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North by North East by alyse [Reviews - 12]
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Category: CI5: The New Professionals > Slash
Characters: Chris Keel
Rating: NC-17
Genres: Action/Adventure
Warnings: None

Summary: Following the mysterious death of a government MP, Curtis and Keel are sent north to investigate. Certain aspects of the case have them examining their own friendship.

My response to Mel's 60 words challenge.

There is also a gen version of this story.





Kudos: Many thanks to my excellent beta Lou, for the eagle eyed spotting of typos, for the encouragement to keep writing this when I was stalling at around the half way mark and for the title! Also thanks to all those in chat you listened to my constant going on and on about this for the last couple of months.

~*~

The day had started off badly and had steadily grown worse. By half past ten that night, Sam Curtis had managed to convince himself that this was it - the end of the less than perfect day. Theoretically he should be safe now. He'd managed to crash his car - or rather CI5's car as Malone had rather acidly pointed out - got shot at, as per usual, ruined a perfectly good suit diving for cover into the mud, lost the suspect (another chewing out from Malone), and to top it all, he'd had to put up with Chris in a foul mood. He didn't know what had got into his partner, but he had a feeling it had to do with Chris' love life, or lack thereof. All he knew was that every time he mentioned that he had a date, Chris got snappish. It was ridiculous. Why should his love life suffer because his partner couldn't get laid? He couldn't understand Chris' problem, to be frank. His partner was very good-looking, and surely the fact that he was American could only add to his allure in this country?

He hadn't bothered telling Chris that he'd had a date tonight. Had being the operative word. The blonde nymph he'd had lined up had departed the restaurant before he'd even arrived, and he was only an hour late - good for a CI5 agent. He'd even called to apologise while he was delayed, and it still hadn't appeased her. Obviously his seduction technique was not what it used to be. However, it wasn't a total loss. This was one of his favourite restaurants after all. He was just about to tuck in to a well-earned and rare steak, when disaster struck once more...

"Chris! What the hell are you doing here?"

"Looking for you, of course!" retorted his friend and partner, Chris Keel, who did not look too impressed at having to do it either. "Did you know that your mobile is switched off?"

"Shit!" Curtis fished his phone out of his pocket and gave it a cursory examination. "Battery's flat," he explained. "Just what I need..."

"Yeah, well Malone won't be impressed by that explanation," retorted Chris. Sam sighed heavily, running his fingers through his hair.

"How come Backup can get away with not carrying hers because she doesn't want to ruin the line of her dress, and we get chewed out simply because we're never in one place long enough to charge ours up?"

"She's cute, we're not."

"Speak for yourself," retorted Sam.

"You can't be that cute, Curtis. Looks like you got stood up," Chris smirked. Did he have to sound so pleased about it?

"Maybe..." replied Sam with deliberate calm, "...I just decided I didn't want to cook, and unlike you I don't subsist on take-aways."

"Yeah? Well, you're out of luck. Malone wants to see us ASAP."

It had been a very long day, and Sam was unable to suppress his resulting whinge. "I was just about to eat..."

"Well, get a doggy bag," his partner replied completely unsympathetically. "Malone said ASAP, and that was half an hour ago before I managed to track you down. Keep him waiting any longer and he might just spontaneously combust."

Sam grumbled softly to himself as he paid the bill and followed his impatient partner out of the door.

~*~

They weren't the only ones who'd been called in, it seemed. Richards was already there. He seemed to be taking it better than they were, in the middle of telling Rebecca a dirty joke.

"... So the guy from BUPA looks at the gnome and says, 'You can't do that, it's bad for your elf!'"

Sam had heard it before, and mustered a sympathetic roll of the eyes for Rebecca who was groaning at the pun. Chris barely spared the pair a nod as he led the way to Malone's office. However he'd spent the evening since they'd split up, it obviously hadn't improved his mood.

Foul moods seemed to be going around, as Malone's face looked like thunder. Sam mentally ran through his 'Malone in a bad mood' checklist. Yep, his will was up to date, his bills were paid and there was nothing too embarrassing on his laptop's hard drive. Now the only thing to do was keep his head down and hope the injuries weren't incapacitating.

Miracle of miracles, Malone contented himself with a brief, "Nice of you to finally join us, Mr. Curtis," before launching himself into the briefing. "Tim Anderson," he began. At the blank look, he elaborated. "Government Whip. His corpse was found earlier today. The police are currently investigating, but their preliminary feelings are that it may have been suicide."

"But?" interjected Sam softly, his attention riveted on his boss, knowing that there was more to come.

"CI5 have been asked to investigate, unofficially of course." Malone fixed them with his gimlet gaze. "As you can imagine, gentlemen, Number Ten is particularly interested in this one. Not only was this man an MP, he could be considered one of the PM's inner circle, especially as he represented a constituency close to the PM's own, up in the North East."

"What are we looking for?" asked Chris, all business.

"That, gentlemen, is what you are going up to Northumberland to find out."

~*~

Richards had already pulled some information on the dead MP, although at the moment it seemed to consist of scanty newspaper clippings and some press releases, mainly focused on Anderson grinning widely, his arm wrapped around his wife and clutching a small blonde girl to him. Happy families. So why then were the police suspecting suicide?

Richards didn't have an answer to that, rather cheekily suggesting that they were being sent to the wilds 'up North' to find that out and he wasn't going to do their job for them. Richards was even more of a city boy than Curtis, coming from much the same neighbourhood and without the ex-MI6 man's globe trotting. Curtis was convinced, Richards' protestations aside, that the North wasn't all flat caps and whippets. He had spent three years in Edinburgh after all and assured his partner that no matter what Richards said, the North was not inhabited by blue faced, violent and aggressive Mel Gibson types. Well, maybe the women...

None of this put a damper on Richards' spirits. The hacker seemed to be almost bouncing with glee, which at well after midnight Keel was obviously at a loss to understand. Watching Richards dart back towards his printer to grab yet another meaningless article, Curtis decided to enlighten him.

"He fancies Rebecca."

Keel gave him a blank look. With a sigh Curtis elaborated. "She's working night shift, there's hardly anyone else in, and he gets to spend all evening with her. Plus, being support staff, he gets overtime."

Keel frowned. "Why the hell don't we get overtime?"

"We're idiots," replied Curtis succinctly. "Besides, if we got paid overtime we'd probably increase the national debt." He thought for a moment. "Of all five countries," he added.

Keel just grunted.

It was going to be a long night.

~*~

What made it longer was the fact that although Malone had said 'Northumberland', and indeed Anderson's constituency was there, Richards had determined that Anderson's main base was in Newcastle, and that was where they would start. It was a reasonable distance from HQ and Malone insisted that they drive, wanting them to have the freedom that having a car on-site would provide them. Which meant a six or seven hour drive instead of a three-hour train journey or a forty-minute flight. Either Malone was even more tight-fisted than Curtis believed, or this was payback for the damage to his CI5 car earlier.

Keel seemed to be of the same mind, and high-handedly decided that Curtis was going to drive 'since he knew the country so well,' while he curled up and got some sleep. When Sam protested at the unfairness of this, Chris acidly pointed out that since he'd apparently had some blonde lined up he hadn't been planning on getting any sleep tonight anyway, so why was he complaining?

"There's a hell of a difference between spending the night with an attractive young woman, and spending it with you!" Sam snapped. "Especially since you seem to have been hiding when charm was handed out." Chris just gave him a foul look, but by now Sam was becoming immune. "Fine, I'll drive. Given your current dateless status you need all the beauty sleep you can get." Below the belt, he knew, but he was fast losing patience with his friend. They drove for a while in silence, until the deep even breathing from his partner told him that Chris was asleep.

Three hours on the road and Sam was bored. Chris was fast asleep in the passenger seat, he was hungry, although not hungry enough to stop at a service station and risk their idea of food, and he was bone weary. He needed caffeine and he needed something to keep him awake. It was pure vindictiveness that made him turn the car stereo on full blast.

Chris came awake with a startled oath before glaring at his partner. "Sorry," said Sam sweetly. "Did I wake you?" The glare deepened, and lasted several moments before Chris turned away and ran his fingers through his short spiky hair.

"Where are we?" he asked.

"About half way up the A1. More than half way there." There was no answer other than a grunt. Feeling a little bit guilty, Sam tried to make conversation. "At least at this time of night there's not much traffic on the road."

"That's always a benefit the way you drive."

"Meaning?"

"You drive like a lunatic, Curtis. Good job I don't scare easily."

"Do I ever criticise your flying?"

"No, you just sit there looking like you're praying."

"I don't pray. I'm not the religious type."

"Really?"

"Swear on the Bible."

That earned him a brief smirk, Chris' mood improving slightly. "So..." he said.

"So..." echoed Sam. Chris gave him a look out of the corner of his eye, trying to gauge his mood, before reaching out and turning the sound down to a more manageable level. He was obviously trying to find a safe topic of conversation.

"You ever read 'Good Omens?" he eventually asked a little aimlessly.

"Don't think so," replied Sam, his attention fixed on overtaking a large lumbering lorry at considerably greater speed than was legal. "What's it about?"

"Oh, you know. The coming of the Antichrist, the end of the world."

"Very biblical," observed Sam dryly. "And you thought of this because I don't pray?"

"Oh no, no. It's very funny actually. There's a demon and an angel who are trying to stop it. The end of the world I mean. I just thought of it because the demon, Crowley, has this theory that every tape left in a car will eventually metamorphose into The Best of Queen." He nodded towards where 'We are the Champions' was currently blasting out of the sound system.

"I think that has less to do with demonic influences than the fact that Richards was the last one to check this car out of the car pool. His taste in music is eclectic to say the least."

Chris snorted, reaching down to hit the CD skip button. "Maybe he's trying to find something that will impress Rebecca."

Sam grinned wickedly. "If that's the case he should be changing gender, if the rumours about Rebecca's sexual preferences are true."

"You mean she's a..."

"That's the rumour."

"How do you find these things out, Sam?"

"I talk to the typing pool."

"I thought you spent your time down there chatting up the blonde with the large... workstation."

"That too. But face it, Chris, if you want to know anything about our co-workers you talk to those in the know."

There was a long pause while Chris digested this. "So what do they say about me?"

"That you look hot in leather." Sam grinned at him again.

Chris thought about this and shrugged. "Could be worse, I suppose. What do they say about you?"

"I have no secrets, remember Chris. My life is an open book."

"Yeah, and I think we both know which passages are underlined."

"I'm not the priapismic monster you appear to think I am, Keel."

"If the Dutch cap fits..."

"At least I'm getting some, unlike an American I know."

"Meaning?" asked Chris a little aggressively.

Sam smirked at him. "When did you last get laid, Chris?" He laughed at Chris' vengeful expression. "You have no idea how long I've been wanting to turn that back to you, after your snide little remarks outside Gemma Woods' hotel room."

Chris snorted again.

"For Christ's sake, Chris, I'm only teasing you."

"Yeah, I know," sighed his partner. He gave Sam a weak grin. "I probably wouldn't be pissed if it wasn't true."

Sam grinned back at him. "I thought that was it," he announced triumphantly. "Don't worry, Chris. We'll find you some nice accommodating Geordie lass. Shouldn't be too difficult. If I remember rightly they're a friendly lot. Just put on some leather and you'll be set."

Chris didn't look convinced. Gradually, as he moped, the sound of the new track percolated through his consciousness. He exchanged a horrified look with his partner.

"Steps!" they chorused, both reaching for the off switch at the same time.

"Eclectic," murmured Chris.

"That's one way of putting it," commented his partner. They exchanged grins, once more at ease with one another.

~*~

They reached their destination at around eight am, just in time to be introduced to the investigating police officer, Detective Sergeant Kennedy Smith. Although she was what Sam would categorise as a 'looker', she was also a bit of a prickly character and less than thrilled at CI5's involvement but Sam turned on the charm and she grudgingly agreed to share what she had, if only to get rid of the pair of them as soon as possible. Of course, it didn't take the two CI5 agents very long to figure out that she was definitely not telling them everything, and that the police had also apparently been very thorough in clearing out Anderson's Quayside flat.

It was a nice place, and although Anderson had only rented it, that alone cost him around twelve grand a year, one of the young uniformed officers informed Sam in a rather envious tone of voice. Overlooking the Tyne, it was in a sought after location, and was unusual in that it had a large round sitting room in a dome. Anderson was independently wealthy, one of the new breed of Labour MPs, lots of money and enough social conscience to join what had traditionally been seen as a socialist, working class political party, before it's transformation of course. Sam's own father was a staunchly Labour man, more unusual in the South than the North, but then his family were firmly 'working class' and far from wealthy. He knew, however, that his father didn't care much for 'New Labour'. Sam himself had little time for politics. He'd seen enough in his time to tar all politicians with the same brush. At best, ineffectual. At worst, openly corrupt. But the feel of this whole situation left a bad taste in his mouth, and his gut was telling him that something was wrong with the picture.

Anderson's corpse had been found in a position which did indeed suggest suicide - hanging from the wrought iron balcony that ran around the viewing deck in the main room. However, neither Sam nor Chris were able to determine why the police were so happy to accept this at face value. There was no note, no evidence that Anderson had been wrestling with despair or driven to the extent of ending his own life. Anderson was wealthy, successful, apparently happily married and with no deep or dark secrets. Why then would he kill himself?

His wife had found his corpse when she arrived to join her husband for what appeared to be a rare weekend together. When Curtis enquired about the daughter, he was informed rather abruptly that she was on a school trip to Paris and attempts were being made to contact her teachers. At least she'd been spared the sight of her father hanging dead in their home, he thought.

The coroner's report was hardly illuminating. Fatality caused by strangulation, with enough alcohol and barbiturates in his system to have killed him even if he hadn't decided to hang himself.

"He really wanted to be sure, didn't he?" mused Chris. Sam wasn't so convinced.

"Why dope yourself up to the eyeballs if you're planning to hang yourself anyway?" Chris shrugged.

"Scared he'd chicken out at the last minute? Maybe took them to calm his nerves as he prepared to do the deed?"

"The police don't seem to have checked out where he got the tranquillisers from either..."

"Look, he either got them from his GP, or he went to a private doctor. He could have afforded it, judging by this place."

Sam remained unconvinced. "It just doesn't add up..."

"So the cops aren't telling us everything. So what's new? Like PC Plod ever tells us anything anyway. We do some digging, find out why this guy topped himself and go home."

"Maybe," said Sam. Chris gave him an exasperated look.

"Listen," he said. "I was talking to one of the other officers on the case..."

"Talking or threatening?" interrupted Sam, knowing full well what his partner's temper was like when they were dealing with the police.

"Talking nicely. I even smiled once or twice."

"That's a nice change..."

"Do you want to hear this or not?" snapped Keel. Sam held his tongue and nodded mutely. "Okay then. Turns out this guy had another place - kind of a holiday cottage or something. Place called Alnwick. Know it?"

Sam nodded again. "On the Northumberland coast. Nice place. I've been there once or twice. It's got the most amazing castle and grounds you've ever seen." Chris just grunted. "You're not one for history, are you Chris?"

"Let's just get this case wrapped up and go home, Curtis. Worth a run out do you think?"

"Well," shrugged Sam, "if nothing else, the scenery is nice."

~*~

Out of pure courtesy they informed the DS of their intentions. They were less polite in overriding her objections. Even Sam, normally the easier going of the two, was fast losing patience with her. It was becoming more and more obvious that the police were hiding something. Of course, that made it more likely that they'd reach Anderson's holiday cottage and come away empty handed, having been beaten to the post by the officers they were supposed to be working with. But nothing ventured, nothing gained, and who knew? Maybe the police would be in such a hurry to prevent them from finding anything that they'd get sloppy. Besides, thought Sam, his equilibrium restored once they were on the road, it was nice scenery.

It took a while to reach their destination, the winding roads forcing even Sam to drive more slowly than was his wont, but thankfully Chris' spirits seemed to have been restored and the time passed quickly while they bickered amicably. And even Chris had to admit, once they'd arrived, that the town was lovely, and the castle was, indeed, amazing.

They located Anderson's cottage quickly, nodding politely to the elderly woman in her garden next door, supposedly planting but paying close attention to the comings and goings at her neighbour's house. The young detective hovering around the door had obviously been warned of their arrival, but he was polite, awed by the fact that they were with an organisation like CI5. There seemed to be a little hero worship thrown in, Sam was pleased to note. Perhaps they could use that to their advantage and extract some information from him. The older PC with him was considerably less impressed.

Judging by the ease with which they were allowed to search the place, Curtis could only conclude that the police had indeed beaten them too it. That feeling was reinforced by the smug look on the face of PC, as he showed them to Anderson's small study. Curtis sighed internally, and started to systematically search the rather battered desk.

There was no note in any of the drawers, nothing out of the ordinary. Pen, paper, Tippex, a floppy disk or two...

He paused on the latter. "Oi, Chris!" he yelled.

"What?" came a muffled shout from the bedroom.

"C'mere."

There was a subdued grumbling, but his partner obligingly stuck his head around the door, contenting himself with spitting out a slightly irritated, "Yes?"

"Do you see a computer anywhere?"

Chris made a point of staring around the very small study, notable for its absence of anything resembling modern technology. "No," he replied mildly, if a little sarcastically. "In fact," he added, gesturing towards the typewriter in the corner, "he seems to have preferred old fashioned word processing." Sam ignored his tone.

"What about his flat?"

Chris thought hard. "No, I didn't see one there either."

"Why these then?" asked Sam, waving the diskettes in his partner's direction.

"Important do you think?"

"Could be. Wait here while I fetch the laptop out of the car."

He was back quickly, exchanging a quick grin with the young man still apparently on guard duty and making a snappy reference to reports being the bane of both of their lives, before settling himself at the desk again and booting up. Chris hovered over his shoulder impatiently, glad of anything to break the monotony, even if it turned out to be nothing. Opening explorer, Curtis soon accessed the contents of the first diskette.

"Text files," he explained briefly at Chris' look, and opening one up. "Aaah..."

"What?"

"E-mail messages saved as text files..."

Before Sam could read any further, the sound of voices drew their attention. Smith and her cronies had arrived. "Distract them," hissed Sam, beginning to copy the contents to his hard drive. Chris rolled his eyes, but moved to obey.

It didn't take long to copy the contents of both diskettes to his hard drive, and then Sam packed up his laptop, and joined his partner out in the hall, where he was unsuccessfully trying to pump the woman officer for information. Sam smoothly insinuated himself into the conversation.

"Did you by any chance remove a computer from either of Anderson's homes?"

"No," replied Smith, a little abruptly. "Why?"

"Oh no reason," Sam replied ingenuously. "Just found these, that's all." He pulled the diskettes out of his pocket, and she practically pounced on them. He blinked innocently at her. "Do you think they might be important?" He could hear Chris cover his snort of laughter with a cough, and resisted the urge to kick him. "I have my laptop if you want to look at them..."

"No, no," she protested, a little too eagerly. "I'll get our lab guys to look at them."

"Of course, you'll share anything important with us..."

"Of course," she replied with a patently fake twitch of the lips. Sam gave her another innocent look, and steered his still spluttering partner past her.

"Why did you give them to her?" asked Chris, once he had his mirth under control.

"The PC with the face like a bad accident and the disposition to match stalked into the room and saw me with them. And rather than have Malone come down on us like a ton of bricks for not 'sharing all relevant information with the appropriate authorities', I figured I'd come clean."

"Especially since you'd already copied them."

Sam grinned at him. "Of course," he replied brightly. Chris laughed.

"You're a smooth talking bastard, Curtis."

"And you're not?" Sam replied good-naturedly. "Come on, you can practice some of that smoothness on the neighbour. Turn on the charm."

"Oh come on! She's sixty-nine if she's a day!"

"All the more reason for her to be susceptible to your charms. She'll be taken in by your pretty face. For some reason, mothers and grandmothers are always suspicious of me."

"I wonder why?" murmured Chris dryly. Sam cocked an eyebrow at him.

"I've no idea," he replied urbanely.

The neighbour was setting her flowers out a regulation eight inches apart, as though gardening was a science. She even had a piece of string cut to the correct length, just to check. She eyed the pair of them as though they were weeds that'd had the temerity to grow on her property. Examining the militarily neat lawn and pristine borders, Sam didn't give much for their chances, and he was right. She was immune even to Chris at his most charming, dimples and all, and they got nothing useful out of her. Sam left Chris to persist, while he backed away a little and made a phone call.

Chris finally gave up, and with a few last polite words, joined his partner at a safe distance. As they walked away with their tails between their legs, Chris recovered enough to give his partner a sideways grin and ask, "Think she starches her underwear?"

Sam laughed. "Count on it mate."

"So..."

"So?"

"You going to tell me who you called, or do I have to beat it out of you?"

"Getting aggressive in your old age, aren't you?"

"Been spending too much time in the company of police officers."

"Well far be it from me to bring out your vicious streak... I called Richards, got him working for a living."

"Doing?"

"Well, I didn't have time to read the mail but I saw which address it had been sent to - a hotmail account. So I gave the account name to Richards, told him to hack it and download and forward any mail to us. By the time Smith's boys have got cracking, there shouldn't be anything left."

"Nice move," said Chris admiringly.

"Well, I figured after the 'co-operation' Smith has given us I'd return the favour."

"Yeah, what is that woman's problem?"

"Well, Chris, look at it this way. Wouldn't you be pissed if you had parents who were 'children of the sixties' and named you after a dead president?"

They reached the car, and Chris grinned at him over the top of it. "Didn't I tell you my middle name was Truman?"

"Yeah, well you're American and you people do weird stuff like that. She probably got the piss ripped out of her at school."

"And now is bitter towards the world..."

"You got it."

"Good job I'm a well balanced individual then, isn't it?" chuckled Chris, sliding into the passenger seat. Sam made a disbelieving noise, but forego any further comment as Chris started to laugh again. Perhaps his partner's bad mood had been permanently blown away by the sea breeze. He could only hope so.

~*~

They booked themselves into a hotel near the Quayside in Newcastle. A nice place and a bit better than they were used to unless they were undercover and the part called for it, but Curtis was feeling extravagant with Malone's money, especially after he'd insisted they drive. Chris, however, wasn't feeling quite as extravagant, and insisted that if they were risking Malone's wrath they got a twin room so they could at least claim that they'd tried to economise. He was still smarting over the chewing out he'd received from Malone over the whole ivory smuggling affair. The fact that they'd located the smuggler's den and broken up the ring was small consolation in Malone's eyes for the fact that they'd also wrecked a plane for which CI5 had to foot the bill. Not to mention the fact that Keel himself had broken his leg and been out of action for six weeks. Keel was convinced to this day that Malone had been more concerned about the plane.

With a sigh, Curtis gave in; merely contenting himself with pointing out that he had no intention of making alternative arrangements if Keel should pull.

As soon as they'd been assigned their room and given the key, Sam retrieved his laptop and their overnight bags from the car and joined his partner in the room.

"Nice," he commented, peering out of the window to the view over the Tyne, before setting up his laptop on the desk provided. Chris threw himself onto one of the two beds and made himself comfortable while Sam began reading his way through the text files.

"Chris..." There was something in the tone of his voice that had Chris off the bed and by his side in a second. Sam turned and looked at him seriously. "I think we have a reason our errant MP may have topped himself."

Chris looked over his shoulder, and whistled softly as he read part of the text file. "Sam," he said. "You may be right..."

~*~

"Okay, we assume that the mail came from Anderson's account..." Sam was pacing again, striding up and down the room, Chris' eyes following his progress like a spectator at a tennis match.

"Makes sense," replied Chris, getting a little dizzy.

"And from what we read..."

"He had one hell of an imagination..."

"He was having an affair."

"Not necessarily," disagreed the American. "Sending erotic messages is not the same as actually doing the dirty deed."

"I'm sure the tabloids wouldn't agree."

"Maybe not. Besides, are we sure that the messages are Anderson's? Maybe it was his wife who was having an affair. Maybe they were addressed to her, and Anderson found out..."

"And was so distraught over his wife's online infidelity he killed himself?"

"Or was killed," replied Chris softly, meeting his partner's eyes as Sam abruptly stopped in his tracks. "Maybe you were right about it not being suicide."

Sam considered his words, turning them over and over in his mind, his face thoughtful. "No," he said at last. "I don't buy it. Not the wife..."

"Kid's away in France. Ideal opportunity. She's out of the way, and meanwhile Mrs Anderson can play the grieving widow. If he divorced her, she might not get anything. And let's face it, Curtis. The guy was rolling in it. Great motive."

"Maybe..." agreed his partner reluctantly, frowning. There was something nagging at the corners of his mind. Chris watched him, staying silent, knowing that when Sam had that expression on his face the best thing to do was sit back and watch the wheels churning. Sooner or later his partner would come up with some blinding insight. "These messages were written by a man..."

"Yep," agreed Chris good-naturedly. "No doubt about that."

"To a man."

"That was what we assumed, sure, but..."

"No, they were." Sam turned back to the laptop, and began to read aloud. " 'I want to sink myself into your heat, feel your flesh gripping me as I surge into you...' "

"Guy's got a way with words, whoever he is."

"Yeah, but listen to this." He scrolled down the text file. " 'I want to feel you in me too. Feel that ecstatic burn as you fill me...' "

"Okay, Curtis, I get the picture. So, he was gay."

"Or bi."

"So we're back to suicide."

"Why?"

"You were the one who said it could be a reason."

"Yeah, I know, but humour me. Why?"

"Blackmail?" suggested Chris. Sam shook his head, running his hands through his hair.

"Blackmail's only an issue if you want something kept quiet and are willing to pay to make sure it is, right?"

"That's the dictionary definition, yes."

"So why not pay? He could sure as hell afford it. Or even better, why not remove the need for secrecy altogether?"

"Tell the world that he was gay you mean?"

"Yeah."

Chris shook his head. "Could have ruined his career, Curtis."

"In this government? Come on, Chris. We have gay ministers. Peter Mandelson. Chris Smith..." Chris looked blank. "Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport?" Chris continued to look blank. "Oh never mind... I mean, even Michael bloody Portillo has come out of the closet, and he's a Tory!"

"Why are you so insistent that he didn't kill himself?" Chris asked before Sam had a chance to start pacing again. His tone wasn't argumentative; he just wanted to understand his partner's thought processes, although he was perfectly willing to go with it even if Sam only had a hunch.

Sam paused, giving Chris a considering look. He wasn't aware that he was being insistent, but now that Chris had mentioned it...

"I don't like the way the whole thing feels," he said slowly. "No note, no sign of depression... Even the police have admitted that..."

"We don't know enough to comment on that," said Chris reasonably. "We haven't had a chance to talk to anyone who was close to him about whether he was under stress or seemed worried..."

"Yeah," admitted Sam, sinking down onto the bed next to his partner. "You're right of course. It's just that in this day and age..."

"You don't like to think of someone killing themselves because they're gay?"

"Suppose so," Sam shrugged.

"Yeah, well people kill themselves for all sorts of stupid reasons, Sam. Guess this may have been one of them. And until we have any hard evidence that suggests otherwise..." Chris gave him a second for this to sink in, then asked cheerfully, "Can we eat now?"

"You're all heart, Keel, do you know that?"

"Yeah, well at the moment a large part of me is stomach. Feed me, Curtis, or I'll get grumpy."

Curtis laughed. "We wouldn't want that now would we?" He rose to his feet. "Come on, let's eat."

They were half way out of the door when Curtis' mobile rang. Chris paused in the doorway, waiting for his partner and listening to one half of the conversation. When Curtis had finished talking the two men exchanged a long look.

"There's been another one," Sam said.

~*~

Kielder Reservoir was about fifty miles inland, north of Newcastle. It took them almost two hours to get there, with merely a brief stop for petrol and what passed for petrol station sandwiches. By now Sam was hungry enough to eat them, and Chris felt the same way by the way he began to hoover up his ham and cheese confection.

DS Smith was already on site, and if she hadn't been thrilled to see them this morning, her reaction then was ecstatic when compared to now. "What...?" she spluttered as they strode towards her position on the reservoir's foreshore.

"DS Smith," beamed Sam. "What a pleasant surprise." Meanwhile, Chris appeared to be afflicted with another coughing fit. The DS recovered well from her surprise.

"Why are you here?" she asked icily. Sam stared out over the lake.

"We thought we'd take in some scenery."

"Balls!" Sam looked innocent again, but she wasn't fooled this time. "I don't know why you're here, Curtis, but this is a co-incidence and has nothing to do with Anderson's suicide. As far as we can tell, the two men didn't know each other, at least not well. Met socially once or twice, that's all."

"So why are you here?" asked Chris.

She avoided looking at him, but admitted, "When the investigating officer realised that the accident victim was connected to Anderson, he called me."

"Connected how if they didn't know each other?"

She gave Chris a long, hostile look before grudgingly nodding out into the lake. "That's Anderson's yacht." It was a small blue and white vessel, with the name 'Serena' painted on the bow.

"And this guy, what was he called?"

"Derek Thompson," she replied absently, her attention fixed on the activity on the Serena's deck.

"He fell off it and drowned?" asked Sam softly.

"How the hell did you know that?" she exploded. Sam gave her an inscrutable look and didn't answer. Once again, she backed down. "Hit by the boom and it knocked him overboard. He wouldn't have been conscious so he drowned," she stated coolly. "That's the official explanation, gentlemen."

"And unofficially?" asked Chris.

"Officially and unofficially. That's the way it happened. I don't know how you found out about this, and to be frank I don't care. It was a tragic accident, but nothing to interest CI5. Or me. So if you will excuse me, some of us have work to do. We can't all be swanning around the country at the tax payers' expense."

With that triumphant note, she stalked off leaving the two CI5 agents to exchange amused glances in her wake.

"So what do you want to do?" asked Chris softly. Sam shrugged.

"I don't think that we'll get much co-operation from the police without signed authorisation and a crowbar. Why don't we ask around and see what we can find out ourselves." His sharp grey-green eyes surveyed the locality. "Although, why don't we start by pumping our nice friendly and impressionable young neighbourhood police officer for information?" Chris looked at him blankly before his gaze followed his partner's and settled on the young detective they'd encountered at Anderson's holiday home. The grin he gave his friend when it did was positively wicked.

"I think it's only polite we go and say hello," he offered blandly.

Sam faked surprise. "Now why didn't I think of that?"

The pair of them sauntered over to the officer, looking for all the world like they were out on an evening stroll rather than two CI5 agents on the case. He didn't spot them until they were almost on top of them, and when he did he looked as though he wanted to run. It was too late by then, of course. They had him cornered and pressed home their advantage.

"So," said Sam, smiling sweetly. "You've been dragged along here too, Detective...?"

"Walker," replied the young man nervously, casting desperate looks in the direction of his DS.

"Detective Walker," repeated Chris with some relish. "You work with DS Smith a lot?"

"Some," he replied cautiously.

"She an easy boss?" Chris asked.

"She has her moments..."

"You ought to try working for ours, mate," interjected Sam, picking up on Chris' non-verbal cue and deliberately making his voice gloomy. "He's got us up here on a wild goose chase..."

"Got a bee in his bonnet about Anderson..." fed in Chris.

"On our backs constantly..." Sam made his accent a little stronger, reinforcing the impression of 'us against them', and caught an amused glint in his partner's eyes as Chris realised what he was up to.

"No rest for the wicked..." sighed Chris, playing it up for all that he was worth.

"Wasn't aware we'd been that bad," grinned Sam. That got a weak answering grin from Walker, a signal to the two agents that they had an 'in'. "So," said Sam casually. "Can you tell us anything that would keep our boss at bay?"

Walker looked nervous again, glancing in Smith's direction once more, but finding no assistance from that direction. "I'm not sure..." he began. "Perhaps you should talk to the DS..."

"Already have, mate," said Sam briskly. "Told us why you guys think it's an accident and we're inclined to agree with her."

"But that's not going to be enough for Malone," added Chris. "Gotta talk to some witnesses ourselves, I guess."

"Like Chris said," added Sam, sighing a little dramatically. "No rest for the wicked."

"So," added Chris brightly. "Why don't you point us in the direction of some witnesses?"

Walker wavered for a moment, and then folded. "That's the man who found him." He nodded to a man with a dog, seated on one of the park benches nearby and surveying the scene with some satisfaction. "He works for the Forestry Commission, up here doing some surveying when he noticed the Serena drifting, and saw Thompson floating in the reservoir near it. Not much of a tide, with it being inland, and Thompson was wearing a jacket."

"So how did he drown?" asked Chris, frowning slightly.

"Blow to the head. He was floating face down."

"The autopsy report in yet?" asked Curtis.

Walker looked suspicious. "What did the DS tell you?"

Curtis injected boredom into his voice. "That it was an accident, that he drowned. I'm assuming that the autopsy bears that out?" There was a long silence.

"Well," admitted Walker, a little reluctantly. "The full autopsy report isn't back yet, but the initial findings bear that out."

"I'm sure your DS is right," soothed Chris. "But you'll make sure we get a copy anyway. May as well have all of the paperwork..."

Walker glanced nervously over at his superior, who thankfully was still engrossed in her conversation with another officer. "I think you should ask the DS..."

"Yeah, we have," interrupted Chris. "But you'll remind her?" His eyes bored into the other man, and Walker twitched slightly before nodding in agreement.

"Thanks, mate," beamed Curtis, slapping him on the shoulder. He jerked his head at Chris and the two of them headed off towards the forestry worker.

His name was Samuels, he told them. He'd been doing some survey work, ensuring that the recent winter gales that had swept the area hadn't rendered any of the trees unsafe. It was almost Easter, and the tourist season was about to start in earnest, the spring sun already out and the last of the winter weather behind them. "Last thing we need," he told them dourly, "is for some of these brutes coming down and flattening someone."

Sam made a noncommittal noise, wanting to get back onto the subject in hand. "The police told us you found Mr Thompson?"

"That's right, poor bugger. But I already talked to the police, why are you interested? You're not reporters, are you?"

"No," replied Sam, smiling slightly at the eagerness in Samuels' voice. "We're with an outfit called CI5, Criminal Investigation 5."

"Oh..." Samuels sounded vaguely disappointed that they weren't journalists.

"Can you tell us about Thompson?" asked Chris softly. Samuels' frowned slightly on hearing Chris' accent, and turned to Sam.

"He with the FBI or something? He's American." Sam and Chris exchanged an amused look over his head.

"No, he's with CI5 too. We're an international outfit."

"Oh." Samuels gave this some thought. "Like Interpol?" he asked.

"Like Interpol with teeth," replied Chris. Samuels nodded thoughtfully.

"Well," he said eventually. "There's not much to tell. Like I said I was checking for any damaged trees, came down to the shore and spotted her..."

"Her?" asked Sam, a little confused. Samuels' jerked his thumb towards the Serena by way of an answer.

"Well, she was just drifting there, so I figured something was wrong. That's when I spotted that bloke in the water. He was face down, just bobbing up and down, so I figured he was already dead, but since he wasn't too far out, I waded in and dragged him to shore. Tried that artificial respiration stuff they teach you in school, but it didn't work. God knows how long he'd been out there."

"Anyone else around?" asked Sam.

"No, not at that time of the day, not on a weekday. It was early. Sometimes get joggers in the morning, but they tend not to come into the park this deep, not at this time of the year. Like I said, it's a bit early for tourists." He nodded out towards the Serena again. "That's why I was surprised to see her."

"You haven't seen her before?" asked Chris.

"No. You tend to get to know the regulars, you know? The weekend sailors and the like. But she's new. Not seen her before."

Sam stared thoughtfully out into the lake. "Anyone else who may have seen her here before?" Samuels shrugged, reaching down to pat the dog sitting patiently by his knee.

"Maybe," he said, not committing himself. "Like I said, we do get regulars - not just sailors but windsurfers, hikers, BMX mountain bikers and the like. I didn't see anyone, but that doesn't mean no-one else saw him." He laughed softly. "Pity it didn't happen in a few months. This place is heaving in the summer. You'd have had all the witnesses you could want then."

Sam and Chris nodded. There was nothing they else they could hope to get out of him - he'd been as helpful as he could. It was too much to hope that there had actually been a witness to Thompson's 'accident'. They took their leave of Samuels, leaving him staring out over the lake, absently patting his dog, and with an almost telepathic agreement headed back towards their car.

"What now?" asked Chris, pausing before opening the passenger door. Sam met his eyes over the top of the car.

"You think this was an accident?" he asked.

Chris shook his head. "I'm not a great believer in co-incidence, Sam."

"Me either."

"Think he was hit over the head and thrown into the water?"

"Maybe. But assuming that the police actually did some investigating for once, and eliminated anything but a tenuous connection between the two men, then the only thing that links them would be the Serena. There's got to be something else, but what?"

Chris shrugged. "Let's find out."

~*~

They made little headway that day. Richards called Sam back and Chris answered the call. It wasn't particularly good news. He'd managed to access the Hotmail account as requested, but there was no new mail there. He'd also been unable to make much progress on tracking down the account holder. He had hoped that he'd be able to do this by tracking through their ISP, but unfortunately a number of ISPs had been used. Whoever's account it was, they'd accessed it without using a personal account, and some of the accesses appeared to have been made from abroad. However, as Sam pointed out, that didn't rule Anderson out, since as a Government MP he must have done some travelling.

It was already growing late when they arrived back at Newcastle. Chris had contacted Malone while they were on the road, reporting what they had, which at the moment consisted of very little but suspicions. Their boss had absorbed this information in silence, and then rather curtly informed them that he would ask Backup to do some digging, and that they were to remain in the area until they had some hard evidence one way or another. Sam got the distinct impression from what he overheard that Malone was coming under pressure from the Powers That Be, and was none too happy about it. He appeared to be even more irascible than usual.

They were both tired and hungry when they reached the hotel, the hunger winning. Apart from that one, rather distressed sandwich at lunchtime, Curtis hadn't eaten since the previous lunchtime, which had also been rushed. He told Chris rather pointedly that his stomach thought that his throat had been cut, and he needed food - there and then. Neither of them was really in the mood to try the hotel restaurant. They'd been cooped up in a car for a lot of the day, and felt in the need to stretch their legs. So, by unspoken agreement, they set out to sample the delights of 'the Toon'.

It was busy, even though the evening was cool, and it didn't take them long to work out that this was because it was late night shopping. They weaved their way through the throngs of avid shoppers, passing several restaurants but too restless to stop just yet. The further up the hill away from the Quayside they got, the fewer the restaurants and pubs and the more shops. They were about to turn around and head back when Sam came to an abrupt stop.

"Chris," he began thoughtfully. "You don't have a computer at home, or at your weekend retreat, so where do you go to download your messages?" Chris followed his gaze.

"McNulty's Internet Café?" he asked.

"It's worth a chance, don't you think?"

"I don't know, Sam. It's a bit of a long shot. He could have used a library, community centre, anything..."

"Yeah, but we might as well check it out while we're here."

Chris gave in. "Fine," he sighed. "But then can we eat?"

"As long as it's not Cassava root," grinned Sam.

The café was reasonably busy, presumably with shoppers up for a little surfing before they headed home. The two men split up, Sam heading for the main desk to hopefully speak to the manager, while Chris circulated among the customers. With any luck he'd catch some of the regulars who may have seen or spoken to Anderson. At the moment, the only link between Anderson and the text files was circumstantial at best. Anything that would connect the two would be beneficial.

Sam was quickly shown into the manager's office. She was an attractive and friendly young woman in her mid-twenties, and Sam spent a few pleasant moments flirting with her before getting down to business. It didn't take long for her to identify Anderson from his photograph.

She confirmed that he was a regular, popping in three or four times a month if he was in town. She even knew he was an MP, as he'd joked with her that with Tony Blair getting online that meant that everyone else had to get up to speed too, hence his visits. Apparently he'd also told her that although they had a computer, it was his daughter's and his wife refused to have an internet connection, too concerned about the horror stories she'd read about pornography being available to all and perverts hanging around in chat rooms to prey on children. By home, Sam presumed that he'd meant their house in Islington since there was no sign of a computer at Anderson's quayside flat.

After flirting with her some more, Sam made his way back to his partner, who was also talking to a young woman. Although perhaps being talked at was a more fitting description.

"...so I had this Hewlett Packard," she was saying in a broad Geordie accent, "but it wouldn't work through my zip drive. Only when I got my brand new Xerox printer, it works fine. Can you believe it?"

"No," replied Chris in a strained voice. Sam took pity on him and came to his rescue.

"Come on, sunshine," he said brightly, tugging on Chris' sleeve as he stalked past, and favouring the girl with a dazzling smile that had her twitching slightly. They were out of her range before she realised.

"Looks like the geek girls are out in force," teased Sam.

"Yeah," agreed Chris moodily. "I thought with the Doc Martins and baggy coat she might be a lesbian, but it looks like I was out of luck."

Sam chuckled heartily. "Could have been worse, mate. Could have been a cross-dresser."

Chris gave him a hard look. "I'm beginning to regret telling you that story, Curtis. Are you ever going to let me live it down?"

"Course not," said Sam sunnily. "Well, I was right. Anderson did come here."

"Great. At least that's some evidence to tie him in," replied Chris. "Can we please eat now?"

They finally settled on a small Italian down near the river. A pleasant place, if a little busy. However, by the time they started to eat the other diners had thinned out, the shoppers heading home and everyone else heading for a night out. They tucked in - Chris into pizza, and Sam into pasta - munching together in companionable silence. They didn't start talking again until they'd finished and ordered dessert. By that time Chris had sunk a couple of beers and Sam had had a few glasses of wine, so the conversation flowed easily. But then it usually did between the two of them.

After discussing their current case, and coming to no new insights, the conversation turned to more personal matters, Sam once again teasing Chris about his dating success, or lack thereof.

"And of course, you've never had any disastrous dates," Chris retorted eventually.

"Well," grinned Sam. "I've never ended up on a blind date with my cross dressing drill sergeant, no. But I've had my fair share..."

Chris merely grunted in response, his good humour beginning to evaporate. Sam gave him a long look, and decided to come clean.

"Okay," he said. "But if this ever gets out, Keel, I'm gunning for you. Understood?"

Keel snorted. "Can't be that bad, Curtis. Besides, you have enough blackmail material about me."

"True," sighed Sam, his hard-done-by tone contrasting with the humour in his eyes. "I suppose we'll have a Mexican stand-off if nothing else."

That caught Chris' attention. Sam didn't disappoint him.

"There was this woman I dated once... Worked at the British Museum. I was working on a case, can't remember the details. It wasn't very interesting, but she was."

"Let me guess," interrupted Chris. "Tall, blonde and gorgeous?"

"And intelligent," reminisced his friend. "She worked in their hominid collection, but she wasn't a palaeontologist. She worked with the anthropologists..."

"You dated an anthropologist? Bit dangerous, dating someone who understands human behaviour that well, wasn't it?"

Sam laughed. "Actually, she was one of their evolutionary psychologists."

"Oh those," exclaimed Chris, his tone mocking. "Yeah, you're always hearing about them on the news."

"Yeah, that was my reaction too. Now do you want to hear this story or not?"

"Wouldn't miss this for the world, Curtis." By now Chris was riveted, a grin playing around the corners of his mouth.

"Okay. So this woman was, as you correctly guessed, tall, blonde, gorgeous and totally into me. In fact she was so into me that there were numerous occasions when we didn't even get out of the building..."

"I'm not sure I want to hear this..." Chris was openly grinning now.

"Just shut up and listen." Sam paused to take a sip of his wine. "Well, like I said, I thought that this was the best. A woman like that, and she can't wait to get her hands on me? We couldn't use her office - like her, her colleagues had a habit of working late..."

"So?"

"So... We'd be on our way out, through this short cut she knew that took us through the Egyptian section, and she'd pounce on me. More or less the same gallery every time."

"Which was?"

"The Mummy Room."

"You've done it in the Mummy Room of the British Museum? I may never be able to go back. That place freaks me out anyway."

"You haven't heard the half of it." Sam took another, bigger sip of wine. Chris was leaning across the table, his eyes sparkling with suppressed mirth. "Well, it took me a while to figure out that this so called shortcut wasn't a shortcut after all. There was a much quicker way out down the back stairs near her office. So after some thought I decided that there might be a taboo element to it. I mean, the visitors had all gone home but there was always the possibility of being caught by one of the security guards..." He paused dramatically.

"But?" demanded Chris impatiently.

"Well, then she suggested that we do it in a graveyard, and I came to the stunning realisation that it wasn't me turning her on, so much as all the dead mummies."

There was a brief second while that sunk in and then Chris was howling with laughter, pounding the table. Sam waited until he'd calmed down a little, and delivered the coupe de grace.

"It made sense in hindsight. You see I had actually been wondering why she always wanted to be on top, and why she didn't want me to move much."

That set Chris off again, and it was several minutes before he calmed down, hiccupping slightly.

"Oh, oh, oh," he gasped. "That's classic, Curtis."

"Yeah," smirked Sam. "You can console yourself with the thought that while you may have been on a blind date with a transvestite, at least he wasn't a necrophiliac."

~*~

There was at least a break through of sorts the following morning. Nothing earth shattering to be sure, but it lifted Sam's spirits nonetheless. Unlike Anderson, Thompson hadn't been married, but he did live with a woman called Moira Kershaw. They had a house in a small village on the North East coast called Robin Hood's Bay, not far south of Whitby. Sam drew a blank on the name - he wasn't that familiar with the area after all.

It was yet another long drive, about two hours from Newcastle and close to three from where Thompson's corpse had been found. Sam insisted that this time Chris drive, while he read through the brief file notes that Backup had mailed to them.

They didn't include much information - both Thompson and Kershaw were environmental consultants of some kind, and Sam filed that information away for future reference. You never knew; it could have been a cause close to Anderson's heart. There was another brief note from Backup, stating that both Thompson and Kershaw were members of an environmental pressure group called Suns of the Earth. That was either a typo or a very bad pun, and Sam didn't really care which. 'Ecowarriors,' Backup had written. 'And not very effective ones.' That may have been a bit of a harsh assessment, but she obviously hadn't been thrilled at having to dig all of this information up overnight, so Sam couldn't blame her. Scanning through the information that she'd managed to unearth about the group, he came to much the same conclusion. Some low profile protests, many of them focused around the latest bugbear, genetic engineering, as well as that old comfortable standby, corporate pollution, but nothing linking them to anything more than minor civil disobedience. Their latest campaign seemed to be aimed at a company called HunterHarrison Chemicals plc. For some reason, the name rang a bell, but he couldn't figure out why. Maybe he'd heard the name on the news; he couldn't remember. Suns of the Earth had been targeting them for more than eight months, staging low profile protests outside of their main factory on the Tees, accusing the company of discharging effluent illegally.

Flicking through the police reports there'd been some arrests for trespassing and some accusations of minor vandalism, including spray-painting a skull and crossbones on the MD's BMW, but nothing more serious than that. No threats issued to scientists, no mail bombing campaigns... rather boring actually. As protest organisations went, they seemed to be very low key and almost respectable.

Skimming through the list of members and contributors, which of course CI5 was not supposed to have access to, Sam found no mention of Anderson. With a sigh he threw the printouts onto the back seat.

"How do you want to approach this?" he asked Chris, more for something to say than any other reason.

"Gently," replied his partner, his mood sombre for some reason. "She's not a suspect, and she's just lost her husband, or someone who was as good as her husband."

"I wasn't suggesting we go in there, guns blazing," groused Sam, a little irritated at the suggestion that he would. Chris gave him a long, amused look.

"I wasn't suggesting you were, Sam," he said, the amusement he felt also clear in his voice. "I thought we'd leave that to the cops..." Sam gave a reluctant little snicker.

"You've really got a downer on them, haven't you?"

"Well, they've yet to disappoint me in the 'completely screw up' stakes." He gave Sam a quick grin, and then focused his attention back onto the road. "I take it there was nothing in Backup's information that was useful?"

"Not really," sighed Sam. "But don't tell Backup I said so. Judging by the sarky little comments she wrote everywhere, she's not in a good mood."

"That's cos she's stranded down South with only Richards for company," laughed Chris. "Spencer's in the States, and that means she's getting the full brunt of undiluted Malone..."

"She thrives on it," protested Sam. "All she has to do is purse her lips in that disapproving way she has and he actually apologises to her..." Chris gave him a look of total disbelief. "It's true," he insisted. "I've heard him do it."

"Malone? Apologise? I never thought I'd see the day!"

"Yeah, well," muttered Sam. "Don't ever expect him to apologise to us..." He affected a tone of voice eerily close to Malone's. "Oh, I see you got shot again, Mr Curtis. Oh well, never mind. I'm sure you'll soon learn how to duck..."

Chris laughed out loud. "Well, at least he doesn't call you 'cheeky'," he protested. "I thought I'd left that kind of telling off in grade school..."

"As a matter of fact, he has called me cheeky," interjected Sam. "Not as often as you to be true, but then I'm not stupid enough to cheek him as often as you do." He paused for thought. "Strange, isn't it?" he added softly. "How being called 'cheeky' by Malone is somehow equivalent to being shot by anyone else."

"Terrifies the most hardened of agents," agreed Chris. "I'm not sure how you manage to avoid it as often as you do..."

"I duck," replied Sam completely straight faced. "And then I let you draw his fire."

"Now that I can believe... I think we're almost there..."

"Yeah," agreed Sam. "So you just want to wing it?"

"Don't we always?" grinned Chris. There was little Sam could say to that.

"Wonder what she's like?" he said idly. Chris sighed and rolled his eyes.

"You," he said pointedly, "have a one track mind..."

"I just meant in terms of how we tackle it," protested Sam, all wounded innocence.

"Sure you did, Sam. Sure you did." Chris concentrated on finding the correct street. "Besides," he added. "Thompson wasn't exactly God's gift to women, was he? She's probably fortyish and plain. Bet you a tenner."

"When are you going to learn?" sighed Sam. "You're on! At least it keeps my piggy bank looking healthy."

It wasn't quite as callous a reaction as it seemed. The banter between them had become a way of distancing themselves from the tragedies they saw every day. A way of applying the number one rule - never become emotionally involved. Although, despite their banter, there was no denying the tragedy in this case, thought Sam as Moira Kershaw's tearstained face greeted them.

What do you say to someone who's lost a loved one? It was a question that he'd had to wrestle with more than once in his career with CI5, and his experiences with MI6 hadn't prepared him for the task. All he could do was keep his voice warm and sympathetic as he asked if they could come in and talk to her. Keep it brief, he told himself. Ask the questions they wanted to and then leave her alone with her grief.

She insisted on making some coffee for them, seemingly glad for something to keep herself occupied. When she returned, Sam let Chris take the lead as the other man tended to be more sympathetic in these situations.

With some gentle probing from Chris she told her story. She'd last seen her partner on the Wednesday, and had in fact reported Thompson as missing late that night but since he'd been missing less than twenty-four hours the police wouldn't act upon her concerns. She was rather bitter about that, and Sam couldn't blame her in the circumstances. She hadn't known where he was going - he'd been distracted and told her that he'd needed some time on his own, but that he wouldn't be late. He hadn't told her where he was going, and respecting his need for privacy she hadn't asked.

It was rather a coincidence, Sam thought listening to Moira Kershaw opening up to Chris, that Derek Thompson went missing on the Wednesday, the same day that Tim Anderson had been discovered hanging from his balcony by his wife. The more he heard about this whole situation, the less he liked it. While they had yet to see the full autopsy report for Thompson, he'd bet anything that time of Thompson's demise would be some time on the Wednesday. The question was, would that be before or after Anderson's?

He pulled himself up sharply. Why was he assuming that the timing of Thompson's drowning was so significant? Was it just because he'd assumed that the two fatalities had to be related? Or was his subconscious coming up with another scenario - one that had the victims very closely related indeed?

"How well did your partner know Tim Anderson?" he asked abruptly. Chris shot him an evil look, the rapport he'd started to build with Kershaw shaken by Curtis' inopportune question. Kershaw flailed for a moment.

"The MP?" she asked. "They knew each other..."

That was prevarication if Sam had ever heard it. "Do you know how long they'd known each other?"

She avoided his eyes, staring into her cold coffee. By now, Chris had picked up on Sam's line of questioning, even if he was slightly more tactful about it. "Ms Kershaw," he prompted gently, "you do know that Derek was on Tim Anderson's yacht when it happened?" She nodded unhappily. "And are you aware that Anderson is also dead?"

She looked up and met Chris' warm eyes, her own fearful and confused. "They say," she began, her voice rushed and low, "that he killed himself. Is that true?"

"Who says?" interrupted Sam, exchanging a concerned look with Chris. The last thing they needed right now was the police rushing in with size nines.

"The newspapers," she breathed. "Well, what they say is that 'the police are not looking for anyone else in connection with the incident', but that's police-speak for suicide, isn't it?" Her eyes darted between them, looking for some kind of reassurance.

"The police aren't looking for anyone else," said Chris slowly. "We're not quite as convinced."

"This CI5 group you work for you mean?" Chris nodded.

She seemed to struggle internally for a moment, biting on her lip as she searched both of their faces. By now Sam's intuition was fairly screaming at him, and he had no choice but to follow his hunch.

"They knew each other well, didn't they?" he asked, trying to make his voice as gentle as Chris'. She met his gaze, her own eyes wide. "Very well?" he prompted. She nodded, almost involuntarily. "And they mailed each other..."

Any fight left in her seemed to leave in a rush. "You know about that?" she asked tremulously. Sam nodded, trying to look as though he knew more than he did.

"The police haven't made the connection yet," he reassured her, although a streak of honesty he'd obviously caught from Chris had him adding, "They may do though."

She laughed raggedly. "I told him that wasn't too bright, but they seemed to enjoy it. I told them both that in Tim's position..." She broke off to look beseechingly at Sam, and he nodded reassuringly. Her mouth twisted wryly. "Three in a bed romps? The tabloids would have had a field day. They may still do." Sam schooled his face into impassivity with an effort, noting Chris' quickly covered start of surprise out of the corner of his eye.

Kershaw pulled herself together with a visible effort. "Can I assume that you'll at least try to keep this quiet?" she asked, her voice striving for and mostly achieving some measure of dignity.

"We can't guarantee that," replied Chris slowly. "But we're not in the habit of talking to the press. Or of releasing... unnecessary... details."

"Unnecessary..." She laughed a little bitterly, staring out of the window until she recovered her composure. "You understand," she started again, after a small pause, "that I'm not concerned about myself... It's Karen..." Sam looked blank for a moment, and she elucidated. "Tim's daughter. It's going to be hard enough for the poor thing anyway, without that kind of thing coming out." Her look suddenly became fierce. "I've never been one to assume that a person's private life affects how good they are at their job, and I despise the hypocrisy that demands perfection from any human being."

There wasn't a great deal the two CI5 agents could say to that sentiment, so they plastered sympathetic looks on her face. Sam's must have been the more convincing, because once more she turned to him for understanding.

"You've got to understand," she explained. "It wasn't... tacky. I don't want anyone to think that. I cared about them both. And Derek... It satisfied a need in him that I couldn't." She paused, lost in her own memories. "And Tim's wife... Well, to tell the truth, it had been a long time since they'd had anything in common. We weren't hurting anyone, and it made us happy." The last was said almost defiantly, and Sam nodded, more to provide reassurance than out of any real belief.

"You do realise," he prodded gently when she paused again, "that we need to know more..."

Her haunted eyes met his. "What?" she asked.

"How long it had been going on?" he said. "Whether anyone else knew? Why Derek was on the Serena, without Tim?"

She answered the last question first, her manner and her voice distracted again. "I'm not sure. Something to do with the group..."

"Suns of the Earth?"

"Yes. Derek wouldn't tell me yet, just that he needed the Serena for something, and he'd agreed it with Tim. Jack might know..."

"Jack Carruthers?" queried Chris, dredging the name up from the list of Suns of the Earth members. Once again, Curtis was impressed by his partner's memory for details.

"Yes. He knew Tim from their student days. They both studied at Harvard. He introduced us. Thought that maybe Tim could help with his political connections." She laughed harshly, stress etching lines into her face. "Not that Tim was that interested in the environment. He was more interested in Derek." She paused again, unconsciously wrapping her arms around herself as she began to rock slightly. "Oh," she added almost conversationally. "Jack might have known... about Tim and Derek anyway. He doesn't miss much. But I don't know. He and Derek have drifted apart recently, nothing serious, just some stuff about where the group was headed, so we haven't seen a lot of him." She started to shake, her eyes filling with tears. "I'm sorry," she whispered. "I can't do this anymore..."

"I understand," soothed Sam. "But before we go, can you tell us where to find Carruthers?"

Tears were flowing freely down her face now. "Jack?" she whispered again. "The docks... at Hartlepool. The Rose Madder is moored there..."

They left her then, and wrapped as she was in her pain she barely noticed them leave. Sam was pleased to be out in the open air, the spring sun warm against his face. It was such an improvement after the almost oppressive grief pervading the room they'd just left. Chris was equally sombre, the sight of Kershaw's mourning an echo of his own. They stood in silence by the car for a moment, lost in their own thoughts, until Chris gave himself a mental shake and spoke.

"Murder-suicide, do you think?" he asked. The possibility had also occurred to Sam.

"Maybe," he sighed, running his hand through his hair. "We'll have a better idea when we finally get the autopsy report for Thompson. Establish the time he died." Chris nodded thoughtfully.

"There's always the wronged wife," he suggested.

"Or even her," added Sam, nodding back towards the house and Moira Kershaw. Her grief had been genuine, there was no doubt about that, but it didn't mean that there wasn't guilt mixed in with it. It wouldn't be the first time.

"Maybe," acknowledged Chris. "Think we can keep it out of the newspapers?"

Sam shrugged fatalistically. "One thing's for sure," he said. "Malone's going to love this."

Chris held out his hand. "Give me the keys."

"Why? It's my turn to drive."

"Yeah? Well, it's also your turn to give bad news to Malone, and I'm not going to let you weasel out of it this time."

"When did I ever weasel out of it?"

"Bucharest. Last time we had to give bad news to Malone long distance."

"Oh."

"Oh indeed. Now give me the keys, Curtis."

Sam sighed and pulled the keys out of his pocket, throwing them to Chris over the top of the car. "So where now?"

"Hartlepool, was it? Why do you want to talk to this guy so bad?"

"I don't want to get so wound up in this affair that they were having that we lose sight of anything else."

"The Serena?"

"Yeah, the Serena. There's got to be a reason that Anderson lent Thompson his boat..."

"Yacht," interrupted Chris. Sam stared at him blankly for a moment, his train of thought temporarily derailed.

"What?"

"The Serena is a yacht."

"And the difference would be?"

"I'm a sailor, Sam. Don't get me started on terminology."

Sam grinned. "I'll take your word for it. So why would Anderson lend his yacht to Thompson, and not go with him?"

Chris shrugged, his attention on the road. "Who knows? Rich guy doling out favours?"

Sam gave this due consideration and then shook his head. "No. I could see that if it was something the size of Britannia, with a crew, but a dinky thing like that? No. It's a one-man toy, and probably close to Anderson's heart. He wouldn't lend it to just anybody."

"Thompson wasn't just anybody," Chris pointed out reasonably. "They were doing the dirty, remember?"

"How could I forget?" grinned Sam. "I don't know. I'm just playing a hunch."

Chris gave him a piercing look. "Like you did about Thompson and Anderson in the first place?" he asked shrewdly. Sam grinned again, a little sheepishly.

"Spotted that, did you?"

"I wish you'd warned me you had that suspicion. I almost had a heart attack when you asked the grieving Ms Kershaw whether her boyfriend was fooling around with someone else."

"Hey," protested Sam. "I didn't ask that. I merely asked if they'd corresponded..."

"Uh-huh," smirked his partner. Sam's grin widened.

"Mind you, I almost had a heart attack when Kershaw said it was a threesome!"

Chris gave a little snort at that, and when Sam glanced at him, his face was thoughtful. Chris caught him looking and asked pointedly, "Don't you have a phone call to make?"

Unable to delay the inevitable any longer, Sam pulled his mobile out of his pocket and made the fateful call.

"Well," demanded Chris, once he'd finished. "How did he take it?"

"How do you think?"

"That well? Oh well, look on the bright side."

"There's a bright side?"

"We're two hundred miles away, and none of this is our fault." Chris gave Sam a sly look out of the corner of his eye. "You know what this means, don't you?"

"What?"

"Malone. In a bad mood. And his favourite whipping boys are well out of reach..."

Sam grinned as he reached the same conclusion Chris had. "Backup's in for a good day..."

~*~

The drive to Hartlepool was uneventful, although Chris was intrigued by the sign on the outskirts of the town about 'Captain Cook Country'. He turned to Sam for an explanation.

"His ship, the Endeavour, is anchored here," his partner explained. Chris looked suitably impressed.

"How did you know that?" Sam grinned at him.

"I could tell you that it's because I have an encyclopaedic mind..." he began. "Or I could tell you that I read it on the billboard we just passed. Which would you prefer?" Chris mock glowered at him.

"I was all set to believe that you had knowledge like that at your fingertips, Curtis."

"Do you still believe in Santa Claus too?" mocked his partner lightly. "You need to turn here for the docks."

"I know, I know."

The Rose Madder was around twenty-five to thirty feet long, a sturdy sea-going fishing vessel, rusty and oil stained. An altogether different kettle of fish than the dainty Serena.

"Not a yacht?" queried Sam, giving his partner a sly look.

Chris laughed. "Not a yacht," he confirmed. "If you want to call it anything, call it a trawler."

"Good," said Sam virtuously. "I'd hate to get it wrong." Chris slapped him on the shoulder.

"Come on. Let's go aboard and see if we can't flush out Carruthers."

"Going aboard," mused Sam. "That would be like getting on it, would it? You have to explain these things to landlubbers like myself." Chris rolled his eyes, and guessing correctly that this was one game he wasn't going to win, decided not to play.

At Chris' loud ahoy, a large figure shambled up from the lower deck. He looked like a large bear, the thick beard on his face only emphasising the resemblance. Above the beard, two bright blue eyes surveyed the pair of them shrewdly. Apparently deciding that they were harmless he gestured that they should join him on the Rose Madder's deck.

Jumping down onto the foredeck with only slightly less grace than his sea-going partner, Sam found his hand enveloped in a huge fist while about six inches above his head a deep voice rumbled, "Jack Carruthers. I guess you guys are looking for me?"

The accent was definitely American, and so Sam could only presume that while Tim Anderson had attended Harvard as a foreign student, this guy was born and bred in the USA. Beside him, Chris' hand was also being shaken heartily, and he was introducing the pair of them.

"CI5, huh?" Carruthers asked once the pleasantries were over. "Now, what have I done to warrant a visit from you gentlemen?" His tone was pleasant, but his eyes were sharp.

"Derek Thompson," Sam said blandly. "I understand that you knew him? And Tim Anderson?"

"Yeah, I knew them both. Good guys, both of them. Tim... never would have believed it of him. He doted on that little girl of his. And Derek. Tragic accident. Moira's devastated of course." He picked up a rag and began wiping his oily hands on it, shaking his head at the iniquities of life. "Bad business," he said. He stopped to give Sam another shrewd look. "Doesn't explain why you think I could help."

"We talked to Ms Kershaw," Chris explained. Carruthers turned his attention to his fellow American, his face setting into a frown.

"Now why would you want and go bother the poor woman at a time like this?"

"It's our job," said Sam firmly. He resisted the temptation to explain their actions any further. "We're wondering why Thompson was on the Serena and why the yacht was found so far from Anderson's home. Ms Kershaw couldn't explain it. She thought it may have been something to do with his work, but thought that you might know more?"

Carruthers shook his head ponderously. "No," he said. "Derek didn't always explain things to me. He'd get a bee in his bonnet about something and go and investigate it on his own, before he got the rest of us involved. It was just the way the guy worked. In a way, I wish he had told me. Maybe I'd have gone with him, and there would have been someone with him when he went overboard." He sighed heavily. "It's a waste. Still, it doesn't really explain why you're here. Surely Derek's passing away is a matter for the Coroner's Office? Or the police? Not CI5."

For a supposedly secret organisation, thought Sam, Carruthers seemed to know an awful lot about them. "We're investigating any possible connection to Tim Anderson."

Carruthers smirked. "Don't want the government embarrassed by any connection to our activities?"

"Our?" queried Chris mildly.

"Suns of the Earth."

"You're a member?" asked Sam. Carruthers gave a little snort that Sam assumed was meant to be a laugh.

"Like you guys don't already have our membership list. Yes, I'm a member. In fact I'm an organiser." Well, CI5's information was not as complete as Carruthers seemed to suspect as that little titbit had been omitted.

"I'm sorry to disappoint you, Mr Carruthers, but CI5 really isn't interested in your organisation's activities. You don't fall within our remit," Sam explained. That annoying penchant for honesty he'd developed had him adding, "Unless of course you're planning to blow anything up."

Thankfully Carruthers didn't take offence, laughing heartily while the two CI5 agents looked on rather bemused. When he finished laughing, he slapped Sam good-naturedly on the shoulder, almost knocking the Englishman off his feet. "No," he said beaming. "Not planning on blowing anything up. Suns of the Earth has a non-violent agenda. Not that some of these corporate bigwigs couldn't do with being slapped around the head sometimes."

"All we want to know," said Chris, trying to get the conversation back on target, "is anything you can tell us about what Thompson may have been doing on the Serena in Northumberland."

Carruthers pursed his lips and stared out into the harbour thoughtfully. "To tell you the truth," he said, "I'm not sure... As far as I know we hadn't received any reports of pollution or anything like that. Unless this was commercial..." At the agents' blank look, he added, "That's what Derek did to pay the bills after all. Last job he took on was an environmental impact assessment for a proposed by-pass near Durham. I haven't heard that there's any development planned where he was found - it's a national park after all. Could have been doing some kind of survey though. He was an expert in the Great Crested Newt, you know?"

Sam hadn't known, and he rather facetiously wondered how you became an expert in Great Crested Newts. Derek Thompson borrowing the Serena to carry out some environmental work sounded feasible but for two nagging things; first why hadn't Moira Kershaw known since they were partners, both business and otherwise, and second why hadn't Anderson gone with him? Besides, it still left them with two unexplained bodies and, as Sam had told Chris repeatedly, he didn't believe in coincidences.

Whether Carruthers sensed his doubt or not, the man became instant affability. "Listen guys, why don't you let me do some digging..."

"We'd appreciate that. Thank you," replied Sam. He turned to his partner, intending for the pair of them to take their leave, but Chris was staring around the deck almost longingly. Sam caught Carruthers' eye, the American raising one eyebrow quizzically. "He's a sailor," he explained. Carruthers laughed.

"Long time since you been at sea, son?"

Chris shrugged genially. "A while..."

"Ex-navy?"

"Yeah. Flew on aircraft carriers, 'til I joined the SEALs."

Carruthers gave a long, low whistle of appreciation. "Guess CI5 want the best," he grinned. "I served two tours in 'Nam with the Air Force myself. Saw the after effects of Agent Orange first hand, and I've been dedicated to cleaning up our Mother Earth ever since." He gave Chris a long, considering look. "Tell you what," he said. "Why don't you and your friend here come back tonight? I'll see if I can figure out what Derek was up to, and meanwhile I can take you out. Show you what we're up to just so you know that we are really law-abiding."

"What are you up to?" asked Sam curiously, glancing around the deck at the equipment shoved in various nooks and crannies.

"Taking samples off the coast. Plankton samples mostly, but we take water samples too. Seal Sands is close to here, lots of potentially toxic nasties going into this beautiful sea. We just like to keep an eye on it."

Sam frowned slightly. "Wouldn't anything just be washed away?" he asked confused.

"Not necessarily," replied their host. "With tidal and current patterns the way they are, it can take a while for chemicals to disperse. Haven't you ever seen oil spills on the TV?" All Sam could remember about coverage of oil spills was that there appeared to be a lot of gannets and the like that had to have baths, but rather than admit his ignorance he just shrugged nonchalantly. "Yeah, well," continued Carruthers. "This is the same effect. We just like to keep an eye on what is going on. So, what do you say?"

Sam looked at Chris and caught the slightly pleading look the American was aiming at him. He sighed indulgently. "Why not," he replied. Hell, they could always claim to Malone that they were following a lead, and in a way he supposed they were.

"Great!" beamed Carruthers. "We ship out at 9pm. See you then."

At least the opportunity of going out to sea seemed to have brightened Chris' mood, and he was positively chirpy as they made their way back to the car. "Where to now?" he asked, almost bouncing on the balls of his feet.

"Back to the hotel?" suggested Curtis. "See if Thompson's autopsy report has turned up yet or if Backup has turned up anything. Not to mention," he added looking down at his suit, "that if we're going to play seafarers I want to change clothes."

Chris grinned. "And pick up some Dramamine no doubt."

Sam shot him an offended look. "I don't get seasick."

"Uh-huh."

" I don't!"

"Uh-huh."

"Look, the reason I threw up last time had more to do with the drinking session you dragged me on the night before..."

"Uh-huh. I believe you, Sam. Really. But let's pick up some Dramamine anyway. Just in case."

"I... don't... get... seasick!"

"Uh-huh."

Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, and looking into Chris' grinning face, Sam subsided muttering. "My turn to drive," he grumbled a little petulantly, handing out his hand for the car keys. Chris laughingly handed them over.

"Sure," he said, grinning again. "If you think you're going to be okay?" Sam rolled his eyes.

"Listen," he replied, swinging himself into the car and trying to get his partner back on track. "What did you think of Carruthers?"

Chris settled himself into the passenger seat next to him. "Seems genuine enough. You got concerns about him?"

Sam shrugged. "Not really. Curious about Thompson though."

"You mean the fact that if he was on a paid job, you'd expect his significant other to know?"

Once again, his partner was tuned into the way he was thinking. "Uh-huh," he replied. "I don't suppose it helps much anyway. I still don't believe it's coincidence."

"Still thinking homicide/suicide?"

"Maybe. Weird to think of it - a government guy murdering his gay lover then hanging himself."

"Think it was that way around?"

Sam gave his partner a wry look. "No, I think Thompson killed Anderson and hung him from his balcony to make it look like suicide then drove to Northumberland National Park with Anderson's bo... yacht, hit himself over the head and threw himself into the reservoir."

Chris grinned at him. "Makes sense to me."

Sam snorted. "It would!"

"So why come back here tonight?"

"I thought I'd give you a chance to play sailor," joked Sam. Then he shrugged again, starting the car and sliding it into gear. "Can't hurt, can it? Besides, Carruthers might not be telling us everything. And I'd like to know more about this 'drifting apart' Kershaw was talking about. We show up tonight, show some interest in whatever the hell he's doing... "

"And maybe he'll tell us something useful," completed Chris. "Worth a try I suppose."

"Well," grinned Sam. "It's not as if you had a date lined up tonight or anything, is it?" With that last parting shot he pulled smoothly away.

They drove in silence for a while, Chris lost in thought and staring out of the window. After a few glances in his direction, Sam began to believe that maybe an apology was in order. "Penny for 'em?" he asked.

"What? Oh, just thinking," replied the American.

"Dangerous habit, Keel," commented Sam flippantly. "About?"

"Thompson, Anderson..."

"Any new insights?"

"I wasn't thinking about that..." Sam gave his partner a worried look, rather bemused by the melancholy in the American's voice. Chris turned and gave him a searching look. "You've got some sympathy for them, haven't you?"

Sam shrugged. "I guess. But I'm immured enough that I don't expect the world to be a fair place. It's the cynic in me," he grinned.

"You? Cynical? Surely not." Chris' grin wasn't quite as sure as his words, and his gaze remained inquisitive. "So..." he began again. "You don't see anything wrong with what they were doing?"

Sam shrugged again. "I don't suppose they were really hurting anyone."

"Anderson was married."

"So? Wouldn't be the first time that someone's wife didn't understand them, and they sought solace elsewhere. In the arms of another woman. Or another man. Or, as in this case, the arms of another woman and another man." Sam grinned widely. "Besides, I get the idea his wife didn't care much as long as they kept up appearances." Chris didn't look convinced. "Put it this way," argued Sam. "Is it really that bad compared with some of the things we've seen? Some of the people we've taken down?"

"I suppose not," agreed his partner, slumping slightly in his seat, and staring out of the window again. However, it was less than a minute before he turned and looked at his partner again. "Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"You ever done anything like that?"

Sam was a little taken aback by the direction the conversation had taken. "A threesome you mean? Well, there was this set of twins once..."

"No," interrupted his partner, his look intense. "I mean... with a guy?"

Sam's hands tightened on the steering wheel. This was certainly not a question he had ever expected from Chris, and he wasn't entirely sure how to respond. There was no censure in the American's gaze, but Keel had some very old-fashioned beliefs. Love, fidelity, heterosexuality... And to tell the truth, now the shock had worn off he was a little pissed off at being asked in the first place.

"Are you trying to say that the only reason that I might have some sympathy for Thompson and Anderson is if I'm gay?" he asked, his voice cool and even. It was a clear sign to anyone who knew him that they were treading on dangerous ground, and Chris picked up on the cue immediately.

"No," he protested. "I didn't mean that. I just... wondered."

"Uh huh," replied Sam, his voice still without any inflection. "And do you often wonder if I sleep with men?"

There wasn't a great deal that Chris could say to that without making things worse. However, there was worse and then there was worse. "So do you?" When Sam didn't answer, instead giving him a long and steady look, he added, "I mean, you said that there wasn't anything wrong with it. So have you? Ever I mean?"

Sam's look didn't waver. "Once," he replied calmly. "I didn't like it much." If Chris noticed the anger simmering under the reply, he didn't let it prevent him from making the situation worse.

"Oh," he said, a definite note of disappointment in his voice. Sam's knuckles whitened as he clenched the steering wheel even harder.

"I take it that you haven't," he said, his voice so detached it was almost conversational.

Chris shrugged. "The Navy kind of frowns on that type of thing," he replied with a weak grin.

"I really don't give a flying fuck what the Navy do and do not approve of," said Sam, his voice ice. "And I don't give a shit for your opinion on this matter either."

Chris was completely caught off guard by the tone in Sam's voice. "Sam..." he protested. Sam cut him off.

"The topic is closed, Keel."

"Sam, I didn't mean..."

"Closed, Keel." He jerked harshly on the steering wheel. "And for your information," he added furiously, "I don't enjoy dressing in women's clothing, I don't get tied up and I'm not into pain! I get hurt enough at work, thank you very much. I've no desire to carry it over into my personal life!"

After that little outburst, Chris finally came to the conclusion that he would only make matters worse if he tried to convince Sam that he hadn't meant to sound judgemental, and subsided into silence. They spent the rest of the way back to Newcastle that way, Chris occasionally giving Sam half apologetic, half miserable looks that Sam studiously ignored.

It was very a long drive.

~*~

Sam's mood hadn't improved noticeably by the time they arrived back at the hotel, and for once Keel found himself tiptoeing around the Englishman instead of the reverse. Sam ignored him after parking the car, sweeping into the foyer of the hotel with Chris trailing in his wake. Chris was so lost in wondering how he was going to apologise to his partner without making things worse that he almost walked into Sam when the Englishman came to an abrupt stop.

"DS Smith," came his partner's icy voice. "What a pleasant surprise. To what do we owe the pleasure?"

If Sam was angry, this woman was furious. Her pale blue eyes were positively snapping with barely disguised hostility. "What the hell do you think you're doing, Curtis?" she spat out. It was precisely the wrong tone to take with Sam in his current mood. His voice went from cold to glacial.

"Perhaps you'd like to explain yourself, Smith? Share some information with us for once."

Chris insinuated himself between them, wondering a little drolly why he didn't burst into flames from the heat of their glares. "Perhaps we could take this somewhere private, guys," he said, lowering his voice and nodding towards the receptionist who was staring quizzically in their direction. "We don't really want an audience."

"Fine," snapped Sam. "Let's take this upstairs." He folded his arms and stared belligerently at Chris, who had to fight down the urge to smack him around the head. Instead, he sighed wearily and went to collect their room key from the inquisitive receptionist. She also handed him a fax that he glanced at briefly before shoving it into his pocket.

Smith and Curtis were still glaring at each other, neither willing to give any ground. Chris sighed again internally, but pasted a pleasant look on his face and gestured gallantly towards the lifts, waiting like a gentleman for DS Smith to precede him. Unfortunately that gave Sam plenty of time to aim one last glare in his direction before he followed the police officer.

It was a uncomfortable ride up to their floor, Smith alternating her icy looks between the pair of them and Sam staring stone faced at the floor. As soon as they reached their destination, Curtis stalked towards the room, leaving the other two trailing in his wake. Some small, petty part of Chris considered dawdling simply to make his partner have to wait for him to open the door, but his sense of self-preservation reared its head.

"Well?" asked Sam coolly, once Chris had closed the door behind them.

"What the hell are you playing at?" demanded Smith.

"I think you asked that already, and I have no idea what you are talking about."

"Don't play games with me, you son of a bitch!" Smith almost screamed. Chris wordlessly pulled the fax out of his pocket and handed it to Sam. The Englishman read it and his lips thinned ominously. Chris could only pray that he didn't shoot the messenger. "What the hell CI5 think they are doing, interfering in what is clearly police business..."

Chris watched as his partner decided on a course of action and acted on it. "I should imagine, Detective Sergeant, that CI5 didn't interfere so much as have it dumped in our laps," he said mildly. His eyes, however, remained cold and calculating as she spluttered her displeasure. "And since we've only just found out ourselves..."

"You expect me to believe that?" she snarled. Sam handed her the fax. Chris watched her face grow even grimmer as she read the terse statement. He knew what it said - 'Please be advised that CI5 have been awarded jurisdiction in this case. You are to remain on the ground until informed otherwise.' She must have read it two or three times before she looked up at them again.

"You seriously expect me to believe that you've only just found this out?" she demanded contemptuously.

"You can check the time and date on the fax, if you like," replied Chris, stepping into the breach before Sam had a chance to vent his ill temper again. "We've been out all day. Believe me, Detective Smith. This is the first we've known about it, and we are as thrilled as you are."

He gave Sam a quelling look as his partner opened his mouth to comment further, and added grimly, "I doubt our boss is entirely thrilled either. We don't have the manpower to start carrying out relatively simple homicide investigations, especially ones that aren't going to be popular with the powers that be."

"For the last time," she spat. "There is no homicide investigation. I don't know what the hell you told your boss, but Anderson killed himself and Thompson was an accident. There is no connection between the two men. None! Can you understand that? No connection!" She ended on a shout.

"Apart from the fact that they were fucking each other," interjected Sam coolly. Smith gaped at him, and Keel winced, anticipating another tirade from the temperamental police officer. He wasn't disappointed.

"And you didn't feel the need to share this information?" she asked icily once she'd regained the power of speech.

"We only found that out this morning," replied Keel defensively, again stepping in before Sam could open his mouth and make matters worse. Smith snorted disbelievingly.

"You really expect me to believe that?" she asked, her tone still frozen. "What? Do CI5 have dossiers on every politician? What the hell are you people? Is no-one safe from your prying eyes?"

"Actually," interrupted Sam smoothly. "We found out that particular titbit out from Moira Kershaw. We asked the question. You know? Good old fashioned police work."

The last snide remark did as it was intended to, further increasing Smith's ire. As much as Keel respected his partner, the man did have a regrettable tendency to mess with people's heads for the sake of entertainment. Light the match and sit back to watch the explosion. Chris didn't get quite as big a kick out of that as the Englishman did, and he sighed tiredly, stepping in again while swearing to himself that this was the last time he was playing peacemaker.

"Detective Smith," he said bluntly. "We didn't want this case. We've got it. You didn't want to lose it. Tough. The truth of the matter is that you are probably well out of it. Anderson, Thompson and Kershaw were involved in a three-way relationship, which the newspapers are going to have a field day with. And now two of them are dead. We don't believe in coincidences, so we're left with one of them killing the other and then killing themselves, or someone killing the pair of them. Either way it's going to get messy and unpleasant and I, for one, would love to be able to hand it back to you. But I can't. Deal with it."

The pair of them were watching him, Smith with barely disguised hostility, Sam with the kind of shuttered considering look he got when he was thinking hard about something. The last phrase Chris spoke was tired rather than snappish, but Smith still narrowed her eyes.

"Fine," she said coldly. "If that's the way you want to play it..."

"It's not the way we want to play it," interrupted Chris quietly. "It's the way it's go to be."

"Of course," she replied insincerely. "Well, gentlemen. I'll leave you to your... investigation." She reached into her brown shoulder bag and drew out a couple of loose-leaf brown files, thrusting them towards Chris. "I've been... requested... to share all information with you, including autopsy reports on both Thompson and Anderson, interview notes and the like. Of course, we're merely amateurs at this." The contempt in her tone was palpable and it was obvious that she didn't believe their explanation about how they'd discovered the men's illicit affair. "If there's nothing else...?"

The venom fairly dripped from her voice, and Chris shook his head wordlessly and took the proffered files. Sam was now leaning against the wall, watching the byplay between them with apparent detached disinterest, so there was no help forthcoming from that quarter. Chris knew better than to assume Sam hadn't been paying attention though. He was certain that if he asked Sam, his partner would be able to repeat the conversation they'd just had word by word.

Her piece said Smith stalked towards the door. Her exit would have been much more dramatic if she hadn't managed to catch the strap of her shoulder bag on the door handle. Tugging it free, she gave the pair of them one last fierce glare. They both knew better than to laugh, their faces remaining expressionless. Turning haughtily on her heel, she left, slamming the door behind her.

Chris winced again, absently reaching up to rub his forehead. He was starting to develop a mother of a headache. He turned towards his partner, starting to comment on Smith's behaviour but the sight of Sam's still glacial green eyes stopped him. They may have called a temporary truce while they had to deal with Smith but it appeared to be at an end. Instead, Chris shut his mouth and offered Sam the files. His partner hesitated for a moment, and then took them from Chris' outstretched hand. He still wore that disinterested expression, but Chris wasn't fooled. He sighed.

"Sam..." he began. The coldness in Sam's gaze was turned up a notch, but Chris refused to be deterred this time. "I'm sorry," he said. "I have obviously said something to offend you, although I haven't quite figured out what yet."

"Oh, haven't you?" asked Sam, his voice deceptively even. Chris sighed again.

"Listen, I'm sorry I even asked the question," he stated softly. "I certainly didn't mean to give the impression that I judged you on it..."

"Well, that's noble of you..."

Chris finally snapped. "I don't know why the hell you've got a bug up your ass, Curtis," he snarled. "But contrary to what you believe, I really don't care who you decide to sleep with. You could work your way through the Dallas Cowboys for all I care!" Sam's mouth tightened ominously and his grey-green eyes grew flinty. Chris gave up. "If you're that bothered about it, why did you tell me?"

"I haven't done anything to be ashamed of," replied Sam frostily.

"No," said Chris calmly. "I don't think so either, but how I make you understand that..." He paused for a moment and then his mouth twitched upwards, a hint of a dimple showing. "Okay, maybe the whole 'necrophiliac' thing..." he added. For a long moment Sam just stared at him, and then his eyes thawed slightly, and his own lips quirked.

"Come on," he said gravely, waving the files in his hand. "Let's get to work." It was as close to forgiven as Chris was going to get at this point, and he accepted gratefully.

~*~

It was a long afternoon, as they ploughed their way through the files Smith had left. They made interesting reading, once you interpreted 'police-speak'. It appeared that the police had made greater inroads with Anderson's Northumberland neighbour than the two CI5 agents had. She'd been positively chatty with them, telling them about Anderson's weekend visitors, who from the descriptions appeared to include both Thompson and Kershaw. And they frequently stayed the night. Chris could almost hear the sanctimonious tone of voice of the elderly woman, coming through clearly in the neatly typewritten pages. The words used fairly screamed disapproval.

Despite this, if Smith was to be believed it appeared that the police hadn't made the connection that Sam had about the relationship between the three of them, even with the help of the text files that Sam had discovered. Chris tried to feel generous enough to give Smith the benefit of doubt and believe that the detective hadn't misinformed them about how well the two men knew each other, but had genuinely been unaware of it when she'd spoken to them by the reservoir. It stretched even his powers of belief though; especially when you considered that among the other gems the neighbour had let slip was that Anderson had moved the Serena himself from the coast to the reservoir. She'd seen him hitch it up to his Range Rover on the Tuesday, and hadn't seen him since. No way did you lend your pride and joy to a casual acquaintance and then put yourself out by towing it for what must have been close to three hours to deliver it to be played with. Even PC Plod had to see that.

After an hour or so of ploughing through the files, Chris excused himself and made his way back into town to the chemists. The headache that had threatened while they'd had their run in with Smith hit with a vengeance. It was probably an indication of some remaining tension between them that Sam didn't offer to go for him, merely grunting when Chris told him where he was going, his head buried in Thompson's autopsy report.

When Chris got back, gratefully swallowing some analgesics with a swig from a can of Coke, Sam had some news for him. "Anderson died before Thompson," he stated quietly.

"So no way did Anderson do for him then hang himself out of remorse?"

"Nope," replied Sam calmly. "And I think we're both agreed that it's unlikely that Thompson hit himself over the head..."

Chris frowned. "I suppose there's no room for doubt about the time of deaths?"

Sam shook his head. "I thought that too, but even if you take the margin for error to its maximum in each case, there's still around about four or five hours difference."

"Enough time for someone to do them both, though," commented Chris, once again rubbing his forehead absently. Sam watched him, his face shuttered.

"Do you want to pass up on our little side trip tonight?" he asked cautiously. Chris shook his head.

"No," he stated. "If we are looking for someone else, then we've got to either consider Carruthers a likely target, or even if not he might know something..."

"Even if he doesn't know he knows," completed Sam. Chris shrugged.

"Maybe," he replied noncommittally. "Can't hurt I suppose."

"And you want to play sailor?" queried Sam, smiling faintly. Chris shrugged again.

"You call Richards yet?" he asked, changing the subject.

"I spoke to Backup," replied his partner. "She's not aware that he's found anything else, she'll nag him to send us it if he has, and he's on late shift again."

"Rebecca still working lates?" asked Chris, more for something to say than out of any real curiosity. It was Sam's turn to shrug. "I think I'll call him," added Chris, glancing at his watch. "It's after six, he'll be in now. Let's put a rocket up him, so we can wrap this up and get out of here."

"Fine," agreed Sam, rising from the bed. "Why don't you do that, and I'll get ready for tonight's little jaunt." He pulled a jumper, t-shirt and pair of jeans out of a drawer while Chris put through a call to HQ, however, instead of just getting changed in their room, as he normally would have done, he headed for the bathroom. Chris sighed again. Things definitely were not back to normal between them and it appeared he still had some serious grovelling to do. Either that or Sam believed that if he changed in front of him Chris might think that his partner was about to pounce on him. He should have handled things a damn sight more carefully than he had done...

He had to stop following that line of thought when Richards' cheerful voice sounded in his ear. Backup was right. The Cockney agent hadn't yet unearthed any more information, although he was still digging. There had been no more messages to Anderson's hotmail account, which supported Sam's belief that his mysterious correspondent was Thompson, even if Kershaw hadn't confirmed it, and also suggested that Thompson was the only one. A further investigation into Suns of the Earth had turned up nothing new. So they were, as Sam had so rightly stated, back to good old-fashioned police work, although why they couldn't leave that type of thing to the police, who were so much better equipped...

Acting on a hunch, he asked Richards to widen his investigation slightly. If nothing else it would keep the other man out of too much mischief and maybe give Rebecca a break from his mooning. It hadn't taken long for the CI5 squad to figure out that when Richards got bored, there were usually some secure systems somewhere that suffered breaches, and by unspoken agreement most of the field agents came up with one thing or another to keep him occupied. The man was good, no question, but he had a boredom threshold even lower than Chris' own, and that was saying something.

By the time Chris had hung up, Sam was emerging from the bathroom, dressed very casually for him, but in an outfit well suited for clambering about on board an old trawler. Chris glanced down at his own outfit - much more suited to their task than Sam's suit but it still could be improved upon. Without even considering Sam's reaction, he pulled off his shirt and, throwing it on the floor, dragged out a t-shirt and sweater. About to pull the shirt over his head, he glanced up and caught Sam's eyes. The English agent was staring at him, a mixture of exasperation and irritation clear on his face. For a second, Chris thought he was offended by his undressing in front of him, given their recent falling out, until he followed Sam's pointed look in the direction of his discarded shirt, pooled in a heap on the floor. "Sorry," he muttered sheepishly, picking up his shirt and shoving it carelessly back in the drawer with his clean clothes.

Sam rolled his eyes. "You are such a pig, Keel," was all he said, pulling on his brogues. He waited until Keel had pulled on his top and then preceded him to the door.

"Do you want to eat first, or head straight to Hartlepool?" asked Chris hopefully.

"Do you think of anything but your stomach?" asked Sam, his tone still slightly exasperated.

"Right now? No."

"Fine. Food first, but let's be quick." Sam glanced at his watch. "It's an hour's drive and it's already almost seven."

"I can eat quick," replied Chris, a little wounded.

"It's Friday night, Chris," explained Sam with exaggerated patience. "Friday night in Newcastle?" Chris looked blank. "Let's just grab something quick here at the hotel before we head out. We'll never get served in town."

"Why not?"

"It's... Friday... night..."

Something quick consisted of soup for Sam and a steak sandwich for Chris in the hotel café. Sam had unwound enough now for Chris to be able to tease him a little about their trip that night, telling him that at least soup was likely to come up as easily as it had gone down. He even held his tongue when Chris tossed some seasickness pills at him. Chris had bought them right along with his painkillers. He didn't unwind enough, however, to take any. He was still insisting that the last time was an alcohol-induced fluke. Chris let it slide, guessing, probably correctly, that if he teased Sam anymore about it Sam would merely retaliate with some pointed remarks about his love-life or lack thereof.

Their fragile understanding was on firmer ground by the time they got to the car. As Chris pulled away from the hotel, making his way cautiously through the throngs of already drunk revellers, he was beginning to understand Sam's comments about Friday nights in Newcastle. The place was absolutely heaving. The weather wasn't particularly warm, the spring evenings still chill, and he was grateful for his thick sweater even in the car. However, he lost count of the number of young women who seemed perfectly content to wander around wearing nothing but very short, spaghetti-strapped dresses. The men weren't wearing much more; short sleeved designer shirts for the most part, although a number seemed to be wearing black and white striped shirts.

Sam caught sight of Chris' amazed looks and unbent enough to comment, "They breed them hardy up in the north."

"What's with the shirts?" asked Chris, gesturing towards another gaggle of men, almost all of whom were similarly garbed.

"Newcastle United," explained Sam. "Football," he added when once again Chris gave him a blank look.

"Oh, soccer."

"Whatever," laughed Sam. "It's almost a religion up here."

Chris shrugged. "Never cared for it much myself," he explained.

"Let me guess," smirked Sam. "More of a baseball or basketball kind of a guy?"

"Hockey," replied his American friend succinctly.

"Aggression and open violence where the use of implements is permitted," Sam mused. "Why am I not surprised?"

Chris snorted. "I wouldn't have had you down for a soccer fan either, Curtis," he commented, trying to avoid a pair of drunks who were weaving their way across the road in complete disregard for the traffic, and yelling at the top of the voices something that sounded suspiciously to Chris like 'Toon Army'. But surely that couldn't be right? He wasn't aware of any organised militias in this part of England.

Sam smirked again. "I'm a season ticket holder for West Ham," he explained. Chris gave him a surprised look.

"I've never known you go to a match."

"There's a lot you don't know about me, Chris."

"Obviously," murmured Chris under his breath without stopping to think about it. It was entirely the wrong thing to say, harking back to their earlier disagreement, and he could feel the emotional temperature inside the car plummet as soon as the word was out of his mouth. He winced internally, looking for something to say. It was Sam, however, who put the conversation back on safer footing.

"It's not like we ever get a Saturday off, Chris," he explained, his tone cool but lacking the hard edge he'd been hearing in it recently. Chris nodded silently, determined not to open his mouth and put his foot in it again.

~*~

They reached their destination in plenty of time, and Carruthers welcomed them aboard with the same affability he'd shown them that afternoon. Chris was back to almost bouncing with excitement, Sam noted absently. It was amazing the simple things that Chris could take pleasure from. Like making his life hell, for example.

That wasn't strictly fair, he knew. And while Chris' reaction when he'd told him of his past still rankled, he hadn't been forced to answer the American's question honestly. He wasn't quite clear himself why he had, except perhaps that he couldn't imagine lying to his partner, not even about something as private as that. And so once Chris had asked, he was left with the choice of answering him or telling him where to get off.

Should have told him where to get off, Curtis, he thought to himself slightly morosely. Except that would have made matters even worse. He would still have been pissed at Chris for asking, and Chris would, quite rightly in his opinion, have been pissed at him for his response. And at least Keel had apologised. Sam, however, was not above letting Keel twist in the wind for a bit if it gave him an advantage in reining in his headstrong partner. The guilt trip Chris was currently on wouldn't last very long, so he'd better make use of it while he could.

Once they were on board, Carruthers introduced them to the remainder of the crew, a young girl, about twenty, who looked as though she was a university student, and a young man, slightly older. The man, Ben, gave them a brief nod, and turned his attention back to coiling up some rope on the deck. Caroline, the girl, blushed prettily and began to fiddle with some scientific equipment, casting the two CI5 agents covert glances every now and then. Sam shot her a quick grin, which deepened her blush, and then turned his attention back to his partner.

He trailed along behind Chris and Carruthers while their host showed them proudly around his vessel, trying hard to look interested while Chris asked a lot of intelligent questions. Half of the questions and most of the answers went straight over Sam's head. He knew enough about ships to tell the port from the starboard and the bow from the stern but that was about it. However, the expedition had brightened Chris' mood considerably, and he had to be grateful for that, even if it didn't result in any developments in their investigation or if it meant he was following the pair of them around looking like a lost little lamb.

Once they'd cast off, or whatever you did on a trawler, he took the opportunity to quiz Caroline a little on what exactly they were doing. She stammered her way through an explanation about sampling techniques, which went straight over his head, before fleeing for the small, cramped cabin. Sam understood very little of what she told him, grasping that it was something to do with pesticide effluents, but that was about all. He presumed that it related to the investigation Suns of the Earth were carrying out into HunterHarrison Chemicals. He was about to follow her and ask some more questions, more out of sheer devilment and to see if she could blush even more prettily than out of any real interest in what they were doing, when the steely glint in Ben's eyes stopped him. So that was the way the wind was blowing. It seemed that saving the planet had a rather unruly effect on one's libido. On the other hand, he chastised himself, they were young, and he dimly remembered being that young once. 'You're thirty, Curtis,' he told himself. 'And Ben probably thinks you're a dirty old man after his girlfriend.' She was attractive, after all, but to tell the truth he preferred women who could look him in the eye without being awed.

Abandoning Caroline, he settled on quizzing Carruthers instead, since his partner had been left to his own devices. The man was in effusive mood, delighting in explaining the ins and outs of his investigation while Curtis leant on the rail, letting the man's words wash over him, more interested in the way he was saying things than the actual words themselves. However, he filed the American's explanations in that corner of his mind he reserved for such things.

There was no doubt that Carruthers was dedicated to his cause, the man's commitment evident in the force of his words and the emphatic hand gestures that accompanied them. Curtis found himself wondering if Thompson had been as enthusiastic about his calling as Carruthers was. Sam was a cynic, not really believing in anything, which gave him the distance of perspective when confronted by the fervent beliefs of others. Carruthers was passionate, all right, and he found himself wondering idly just how far the man would go...

He shook off the thought, concentrating again on what Carruthers was saying.

"The problem is," the American explained, "that chlorinated hydrocarbons aren't soluble in water but are soluble in fat. Which is why you get concentrations at the surface of the sea."

Sam gave his due consideration. "Chlorinated hydrocarbons such as... DDT?" he asked, having gathered that much from Caroline's stammered explanations. She'd explained that they weren't looking for DDT as such, but a similar compound one of the local chemical plants had started to produce, a much more powerful insecticide intended for use in the control of Malaria in the third world.

Carruthers gave him a beaming grin and for a second Curtis was assailed by an image of the man patting him on the head and giving him a gold star.

"Yep," he said. "You know that they've found DDT concentrate levels in King Penguins in the Antarctic, don'tcha?"

Sam knew. Carruthers had already told him that. Three times. To head off yet another lengthy treatise on the evils of man's pollution, he came up with another question.

"So, chlorinated hydrocarbons aren't soluble," he stated slowly. "And the ones you're interested in are the big ones... the heavy ones?" Carruthers nodded. "So why don't they sink?"

Carruthers beamed again, and Sam fought the urge to duck, just in case the man did pat him on the head this time. "Well, you see," he began, his eyes lighting up. "Like I said they're soluble in fats, and the surface layer of the sea contains fatty acids..."

Sam felt his eyes glazing over, and fought hard to stay awake while the man droned on. He settled for pasting a bewildered expression on his face, which actually didn't require a great deal of acting ability on his part since that was exactly how he felt. It eventually dawned on Carruthers that Sam probably understood about one word in five, and he took pity on the CI5 agent.

"Put it this way," he explained. "Some of it sinks into the sediment, some of it is eaten by or sticks to the outside of the plankton, and some of it dissolves in the surface layer of the water, but only the surface layer." He shrugged and grinned. "Not strictly scientific or accurate, but close enough."

"And you're trying to measure what floats?" Sam asked cautiously, praying he didn't set the man off on another lengthy explanation.

Carruthers shrugged again. "Pretty much," he said. "We've taken some samples close to shore where we suspect the outflow to be, to measure the amount in the sediment. It tends to settle pretty soon after it leaves shore, unless there's a good storm to stir it up. Now we're trying to see how much there is on the surface."

"And you think that this is all coming from one factory?"

"Yep."

"The one run by HunterHarrison? The one that you and Suns of the Earth have been investigating. The one that Thompson was investigating before he died?"

"Yep." Carruthers sighed heavily, staring out of the sea. "Tragic, isn't it?" he murmured. "She's beautiful, and we're poisoning her." He sighed again. "You know," he said, "if we were pouring that amount of toxin into drinking water there would, understandably, be an outrage. But the oceans? Hell, we can throw what we like into there. We haven't understood yet that what goes around, comes around."

Sam thought hard about this for a moment, his brow creasing. "But if these chlorinated hydrocarbons don't breakdown..."

"Biodegrade," corrected Carruthers absently, still staring out over the calm water.

"Whatever. And they just hang around... forever?"

"Pretty much, yes."

Sam followed his train of thought to its logical conclusion. "So how do you know that it's this particular factory doing the polluting? Assuming that you find anything of course."

He wasn't prepared for the effect his innocent question would have on Carruthers. The man's expression darkened with fury, and he almost spat his response in Curtis' face. "You government types, you're all the same. Fascists the lot of you! If you can't control the information, you deny it exists. You'll do anything to protect the corporations, and the rest of us can go to hell, as far as you're concerned. The big bucks count, the planet doesn't. It's people like you who are poisoning us all."

By the time that he had finished his tirade, his face was only inches from Sam. Sam's eyes narrowed dangerously, but Carruthers was too incensed to notice. Luckily for the American's state of health, he backed off before Sam was forced to take any action. It was a long swim back to shore, and he wasn't sure that Carruthers was fit enough to make it. He watched Carruthers stalk up the deck, his face considering.

"What was all that about?" Chris asked, coming up almost silently on his flank and also staring after the American.

Sam shrugged, his face thoughtful as he tried to reconcile Carruthers' outburst with the affability he'd been projecting only moments before. "Don't know," he replied. "Maybe I asked the wrong question."

Chris snorted. "Maybe you asked the right one," he said.

The two CI5 agents shared a telling look. "Maybe," agreed Sam. "Maybe."

~*~

Carruthers pretty much avoided them for the rest of the trip, leaving the two agents to the tender mercies of Caroline and Ben. It wasn't actually that much of a hardship, although Ben's almost silent gloating about Sam's fall out with Carruthers grated for a while. He obviously considered the Englishman to be a rival for the fair Caroline's affections and anything that damaged him in her eyes, for example rowing with their boss in public, he welcomed with open arms. For once Curtis was too distracted to turn on the charm. Instead he mulled over Carruthers' behaviour, trying to figure out what had triggered the man to verbally attack him. He left the charming to Chris, who did it well. He watched the American schmooze around Caroline with detached amusement. Ben was now obviously torn, not sure who was the greater threat.

The sampling seemed to go off without a hitch, and Ben unwound enough to explain a little about their techniques to Curtis, all the time keeping a wary eye on Chris who was talking to Caroline by the rail. The American seemed to be faring better with Caroline than Sam himself had, their laughter drifting towards the other two men. Sam was philosophical about the whole thing, Ben less so. While Sam really didn't believe that his partner had any serious intentions towards the young woman, he was quite prepared to run interference if it put Keel in a better mood.

Eventually, Ben had had enough and excused himself to Sam, heading determinedly up the deck towards the object of his affection, and her seeming suitor. Chris turned a completely innocent look on the young man, and Sam had to hide his smirk. No one would look more like an angel and act more like a devil than his partner. It even fooled Malone sometimes. Ben, however, seemed to be made of sterner stuff, not giving an inch and glowering belligerently at the American, before rather snidely suggesting that Chris make himself useful and take himself off to the galley to make them all some hot drinks.

Sam rather smoothly insinuated himself into the conversation at that point, with some casual remark about Chris' coffee removing the paint from the bulkheads, and offered to go instead, much to Chris' amusement.

"The galley," he joked, "would be the place down below where they make the coffee." Sam resisted the urge to stick his tongue out at him, and Chris turned brightly to Caroline, explaining, "You have to keep landlubbers like Sam straight."

"We can't all be Navy hotshots like you," Sam shot back.

His last sight of his partner before he disappeared below deck was of Chris leaning back nonchalantly on the rail, treating Caroline to dimples and all.

~*~

It didn't take Sam long to locate some rather battered enamel cups and a jar of coffee. There was also a small gas powered stove and tin kettle, and he busied himself with the task of providing the crew with hot drinks to combat the chill night air. Meanwhile, his mind was still worrying away at the problems of both Carruthers' abrupt behaviour and the situation that had brought them here in the first place. He was no further forward when he heard the sound of footsteps as someone descended into the cramped galley.

Turning around, he was greeted by Chris' grinning face. "I guess Benny-boy finally had enough of me," his partner explained cheerfully. "Kept suggesting that you might need a hand down here. Thought I'd better fall into line before he tried to throw me overboard."

"You're not suggesting he'd have succeeded are you?" asked Sam, raising one eyebrow incredulously. Chris' grin widened.

"Nope," he replied. "But the last time I threw a civilian over the side of a ship, I really got my ass chewed out. I have no desire to have Malone do the same thing." Sam gave him a hopeful, inquisitive look, and his partner laughed. "Oh no," he said. "I'm not making that mistake again. I told you about the blind date and what happened? I've never heard the end of it. You have enough blackmail material about me already, Curtis."

Sam hid his disappointment well, giving his partner a wry grin and turning back to making the coffee. "So," he said, changing the subject. "You seem to be getting on well with Caroline."

"Nice girl," replied Chris absently, watching him pour the water into the cups.

Sam gave him a slightly sly look. "Does this mean that your mood will be improving some time soon?"

Chris stared at him, nonplussed for a moment, before his expression darkened slightly. "Unlikely," he said briefly.

Sam shrugged. "Yeah," he said. "I guess she is a bit young for you, isn't she, mate?" He turned away to put the milk back in the cupboard. When he turned back, Chris was watching him closely, his expression unreadable. Sam felt his heart fall, wondering if he'd managed to put his foot in it again. And then, thinking back to their earlier quarrel, his bad temper reared its head again, and he firmly dismissed any thoughts of making amends from his mind. Instead, he raised an eyebrow at Chris, silently demanding an explanation.

Chris pushed himself away from the work surface he'd been leaning on, and headed towards the stairs. "Come on," he said. "Better get the provisions to the troops before they mutiny." His face was still shuttered, and with an effort Sam bit back on the frustrated words about to spill from his mouth. If this was the way that his partner wanted to play it, so be it...

Chris was just in the process of stalking past him when a sudden swell lifted the Rose Madder and rolled her for a moment. The two men lost their balance and stumbled towards the bulkhead, Sam cushioning his partner's frame with his own. Sam was on the point of opening his mouth to make some inane comment when his partner pulled abruptly away from him as though he'd been burned. Sam stared at him, confused for a moment as Chris deliberately avoided his eyes, before all of the fury he'd spent the last half of the day banking down flared up again. How dare he! How bloody dare he treat him like that! Like an innocent touch was somehow contaminating.

He was opening his mouth again to pour forth a vitriolic attack on his partner's head when a hard and demanding mouth suddenly descended on his, cutting off his words and turning them into a strangled squeak. Not his greatest comeback, he thought dazedly as his hands flailed out to the sides, clutching at the cold metal for support.

It felt as though every inch of Chris' torso was pressed hard against his, Chris' leg slipping between his own as his partner devoured his mouth, the American's hands resting against the bulkhead on either side of Sam's head, cutting off any escape route. Not that Sam was thinking of escape. Sam wasn't thinking of anything. For once in his life, he was taken completely by surprise, neither responding to Chris' kiss nor fighting it. He was too shocked to do either. All he could do was stand there like a lemon, his eyes wide, staring at Chris, and wait for this completely surreal episode of his life to be over.

Eventually Chris broke for breath, pulling back to stare at Sam, his eyes glittering in the galley's dim lighting. Sam searched for something to say, anything to say that would break the tension between them, a joke, a retort, even 'get your bloody hands off me', but nothing came. Instead he could only stare back at Chris, his mouth open, like a rabbit caught in headlights.

It was a clattering noise coming from above that broke the stalemate between them, Chris moving rapidly away from him as Ben tumbled down into the small galley. Sam rubbed the back of his hand raggedly across his mouth, his eyes never leaving Chris, as the American continued to avoid eye contact, his face once more expressionless. Sam's heart was pounding and his breathing harsh as he struggled to deal with what had just happened.

When he finally looked at Ben, the younger man was watching him with a malicious smugness. For a horrifying moment, Sam thought that he'd seen it all, seen him pinned against the wall like some pathetic heroine from a gothic novel, but Ben's first words put that fear to rest.

"Feeling a bit sick are you?" asked the young man with phoney concern. Sam just looked at him for a long moment, his face pale, before it finally dawned on him that the younger man was giving him an out.

"Yes," he said, breaking for the doorway, pushing past both his partner and Ben on the way and not looking at either of them.

Outside in the cold night air he began the task of pulling together the tattered shreds of his composure. What the hell had just happened? Was it a joke? Some jest of Chris' in really bad taste? It wouldn't be the first time that the American had let his rather bizarre sense of humour get away from him. And if it was a joke, he had every right to be furious, but he didn't think it was. He couldn't shake the image of Chris' face out of his mind; the way that Chris' eyes had glittered with a combination of desire and hunger. Sam had seen that look in the eyes of others and in the reflection of his own eyes often enough to recognise it for what it was.

Which left him with the inescapable conclusion that Chris had wanted to kiss him, and kiss him he had.

He could still taste his partner on his lips and tongue, which shook his fragile composure even more. He couldn't think when his lips were tingling like this, when his whole being was shaking, when the hairs on the back of his neck were standing on end in a way that had nothing to do with trepidation.

"Feeling a little rough?"

Sam came to himself with a start. Lost in his reverie he hadn't even heard Carruthers approaching.

"Sorry 'bout the rough ride," the American continued sheepishly. "We turned for shore and got caught for a second in the wash from one of those big car ferries. They go from North Shields to Germany and Scandinavia." His gaze swept the younger man, taking in the pale face and the way Sam's hands were still clutching at the rail, unaware of the real source of the Englishman's discomfort. "Should be fine now," he added in a tone that was obviously meant to be soothing but which instead grated on Sam's over-sensitised nerves.

The American looked nervously at him for a moment, while Sam stared out to sea wishing that Carruthers would just piss off and leave him alone with his thoughts. "Listen," Carruthers began awkwardly. "I'm sorry about the way I blew up at you earlier. Shouldn't have had a go at you, I know. It's just I get so wound up in what we're trying to do that I forget who the real enemy is." He gave a rueful little laugh. "Derek used to tell me that, not that it did any good." He cast Sam another embarrassed, apologetic look. "So... I'm sorry."

For some reason Carruthers' whole behaviour struck Sam as insincere somehow, a little 'off', but he was beginning to doubt his own judgments about people. He sure as hell had missed a number of cues from Chris, hadn't he? Instead, he nodded briefly, and muttered something placating, relieved when Carruthers finally left him to his own devices, saying, "Well, we'll be back on shore soon," and patting him on the back in a way that was meant to be comforting but almost knocked the CI5 man off his feet.

Chris and Ben had followed him up onto deck, having apparently salvaged what was left of the beverages, but thankfully the pair of them left him alone. He was acutely aware, however, of Chris' eyes surreptitiously watching him the whole way back to shore.

~*~

By the time that the two CI5 agents arrived back at their hotel, Sam had still not reached a decision on what to do. The two men hadn't exchanged a word since leaving the Rose Madder, and the longer the silence hung between them, the more difficult it became to break it. It still prevailed while Sam collected their room key from Reception, and in the lift.

When they finally reached their room, Sam let Chris precede him and then, shutting the door behind him, leant back against it, watching his partner. He half feared that Chris would pounce on him as soon as the door swung shut behind him, but he was disappointed.

He paused, taking that thought out and examining it. Disappointed. Was he really disappointed that Chris hadn't yet pinned him against the door and kissed him as savagely as he had aboard the Rose Madder? Could he really want that?

He didn't realise that he'd raised his hand to his lips until it was halfway there. Chris was watching him closely, his eyes guarded. By now, however, Sam was familiar enough with his partner's nonverbal language to pick up on the other man's underlying misery and nervousness. He sighed heavily, running his raised hand through his hair. He really needed a drink, and to be frank, Chris looked as though he could do with one too.

The matter decided and glad of something to do he headed for the bathroom to snag a couple of tooth glasses. When he came out again, Chris was sitting on one of the beds, his head in his hands, his whole posture screaming despair. Sam pulled his overnight bag down from the top shelf of the wardrobe and fished out his hip flask from a side pocket. MI6 and the boy scouts may not have much in common, but they both believed in being prepared. As far as Sam was concerned that meant having whiskey. Whether it was for cleaning and sterilising wounds or for getting quietly sloshed, you couldn't go far wrong with a hip flask full of the water of life.

He sloshed some into one of the glasses and pushed it unceremoniously into his partner's hands. Once he'd poured himself a stiff measure too, he sat on the other bed facing Chris and raised the glass in mute salute. After staring at him wordlessly for a moment, Chris returned the gesture.

Sam took a slug of whiskey, watching as Chris drained his glass entirely. He topped it up again without being asked. When Chris started to sip at the drink again, he steeled himself for the question that had to be asked.

"What happened?"

Chris gave him a long, steady look. "I kissed you."

"I noticed that. I meant why?"

His partner gave a snort of what was supposedly laughter, although there was little humour in it. "Have you looked in the mirror recently?" he asked. Sam gave him a disapproving look that quelled any remaining amusement on Chris' half. His partner flushed slightly and looked down into his rapidly emptying glass. "Sorry," he muttered before sighing heavily. He glanced up at Sam as though about to say something, but faltered before he could get the words out. Sam watched him shrug, Chris' eyes darting around the room, looking at anything but his partner.

"If this is a joke, Chris..." Sam growled, letting his full irritation through in his voice. That got the American's attention, Chris' head shooting up as his partner stared at him in disbelief, his mouth working as he sought for words to deny it. Sam gave him no quarter. "If this is your sick idea of a joke... So help me, Keel, I'll shoot you myself."

His partner finally managed to get his vocal cords working. "Sam... No! I swear..." His voice trailed off as he stared at Sam, his eyes wide but sincere.

Sam searched his expression for a long moment until he was satisfied that the other man was telling the truth. "Why then?" he asked again, his voice still chill but not quite as cold as it had been previously.

Another shrug from Chris, although this time his partner did him the courtesy of looking him straight in the eye. "I don't know..." the American began again. "I just..." He sighed again, putting the glass down to run his fingers through his hair, slicking it up so that it was even spikier than usual. He rose to his feet and started to pace. "I didn't mean to offend you," he started again. "It was an accident."

Sam raised an eyebrow at that. "Falling onto me was an accident," he said wryly. "Laying one on me like that most definitely was not."

The faint trace of amusement in his voice went some way to easing Chris' tension, the younger man's frame relaxing slightly as he turned to face his partner again. "Sorry," he said again, this time sounding as though he meant it. "I guess..." The American searched his eyes again, his own blue eyes intense. "I've wanted to do that for a while," he said softly. "Never dared to." He gave a short, un-amused bark of laughter. "I guess I thought that you really would shoot me. I mean, I had no idea that you'd ever even considered... And then, what you said earlier today..."

Sam frowned at him. "When I told you that, you weren't exactly thrilled about it." At Chris' bewildered look, he elaborated. "You were definitely disappointed in me when I told you, Chris."

Chris just stared at him for a moment until his words sank in. "Of course I wasn't," he explained, his tone reasonable. "I was disappointed, sure, but not in you. I mean, there you were, telling me that you liked guys, and I thought 'Whoopee! There's a chance'. And the next moment, you turned round and said that you'd tried being with one, and basically it sucked. Of course I was disappointed."

Sam settled back onto the bed, frowning thoughtfully as he searched his partner's face and pondered on the man's words. Chris fairly radiated honesty and sincerity. There was no doubting that he meant what he was saying. "But, you said you'd never..."

Chris looked away, abashed. Another shrug and he started to explain. "Well, I guess I was a bit like you, you know, when I was younger. Look but don't touch." He looked back at his partner who was watching him intently. "The year before I went to Annapolis, two of the cadets were kicked out for conduct unbecoming." He gave Sam a wry look. "I think you can guess what the conduct involved. This was well before the 'don't ask, don't tell' policy came into force, remember." He paused for a moment, picking up his glass and swirling the amber liquid around it, watching as it clung to the side. When he spoke again, his voice was low and thoughtful. "I wanted to be a pilot more than anything."

Sam made some kind of affirmative noise, and Chris seemed to gain some courage from that. "I suppose that I just liked girls enough not to really feel that I was missing out. I mean, I thought about it from time to time, but... And then I met Teresa, and I fell in love."

"Teresa?"

"My wife."

So that was her name. Chris had never mentioned it, and after the last time Sam put his foot in it, in fact the time he'd found out that Chris was married, he hadn't asked. "And?" he prompted when Chris fell silent.

"I thought about it after she... After. But, I don't know. I thought it might be easier being with a guy than being with any woman other than Teresa, but I never seemed to get anywhere." He laughed, and this time there was some genuine amusement in it. "Can you believe I actually went to a gay bar once or twice?"

Now that did surprise Sam. "I take it that you didn't get anywhere?"

Chris shrugged nonchalantly. "A few drinks, a couple of dances once when I was feeling really adventurous, but I always went home alone."

"Story of your life then," commented Sam, unable to resist. That earned him a caustic look from his partner, and he muttered a sheepish, "Sorry," in his direction.

Chris leant back against the head of the bed, his fingers curling around his glass, his eyes smoky as he searched Sam's face. "Okay, Curtis," he said. "You now know all of my deep, dark secrets, so what now?"

Sam shrugged. "Why are you asking me?"

Chris gave him an exasperated look. "Well, Sam, I've kind of laid my cards on the table here..."

"And then some," muttered Sam, taking a large swig of his whiskey. He suddenly felt the need for liquid sustenance. Chris aimed a dark look at him.

"Tell me about him," the American requested softly.

Sam tried to play the confused innocent for all of three seconds before he realised that it wasn't going to work. "There's not much to tell," he hedged. "I was young and stupid."

His partner didn't let him off the hook that easily; those bright blue eyes boring into him until he cracked. "Okay," he began. "You want to know all the sordid details?" He took another shot of Dutch courage. "It was my first year at University. I was a little out of my depth, if you can believe it. There I was, a scholarship kid from a rough council estate in Tower Hamlets at a University that is one of the main overspill centres for Oxbridge. Everyone but me seemed to have been born with a silver spoon in his or her mouth. He was older, my tutor. Probably the first person in my life to take me seriously, who actually seemed interested in what I had to say. Of course, I didn't realise at the time that he just wanted to get into my pants." He treated Chris to a wry twist of his lips. "Like I said - young and stupid."

Chris didn't laugh. Instead he continued to regard Curtis with that same steady look which seemed to see right into his soul, past the calm, confident aura he projected to the rebellious and confused kid he'd been. "You said you didn't enjoy it much?" his partner prompted.

Another snort of laughter from Curtis. "Yeah, well, what can I say?" he replied. "I thought that being older and everything, he would know what he was doing, but it was..." He searched for an appropriate word and found one. "Unsatisfying."

"Because?" Chris asked.

There was more than prurient curiosity in the American's tone. There was genuine interest, and unless he was mistaken, an underlying concern. For some reason it touched him. "It was kind of 'wham bang, thank you, sir,'" he elaborated. "I mean, I sure as hell didn't know what I was doing so I relied on him, and it... well, it went further than I expected and it wasn't much fun."

Chris was now staring at him, the concern evident in his face as well as his voice. "You mean, he forced you?" he demanded.

"Oh Christ, no," laughed Sam. "I knew what I was there for. It was just... lousy. I remember thinking afterwards, 'Was that it?' I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. And it hurt more than I thought it would," he reflected, and then he laughed again. "Mind you," he added. "I've been shot since then so I now know what pain really is." He gave his friend another wry look. "I stuck to girls after that. At least that way I had fun. And after that particular experience I tried to make sure that they did too."

"So you let one bad experience put you off?" asked Chris, once again sounding disappointed.

"Hey," shot back Sam, a little offended. "At least I had the balls to try it. I didn't hang around in gay bars and not dare take the plunge."

Chris sulked for a moment, the words hitting home, before he finally admitted, "Yeah, you're right, I guess." He watched Sam examining his empty glass, his mood still sombre. "So it was just that one time?" he asked, frowning a little.

Sam shrugged. "Yeah, well," he stalled. "Like I said, it wasn't exactly world shattering."

"So what happened? What did you do? I mean... your tutor. Not like it was a guy in a bar."

Sam poured himself another shot of whiskey, refusing to look at Chris. The question, although his partner couldn't have realised, hit a little too close to the bone. For a long moment, he stared into his drink, before settling back onto his bed and finally meeting his friend's eyes. "After he'd finished," he began, his accent a little more pronounced than normal, "he rolled over and said, 'Well, Sam, you just earned yourself an A'."

Chris stared at him, speechless, before managing to spit out, "Bastard!"

For some reason Chris' obvious outrage helped, and Sam felt himself relax a little. He'd never told anyone about Doctor MacDonald before, either that he'd slept with the man or his response afterwards, and to be frank he was a little surprised at himself for revealing it now. They still hurt, those words, even after all this time and having someone share his ire took some of the sting out of them. "Still want to know what I did?"

"I hope you damaged him."

Sam laughed a little bitterly. "No. But I insisted on having another tutor." He paused, searching for the words to explain. "I told him that I got where I was going on my own. I knew that I deserved a first class degree, and I was heading for one even then. God knows, I worked bloody hard for it. And..." He paused again. "And if he'd been marking me, I would always have wondered..."

Chris understood. "Whether you earned it on merit or on your back?" he asked a little tactlessly.

Sam chuckled. "Yeah, I guess." His partner's face was perfectly understanding. "Thing is," he added, "he really didn't understand why I was so angry about it, or why I threatened to take him to the Dean if he didn't find me another tutor." He gave Chris another wry look. Some part of him, petty though it may be, still thought back on that particular conversation with some relish. MacDonald had been shitting himself. "Still, it worked out okay," he explained. "In order to have a reason to be assigned to another tutor I had to take up another language, and I chose Russian. If I hadn't done that, MI6 may not have recruited me and then I wouldn't be sitting here with you being quizzed about my sexual past." He treated Chris to an ironic little salute with his glass. "Any other questions?"

"Just two - what's his name and where does he live?"

"Why?"

"I thought that when we finished here I'd pop up to Edinburgh and shoot him. You said it was only a couple of hours away, didn't you?"

For some reason this struck Sam as tremendously funny. Hearing his laughter seemed to brighten Chris' mood a little too. "So what now?" he asked again, sounding rather more hopeful this time.

Sam calmed down and snorted. "Are you trying to tell me that you're now so desperate for a shag that you're making a pass at me?"

It was Chris' turn to give him a disapproving look. "Did it ever occur to you," he asked, his voice deliberately even, "that perhaps the reason that I haven't had much success with women is because I don't want them, I want you."

It had to be the whiskey talking, thought Sam, avoiding his partner's eyes and draining his own glass. He battled, unsuccessfully it had to be admitted, the surge of warmth that Chris' words sent through him. His partner, his best friend, couldn't possibly mean that he'd been pining after him, could he?

He could. Even now Chris was gazing at him with that 'lost puppy' look on his face that had Backup wrapped around his little finger. All blue eyes and doleful expression. Any minute now he'd turn on the dimples and Sam would well and truly be screwed. In this case, probably literally as well as figuratively.

He opened his mouth to begin to list out the reasons why they shouldn't even be having this conversation. There were enough of them after all; their friendship, their partnership, their jobs.

"Okay."

Oh shit, did he just say that? He must have done, because now Chris' dimples were very prominent, his partner's face fairly glowing. If this was what it took to improve his friend's mood, he thought rather facetiously, he should have given in days ago. What the hell was he thinking of?

He wasn't thinking, that was the problem, at least not with his head. Instead, he was acting completely on instinct, driven almost entirely by the remembered feel of Chris' lips against his, his partner's form hard up against his, the touch and taste of him. And that feeling was, he was coming to realise, highly addictive. He'd thought about little else for the long drive back to Newcastle and even now he could imagine the lingering taste of Chris on his tongue.

Chris was watching him, his eyes dimming, his pleasure at Sam's capitulation slowly turning to unease the longer that Sam sat there unmoving. Sam could feel the other man's tension rack up a notch as he obviously wondered whether he'd misunderstood his partner's meaning. The trouble was he didn't have a clue as to how to put Chris' mind at ease.

With a shaky sigh he placed his glass carefully onto the bedside table, and looked mutely at his partner, his expression, if he'd only realised it, a little bewildered. Chris finally took pity on him, and took the matter entirely out of his hands.

The second kiss bore little relation to the first, on the Rose Madder. Instead of hungry, it started off slow and sweet, Chris cupping his face in his hands and gently brushing his lips over Sam's. After the briefest of caresses he pulled back, his eyes searching Sam's face, seeking some sign that this was not unwelcome, that he hadn't misread the situation. The expression on Sam's face must have put his mind at ease because he leant in again.

This kiss was deeper than the last, Chris' tongue slipping past his lips, dipping in to explore the contours of his mouth. Sam moaned softly, his hands clutching convulsively at the covers on the bed. Some part of him still fought against this, refusing to believe that it was real, because while he wanted more than anything to wrap his arms around his partner and pull him down onto the bed, he couldn't. Some internal barrier, some last remnant of survival instinct stopped him from simply giving in.

Chris didn't seem to notice, apparently satisfied with Sam's response. He pulled back again, his eyes glittering hungrily in the room's dim light, his lips parted, panting slightly. To Sam' surprise his own chest was heaving, his heart pounding.

They stared at each other for a long moment.

The next kiss was mutual, both of them leaning forward at the same time. Sam threw caution to the four winds, his hands finally coming up to slide into his partner's hair. It was soft underneath his fingertips, belying its spiky appearance, and Chris' response to his caress was gratifying. He sighed into Sam's mouth, leaning in closer, his long arms coming to wrap around the Englishman, pulling him hard against him. Their tongues duelled, sliding silkily against each other. Sam let out another involuntary moan as his partner stroked strong fingers up and down his back, sucking softly on Sam's tongue and swallowing the soft sounds he was making, before releasing him and sliding his own tongue in to plunder Sam's mouth. The man could kiss; there was no doubt about that. He was as good at kissing as he was at most other things.

A little pressure from Chris, and Sam was tumbling backwards onto the bed, his partner moving to straddle him. It had been a long time since Sam had felt the solid weight of a man pressing him into the bed and part of him relished the sensation even as the rest of him was concerned with kissing Chris back as fervently as Chris was kissing him. His hands stroked restlessly over the bare patch of skin between the top of Chris' jeans and t-shirt, revealed as the other man bent over to kiss him.

It was Chris' turn to groan softly, aroused by Sam's gentle touches. His hips rocked backwards and forwards over Sam's, grinding their groins together, his groan turning to a full-throated moan as Sam's hands moved down to fondle his buttocks, pulling them harder against each other. It wasn't enough. Sam grew greedy, tugging at Chris' sweater, wanting it off, wanting room to explore his new lover's torso. The small taste of it he'd had so far left him hungry for more and he wasn't prepared to wait much longer before satisfying his appetite.

Chris was more than happy to oblige, sitting back up on his haunches to pull both his sweater and t-shirt over his head and throwing them over his shoulder to land in a tangled heap somewhere behind him. His hands were moving to strip Sam of his clothing before they'd even hit the floor. Sam's sweater was hauled unceremoniously over his head and Chris started on his buttons, ripping them out of the buttonholes so frantically that Sam was not surprised when one came loose in Chris' hand. This was hurled onto the bedside table, where it bounced off on to the floor.

Sam half sat up to see where it landed but that only made it easier for Chris to remove his shirt completely. Not that he had any complaints about his partner's enthusiasm, just the way he was demonstrating it. The shirt hadn't been cheap. He opened his mouth to protest, or at least tell Chris that he wasn't planning on changing his mind so could the American slow down for a minute and let him catch his breath, when once again a mouth descended on his, cutting off his words. This time, however, rather than hard the kiss was soft and sensuous, Chris' lips moving hypnotically over his, demanding, and receiving, submission in an entirely different way.

Christ, the man could kiss.

Chris' legs parted further as he lowered himself onto Sam, pushing his partner back onto the bed, pressing their bare chests together and sending little electric shivers through the Englishman's frame. Once again Sam's moan was swallowed by his lover. His hands moved restlessly over Chris' back, stroking and kneading, pulling the American against him, desperate for the feel of every inch of Chris' skin pressed against his.

Chris finally released his mouth with a happy, satisfied sigh and went on the prowl, his lips moving erratically over Sam's face, nibbling on the chin now covered with five o'clock shadow and then moving down to his neck. His hands were also busy exploring, gliding over Sam's skin and leaving trails of fire in their wake. Sam contented himself with stroking his fingers through Chris' hair, giving the other man free rein and luxuriating in the sensations he was generating.

He was damn good at this too.

There was a natural sensuality to the other man's movements, a desire to touch and be touched that shone through everything that he did. There was no holding back on Chris' part as he mapped Sam's torso with gentle touches and kisses; instead the American seemed to reverberate with pleasure simply at being allowed to touch him. Christ, how much time had they wasted?

Eventually Chris reached his crotch with another happy noise, leaving Sam to wonder whether Chris was aware of how vocal he was being. However, given the number of moans that Chris was wringing out of him he could hardly comment. Even now he was almost shaking with anticipation, watching Chris' hand as it hovered over his groin.

He wasn't the only one shaking. Chris' hand was also unsteady as it slowly descended onto the bulge in Sam's trousers. The American let out his breath in a long, shaky sigh as he pressed his hand down lightly, driving another soft moan from his lover. And then his hands were fumbling with the zip and tugging at his boxers, freeing Sam's straining erection. The sight was greeted with another long hissing intake of breath as Chris stroked one finger along the length almost reverently. The look on his face was a strange combination of desire, concentration and awe, and Sam felt his heart lurch as he wondered just what he was getting into here. Strangely enough, the thought wasn't quite as terrifying as it should have been.

As if in answer to his unspoken thoughts, Chris finally spoke. "I've dreamt about this," he said quietly. "About touching you like this." He gave Sam a lopsided grin. "Never thought I'd actually be doing it."

Sam swallowed around the lump that had appeared in his throat. "Get your clothes off," he replied huskily, "and I'll touch you back."

Chris' eyes lit up at his words, and then his partner was moving to tug Sam's shoes and socks off, flinging them onto the floor with the same disregard he'd shown Sam's shirt. Sam's trousers and boxers soon followed and then the American's hands were moving to his own belt.

Sam watched as Chris' clothes followed his to the floor, revealing the other man's shape to his hungry gaze. On some level Sam had always thought his partner attractive, but his iron self-control had prevented him from admiring Chris openly. There was nothing holding him back now, and he let his eyes roam over the other man's frame appreciatively, his gaze lingering on the toned planes of the muscles in Chris' chest and the taut smooth skin stretched over them.

When he raised his gaze to meet his partner's again, Chris was watching him, the corners of his mouth twitching in amusement. "Meet with your approval?" he asked lightly, appearing completely unconcerned about his nudity.

"Oh yes," replied Sam with a wolfish grin. "C'mere."

With a laugh, Chris joined the Englishman on the bed and true to his word Sam touched him, running his fingers lightly up and down Chris' side, feeling the skin twitch underneath his fingertips. "Beautiful," he murmured, leaning in for another of those kisses that set his nerves tingling. He let his hand drift lower, caressing the toned abdomen and moving downwards to grip Chris' erection lightly. Chris whimpered into his mouth, the soft sound swallowed by Sam, as he began to rock, thrusting gently into Sam's fist.

Sam pushed Chris over onto his back and positioned himself on top of him. He still gripped Chris' erection firmly, moving his fist up and down, mimicking the rhythm in the tongue he now sent flicking in and out of Chris' mouth. The taste of the man was intoxicating. And addictive. He pressed himself closer and closer, wanting to devour him, wanting to crawl inside Chris' skin and never leave. It was a rush, exhilarating and terrifying in equal measures and all he could do was let go and go along for the ride.

Chris wasn't content to let him have the upper hand for long, however. After writhing beneath him for a few moments, his partner braced his foot against the mattress and used the leverage to roll them over so that now he rested on top of Sam, pinning the other man beneath him. His hands moved up to grip Sam's face and this time it was he who ravished Sam's mouth.

When he finally pulled back, his eyes were shining. He sat up, tracing the lines of Sam's chest with one feather-light fingertip, blazing a scorching path down towards his groin again. Once more he stroked lightly along Sam's erection, but this time he didn't stop there. He grasped Sam's cock firmly, sliding his thumb over the slit, moistening it, and then he began a slow pumping rhythm, his eyes darting up to watch Sam's face.

Sam struggled to keep his eyes open, focused on Chris as the waves of pleasure coursed through him. It was a losing battle, and they drifted shut as he sighed and moaned in time to Chris' movements. His hands clutched convulsively at the bedclothes bunched up beneath him as he fought to stay still and let Chris explore.

A sudden warm and wet sensation curling around the head of his penis had him arching off the bed with a muffled oath. His eyes flew open, settling on Chris' smirking face. His partner bent his head again, his agile tongue darting out to flick along the slit. Since he appeared to be enjoying himself, Sam decided it would be churlish to do anything but let him get on with it. Not to mention the fact that forming a coherent sentence was beyond his current capabilities. The only noises he seemed to be able to make were sighs and groans, and he was becoming almost as vocal as Chris in that respect.

He was unable to keep still for long, the sensations Chris was engendering in him just too intense. When Chris lowered his head and took his length between his lips, his hips jerked involuntarily off the bed, driving himself deeper into Chris' mouth. Chris spluttered slightly and Sam pulled back.

"Sorry," he muttered sheepishly, raising his head to look at his partner. Chris grinned at him.

"S'alright," he replied. "Just need more practice, that's all."

Sam let his head fall back onto the bed. "If you need any volunteers for guinea pigs, just let me know."

Chris chuckled, and moved back up the bed, settling his lean frame against Sam's. "I'll bear that in mind," he murmured softly with a mischievous grin, his eyes bright. His fingers continued to dance lightly over his partner's skin.

Sam grinned back at him before turning the tables once more. It wouldn't do for Chris to have all of the fun. He pinned his laughing partner beneath him, straddling him and holding his hands above his head, enjoying the way that Chris wriggled beneath him. When the American finally gave up, still chuckling, Sam leant in again for another kiss, before pulling back and releasing Chris' hands to run one finger lightly over Chris' lips. And then he went exploring.

Now that he had the freedom to, he spent a long time mapping Chris' frame, memorising the other man, pinpointing the areas of Chris' skin which were the silkiest under his fingertips or where a light touch placed just right made the other man moan. There were a lot of them; Chris appeared to be one large erogenous zone. Finally, Sam took pity on his groaning partner, and lowered his own head to lap at the tip of Chris' leaking erection.

The response was gratifying - Chris arched off the bed with a sharp cry. Sam was prepared for him though, and managed to pull back enough so that he didn't choke as Chris had done. He moved his hands to Chris' hips, holding him firmly down and went to town, licking and sucking at Chris' cock, trying to remember all of the moves his sexual conquests had ever used on him, identifying those he'd enjoyed and attempting to replicate them for his new lover. He sucked Chris' balls into his mouth, one at a time, and laved the sensitive patch of skin behind the base of the American's penis with his tongue. He didn't stop his ministrations until Chris was on the brink of orgasm, the frantic oaths driven from his lover giving him the cue that Chris wouldn't last much longer.

He shook off the desperate fingers clutching his hair and moved back up Chris. He was no more experienced in giving head than the other man, and to be frank had no desire to either humiliate himself or shatter the mood by being gauche enough to choke on the other man's seed. Maybe later. Besides, while Chris tasted wonderful, and that fact had surprised him, it couldn't compare with the taste of the other man's mouth.

Instead he remembered one experience with MacDonald that he'd enjoyed and he wanted to replicate that with Chris. He settled himself between Chris' splayed legs, aligning their erections, and thrust hard against the other man. His eyes drifted shut once more as Chris arched up against him with a long, liquid moan. Oh Christ, it was as good as he remembered. He had wondered if his memory had been playing tricks on him, but this was good.

The attention he'd paid to Chris' member paid dividends, his saliva slicking their movements so that they slid against each other easily, driving harsh sighs out of both of them. Frantic fingers clawed into his hip and shoulder as Chris tried desperately to increase the friction. Finally he settled on wrapping one slim thigh over Sam's hip while his other leg entwined with Sam's. One hand moved up to tangle in Sam's hair and pull his head down for another kiss.

Sam was close to the edge now too. The feel of Chris' erection against his was electric, all fire and steel, and the soft whimpers the American was making even now against his mouth were incredibly erotic. There was nothing fake about them, and the thought that he had that kind of effect on someone was very arousing, made even more so by the fact that said someone was his partner. He could feel the first flutterings in the pit of his stomach signalling the onset of orgasm, and he strove for it, feeling that familiar tightening in his balls as he increased the pace of his thrusts.

Chris beat him to it. His partner threw himself into release with the same abandon as he did everything else, almost dislodging Sam as he bucked and yelled out as his climax hit him. The sudden flood of warmth between them triggered Sam's own climax, even if he wasn't quite as loud about the whole thing as his partner. He slumped against the American, breathing hard, while Chris raised one leaden hand to run it through his hair.

They lay entwined for a few moments, waiting for their heartbeats to slow, the stickiness between them growing cooler. Sam moved first, sliding down his lover once more until his face was level with Chris' groin. Chris raised his head, still struggling for breath, the look on his face confused. With a wicked grin Sam began to lap lightly at their combined essence, cleaning the other man with his tongue. He wanted to see what Chris tasted like, even if it was mingled with the taste of him, since he'd bottled at bringing Chris off in his mouth. As he'd suspected, his lover tasted wonderful.

Chris' flaccid penis twitched beneath his nimble fingers and tongue and he snickered softly, pleased that he could still trigger a response, even a mild one. Chris let his head roll back on his neck with a stifled groan. "You trying to kill me?" he asked.

Sam raised his head and treated him to another grin. "Ah, but what a way to go," he smirked, before turning his attention back to tormenting his lover. Chris groaned again. "You know," added Sam casually, touching the head of Chris' reawakening penis with the tip of his tongue, "we could always have a shower instead."

"No," replied Chris, his voice strained. "That's okay. You just... oh... just keep doing whatever... oh Christ... makes you happy."

Sam chuckled lightly again, his breath puffing over the sensitive skin of the corona and making the American twitch. "Come on," he laughed, slapping Chris' belly lightly. "Shower." Grumbling softly to himself, Chris followed his laughing partner into the bathroom.

~*~

The spring sun struggled through the clouds the next day, shining brightly through a gap in the curtains straight into Curtis' eyes. He cursed softly to himself and tried to roll onto his other side, away from the light. There was something heavy blocking his way, and for a moment he struggled to remember where he was. It was a common reaction in someone who travelled as much as he did and who spent so few nights in his own bed, but what was less common was waking up to find himself with company. In fact, as he finally shuffled around and found himself facing Chris, waking up naked in the same bed as his partner was definitely a first.

Chris was still snoring softly and showed no sign of stirring other than to shuffle closer. It appeared, he thought, trying to extract himself from the other man's limbs without waking him, that in his sleep Chris did a remarkable impression of 'Limpet Boy'. His arm was thrown casually over Sam's chest and, now that Sam had rolled over, his leg was thrown equally casually over Sam's thigh. And judging by the way that Sam was perched on the very edge of the bed, any effort to shuffle away in his sleep had been foiled by Chris following him.

In his own bed he didn't have to contend either with Limpet Boy or with this bright sunlight, and he didn't know how on earth Chris could sleep through it. He thumped the pillows with his fist, trying to make himself comfortable with the intention of going straight back to sleep, but by then he was awake and his bladder was protesting, not helped by Chris' leg pressing on it. It didn't take him long to realise that he stood no chance of dropping off again. A quick glance at his watch confirmed his suspicions. It was six am and they'd have to be up soon anyway. But not yet. Not one for lying in bed when he was awake, he managed to convince himself that his reluctance this morning had to do with the exhaustion triggered by last night's activities and had nothing to do with the sleeping form now entwined with his. Just like he managed to convince himself that the reason that his hand was now stroking lightly through Chris' hair was because he wanted to wake the other man as gently as possible and make his escape to the bathroom and not because he wanted - needed - to touch Chris.

They'd made love again last night and he wasn't so delusional that he could convince himself that it had just been sex. While in the shower Sam had finally given into temptation, falling to his knees in front of his lover and bringing him to orgasm with his mouth. Chris had wanted to return the favour but Sam had been shattered by then, lacking Chris' apparently boundless energy. His partner had finally admitted that one reason for his enthusiasm was that it had indeed been a while since 'he'd been laid' as Sam had put it so eloquently, and he was making up for lost time. The whole conversation had made Sam a little uncomfortable with its underlying implication that the only reason for his abstinence was that Chris had been waiting for him, and he'd been glad to return to the bedroom.

Even there he'd not been allowed a chance to retreat gracefully. Chris had crawled into his own bed and thrown back the covers, both an invitation to Sam and, it felt, an obligation. There'd been no doubt on Chris' part, no hesitation, no suggestion that Sam wasn't welcome or that it had even crossed Chris' mind for one second that perhaps he wouldn't want to be there. And once in Chris' bed, his partner had wrapped his arms around him and snuggled up. Sam was not a snuggler by nature but apparently that hadn't crossed Chris' mind either.

He sighed softly. The final thing Chris had said before dropping off was to ask whether Sam had loved his tutor. Sam had thought about this for a long while, before answering honestly, "I thought I did. For a while." Chris hadn't said anything else, but his arm around Sam's waist had tightened slightly for a moment in sympathy, and then the other man's breathing had evened out as he drifted off to sleep.

Sam hadn't fallen asleep quite so easily, wrestling with the ideas Chris had left him with. Had he loved MacDonald? He wasn't sure. He knew that there had been a hell of a lot of hero-worship thrown in and that the older man had manipulated him ruthlessly, but love? He wasn't sure he'd ever been in love. Even before MacDonald he'd been wary of letting other people too close, and his relationship with his tutor had only aggravated that personality trait. His years with MI6 hadn't helped much either.

The only thing he was sure of was that the first person he'd trusted for a long time was wrapped around him, and his last thought before following Chris into slumber was that it appeared that the American had insinuated himself into his personal life as well as his professional one. It wasn't an entirely unwelcome idea, either last night or now, despite his token mental protests.

By now his bladder was fairly screaming at him, and he had to respond. Grumbling softly he extracted himself from Chris' embrace and stumbled into the bathroom.

By the time he re-emerged, Chris had woken up, and was blinking sleepily at him. "Mornin'," he muttered in his partner's direction. Chris just grunted in reply, not being a morning person at the best of times never mind on only half a night's sleep. "Bathroom's free," Sam added a little obviously. Another grunt. Deciding that he wasn't going to make any headway until Chris had downed several cups of coffee, he concentrated on getting dressed.

When he looked up again, Chris was watching him disappearing beneath his clothes with obvious disappointment. "Hey," he joked, throwing his discarded towel at his partner. "Work first."

Chris pouted. "It's only..." He picked up his watch from the nightstand. "Six forty-five. You can't tell me that we're starting this early. It's not even like we've got anything to go on."

He was sorely tempted, especially since Chris was looking at him with that 'lost puppy' expression on his face. Thankfully for the state of their investigation, breakfast arrived, heralded by a sharp knock on the door. He left Chris devouring toast while he continued dressing, his mind already back to wrestling with their case. He did, however, snag himself a cup of coffee before settling himself in front of his computer to check for any mail. If he'd waited Chris would, no doubt, drink it all. His partner was already making serious inroads into the pot.

The caffeine hit the spot, driving the last vestiges of sleep from his overworked brain as he waited for the messages to download. It took a while - Richards had obviously been busy. He wondered idly whether his industry meant that Rebecca had finally rejected his rather tentative advances or whether someone from typing had had a quiet word. Since that train of thought led him onto wondering what the typing pool would have to say about Chris and him, he cut it off abruptly.

By the time the files had finally transferred to his machine, Chris had finished in the bathroom. Sam scrutinised the file list as his partner came to stand beside him. He glanced up at Chris.

"Did you ask Richards for all of this stuff?"

"Yeah," replied Chris. "Thought it might be useful. You know, any unusual circumstances, anything he could get on Suns of the Earth." He shrugged lightly, still towelling his hair dry. "You never know. Might find a reason Carruthers was so twitchy."

"Hmm," replied Sam, still focused on the file listing and descriptions in Richards' message. "Maybe... And all of this stuff about HunterHarrison?"

His partner shrugged again. "You were right. We shouldn't just concentrate on the relationship between the two men. And it wouldn't be the first time that some conglomerate had decided to get rid of an irritation - permanently. Remember the Rainbow Warrior?"

Sam snorted. "That was the French Government, Chris. Not the chemical industry."

Chris smirked at him. "You obviously haven't heard the same conspiracy theories that I have. 'Sides," he added. "Thought it might keep Richards busy and out of trouble."

Sam smirked back. "With Richards, 'out of trouble' is an unachievable state of being."

"Yep," agreed Chris with a grin. "And talking of keeping busy and out of trouble..." He let one finger drift down Sam's back as his partner leant forward to get a better look at the screen.

Sam gave him a sideways look, his lips twitching. His voice when he spoke, however, rang with innocence. "You want me to print out some of these reports so you can read them without leaning over my shoulder?" He was hard pressed not to blink equally innocently.

Chris grinned at him and leant closer. "I like leaning over your shoulder," he whispered huskily in Sam's ear. "I like it a lot." Sam shuddered slightly as the sensation of Chris breathing in his ear set his nerve endings tingling. "And you know what?" Chris continued. "I think you like it too."

There wasn't a great deal he could say to refute that, since his head had already tilted to the side to allow Chris access to his neck, but he made a last ditch attempt to appear nonchalant anyway. "Oh," he said. "And why would you think that?"

He jumped as Chris' teeth fastened lightly on the juncture of his neck and shoulder, unable to suppress a sigh. Chris suckled there for a long moment, his fingers lightly ghosting over Sam's chest towards his groin where they came to rest on the bulge in Sam's trousers.

"Lucky guess?" he pulled back to ask equally innocently before chuckling slightly and returning his attention to Sam's neck, running his tongue over the sensitive patch of skin beneath Sam's ear.

Sam was beginning to think that work could wait. Chris was right. It wasn't as if they had a lot to go on, after all. And it was a homicide investigation - no victims to save and no pressing reason for getting to it before seven-thirty in the morning. And it would take them a while to plough through what Richards had sent them anyway. He struggled to maintain that train of thought. It was difficult with Chris' mint flavoured breath caressing his skin and his partner's hand pressing lightly but rhythmically on his groin. He was on the point of turning his head to find out if his partner tasted as fresh as he smelt when something on the screen caught his eye. His finger, on automatic pilot, was clicking on the mouse button before he realised it.

When some of the words from the document sank into his lust-addled brain, he froze. His eyes still fixed on the screen he reached up with one hand and sank it into Chris' hair, dragging the other man away from his neck with a sharp jerk.

"Ow," protested his partner with a scowl. "You could just have said you weren't interested."

Sam wasn't listening. "Oh shit," he breathed, his eyes wide. "Oh shit. Oh shit."

"What?" demanded his partner.

"He told me. The bastard told me what he was doing. He bloody boasted about it, and I didn't catch it."

His tone was frantic, and Chris decided that direct action was the only way to go. Spinning Sam's chair around, he placed his hands on both arms and leant his face into Sam's.

"What are you on about, Curtis?"

Sam blinked at him, suddenly remembering that Chris hadn't heard the conversation. He pointed at the screen and let Chris read the words himself, adding a running commentary as the American did so.

"Suns of the Earth are holding protests outside HunterHarrison Chemicals because they're worried about the company releasing pesticides into the environment. But that's not the only thing that HunterHarrison make. I knew the name was familiar. I knew I should know it. They have a defence contract. Very hush hush, but I remember hearing about it when I was with MI6. They make chemical weapons, Chris, or at least the components thereof. And they decommission other chemical weapons, banned ones.

"Suns of the Earth have been protesting outside for eight months. Two months ago, using one of their protests as a cover, someone broke in and stole several containers of a particularly nasty neurotoxin. CI5 were informed although we weren't asked to investigate. Malone asked to be kept up to date on what went on. I should have remembered." He cursed himself softly. He should have remembered, even though CI5 hadn't been asked to investigate. He should have made the connection before now, should have followed the same line of thought as Chris had and paid more attention to what Thompson had been up to instead of getting sidetracked. He went cold when he thought what his oversight might have cost, may still cost.

Chris was trying to get his attention again, his partner's voice sharp and urgent. "And Suns of the Earth were implicated?"

Sam glanced at the screen again. "Not according to this," he replied, scanning the document. "The gist appears to be that some terrorist organisation used the protests as a cover. Suns of the Earth had let the media know what was going on so it wasn't a secret what they were up to. They were doing it for the publicity, after all, so the feeling seems to be that someone just turned the chaos they were causing to their advantage."

Chris was obviously struggling to follow his chain of thought. "So?" he asked, seeking further clarification. With another curse at his own ineptitude, Sam remembered that Chris hadn't been privy to the details of his conversation last night, just catching the tail end of it. He'd meant to tell his partner, but once again he'd allowed himself to be sidetracked.

"Last night Carruthers was complaining about HunterHarrison, about the way they were, quote, poisoning the oceans, and how no-one cared. He said that if someone was pouring that amount of toxin into the drinking water then people would sit up and take notice."

It took Chris a mere second to come to the same conclusion as Sam had. The two men shared a horrified look. "Oh shit indeed," whispered Chris.

Sam broke eye contact first. "We've got to find him," he said. "Find him before he does something stupid."

Chris nodded briefly, dropping the towel and heading for his own phone. "You call Malone," he shot back. "I'll call Smith. Get the police earning their living for a change."

"They must have found something out," muttered Sam, his fingers hitting the fast dial button on his phone. "Thompson and Anderson. That's why they were up there, trying to stop him maybe."

Chris grunted, listening to the ringing on the other end of the line. "They'd have saved us all a lot of trouble if they'd just gone to the cops," he replied dryly.

Sam had to agree with him on that one; inquisitive amateurs were the bane of the lives of all law enforcement agents. This time, however, it looked as though the two men had paid for their error in judgement with their lives. The thought was cut off when his call was answered.

"Sir," he began. "We have a problem..."

~*~

There had been better assignments, thought Keel a little morosely, staring down at the surface of the reservoir seen through the trees where the abandoned Serena bobbed placidly, left there by the police until someone saw fit to claim her. She was a sobering sight, doing nothing to lift his spirits; too much a reminder of the way violence could strike unexpectedly. Chris wasn't the most patient of types even in the best of circumstances, and the fact that he'd been sitting in the same position for several hours waiting for some nutcase to show up wasn't improving his mood.

On the other hand, he thought, glancing at his partner sitting nearby, company could be worse. A lot worse. He could be stuck with Smith for example. He was rapidly coming to the conclusion that the police officer's only two states of mind were rage and fury, at least when she was in the company of CI5 agents.

The police had failed to track Carruthers down. He wasn't at his home, on the Rose Madder or anywhere else obvious, and the police seemed to run out of ideas after exhausting those possibilities. It was Curtis who had suggested that if Carruthers had gone to earth it meant one of two things - he'd gone into hiding to prevent being arrested and had therefore put his plan on hold, or he'd gone to implement his plan. It hadn't taken the two CI5 men long to figure out what he was up to. The canisters stolen from HunterHarrison contained enough toxin to contaminate the drinking water contained within the reservoir for several years, and the current refinement processes used by the local water board wouldn't filter it out. Although the level of contamination would be infinitesimal in terms of parts per million, the level of toxicity involved meant that even in that dilution they could expect a large percentage of the population to become sick and some deaths among the very old, very young or already ill. It was a sobering thought. As Sam had pointed out, when the Camelford case had happened that involved a much smaller reservoir and twenty tons of aluminium sulphate. Here all you needed was a madman with a rucksack and you were screwed. Technology, mused Chris, was a wonderful thing.

In any case, Sam had argued and Chris tended to agree with him, since Carruthers was prepared to kill for his cause staking out the reservoir was as good an idea as any. The police sure as hell hadn't come up with a better idea. Smith hadn't been convinced, but then she wasn't convinced with their theory that Carruthers was responsible for Anderson and Thompson's abrupt shuffles off this mortal coil. Keel was beginning to believe that Smith wouldn't be convinced that the sun was going to rise tomorrow if it was his partner telling her that it would. There was a natural antagonism between the pair of them and he was a little tired of getting stuck in the middle. However, their boss had obviously been busy making phone calls based on the information they'd provided, and many people had discovered this morning that where Malone was concerned his bite was definitely worse than his bark. Among the people he'd bitten was Smith's superior and to the female officer's chagrin she'd been ordered to co-operate - fully.

For a second Chris had thought that Curtis was going to ram her forced capitulation down her throat, but his partner had been remarkably even-handed about the whole thing, mildly offering two extra bodies to help in the surveillance and foregoing any sarcastic comments. Smith had regarded him suspiciously for a long moment and then taken him up on his offer, less than graciously. She'd not even argued when Sam had told her which jetty they'd take, the teams being split up according to where a small vessel could be launched from. There was no other way of covering an entire fifty square miles of man-made lake.

Smith's officers were covering the entrances to the National Park, obviously assuming that if they caught the man at all they'd catch him on the way in. Chris wasn't so sure and he knew his partner shared his doubts. However, Smith seemed convinced of it, and maybe that was why she didn't care where the hell they were as long as they were out of her hair.

Although, thought Chris, slapping his neck, maybe she knew that as well as breeding people hardy 'up North' they bred the midges hardy too, and big, and the spring warmth of the last few days had brought them out in force. He could really do with a can of insect repellent. Preferably a large can, he corrected, swatting at another hungry insect.

Smith had, however, insisted that one Detective Constable Danny Walker accompanied them. The same Danny Walker they'd dealt with both at Anderson's holiday cottage and two days ago on this very shore. Judging by Walker's hangdog expression, Keel was left with the impression that this was less a comment on their abilities than a slap on the wrist for Walker, probably for the heinous crime of actually discussing a case with the agency the police were supposed to be co-operating with. And Sam wondered why he had such a downer on the cops. In fact, about the only redeeming feature of the afternoon so far was that he got to take the mickey out of their companion to his heart's content, Sam's sudden affability towards the police not extending to protecting Danny Walker from his wisecracks.

Sam. Even in his current bad mood the thought of the other man was enough to send a shiver of warmth through him. He couldn't really complain about this case, not when it had resulted in him getting what he had wanted for so long. He still had difficulty believing it. He knew Sam had his doubts - he'd grown very good at reading the other man over the course of their partnership - but in spite of everything that had happened to him Chris Keel was still at heart an optimist. It would work out because it had to and because he wouldn't let it not work out. There was no point in worrying about that, just concentrate on the here and now, which is what he was good at. In fact, if it weren't for the fact that they had company in the form of the less than ebullient Detective Walker, he'd be sorely tempted to try and introduce Sam to the delights of intercourse al fresco, stakeout be damned and flies thrice damned. You needed something to break the monotony of these things after all.

He sighed, scratching absently at his neck again. His partner was looking cool and collected, as per usual. How the man managed to look so unruffled was beyond him. Although, thinking about it, there had been some occasions where Sam had done ruffled and done it very well. Louisiana sprung to mind, when his partner had looked so delicious in scruffy fatigues Chris had been of half a mind to suggest that he sucked on something other than cassava root. If Curtis hadn't been armed he probably would have done.

Another sigh, and Sam was giving him an amused look. His partner shot the morose Walker a quick glance and then shuffled closer. Chris fought down another surge of warmth as his partner's leg came to rest against his. "Think Carruthers will show?" he asked.

Sam shrugged. "Who knows? Gotta show up somewhere, some time. The police have got his house and bo... trawler covered." Chris stifled a chuckle at Sam's automatic correction, but his partner had no such qualms, grinning at him openly. 'See?' his expression seemed to say. 'I'm trying.'

"Okay," Chris laughed. "So we'll get him eventually. So am I right in guessing you picked here because..."

"This is the nearest jetty to where Thompson's corpse was found," Sam completed, still smiling.

"Uh huh," replied Chris. "That's what I figured." His partner shrugged, turning his attention back to the still waters of the reservoir.

"Well, it's entirely possible that Thompson launched the Serena somewhere different, and Carruthers knocked him unconscious there and brought him here to drown, to throw us off the track."

"Not really likely, though," objected Chris mildly.

"No," agreed Sam thoughtfully. "He seems like an arrogant son of a bitch. Too arrogant to think that he'd get caught. Why else would he boast about it to me?" It was Chris' turn to shrug. "You do realise," Sam continued quietly, "that if he hadn't we wouldn't have a bloody clue what he was up to?"

Chris understood his partner's mood completely. If Sam hadn't figured out what was going on, and Chris still wasn't sure how he'd done that although by now he should be used to his partner's sudden intuitive leaps, Carruthers would have been left to carry out whatever dark deed he was planning completely unhindered. Even now there was no guarantee that they would catch the man before he harmed anyone, and the thought sent chills through him, displacing any warmth Sam's touch had created. Although stopping people like Carruthers was the reason he'd joined CI5, it still wasn't easy to accept that they just didn't have the resources to prevent all such atrocities. The good guys didn't always win, the bad guys didn't wear black hats, not all was right with the world at the end of the day and accepting that never got any easier. The idea that Carruthers may still win derailed Chris' improving mood, sending him spiralling back down into the doldrums.

Sam also seemed a little subdued now, although whether he was thinking about Carruthers or something else, Chris couldn't tell. His leg still pressed lightly against his partner's though, and it was an odd source of comfort. He couldn't stay down for long when he had the thought of last night to keep him cheerful. Maybe it wasn't enough to cheer Sam up. His partner was staring down through the trees onto the surface of the reservoir, his face still thoughtful and his eyes a stormy grey; the same colour as the water that even now the wind was whipping up into small peaks. Chris reached out one hand and touched Sam's wrist lightly.

"We'll get him," he murmured quietly.

Startled out of his reverie, Sam looked up into his partner's bright blue eyes. As usual, the American seemed to be reading his mind, knowing instinctively what to say. It was a trait he'd always admired in his partner, and he felt a sneaking relief that things, while they couldn't be said to be back to normal between them, at least had improved dramatically if a little unorthodoxly.

A sign of how things had changed between them, whether for the better or not it was too early to tell Sam thought a little pessimistically, was the fact that Chris' fingers lingered on his wrist a little longer than necessary, and when the other man finally withdrew them it was with a feather-light caress across the surface of his skin. He found his eyes darting instinctively towards Walker to make sure that the police officer didn't notice anything amiss. However, the man seemed to be sulking from what he could tell, having barely spoken to the pair of them since Smith had rather peremptorily sent him trailing after them like a little lost puppy dog, not even rousing himself to respond to Chris' jibes. It would have been amusing if it hadn't been so bloody irritating. And while he had a nagging sympathy for the policeman, he wasn't about to go head to head with Smith over it, not now that the woman was finally co-operating.

And talking of co-operating...

"Hey Walker," he called softly. "Get on that thing will ya, and find out what the hell is happening."

The 'thing' Sam was referring to was Walker's headset. Smith hadn't seen fit to issue the CI5 agents with a set, and so they were heavily dependent on Walker keeping them up to date with what, if any, developments were afoot. And it seemed to be about all the officer was good for, even if he did it with bad grace.

True to form, Walker pulled on his headphones with a sigh audible even from that distance, and Sam stifled a chuckle, more successfully than his partner who was sniggering out loud. With a filthy look at the pair of them, Walker called in to the temporary command centre.

"I'm glad he came," said Chris in a voice pitched just loud enough to carry to Walker, rubbing it in. "He's just so useful, I don't know what we'd do without him."

"I know," replied Sam with a grin, deciding to play along for once. "He's such a treasure. No wonder DS Smith can hardly bear to be parted from him." He returned Walker's furious look with mock innocence, listening to Chris still sniggering beside him.

Walker tore off his headset and glared at the two agents. "Nothin's going on," he all but snarled. "No sign of Carruthers at all. I'm goin' to take a piss."

"TMI," murmured the American in his ear, as they watched the Newcastle man stalk off. Sam felt a brief pang of guilt. It wasn't Walker's fault that they were stuck here on stakeout, and it was rather petty to take it out on the man just because the evening was drawing in and it was turning chilly. He opened his mouth to suggest to his partner that they went a little easier on him when he caught sight of movement through the trees.

It could have been anyone, but some sixth sense had him grabbing his partner's arm, squeezing it to keep Chris quiet and nodding urgently towards the lakeshore. Chris also leant forward, his lips parted, peering in the direction Sam was nodding towards. After a long moment passed and he saw nothing he turned towards Sam, frowning slightly, obviously wondering whether his partner had lost his mind.

There. Again - through the trees. Another movement, the same shape Sam had spotted only a minute earlier and this time Chris saw it too. Sam could determine that much by the way he felt Chris' arm tense under his hand. A tall, broad, dark clad figure was moving down towards the small jetty where the Serena was moored. It could have been a tourist or an innocent passer-by but the build was Carruthers and something about the furtive way the figure was moving tripped every single one of Sam's internal alarms.

Sam gestured out to the side, indicating that they split up and head down towards the reservoir. His partner picked up on his cue immediately and nodded briefly, moving swiftly away and keeping low to the ground to avoid being spotted.

Sam headed out in the other direction, intending to catch whoever was down there in a pincer movement. There was no sign of Walker, and Sam was torn between praying that the man wouldn't turn up and bugger this up and hoping that the detective hadn't run into anything he couldn't handle. It shouldn't be taking him this long to relieve himself after all. Maybe he'd just gotten pissed off with being the butt of Chris' jokes and gone for a nice long sulk.

It didn't take him long, however, to figure out exactly what had happened to the young detective, not when he almost tripped over him. It appeared that Detective Walker had already encountered their mysterious figure, his mute corpse testimony to the lengths Carruthers was willing to go to for his cause. His throat had been slit, one long jagged gash across his trachea running from one ear almost down to his opposite shoulder, and looking at the ragged edges of the cut it had taken some force to do that. There was no sign of a struggle; the man hadn't stood a chance. Carruthers must have caught him completely unawares and cut his throat from behind.

Sam pushed his revulsion and pity for the policeman deep inside. There was nothing he could do for him now. He drew his weapon, creeping forward on almost silent feet. The forest was still; the only sounds he could hear were the soft lapping of the waves on the shore, thrown up by some pleasure craft out in the distance, and the thud-thud of his own heart as the adrenaline started to pump. He lived for moments like this.

There was no sign of Chris, but he knew that the American would be moving through the undergrowth even more silently than he. His partner was part cat, after all, one of the few people who could creep up on Sam himself. He'd be there when Sam needed him.

Sam had almost reached the lake now, the jetty clearly in sight. There was no sign of Carruthers - where the hell was he? They'd been expecting him, if he showed up at all, to have rented or provided his own transport, but the Serena was alone, no other vessel in sight. Surely he wouldn't be so arrogant...

He would. Crouching down, Sam could see movement on her deck. He couldn't see him clearly, not when the man was obscured by the Serena's billowing white sail, and although he could vaguely make out the shape behind the cloth, a shadow thrown against the material by the setting sun, distorted as it was by the angle there was no guarantee that it was Carruthers and not some opportunistic thief. A thief, Curtis reminded himself sharply, who'd just slit someone's throat.

From what Sam could tell of the build, however, it was consistent with the American. He tightened his grip on his weapon, inching closer, his breath catching in his throat as he struggled not to make a sound. They needed Carruthers alive, if possible, at least long enough to tell them where he'd hidden the toxin. After that... Sam's fist clenched around the butt of his gun, remembering Walker's wide and sightless eyes staring up at the sky.

It happened so fast that Sam was unable to react in time. His partner appeared at the other side of the jetty, his gun levelled at the figure, and the sharp crack of a shot rang out. He watched in disbelief as his partner crumpled to the ground, his face covered with blood. His first urge was to fire at Chris' assailant and he did so, his shots ripping through the heavy sail, tearing ragged holes wide of his target. His second urge was to get to his partner as quickly as possible and he struggled not to give into that, knowing it would sign his death warrant and possibly Chris' if his partner was still alive.

"I suggest, Mr Curtis," Carruthers' voice carried clearly across the water, "that you drop your weapon. I have your partner covered and as you've probably realised by now, I'm not afraid to use violence if I have to."

Sam's grief and rage boiled up within him. "I thought you bastards had a non-violent agenda!" he snarled.

Carruthers chuckled lowly. "Suns of the Earth may have, Mr Curtis, but it's not a view I share. The ends justify the means, after all. Now come around here where I can see you, or I might just decide to make sure that your partner is out of action - permanently."

Fighting down the bile that thought brought to his throat, Sam followed those instructions, his eyes never leaving Chris' still form. He was too far away to tell if his friend was breathing, and the temptation to just go to him was almost overwhelming.

Carruthers wasn't that accommodating. "Stop. Right there." Sam did so, his eyes still fixed on Chris. "Your gun. Throw it to me."

He finally looked towards Carruthers, his face a mask of cold fury. It had no effect on the American who merely chuckled. Crouched down so that the side of the boat protected him, his bearded face was almost hidden by the hood of his black jacket, but his eyes sparkled with malevolent amusement, with no sign of the affable host now. His eyes also seemed quite mad, and Sam wondered dully whether he was only noticing that now because Carruthers had been so adept at hiding it previously or because he was only now aware of what the man was capable of.

Carruthers gestured with his own weapon towards Chris again, his intention obvious, and the amusement sliding from his face rapidly. His expression now was almost as cold as Sam knew his own would be.

"I won't ask you again, Curtis."

Left with no choice, Sam threw his gun onto the Serena's deck. Without taking his eyes from the CI5 agent, Carruthers' picked it up and threw it over the gunwale where it landed in the water with a loud plop, useless now even if Sam did by some miracle manage to retrieve it.

"I need to see to my partner," Sam said.

Carruthers gave another unpleasant grin. "I'm sure you do," he replied smoothly, giving Sam the urge to smash the glee off his face. Carruthers' grin disappeared as rapidly as it had arrived, and his expression turned cold again. "Stay where you are, or your partner won't be the only one on the receiving end."

Sam's tone turned glacial. "I'm going to see to my partner," he stated baldly. "Do what the hell you want."

He walked towards Chris, all of the time expecting to feel the tearing agony of bullets lancing into his flesh. But he couldn't not go to his partner any more than he could voluntarily stop breathing. He didn't care if Carruthers shot him; he had to know if Chris was alive.

He fell to his knees beside Chris' form, reaching out with a hand that shook despite his best efforts not to give Carruthers the satisfaction. The relief he felt when he realised that Chris was breathing was more intense than anything he'd ever felt in his life - more even, than Richmond when Chris had turned up safe and sound from the organ collectors' clutches.

He touched Chris' face gently, and his partner moaned and twitched under his hand. There was an ugly gash in Chris' forehead, over his left eye and running into the hairline where the bullet had grazed its path. Chris' eyelids fluttered slightly but he didn't regain consciousness. The blood from his wound ran sluggishly over his face, turning it into a macabre mask. It was no wonder that Sam had believed him dead.

"How touching." Carruthers' voice cut through Sam's relief like a knife, the muscles in his back tightening as the tension in his spine racked up again. "Mind you, Ben told me that the pair of you were close. Didn't really believe him though. I have to admit that I thought he was just trying to put Caroline off you."

Sam turned his head slowly back towards Carruthers, struggling to keep his face expressionless while his mind raced, searching for a way to get his partner and himself out of this mess. Long practice kept him from reacting when Carruthers squeezed lightly on the trigger, the dark maw of the gun aiming straight for the Englishman. "I don't suppose you'd care to tell me what you plan to do with us?" he asked evenly.

His calmness drew a reluctant admiring twitch of the lips out of their captor. "You're cool, Curtis," Carruthers replied. "I'll give you that, even if you do appear to think you're in a Bond movie. What do you expect? That I'll tell you my plan so that you can foil it just in time to save the day?"

Sam shrugged slightly. "I already know your plan," he said, his voice still steady despite the weapon aimed in his direction and the instability of the man who wielded it. "You used the Suns of the Earth protestors as a cover while you staged a raid on HunterHarrison Chemicals. I should imagine that your military training came in very handy then. You stole several canisters of a particularly nasty toxin and you're planning to take your revenge on a cruel and uncaring world by killing lots of innocent women and children in an incredibly cowardly fashion."

Carruthers face darkened ominously. "I'm doing this to save the world, not hurt her!" he thundered.

"Of course you are," replied Sam with obviously fake sincerity. "You and every other nutcase who's ever harmed another for a cause."

Carruthers finger tightened infinitesimally on the trigger and Sam tensed again. He wanted the other man off guard, not driven over the edge, although what he'd do with the advantage he had once he had it he hadn't quite figured out yet. "So," he said, stalling for time. "Am I in the right ball park?"

Carruthers gave a quick bark of laughter, his mood changing mercurially. His eyes were still fixed on Sam's face. "I guess CI5 do want the best," he said, shaking his head approvingly. "Cool under pressure. Well, I guess you deserve an answer. Yes, I'm planning to use the chemicals I stole from HunterHarrison to make a statement. By the time I'm done here today, they'll be out of business. If the adverse publicity doesn't finish them off, the lawsuits will."

"The police know about you, Carruthers. They'll know where the blame lies."

"True," admitted the American. "But questions will be asked about why HunterHarrison was holding such dangerous chemicals in a plant near a residential area, and why they didn't take steps to prevent a 'nutcase', as you so eloquently put it, like me from getting anywhere near it. The end result will be the same."

Sam had to admit that Carruthers was probably right there. The end result would be the same. No matter where the finger of blame would eventually come to rest, there would be a lot of people who died or who were made seriously ill, although Carruthers didn't seem to be factoring that into the equation.

"Where is it?" he asked softly. He wasn't sure whether Carruthers was going to answer but the man didn't disappoint him. As he'd told Chris, Carruthers was an arrogant son of a bitch.

"Here," he replied smugly.

"On the Serena?"

By way of an answer Carruthers reached down with his free hand, the gun in his other hand never wavering from its target and flipped up one of the Serena's hard benches, pulling out a small metal canister, one of almost two dozen that Sam knew had gone missing from the chemical plant, from the storage area beneath it. It looked innocuous but Sam knew the truth. It was potentially deadly - a concentrated contaminant.

"And Thompson and Anderson figured out what you were up to?"

"You're stalling, Agent Curtis," snapped out Carruthers. "It won't help, you know." Sam ignored the warning.

"See, I can figure out how you killed Anderson. You called by his house, probably told him you wanted to talk things over before they went too far. And then you shoved some drugs into his drink; enough to kill him anyway but just to make sure you went one further, making it look like suicide. What, did you know about him and Thompson and figured that once the police figured that out they'd figure he killed himself?" Carruthers watched him with narrowed eyes but said nothing.

"Thompson, however, that's more difficult. Not killing him, no. That part was easy. You just hit him over the head with the boom and threw him overboard to drown. But what did you do to get that close to him? He was expecting Anderson, so it must have been a shock when you turned up. He was suspicious, right? He was the one who figured out what you were up to. Did you tell him that you'd reconsidered, that you'd come to your senses and that you'd take him to where you'd stored the poison?"

"Very clever, Curtis. But you're still stalling, and I'm growing tired of it. Time's up."

But Sam had bought all of the time he needed. Even as he'd been setting out how Carruthers had carried out his plan, he'd felt Chris move slightly under his fingertips, and knew that his partner had regained consciousness and was listening to every word he said. As soon as Carruthers delivered his pronouncement, Sam swung smoothly out of the way and Chris brought his gun up. Unlike his fellow American he didn't miss, his shot going clean through Carruthers' head.

"'Bout time you woke up, Sleeping Beauty," gasped Sam falling back onto his rear, the adrenaline surge through him leaving him almost breathless. "Thought I'd have to do all the work myself, as per usual. You okay?"

Chris gave him a sarcastic look. "Oh, I'm just dandy," he replied rubbing the blood out of his eye.

Sam could only assume that sarcasm was a good sign, but he wouldn't be totally reassured until he got his partner checked out by someone medically qualified. "If you wait here," he said, hauling himself to his feet, "I'll go and see if I can find Walker's headset. He's dead, by the way."

Chris grunted. "Thought he might be when the shooting didn't bring him running."

Sam made a noncommittal sound. "Anyway, I'll have the cavalry here as soon as I can. Stay here. Let's get this wrapped up, so we can go home. Don't know about you, but I could definitely use a stiff whiskey and a nice soft bed."

Chris grimaced and he brought his left hand up to gingerly touch his injured head. "Not tonight, dear," he said. "I've got a headache."

~*~

Sam Curtis hated hospitals with a passion that nearly bordered on the psychopathic. He, however, paled in comparison to his partner. Not only did Chris loathe hospitals even more than the Englishman, but he also wasn't shy about vocalising his dislike. It was only the threat from Sam that if Chris didn't get himself checked out forthwith that he, Sam, would make him, Chris, write the entire report for this case on his own. Without any input from Sam. At all. And that included checking it for typos. He'd also make damn sure Malone knew exactly why that particular misspelled and tattered item had turned up on his desk rather than the neatly typed, double spaced and joy to read report he'd been expecting.

He wasn't sure whether it was the threat of having to actually write the damned thing or Malone's reaction on receiving it that got Chris into the ambulance, and to be frank he didn't care as long as it worked. Now that the adrenaline rush had worn off completely, he'd been too drained to do more than give the most brief of verbal reports to Smith, who'd turned up with her entourage en masse. He'd been torn between going with Chris in the ambulance or staying to ensure that the toxins were removed safely. Duty had won out, and he'd watched the ambulance pull away with mixed feelings. Of course, that left him to Smith's tender mercies, and it had been a very uncomfortable interview while the grieving police officer had ripped into him about Walker. In fact, it had been an intense relief to get away, even if it was to a hospital.

By the time he'd arrived and located his errant partner, Chris had already been x-rayed and now they were awaiting the results while the on-duty neurologist examined Chris. He was still there now. Sam wondered what was taking so long and prayed it wasn't bad news. More than likely, though, it was down to his partner being less than co-operative, so he shouldn't panic. Instead, he placed his head in his hands and let the exhaustion he was feeling wash over him. While he'd been in more dangerous situations before and he'd come out of them feeling less traumatised than he was feeling now, rationally he knew that the exhaustion and nausea he was feeling were due to shock - the shock of believing that his partner was dead, shot through the head by a madman. It shook him to the core when he realised how close he'd come to losing Chris, and how utterly lost that idea made him feel. It wasn't just that he couldn't imagine life without his partner; it was just that he couldn't imagine living. Not without the brash American there to torment and tease him, to back him up when the going got tough, to jolly him along when things got too intense and to love him.

His mind still balked at that thought, but he was too tired and shaken to battle the idea for long. He settled for deciding that Chris loved him and he loved Chris but while it wasn't exactly a brotherly love it was worlds away from being in love. That was all the rationalisation he was capable of at the moment and so he locked the idea away in a corner of his complicated but overtired mind and settled for simply not thinking about anything.

The sound of feet shuffling on the drab linoleum floor of the hospital corridor finally got his attention, and he looked up into DS Smith's face. His first thought was one of 'not again', and he retained just enough self-awareness to be ashamed of his reaction. He didn't know whether Smith and Walker had been close, but regardless of that it was never easy to lose a colleague. Sam had lost enough in his career to be intimately acquainted with that fact. And when part of you blamed yourself, it was even worse. He still felt regret about Wilmot's demise when he'd assigned his colleague to watch over Carl Dietrich, and from the look on Smith's face she was undergoing a similar process of self-recrimination.

For a long moment the two law enforcement officers stared at each other, neither saying anything, and then Smith looked away, clearing her throat self-consciously. "How's your partner?" she asked cautiously.

"Fine," replied Sam almost warily. He gestured towards the curtained cubicles at the end of the corridor. "They're checking him out now, but there doesn't seem to be any permanent damage."

"He's lucky."

Sam permitted himself a small chuckle. "That's our Chris," he replied. "He's one lucky son of a bitch."

They fell into another awkward silence, still watching each other warily. This time Sam was the first one to speak.

"I'm sorry about Walker," he said softly, his eyes never leaving the policewoman's face.

She nodded briefly, her teeth chewing on her lower lip as she tried to keep the façade in place. "Yeah," she replied, equally softly. "It's never easy to..."

Sam gave an understanding nod. "No," he agreed quietly, "it isn't."

She pulled herself together, and said, more firmly, "I'm sorry I had a go at you back in the Park. It was uncalled for, and I apologise."

She had guts, Sam had to give her that. "There's no need to apologise," he replied. "Under the circumstances it was perfectly understandable." When she made a half-angry, half-dismissive gesture, he overruled her, continuing, "If the positions had been reversed, I would sure as hell have had a go at you. In fact, for a while there..."

His voice trailed off as the memory of Chris' bloodstained face re-emerged. He couldn't quite suppress a shudder, and to cover it, he made his tone brisk, asking, "Is there something else I can do for you, Sergeant Smith?"

For a second it looked as though she was going to take offence at his tone, but she seemed to grab onto her temper with supreme effort. "No," she replied mildly. "I just thought that I'd pop in and see how your partner was doing." Perhaps the ice maiden had a heart after all. Sam struggled to find something to say, but once again Smith beat him to it. "We had to bring Walker in to the Coroner's," she explained, her voice subdued. "So..."

She hadn't wanted him to come in alone, he realised, accompanying her subordinate's corpse in an odd mark of respect. The gesture, unusually, touched him, and left him struggling even more for some words of comfort that wouldn't sound trite. "I'm sorry," he said again, his voice sincere.

She looked at him guardedly for a moment, and then her shoulders slumped slightly. "I know," she replied quietly, and then she gave herself a little mental shake. "Life goes on," she added briskly, although Sam wasn't fooled. "That was good work, figuring out what Carruthers was up to. How'd you do it?"

There was no accusation in her tone, no suggestion this time that they'd had access to information and hadn't shared. The praise, although grudging, was genuine.

Sam shrugged lightly. "Chris," he replied succinctly. "He figured out that no-one was looking at HunterHarrison because everyone was focused on Anderson's supposed suicide. Next to an MP, I guess the activities of an environmentalist didn't really rate. Once we knew what Suns of the Earth were up to, and that certain toxic chemicals had gone missing, it wasn't hard to start to get the picture." Smith was nodding thoughtfully. "And then something Carruthers said to me, that didn't really register at the time, just clicked."

"Teamwork, then?" she asked, showing some real interest for the first time instead of going through the motions.

"Yep."

She was still watching him intently. "Your partner seems like a smart man," she said, more a statement than a question.

"He is," Sam confirmed, less surprised by the observation than the source. She nodded thoughtfully again.

"I suppose," she added cautiously, with a sidelong glance at Sam, "that I should get his report too, for completeness sake."

Sam frowned slightly. "You know that you'll have a copy of our official report, don't you?"

"Yes," she replied hurriedly. "But it wouldn't do any harm to talk to him." While Sam stared at her, confused, she fished out a small business card from her handbag. "Give him that would you? The office number is on the front." She hesitated. "My home number's on the back - I know what odd hours you people work."

So that was the way the wind was blowing. Sam reached up wordlessly and took the proffered card. Smith looked away, slightly flustered. "Well," she said briskly, "I'd better be going. I have three homicides and a fatal shooting to deal with."

For a long time after she'd gone Sam examined the card, turning it over and over in his hand, staring first at the bold typeface on the front and then the hand scrawled number on the back. And then he tore it up into very small pieces and dumped it in the cigarette bin next to him.

He may not be in love with his partner but he'd be damned if he was sharing the man with anyone else.

~*~

When Sam was finally summoned into the inner sanctum of the treatment room he was unsurprised to find that Chris was being his normal uncooperative self. The x-rays had some back fine - his partner's skull was not fractured - but given that he'd taken a blow to the head and had lost consciousness the A&E senior house officer on duty wanted to keep Chris in overnight for observation. Concussion was a very real threat.

"I did not lose consciousness," Chris protested hotly, looking to his partner for support. He didn't get it.

"You lost consciousness," confirmed Sam firmly.

"I was playing possum!"

"You were doing a bloody good job of it then. You had me fooled."

The glare Chris gave him would have melted steel. "I am not staying in this goddamned hospital overnight! I'll sign myself out."

"I really wouldn't advise that, Mr Keel," interjected the rather harassed doctor. "You can't be too careful with a head wound."

Sam had every sympathy for the overworked medic, but knew that arguing with Chris when he was in this mood would only result in headaches all round. "The x-rays came back clear?" he asked, more to focus the doctor's mind than because he needed any clarification. The relief he'd felt when he'd heard it meant that the fact was engraved on his mind.

"Yes," admitted the doctor.

"And his reactions are normal - no sluggishness, no dizziness, no overt sensitivity to light?"

"Yes." The doctor was scowling at him and Sam knew, just knew, that any second now the man was going to make some snide remark about medical qualifications. He cut him off before he had a chance.

"You're not going to be able to keep him in," he stated calmly. "You may have noticed that he's as stubborn as a mule and currently has the pleasant personality to match." Chris' scowl deepened but Sam ignored him. "Bring us the forms to sign and I'll get him out of your hair."

The doctor opened his mouth to protest again, and once again Sam anticipated the objection. "I'll keep a very close eye on him," he promised. "Wake him up every fifteen minutes for the first couple of hours, then hourly, then two hourly. Any sign of dizziness, nausea, slow to wake or any other adverse reaction and I'll bring him straight back, at gunpoint if necessary."

The doctor snorted. "You've done this before."

"Let's just say," replied Sam with a rueful expression, "that I know the drill."

It didn't seem to mollify the doctor, but he was wise enough to recognise a lost cause when he saw one. Besides, it was Saturday night and the pubs were turning out. A&E was growing more and more busy and he really could do without belligerent CI5 agents tying up one of the cubicles. With a curt nod he went to see to some more grateful patients, leaving one of the nurses to deal with the required paperwork and see that Chris got his prescription of antibiotics for his wound and instructions on how to keep it clean.

Chris was almost bouncing with the relief when they finally were allowed to leave the rapidly filling up casualty department. Sam wished he could share his partner's enthusiasm, but he would have been easier in his own mind if he'd been able to persuade his partner to stay in overnight. However, the words 'snowballs', 'chance' and 'hell' sprang to mind. He steered his companion to the car, insisted he belt up and set about driving back to the hotel.

Once they were actually in the car, Chris' energy started to wane and Sam could only conclude that his headache must be hitting in force. His partner did find enough energy to apologise for leaving Sam to deal with the mess left in Carruthers' wake.

"It's okay," Sam replied gently.

"You mean Smith didn't tear you a new one?"

"Yep, but she has nothing on Malone. I reckon if you can survive one of Malone's dressing downs you can survive anything." Chris just grunted. "Besides, she actually apologised afterwards."

Chris looked at him sceptically. "Really?"

"Really," he confirmed. "She came by while you were in having your head examined - and about time I should say. She came in when they brought in Walker." Another grunt, all the response he appeared to be getting out of the American at the moment. He felt a brief pang of guilt at remembering her card, and quashed it ruthlessly.

It didn't take them long to get back to the hotel, since as the nearest hospital to the east side of Northumberland National Park with an A&E department open 24 hours a day was actually back in Newcastle, that's where Chris had been transported to. Which was convenient now, even if Sam had been concerned earlier at the delay until Chris could be checked out. Still, Chris had gone much longer without medical attention before - Africa sprang to mind.

However, despite that, Sam was still concerned when his partner slumped against the wall of the lift, his eyes closed, a frown gracing his face. With supreme effort he bit back on his automatic 'are you okay' question, knowing that in his current mood Chris was just as likely to have a go at him for fussing as answer the question. Besides, Sam knew that if he did reply the answer would be a less than honest 'fine'.

He managed to hold his tongue until they reached the room, watching wordlessly as his partner sat on the bed and pulled his shoes off, not even commenting when Chris hurled them into the corner in his usual haphazard manner.

"Why don't you try an get some sleep?" he asked.

"With you waking me up every fifteen minutes?" Chris exclaimed, a little bitterly. Sam shrugged.

"Well, Chris, you had the choice of me or a pretty nurse. Your call."

"I'd rather have you," replied his partner softly, turning intense blue eyes on him. Sam swallowed convulsively.

"Just get some sleep," he replied, equally softly. "I'll wake you up when I need to." Chris said nothing, just nodding briefly, exhaustion and pain evident in his expression. His fingers came up and started to fumble with the buttons on his shirt. Taking pity on him Sam moved in to assist, efficiently stripping Chris down to his underwear without even a token protest from his partner. When he finished and stood in front of Chris, the American suddenly wrapped his arms around Sam's waist and rested his head against Sam's chest. The Englishman felt his heart lurch in his chest and before he knew it, one arm was wrapped about Chris' shoulders while his free hand gently carded through the other man's hair. With superhuman effort he resisted the impulse to kiss the top of Chris' head.

"Okay?" he asked softly. The only answer was Chris nodding, the movement rubbing the American's cheek against Sam's shirt. With a sigh, happy or unhappy Sam couldn't tell, Chris pulled back, lifting his head to meet Sam's eyes, his own unreadable.

Sod it. Giving in to the impulse Sam leant down and placed a gentle kiss on his partner's forehead. "Sleep," he said firmly. With a rueful half-grin, Chris lay down, pulling the covers up to his neck and keeping his eyes focused on his partner. Eventually he drifted off, looking very young in the dim light from the lamp on the dressing table.

When he was sure that the younger man was, indeed, asleep, Sam sighed and ran his hands through his own hair. He'd have more grey hairs after today's little escapade, he was sure of it. Since he had to stay awake for the next couple of hours in order to keep checking on Chris, he decided that he might as well get on with his report, especially as the case had resulted in not only the demise of the suspect but that of an assisting officer. He could hear Malone screaming from here.

The decision made, he plugged in his laptop and switched it on.

~*~

It was close to four a.m. before he'd got the briefing notes for Malone the way he wanted. He'd have to finish the full report later but this at least gave their boss all of the information he needed, albeit in rough form. The man couldn't expect more than that for the moment - well, of course he could and no doubt would but he wasn't going to get it. The situation was no longer urgent, Carruthers safe in the morgue and the deadly little canisters safely in custody, and after almost 24 hours awake Sam was flagging.

For the first two hours he'd checked on Chris every fifteen minutes almost religiously, despite his partner's grumbling. For the last couple of hours he'd checked on him hourly and now he was prepared to reduce it further to every other hour. Which, of course, meant he'd also be able to get some sleep. He needed it. No matter what he told his partner about pacing yourself there was a limit to how long you could do that for.

He undressed, folding his clothes neatly and placing them next to Chris', which with ingrained habit he'd also folded neatly. He leant over his partner one last time before succumbing to the lure of his own bed, shaking him awake. "Chris?" After a long moment, the American's eyes fluttered open and Chris squinted up at him. Sam checked his pupils and was relieved by what he saw and by the fact that his partner focused on him clearly. "How many fingers am I holding up?" he asked.

"Three," Chris replied. "How many am I holding up?"

"Very funny. I see you're back on form."

"Yep. Now piss off and let me get back to sleep."

Sam bit back on a snort of laughter. "Good idea," he replied good-naturedly. Chris raised himself up on his elbow and peered at him in the dim light.

"What time is it?" he asked.

"About four-ish I think."

"Have you gotten any sleep yet?"

Sam gave another brief laugh. "Not yet. And aren't I supposed to be looking after you and not the other way around?"

"Said who?" asked the American a little belligerently. Sam shrugged, not offended by his partner's tone.

"You're the one who's hurt, Chris. You can look after me next time I get shot in the head, I promise."

His partner gave him a searching look and then, never taking his eyes off Sam's face, shuffled back on the bed, throwing back the covers in a blatant invitation. "You might as well get in, Curtis. Especially if you're going to insist on waking me up in another couple of hours."

Sam dithered slightly, glancing over at his own, untouched bed before looking back to meet Chris' even gaze. It didn't take long for him to give in; the borderline anxiety in Chris' eyes, apparent even in the dim light, tugging him into movement before he was aware of it. He told himself that it was because Chris was right - if he was going to wake the man up every couple of hours he might as well arrange it so he could do it without getting out of bed himself - but even as he rationalised it he knew he was lying to himself.

As soon as he lay down, Chris was wrapped around him, settling himself against Sam's chest with a happy sigh. Limpet Boy strikes again, he thought ruefully, ignoring the fact that he was wrapping himself around Chris equally happily.

~*~

Once more, it was the sun shining through the window that woke him up, although this time Chris wasn't wrapped around him and there was no pressing need to get up. He sank back into the pillows with a contented sigh, aware that there was no urgency to get up and face the day, and luxuriating in the knowledge. He was still a little tired, although much better for a few hours sleep, even a disturbed few hours. He'd woken Chris up at six a.m. and eight a.m. and now...

Glancing at the alarm clock he was startled to realise it was almost eleven and the alarm hadn't gone off. Chris... shit! He sat up, heart pounding, to find himself alone in the bed. Where the hell...?

"Mornin' sleeping beauty." His partner poked his head around the bathroom door. "How are you feeling?"

"I'd feel better," snapped Sam, unaccountably annoyed by the worry the other man had caused, "if you didn't insist on scaring the hell out of me!"

His partner was put out by his tone he didn't show it, grinning at him cheerfully. "Not my fault you could have slept through a hurricane this morning. I did think about waking you, but I thought you could use the sleep."

Sam just grunted, giving his partner a thorough looking over. Chris' eyes were bright this morning, although not unnaturally so, and his colour was back. In fact, he looked positively chirpy, the only sign that anything was amiss was the small, clean, crisp white bandage taped to his forehead. Before he could comment Chris interjected, "If you ask me how many fingers you're holding up, I'll get aggressive."

Sam finally gave an answering grin before his expression turned serious again. "How's your head this morning?"

Chris' grin turned positively wicked. "Why don't we find out?"

Sam flushed slightly as his partner's meaning dawned on him. "I'm serious," he tried again.

"Seriously?" Chris came out of the bathroom and settled himself on the edge of the bed, and Sam suppressed the surge of disappointment he felt on realising that his partner was fully dressed. "I feel fine. No nausea, no dizziness, no problems with balance. Nada. I don't even have a headache anymore," he added hopefully, bringing one hand up to rest lightly on Sam's knee hidden beneath the covers.

Sam raised one disbelieving eyebrow. "Really?" Chris treated him to a flash of dimples, and Sam found himself, reluctantly, returning them.

"Uh-huh," affirmed his partner. "And I called Malone - he got your notes by the way - and told him that we were intending to stick around for the rest of the day in case Smith had any questions for us."

"Oh, did you now?" By now Sam was openly amused by the American's plotting, even if the mention of Smith made him shift uncomfortably. On second thoughts, perhaps that was a result of Chris slowly moving his hand up his leg.

"Yep. And I also pointed out that since you hadn't managed to finish the notes for him until four a.m., perhaps it was asking a little much to expect you to be ready for a six hour drive so soon."

"Is that so?" Sam parted his legs slightly, letting Chris' hand move even further towards its goal.

"Yep. And of course, I pointed out that I wasn't fit to drive back, what with the slightly blurred vision and all."

"And he fell for that?"

"Uh-huh." Chris paused to give him another beaming grin. "And of course, since we haven't yet checked out, and we need to by eleven..." He glanced at the clock, which was now reading five past. "... That means that we have to pay for the room anyway. So it would do both of us good to spend the day in bed."

Sam laughed again. "You have it all planned out, don't you?"

That earned him another grin from his partner. "I hope so. Can you think of anything I've overlooked?"

"Breakfast?" asked Sam hopefully.

"Already had mine, and the dining room is closed."

"Damn."

"However..." Chris pulled a napkin from his pocket like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, unwrapping it to reveal a couple of Danish pastries. "Ta da!"

Sam looked at them suspiciously. "Pastries for breakfast?"

Chris gave him a mock scowl. "I figured the muesli would make my pocket soggy. Be thankful I didn't bring doughnuts!"

"I am grateful. Thank you." Sam took the proffered pastries and placed them carefully on the bedside table.

"Don't you want them?"

"I can think of something I'd rather have for breakfast."

"What?"

With a wicked grin of his own, Sam lunged forward and pulled his laughing partner down onto the bed with him, twisting their bodies so that he landed on top. "Three guesses," he said. Still laughing, Chris pulled his face down and kissed him deeply. Sam gave himself over to the kiss completely, reacquainting himself with the taste and feel of his lover; the velvety softness of the inside of Chris' mouth, the sharpness of his teeth, the roughness of his tongue as it glided over Sam's. It was heaven.

Chris seemed to be of the same mind, judging by the way he moaned into Sam's mouth and the way his fingers dug farrows into Sam's back as he attempted to pull his partner closer to him. Sam's hands were also busy, scrabbling beneath Chris' sweater in an effort to touch skin. He was hard pressed not to moan himself when his efforts were rewarded, his fingertips ghosting over heated flesh. Almost as soon as he succeeded, he found himself flat on his back, his partner's weight pressing him into the mattress.

Chris pulled back, his eyes half-wild. He just stared down at Sam for a long moment, his eyes tracing the contours of Sam's face. Giving into temptation again, Sam removed one hand from Chris' back and used it to lightly stoke over his partner's face. Chris turned his face into Sam's palm, his eyes closing.

"You scared the hell out of me last night." The words surprised Sam - he hadn't been aware that he was going to speak until he did so. Chris' eyes opened again, and he looked back down at Sam, his expression serious.

"I'm sorry."

"Just try not to do that again."

Chris smiled softy again, his dimples lighting up his face. "I promise," he said solemnly, the dimples still peeking through, "that I will do my utmost not to get shot in the head again."

"I'll hold you to that," replied Sam seriously. "I'm dead serious, Chris. I thought you were a goner when I saw you just lying there. My heart almost stopped."

Chris' eyes widened slightly, and his partner's expression took on an almost vulnerable cast. He sat back on his heels, his eyes never leaving Sam's face as his own hand rose to stroke lightly over Sam's face, tracing the outline of Sam's lips. There was no humour in his voice when he spoke this time. "I promise," he repeated. And then his lips quirked upwards, and his eyes took on a mischievous air. "I have plans for that heart." He placed one hand on the centre of Sam's chest, just over the aforementioned organ.

Before Sam could protest or ask for clarification, or do more than just lie there and stare up at him, his partner leant forward again and pressed his lips against Sam's; a gentle touch this time although still holding the promise of passion to come. He pulled back again, his hand still resting gently on Sam's chest.

"What do you want?" asked Sam. He wasn't sure whether he meant now or from him. Chris chose to take him literally.

"Everything," he answered simply.

Sam chuckled. "Everything? Sure about that are you?"

"Yes."

They stared at each other, the laughter slowly fading from Sam's face as he struggled to understand his partner's meaning. Perhaps sensing his lover's confusion, or perhaps just tired of waiting for a response, Chris leant back over him again, tugging at the bedside table drawer and retrieving a small, white bag from it. Still watching his lover's face, he reached into the bag and withdrew two items; a packet of condoms and a tube of lubricant.

"Oh," breathed Sam softly, understanding blossoming. Chris' expression was still serious as he caught hold of Sam's hand and placed the items in it. Sam stared at them for a second, and then looked back up at his partner. "When did you get these? He asked.

Chris looked embarrassed for a second. "Remember the other night, when I needed some painkillers and popped to the drugstore?" Sam nodded.

"You must have been sure of yourself," he replied, struggling to keep any trace of bitterness out of his voice.

"I wasn't," replied Chris calmly. "I wasn't even sure that you'd ever speak to me again, never mind..." His voice trailed off, his meaning clear. "But, I don't know, something made me buy them when I saw them. Don't know why. Guess I must be an eternal optimist or something." He shrugged and smiled.

Sam relaxed slightly, reassured that he wasn't being manipulated again. His eyes were drawn back to the innocuous little tube - so simple and such a potent symbol of how things between them had changed this week. "Sure?" he asked.

Chris nodded. "Everything," he repeated simply.

Sam placed the condoms onto the bedcovers beside him, keeping the small tube in his hand and turning it over and over, much as he had Smith's card. He avoided Chris' eyes, his mind racing as he struggled to comprehend this development. When he did look back up at Chris, his partner's face was still determined but there was now an underlying current of anxiety in it. "I don't suppose there's much point in asking if you've done this before?" he said slowly. Chris shook his head and then hesitated.

"Well," he began. "Kinda..."

Sam frowned slightly. "Kinda?" He wondered how you could 'kinda' do that. He also wondered whom with and had to fight back the spike of jealousy that thought triggered.

Chris gave him a weak grin. "Well," he replied. "There are some things you can still do with girls..." At Sam's quizzical look, he continued, "Do you remember Monique?"

"Your singer?"

"Yep. Well, she was kinda into that. By the time she finally got fed up with me, we were doing it more that way than the regular, if you see what I mean."

Sam did. He looked down at the tube again and, decision made, handed it back to Chris. At Chris' surprised look, he shrugged and gave a weak answering grin of his own. "I think that since you're the one with any experience, you get the honours."

Far from welcoming the offer with open arms, Chris looked undecided. "Didn't you say that you'd...?"

"That was a long time ago, and besides I was on the receiving end."

"That's what I meant," said Chris, a little unhappily. "I don't want to pressure you..." The words 'I don't want to be like him' hung in the air, unspoken but heard all the same.

"I'm not eighteen anymore," answered Sam gently. "And no-one makes me do anything I don't want to do. Not even you, Chris."

They locked gazes until finally Chris looked away, a mixture of confusion and pleasure in his face, together with some emotion that Sam just wasn't ready to recognise or acknowledge. "Okay," he murmured. "How do you want to do this?"

Sam pretended to consider the matter. "Well," he replied thoughtfully, struggling not to laugh at Chris' anxious expression, "I think getting you naked would be a start." He finally lost the battle against his mirth when Chris' jaw dropped, and his partner just stared at him speechlessly, convulsing with laughter as Chris started to swear at him, all the while grinning furiously himself.

"Bastard," Chris wound down with as Sam still chuckled. "You really had me going then."

"Haven't even started," Sam shot back cockily. "So? Are you going to get naked or not?" By way of an answer, Chris jumped to his feet, tearing his sweater over his head and almost stumbling in his enthusiasm while Sam started to laugh again.

When Chris was naked, as per instructions, he joined Sam back in the bed, his hands moving instantly to the top of Sam's boxers, the Englishman raising his hips to let his partner strip them off. Both naked now, Chris pressed himself against every inch of Sam, sighing happily into his lover's neck as they slowly rocked against each other. He pressed little mindless kisses against Sam's skin, sucking and nibbling at his partner's neck as Sam raised his head to allow him access. His mouth grazed Sam's chin, moving upwards to capture his lips, sliding his tongue in to explore Sam's mouth again and swallowing his lover's moans. He pressed Sam back firmly against the bed again, moving down his frame, pressing searing open-mouthed kisses against Sam's skin as he did so.

When Chris reached Sam's nipples he paid special attention to them, laving them with his tongue until they were hard, aching points. The intensity of the stimuli surprised Sam, who'd never considered himself to be particularly sensitive there before, however, he was beginning to realise that where Chris was concerned, nothing could be taken for granted. In fact, his partner seemed quite happy alternating between them, suckling first at one and then the other, his stubble scratching lightly at the skin of Sam's chest, sending small shivers of desire through the Englishman. Watching his partner with some amusement as Chris almost purred, Sam was on the point of making some smart-aleck remark about whether Chris had been breastfed when, almost in anticipation of his fun making, his partner's sharp, even teeth nipped at one tender bud. Sam gasped and swore as the sensation sent a lightning bolt to his groin, the blood surging into his already half-hard member. He felt Chris' silent laughter against his skin, and swatted his partner playfully on his head, being careful to avoid his injury.

"Git," he admonished, grinning. Chris said nothing, merely raising his head to grin back at him, cat-like, before lowering his head again to lap delicately at Sam's now sensitised nipple. Sam groaned at the feeling, his head rolling back on his neck as slow pulses of arousal coursed through him.

Finally satisfied with the state of Sam's nipples, Chris moved lower, his mouth painting a path over Sam's stomach towards his groin. He paused to flick his tongue in and out of Sam's bellybutton, making his partner squirm with mingled arousal and ticklishness, then followed the dark trail of hair from his partner's stomach to the top of his groin where he paused and looked up at Sam.

Sam met his gaze, panting heavily, and watched as Chris lowered his head to touch the tip of his tongue against the corona of his erection. Sam couldn't suppress a groan at the sight, the sound turning into a full-bodied moan as Chris opened his mouth and took the whole head of Sam's penis into it. The feel of Chris' hot and wet velvety mouth around him was electric and Sam had to fight the urge to thrust, not wanting to drive himself down the other man's throat and cause the reaction he had the last time they'd tried this. Instead, he grabbed hold of the bedcovers, twisting the material in his fists as he struggled for control.

When Chris released him with a soft wet sound, Sam bit back on a soft sound of disappointment, meeting his partner's gaze again as Chris manoeuvred himself to lie between his partner's parted legs. His disappointment melted as his lover lowered his head again, pressing his tongue firmly against Sam's perineum and then running it up over the length of his erection, pausing to slide the very tip of his tongue into the slit at the head of Sam's cock. Opening his mouth wide, Chris took as much of Sam's length into his mouth as he could, not gagging this time, and sucked hard while his tongue continued to caress the very tip of Sam's cock, pressing lightly at the sensitive patch of skin just beneath the head.

Sam swore, fierce flares of desire surging through him, setting his nerve endings ablaze. His eyes squeezed shut as his fingers scrabbled at the rough bed linen, seeking an anchor in the sea of pleasure he was drowning in. He was whimpering mindlessly, he knew, and he didn't care. All he cared about, all he could concentrate on was the inferno of Chris' mouth, the tight, wet heat that was surrounding his cock, driving the last vestiges of sanity from his mind. He managed to cling to enough awareness to stop from thrusting, but that was all the control he was capable of at the moment.

He felt a cool, wet sensation circling his anus and he bucked into it involuntarily, a growl forcing its way past his lips. When something blunt pressed against his opening he tensed automatically, unused to the sensation but Chris' tongue flicking in and out of the narrow slit in the head of his penis drove any unease out of his mind, making him growl again. Unable to stop himself, he thrust up into Chris' mouth, the resultant downward movement driving whatever was pressing against his opening into him. He grunted softly, surprised. Raising his head again and opening his eyes, he stared at Chris confused.

"What are you doing?"

Chris raised his head, Sam's penis falling from his lips, his finger buried in Sam. He frowned back at his partner, equally confused. "Getting you ready," he replied, and then his eyes widened. "Are you telling me he didn't do this? He didn't prepare you? Jesus, Sam! No wonder it hurt."

Sam felt himself colour, both embarrassed and annoyed by the turn the conversation was taking. It made him feel completely inept, naïve and gauche, and he didn't like feeling any of those at the best of times, never mind when he was in as vulnerable position as this one. His knee-jerk reaction was to say something, tell Chris to forget this whole idea, that he'd changed his mind, to cover himself, but before he could open his mouth Chris touched something deep inside of him, something that turned his spine into liquid fire and set off sparks behind eyelids he could no longer keep open.

"Oh Christ," he breathed.

When he finally managed to pry his leaden eyes open, Chris was grinning smugly at him. "I think I just found your prostate," he said.

"Oh," replied Sam intelligently. It was all he was capable of at the moment.

"Yep." Another smug smirk and Chris was twisting his finger again, sending another wave of shuddering pleasure surging through him.

"Oh yes... I think... on reflection... you have."

That observation earned him a throaty chuckle, and then Chris' head lowered again, his lover lapping at his erection once more. Sam stopped fighting it, letting the feelings Chris was creating wash over him, giving himself utterly over to the other man. It was a strange feeling, handing over control so totally, and somehow he doubted whether he'd feel comfortable doing this with anyone he didn't trust completely. And the only person he trusted like that was Chris. It was a sobering thought in the midst of so much pleasure.

And pleasure there was. Chris added a second finger to his first, gently scissoring them to stretch him ready for their union. It was uncomfortable at first, but there was still that hotspot deep inside him that had him gasping every time Chris' fingers brushed over it. Chris' mouth continued to work on him, never quite bringing him over the edge but taking him close before easing him back down again. He was reduced to mindless whimpering again by the time that Chris finally removed his fingers and reached up the bed for the discarded condom pack.

Weak limbed with pleasure, Sam watched through half-opened eyes as his partner ripped open one of the small foil packages with his teeth, removing the condom and rolling it down over his length. When Chris reached for the tube of lubricant again, Sam finally found the energy to move, raising himself up to roll onto his front. Chris' hand on his hip stopped him.

"I want to watch your face," the American said, his tone serious, his eyes shining with arousal. Sam searched his face for a moment but contented himself with an answering nod. However Chris wanted to do this was fine by him. He didn't think he could muster a coherent argument even if he did want to.

Chris pushed his knees gently up to his chest, moving to kneel between his splayed thighs. Sam felt a little stupid in this position, but from the way Chris was looking at him he could only presume his partner didn't agree. Chris was looking at him the way a starving man looked at a banquet, or perhaps the way that someone who hadn't been laid in a hell of a long time looked at someone he was about to penetrate would be a better description. And indeed, Sam could feel something blunt press against him, considerably larger and hotter than a finger.

He took a deep breath and tried to relax as Chris started to ease his way into him. It hurt. Not as much as he remembered, and he could only suppose that this was due to Chris preparing him the way that MacDonald hadn't known or cared to do, but it hurt all the same. The difference this time was that he wanted this, really wanted it with every fibre of his being and because of that, mingled in with the pain was pleasure. Which meant he really didn't care how much it hurt because this was Chris pushing into him, Chris' face above him, eyes closed in concentration and teeth catching at his lip. Chris.

He breathed in raggedly as Chris finally eased past the first tight ring of muscle and rested there, giving him time to adjust to the invasion. His partner's eyes opened, gazing dazedly at him as he also acclimatised to the sensation of Sam's flesh gripping him. Sam watched, fascinated, as a small bead of sweat slid down Chris' face towards his lips. He felt this intense desire to lick it off, but Chris beat him too it, his neat pink tongue darting out and catching it. Sam felt a sudden flush of heat run through him at the simple gesture, and watched it catch fire in Chris' eyes too, his partner's pupils dilating as Chris leant down to kiss him deeply.

The movement drove Chris deeper into him, and in spite of the slight burning discomfort the inferno within him flared up again. He moaned helplessly into Chris' mouth, feeling the shudder running through the other man deep within him, in his bones. He pushed back against Chris urgently, wanting him deeper, wanting him now and no longer prepared to wait. Chris picked up on his cue, straightening back up and catching Sam's legs to place them firmly on his shoulders. He eased further into his lover, his hand moving to grasp Sam's erection tightly, stroking in counterpoint to his gentle thrusts.

He took his time, pushing slowly into Sam, each careful thrust taking him a little deeper, giving Sam plenty of time to adjust to his intrusion. When his groin was flush with Sam's buttocks, he stopped entirely, just resting there, exercising immense self-control until Sam was ready for him. His hand continued to pump steadily on Sam's erection while the Englishman writhed, clutching at the bedclothes with frantic fists.

The ache within Sam eased to a slow-burning pleasure and he forced his eyes open to stare pleadingly at his lover, unable to put voice to what he wanted. Chris knew anyway. He slid out in one long, slow stroke, and thrust back in again, driving himself smoothly all the way back into Sam, striking against that magic spot and forcing a harsh, needy cry out of the Englishman. Again, and another bright flash of pleasure burnt its way through Sam, making him curse and twist, trying to drive Chris deeper into him, trying to repeat that sensation. Chris' hand abandoned his erection, moving to his hip so that the American could hold him steady while he pounded a driving rhythm into him.

Sam didn't care - he didn't need the stimuli of Chris' touch to bring him to completion, not when every movement of Chris' pushed him deeper, touching him in ways he'd never been touched before, driving him inexorably towards ecstasy.

He came, hard. He'd never come like this before, his muscles rippling around a hot, steel length buried in him, each jerking pulse as he climaxed putting pressure on his prostate, sending wave after wave of blinding pleasure through him, prolonging his orgasm until he thought he would scream from it. Perhaps he did, he couldn't be sure. Someone yelled - it could have been him or it could have been Chris. On some level he was aware of Chris joining him in bliss, feeling the shuddering jerks of the other man within him as Chris climaxed.

When he was conscious of his surroundings again, there was a heavy weight on him, pressing him back into the mattress, and an unsteady hand was carding through his hair as Chris panted shakily in his ear. He shifted uncomfortably, and with a muttered apology Chris rolled to the side, slipping out of his drained and lethargic body but leaving one arm draped possessively over his chest.

He turned his head, and met two bright blue eyes. "Do I look as well-fucked as you do?" he asked a little breathlessly.

Chris chuckled lowly, his eyes shining. "Yes."

"Good. 'Cos I certainly feel well-fucked and I'd hate to think it didn't show."

Chris buried his head in Sam's shoulder, his whole being shaking with laughter, and Sam found himself grinning a little foolishly, his hand coming up to stroke Chris' hair.

His mirth finally under control, Chris looked back up at him, the expression on his face softening. "I lo..."

Sam placed urgent fingers over his lips. "I don't think I'm quite ready to hear that, Chris," he said shakily. "Not yet." Chris searched his face, his eyes wise, before kissing the tips of his fingers.

"Soon?" he breathed. Sam swallowed heavily.

"Soon," he confirmed unsteadily.

Satisfied, Chris placed another gentle kiss on his shoulder and then pillowed his head against it, tightening the arm draped over Sam's chest slightly for a moment in a hug and sighing happily. He seemed perfectly content, and Sam could feel his own tension easing, the arm around Chris tightening automatically as Chris snuggled closer.

It looked as though 'Limpet Boy' was about to become a permanent fixture in his life and the thought sent a wave of pleasure through him that had nothing to do with arousal.

Soon.

The End






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