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Title: Goodbye to Love  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG  

Pairing: OMCs Wills Matheson/ Theo Bascopolis  

Rating: NC-17  

Disclaimer: All things JAG belong to Bellisario, but Theo and Wills, their families, friends, and colleagues,  are mine.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 1/05  

Series/Sequel: This is ten in the Soundbyte series, and follows My Christmas Always, which was part of the Slash Advent Calendar 2004.  

Summary: No good deed goes unpunished. Wills sends Theo flowers, and is surprised by the response this gets.  

Warnings: m/m  

Notes: Soundbytes are an offshoot of the Mind Fuck universe and are not necessarily in chronological order. They are AR, presupposing that the DSD was never disbanded. This story is  especially  for Tony and Joe. Mazel tov! Thanks to Tim for the information about Savannah , and as always, to Gail, who beta'd.


Goodbye to Love

By Tinnean


I was DSD. I had been DSD for enough years that Mr. Wallace, the man who ran the organization, chose me to be trained by Clark Palmer to replace him as senior special agent in the field.  

Did my lover really think I wouldn't be able to track him down and find him?  


I had been out of DC on a job for the last four weeks, under orders to contact no one except Mr. Palmer, and even then only under the direst of emergencies, and I'd finally gotten home.  

"Hi, babe." I shut the door behind me and locked it, dropped my suitcase, and rolled my shoulders to get what felt like a month's worth of kinks out of them. "God, it's good to be home." I started to unbutton my overcoat. It was cold in DC, but it had been even colder where I'd been. "I've…"  

Before I could tell Theo I'd missed him, he pounced on me, yanking my overcoat down over my arms, trapping them. Then he wound his hands in my hair, jerked my head back, and slammed his mouth onto mine. His kiss was hot and devouring.  

And I stood there and let him manhandle me.  

His tooth caught my lip, and there was the taste of copper in my mouth, but I didn't care; it had been too long since I'd been kissed by him.  

I could feel every inch of his body pressed up against mine. His cock nudged the vee of my thighs, and I shivered and moaned into his mouth.  

Eventually he pulled back and looked into my eyes. His lips were swollen and his eyes were hot with the passion that I knew was reflected in mine.  

"I take it you missed me?" I shrugged my shoulders, getting my overcoat back onto my shoulders where it was supposed to be.  

"You could have done that and gotten free at any time!" He sounded disgruntled, and I smiled into his light brown eyes.  

"Yeah." But why would I want to get free? I finished unbuttoning my coat. "Let me catch a shower, and we can continue this in a more comfortable place."  

"Like our bed?" Theo caught my coat as I tossed it to him, but before I could head for the bathroom that adjoined our bedroom, he flung it aside and pushed me back against the wall.  

"Theo! Give me a minute! I'm all grungy. I need to shower…"  

"You didn't have a shower the first time we did this!" He ran his nose along the side of my neck, inhaling deeply, ripped my suit jacket open and continued running his nose from one collar bone to the other.  

"What are you…"  

"Take your jacket off." His voice was hoarse. He unbuttoned his fly and took his cock out. He wasn't wearing underwear.  

"Jesus, babe! You know how hot that makes me?" My hands were shaking as I did as he ordered, and my mouth was dry.  

Theo came close to me. He smoothed his palms up over my chest, loosened my tie, and pulled it over my head. "Now your shirt and your undershirt."  

The skin over my cheekbones felt tight and hot, and my breath snagged in my throat. I felt as if I were all thumbs as I fought to get out of my shirt. The cuff buttons were my undoing, and I swore and yanked and ripped the buttons off.  

Usually something like that would make my lover laugh at my impatience. He didn't laugh.  

He let me have enough room to strip off my undershirt, but all the while his hands were busy unbuckling my belt and unzipping my fly. He shoved my trousers and shorts down off my hips. My cock was pointing straight at him, the tip slick with precome.  

"Looks like someone's missed me," he smirked. I was too lost in the feelings that swamped me to question that. His eyes glittered like precious stones, and then his mouth was back on mine, and all I could feel was ravished.  

"Bed." I groaned even as I slid my arms around his neck and pulled him closer, rubbing against him. The flannel of his shirt was soft against my nipples, but even that mild chafing caused them to tighten.  

"No." He freed himself and ran his fingertips over them, pinched them, then pushed me back toward the wall. "I'm taking you here and now, Matheson. I'm going to fuck you through this wall, through the floor, and then I'm taking you in the bedroom and fucking you through the mattress and into tomorrow." He spun me around, and I stumbled as my trousers tangled my lower legs.  

"Theo…" Two lubricated fingers slid into me. I curled my fingers into the wall, angled my hips back and spread my legs as far as my trousers would allow, and those fingers moved in and out, rubbing against my prostate. "Fuck me, babe!"  

"Yeah," he growled. "Yeah." He eased his fingers out of me, and the sleek, hot crown of his cock was at my hole.  

There was no foreplay, but being apart for the longest period of time since I'd moved in with him the previous spring was foreplay enough. He bit down on the side of my neck and slammed into me, and my thoughts splintered. All I could think of was how hot and thick his cock was, and how long I'd been empty and in need of being filled.  

The denim of his jeans abraded my ass, and knowing that I was virtually nude while my lover was dressed drove me closer to the precipice. His thrusts were hard and relentless, and I knew that this time he was going to make me come without a single touch to my cock.  

It didn't take long. My balls tightened, my heart pounded as if it was trying to burst through my chest, and I groaned and shuddered and came all over the wall.  

I sagged against the wall, Theo's body on mine, and I was almost too far gone to notice he was still hard. Almost, but not quite.  


He eased out of me. "In the living room, Wills. On the rug, hands and knees."  

I staggered a bit as I straightened and toed off my shoes. I stepped out of my trousers, bent to pull off my socks, then made my way to the living room. There was a fire in the fireplace he'd had installed for me for Christmas, and in front of it was a plush rug.  

"Where's Miss Su?" Tira Miss Su, the American Bobtail kitten that had been his Christmas present.  

"I've closed her in the kitchen."  

"Good idea." The one time we had made love while she'd been loose, she'd thought we were playing and joined in, not knowing to sheathe her claws. That had put a damper on things. "Don't you think you're a little overdressed?"  

"Just get on the rug."  

"Theo, is something wrong?"  

"You mean beyond the fact that you came and I still haven't?"  

"Sorry, babe." I had no sooner knelt then he was in me, and he was true to his word: he fucked me through the floor.  

He barely let me catch my breath before he dragged me into the bedroom.  

Four weeks away and two intense sessions of love-making, and I was wrung out. I crawled onto the bed and watched with interested but tired eyes as he finally stripped off his jeans and shirt.  

He pushed my legs back and apart and slid into me once more, whispering hoarsely, "Love me, Wills. Love me."  

There was a hint of desperation about his love-making but I simply thought it was his reaction to the dry spell.  

I didn't realize until later that it was much more than that.  


The urgent need to piss woke me, and I blinked sleepily into the darkness. This wasn't the motel room I'd rented for the past month. There was no noise from the parking lot, no sound of roistering going on in the room next to mine, and more importantly, I'd awakened relaxed, something I would never do anywhere other than home.  

Theo was snuffling softly in my ear. An arm was across my waist, and a leg held both of mine down firmly.  

I turned my head and looked at the clock on the night table. It was 3:15 A.M. I rolled out from under his hold, took a moment to steady myself, then went into the bathroom, closed the door, and flipped on the light.  

It suddenly dawned on me what day this was. A year ago we'd met for the first time in the emergency room of George Washington Hospital . He'd been there when a friend had been badly beaten. Mr. Palmer had been there, too.  

I flushed the john and washed my hands. Today was a special day for us in more ways than one. That same night I'd let him fuck me. I'd never been fucked before. //Does that make you easy, Matheson?//  

I grinned at myself in the bathroom mirror. //Maybe. But it also makes me loved.//  

I definitely needed a shower. I was a mess. There was dried come all over me, as well as love bites and bruises. Theo had really done a job on me, and just thinking about it made me hard. I turned on the shower and laid out my razor and shaving cream while I waited for the water to warm. Then I stepped into the tub and pulled the curtain closed.  

"'We've only just begun,'" I sang as I soaped up. "'White lace and promises…'" I'd always liked the Carpenters' early songs.  

When I went back into the bedroom, a bedside lamp was on, and Theo was lounging against the headboard.  

"I'm sorry I woke you, babe."  

His eyes looked heavy and puffy, and I wondered if he was coming down with a cold. "You were in such a rush to wash my touch off your body?"  

"You know if I didn't have to go to work, I'd lay around the house all day with your scent on me." I pulled out clean clothes and started to get dressed.  

He glanced at the clock. "But you don't have to go to work for almost another three hours."  

"If I go in early and work through lunch, I should be able to catch up on most of the paperwork that piled up while I was away; and I'll be able to leave early." I was looking for the chain Theo had given me for Valentine's Day. I'd had to leave it behind when I'd gone out of town.  

"Really? You'll come home early?"  

But the wistfulness in his voice had me turning to him, the chain forgotten.  

"Theo, I'd be home early today if I had to walk over Mr. Palmer to get here." I finished dressing, and leaned down to kiss his ear.  

"I'm sorry I've been such a prick." He went up on his knees and wrapped his arms around me, holding me tight. "I'll make us Cornish game hens with apricot, port, and balsamic sauce, acorn squash, and… and biscuits?"  

"That sounds great." I hated squash, but for Theo I'd eat it. "Look, why don't you go back to sleep?"  

"Okay." He kissed me one last time, then settled onto the mattress and pulled the covers around his shoulders. "Have a good day, Wills."  

"You too, babe." I stroked his ass where the blanket curved over it, and walked out whistling softly.  


It was still dark when I used my security card to let myself into the building that housed the DSD. A guard came toward me, his hand hovering by the pistol at his hip. I turned slightly so the dim light in the lobby fell on my face.  

"Oh, it's you, Mr. Matheson. Good morning."  

"Good morning, Ned. I'm going up to my office."  

He nodded. "If you'll sign the book?"  

I followed him to his station, scribbled my name on the line next to 4A.M. , and crossed to the stairwell.  

I would have jogged up the stairs, but I was still stiff and decided an easier pace was a better idea. I got out on the seventh floor and walked down the corridor to my corner office. I hung up my overcoat, and because my secretary wouldn't be in for a few hours, I started a pot of coffee.  

I draped my suit jacket over the back of my chair and sat down carefully, then turned on my computer and logged on.  

The hectic nature of the mission I'd just run had left me with no time to get Theo an anniversary gift, so I took a few minutes to Google a listing of local florist shops. I found one that looked promising. The shop opened at nine, and I decided I'd call at that time. I could have completed the transaction online, but I wanted the flowers to be delivered as soon as possible.  

I put a blank CD into the E drive and began to work on my report. Occasionally I'd pause and write up an email for Mr. Palmer. I'd completed my training with him, but he was still the deputy director I answered to.  

At 8, my secretary arrived in the outer office. My door was open, and I heard her as she unlocked her desk and turned on her computer. When she walked in, she had a cup of coffee in her hand. It would be black, and unlike my previous secretary who persisted in thinking I took it sweet and light, Arianne DiNois got it right the first time, every time.  

"Good morning, Mr. Matheson. Ms. Parker left a message that Mr. Palmer will meet with you to debrief at ten tomorrow morning."  

I marked it on my desk calendar.  

She put the cup to the side so it would be within easy reach, then took the CD I'd finalized. "I'll get this transcribed and send copies to Mr. Wallace's office."  

"Thank you, Ms. DiNois. I have to make a phone call a bit after 9. Would you remind me, please?"  

"Of course." She turned and left my office, her skirt flirting around her knees. This suit, like most of the clothes she wore, had designer labels sewn into the seams. I knew because my stepmother had the same taste in Versace and Donna Karen.  

The DSD paid well, but not well enough for that kind of wardrobe. She had been chosen for me by Mr. Palmer, and I went to him and asked how she could afford them. 'She moonlights in the photo department,' he'd said with a bland smile, and I nodded and dropped the subject.  

I picked up my cup, took a long swallow, and began to concentrate on the next report I'd have to write.  

Before I knew it, my secretary was buzzing me over the intercom.  

"It's a quarter past 9 , Mr. Matheson."  

"Thank you." The hour had flown past.  

"Shall I hold your calls?"  

"Please. This shouldn't take long, however."  

"Yes, sir."  

I took out my cell phone and punched in the number.  

"Carnations and Roses and Orchids, Oh My. How may I help you?"  

"I want to place an order. On your website you have an arrangement, a dozen long stemmed roses, plump, red, in a sterling silver vase?"  

"That would be #24708. A very nice arrangement, sir. Just one second. I'll make sure we have the vase in stock. It's very much in demand, you know." I could hear him tapping into a computer. "Ah, yes, it is available."  

"Great. Will you be able to have it delivered this afternoon?" I gave him the address. If it couldn't be delivered, I'd pick them up in person.  

"That won't be a problem. Just a second while I make a note of that." There was more tapping. "All righty. Now, would you like something on the card?"  

"Yes. Please write, 'Thank you for giving me the most wonderful year of my life.'"  

"That's so sweet." He hummed a bit. "Your wife is a very lucky woman."  

"They're not for my wife." I grinned; I couldn't say I wasn't married.  

"Oh, well, then your girlfriend."  

Not my girlfriend. I made a noncommittal sound, and he dropped it.  

"Your credit card number, please?"  

I took it out of my wallet and read off the number and expiration date.  

"Very good. Do you have a pen and paper? I'll give you your tracking number." He rattled it off, and I wrote it down.  

"Thanks very much."  

"You're very welcome, sir. I hope you'll order with us again. Goodbye."  

"Goodbye." I disconnected the call and flipped my phone shut.  

Theo was going to love the roses. And every year I'd get him an additional dozen. By the time we were ready to collect Social Security, there wouldn't be a vase big enough to hold them all.  

I slipped the phone into the inside pocket of my jacket and went back to work.  


Just as I was saving the last report on the mission I'd run in the Midwest , my secretary tapped on my door.  

"I have your lunch, Mr. Matheson. You didn't specify, so I got you the Thai salad with chicken." She had been working through lunch as well. She crossed the room, the Styrofoam container extended toward me.  

"Thank you." I toggled out of the screen and took it from her.  

She was also carrying a brown padded envelope, and I cocked an eyebrow at it.  

"The mail department left this on my desk. It's addressed to you." She placed it on my desk, gave a smile that made her look like a young Ingrid Bergman, and walked back to her own desk.  

I opened the container, looked at the salad, and sighed. I would have preferred a Big Mac, but Theo had been after me to eat healthier.  

A glance at my watch told me it was already 1:30 . If I ate the whole thing, I wouldn't have an appetite to do Theo's dinner justice. I decided I'd just pick.  

As I forked the salad into my mouth, I studied the envelope. It couldn't contain anything explosive or otherwise deadly; the mailroom at the DSD screened everything that came through there. I also noticed from the address that it had been forwarded from the main Cambridge post office.  

The envelope had gone from Virginia to Massachusetts and then to DC. The return address was a small community just south of Williamsburg , Virginia .  

I opened the envelope and took a VHS tape out. The tab had been snapped off to prevent it from being recorded over. The label on the spine read, 'Property of William Matheson. Make sure I get this back, Michael.'  

The handwriting was an approximation of mine, but it wasn't mine. It belonged to my friend, Michael Shaw.  

Michael had killed himself when he'd tried scarfing, autoerotic asphyxiation. His parents had been devastated to learn he'd died that way, and had accepted the DSD's suggestion to use the excuse his job had gotten to be too much for him.  

There was a note folded in the envelope. 'Dear William,' it read. 'It's almost a year since we lost Michael. It's been hard. We weren't able to bring ourselves to go through his things until just recently, and we found this tape among his belongings. We're very sorry about the delay. We hope you'll come visit us one day soon. You were Michael's best friend, and we were always so fond of you.' It was signed 'Margaret and Edward Shaw.'  

I looked at the date on the note, and then the calendar, and swore. The anniversary of Michael's death had passed, and I hadn't even realized it.  

That made me feel bad. Michael and I had been friends from the time we'd met in sixth grade. We went through high school and college together, even belonged to the same fraternity. We began drifting apart after our junior year, however. It was my fault. I'd wanted more than he'd been able to give, and he'd pushed me away.  

I turned the tape over and over in my hands, thinking of how things had been.  

After college we were both employed by the Bradenhurst Corporation, although in different departments, and so we saw even less of each other. When I was recruited to the DSD, I was surprised to learn that Michael had been as well, and was making the move to DC also.  

It more than surprised me to learn that Michael was in Interior Affairs, in the same department as Clark Palmer, senior special agent, and directly under the deputy director, Robert Sperling.  

I would have liked to work with Mr. Palmer, but everyone knew he worked alone. And anyway, I'd been assigned to IT. The DSD version of IT was considerably different from that of other companies. I had no doubt it differed even from the CIA's IT; we packed heat.  

Occasionally I would run into Michael. He'd made a whole new set of friends, and I didn't much like them, but he was a big boy, and I knew he wouldn't appreciate it if I interfered.  

And then it was too late for me to interfere.  

I pinched the bridge of my nose, pushed my chair back, and got to my feet.  

A small combination TV/VCR was on a stand in the corner. I squatted down in front of it, pressed the power button, and slid the tape into the slot. Because the tab that allowed re-taping had been removed, it began to play as soon as I put it in.  

There were a few seconds of snow, and then the picture cleared. Michael was sitting on a couch in what must have been his apartment.  

I wouldn't have known. He'd never invited me there.  

The couch looked expensive, but it didn't look very comfortable. On the wall behind him was a painting in oils of the two of us in our caps and gowns. I recognized the way we were posed. My Dad had taken the picture, and the photo was on the mantle in the family room of the house in Cambridge . Michael must have asked Dad for a copy and had the painting made from it.  

The Michael on the tape looked into the camcorder's lens, into my eyes. He looked drawn, all trace of his usual cockiness wiped from his face.  

"Hello, Willie Boy." He gave a rueful laugh. "I know, I know, you hate being called that. Well, indulge me, okay? If you're seeing this, I'm dead. Well, I'm a dead man, anyway."  

I felt the blood leave my face. "Oh, Michael! What did you do?" I'd known he had wanted Mr. Palmer's corner office; he'd often boasted that he would take it from him.  

His expression became affronted, and as if answering my question he snapped, "And *no*, I didn't screw with Palmer." His mouth took a sullen twist. "Well, not much, anyway."  

"Didn't you, Michael?" I'd gotten to his computer before it could be reformatted, and I'd done a little investigating. "You were leaking information about him to the CIA. The *CIA* for chrissake!" As soon as I'd discovered that he was acting as a mole for the other intelligence organization, I'd back out of the files and prayed that no one, most especially Mr. Palmer, would realize I was the one who'd been playing snoop.  

"The man's a prick, Willie Boy. I'm going to take his office, and I'm gonna have you on your knees, under my desk, blowing me. You always gave the best…" He stopped short, his face suddenly gray and his hands fisted so that his knuckles were white.  

"Michael, what's wrong?" I knew a man in pain when I saw one.  

After a minute or so he relaxed and gazed into my eyes. "I'm not going to do that to you, Wills. I'm not going to take Palmer's office, either."  

So that meant Mr. Palmer wasn't the reason why Michael was a dead man. Then what… And it occurred to me – the crowd Michael ran with did drugs, although the times I'd questioned him about it, he'd assured me it had been limited to snorting cocaine.  

"Jesus, Michael, I thought you were smarter than that! You were doing IV drugs?" Had a dirty needle infected him with the AIDS virus?  

"No, it's not AIDS, you asshole." Again, as if he knew what I would be saying. "You are just so predictable, Willie Boy. No matter how it may have seemed to you, I don't… I didn't have a death wish."  

"Don't bullshit a bullshitter, Michael," I snarled at the screen, "You scarfed without me, without anyone there to make sure you didn't go overboard. You don't call that having a death wish?"  

"Don't be mad at me, Wills." Jesus, he knew me better than I'd ever given him credit for. "This is hard enough as it is." He swallowed hard and licked his lips. "For a few weeks – okay, okay, it was more like a few months – I hadn't been feeling that well, so finally I went to see a urologist." He looked scared. "I've got prostate cancer, Wills. I'm dying."  

"But you're… "  

"Don't tell me I'm too young. I said the same thing to that fucking quack who diagnosed me. Did you think I'd take his word for it? I've been to every specialist on the East Coast, and they all told me the same thing. It's a fast-growing motherfucker."  

"What about surgery? Radiation therapy? Chemotherapy?" I forgot I was talking to a man who was dead.  

"I asked about my options, and there are none." He ran his hand through his hair. "At that point it had already spread to my lungs and liver, and now there are lesions in my brain. According to that son-of-a-bitch-of-a-doctor, I don't have much time. The pain is… I'm on Percocet right now, and it isn't too bad," he was lying to me, "but it will get worse. I'll have to start on morphine soon, but the dosage I'll need to keep me from feeling the pain is also going to leave me completely out of it, if it does anything at all. I'll be better off dead." He grinned suddenly, his expression manic. "What do you think, Willie Boy? Suicide by Palmer?"  

"That isn't funny, you asshole!"  

Michael seemed to deflate. "I know, not funny." He rubbed his eyes. "That's not the reason I'm making this tape. My parents don't need to know what I'm about to tell you; that's between me and you. I'm going to mark this tape as if I'd borrowed it from you. They won't play it; they always bend over backwards not to invade my privacy. Shit. Maybe if they had poked around in my room, I wouldn't… Never mind. You were always my best friend, Willie Boy." He looked right into my eyes, and I could see his were glistening with tears. "I know I treated you pretty shitty our junior year. I'm sorry for that. I was so in love with you… "  

I felt the color leave my cheeks. He'd loved me?  

"…  but I couldn't live with the thought of being a fag, so I went back with Crystal . Remember her?"  

How could I forget? I'd seen him kissing her, and that was all I'd needed to accept there could never be anything between us.  

"By the time I realized it didn't matter, that I wanted you even if it meant I got called names, you'd moved on, and I couldn't compete. Not against your work, Wills. You were on the fast track to becoming the DSD's white knight. Black knight. Whatever. You were so wrapped up in it. Maybe if I were a redhead…?"  

"You stupid son-of-a-bitch! I wouldn't have cared two shits what color your hair was!" It didn't matter that I'd raised my voice, that I was shouting at him. Unless she was summoned, my secretary wouldn't come into my office.  

"Well, it doesn't matter. I just wanted to apologize for being such a prick. I'm not sorry I loved you, but I am sorry about the way I let things get between us. I hope you came to my funeral. Did you cry for me, Willie Boy? Nah, nothing ever got to you enough to make you cry." His smile was bittersweet, and he raised his hand in farewell. "You were a good friend, better than I ever deserved. Do me a favor, Wills. Put some flowers on my grave?"  

He must have had the camcorder's remote in his other hand. The screen abruptly went to snow.  

I had no idea how long I stayed crouched in front of the TV, the soft hissing as the tape continued to run a background noise to the muddle in my brain. I leaned forward to eject the tape and shut the television. When I finally stood, I barely noticed the stiffness in my knees, but my body was aware of it, and I staggered. It took me a second to regain my equilibrium, then I went back to my desk.  

I threw my lunch into the waste basket and thumbed the intercom. "Ms. DiNois, I'm going to be out of the office for the rest of the day."  

"Yes, sir." She didn't ask where I would be.  

I saved my work, logged out, and shut down my computer.  

I took my cell phone from the pocket, and dialed my home number.  



"You've got me. Now tell me what you want to do with me!" It was the answering machine.  

I frowned at my phone. It was the same greeting he'd had on his machine when he'd worked as a rentboy. After I'd moved in with him, Theo had promised me he would change it. I'd never called when he hadn't been home to pick up, so I'd had no idea that he hadn't.  

"Uh… Listen, Theo, are you home?" For seconds there was silence, and I sighed. "Look, something's come up, and I'm going to be late for dinner. I'm sorry. I'll explain later, okay?" I waited in case he happened to just get home and would pick up, but he didn't. "Bye, babe."  

I disconnected, then dialed a Virginia phone number. "Mrs. Shaw? It's William Matheson. I'd like to see you?"  


Two hours and thirty minutes to Barksdale , Virginia . An hour breaking the news to Mrs. Shaw that her son had had terminal cancer and that was why he'd committed suicide, and another half hour waiting for her husband to get home so I could explain the whole thing to him.  

Michael's father was the same age as my Dad, but right then he looked about ninety years old. "Why, William? Why couldn't he share something so important with his mother and me?"  

"No one knew, Mr. Shaw. He didn't even tell me."  

"And it was in the video tape we sent you?"  

"Yes. It only got to me today. The mail can be brutal."  

"We didn't know your Washington address, and so we sent it to your father; we knew he would see that you got it."  

"He did."  

"And you drove down to tell us?" Mrs. Shaw embraced me. "Oh, William, I can never thank you enough. I can't condone Michael's keeping this a secret from us, but at least now we know he did what he did to save us from the pain of seeing him in pain."  

"Yes, ma'am."  

"Will you stay and have dinner with us?"  

"I'd like to, Mrs. Shaw, but I have to get back to the Capital."  

"Oh, of course. And here I've kept you… "  

"It's fine, ma'am. I just need to leave now." I kissed her cheek.  

"Give our best to your father and stepmother, my boy."  

"I will, Mr. Shaw. I'm so sorry for your loss."  

"Our loss is also your loss, William. Come and visit us when you can spend more time with us."  

"Thank you. I will." I shook his hand. His lip quivered, and I wondered again how Michael could think his parents hadn't cared for him. "Goodbye."  

"Goodbye, William." They stood at the door and watched as I went down the walk to my Dodge, and waved as I got in.  

At the first traffic light I pulled out my cell phone and checked my voice mail. Nothing. I speed dialed home.  


"Theo! I'm on my way…"  

"You've got me. Now tell me what you want to do with me!"  

I hung up.  


Even though it was the tail end of rush hour, I still got stuck in traffic, and it took me three hours and forty-five minutes to get back to DC. What the fuck was up with the Department of Motor Vehicles? Were they giving *every* incompetent driver and his brother a driver's license?  

For a change no one was parked in my spot in front of the building we lived in. I got out of my car, pressed the remote on my key ring that locked the doors and activated the alarm, and ran up the steps. If I was still sore, I had too much on my mind to pay any attention to protesting muscles.  

I unlocked our door. "Hey, babe! I'm home! I'm sorry I'm late. I know I said nothing would keep me today, but…" I stopped just inside the door, shut up, and listened.  

Silence. No sound of Theo puttering around the house, no sound of Miss Su's claws on the hardwood floor as she ran to greet me.  

The lighting was subdued, romantic, but an acrid odor seemed to permeate the rooms. It carried a hint of something burnt.  

Theo was an excellent cook. He never burned anything.  

I eased off my overcoat and suit jacket. I hadn't taken my gun because I was only going to be at the DSD today. I cursed myself for having left it at home. I took my cell phone from my pocket – I could use it as a weapon in a pinch – and made my way to the bedroom.  

Once I'd retrieved my gun from the box at the back of the closet, I went through the rest of our apartment.  

Except for the fact that my lover wasn't there, nothing seemed out of place. What could have come up that Theo would leave and not leave me a message?  

I walked into the kitchen. The oven was set on warm. I shut it off, grabbed a couple of pot holders, and opened the oven door. Two Cornish game hens were in a roasting pan. They were shriveled and shrunken and stuck to the dried-out mess of whatever had gone into the sauce. I pulled the pan out of the oven, dumped the hens into the disposal, and dropped the pan into the sink.  

I went back to our bedroom, turned on the light, and gave the room a more thorough visual examination. That was when I saw the crater in the wall. The first thought that came to mind was, //That's gonna take some spackle to fix.//  

On the floor beneath that spot lay the sterling silver vase. The roses, bruised and broken and with petals torn off, were scattered all over the carpet. Leading toward it was a very wet trail, as if someone had tipped his arm back before heaving the vase at the wall.  

On automatic, I turned to go back into the kitchen for a roll of paper towels. The water would need to be sopped up.  

Once that was done, I picked up the vase and studied it. There were bloody finger prints on it, no doubt caused by the thorns when the petals had been ripped off. One side was crushed. Why had Theo done this? Was he so pissed that I'd missed dinner that he'd…  

Something glittered in the rug, and I stooped to retrieve the gold chain Theo had given me. The pendant was Virgo, my birth sign. On the reverse side, he'd had engraved, 'Love always, Theo.'  

Apparently *his* 'always' lasted even less than a year.  

Anger began shimmering through my veins. I'd never said anything when he had been out late, I'd never questioned his whereabouts. And he still had that goddammed sexy greeting on the machine!  

This wasn't fucking fair!  

I realized the Sherpa bag we used to transport Miss Su to the vet or for grooming sessions was gone. At least he hadn't left her home alone.  

I fastened the chain around my neck and slid it under my collar, then went to his computer and turned it on. I had no doubt I would be able to come up with the password to his email program in a matter of seconds. While I waited for it to power up, I noticed the light on the CD player was on. It was set on pause. I pressed play, and Karen Carpenter's voice filled the room.  

'I'll say goodbye to love…'  


Theo hadn't realized it, but he'd left behind a trail that a blind man could follow. Or at least a blind man who had been trained by the DSD. He had emailed his friend Tim Reddy. 'I need to see you, Tim. It's important.'  

And Reddy had emailed him to come to him, and he'd pick him up at the airport.  

Reddy was the man who had run the stable of rentboys when Theo first came to Washington. He'd taken Theo in.  

Paul, formerly known as Pretty Boy, the rentboy Theo had been visiting in the hospital when we met, had taken it upon himself to tell me that Theo had been crushing on Reddy almost until the time he had retired to Savannah . He'd seemed pleased when I hadn't started a fight with Theo over it.  

I looked at my gun pensively for a moment, then decided against taking it.  

I called Reagan International. There were no flights out until the next morning. Dulles had nothing either.  

I went to my computer and printed out directions to Reddy's pub on West Bryan Street in Savannah . Then I locked up our… *our* place, strode down the stairs and out to the street, to the Dodge. I had a long drive ahead of me.  


An unexpected fog descended on the East Coast, resulting in a pile up on I-95 that shut down traffic in both directions for two hours. Road construction added to my drive time, as well as the rush hour.  

I drummed my fingers restlessly on the steering wheel.  

Jesus, why didn't people give themselves enough time to get where they needed to be going? I'd been sitting behind a white Hyundai for the last twenty minutes, wondering idly what a car with Indiana plates was doing in South Carolina . The Hyundai was behind a Cavalier, which was behind an Explorer, which blocked my view of the vehicles ahead of it.  

I looked at my watch and groaned, and pulled my cell phone from my pocket.  

"Ms. DiNois, I'm sorry I didn't call earlier. I won't be in today."  

"Yes, sir. I assumed as much when you weren't in your office when I arrived. I called Mr. Palmer's secretary to reschedule your meeting for the same time tomorrow."  

Oh, fuck. I'd forgotten all about it. "I'll be there." I owed her. I'd give Jill, my stepmother, a call and see if she could recommend something that would appeal to my well-dressed secretary's taste in clothes.  

"Patsy…" she coughed lightly, "That is to say, Ms. Parker told me that she had been about to call to reschedule herself. Mr. Palmer has been called out of town and won't be back until the beginning of next week. She said he was pleased with your report, and a commendation will be in your file."  

"Thank you."  

"You're welcome, sir. I'll see you tomorrow?"  

"Yes." After I found Theo – and got this straightened out – I'd grab a couple of hours sleep and drive us home.  

"Very good. Goodbye, sir."  

"Goodbye, Ms. DiNois." I dropped the phone to the seat beside me, rubbed my eyes, and eased off the brake to let the Dodge roll forward a few yards before having to stop again.  

It was midmorning by the time I drove into Savannah . I'd been on the go for over thirty-two hours, which usually wouldn't have been a problem, but this time I hadn't had more than a couple of forkfuls of salad and a few cups of coffee to keep me going.    

I had to drive around for another fifteen minutes before I found a parking spot close to the Always Reddy Pub, the bar Theo's friend Tim owned. The breeze from the Gulf Stream made the temperature more moderate than it had been in DC. I left my overcoat in the Dodge and went in search of the bar, a quaint – and I sneered at it – replica of a Revolutionary era pub down to the leaded windows and the sign that swung above the door.  

The building itself was white, with forest green shutters at every window. French doors on the second floor led to a small balcony which was surrounded by an elegant wrought iron railing. Instead of a regular sidewalk, the walkway consisted of flagstones.  

It was too early in the day for Reddy's regular customers, the upscale gay men of Savannah who had made this their favorite watering hole, to put in an appearance, but I knew the door would be unlocked while he checked inventory.     

Bells jingled as I opened the door, announcing my entry. The interior was dim, and I stepped to the side of the door and waited until my eyes had adjusted. There were three men at the far end of the bar.  

Like Goldilocks and the three bears, I thought, starting to get a little punchy from lack of sleep. One was too short, one was too tall, but the third was just right.  

Theo had his back to me, but I'd have known my lover anywhere and in any light. He was wearing black denim jeans that hugged the curves of his ass like a lover… like I did. My cock started to swell. //Down, you. We have things that need to get sorted out!//  

I turned my attention to the other two men. I didn't recognize them. They were both fair-haired, although the shorter one's hair appeared almost platinum.  

He had been stocking the shelves behind the bar with bottles of Scotch, vodka, gin, and he looked around and smiled.  

"Ah'm sorry," he drawled, Southern Comfort in every syllable, and I could understand why Theo might have thought himself in love with the man. "Ah'm closed right now."  

"I didn't come in for a drink."  

Theo gasped and stiffened, but he didn't turn around. "Wills?" For a second I thought he sounded hopeful.  

The other men grew tense, and while I focused on Theo, I kept them in my peripheral vision.  

"Yeah, 'Wills'."  

"How did you get here? There were no flights."  

"I drove." And I knew I'd just wanted him to sound hopeful. I willed him to turn around and face me, and finally he did, but his reluctance was evident. I wanted to grab him and shake him and… kiss him. "You didn't think I'd come after you?"  

"Well, now, actually he didn't," the taller of the two men said. "From what we gathered, he's through with you."  

"You stay out of this, whoever you are."  

"Where are ma manners?" The short man's tone of voice was insulting. "Ah'm Tim Reddy, and this heah is ma partner, Cris."  

"You used to run the stable of rentboys."  

"Why, yes. And Ah made a nice livin' out of it."  

I couldn't have cared less what he'd done. "This is between me and him." I stalked toward the end of the bar, concentrating on my lover.  

"How did you know where I was?"  

"I know everything about you except why you shredded the roses I gave you and threw the vase against the wall."  

"Uh oh! Looks like you've got yourself a stalker, Sweetcheeks," the tall one, Cris, said. He took a cigarette from a pack that was in his rolled up tee shirt sleeve, put it in his mouth, and sneered around it.  

"Don't you call him that!" I snarled.  

"Why? Because that was the name I used when I used to peddle my ass, and you don't want to face the fact? Look. We had some fun, but it's over."  

"What?" Theo couldn't mean that.  

"You heard me. We're through. You're too white-bread for me, and I'm… " He shrugged as if it didn't matter. "I'm bored with you."

"Why?" I felt as if I'd been kicked in the chest. "What did I do?"  

"You… " He seemed to catch himself, and at any other time I would have wondered what he had been about to say, but at that point I was too numb. "You didn't do anything. That's the problem."  

"Why didn't you tell me? I'd have changed. I will change."  

"No. It's too late for that. I'm used to variety. I… I need some excitement in my life."  

"You want excitement?" I didn't realize what I was going to do until it was done. Theo stared up at me from the floor, blood starting to drip from his nose.  

Cris jumped at me. I drove my fist into his gut, then ducked and lashed out at Reddy with the flat of my foot.  

It was over almost before it was started. I looked at my hands in shock, not that I had taken on the two men, but that I'd struck the man I loved. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry." My throat clogged and my eyes started to burn. "You didn't have to run, Theo. I would have… I'll get my things out of our… your apartment." I turned and headed for the door, barely able to see where I was going.  

"Just a second, White Bread!" Reddy grabbed my arm and spun me around. I was vaguely surprised he could. His hand was cocked to punch me, and I would have let him. Instead he uncurled his fingers and touched my cheek. "Y'all're cryin'."  

"No." I never cried. Michael could have told him that.  

"What? Did you hurt him, Tim?"  

"No, Ah think you did that, Sweetcheeks."  

"Stop calling him that. Look, if you're gonna punch me, punch me. It's a long drive to DC, and I… " I was stunned when Theo threw himself between us.  

"Don’t you hit him, Tim!"  

Reddy gave him a sardonic grin. "Ah had a feelin' you were a trifle over-emphatic about wantin' this guy out of your life."  

"Shut up." There was a hectic color in his cheeks, and his eyes skidded off mine. He ran his sleeve under his nose to mop up the blood. I fished a handkerchief from my pocket and gave it to him.  

"Are you gonna forgive him?"  

"Forgive me? What for?"  

"I thought… " Theo bit his lip and finally met my eyes. "I know it's stupid, but…"  

"If it's bothering you enough to break us up, it isn't stupid. Tell me what's wrong."  

"I thought… " He took a deep breath and looked away again. "I thought you were cheating on me."  

"Y'see? It isn't… You thought *what*? Never mind. That is stupid! Is that why… " I felt myself turn pale. "Jesus, that was why you were smelling me? I thought it was so hot, but you just wanted to see if I had another man's aftershave or cologne on me? Theo, why? Have I ever done anything that would make you think I wanted someone else?"  

"You could have wanted a woman again." A mouse would have had a louder voice. "I'm sorry."  

"I don't understand why you'd think I'd cheat on you. I love you."  

"Love has nothing to do with it." He didn't notice my wince. That hurt.  

"Y'see," Cris joined his partner, "Sweet… " He chuckled at my glare. "He never told us his real name."  

"It's Theo." His nose had stooped bleeding, and he tried to hand me my handkerchief.  

"Keep it," I told him, and his hand squeezed shut, and then he put it in his pocket.  

"You forgot one important thing, Theo." Cris seemed oblivious to what Theo had done. "We all cheat sooner or later. We're guys."  

"I haven't cheated!"  

Reddy turned slowly to glare at his partner. "You. Cheated. On. Me?"  

"Now, Timboy…"  

"Don't you 'Timboy' me! Ah thought you knew what would happen..."  

"I didn't cheat. I was just trying to point out…"  

I ignored them. They could sort out their own problems. "Theo, I didn't cheat on you."  

"You were gone for four weeks."  


"I know you, Wills. We've had sex two and three times a night since you moved in with me. Sometimes even more."  

"And you think I couldn't keep it in my pants for a month? Does that mean *you've* been screwing around?"  

"*No*!" He looked appalled. "I just thought… Well, someone with your sex drive wouldn't be able to last four weeks without getting laid."  

"Someone with my sex drive? Are you mental, Theo?"  

"I'm not mental," he said sulkily. "Since we've met, you've had a steady diet of sex. You can't stop cold turkey."  

"I did give my right hand a work out." I laughed, but it wasn't a happy laugh. I'd thought I was going to wind up with carpal tunnel, and how the fuck could I explain *that* to a doctor?  'Well, y'see, I spent four weeks jerking off?' "And every time I came, it was your name I moaned. Before I met you, I was too involved with work to have more than a random one night stand here and there. I didn't get much out of them, so I stopped. And then I met you. Theo, did you think I was kidding when I said I loved you? If I can't have you, I don't want anyone else."  

"Really?" He looked so hopeful it nearly broke my heart. Sometimes the years he'd lived as a rentboy came back to bite him in the ass.  

"Geez, Theo. You can be such an asshole! Do you know what yesterday was?"  

His expression became hooded, and he fidgeted. "It was a year since we met."  

"Yes. But more than that, it was a year since we became lovers. What? Did you think I'd forget the night you popped my cherry?" I was affronted. And then I blushed as I realized the other two men had stopped arguing and had overheard my last remark. I caught Theo's arm and hustled him to the other end of the bar.  

"You were out of town. Busy with work and everything."  

"But I sent you flowers…"  

"Yes. The flowers." He glared at me. "Guys send flowers when they've done something dumb and they want to make up for it."  

"And you'd know this how?"  

"I've had clients who called the florist while they were still in bed with me."  

"I'm not a fucking client! Theo, I sent you flowers because I love you and it was the anniversary of something that meant a lot to me."  

"Maybe that's so, but…but what about the note? 'I'm sorry. Forgive me. I was a fool.'"  

"*What*? That's not what I told him to put on the card!"  

"Here." He dug a card out of his pocket and threw it at me. "Read it for yourself."  

I caught the card and scanned it. "But this isn't what I told him to put on the card. It was supposed to say… " I felt my temper rising. "Y'know what? Fuck it. I've done nothing this whole year to make you think I would even look at someone else, and yet you're willing to believe that I'd fuck any warm body just because you're not around? We don't do that in my family." I turned on my heel. "I'm going back to DC. It'll take me a while to get my stuff together, but I'll be out of there as soon as I…"  

"Wills." Theo's hand on my arm stopped me, and I kept my face turned away from him, but I closed my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. "What was the note supposed to say?"  

"It was supposed to say, 'Thank you for giving me the most wonderful year of my life.'"  

"Really? I gave you the most wonderful… Really?"  

"Really. I love you, and … " The rest of my words were cut off by his lips. I sighed into his mouth and closed my eyes, and held onto him.  

His hands ran up and down my back, urging me closer and closer. "I'm sorry, baby. I'm so sorry."  

"Just please don't do this to me again." I look his hand and opened it. The palm and fingers bore the scratches of the rose thorns. I scattered kisses over it, and he shivered.  

"No. I won't. It's just…"  

"It's not easy for someone in our business to have a relationship with someone not in our business." Reddy walked up to us.  

Cris trailed after him. "Tim, don't be mad at me. I was only ragging on him."  

"Ah said we'll talk about this later. In private."  

"Yes, Boss." The taller man looked at him with soft eyes.  

"I don't care what Theo used to do. And I won't cheat on him," I murmured. I rested my head on his shoulder and muffled a yawn against it. "Sorry." Now that I knew I wasn't going to lose him, the adrenalin was leaching from my system. All the driving I had done was catching up with me.  

"You look like shit, baby."  

"Thanks so much," I mumbled. "I haven't slept in…" I yawned again.  

"C'mon. I'll put you to bed." He stepped away and took my hand, leading me to a door that concealed a set of stairs. "Tim and Cris live up here. Tim put us up in his spare bedroom."  


"Miss Su and me."  

"Theo, you're coming home with me?"  

"Yes. After you get some sleep. I'll even spell you on the drive home."  

"No one drives the Dodge."  

"Then I'll find another way to make the drive pass quickly."  

"Theo, I'm sorry I punched you in the nose. I didn't break it, did I?"  

"No. You must have pulled your punch."  

"I never pull my punches."  

"You don't?" He smiled as if he'd been given a gift, and squeezed my fingers.  

At the top of the landing was another door. It opened to a sunlit kitchen. A bundle of fur scrabbled across the tiled floor and launched itself at me.  

I caught her and laughed. "Hello, Miss Su. Did you miss Daddy?"  

"Mrroow." She stretched up and rubbed her head against my chin.  

"She isn't the only one who missed you, Wills. I'm sorry. I was so stupid. I just thought…"  

"The only thing you should think is that I love you. I'll always love you." This time when I yawned my jaws cracked. "Sorry. You said something about putting me to bed?"  

"Yes." His fingers wound in mine, and he pulled me into a kiss. We were both flushed and breathing heavily when we finally broke apart. Theo's cock was hard against my groin. "Right this way."  

I followed my lover into the bedroom and let him strip my clothes off me.  

"Your chain." He reached for it and let the gold links sift through his fingers.  

"My chain."  

He gave a crooked smile, pulled back the bedspread, and eased me down onto the bed. I turned onto my stomach.    

"Don't let me sleep too long."  

"Go to sleep." I could hear him shed his clothes.  

Miss Su leaped onto the bed and made herself comfortable, butting her head into my side, her purr telling of her pleasure to have us both here.  

"I love you, Wills." Theo dropped a kiss at the corner of my mouth, and he settled himself beside me, an arm over my hip.  

And I purred myself and fell asleep.  



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