. It wasn't particularly warm that night, but Jack felt Daniel could do with the fresh air.

"He started his lecture by giving his name and a bit of his background," he said, knowing that he was going to have to edit what he was about to say. "He said that he'd been born in Israel and brought up in New York before returning to Israel after the sudden death of both his parents when he was seventeen. You had told Ma pretty much the same thing so she wondered if it was him." He didn't tell Daniel what his mother had said, which was that Ben had stated that his family had fostered a boy who'd suffered dreadfully - no name, dates or details, of course - and that had inspired him to want to help others like him. "Anyway, after the lecture, she caught hold of him. He tried to put her off, he was supposed to be speaking to some professor or other. Ma said she grabbed his arm and asked if he knew a Daniel. That was all it took. He took her arm, left the others standing and demanded to know what she knew."

Daniel laughed out loud and Jack realised that his "not the whole truth" had gone down well and that Daniel hadn't figured it out. Daniel shivered and Jack wrapped his arm around him, hugging him closely.

"Been a good day, eh?" Jack asked. "You got me to get that piercing..."

"Hey, it was your idea," Daniel interrupted.

"True," Jack conceded. "Whatever you do, don't tell Ma. Her eyebrows hit the roof when she saw me with an earring."

Daniel sniggered but promised not to.

"Anyway, Paul got his piercing, you got grilled..."

"Don't remind me."

"We all got laid," he whispered. "Some of us twice," Jack added with a chuckle, getting the same in return. "Then you got your family back. Quite a day."

Daniel didn't say anything, but he nodded, his eyes shutting as he ran through the events in his mind. Jack sat with him, holding him closely and waiting for his cue to lead him indoors.

Hardly to his surprise, Daniel didn't sleep well that night. He lay as still as he could while the others slept peacefully, but every so often he had to blink away tears as they formed. Sometimes they were tears of sadness as he remembered more of his time with his foster family and how it ended, other times they were tears of joy as he kept flashing on the image of Ben walking through the door to their home. It was too good to be true, he'd tell himself. Then he'd argue that no, it wasn't, that he damned well deserved it. Why shouldn't he have something go right? Hadn't he paid for it?

When the alarm went off for Jack to take his mother to the hotel, he hadn't long fallen asleep, so he slept through it. Jack and Paul woke simultaneously and Paul, who was nearest to the clock, quickly switched the piercing bleep off.

As carefully as they could, they got out of the bed and both headed directly for the bathroom, closing the door as quietly as possible behind them.

"Reckon he had a bad night," Jack murmured.

"Yeah. He looks exhausted. Normally that alarm would have him cursing, even in his sleep."

"Got to love that brain of his," Jack snorted. "I wonder how many things he worked out while we slept?"

"Thousands, probably," Paul replied as he took a leak before heading to the shower. Then he asked, "Do you think he's going to need..." He stopped, not knowing quite what to say.

"You think he's feeling out of control?" Jack asked, moving to the toilet as Paul moved away.

"Yeah. I would if I were in his position. Not for any bad reason, but as he's said before, there sometimes doesn't have to be a reason for him to feel like that. He gave me the impression last night that he was almost looking to be tied up and made secure."

Jack thought for a moment and nodded.

"Look, if Ben's going to come stay for a couple of days, and you and I are returning to work tomorrow, we need to help him get back under control today and fast."

"As soon as your mother goes to the conference," Paul agreed. "I'll persuade him to call his sister. He can get all of the emotional storm out of the way and then we can work on it. I'll put my collar on. Maybe if he sees that he's in charge of me, he'll feel more in control?"

"Good idea. I'll join in when I get back."

Plan of action agreed, they showered together - to save water, of course.

"Ma, you're thinking," Jack stated as they pulled out of the drive.

"You guessed?" she teased back.

"Ma, out with it. Whatever it is."

She took a deep breath and sighed. "I'm not sure how to put this without sounding nosy."

"Ask. Speak. Whatever. I'll tell you if I think you are."

"Good. Okay, well, Daniel's explained some of the psychology behind your... lifestyle. I understand the power exchange to a point, at least academically. What I don't understand is why you want it."

"What do you mean, Ma?" Jack asked with forced patience.

"Well, I can understand why you'd want it when you were in the Air Force. But now? You aren't under any strain here, no life-affecting decisions and so on. You're not doing a stressful job like Paul where you'd want to forget what you'd heard in the day. Why do you still need it?"

"Ah." It was his turn to breathe deeply and he let it out slowly as he thought of his answer. "You know what happened to me when I was in prison, don't you?"

"I know some of it. I'm sure you haven't told me everything."

"No offence, Ma, but only the guys have ever heard everything. You don't want to hear it all." He ignored her shudder when he said that and continued. "You know how tactile I am, how I enjoy being in contact with people?"

"Of course. It's one of your friendlier traits."

"Only if I initiate it, though," Jack stated. "At least after then. You see, because of the torture, I came to associate all touches on me as the precursor to pain. Someone could put his hand on my arm, just in a gesture of friendship, and it would take every ounce of strength I had not to hit him hard. It was different if I was initiating it. I was in control of it. But I learned to hate people touching me. One of the things I liked about Daniel was that he didn't touch me much. He might grab me to get me out of the line of fire or something like that, but he's not physically demonstrative."

"He isn't? He hugs you two a lot."

"Now. And with people he knows and likes and trusts not to hurt him. He got me, Ma. He understood me when I didn't understand myself. By very gently building things up with me, he taught me to take back the pleasure of being touched. He knows all my nightmares, knows everything that affects me. He takes one element of each fear and helps me get over it, bit by bit. I mean, I used to be scared of being tied up. Until Iraq, it hadn't bothered me. After it..." He shook his head as he remembered how scared he'd been. "So Daniel showed me how I could be tied up and in control. I have a safe word. If I even whisper it, he stops and checks up on me, no matter what he's doing. He never leaves me in a position where I don't feel secure. At first, he even showed me how I could get out of whatever bindings he'd put me in without his help."

"I understand that, son, but I don't understand why you'd even want to be reminded of it."

"I know. But I used to have nightmares about being tied up. Now I don't. How can I put this... Oh, I know. Imagine there are two scenes in your head from two different films. One film is of a building, a house. It's daytime, it's sunny, the birds are singing and kids are playing and everything is good. The sort of image you'd like to have in your mind."

"Okay, go on," she encouraged.

"Then you have the other film. It's the same house, the same kids are there. But this time it's night, it's stormy, it's scary. The birds aren't singing but they're attacking - kind of like a Hitchcock film. Both these films are playing in your mind at the same time, like they're on a split screen. You try to pay attention to the good one but the bad one keeps coming back. Each time you see the whole image, the other image has the ability to push into your mind. So you focus on individual images within the good one. The sky, or the kids or whatever. That's the only thing you concentrate on. After a while, the bad image gets pushed away, you forget it's there, it loses its importance and so on. In the end, you can only see the good one and the bad one doesn't matter anymore."

"So by taking one element of your torture at a time, he replays it but in a fun, safe way and in the end the bad things are negated," she said, suddenly getting it.

"That's how it is for me," Jack agreed. "It's different for Paul. He needs different things and has different reasons for them."

"Such as?"

"Security," Jack said with a small shrug as he turned at a crossroads. "When he was a kid, only his dad and his dad's lover were constant positive figures in his life. He had a nanny when he was young but only till he was sent to boarding school. His relationship with Daniel was the first one he'd had that lasted more than a couple of weeks."


"Yeah, well, it's not always safe to try having one in the military," Jack muttered. "So he likes to be secured. The more he's secured, the safer he feels, like Daniel's wrapping him up and protecting him. When the things he hears and sees at work get to him, he needs that security blanket. Daniel uses other techniques to distract him..."

"Like pain?" she asked quietly.

Jack nodded. "Not as much as some people seem to like, but he's more into it than I am. It's like he goes into a trance. But it's easier for him to get there if he's well secured. The more bindings he has, the faster he gets there."

"And afterwards? When you have finished your time with him like that?"

"It's like starting again," Jack replied with a smile. "Like everything that went before doesn't have any bearing on the future. We feel safe, loved, relaxed... and usually very sleepy for a while," he chuckled. "It's good."

Mary considered his words for a while and as they started to pull into the hotel car park, she asked, "And Daniel? I understand that he gets control from it, but surely there's something else in it for him?"

Jack thought for a moment, then he said, "Ma, apart from a few times in his life, Daniel has never been in a position where anyone's taken him seriously. His wife looked up to him, true. He had one boyfriend who needed him to take the lead for a while... But he's a smart man who's as tough as they come and for one reason or another, he's had people assuming that he can't do anything for himself, let alone for anyone else. He now has two men in his life, two men who've been there, shot that, who trust him to take care of them. Who want him to take care of them. I think the control thing is an added bonus. It gives him self-respect because he knows he's respected. Not just by us, but by our friends in the Scene. They know Daniel's not a traditional Master, they know he does things his own way. But they respect him because of that. Because he knows his own mind enough to be able to stand up to the rest of the world and say 'this works for us so screw the rest of you'. They really respect that, as do we.

"He's never craved fame and fortune, he's never really craved recognition - at least outside academic circles. But he's always craved respect; both for his academic talents, which are considerable, but also for his ability to be a leader. He is a leader. I've seen hardened marines follow him like puppies," he said, laughing as he did. "It's just that those that don't know him don't see him as one, possibly because he's such a gentle man."

"I understand. Thanks, Jack. I appreciate your explanation and your candour. I hope I haven't embarrassed you?"

He switched off the ignition and looked at his mother.

"Ma, you've spent the last fifty years embarrassing the shit out of me. Why would a few questions make it any worse?"

Daniel awoke to the smell of coffee; one of his favourite ways to wake. He sleepily opened his eyes and saw Paul standing to one side. He woke more rapidly when he was able to make out, through the myopia, that Paul was wearing only his jeans and his collar and bands.

"Paul?" he asked, taking the mug from him.

Paul just smiled. "Can I make you something to eat?" he asked. "I didn't want to wake you up as you looked so sleepy, but you said you wished to call your sister this morning before it got too late to call."

"Um, of course," Daniel replied, a little confused. Why was Paul dressed like that?

He thought as he drank his coffee, asked Paul for some toast saying that he'd join him in the kitchen in five, and considered what was going on. He was none the wiser when he emerged from the bathroom and finished the coffee before it went cold.

In the end he decided that Paul just wanted to make the most of a day alone before he returned to work. It made sense.


Toast eaten and more coffee drunk, Daniel sat in the living room and stared at the piece of paper that held his sister's phone number. He wanted to speak to her, that was for sure, but nerves were getting the best of him. His brother had more or less convinced him that she'd be ecstatic to hear from him, but... but... but...

Paul saw his indecision and shook his head impatiently. He picked up the phone and took it to Daniel, kneeling at his feet.

Daniel looked at him, almost in confusion. It wasn't as if he didn't know what a phone was, or why Paul had given it to him, but...

Damn, there was that 'but' again.

"Shall I dial it for you?" Paul asked, trying to sound helpful.

Daniel shook his head. "No, thanks, I'll just..."

He plucked up his courage and rapidly, but carefully, tapped in the numbers, put the phone to his ear and waited.

Paul listened in as best he could. He heard a voice come down the line and he nudged Daniel to speak.

Daniel grinned nervously and decided on calling her by her childhood nickname, one she'd hated with impunity and the one name he knew would make her recognise him immediately.


There was a silence for a moment, the loudest silence Daniel had ever heard. Then he quickly moved the phone away from his ear as a screamed "DANNY!" came like a lightning bolt straight into his head.

"It's me," he replied, now grinning ear from ear. "How's things?"

Paul put his hand on Daniel's knee and squeezed it, then he stood up and moved away so that Daniel could have some privacy. He'd catch up with him later.


Daniel entered the kitchen to see that Jack had returned and that he and Paul were quietly polishing their leathers.

"I take it that went well?" Jack asked.

Again, he and Paul tactfully ignored the tear streaks, especially as Daniel was beaming more broadly than they'd ever seen him before.

"Pretty good," Daniel replied. "Damn, that woman is still loud," he added, rubbing his ear.

"So?" Paul prompted.

"She can't wait for me to get over there. I had to persuade her that I really was going to go to stop her jumping on the next plane over here. We've swapped addresses, email, phone numbers, fax numbers, cell numbers... smoke signals... I'm not sure there's any other way to contact each other," he chuckled. "Talk about obsessed."

"Go on," Jack teased. "You love it really."

Daniel shrugged, but he was still smiling widely.

He sat next to Paul and stared over at Jack, saying nothing for the moment. Then he looked at Paul as if he could tell him what to say next. Finally, the words came.

"I've found them," he murmured. "I've gotten my family back."

"That you have, Daniel," Jack agreed. Paul just nodded and put his hand around Daniel's back.


Paul tried not to laugh, instead he put down the leather pants he was working on and stood up. Walking to the sink, he called over his shoulder, speaking as he washed his hands.

"Daniel?" he said. "I was hoping that we would make the most of our last day off before I go back to work. If it's all right with you, of course."

He managed to keep his voice calm, trying not to sound too needy. Not that he needed it but he believed that Daniel did.

"Of course," Daniel replied. "Are you ready for me?"


"Good. Get your ass down those stairs then," Daniel replied. He knew he needed this and was glad to accommodate him. He rarely wasn't, he thought, trying not to laugh. Laughing became more difficult when Paul practically ran down the stairs.

Daniel turned to Jack and looked at him as if he was thinking. Then he said, "Jack, do you want to play at the moment or can you wait till later?"

"I can wait," Jack shrugged. "But if you want me there now, I'm happy to play. Hell, I'm usually happy to play," he added with a wink.

"Later," Daniel smiled. "I want you to do something for me."

"Name it."

So Daniel did.


Daniel entered the playroom with some things in his hands. Paul had entered the room a few minutes before and was currently standing in his usual place, eyes forward, his palms sweaty with anticipation.

"Take your jeans off," Daniel ordered softly.

Paul did as he was told as swiftly as he could. Daniel looked at him and saw that he had on his ankle bands, his wrist bands and collar, and his genital bindings, his favourite leather set. He ran his hand between Paul's legs and felt the thong which led to a plug.

"Very nice," he purred. "How about some more?"

Paul knew the question was rhetorical, but he smiled in answer.

Daniel picked up the things he'd brought down from the bedroom and started to put them on him. The leather waist band, bands for his thighs and the tops of his arms all went on efficiently.

"Come on, let's go to the dark room," Daniel encouraged. "I've got an idea."

Paul wondered when Daniel didn't have an idea, but seeing as he loved Daniel's ideas, he didn't complain but followed him eagerly.

Daniel pressed a few buttons and some lights came on, highlighting something attached to the ceiling away from the sling.

Like the one holding up the sling, there was a pulley which had been bolted into one of the steel RSJs in the ceiling. It was thick and heavy and attached to it was a long, also thick and heavy chain. At the end of one side of the chain was a pair of wide, padded manacles. Paul thought that he was going to be held up by the arms and put his hands out in readiness.

"Not so fast, my pretty," Daniel teased. "I have other plans for you. Put your hands behind your back."

Confused, Paul did as he was told and soon found his wrist bands being buckled together. Then his thigh and ankle bands (which Daniel loosened slightly and moved up his legs a bit) were also connected, so that his legs were held tightly together and he couldn't walk. Next, Daniel held him firmly and helped him to the floor, rolling him so that he was lying on his stomach.

Paul saw that to his side and laying on the floor were some long leather strips, the ones Daniel had had made to attach to his various bands. Sometimes they ran from the front of his waist band, up and over his shoulder and then down through the leg bands to the ankles, stopping him from bending forward. This time, Daniel attached the end of one to the band around his left biceps, through the one on the right and securing it so that it wouldn't pull too tight but allowed Paul no movement. That then went down between his legs, and after Paul was turned onto his back, up and over his dick, and through the ring on the front of his waist band, before going around up and around his neck and back down to the waist band where it was secured off. Another strap got attached to his ankles, wrapped around his legs and secured on his thigh bands. He was totally immobile.

Then Daniel dropped the chain so that the manacles were on the floor. He attached them to Paul's feet.

"Right, this is the tricky bit," Daniel muttered. "Call out if you hurt."

The chain was pulled and as Paul looked up, he saw that it went up three times, making it easier for Daniel to lift him without effort. He was on his back again, the easiest way for him to hold himself steady as he was raised. It didn't take long before he found himself with his feet near the ceiling and his head a couple of feet above the ground. For a moment, he wondered if he was safe, but with all the bindings, and the thickness of the equipment, he knew he was and he started to relax.

Daniel wondered if he should blindfold and gag him, but decided that this first time needed Paul's awareness. If he liked it, next time they could go further.

Trusting Paul to complain if he needed to, Daniel left him for a moment and retrieved some toys from the other room. Paul twisted himself slightly, using what little movement he had to spin himself enough so that he could see what Daniel was up to. When Daniel re-entered the room, he grinned and couldn't wait for what was to come.

He also realised why he was secured in this manner - his love of more and more bindings notwithstanding. With his arms held like that, they wouldn't naturally drop down, which, because they were bound together behind his back, would have been painful. And every time he moved, the strap which ran over his balls and cock rubbed them slightly. A pleasant sensation he thought.

Daniel approached him first with the cloth flogger, wanting to build him up slowly. He started with Paul's front, dragging the flogger over his chest and gently flicking it this way and that, moving over his thighs and the fronts of his arms - at least what little he could access. Then Paul felt himself being turned and his back started to get the same treatment.

It wasn't much more than a tickle to Paul but he loved it as a starter. When Daniel grew bored with it, he stopped and ran his hands over the barely pink areas.

"More?" he asked, figuring he should.

"Anything you want," Paul begged. "Whatever, however."

"Who needs whores?" Daniel taunted. "Not when I can have you. My sex toy," he teased. "And I don't even have to have you wrapped up in brown paper. Though that," he purred, "is an idea for the future. You could be delivered to me."

Paul tried not to laugh but it wasn't easy. He figured that few of his friends would end up in such an incongruous position and want to giggle quite as often as he did.

Daniel moved up to his favourite paddle, the one with the suede side and flexible wooden base. The thudding sound reverberated through the air as Paul's fleshy areas got redder and redder as Daniel spanked him harder and harder. Again, he didn't want to go to far just yet, this was still the 'warm up' time. When Daniel ran his hand over Paul's ass and felt the heat from it, he moved onto the next step.

The cane was next. Just as he'd used it on Jack, the spanks came in short, sharp bursts, his wrist flexing quickly and delivering two to three strokes a second over each of Paul's buttocks. By now, they were bright-red, glowing like Rudolph's nose.

This time, Daniel took more time to rub the affected area with his hand. He knew he was rushing this - even though Paul had been upside down for twenty minutes. He didn't want Paul to have all the blood in his body descend into his head for too long.

For his final act, he brought out the bullwhip. Standing back, he positioned himself carefully. This time, Paul received strokes over more of his body. His legs didn't get the end of the whip but further down, the tail coiling itself around both his legs with each stroke and falling away gently when the inertia had run out. Daniel started nearest his feet and worked his way, stroke after stroke towards his ass. When he arrived there, Paul felt the sting of the tail land on him time after time.

Eventually, Daniel decided that he'd had enough. He got some aloe gel and gently applied it to Paul's skin, speaking softly to him in contrast to the teasing he'd been giving him all through the scene. Then he let him down slowly until he lay on the floor.

"Stay there for a minute," Daniel ordered. "I don't want you fainting when you get up."

Paul decided that mentioning that he couldn't get up if he wanted to was probably pointless.

He watched as Daniel put away this whips and paddles, feeling pretty good about himself. He hadn't got into his sub-space, but he hadn't needed to. Today, he'd wanted to feel everything but remain aware of Daniel's mood, too. Having said that, he was feeling as horny as hell.

Daniel knelt at his side and Paul found himself being gently raised to sit up.

"Dizzy?" Daniel asked.

"A little."

"Stay here. We'll move you to your feet when you're ready." To answer Paul's unspoken question, he added, "I have plans for that gorgeous ass of yours."

Paul didn't try to hide what Daniel's words did to him. He moaned with pleasure and tilted his head to rest against Daniel's shoulder, adding a 'hmm' when Daniel held him closer still.

A noise at the door of the other playroom alerted Paul that Jack was probably joining them. He was both curious and excited at the thought that the three of them might finish off this particular scene.

Jack was also feeling as horny as hell. Daniel had ordered him to go switch on the computers so that he could film the action and to watch what happened. He hadn't been allowed to come, but Daniel wanted him hard and ready for when they were ready for him. He knew that now was that time.

Looking at the door to the dark room, he watched and waited for the others to join him. He was just putting the finishing touches to Daniel's orders when they entered, Daniel carrying Paul over his shoulder in a fireman's lift.

"I'm ready for you, Daniel," he said, grinning at Paul's predicament.

The table's bottom half was open as wide as it could go and Daniel put Paul to stand in-between the 'legs' and to bend down so that his face was resting on the leather top. Daniel unhooked the leather strap that was attached to his waist and removed it, then he removed the plug and genital bindings, freeing Paul for both his sake and theirs. Paul only then realised that Jack had lain a cloth just where his cock was pressed against the table. It took all of his self-control not to push against it to use the friction to make himself come.

His legs were still bound together, but now his hands were untied from behind him and let loose, then pulled above his head. Daniel attached his wrists to the table at the top end and then he was secured to it. Next, Jack stepped behind him and Paul heard the slow, deliberate pop of the button and the teeth of the zip grinding down. Daniel was standing at his head end and when Daniel unhooked the table and moved his arms apart, giving Daniel access to Paul's head, he had a feeling he knew what he was in for.

Daniel put two fingers in Paul's mouth and twisted them around, urging him to suck on them, which he did with enthusiasm. At the same time, fighting against the tightness caused by Paul's legs still being stuck together, Jack put two lubed fingers up his ass and mirrored Daniel's movement.

Paul shut his eyes for a moment, then he opened them and looked to his side without moving his face. Out of the corner of his eye, and in the mirror which lined the wall, Paul saw what he and the guys looked like. How he held off from coming, he didn't know.

A small nod from Daniel moved things up a notch. As Daniel undid his pants, Jack lubed his cock. Carefully co-ordinated, they entered his mouth and ass at the same time, making it impossible for Paul to know which end to concentrate on hardest. He knew that he wasn't being asked to actively suck Daniel off, his mouth was just going to be used in the same way that his ass was. The only thing he had to do was to make sure there was enough pressure surrounding Daniel's cock. Not, Paul thought, a problem. No sirree. He'd do that anytime for him. Anytime at all.

He shut his eyes again and just used his imagination to guess what he and the guys looked like. The thought turned him on even more and he moaned loudly, the vibrations going through Daniel's dick and straight to his balls. It seemed to spur him on to move that much faster. Jack copied his actions and his body slammed into Paul, pushing Paul's dick against the rough cloth. That made him moan again, so Daniel moved even faster...

It got to the stage that all three of them could only think of getting off. Nothing else was relevant, important or even slightly meaningful.

Paul came first; hardly surprising given the circumstances. His ass contracted around Jack's cock and he milked him for everything he had. The sights of his lovers coming, the noises they made, pushed Daniel to come and he did with a loud grunt.


They lay on the bed together, having recovered for the most part in the playroom but needing to spend time together. Daniel was naturally in the middle, the others holding onto him tightly.

"You okay?" he asked Paul - now undone but still naked except for his bands.

"Hell yeah," Paul mumbled happily, snuggling even closer to him. "Wonderful, thanks."

"It wasn't too much... Being upside-down that is?"

"No. It was different, unusual, but it was way cool. Somehow it even made the sensations more intense."

"Want to try it with your senses blocked?"

Paul looked up at him from his position on Daniel's chest and smiled wickedly. He knew that Daniel meant that he'd be blindfolded, gagged and earplugs in his ears.

"Yes! That would be something else."

"Okay, but first time, you have the bell in your hand. No giving me control of your safe word. We can build up to that."

"Sounds good to me," Paul sighed. Then he looked at Jack and said, "Guess there's no point in asking if you want that, is there?"

Jack shook his head. "Don't think I'm physically up to it. Somehow it's less strain on my legs to stand up than to be held up like that. At least, I imagine it would be." He pictured his exercises in the gym, including light leg-weight work and decided that trying would probably not be a good idea.

"Don't worry," Daniel soothed. "I won't ask you. If you ever change your mind, you know you can ask. I might chain you by your arms instead," he added. "I think that binding you up the way Paul was bound would be hot."

Jack shrugged, but didn't disagree. After all, he hadn't thought he'd get much out of toys, or spanking or...

...Or pretty much anything that Daniel did and which he now loved.

They had lunch, Daniel 'making' Paul eat it whilst kneeling at Daniel's feet in the kitchen and being fed like a pet. As Daniel hadn't put his genital bindings back on, Paul had been fighting an erection throughout. Daniel had been speaking to Jack across the table, lowering food down to Paul's mouth and then stroking his hair casually as Paul ate. By the time they'd finished, Paul was hard and aching to get off again.

To be awkward, Daniel announced that they should let their food go down. He directed Paul to bring them some drinks into the living room and he and Jack retreated together.

Paul followed a few minutes later with drinks on a tray and saw the men on the sofa, necking lazily and generally touching each other up but without any apparent intention of getting off just yet. As he put the tray on the coffee table, Daniel removed Jack's shirt and spent the next few minutes exploring his shoulders, throat and chest with his mouth, stopping every so often to gently kiss the ring that sat very invitingly on Jack's chest.

He finally broke away, acknowledged Paul's presence and called him over. Moving so that he could sit properly on the sofa, Daniel ordered Jack to do the same. They looked like they were just going to drink their coffees and watch the TV, but Paul knew that Daniel had something else in mind. He knelt by Daniel's side as directed, thoroughly enjoying this chance for him to serve his dom in this way. He'd missed the opportunity since Jack's family had arrived and hadn't realised just how much he needed the ability to do this whenever he wished. Fitting it in with other people's schedules wasn't much fun.

Daniel continued to speak to Jack, as if ignoring Paul deliberately, but Paul knew that he was being watched at every moment. Just as at the kitchen table, Daniel was occasionally running his fingers through Paul's hair, once in a while twisting it tightly and tugging, an action which made Paul even more horny (as well Daniel knew).

In the middle of the discussion, Daniel undid his jeans and exposed his cock. Paul saw that somehow, Daniel (aka 'The Bastard') wasn't hard. How? he thought. He, himself, was as hard as nails.

Daniel again twisted his fingers through Paul's hair and tugged his head down. Paul got the message.

He started by taking the head of Daniel's cock in his mouth and licking it until he got a reaction. The fact that Daniel was still speaking to Jack as if nothing was going on was both an annoyance and a turn on. He worked harder, taking more in his mouth as and when he could.

Daniel was cursing himself for being a twit. Looking down at the bobbing head was in itself enough to make him come. It was in fact easier for him to ignore the sensation of Paul's mouth than the vision. He tried to concentrate on Jack instead.

He wasn't going to come this way; he had other plans. But he wanted to draw the tease out as long as he could. He looked at Jack's groin and saw that his lover was reacting, too. Almost viciously, he shook his head and mouthed 'not yet' between spoken words. Jack nodded as he replied about something completely different.

"Enough," Daniel suddenly announced, much to Paul's disappointment. "You should do the same for your other superior."

Paul shuffled towards Jack on his knees. Jack deliberately didn't touch his zip, leaving it to Paul to undo him instead. He wondered what Daniel had in mind, but figured it probably had something to do with the play earlier in the day.

'Don't leave it too long', Jack mouthed to Daniel, warning him he couldn't hold out. Like Paul, he was feeling really horny and put it down to a mixture of Daniel's strength and the freedom of a few hours before a couple of days of not being allowed to play.

Daniel watched Jack's face carefully until he figured that Jack wouldn't be able to keep from coming for much longer.

"That will do," he stated, tugging Paul's hair at the back of his head. "Come here, slut."

Paul shuffled back to him and looked up, awaiting his next order. Daniel stared at him as if making up his mind as to what he was going to do next.

"We're going to have to change the bedding in the spare room for Ben," he announced.

The others tried to hide a look of disappointment but failed. Daniel, however, managed to hide the look of amusement that he now had on his face.

"So," he continued, "I think we should mess it up properly first, don't you?"

With that, he stood up, lifted his T-shirt up and dropped it carelessly on the floor. His jeans, which were still undone, he started to tug down.

"Paul, remove them."

Paul pulled the trousers down as fast but as reverently as he could, carefully lifting Daniel's feet up, one at a time to remove them as ordered. Like the others, Daniel wasn't wearing underwear - a frequent occurrence in this house as it saved time in the long run.

"Do the same for Jack and go into the spare room," he said as he stepped away, heading for their own room first.

Paul tried to be as reverent when he took off Jack's pants, but Jack didn't really help him when he grabbed the back of Paul's head, held it and then 'wiped' his leaking dick over Paul's cheeks.

Paul was now seriously considering hurting Jack permanently. The bastard was hitting his kinks as quickly and as easily as Daniel did.


They were standing in the bedroom when Daniel entered with a tube of his favourite flavoured lube. He dropped it casually on the bed, looked at the naked men, grinned and then opened the cupboard, booted up the computer and called to Jack.

"What's the name of the file?" he asked.

"Um, it's today's date," Jack replied. "I figured you'd give it a 'proper' name when you edit the images and make the film."

"Good thinking. Come here, you two," he ordered casually. "Paul, look at what we saw."

Paul stood open-mouthed as he saw himself being raised up. Daniel was showing him the images from one of the cameras, then he would swap to another and so on. He gulped when they got to the point where Daniel was flogging him, feeling again each stroke. His cock was dripping with excitement and when the film moved to the other room and he saw himself being fucked at both ends, he pleaded with Daniel to help him out.

Daniel did what he hadn't expected and grabbed his balls rather ruthlessly.

"Not yet," Daniel warned. "You will, but not yet. Today, you both please me."

He waited till the film ended and switched it off, then he pulled out another CD, one of his favourites, and put it on.

"You two look so hot on screen," he purred. "So fucking hot that I want you both."

Jack shut his eyes and swallowed hard while Paul shuddered violently. Daniel ignored them and stood up, backing himself towards the bed. They watched him as he sat, but he pointed to the screen.

"Watch that," he ordered.

As they watched the screen, seeing a film of Paul getting fucked by Daniel while bending over and rimming Jack who had one hand on the wall mirror, holding himself up, while his other hand jerked himself off. They remembered that scene - it had come at the end of a particularly good session. Jack really enjoyed the mirrors and seeing what was going on behind him, as it heightened everything for him and played up both his exhibitionist and voyeuristic sides. Paul had loved that moment as he was in the middle, being used by both men at the same time, his ultimate favourite thing to do. And Daniel had loved it because they were both happy, horny, and he was getting to fuck Paul and direct Jack simultaneously.

"You loved that, didn't you?" he taunted, getting some lube on his fingers and grabbing at Paul's hip, tugging him close.

"Yes," Paul hissed. Jack just grunted.

Daniel covered his cock with the lube and guided Paul until his ass was right in line.

"Sit," he ordered.

Paul sat, taking him down straight away. "Ride me," came the next order. "Keep watching the screen, ride me hard and make me come. But don't you dare come yourself."

Paul had to reach down and tug on his balls again to even stand a remote chance of following out that order. When he had enough pain to pull himself back from the edge, he started to stand up and then lower himself back down. Each time he did it, he moved that little bit harder, that little bit faster.

Jack, meanwhile, was trying not to look too closely at the screen. He had an idea what Daniel wanted and knew that Daniel would be exceedingly disappointed in him if he came right now. This was torture, pure and simple. He would have preferred to have gone through what Paul had that morning than this.

Knowing that the others were so close to the edge that they were about to fall off it, Daniel threw off any restraint. He allowed himself to feel the heat from Paul's ass, the tightness as he squeezed his muscles together, and he concentrated on the screen. The film changed to the end of another scene they'd played - this CD was filled with such moments. Some CDs were the whole scene, this one was the "porn" bits, all edited together. On the screen now was Jack tied to the cross, facing towards it. Daniel and Paul were taking it in turns to fuck him, having a go at him for a minute or so before pulling out and the other one taking over. By doing it that way, they managed to keep it going for ages.

Jack remembered that, too. He'd been feeling nervous that day because that was the day they'd opened a 'gallery' in the shop where he and Dizzy sold their work. He hadn't had the confidence that his talent was up to that. Daniel and Paul had taken it upon themselves to make him so damned sore he wouldn't have the ability to concentrate on anything but his ass and so would sail through the grand opening in the evening. He smirked as he remembered that their tactic had worked to the point where Dizzy had wondered if he had taken some valium.

A yell from Daniel brought him back to the present and he wondered what he was going to be asked to do next. Daniel pushed Paul off him, wriggled back to lie on the bed, turned himself over and got onto his hands and knees. Reaching out, he picked up the lube, threw it at the exhausted Paul and ordered him to rim him, then get him ready.

Trying not to let his cock touch the bed, Paul crawled towards him, plastered Daniel's ass with the lube and set to work, still panting and trying to catch his breath. Eventually, the passion in him still as high as at anytime in his life, he grabbed Daniel's ass cheeks pretty violently so that he could pull them apart as wide as they could go. Then he bit and licked, probed and prodded, groaning and moaning as he worked.

Daniel had never known Paul so frantic and in the end, he yelled, "Enough! Fuck me, Paul. NOW!"

'Finally!', Paul thought. Then his mind added, 'if he says 'don't come', I'm going to kill him. Slowly'.

Knowing what Daniel wanted, he lay into him, not really caring if he hurt or bruised him as he knew that Daniel wouldn't care less one way or another. He wanted this to last forever as it felt so damned good, but he knew it wasn't possible. He wasn't even going to last a minute. The noise from the CD changed and he heard female voices, and he realised that Daniel had filmed Sam and Janet - or maybe even that time that Daniel had gone down there with them after Sam had...

That thought shocked him and he came, unable to concentrate any longer on holding back. He pulled out and dropped away from Daniel, knowing that Jack would get his turn right now.

As Daniel moved, wanting to get into a different position for him, Paul looked at the screen then looked away. It was just the women. He decided to ask Daniel later about that thought.

Daniel, meanwhile, had made it to the edge of the bed. He beckoned Jack to him and Paul watched as Daniel lifted his legs and moments later, he was flat on his back, his legs draped over the standing Jack's shoulders. Without further instruction, Jack started screwing him into the mattress.

Paul ignored the change of scene on the screen and watched intently as Jack fucked Daniel instead. Nothing beat watching this live, in his opinion. The noises on the screen were tinny compared to the deep-throated growls from the men on the bed. There were no scents to stimulate their brains from the computer. He couldn't reach out and touch or kiss the people on the screen. Here, he could smell everything; the sweat, the come... he could hear the noises so well they vibrated against his chest. And he could lean down and kiss the desperate Daniel's face, reach up and touch Jack to urge him on...

Nothing on Earth, or anywhere else, beat this.

Everything was tidied up, the bed had been changed, dinner had been organised and all were dressed and without any overt signs of the day's play (except for the goofy grins they kept exchanging). Jack had picked up Ben and his mother, who had entered the house announcing that she needed a stiff drink after giving her talk, and now all five were eating.

Daniel had told Ben about the call to Tzufit, Paul had denied doing anything at all all day and Jack had tried to look innocent. Mary wasn't buying any of it, and much to Daniel's chagrin, neither was Ben. The three became the butt of jokes throughout the meal.

Paul picked up his mug of tea just as Jack nudged him when his mother made a joke. The nudge caused him to spill his tea over his shirt and a split second later, he was on his feet and quickly removing it to prevent being burned. However, when the shirt was off and Paul was about to walk out of the room (accompanied by profound apologies from Jack), Ben cried out.

"What the hell happened to you?" he demanded.

Paul looked at him oddly.

"What do you mean?"

"Your arms," he said. "They're marked. Those are new marks. What the hell is going on?"

The rest of the room feel silent as he said that and Daniel stood up, put his hand on Paul's arm and stroked it gently.

"Nothing serious," he said calmly. "Paul, go get yourself a new shirt."

Paul nodded and walked out of the room, trying to hold his head up high.

"Ben, he isn't being beaten up, if that's what you're thinking."

"What the hell am I supposed to think? He's covered in welts. Dammit, Daniel, what's going on?"

Jack sighed and undid the cuff of his shirt, rolling it up to show Ben his tattoo. Taking his cue, Daniel did the same thing. Ben looked at them, wondering what they had to do with it.

"Ben, those aren't bruises from a beating," Daniel sighed. "They're just a few marks left from a scene."

"A scene?" he asked, then he added, "oh!" as he put two and two together. "Daniel?"

Daniel groaned and dropped his head into his hands.

"Here we go again," he muttered. Then he lifted his head, smiled a little lopsidedly and explained it all, yet again.


Patrick entered the pulpit in his church, his heart racing. Over the previous few days, he'd been thinking a lot. Finally, he'd come to a decision.

"Rather than give a sermon," he started, after his usual blessings had been given, "I need to speak to you all about a serious subject. As you have all seen, I have invited the Bishop here today to hear this, too. Between you, you must come to a decision. Whatever your decision is, I shall abide by it."

His congregation and the Bishop were all a touch confused, but they remained quiet and waited for him to continue.

"There are times when we're all faced with a problem or a conundrum which will change the way we live or view life. I have reached one of those times. The last time I reached one was when I decided to become a priest. Now, I have to decide whether to continue.

"You see, recently, I discovered something out about my brother which made me rethink some things, and one of those things is the Church's position on one section of human life. I find that I can no longer agree with this position and it's my brother and his friends who have helped me to focus my thoughts on the subject. If you no longer wish me to serve as your priest as a result, you must say so. I will not abandon you, I will not cease to believe in God and neither will I cease to help His people. But I cannot remain here without your agreement and support. To help you understand me, let me tell you about my brother and hopefully, you will see why I feel the need to do this."

With a smile on his face, Patrick started to speak of Jack. Of his service to his country, his past family life and finally, in general terms, about his current life. It was up to the others now. Either they would accept him and his position, or they would not. The question was, which way would they go?

Jack watched as the plane took off. He hadn't been able to say goodbye to Daniel in the airport as goodbyes were a little too permanent. Instead, he had secretly taken his truck and had parked up near the perimeter and watched for the El Al plane that would take Daniel to his other family.

He didn't see a car pull up next to him, so intent was he on following the plane with his eyes as it flew off into the distance. When he heard a door slam shut, though, he looked away and saw Paul heading towards him.

"He got off all right," Paul reassured him.

"Excited," Jack half-stated, half-asked, pointing to the plane as it soared into the sky.

"Yeah. Terrified, too. He's excited about seeing everyone, scared that they won't like him... The usual," he shrugged.

"He'll be okay," Jack shrugged. "Ben accepted everything about him, warts and all. The others will, too."

A silence fell for a few moments and they realised that the plane was out of sight.

"He'll be home next week."

Jack looked at him and smiled back.

"Yeah," he sniffed. Then his eyes twinkled. "Can't wait."


*Note: The email has been, as stated in the story, doing the rounds for quite some time. I do not know the originator, so I cannot attribute it, but would wish to shake his or her hand for writing it. No offence was intended by replicating it here. back