Day After Day

by dossier

Notes & Warnings

Leon Zunoski unlocked the front door and hobbled into the foyer. The mail that hadn't yet been picked up by the upstairs neighbor was scattered on the polished, hardwood floor, and the air had a slightly musty, unused odor.

He had lived in the house on the beach since his family's return from India, but it hadn't been his home until Cyril came to stay, not so long ago. Now, Cy was gone; and Zunoski was left alone to pick up the pieces of his shattered life and body. He pulled the sheer curtains back from the patio door and leaned against the cold glass. The forlorn patio had been Baines' favorite place, watching the ocean roll in at all hours of the day or night.

There were a few brave souls out in the chilly grey afternoon, trudging resolutely down the beach road. The heavy clouds that filled the overcast sky with portent seemed to suit the mood of the sad, lonely soldier propped in the window watching the dismal scene. He considered again what action to take-- who could he go to, what retribution he could take against the Nexus Project and Shepard, in particular. What if Shepard hadn't abandoned the project after his first run in with the creature from the parallel dimension? What would they do with the facility now? Would they believe a half-mad scientist who claimed to have been on the other side? Marshall-he was certain that Marshall's ravings were no delirium caused by loss of blood, no matter the ‘official' story. Casserly had seemed so solicitous at the time, but she too was on Shepard's side.

Zunoski felt a whisper touch, a delicate caress on the back of his neck, just where Cy had liked to stroke absently when they were curled together on quiet nights. He looked up, but the shade had vanished.

He knew that somewhere, sometime they would be reunited. The last words Baines had said to him were "See you later, buddy." The death of his lover and companion was merely the sloughing off his mortal body, moving onto another body or to a new plane of existence; but it still hurt. He himself had been so very close to the light at the end of the tunnel; but it hadn't yet been his turn.

Zunoski had always believed his faith would be comforting to him, and until the reality of the situation sank in, it had been. For the first time since that fateful day in February, Zunoski cried for the sheer, utter waste of it all.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

McShane needed Baines immediately, and there weren't any military transports scheduled soon enough, so Baines came home via commercial carrier. McShane met him at the airport and delivered him to the guest quarters on base, where he'd be billeted until he arranged permanent housing.

Baines was wired; he hadn't crossed swords with night for more than 24 hours-he'd chased daylight across the international time line, and locally it was still morning. He tossed onto the bed the heavy duffel that carried everything he'd brought with him from Korea.

"Baines, how about we go get some breakfast? There are a few items we need to hammer out."

"Yeah, that'd be great, as long as it's not on base. I need real people food; Army and airplane food just don't qualify. And I need a shower first, please." Baines smiled at Oscar; it was good to be back on American soil, good to be back with his mentor. He thought the crush he'd had on McShane had dissipated, but it had struck him full force again when he'd seen him in uniform, waiting outside immigrations.

McShane and Baines climbed into the Land Rover and took off to find some breakfast. The Coffee Cup was nearby, and not too busy in the late morning. The red vinyl, kitsch décor was in accord with the bustling atmosphere of the clientele and employees. They'd gotten coffee and ordered breakfast, when Baines spoke.

"I'm sorry about Harrison."

"He was a fine man and a good soldier. It's a bitch, and a waste. He's going to be sorely missed."

Baines stared at the coffee mug he was toying with. Some years ago, he'd been fully briefed on the dangers of the ODA he hoped to join some day, but still, it was sobering to have it fully illustrated. The specter of death seemed a little unreal to Baines; he was still an immortal in his own mind. It always happened to someone else.

The food arrived, and Baines concentrated on his meal. No longer a picky eater, he ate quickly and efficiently. The last two years had taught him you eat whatever you can when you can; you never know when the next meal might roll around. Turned out Heinlein was right after all.

McShane watched with amusement, some pride, and a little sadness. The man before him today was barely recognizable as the boy he'd found in a bar nursing a bout of self-pity. He himself hadn't ordered more than toast and coffee; and hadn't touched the toast at all.

Baines finished, and wiped his mouth tidily with the serviette, then cast a speculative eye towards the lonely toast. McShane shoved it across the table toward Baines, but he declined with a gesture of his hands.

"No, thanks. That was great-- goes a long way to restoring my good nature." He sipped the slightly cooled coffee, as McShane pulled files and papers out of his briefcase.

"I had hoped that you would have a few months to train with Harrison before he retired, but that possibility is gone. The team is all here, and I'm looking for another looey to be your backup. I'll tap the Corp. We don't have the luxury of bringing up someone through the ranks this time."

Baines felt confident, he'd known all along that he'd been specifically chosen for this-and it made him feel good to know that he'd been able to make the grade. It made him uneasy, knowing that he was climbing over the back of a dead man to get to it, but sometimes that was the way it happened.

"What skills are you looking for there?"

"We'll go over that a little more tomorrow. I mainly wanted to pass these on, so that you would have a chance to look them over before tonight."

Baines was leafing quickly through the personnel dossiers. "I'll read these this afternoon. When were we meeting again?"

"About seventeen hundred hours at the NONCOM club. I think they'll let us in for a few moments." Baines chuckled, and recalled the holy hell that the entrance of a commissioned officer had caused in the NC at Redstone-the denizens there would virtually heckle officers out of their lair.

McShane really hated to do this right here and now, but the deed had to be done.

"I have an issue to address, and I think it needs to be now."

The young soldier looked up at him with his huge, guileless eyes, the bright California morning light streaming in through the window made them appear clear as green bottle glass.

"All right, Colonel." He was tense, waiting for the other shoe to drop. The tone of voice McShane used clued him in this was no longer a first name basis conversation.

"Baines, I know you have a certain sexual ‘flexibility'."

He had feared that McShane would eventually find out about his particular bent. He flushed from the toes up, and took a deep breath; his glance flickered down to the tabletop as he messed with the empty sugar packets on the table. Baines was vacillating about what answer to supply.

He finally looked McShane in the eye. "Yes sir, you could say that." There was no way he could deny it to this man, although anyone else in the Army would have gotten a flat denial.

"I'm glad that you have the courage to admit it; even prouder that you trust me enough to own up to this. Baines, I care about you, and I want you to succeed. You succeed, I look good, and it's that simple."

Baines felt a little less like throwing up, and able to take a whole breath. "Yes, sir."

McShane's eyes took on a hard glint. "But... Let us be very clear on one thing. While I personally don't give a flip about your lifestyle, my official position is, of necessity, in direct correlation with Army policy. It doesn't happen in the military, it doesn't happen in the ODA. What I don't see, I can't discipline."

Baines blood pressure dropped about twenty points; he swallowed reflexively but managed to look McShane in the eye. "I understand sir, crystal clear. I, uh, try to... that is, I mean..." Pausing, Baines was absolutely mortified that this discussion was even taking place, and the flush of a moment ago had settled into a nice beet-red color. He took a breath and schooled the hitch out of his voice. "What I mean to say is I have always attempted to keep this a private matter." He went back to the massacre of the tiny paper envelopes, staring out the window; from the look on his face the internal conversation was probably a discourse in self-recrimination.

"And in general, I think you've done very well in that regard." McShane smiled. "I wouldn't have known for sure, if you hadn't just confirmed it."

Baines yelped, "What?" The surprise made him forget protocol, horror dawning in his eyes. "Oh, my god." The red faded to white as he realized the implications of that statement. He had been cozened into admitting his contraindicated sexual lifestyle to his commanding officer.

"Cheer up, Baines. I'm not particularly concerned about you being gay, but shit like that can mess up a tightly knit team." McShane looked cool and composed-why shouldn't he? He was the one that had planned and executed this ambush.

The lieutenant gripped the edge of the table tightly, trying to maintain control. The implicit trust he'd had for his mentor had been shattered; was it a rite of passage, or a test of loyalty? Was McShane in fact just pissing on him to make sure he knew who was top dog?

"You're still in, Baines. All the reports from your commanding officers have been exemplary, and the few mishaps have shown that you can handle yourself in a crisis."

"Yes, sir." It took every ounce of self-control that he had to remain calm. He wasn't going to give McShane the satisfaction of knowing that he was devastated. Talk about messing up team dynamics.

McShane looked at Baines, who was pale, slightly sweating and more than a little shaky.

"Come on Baines. You need to catch a few hours sleep before tonight, or you're going to fall flat on your ass."

"Yes sir, it's been a really long day, about two days worth."

Baines stripped his uniform off and carefully hung it up-this was the only one he'd brought with him from Korea. The rest were cammies--not that there were very many of them, either.

He picked up the phone and called home, collect. It was midday California time, but his awareness of the day of the week was more than a little hazy; he hoped someone would be home, especially his mother. The connection had a tinny sound; he'd had better connections from Korea.

"Baines Residence." He sighed in relief; it was his mom. He was far too upset and exhausted to deal with his father at the moment. He just wanted to talk to a friendly voice.

"Collect call from Cyril Baines. Will you accept?"

"Yes, of course!"

"Thank you for using AT&T." The operator clicked off.

"Hi, Mom. I'm back in the States."

"What happened? I thought you were in Panmumbo-jumbo for six months?"

Cyril laughed. "Pan-mun-jom. Panmunjom, Mom- you can say it. That's what I called to tell you. McShane's called me back early for the ODA assignment I've been waiting for." He very carefully didn't tell her why the Lieutenant needed replacing unexpectedly, or the ordeal he'd just been through with McShane.

"That's wonderful for you, Cy. Are we going to get to see you this year?"

"Oh, puleeese, mother. Let's not get histrionic. It hasn't been that long since I was home."

"I know that, but I miss my baby boy."

Baines rolled his eyes, but he was pleased nonetheless. "I miss you too, Mom but I have to go-- just called to let you know I was back. I'll call you when I get a little more settled and know what's going on. I'll need you to send some stuff on to me."

"Okay sweetheart, I will. I love you and be safe." She knew it was more than she could hope for, considering her son's career, and the state of world affairs; but it never hurt to add the admonishment.

"Always. I love you too. Bye." Baines always humored her, and played down the kind of things he did for the Army.

He replaced the phone in the cradle and flopped back on the bed, closing his eyes.

In some way, the conversation with McShane about his lifestyle was a relief, though the entrapment technique used to extract it from him pissed him off. It certainly took care of any lingering remains of the crush he'd still felt this morning.

Baines had truly thought he would be able to keep his need a secret for longer, maybe even give up the want altogether, sublimate the desire, bury it in devotion to his work. He had been bisexual for all of his adult life, but so far, being that way hadn't worked out very well for him. The need to belong and acceptance as an integral part of the gestalt far overrode the clingy annoying distraction of being gay; indeed, the way he felt right now, sex in general was more trouble than it was worth.

He set the alarm on his watch for sixteen hundred hours and let the exhaustion, physical and emotional, take him into limbo, spare pillow crushed to his chest like a drowning man clutching a life jacket as he floated off to oblivion.

The small group met at the base NONCOM club at about seventeen hundred to avoid the crowd that would appear later. McShane had chosen the venue because he and Baines were the only two commissioned officers, and because of its easy informality. McShane had told them that Harrison's replacement was being pulled in from a seasoning tour of duty in the Korean DMZ; originally he had been going to be an addition to the team after his tour in Korea was over. The preview didn't elicit much faith, some of them were grumbling about fresh meat with a shiny insignia.

They were still raw from the loss of Lt. Harrison. He'd been attached to a battalion in Kuwait, and had made a fatal miscalculation while defusing a land mine on the Iraqi border.

Colonel Oscar McShane entered the room with Lieutenant Cyril Baines in tow. Baines looked tired-- his internal clock said it was 0830 and kept reminding him that the nap he'd taken had been far too short. The men at the table stood as McShane approached.

"Gentlemen, I'd like you to meet the new Lieutenant, Cyril Baines."

McShane introduced them one by one and Baines shook each of their hands in turn. "Sergeants Mancini and Clarendon, Privates Zunoski and Adams."

The band of men that faced him at the table was an unlikely looking bunch. It looked like someone had forgotten to tell two of them that the military had regulations about uniforms and hair. The dossiers and files hadn't prepared him in the least. Clarendon and Adams were back up personnel, more firepower and muscle than skill. The two Dolph Lundgren lookalikes were the epitome of the Army stereotype; they were young and married with small children at home. Already close friends; they were into family back yard barbecues and being shade tree mechanics as a shared hobby. Sergeant Mancini used a carefully crafted Cheech and Chong look as a disguise for a sharp mind that knew his occupation, logistical planning. He also was married, to a young Latino girl with a huge family that made him glad to be away most of the time. Private Zunoski could be McShane Junior, except for the calm that was very nearly an aura about him; he was a lithe whip of a man with angular planes to his face. Zunoski was the team hacker; that left himself as Ordnance Officer to complete the team, though he couldn't fill the distinct void left by Harrison's sudden demise.

ODA teams were in some cases required to go under cover, and the military appearance could be dangerous -- a dead giveaway -- so they were allowed to operate under a different set of rules and regulations. Baines preferred short hair, even in high school when his classmates were wearing their hair modishly long.

But soft pale blond hair, long and feathered, looked good on Zunoski. Baines clamped down tight on that thought. Bad Bad Bad! Not six hours ago he had the riot act read to him about gay sex in the military, and already his eyes and mind were wandering.

So much for resolutions.

He felt a little out of place with his crisply pressed BDU and regulation 0-3 buzz. Baines hadn't realized the meeting was going to be so informal, so he chalked the uniform up to making a good first impression. When McShane sat, the rest of the team did as well, allowing Baines to take the right hand seat.

"Baines is still having a little culture shock, he's spent the best part of the last ninety days in a tank patrolling the DMZ-go easy on him."

The meeting went as expected. They all had a few beers and used the opportunity to get to know each other a little better. The banter stayed low key with the specter of Harrison hanging over their heads. Baines was able -- mostly -- to convince them that, despite his slim experience, he would be a competent officer. It was agreed that they would meet again later in the week, after Baines'd had a chance to get settled in and go over the training agenda for the upcoming mission. Clarendon, Adams and Mancini left for home. McShane and Zunoski were left to chat with Baines for a few minutes longer.

Baines was still off-center from both anger and jet lag; the beer was particularly effective because of it. He managed to maintain an air of forced civility, but fortunately McShane only tested his stamina for a few more minutes. After McShane left, Baines was able to relax some and he and Zunoski talked a little longer about where they were from, etc., the casual things that helped strangers connect. Zunoski had a quicksilver mind that made it easy to talk him, and they seemed to bond instantly.

Baines eventually ended the conversation. "Zunoski, I'm beat. I can't believe the beer went to my head like that. I gotta go." Baines stood up, intending to walk to the BOQ to clear his head, but Zunoski insisted on fulfilling his commitment to McShane, that he would see to getting the new Looey home.

"No, Lieutenant, please, I'll drive you. I have to go past the BOQ to get off base, anyway-- McShane would be royally pissed at me if I didn't." Zunoski stood up, draining the last of the beer in his glass. They left the NONCOM club, and Zunoski pointed out his vehicle.

It could only be construed as a jalopy. The '64 Valiant Plymouth was a faded blue, with rust as its complementary color. The floorboards were fiber-glassed slabs of plywood, and the dusty interior was a clutter of paper coffee cups and miscellaneous mail. It started smoothly though, with the purr of a well-tuned engine. "Nice ride, Zunoski." Baines was more than half kidding.

"Hey, don't knock it - we've been transcontinental four times together." He patted the dashboard, as if it were a good dog.

Baines laughed, and pulled out a favorite line. "In this thing? You're braver than I thought."

Zunoski got the joke, and they laughed together. Baines was glad to find someone he shared some common interests with - it ended the day on a better note than the start of it had suggested would be possible. The Lieutenant returned to a previous conversation. "Off base, huh? Where do you live, Zunoski?"

"I have a little house on the coast, across the bay. Horrible drive in rush hour, but the view is spectacular and the surfing is great, too-- if you can stand the cold. You oughta come out some time."

Baines yawned just as he opened his mouth to reply "Yeah that'd be great." He laughed. "It does sound great. I've been here once or twice as a kid, years ago, with my parents, though I remember the cold water like it was yesterday."

"I have an idea, you have any plans for tomorrow night?

"I have a feeling I'm about to."

"Yeah, why don't you come on out to the homestead and we'll burn some shrimp on the barbie. Get you back into the mainstream of real life after Korea."

Baines had to admit that it sounded much better than staying on base and eating at the mess hall. "Yes, I will, thank you for the invitation.

"That's settled then, I'll pick you up." Zunoski smiled, and thought ‘polite boy'.

"Are you going to be on base tomorrow?" Baines was wondering how he was going to get out there.

"Only to pick you up."

"I don't have any idea what my office phone number is yet." "You going to use Harrison's old office?"

"I haven't been told that, though I would assume so."

Zunoski pulled up to the curb in front of the temporary housing where Baines was quartered. "It's cool then. I know the number. Here, I'll give you mine, and you can call and tell me where you end up tomorrow, if it's any different." Zunoski sorted through the various papers and mail on the seat beside him, and found an empty envelope. He scribbled a number on it and handed it to Baines.

"Such lovely stationary, Zunoski."

"Ain't it, though? Recycling in its purest form. Call me if you've got problems, otherwise I'll see you tomorrow. Bring swim gear, we'll go surfing if it's any good."

"Surfing, uhm, I don't have anything like that with me-we didn't have too much need for it in the DMZ."

Zunoski laughed. "Oh, yeah. Guess not. Don't worry about it, we'll rustle something up."

"Yeah, sound great, Thanks, I appreciate the ride." Baines opened the car door and stepped out. "G'night, Private."

"Later, Lieutenant."

The next day he spent making himself at home in the office of the former Lt. Harrison, though calling it an office was a stretch of the imagination. It was barely a cubby with a desk and file cabinet. Blessedly, someone had already gathered up and boxed Harrison's personal effects, leaving them in the corner. His body hadn't yet even made it back from Middle East, Baines discovered in the piles of paperwork that had stacked up. Harrison's' family was patiently waiting for the snafu to be cleared up, so they could have a funeral. That went in the priority pile for investigation.

The stack of boxes in the corner reminded him to call his mother with the address to forward the belongings he had shipped home on his posting overseas, but it would take at least a week for them to arrive. The bulk of the day was spent filing paperwork, locating things and organizing them to his satisfaction. It was mid-afternoon, and he was just about to call Zunoski to check what time he planned on being there, when he heard a knock on the door. He hollered ‘come', and McShane opened the door.

"How's it going, Baines?"

His hair didn't exactly stand up on the back of his neck, but it was close. Baines gritted his teeth, and forced himself to be polite. "Not too bad, actually. I have things organized to a certain extent, and I think I'm up to date on what correspondence needs to be done. There were only a few critical things buried here." He blanched internally at his own bad pun.

"Impressive, Baines."

"Thank you, Colonel. I was thinking about knocking off early. I need to get a few essentials I didn't bring with me and see if I can't arrange more permanent housing on base."

Another knock on the open door, and Private Zunoski entered the office. He saluted both McShane and Baines, more for McShane's benefit, Baines suspected from the lazy gesture. They returned the salute, and arrogantly McShane assumed that Zunoski had come looking for him.

"What can I do for you, Private?"

"I was on base, and I was wondering if the *Lieutenant* needed any errands run. I've finished for the day, and thought I would offer my services as escort to Lt. Baines." Zunoski's words were all perfectly correct, but the tone of his voice almost edged into insolence. Baines wondered about the dynamic between them; Zunoski wore a smooth, bland look.

Baines was mortified. He wondered if the coincidence was going to be interpreted by Colonel McShane in an unfavorable light, and if the disrespect was intentional -or just his perception of McShane coloring the words he heard. Appearances were more than half the battle, and Zunoski had no idea what subtexts were afloat like so much flotsam on the current of yesterday's conversation.

McShane didn‘t appear to notice, or was ignoring the verbal slight. "Good thinking, Zunoski. Take off, Baines. You've accomplished more today than has been done in this office in the last two weeks."

"I, uh I appreciate that, Colonel. Thank you."

"I'll see you tomorrow. We have to get the parachute certifications started soon."

"Yes, sir. I'll get on it the first thing in the morning."

McShane took his leave, Baines and Zunoski saluted as he left. The three of them in the tiny office made a crowd, especially with McShane, who seemed to take up enough room for two.

Zunoski closed the door behind the Colonel.

Baines slumped down in his chair. "Zunoski, you must be a mind reader. I was just about to call you, and in the middle of making excuses to exit stage left."

"You would have been sorely disappointed, then. I got to thinking that you really arrived on short notice, with no chance to get settled in."

"Yeah, the duffel was all I brought back from Korea. I had the company clerk ship the other stuff back home."

"Well, in that case Lieutenant, let's boogey out of here, we got places to go and things to do."

There was a quick trip through a discount store, and after consulting Zunoski about a bank, a stop at the credit union next to the base so Baines could set up a local bank account. After that, they were sailing across the Bay Bridge, over the peninsula through town. The weather was damp, gray and the sun barely shown through the clouds. "Don't think we're going to do much surfing this afternoon, are we?"

"Sure we can, if you still want to. Hell, it has to be fucking pea soup to keep some of the die hards from hitting the boards." Zunoski glanced over at Baines calculatingly, and added. "Begging your pardon, Sir."

Baines looked a little confused. "What? Oh, at ease Zunoski, don't worry about it. I guess if you waited for a sunny day you'd wait a long time."

"It's not that bad, we do have entire *days* that go by with little or no fog."

"I look forward to it. I was really tired living in the South. Too hot."

"Most of the time we don't have that problem here."

They whipped through the Mission District, down Noriega, and as they came over the hill, the fog lifted slightly. The Pacific filled the horizon, a dark, steely expanse. They arrived at a smallish two-story brown house, right on the Great Highway that runs parallel to the beach for a few miles.

The top story had been remodeled into an apartment, and Zunoski rented it to Dave the Surfer Dude, who had lived there for years. Dave was a Vietnam vet, with a mild case of PTSD. He occasionally would run out on his balcony above the street, and yell at the passer-bys for some imagined transgression. He lived on his disability pension, and the cash that he earned doing odd car repairs for the neighbors. Zunoski cut him a break on the rent and Dave made sure the Plymouth stayed in top running condition.

Baines was immediately drawn to the small, gated patio that faced the ocean. "I bet the sunsets are spectacular when there's no fog."

"Their rarity makes them ever more special, Baines. Although you have to keep in mind, the sun really does manage to set every single day, regardless of whether or not we see it..."

Zunoski spent a few minutes putting the few groceries away and then took Baines on the ‘grand tour'. The main room's focal point was the glass west wall that faced the Pacific across the patio. The room was neat with a minimal amount of furniture, mostly eastern and Oriental. The pale wood floors were polished and unadorned, and the glass wall had simple, white, sheer curtains as their only covering.

The patio, which was furnished as sparsely as the room behind the glass, had a papa-san chair, a low table, and a hammock strung across one end. A plant or two, a pair of outdoor stereo speakers, and a hibachi completed the décor. The low iron fence that separated the patio from the street had been painted white at one time, and the brown paint on the exterior of the house? was starting to peel off. The access road, a median strip, and then the Great Highway itself, lay between the house and the ocean.

Baines immediately fell in love with the patio, with its main features-- the sound and smell of the Pacific Ocean. The traffic and the people walking down the sidewalk proved to be a minor distraction.

"Baines, would you like a beer?"

"Yes, thank you, that would be great. I promise to not get drunk on one beer today."

"Don't worry about it."

Baines shuffled through the small collection of music, mostly vinyl with a smattering of CD's and cassettes ranging from classic to experimental to jazz and blues. He picked up and looked at a few mementos and books, and the sudden realization hit him that he had never managed to put down any roots of his own. He was still living a vagabond existence, though if it came right down to it, he'd have to say he lived at home with his mother. That had an ugly sound to it. He'd gone from college to the Army, and from there moved from base to MOS, to an assignment. This was the first opportunity he'd had to think about making a place of his own in the world.

Zunoski returned with a pair of Corona long necks with a lime shoved inside.

"Here, have a beer."

"Thanks. Nice place, Zunoski." They gravitated toward the patio, and stood in front of the open door, drinking their beer.

"My parents bought it years ago, and when we moved back to the States, when we ended up here in San Fran. They sold it to me for next to nothing and moved to the mountains in Montana a couple of years back."

"I never even thought about buying a house or anything like that."

"Sort of just happened, you know. Can't say I think about it very much, it's a place. It's paid for, and it looks good in the investment portfolio, so I keep it. "

Baines had a savings account that he barely managed to stash a few bucks in every now and then, much less an investment portfolio. "It's more than that. It's your own place, you know? Everything about it says something about you."

"You think so?"

"Definitely." This private seemed to have so much on the ball. He was very self-confident, and that was like a flame to a moth for Baines. He already realized he was going to have to be very careful around this one.

Baines took a drink from the beer, tilting his chin up as he swallowed. The filtered light from the window highlighted his profile, and Zunoski took note of the fine contour of his impossibly cute nose, the dark lashes that framed the changeable eyes, the unruly forelock falling down over his brow. The sucker punch was the self-effacing look in his eyes, vulnerable uncertainty that seemed to leak from him. Zunoski knew he was going to have weeks of jack-off material, imagining the good Lieutenants' lips wrapped around his dick. Too bad he was a pretty, het boy.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

"Hey, Baines! Are you up for a little amusement this weekend?"

The whole troop was on the army bus heading back from Alameda Airbase. They had been jumping out of airplanes for a week now, getting their final parachute certifications for the upcoming mission in Panama. Mancini had qualified, barely, and was recuperating, slumped down in the seat with his knees propped up against the back of the seat in front of him. Baines was sitting immediately adjacent to him, and Zunoski was across the aisle. McShane was in the seat behind him.

"I don't know, I need to go into the office and file the certifications, and do what ever has piled up this week."

"Come on Baines, lighten up! The best party of the year is downtown on Saturday night. It's a regular pageant of the weird, unusual and alternative lifestyles of the not so famous."

"What's that?" Baines asked the question he was obviously intended to ask-- straight man for Zunoski again.

Zunoski had done his best to get Baines off base and into the stream of things, but he stubbornly resisted sometimes. Zunoski found it mysterious and confounding at times.

"Exotic Erotic Ball -- you can't miss it. Hey we could even dress up and go incognito!"

Mancini mumbled at Baines. "Don't do it, man. Dude talked me into going last year. Jesus Christ, I had 40 faggots hit on me."

Baines flushed slightly, the temperature in the bus had apparently gone up a few degrees. "Wha-" he cleared his throat and tried again. "What do you mean, Mancini?"

Zunoski jumped in. "Mancini, you were beautiful! They couldn't keep their hands off of him."

"It's a fucking party for a bunch of fucking faggots who just want to show off for the perverts that like to go and watch."

Baines could feel McShanes eyes boring into the back of his head, warning him to tread lightly here.

"I, uh. I'll think about it Zunoski."

"Don't wait too long, I have to get a costume ready for you if you decide to go."

"Costume?"

"It's a Halloween party, Ace. You know, the last day of the month in October? Ghosts, goblins and such?"

Baines didn't mind the costume part, considering the circumstances. He was doubtful that going to this party with Zunoski was a very good idea, though. "Yeah, right. Costume."

The idea did intrigue him. He had seen some flyers plastered on windows and telephone poles, but had been too busy to pay too much attention to them. San Francisco was a dangerous place to live for one who was trying his hardest to go straight.

But maybe the costume part would be his saving grace.

Friday was mainly left to them to recuperate from the last few weeks of training. Baines had gotten up earlier than usual; the germ of an idea had gotten hold of him, and wasn't letting go. He tied on the trainers and after a short warm-up, ran like hell around the base. He was trying to get this notion out of his head, and hoped that a fast paced run would distract him. No way.

He showered, and no luck.

He went to his office and tried to drown it in paper work.

The concept was still pestering him, and his subconscious wasn't helping, it was in fact, embroidering the imprudent plan with exquisite detail.

It was no use. He was going to do it. After a call to Zunoski to give his regrets, he locked the door to the office, changed into civvies, and took off for the bus stop at the gate of the base.

He hit a few costume shops, but they all told him the same thing. "Sorry, nothing left, been sold out for weeks." Not to be discouraged, he found a few thrift and surplus stores down off California. He hurried through them. They were too distressingly close to Zunoski's place for comfort. It was going to be a gamble, but he figured the large crowd ought to be pretty good cover.

He found the things he was looking for, then a hotel a few blocks away from Union Square, not too far from the Moscone, but far enough away that they were likely to have a few rooms left for the following night. No way was he leaving or returning to base in costume. He paid cash in advance for Saturday night and went back to base with his purchases under his arm.

It was a costume in that it wasn't his regular everyday clothing, but it wasn't overly flashy. Cobbled together from various pieces, he ended up with a combination Han Solo/Pirate theme, with a plain black mask. The entire costume had been formulated from the boots up-he'd found them half way through his spree yesterday. He'd almost broken down and gone in drag, but then the boots had surfaced, and drag was so *done*. Knee high jackboots pulled over the tight black denims, The holster with a toy laser pistol that flashed and made noise was strapped his right thigh, an empty bandoleer he'd borrowed at the base went over the billowy white shirt with the lace ascot and cuffs. The canteen he filled with Jack Daniels, and draped it across his chest.

Thousands of near-naked bodies, male and female, as well as every possible theme of Halloween disguise surrounded Baines. He walked through the huge crowds scoping out the bodies, and keeping his eyes open in case he saw Zunoski.

It was heaven. He was anonymous, no one expected anything from him, and he could do exactly as he pleased. Baines wasn't into the whole one-night stand thing as a rule, but there were some days that it was just what was called for.

He flirted and worked his way across the room, until he found a hot boy that he clicked with. God, it had been AGES since he'd the opportunity to really cut loose. He danced, hot and nasty, with his new companion petting and groping until it was impossible for Baines to put him off any longer. Baines grabbed the nameless boy, stood on the dance floor and kissed him roughly, tongue shoved down his throat. His acquaintance melted a little in his arms, signaling that he would submit to Baines, however he wanted.

Baines turned his cohort around and keeping his arm around the slim shoulders started to move toward the exit. The object of his passion had another idea, and dragged Baines behind an exhibit. Baines smiled as the boy dressed as a djinn fell to his knees and pulled Baines toward him. It wasn't particularly private, but reasonably well concealed, enough for the act his djinn had in mind; and no one else was going to pay them any attention.

The Djinn grabbed Baines' hips, as he roughly undid the belt and yanked the zipper and jeans down. Immediately, he captured Baines' dripping prick in his mouth and deep throated him down to the roots with no preparation or warning. The nameless stranger on his knees in front of Baines was obviously a professional. He could, Baines supposed, be a talented amateur, but there was no doubt in Baines mind that this was absolutely a world class blowjob. He blew his wad down the throat of the boy, who continued to suck him off until he was hard again, then zipped his trousers up. Baines was dizzy. He needed to cum again in the sweet round ass that had been teasing him as they danced. He wanted sex. Lots of hot sex with a boy toy, and this was just the beginning. He offered the Djinn a drink of whiskey, and then kissed him hard, wrapping a possessive hand behind his head. He had turned and was about to take his trophy out, when he came face to face with Zunoski.

Fuck. Not the good kind, but Fuck.

Goddammit. Fucking hell. Shit! Baines started out with the basic swear words in his vocabulary, ran through the rest then started to make up more, as he stood rooted to the spot looking at Zunoski. He should have paid attention to the nasty glare from McShane.

The Djinn sensed that his party was suddenly over. He escaped Baines' grasp, and actually scampered, *scampered* back into the crowd. Baines put out a hand, and looked towards his lost prize, but didn't move.

"Having fun, Baines?" Zunoski looked at him with unholy glee in his eyes, and a truly depraved grin on his face. The Edwardian cut-away tuxedo, the vampire make up and the hair darkened and gelled flat, all made the demon-like appearance work perfectly for Zunoski.

Baines was still frozen to the spot as Zunoski stepped forward and dragged a finger down the side of his face - he didn't' know whether to shit or run, or slug the Private. Zunoski settled the argument for him with a kiss, quick and hard, then walked back into the swirl of humanity.

Baines shook his head, and tried to figure out if that was a hallucination, or if he'd just been outed then kissed by someone under his command. Fuck.

Shit, he had to figure this out NOW. He pushed through the crowd in the direction that Zunoski had disappeared. He looked for about a half-hour, but no luck. Throughout the rest of the evening he continued to scan the crowd for that particular vampire face, and ended up being too distracted by worry to have very much fun.

Discouraged and angry, Baines started to leave by the main entrance once he'd drunk the last of his whiskey. He was definitely drunk, and wanted to get drunker. Another fucking great idea, Baines. Go to the party by yourself.

He didn't see the one person he'd been looking for until Zunoski stepped in next to him and walked along side him.

"Great party."

Startled, Baines shot a look over his shoulder and then stopped. He took an offensive posture, arms down at his side, fists clenched. "What the hell was that, Zunoski?"

"What was what Baines? You sticking your tongue down the throat of a rent boy barely of age, or me doing this?" Zunoski swiftly leaned in and kissed Baines again, roughly, forcing his lips open and shoving his tongue inside to ravage Baines' mouth. Zunoski broke the kiss, then pushed Baines away slightly. "That was a kiss, Baines. I was sure you'd have recognized it the first time."

Baines wiped his wet lips with the lace sleeve at his wrist. So Zunoski hadn't got the whole show, just the tagline. He whispered a question.

"Why?"

Zunoski gave Baines a curious look, and then took his elbow and steered him out the door. The cold evening air was damp, and the full moon was high in the sky, a bright ring around its hard, round shape. Baines stopped and moved his elbow out of Zunoski's hand, reaching into his shirt for his cigarettes and lighter. His hands shook slightly as they cupped the tip of the cigarette while he lit it, then inhaled deeply.

"Why, Baines?" Zunoski repeated the question and paused until Baines looked him in the eye. "Because I wanted to. Because you wanted me to."

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

Baines was tired of the permanent, on-base quarters. They were adequate, and logistically they were certainly cheap and convenient- no car necessary and he didn't have to worry about maintenance or repairs, but the idea of settling down and having someplace of his own had stuck in his craw, and it wasn't letting him go.

Nor was the niggling want for Zunoski. They had become friends, but not so close that Baines was going to make the same mistake he did with Marty. One, that little fiasco still hurt and pissed him off, and Two, McShane would have his hide, and his career, too. The threat of a dishonorable discharge from the only thing he'd ever wanted in his life was enough to keep him trying to live on the straight and narrow. Living on base made it easy, there were very few temptations, and the couple of times he made it off base for trips to clubs were in the company of someone that assured he would generally keep his resolve intact, with a few exceptions. Hopefully not glaring. McShane is watching.

Except for Zunoski. He would invite Baines over to the house for dinner, surfing, or to watch whatever game was on. Baines would accept only about half of the offers. It would be so easy to fall into the honey pot, just sipping at the pools' edge. Zunoski was different at home than he was on base or at training; he was warm and friendly. They both knew what the score was, by unspoken, tacit agreement.

Baines knew that Zunoski wouldn't expose him to McShane, he seemed to have as much at risk; but rumors flew like ravens, and he couldn't risk even the faintest possibility of taint.

And it was easier this way, staying solitary. No chance of being hurt, and no chance of losing everything he had gained. Baines had slowly come to realize that McShane was only doing what he thought necessary, and had forgiven him to a degree, but the change in their relationship had left Baines a little nostalgic for the missing hero worship. Years and years ago, his father had been a hero to him, but that trust had been broken, and some part of him was always looking for a replacement, but they were always imperfect. McShane had been too sexually attractive, and the others he had chosen over the years hadn't lived up to his own impossibly high standards. It was so much easier to stay aloof and insular than to have your heart broken again and again.

Yet, despite all his internal protestations to the contrary, he couldn't quite shut himself off completely. He did accept some of the invitations to hang out at Zunoski's place. So, one early winter afternoon he found himself on the cross-town afternoon bus heading towards the ocean front house.

Zunoski was lounging in the hammock as Baines came up the walk.

"Hey, Baines, glad to see you could make it."

"It was hard to tear myself away from the paperwork, but I managed."

Baines opened the creaky wrought iron gate and fell into the papa-san chair.

"So, Baines, ask me what I've been doing all day."

He grinned, "I'll bite, what have you been doing all day, Zunoski?"

"Rearranging and moving things, cleaning things up."

"Sounds very domestic, did you get your estrogen shot today?"

"Something like it. C'mon I'll show you." Zunoski easily flipped out of the hammock, and Baines followed him into the house. The computer and all its peripherals, software and books were on a new desk at the back of the living room.

"Christ, you have been busy. Why did you move all this out here?"

"You'll see." Zunoski continued down the hallway towards the back of the house, and led Baines into the former computer room. There was a new bed and dresser, and nothing else. "I decided I needed a guest room since having guests regularly sleeping on the couch was in poor taste."

"Uhm, uh." Baines cleared his throat, and tried again. "Wow, Zunoski that's, uh. Nice, very charitable of you."

"Not charity, Baines. I have an ulterior motive."

Baines looked at the man next to him. The clear blue eyes were smiling, looking at him expectantly. "What ulterior motive is that, Zunoski?"

"You need to get off base, and I like having you around. I think you like being here. Come and stay as often or as little as you like." He handed him a house key on a chain.

"Welcome home, Baines."

This was what he was afraid of. This was what he desperately wanted. He held the chain gingerly in his fingers as the key dangled from it. He could do it. He could come on the weekends and still keep Zunoski at arms' length. Baines twirled the key a couple of times as he considered the room, and the ramification of the intent. He caught the key in the palm of his hand, and stuffed it in his pocket.

"Thanks, Zunoski."

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

Baines finally relented and bought a car. Taking the bus to the apartment on the weekends was getting a little tedious, and his schedule didn't always coincide with that of Bay Area Transit. He'd had to call Zunoski to be rescued once or twice. The Plymouth that Zunoski drove ran fine, better than fine, but he wasn't as oblivious to the material as Zunoski. He liked to have a little flash around him. The Camaro was more Baines' speed. He was a pariah in the environmentalist circle for the powerful V-8 but he hadn't cared. It was his first brand new car, and it was perfection. It was a deep chocolate brown, T-tops and the interior was in camel brown leather with Rally Sport wheels, fuel-injected 305 with duel turbo muffler exhaust, and a top speed of 185mph. Or at least that was as fast as he'd been able to take it to on the few times he'd been able to get out on the road. He'd considered racing in the class stock car races, but the crunch was coming time-wise. Maybe in January, after Panama. Clarendon and Adams had offered to help him add the fun toys he'd need to compete on the track.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

So far December had been a hellish month. The orders were in, and they had been feverishly working on their objectives prior to departure. There had also been a slow migration of his belongings to the house, before Baines realized the futility of his effort to avoid officially moving in with Zunoski-- he'd already managed to accomplish the task. The housing clerk had been the one who unwittingly forced the issue by reminding Baines that he had to re-sign for the BOQ by December 23 in order to keep it for the first quarter of the next year. There was no point in keeping the apartment on base as a bolthole anymore, especially since he was going to be gone for the last two weeks of the year. They had to get to Fort Benning by the fifteenth for their final briefing, and there was no way to know if he would be back after Panama.

Baines didn't relish the idea of telling McShane that he had moved in with Zunoski. He had no idea how McShane was going to react to the news, so he was going to lie by omission, and simply gave him the address and the new phone number he'd installed. Let him figure it out. He filed the release forms, piled the few belongings from the apartment into the Camaro, and took off for home.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

The return from Panama was a disappointment, no hero's welcome for their hard work and sacrifices. The political imbroglio surrounding the capture and subsequent confinement of Manuel Noriega had kicked up a dust storm that clouded any light from shining on the American Servicemen that had made it possible.

Baines had been in a Dobi splint, doing mostly paperwork at home. It was terribly boring and a let down from the frenzied weeks before the drop at Rio Hato.

He sat on the patio, a forgotten cigarette burning in his hand, jealously watching the early risers jogging on the walk and the mist burning off as the sun warmed the air. He was antsy. For the last seven years or so, he had regularly run -- on top of the other physical training it took to stay in top form for the Cougars, and then for the Army.

The surgery was finally scheduled, and in another week he would be on his way to Washington. The what-ifs and should-have-dones were eating away at him, and had been since three am. What if he had caved in the minute it was injured? What if he hadn't spent those hours ignoring the injury? It was certain he hadn't made it any better.

Zunoski came through the patio door and piled into the hammock.

"Can't sleep?"

"Nope."

"M'sorry. You want some coffee?"

"Had some earlier, but I'd take some more if you're making."

"No wonder you couldn't get back to sleep. You should try some pranayama. It's a breathing exercise for relaxing and stress relief. And you are stressed, man. It's easy to learn, and doesn't use any muscles."

"I want to use my muscles. I'm going crazy sitting on my ass. I want to jump over the fence and run down the beach like a maniac."

‘No kidding Baines, it'll help. Come on I'll show you. He executed his trademark flip out of the hammock and landed on his feet. Zunoski took the cigarette out of his hand, and stubbed it out. "And like *this* is helping you, Baines."

Baines was amused by the gesture, and allowed Zunoski to position his hands, arrange his legs and then followed instructions as Zunoski spoke.

"Just close your eyes, and relax your shoulders, and chest. You feel comfortable this way? Can you breathe through your nose?"

He nodded, but said nothing.

"Okay, start by inhaling slowly, and deeply. Push your belly out so the diaphragm expands and you can take in as much air as possible."

Baines breathed in, and breathed in until Zunoski said to stop. "Now, let it out slow, just as slow as you took it in. Suck in your gut to push all the air out. Don't make it hurt, just until it's all gone. Just relax, open up and free the breath."

Zunoski watched Baines' face in repose, as he was counting the length of the breaths for him. Technically the chin was a bit weak, the eyes a fraction too far apart, and the nose was tipped upwards. But it wasn't the parts, it was the whole thing -- the package. The dark brow, the forehead sweeping high, the mobile mouth that worked as he concentrated on breathing through his nose.

Zunoski closed his eyes and breathed in unison with Baines, keeping time for him. Baines took in ten good breaths and then yawned and coughed as he stumbled over an exhalation that got confused with an inhalation.

"Feel any better? Takes some practice, but it's great for chilling when you're all worked up."

"Yeah it was okay." Baines regained his breath, and coughed again.

"A resounding endorsement. I'll put it in my diary."

Baines grinned, and stood slowly, grabbing his cigarettes and lighter on the way up.

"Those things are killing you, man, need to give them up."

"I'll think about it, Zunoski."

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

The inevitable was approaching him at Mach two. The telephone conversation he'd had with his father three days ago had been short and chilly, but Wendell Baines had promised to be there when Cyril arrived home. The letter from Marty had been a shock- it renewed the ache in his heart, as well as serving as an example. He'd been given a vision of the irrevocable finality of not getting to say the things you needed to while you could. Marty's letter had caused him to scrutinize his life and relationship paternalia; things weren't as bad as they could be. In the meantime, with every mile the car moved forward, he came closer to having to say those things to his father.

He'd repeated the arguments in his mind over and over, but they all seemed weak and pathetic in the face of his father's stern visage. Still, he'd come to realize that half of this stone wall was his own - and he had to find a way for he and his father to at least agree to disagree, if not totally accept his life and choices.

The car pulled into the garage, and Rosalind turned the car off; they sat in silence for a second. She'd let him stew all the way home, saw the thoughts churning in his head.

"Well boy-o, shall we?" She smiled at him, and squeezed his shoulder as a gesture of support. "It can't end up any worse than it is, now can it?

He gave his mother a rueful grin and put his hand over hers. "I guess not. I can't believe I really asked for this."

"I'm proud of you, Cyril. Lord knows this isn't going to be easy."

"I *know* it's not. Might as well get to it." He swung the door open and pulled himself out of the car. Rosalind handled the small bag he'd brought with him; it was still too early to put very much weight on the repaired joint. He was two weeks out of surgery, and the pain was present, but tolerable.

The house was warm and cozy, with the lights on and the heady smell of rich stew hanging in the air.

"Go on, it's all right. I've got it."

He really hated that his mother had to schlep his bags for him. Making his way slowly into the den, he saw his father from the back, bent over the desk, working on the computer. He stood there a moment, watching him and remembering a time long ago when his dad had been someone he looked up to. Cyril wanted it to be that way again, but he knew that too much irrational water had passed under the bridge for that. The best he could hope for was a peace accord, built on a truce.

"Dad, I, ah."

Wendell turned around and looked at Cyril. He was nearly a doppelganger of himself thirty years ago. He had never thought of himself as a good-looking man; but evidence to the contrary was diffidently standing there, looking for some validation of his existence.

"Dad, I missed you." Cyril shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny.

"Have a seat son." Wendell pulled a chair up next to him and motioned for Cyril to take it. Baines eased himself down into it.

Wendell turned back to his computer, parts strewn across the desk, and the guts of it hanging out. He worked for a moment, then gave it up and leaned back in his chair, wiping his hand over his face in a familiar gesture, as he swung it around to face his son. It had been shocking to realize how easily his son could have been taken away, He might have lost him altogether.

They looked at each other; both knowing this was their watershed moment. Baines took a breath, and his voice caught on it as he began to speak.

"I met someone while I was at Redstone, someone I could've loved."

Wendell flinched slightly at this but resolutely maintained his silence and let Cyril continue.

"He was strange, smart, and funny. I really liked him, but he ended up breaking my heart. I was furious-- I thought I hated him. I wanted to hate him for a long time, but in the end, I knew that he had his own path to follow. It was a foregone conclusion."

Baines was holding himself very still; his hands were clenched together in his lap. He looked down at them for a moment. "I didn't know at the time how it was for him. He never spoke of the things that happened between him and his father."

He looked up at his father's eyes. "Out of the blue, I got a letter from him on Monday. He finally had the courage to tell me how it was. The unspeakable things that he survived, and how he was glad he was that his father was dead.

"I don't want to be able to say that, Dad. I don't want to get to that point, that it ends with either one of us glad that the other is dead."

Wendell looked at his son, his eyes bright, and expectant. There were a lot of years of disappointment and disillusionment hanging between them; they would be hard to overcome. The problems had seemed huge at the time, and it was difficult to forget the cause of them, but the injury Cyril had sustained had disturbed him deeply.

"I could never be glad that you were dead, son."

Cyril smiled tremulously at his father, but managed to keep a rein on the tears that threatened to spill over. This was a tiny breach, but as things go with broken dams, it was likely to end in a flood.

"Thank you, Dad."

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

Baines hobbled to the ringing telephone, and arrived just as the answering machine picked up. He stood there watching the phone being answered, until finally Zunoski's lazy voice floated out of the contraption.

"Hello Baines, just calling to wish you a happy birthday, check in on you, see how you are doing."

He picked up the telephone. "Zunoski, I'm here, it's me. Thanks." His voice was raspy with sleep; the post-therapy nap was nearly mandatory.

"Hey man. How are you doing?"

"It's not too bad. I go to the torture chamber 4 times weekly so Nurse Diesel can have her way with my leg, and then I come home and have a warm, frank, open discussion with my father about Human Sexuality. Living the high life, again."

"Gee, Baines. I would have thought your Dad would have had that talk with you years ago. Sounds like a blast--can I come too?"

Baines replied sourly. "Oh, yeah, it's a real blast."

"No, I'm not kidding. I want to come and visit, like a birthday present. Would that be all right?"

"Sure, I guess-- I could use the moral support. Do I need to get the giant birthday cake ready for you to climb into?"

"Hey, that sounds kinky. I could wear a tutu."

"Shit, Zunoski. You'd scare everyone off with your ugly legs and skinny ass."

"So, it's set then, I can come."

"I need to check with mom when she gets home, but I expect she'll be glad to be relieved of some of my babysitting."

"Like how soon do you think that will be?"

"That she'll be home? About six thirty, I guess. When are you planning on coming in?"

"I've got a seat booked on the midnight transport to Chicago."

"You really want to visit that bad, huh?"

"Let's not jump to any unsubstantiated conclusions, Baines. Anyway, I have to tie up a few loose ends. Call me at home, okay?"

"Will do. Bye." He set the receiver down, thinking that he had really missed Zunoski, and being home.

The March late afternoon sky was chill and grey; though cloudy, it didn't look like snow. Baines'd had his fill of daytime TV about two days into his convalescence, and had begun to ravage the bookshelves. He sat reading on the patio with his heavy jacket pulled tight, cigarette smoke curling around him. Zunoski wouldn't be very happy; he had been hounding Baines to quit smoking, but had not succeeded.

The patio doors slid open, and Rosalind joined her son at the table next to the covered pool.

"Hey, Mom. Didn't think you'd be home so soon."

"I got to sneak out of work a little early, things were slow."

"That's great. Dad came home at noon, packed a bag and said he had to go to Washington for a few days.'"

"Unscheduled meetings are never a good sign."

"He didn't seem to think it was a big deal. He needed to sub for a sick colleague in a meeting with some Ukrainian physicists from Chernobyl. I guess it wasn't classified since he said they were working with the IAEC to shore up the reactors they have left working over there."

Rosalind smiled. "Told you all that, did he?" Baines grinned like a kid. "Yeah. I also got a call from Leon Zunoski-he'd like to come to visit. I told him that it would probably be okay, but I'd have to check with you."

"How long is he planning on staying?"

"I forgot to ask. I have to call him back, so I'll ask him.

"Do I need to get the guest room ready?" Rosalind gave her son a sidewise look to see what his reaction would be. A practical question with another question unasked.

He smiled. "No Mom, you don't." He paused for a moment, "I already did it."

Rosalind laughed. "Brat. Should have let me do that."

"I'm recuperating from ACL surgery mom, I'm not an invalid, I get around-- I have to. Besides, I'm well trained in the bed making department."

"So, does this mean that you two aren't sleeping together?"

"Wow, cut straight to the heart of the matter, shall we?"

"One must keep up with current events. I'm more concerned about Wendell's reaction."

"I know. I've just barely negotiated a cease-fire with Dad. I wouldn't even dream of pulling a bonehead maneuver like bringing home a gay lover. Yet."

"You know, he's still going to think that, no matter what you say about Leon."

"Zunoski is a friend, he's coming in for a visit. He's just a friend that I happen to rent a room from." Baines said it twice to convince himself as well as his mother.

"Better go call your friend then, so we can plan when we need to be at the airport."

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

The house was dark, but for a single lamp. The late night movie on the television murmured quietly in the background. Cyril's mid-afternoon naps and medication had seriously messed with his sleep patterns. He'd given up fighting the insomnia. It was better just to give in and go with it, rather than worry over not sleeping when he was supposed to. It wasn't like he was going back on active duty anytime soon.

He heard the door to the guestroom close, and set his book down. Zuni came padding around the corner, and sat down at the other end of the sofa where Baines had his injured leg extended. Cyril went to move it, but Zuni put his hand out to keep it there.

"Leave it, it's okay, I have plenty of room." He said nothing more for a few minutes, but he hadn't moved his hand. He absently scratched the top of the foot, the skin was a little distended from where the removable cast caused poor circulation in the lower half of the limb.

Zuni watched the movie for a few minutes, and then patted the foot to get Baines' attention.

Baines hadn't really been able to concentrate on the book, with Zunoski gently rubbing his foot. He laid the book face down on the coffee table, looked at the man at the other end of the couch.

"Well. Here we are."

Zunoski nodded, and turned sideways to face Baines. "I have something to say, and you can tell me if I'm completely off base; if I've got this wrong."

The reading lamp framed Baines in a pool of light, making his face a study in shadows and light. His eyes were dark, vulnerable and afraid, but he said nothing.

"We know each other pretty well by now, right?" Baines had to clear his throat to answer. "Yeah, that's true."

"So you wouldn't be totally shocked if I said I loved you?"

He wasn't shocked, no. He'd been avoiding the issue himself - he wasn't sure he wanted to be in love, yet in some ways he yearned to be. Wanted to be loved, cherished, and have some one to be the other half of him. Wanted Zunoski to be that someone, but the conflict raged anew in him. The letter from Marty had opened old wounds with fresh pain, though being separated from Zunoski on a daily basis had highlighted how much he had grown to need him, and secretly want him. Having Zunoski here had merely brought it home to him.

"No, I wouldn't be shocked. I've been thinking about you a lot since I left San Francisco."

Zunoski smiled. "I've missed you around the house, it's dreadfully empty."

Baines smiled at Zunoski. "I missed you, too. It's like being lonely in a crowd here-there are people around me, and although they are my family, I have almost nothing in common with them any more."

He stopped and looked at Zunoski with a serious expression. "I'm not ready though, to say that I feel the same way." He paused and looked at the screen where Bette Davis was telling Paul Heinreid ‘don't ask for the moon when we have the stars'.

"I think I want to feel that way, but I don't want it as a crutch, or to replace what I didn't get from my father."

"I could feel a distinct chill in the air."

"That's high summer compared to some homecomings. I have hope though. I don't think that I'll ever get him to fully accept the way that I am, but this week has proven that maybe -- just maybe -- we can let the disagreement go."

"Sometimes that's all you can hope for, Baines. But I don't think you can really confuse the two of us."

Baines downcast eyes were smiling as he looked down at his foot where Zunoski was still petting, a small tentative smile on his lips. "Don't think I'll ever make that mistake, Zunoski."

"Come on Baines, movie's over- time for all good boys to go to bed."

Baines snorted as he slowly moved off of the couch. "That lets me off, then."

Zunoski was willing to wait. He knew that the feelings were there, and it was now only a matter of time. Baines would cave in like butter in a fry pan.

They stayed in Chicago for another three weeks while Baines finished the bulk of the rehab on the knee. It was going to be a few more months of slow recovery while he regained full strength and range of motion. The knee was basically healed, and it was time to get back to work -- light duty only -- with a brace when not at home. It had been the surgeon at the Hines V.A. Medical Center that placed the stricture on Baines for so long. Baines was young and in good shape, but he could also be stubborn and impatient. He was already itching to get out running, but that was out of the question for at least the next six weeks. Dr. Tariq's lecture went something like this:

"Lieutenant, look at it this way-you can go off and do as you please now, and pay later with zero use of the joint; or you can take my advice and live a long time, with the minor inconvenience of losing your parachute certification. I'm sure there are many things to blow up that do not require you to jump out of airplanes."

Zunoski had completely taken over from Mrs. Baines the chore of chauffeuring Cyril to the various appointments with therapists and Doctors. He very neatly slipped into the role of protector and caretaker with the health care providers, and they accepted him as such. It felt very natural to Baines, grateful that Zunoski was there to rely on.

Certain things pissed Baines off a little -- like the fact that Dr. Tariq and Zunoski had so much in common, having both grown up in the same region of India, and he felt left out of their conversations. He consciously didn't think the word jealous. Maybe it was the fact he didn't speak the dialect.

The tradeoff was that it had netted them an invite to dinner at the Tariqs'. Honest home-made Indian food, with pulses, tandoori, nands, and kulfi, was a new experience for Baines. The fact that the Tariqs accepted them unconditionally as a couple was a new, guilty pleasure, as well.

Rosalind had taken Zunoski in immediately. She had always had room in her heart and home for all of Cyrils' friends, but she saw the invisible link between these two, even if her son wasn't admitting it to her, or to himself. A mother always had dreams and hopes for her children; though Leon might not be exactly be what she originally had hoped for, she had to acknowledge the probability that this relationship meant that her son had finally fallen off the fence about his sexuality.

She thought he could have picked someone much worse, some one that would have taken advantage of her son's guileless nature; and it didn't hurt that Leon was making a genuine effort to be friendly, and likeable.

The really odd part was that Leon and Wendell got along like a house afire. He was very respectful to Dr. Baines, who accepted his help on the hardware problem with the computer in the den. Zunoski had immediately found the problem and showed him the offending capacitor, and then replaced it with a spot of solder. She watched her husband and her son's lover, heads together over some device or book, chatting about upgrades and operating systems. Cyril was sitting across the room reading as usual, either ignoring or not seeing the way Leon fit in with her family unless it was obvious to him that things were supposed to be this way.

She wondered if Wendell was oblivious to the fact that it was very likely the man sitting next to him was either sleeping with his son, or would be soon. She suspected that he had no clue, and wasn't going to give him one until necessary. After all it was only conjecture on her part - Cyril still insisted they were just friends.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

Home never looked go good. Baines was slowly falling under Zunoski's spell, although he was attempting to resist. Baines had known he wanted Zunoski from the minute he'd laid eyes on him last August. Fear was the main issue in keeping Zunoski at arms' length. Not only fear of intimacy, though that was the bulk of his concern; but also fear of McShane. He had taken Oscar McShane's warning to heart.

Baines had found the thing that he had strived for so long-- acceptance and belonging - being a needed important member of a team. He wasn't so sure that he was willing to ruin that. He knew that if they came together it was going to be more than just a quick fuck, Zunoski had made that clear, and that was the crux of the problem: how would he keep a long-term, gay relationship out from under the glare of McShane's eyes?

He wasn't sure he wanted to give up Zunoski either. Zunoski was doing a sure and steady job of wooing him. As long as they maintained the status quo, he could have both Zunoski and the Army, and for now that was all he wanted.

Zunoski was very circumspect and maintained the same professional demeanor as ever while on base. When he was at home he continued with the role of caretaker and provider. Zuni did nothing overtly, but by taking the subtle approach, he knew he had a better chance of catching his skittish prey.

McShane, and the rest of the team had continued on without Baines. A few small assignments, both domestic and overseas, kept them busy until May. It was a slow month, so they all took a few weeks to update their respective certifications and take on additional skills training. McShane had spent the entire month of May in Hopkins Minnesota at Alliant TechSystems, training with a new generation of combat assault weapon. It was a thing of beauty, powerful and deadly-- dual barreled with integral laser designator, low-light scope and highly accurate range finder, and a 20MM grenade launcher with an internal time delay fuse. It was the prototype of what some military soothsayers claimed to be the next generation of personal weapon for the American soldier. They would all eventually take a turn at training with it, once McShane returned with the weapon he was given to beta test.

It was good to have Zunoski back at home for May. Baines was progressing steadily with the strengthening of his knee and took the exercise he was allowed while at the base gym. The local Army doctor that had taken over supervising his recovery had insisted there be no strenuous use of the joint while unattended, other than walking and the range of motion exercises.

Zunoski knew that Baines was anxious for his company, even if it was so he could get out and jog. He was definitely not an early riser like Baines, but he made the effort to get up in the early morning for him, knowing it was just one step closer to his goal.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

The team had rented a villa on the beach in Mexico. More accurately, McShane had rented it for a couple of weeks, then issued a standing invitation to the team to come and go when they pleased.

They all eventually made their way there. McShane had brought his longtime girl friend, a Chicago lawyer, and they certainly looked like they belonged together. Donna was nearly as tall and athletic as McShane; and able to keep up with him as they played hard, sailing, diving and more. She was cordial to the rest of them, and -for the most part - stayed within the confines of propriety. Clarendon and Adams had brought their wives; Mancini, Zunoski and Baines had come unattached. Mancini's wife was at home with the new baby - he had no problem leaving his wife and son to the tender mercies of his mother-in-law and multitudinous sisters.

Donna kept giving him speculative looks that indicated she might know more than he felt comfortable with. Baines couldn't help feeling like a bug under glass. He knew how women responded to him, and he would take advantage of that when it suited him; but there seemed to be a darker intent here. McShane had never mentioned the subject of his Lieutenants' sexuality again, but Baines wondered if Oscar had let Donna in on his secret, or if she had figured it out on her own. Baines remained polite toward her, but stayed out of her way. Not that he needed protecting from her, or anything-- but he made sure that Oscar was present whenever she was around. She seemed to be distracted by Oscars' presence, and it kept everything on the up and up. The last thing Baines wanted was to be embroiled in some sleazy, duplicitous sex scandal with the Colonels' girlfriend.

The villa was not too far from the main tourist area, so they were secluded, but not stranded. Baines was still under orders to limit stress on the knee; so he was left to watch while Zunoski and Mancini dueled it out on jet skis in the morning surf. The others had elected to take a tour to one of the Mayan ruins and were expected to return in the evening. Baines was still avoiding Donna, and climbing up the pyramid would be out of the question in any case.

He was under the umbrella, half-napping, half reading, when two girls set up camp next to him, in the way that only girls on the beach can. Because it was an island, the beach was sparsely populated, but they managed to position themselves within a few feet of Baines. Out of the bag came blankets, books, and lotion. Off came the sundresses, and they began to chat and slather suntan lotion on themselves and each other.

Baines watched with interest. They were Americans, and from different regions by the sound of their accent. The redhead with the flat, midwestern non-accent was sprinkled with freckles and her cherub face was sunburned, so they must have been here a day or two anyway. The blond with the southern accent already had a dark tan, and he figured she had been working on it for months.

The two of them watched him watch them, until Baines couldn't stand it any longer. "Hi. Where in the States are you from?"

The blond one was apparently the spokesperson for the pair. "I'm from Tampa, and she's from Kansas City. How about you?"

"San Francisco, currently. Are you staying on the island?"

"No, we came over on the ferry. It wasn't marked private, at least we didn't see the sign."

"It's not as far as I know."

"So it's cool, it's okay we can be here."

Baines smiled. "Consider yourselves invited if anyone asks." "Thanks a lot, uhm,"

He supplied the answer. "Baines."

The redhead spoke up. "Just Baines?" She was of medium height, and sturdily built, muscular with a faintly boyish figure. Her eyes were pale green, very light and set wide, and the short, curly hair framed her face.

"Generally, yes. Though my mother calls me Cyril." He made a moue of disgust, then a wry grin.

"I see. I'm Tara, and this is Linda." The blond waved at him. Linda was slightly taller, and rail-thin. She wore sunglasses, obviously prescription, and her long lank hair was pulled back into a casual braid that trailed midway down her back.

"Nice to meet you Tara and Linda. Been here long?"

Linda replied. "No, we just got here yesterday morning, and we leave day after tomorrow."

"Short trip."

"We had a few days between the spring and summer semesters, and needed a little fun. So, Mexico seemed like the place to be. Are you here for very long?"

"I might be here another week at least, unless it gets to be too boring. I know we have to be out of the villa by the fifteenth, though."

Baines had easily dropped that last remark into the conversation, and they looked suitably impressed. College girls had always been easy marks. "The villa?"

"It's like a business retreat, you know. Teams that play together work together, deep philosophical stuff."

"Oh, I see. Work."

Zunoski and Mancini were walking up from the water, engaged in one of their endless solipsistic arguments. No one ever won, nor were they supposed to. It was like entertainment for them.

"Baines, we leave you alone for ten minutes, and you already have groupies." Mancini picked up a towel from the table under the umbrella.

"Shut up, Mancini, and I might introduce you. And you were gone longer than 10 minutes." He tapped the watch on his wrist.

Zunoski gave Baines an indulgent, speculative look. "You mean you weren't planning to keep them all to yourself?" He smiled at the girls, a wide grin that bordered on wolfish.

Baines blushed. He thought he knew what Zunoski was thinking, and was going to ignore it for the moment. He motioned towards them as he introduced.

"Zunoski, Mancini, this Tara, and Linda." The girls waved when he said their names.

"It's nice to meet you, Tara and Linda. Are you up to having some fun today?" Zunoski pulled a lounger next to them in the sun, and threw himself onto it.

Mancini said hi, and continued to dry himself off. He stayed for a few minutes longer, then excused himself. He had an errand to run.

They watched Mancini walk back towards the back of the villa, and Linda asked Zunoski. "Is that the villa Baines mentioned?"

Zunoski shot an amused look at Baines, who steadfastly ignored him. "Yeah, that's where we're camping out this week. Next week it's the Taj Mahal-- eh Baines?

Mancini must've had relatives here or else he had been to the town many times before. He seemed to know everyone in the street, and had the scoop on all the out-of-the-way hotspots. He had arranged for dinner that night in a local restaurant; it was like a royal feast for visiting heads of state. The entire establishment was turned over to them, the details arranged in advance with the proprietor. The night started out late- they had spent the day touring the ruins or at the beach lazing around and playing with the jet-skis and wind surfers. They were all rosy from the sun, their hot skin felt chilly in the evening breeze. Except Donna-she must have used SPF 100 sunblock; she was barely pink. The combination of the sun and the free flowing margaritas loosened everyone's inhibitions so the party proceeded apace with loud and raucous conversations. They swapped stories and tried to outdo each other with outrageous tales. Zunoski won, he had grown up in India and had a blue million stories of the weird and unusual.

The four of them were a more than a little tipsy, they were flat out drunk; the sexual innuendoes and double entendres had been flying fast and furious all night. Baines turned on the charm in the mid-afternoon, after he decided that he was going to get laid. Baines had very little trouble convincing Tara that she needed him to fuck her. Zunoski had the opposite problem- if you could call it a problem-- Linda was intently seducing him, although he didn't seem to be resisting at all. The girls had passed on the last return ferry to the mainland in favor of dinner, and a promise of a place to stay.

The sleeping arrangements in the house were such that Zuni and Baines shared a room, so if they were going to get laid, it would have to be in a state of togetherness. Baines was a little nervous about that; he had never been required to perform with an audience before. Though learning to masturbate in the crowded atmosphere of the barracks had proved relatively easy, this was going to be a little different. The combination of the alcohol and urge to get laid were swiftly overcoming any inhibitions he might have, and Zunoski was pushing for it as well. The girls didn't seem to have any problem with the idea.

They had laughed, giggled, flirted and groped on the walk back to the villa. He was drunk and the idea of sharing a room under these circumstances suddenly seemed hilarious to him; Cyril had had no idea he was such a voyeur. Pornography was one thing, but seeing the sex act, hearing and smelling it had real impact. He was never so turned on in his life. He made sure he arranged himself and Tara on their bed so he could watch Zunoski and Linda just a few feet away.

Zuni was incredible-- the manner in which he worshipped Linda's body was erotic as hell. He talked to her in a constant stream, murmuring encouragement and questions as he tasted and touched her. He concentrated on the girl totally. Baines took in the scene and used Tara as proxy for Zunoski. His imagination was working overtime, and the image in his head was that of Zuni doing all those things to him. They had been flirting around the issue since April. Zunoski certainly had done everything he could since they had gotten home from Chicago to prove to Baines that he loved him.

Cyril was almost ready to let go and let him in. He'd wanted Zunoski from the first day he'd seen him, but the strictures of McShane's rules in the ODA had been strong enough to keep him out of serious trouble until now, and now the tequila and want were strong enough to override them in McShane's own beach house.

Cy's first climax was nearly anti-climatic. Zunoski and Linda had just barely begun their tryst, but the sun, tequila and sex had done it in for Tara--she was gone to the world. Baines' needs had been barely slaked. He hollered across the room playfully, "Stop showing off, Zunoski."

"Show off? I'll show off for you." Zunoski smiled a lazy, evil smile. He knew that Cyril was watching him, and it was delicious fun knowing that. He stopped with the foreplay, and claimed Linda and fucked her senseless.

Zunoski looked over the gap between to two beds, and saw the love of his life looking at him in the dim light, slowly stroking his hard penis as he watched him fornicating with this stranger. It sent shivers down his spine, and he was suddenly tired of the games and surrogates.

The look that Baines got from Zunoski was ablaze? with promise, and said ‘Come on, Baines'. Zuni leaned down to Linda's ear and whispered - she smiled at him and looked over at Baines, giving him the same look Zunoski had. Baines and Zunoski recognized this was her show - or at least it would be for a few more minutes. She crooked her finger in invitation; Cyril was galvanized. He'd never had the opportunity to have a threesome and if it was now, with Zunoski, so much the better. The sudden realization he'd had earlier, when he *saw* how fucking sexy Zunoski was, was nothing against the look of open, naked hunger that Baines now saw. He felt it too, as his cock throbbed and his ass ached to be filled. He climbed gently over Tara, locked the door and slid into bed next to Linda.

The girl in the bed turned out to be a mere distraction to them. After Linda had easily reached her second orgasm, their attention slowly refocused on Cyril. Zuni was the perfect top, relaxed and in control, he took Baines in hand and played him masterfully. Baines felt as if he was drowning in the attention; it was nothing less than perfect rapture that he was here at last with Zuni. Instinctively, they were both holding back to begin with, each giving the other no more than a taste of what was going to be. It was hopelessly romantic, but suddenly Cy didn't want this faintly tawdry menage-a-trois to be their first time-

But the ball was rolling downhill, and the momentum was not to be denied. Linda was either oblivious to the undercurrent in the room, or else she caught it and intended to surf it to its intended conclusion.

Zuni was sensitive enough to see the look on Baines face, though he saw it as a panic attack. "It's ok, baybee boy -just let it go; it'll be fine; we'll be fine. You'll see." Cyril was characteristically silent- his natural reaction was to hold it in. Zunoski continued to lap at Baines, lavishing wet kisses on the smooth muscular chest. Linda was lying on the other side of him, nibbling on his ear, and stroking his cock slowly.

"Come on, Cy tell us, what do you want?"

How could he say that he suddenly didn't want a threesome? That he only wanted Zuni? His voice was uneven and the words caught in his throat as he tried to whisper to Zunoski what he wanted. "I, I want you."

"You want me? You want me to suck your cock?" Zunoski smiled, bent down and gave the tip of Baines penis a wet sloppy suck, tasting the dried cum. "Mmmm, yeah-- I like that." He kissed Baines; the faint after taste of cum mixed together with the taste of Cy's sweet eager mouth.

The feeling of Zunoski kissing him and gently pinching his nipples at the same time as Linda sucked his cock, brought Baines to the realization that he did want it this way. It was going to be incredible.

Baines licked Zuni's lips and ran his hands through the long blond mane, pulled him back down into a deep, rough kiss. Their evening beards scraped together faintly, as Zunoski pulled up and trailed his way to Baines' ear. "You want me to fuck you, don't you? Want me to split you wide open and slide in hard, fill you up?"

Baines was struck nearly breathless by the promise; it had been so long since he'd had that feeling. He merely nodded his head, and then caught his voice, "yeah, god, yes I do." He said it fervently - he meant it to be from now to forever. He didn't ever want anyone else to do this to him again, and he hadn't even gotten it yet - he just knew.

"Ok, sweetheart, I'll do it. I'll slide my long hard cock up your ass; you'll never ever want it to end." As Zuni whispered in Baines' ear, he reached down to lift up Baines leg that was closest to him- Linda had been petting and teasing him a little with her long nails. She knew she was just along for the ride from here on, you would have needed to be dead and blind not to see that.

Zuni reached under Baines' leg, and started toying with his balls and scrotum, stroking them and pulling them down, away from his body, running his finger along the crack of his ass. Linda stopped teasing his cock and pulled the other leg up to match, dragging the bottle of Wet out from somewhere and pouring some down the crack of Cy's ass.

Zuni smiled, "Yeah that's good-a little more", as he slid his finger into the soft pucker. She drew a quick breath as Zuni kissed her deeply. Through his knees, Baines watched Zuni kissing her as he slid a finger in and out of Cy's ass. "Need some more here, darlin'".

Zuni leaned down between the outspread legs, and kissed him, before rocking back on his heels. He pushed Cy's knee down to his chest, folding Cyril in half, causing his ass to open up even farther. Linda poured more Wet onto Zuni's fingers, then went back to sucking on Baines cock. Zuni added a second finger. The hot delicate flesh that surrounded his fingers turned Zunoski on. Baines was a perfectly gorgeous, fuckable boy, and he'd been waiting for months for Baines to be ready to take his cock up this ass. If it took the deceit of a threesome, so be it. Zuni had felt pretty confident he would have been able to get Baines in bed eventually, but this was too convenient-- he was going to run with it for all it was worth.

The look on Baines' face was one of total bliss-out; his breath was ragged and shallow. His mouth was open, and his eyes were closed as he concentrated on the pleasure that was raking through him. Zuni couldn't resist the sweet red lips that were already damp and used. He lay down next to Baines, fingers never leaving his ass, to scoop his limp neck with the other arm, and pull Cy's face up to his lips.

Zuni fucked Baines' mouth with his own, while he traced and smoothed Cy's face with one hand, and his other was busy raking the man's prostate. Baines suddenly came with almost no warning into Linda's mouth-she sucked it down and laughed. "Quick on the trigger, ain't you."

Zunoski grinned, his hand and mouth on the man in his arms. Baines gave the impression of bulk, but was surprisingly limber and lean-it was easy to gather him up into your arms to fuck and kiss him.

"So. Cy, you think I can fuck you now?

His eyes were huge pools of dark, open wide with a look of adoration in them. They were focused on Zunoski and he was silently begging, pleading with him.

"I want to put my cock in your ass and fuck until you're silly or you come again. No, both. Can I do that to you? Would you like that?" Zuni nibbled on Cy's lips and then kissed him again deeply. The sheer taste of Cyril's mouth the smell of male sex in the room, and the hot slick feel around his fingers made Zuni salivate. The kiss turned deeper and wetter and as he pulled back, a thin string of saliva pulled away between them. He slid his fingers out of Baines ass; leaving him feeling open and vulnerable to the air, empty.

He reached over to the bedside table and pulled a condom out, slipping it on easily. "Pour some Wet in his hand. I want to you slick me up, Cy. I want to feel your hand on my cock-I want you to put in your ass for me."

Baines obediently held out the hand closest to the lube, slick and cool to the touch as he closed his fist around it for a moment to warm it up.

He reached down between his own legs to stroke the lube onto Zuni--- who hadn't yet come once. "I want to see your face, I want you to see my face when I come in your ass." Zunoski moved between Baines' legs and gave him a quick kiss on the inside of the knees as he hooked Cy's ankles over his shoulders and knelt down.

"Come on baby, take it - put it your ass and I'll fuck you hard. You want that?" Baines moaned involuntarily, took Zunoski's cock and gave it a quick squeeze as he slid the tip up and down the crack of his own ass, until there, the still-slick soft spot, and Zuni moaned as he sank slowly into the velvet prison of his own designs. "Oh god, Cy. You have the most incredible ass, I've wanted this since forever."

Zunoski kept his promise and fucked Baines, fast/hard/slow until he was absolutely insane. How the hell he did it, Baines had no idea, because he'd already cum twice-and he was about to do it a third time as Zunoski's hard cock rammed into his prostate over and over. Zuni was sweating, drenched and shaking, at the end of his limits, he so wanted to come in the sweet ass he was fucking.

"Put some Wet on his cock, girl." She obliged, and drizzled some of the fluid on Cy's hard member. Zuni grabbed Baines cock and started fucking him faster, stroking the cock hard with every thrust into the ass that was cleaving to him, sucking him in, resisting and accepting at the same time.

Baines swore-he'd given up the strong silent act much earlier and though tiny moans and whispers were hard to distinguish, Zuni heard them all-they were music to his ears. It turned him on even farther to know that he'd driven the man who was now his lover to incoherent babbling. Zuni could tell that Baines was about to come again. "Open your eyes, baby. I want you to watch." Cyril tried, he really did, but the deep, slow, rolling feeling that gathered him up and poured his soul out onto Zunoski's hand was too overwhelming-the dark lashes slid downwards, dusting a shadow onto his face.

Baines came for the final time, and the feeling of Cy's sphincter clamping down on him drove Zuni over the edge, he came with a single guttural cry as he continued to shove into the tight slick ass, until there was nothing more.

Zuni was wiped. The condom came off and the girl was gently cleaning Baines with the damp towel Zunoski had earlier placed at the bedside. Baines was in a state of near-rapture, but not quite passed out. Zuni took the towel from her and gave his own dick a quick swipe with it, then lay down next to Cyril.

The boy was boneless, and Zuni pulled and pushed him into position, then draped himself over Baines; his face buried into the sweat-slicked neck.

Linda wrestled for a moment with the little space left over on the bed, and then gave it up and moved across to the bed occupied by her softly snoring friend. She gave a Tara a good shove, and told her sleeping back, "You'll be sorry you missed this, girl."

Baines awoke first, a little disoriented and a lot hung-over. He looked over to the other bed and saw Tara's sunburned nose peeking out from under the pillow, and he suddenly remembered *everything*. Zunoski had let him go some time in the night, and was still deeply asleep on his back.

Baines quickly slid out of bed and stood up, pausing to regain his equilibrium. He made a promise to himself never again to drink Tequila, as he plodded to the facilities. He couldn't even stand up to piss he hurt so bad. He resorted to having a seat, and waited while his poor tortured kidneys slowly released the accumulated toxins.

He turned on the water in the huge shower full blast and as hot as humanly possible, and then crawled in and sat beneath the spray. While the water pounded down over his miserable head, he considered the consequences of what he'd done.

There was no doubt that he had done it, no use in denying it. His ass was sore, and he had woken up in Zunoski's bed. He had been trying his best to avoid letting their relationship cross into that frontier. He had an excuse, he had been drunk; and it was doubtful that anyone would discover this single instance, as they had been seen with Linda and Tara on the way to the bedroom.

But, still. The sex had been wonderful. It had been ages since he'd had the opportunity for full-on male sex, and nearly as long since he'd had any at all, male or female. To have them both in the same night was just a little overwhelming. He tipped his head back to let the water run down over his face, then realized he wasn't alone.

Baines opened his eyes, to see Zunoski standing at the door of the shower watching him. He looked up to the amused blue eyes with such a woeful expression on his face that Zunoski laughed quietly. Zunoski stepped in and knelt down next to the pitiful creature, taking Cy's wet face in his hands and gently kissed him, sheltering his face from the spray.

"I love you."

Cyril Baines leaned his head back against the rough Mexican tile, and surrendered to the inescapable fate that awaited him.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

The trip to Mexico had been fun, and educational, but it was good to be back despite the cold fog that had rolled in overnight. Baines sat out on the tiny patio, the surf sussed against the sand and crashed into the rocks a little farther down the beach. They had returned from an early run, and the day was their own.

Leon Zunoski had had a taste of paradise, and he wanted more. Baines was such a pretty boy, and the tender caring he'd felt before had transmogrified into a blaze of passion. He needed it, could still feel Baines' ass clamping down around his cock. Cyril was addictive, wild and fey, like a colt that needed to be tamed. Zunoski could tell that Cy wanted to be loved, and yet he was apparently terrified of it. The bluster and cockiness hid the fear down deep, but Zuni knew Baines well enough. It was a matter of learning not to hold back and of overcoming the fear to make Baines a fully realized person.

The stage was set. The open windows and doors allowed the temperate evening air to flow through the room, and the furniture had been pushed to the back of the room. The mattress had been dragged out to the living room, all the necessary toys and supplies were assembled within close reach. Edible, exotic, soft, scratchy, hot, cold were laid next to the mattress, and all the available candles were lit, including a pair of antique hurricane lanterns, considering the breeze from the open window. Music was selected and arranged so that it provided a background that didn't blare or go below audible. Zunoski made love to Baines on the floor; and so tender and sweet was Cy's submission that it was as if they were sealing an unspoken vow.

Baines awoke before the dawn, as was his normal custom; now back on track, despite the late hour last night. He felt thoroughly sated -- the twinge in his ass a reminder of the delicious sex. The problem was his mind; it had been totally blown away. A thousand feelings and images were whirling around in his head, keeping him confused and disconcerted.

His lover was already awake and looking at him. Baines gave him a shy smile. It was odd, he hadn't thought he'd feel bashful, but the power this man had over him made him realize just how vulnerable he was, how easily he could be controlled.

Zuni smiled back, a sunny, happy smile; no sarcasm or smart-ass remarks were in him right now. He felt as if the bond they'd physically shared had translated to the ethereal, a mental connection. He could almost see how Cy was feeling, understood there was a delicacy about his emotional state that begged for gentle diplomacy.

"Morning, Glory." Zuni said in a soft, low whisper; the smile on his face, and the long shaggy hair that was frozen in a hundred directions gave him a rakish look. Baines responded physically and emotionally. He was already hard, and the (dare he say it?) love made him want to share and make Zunoski feel the same way he did.

Baines shy smile widened into that grin, the one that changed everything about him, lifted the weight of a decade of worry from his soul. He rolled on his side towards Zuni who was still on his back. "Morning, handsome."

Cy propped his head up with one crooked arm, and the other stroked the thin patch of hair on Zuni's chest, pale and bleached nearly white by the sun, darkening slightly as he traced it down the abdomen toward the coarse wiry pubes. The tan lines were already fading; the bronzed sheen of his chest and thighs contrasting with the pallid tone where the swim trunks he'd lived in for two weeks had protected the skin.

Zunoski had gorgeous skin. The fine texture was smooth under Cy's hands, which lingered around the features beneath: the flat nipples of near colorless flesh until they were reddened and roughened by eager lips, the firm muscles contouring over the ribs, blending into the subtle ripple of a lean abdomen, the jut of a pelvic blade rising up from the valley of his groin, the odd, ‘missing' testicle.

Baines had asked about that, the ruin the result of an unidentified fever while working with his parents in the far dark regions of the Indian jungle at a critical age. It wasn't actually missing, though its stunted size made it seem that way.

Baines toyed with the uneven organ, petting it and fondling Zuni's penis. He threw his leg over the knee next to him, rubbing his own genitals along the furred thigh, and Zuni raised the other knee, clasping his hands over his head, presenting himself to Cy as a gift.

Cyril smiled and accepted the gift for what it was -- a chance to take control.

He leaned towards the prone man and whispered. "Can I fuck you, Zuni?"

"I wish you would. I've been waiting for weeks, months even for you to want to."

"I always wanted to, things just got in the way, you know?"

Baines tenderly dipped towards Zuni and tasted his lips. He closed his eyes and continued to taste the features of Zuni's face, licking the eyelids, drifting to his ear and investigating the dips and whorls as Zuni turned his head away from Baines to allow him access.

Baines shifted to lie on top of Zuni, face-to-face, and clasped Zuni's hands tightly in his own over their heads, as he rocked and slid slightly over the slim body underneath him.

Zuni reveled in the feel; he was glad to give Baines the opportunity to do what he liked. Having Cy find out what he wanted was exciting, but Zuni was also looking forward to years of experiences together. The journey is the end in itself, but the discoveries along the way make it worth the effort.

Cy had had some opportunity to explore and learn about Leon Zunoski the night before, or rather early this morning, but in the context of the bottom rather than the top. His need to piss was not quite forgotten as his excitement rose. His cock was hard, he'd been allowed to come only once last night by Zunoski, but he'd been kept hanging on the edge until he'd nearly burst from the anticipation. Zuni would take him to the edge, and back him down off the peak, then shift the focus until when his orgasm finally came, it had wrung them both out totally.

In a way, this was intimidating; to be requested to perform for someone who was so accomplished, like playing tennis with Andre Agassi. Zuni tried to put Baines at ease. It wasn't a contest; they were together, and it was supposed to be this way.

Cy unclenched their hands as he finished kissing his lover. Zuni took it as permission to touch, and he brought his hands down to Cy's face, brushed back the hair and ran his thumbs across the eyebrows as he palmed Cy's cheeks. Baines was pulling himself in a crouching position, on all fours over Zuni; he nearly tipped over as Zuni pulled Cy's face back down for a kiss.

Baines laughed and pinched Zuni's nipples sharply, sliding his hands down into the man's armpits to give him a goose as he sat up grinding their genitals together. The need to piss, along with his hard cock, was an exquisite torture. He only hoped that Zuni was experiencing the same level of painful pleasure.

"Do you need to go, Zunoski?" Baines smiled an evil grin.

"With this hard on, do you think I could anyway?" Zuni laughed at Baines' evil smile.

Baines rubbed Zuni's lower abdomen up and down using firmer and firmer strokes until Zuni finally cried out for him to stop. "Jesus, Cy! Stop it, you're going to break a kidney or something!" Baines stopped and gave Zuni's cock a quick squeeze as he motioned for Zuni to open his knees as he clambered between.

"Let's see if I can reach it from the inside, instead."

Zuni groaned in mock disgust as he complied, locating the AstroGlide and handing it over. It had gone cold, and Baines grinned and squeezed a puddle of it into the shallow dip of Zuni's navel, his stomach twitching with the shock.

"You *are* trying to kill me, aren't you?" Zuni shifted into a falsetto. "No, Stop! Lieutenant Baines, I promise to pay the rent. I'll be good!"

"But, Private Zunoski, you *must* pay the rent!" Cyril giggled as he pushed Zuni's upright knees farther apart.

"Because if you can't pay the rent, I'll have to take it out in trade."

"Is that a threat or a promise, lieutenant?"

"Definitely a promise." Baines had scooped up some of the now warm AstroGlide from Zuni's belly button, and slid his finger slowly down the open crack in front of him.

It was an incredible sight, Zuni's ass. The sprinkling of hair in the area added to the texture under his finger. Smooth, rough, wrinkled, soft and giving. He stopped talking as he watched his finger pass back and forth over the folds and puckers of Zuni's anus. The whole tableau was erotic: the early morning dawn barely lighting the room, the curtains billowing gently in the small morning breeze, and the man, his man, opening up and waiting for him.

He couldn't resist. Baines slid down prone, and buried his nose in Zuni's crotch. The smell was intoxicating. He mouthed the furry, uneven testicles, bathing them with his tongue, then pushing them aside as he moved down the perineum. Biting and kissing the pebbled flesh gently until he reached the supple hole. Zunoski groaned and folded up even farther, hands behind the knees to bring his ass closer to Baines' searching tongue as it tasted, licked and teased. Zuni started a litany of encouragement, his prayer a running commentary -- an alternating barrage of love and filth.

Baines vaguely heard it from somewhere, but his focus was on Zunoski's ass. His tongue dipped into the pucker and pointed and stiffened to broach the muscle. He'd never done this before; it had always seemed faintly repulsive, but the situation here and now made it seem right and proper.

The experience was extraordinary, the very smooth, satin flesh caressed his tongue, and the muscle pulsed, holding onto him. The heavy smell, taste and the feel of his tongue up Zunoski's ass were all the ingredients for overload. He knew he could come this way, and was rapidly heading towards that conclusion. The subconscious way he flexed his hips against the bedclothes seemed enough to send him into spasm. He knew it was time for the main entrée, reaching up and capturing the AstroGlide that remained in Zuni's navel. Baines gently pushed against the already wet hole, and watched as his finger slowly disappeared. The noises that Zuni was making increased in volume. He slid his finger back out, and with more lube slid the middle and ring finger in, turning his hand over, so he could reach the prostate. Zuni yelped and swore as Baines stroked and massaged the gland.

Baines was nearly at the end of his self-control. He pulled his hand out and took a deep breath to regain balance as he roughly yanked on his own cock, slicking it.

Cy was standing on his knees above Zuni, whose knees to shoulder had him folded neatly in half. The angle of his ass was perfect aim for Baines, inviting and tempting. He fed his stiff and dripping penis to the awaiting anus.

They were meant to fit together this way. Baines steadily slid into the ass of his lover until they were together balls to ass. The intensity of the sheer physicality of being conjoined mingled with the emotional love that virtually radiated from Zunoski. It was nearly more than Baines could bear.

Zuni slid his legs around Baines; his ankle crossed and heels drove into Baines' ass, pulling him in. Baines complied and leaned in for a kiss, sweet, full of promises and smoky ardor. Zuni opened his pale eyes, and smiled at the man whose dick was firmly lodged in his ass.

"Are you going to fuck me sometime today, Baines?" He gave Baines a sharp nudge in the ass with his heels.

"No, this is kind of boring-- I thought I'd take a shower and make some coffee. Would you like a cup?"

"Boring? If this is boring, I'd hate to see what you call exciting."

Baines grinned and made up the most outrageous thing he could think of, considering his circumstances. "Getting a blow job in free-fall at 27,00 feet." He cringed at his own suggestion, now impossible for him to achieve if he planned to walk as an old man.

Zunoski laughed out loud. The picture was too delicious, going down on Baines during a parachute jump. The laughter was telegraphed to his ass, and the natural motion was to attempt to push Baines' cock out. No way was a little flexion going to eject Baines' cock, which was firmly stuffed up his ass. Baines laughed with him, but did not commence fucking as requested, he was still hovering on the edge of control.

Zuni was on tenterhooks, getting antsy and was far more than ready. "C'mon baby-you need to fuck me, need to ram it up my ass." He was petting and twisting Cy's nipples and egging him on. He would have gone on, but Baines wasn't going to move until he was ready. He grabbed the offending hands and pulled them over his head, and shoved his tongue down Zunoski's throat to quiet the trouble making mouth.

"Shut up, Zunoski. Give me a second here."

"What, your cock get too hard, crammed up my ass?"

"That's it, Zunoski. I'm going to go take a piss." He made a motion to pull out, but Zuni clamped down hard with his legs and ass.

"Mmmm. I don't think so, baybee boy." Zunoski grinned as he started rocking under Baines.

"God damn it! Stop it-you're going to make me come already!" Baines had almost gained equilibrium before Zunoski started his campaign.

"You're a resilient boy, you'll spring right back into action. Did last week, anyway."

"Last week? Hell, I'd been nearly celibate for months!"

Zuni gave him a serious look. "Oh, that's bad, Cy. You shouldn't do that, causes clogs in the spiritual pathways and wreaks havoc with your chi." He also made a mental note to find out more about Cy's last tryst. He didn't recall Baines ever even mentioning it; surely he wasn't referring to last October.

Baines grinned slyly, looking at Zuni from under his lashes. "Yeah, I know, I'm all swollen and turgid, can't you tell?"

‘I can tell, trust me, I can tell. Need to work out that blockage. More fiber in your diet, maybe?"

Cy finally felt able to move without losing it, and started to slide out of Zuni's ass nearly to the tip, then drove back in. "You mean, more fiber like that?"

Zunoski's head went back, exposing his throat, mouth open as Baines finally got around to the fucking part. He let go Zuni's hands, and leaning back grabbed him low on the waist, thumbs just over the pelvis, to give himself the purchase he required. He used his weight to provide the inertia to drive in as deeply as possible. After a few strokes, Zuni let go of Baines with his legs, and brought his knees up over Baines shoulder. Cy grabbed the muscular legs, and leaned into the back of the thighs. The golden hair on the back of Zuni's legs tickled his chest and nipples as he continued to drive in. He changed the angle of thrust slightly, till he could feel the flare of the head of his penis stroking Zuni's swollen gland. The full bladder made itself remembered, and the exquisite pleasure intertwined with the sharp pain was perfect torture.

"God damn it, Baines that is so fucking incredible." Zunoski undulated under him and grabbed his own hard cock, and started to jack off as Cy fucked him.

Baines loved to watch another man masturbate. He increased the tempo of his thrusts a little more to match the rhythm of Zuni's hand strokes. He slid his hand down Zuni's thigh, feeling the muscles working beneath the skin. He rubbed the testicle with the palm of his hand against Zuni's body, and warned him, "I'm not going to last much longer." then took over Zuni's penis, slipping the soft skin over the hard shaft; his thumb rubbing over the tiny sweet spot on the upturned underside.

Zuni was ragged, eyes closed and his breath coming in hard chuffing sounds, the fine sheen of sweat covering them both glistened in the now brighter, pale, dawn light coming in through the patio door.

Baines could feel Zuni's cock jerking, and the tight sphincter working on his cock, as he slid in and out of Zuni's ass; the flesh pulling away and sucking him in as he watched the always amazing act of fucking a mans' ass.

"Come on, Zuni. I want to come in your ass, gonna fill you up, so you drip come all day, and remember who's ass this is."

Zuni let the incipient wave crash in on him. He'd been holding back, prolonging the ecstasy as long as possible while he finally had the Lieutenant just where he had wanted him all along. He was loathe to have it end, but he also wanted to come with Baines in his ass, raking his prostate with that fine prick, and it was time, and they would do this again and again...

The idea of having this gorgeous boy as his own, fucking him and being fucked by him caused the eruption that Baines was waiting for. Zuni arched his back, and locked his ankles around Baines' neck, and swore blue colored epithets into the cool dawn. Baines' control broke down, and he wildly thrust into the hot hole that was now his own, then froze in place as the orgasm finally came, just experiencing the extraordinary feeling of his cock pulsing his life's fluids into Zuni's ass.

Zunoski let his legs slid off Baines shoulders, and Cyril fell against him, shredded, demolished. Slowly Zuni straightened out his legs, and silently urged Cy to do the same, so he lay prone over Zuni as the sweat dripped off his forehead and onto his lovers' chest.

This position caused Cy's softening penis to slip out, wet and bereft, of Zuni' ass.

They lay together, Zunoski's chest hair sticking to his damp skin, breathing in the ripe smell of sex in the air.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

It had really pissed him off that he had been unable to drive the Camaro for the last seven months. The pride and hubris he had felt about the sports car had been well repaid; operating the stiff clutch was out of the question with his knee still on the mend.

So Zunoski drove it. He'd teased and tortured Baines over the shallow need for a nice, shiny, new car, but hadn't complained a bit when they'd had to trade vehicles so Baines could have transportation. God, sometimes he could be so cruel!

At last the doctor had released him to drive the clutch-operated vehicle. It was heaven; the speed driven adrenaline rush was the perfect substitute for skydiving. He was due back to full duty on Monday, so he had these two days to get in the car and go. "Zuni, let's drive to Reno. It'll be a blast, we can party, do some gambling. Sound like fun?" Baines had dreamed up the idea while out running along the beach. He had kneeled down beside the bed, rubbing his sweat-drenched face on Zunoski's neck, warm and fragrant with his body heat trapped under the duvet.

Zuni curled into the caress, and pulled his lover down to him. "You want to drive like a maniac, don't you."

"And you drove like grandma for the last seven months? I don't think so. Come on, get up, let's go." Baines reached under the blanket, and slid his hand possessively along the slim, muscular flank. Zunoski stretched and turned toward Cy's hand to get more petting. Cyril had no trouble complying with the unspoken request. Down the thigh, over the firm lean buttocks, back up to the shoulder, then pushing him gently over onto his back, Zunoski dropped like a rag-doll. Cyril smiled. Zunoski was the night owl, and in the morning Cy would take advantage of it. Cyril shoved the comforter down, and Zuni reacted by whimpering and reaching for it, but he encountered Cyril's head, the damp hair dragging over the flesh of his abdomen. He shivered, goose bumps rising on stomach, as the tickling reached his penis. Cy blew on it, alternating the air with hair until Zuni was half-hard, then he slipped the partial erection in his mouth. "Jesus, that's good." Zunoski was wide-awake now. He ran both his hands through the wet, dark mane at his crotch. Cyril had found he could nearly deep throat Zunoski if he started out this way, letting it grow and fill in the back of his throat. And Zunoski was easy in the mornings, he didn't try to turn it into a marathon; he just let Cyril suck him off hard and fast. It was something that Zunoski had fantasized about for nearly a year, Baines' mouth distended around his hard cock, and the sight of him working hard to bring him off, the slick, wet face, red from effort made it easy to let go and come down the milky white throat of his lover. Fuck, *this* was Nirvana; he didn't need to die or take drugs to reach it.

Baines laid his head on Zunoski's stomach, looking up at him and smiling. "So, think I can convince you to get up now?"

Zunoski smiled back at the expectant look Baines was giving him. "Hey, I've already been up, thank you very much. But yes, it sounds fun, let's go to Reno."

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

McShane had tossed a little gathering at a local bar the night before for Zunoski's birthday, and made it clear that the rest of them would be bringing a date. Baines had scraped together a pair of dates for them. Well, not really-- the two had been throwing themselves at him for weeks on his morning run. Fortunately the four of them got along well enough, and the ruse was acceptable to all concerned. Baines laughed to himself-- the look on Donnas' face when he had walked in with Penny on his arm had been priceless.

Penny had recently moved back to her hometown after a ten-year absence and an ugly divorce. Lindsay was her childhood friend, and had offered Penny a place to come to when she had left the nutcase back in Texas. As a casual date Penny was great. She was tall and dark haired with abyssal blue- eyes and an injured air that made most men turn to mush. He'd seen it happen while they were out running. Lindsay was shorter, and had the most incredible mane of long golden curls. Baines knew that there were women who spent hours to achieve the same look. Lindsay was also slightly overweight, and after her own two failed marriages, was left with a definite lack in the self-esteem department. Lindsay never left the house without hair and makeup in perfect order, even at six am to go running. But on the whole, they were an amusing diversion, and Penny was a good running buddy.

Baines had not mentioned to Penny or Lindsay that he and Zunoski were more than roommates-- but then again, the girls were over thirty and not stupid. It was a pleasure to have a conversation with a slightly older woman without sexual attraction clouding the issue; and Baines was a good listener -- though both of their difficulties were pretty far out of his league he seemed to have an intuitive grasp of the right thing to say.

Zunoski was tolerant of the relationship Baines had with the two girls, but he watched Baines very closely when they were around. He couldn't help it, this was a part of Baines that was out of his control, and he didn't like it one little bit. It made him all the more persistent when it came to sex. He wasn't consciously marking his territory, or trying to imprint Baines sexually, but it was the net effect of his unspoken jealousy.

Last night had been no exception. Seeing Baines with Penny, playing the part of the attentive boyfriend had driven Zunoski crazy. Baines had seen Zunoski simmering in the bar, and knew he was at a full boil by the time the ladies had been seen to their door. Zunoski had taken him like a whirlwind, as they came in from the garage. Baines was shoved against the back door, Zunoski roughly biting his shoulder and neck as he yanked their clothing apart just enough to expose his dick and Baines' ass. Baines melted into the wall, as Zunoski spit polished the knob of his cock, then thrust it in cruelly fast. Baines winced and bit his lip, but said nothing. Zuni took only another few stabs with his weapon before he realized what he was doing.

"I'm so sorry Cy, I'm so sorry. Why didn't you stop me or say something?"

Cy relaxed and slumped on the wall as Zunoski's onslaught ceased. It hadn't been that bad, not even very much a shock. "Because in some sick way, I needed to let you do that. Lose control."

Zuni gently pulled the collar of Cy's shirt down, and inspected the bite mark on the pad of the trapezoid. "I'm so, so sorry, I didn't mean to do that."

"Yeah, I know."

Remorseful, Zunoski led Baines into the bathroom and started the shower, undressing him slowly, then himself and pulling him into the shower. Cy was silent as he considered the episode; he hadn't realized that he had never seen his lover lose control until just now. The violent reaction to jealousy wasn't an issue with him. Zuni bathed the wound with soap and water, then the rest of him with as much care.

Cyril accepted this attention passively. Zunoski continued to soothe and pet his wronged lover, whispering apologies and murmured regrets. Zuni gently leaned Cy against the wall of the shower and slid down the wet, smooth body, kissing and licking off the rivulets running down, descending to the V created by his thighs pressed together by the crossing of an ankle.

Cy slicked back the fine hair that was nearly clear under the running water, as Zuni pressed his face into his abdomen, his shoulders shaking slightly. "It's okay, Zuni, don't worry. It'll be okay."

It was Saturday morning, and Baines let Zunoski sleep in, it was his birthday after all. He stayed in bed with him, spooned in against Zuni's muscular back. He was wide-awake, though. The aftermath of last nights' crisis was gnawing at Cyril. He wondered how Zunoski would feel when he woke up. He himself was curiously empty, but he knew that he would react eventually. It was true, though. He hadn't realized until last night how controlled Zunoski was, even in the throes of passion.

It was almost a year to the day since they had each discovered that the other was more than open to the possibility of an alternate lifestyle; so in a way it could be considered an anniversary for them. Never mind that it had taken nearly eight more months to consummate the bond between them.

Baines was anxious. He still worried on last year, and he felt vaguely contrite about his behavior last night, though logically he knew there was absolutely no reason to feel so. Penny was a friend, and no threat to what he had with Zuni. He hadn't put the Erotic Ball and Zunoski's birthday together until later-what if he had accepted the invitation... who knew what could have happened.

The Exotic Erotic Ball was tonight and they were going to go together this time. Zunoski had spent the last week putting together a pair of costumes, Riff Raff from Rocky, the silver one from the end. Baines had felt a little ridiculous when he tried it on, but it was what Zunoski wanted, so he was going to do it. And once they got to the Ball, they would probably not be the only ones there in that particular get up, it was the fifteenth anniversary.

The difficult part was that they were going not as joined lovers, but as Lieutenant Baines, and Private Zunoski. It was a difficult line to draw, but the artifice was a necessity-they had no idea who else was going to be there, or who you could run into, as had been so richly illustrated the year before. Baines had made a puny effort to talk Zunoski out of going, but the slightly tart reply had been that Baines was the one that wanted to get out more.

Jesus. You couldn't win with this guy some days.

One thing was certain, despite the fact they were going to go as buddies on a lark, Baines was going to stay close to Zunoski and not give him any cause to be jealous.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

It was Christmas, and the weather was coming down in buckets. A Pacific storm was bearing down on the coast, and the in the early afternoon sky was dark.

They had exchanged gifts last night over champagne, and were lounging around the house after a late breakfast. The new CD's were playing on the stereo, and they were curled up together on the sofa. They had talked about where to spend the holidays; it was no question they would spend them together, but it was strange to think in terms of ‘next year'. The idea of visiting their parents on alternating holidays was too fucking weird. It had been too much to contemplate, so they took the high road and made this their first holiday to be at home together in what passed as domestic bliss.

Zuni had insisted on the whole nine yards, said last year was the first year since he had moved back to the states that he hadn't had a tree and lights. There hadn't been very many opportunities for traditional Christmas celebrations as a child in India. He knew he was over-compensating, but he didn't care. He strung lights on the outside, fetched a tree and installed it in the living room next to the patio door. Baines was amused by the preparations, and acted as Zuni's assistant during decorating. He decided to take a stab at the holiday cooking; he was passably fair in that department.

He felt a little guilty about not going to his mothers' for the holiday; he had been in Panama last year and Baines'd had only the two-day pass the year before. The month he'd spent at home last spring wasn't the same, but he was willing to go along with Zunoski on this, and it was nice that Zuni seemed to want to make the holiday as magical as possible.

To compensate for the slight, he ended up calling his mom daily for a week to check on ideas, recipes, tips and hints. He wanted to surprise Zunoski, so he had ‘banned' him from the kitchen until it was done. He was smart enough to not take on something that was too difficult, so he settled for small roasted hens, scalloped potatoes and a few simple vegetables with a pie he'd gotten from the local bakery.

The dinner was small and intimate, just him and Zuni. He'd been plotting all week, and managed to pull together a small set of Christmas china for two, candles and a nice Chenin Blanc from Napa Valley he'd gotten fond of on their road trip to Reno.

It was quiet. Baines had been trying as hard as he could to get into the spirit of the holiday, but somehow it felt just a little lonely and empty. They flirted and talked to each other, and it was clear the evening was going to wind up with them in bed. That had certainly been Zunoski's intent to start with. Baines had inquired about inviting Lindsay and Penny over for dinner, to have more of a party like atmosphere, but Zunoski had quietly overruled the notion. He wanted to be at home alone with Baines as much as possible.

Baines did love Zunoski; it was just that he was starting to feel a little claustrophobic. He had changed locales, environments, classes or squads every six months for the last 7 years. Even as a child his parents had moved sporadically because his father had gone from project to project. He had been living here for a year now, and they had been lovers for the last six months. He didn't want to give up Zunoski; Zuni provided a warm safe base from which to operate and return. He just felt as though he needed to broaden the circle, widen his horizons.

Zunoski on the other hand, had had all the horizons he'd cared to have or see. He relished the soft warm nest at home with the two of them; he focused on the internal landscape and wanted to take every day the way it came to him; that meant spending them with the man he'd come to need, maybe too much.

This essential dichotomy had been discussed, with no resolution to the satisfaction of either one of them. Zunoski was hurt that he wasn't enough for Baines, jealous when he elected to go somewhere without him.

Baines felt bad that Zunoski felt that way, but he also felt trapped by Zunoski's jealousy. It made him angry that Zuni said he trusted him, but the behavior he exhibited didn't prove out the words.

It was apparent that something or someone was going to have to give.

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

The realization that Zunoski didn't seem to attain the same state of post-coital disarray that he did annoyed Baines now. Zunoski had that basic core of poise and discipline, though he certainly looked like he enjoyed the sex. That measure of power over his emotions was the same thing that had attracted Baines in the first place, so he couldn't say he didn't like it. Zuni was generally very sweet and tender, but that wasn't Baines' objective. He wanted to make Zunoski feel the same way he felt after having been taken by his lover, totally wrecked and lost in the emotion of it all. He felt insufficient somehow, that Zunoski seemed to stay in perfect control. Logically Baines knew that it was the Yoga, or the Tai Chi, or what ever it was that Zunoski was into this month But there was the nagging doubt too. Was he afraid of the consequences of allowing himself that luxury?

Recently the number of times he had initiated, asked for, or even shown any interest in having sex seemed to have dropped dramatically, so when Cy finally did ask, Zunoski was more than willing to submit. He knew that Cy had got it into his head that whatever he did was somehow not enough.

What could he do to convince him that wasn't true?

Baines made a motion to pull out and get up, but Zuni tightened his grip around Baines to keep him from escaping, while he began to whisper reassurances and endearments in his ear.

Cy didn't see it as a gesture of love and affection, but as an empty acknowledgement of his failure, and another attempt to entrap him. How could that have been as good for Zunoski as it had been for him? It rankled him to be seen as an amateur, in the past he'd always thought of himself as a decent lover. It pissed him off. Zunoski told him it was more than he ever wanted, but those were more words that didn't seem to jive with the way he acted.

Cyril's body language was tense, uptight and angry, so Zunoski loosened his grip on him, and let him up. Baines stalked off to the bathroom and shut the door with some finality. He leaned on the wall, arm out straight, to relieve himself. He washed his face and wiped himself off slowly, as he thought about the sex he and Zunoski just had. In retrospect, Zuni had acted like he had enjoyed it; he had certainly been vocal enough. Baines rinsed out the washcloth, and took it back to Zunoski.

Zuni was lying on his side facing the bathroom door. He watched Baines move toward him, the slightly bow legged walk gave an added roll to his hips, sexy as hell and more endearing to him than ever.

Baines looked at him, a troubled expression creasing the bridge of his nose.

He said nothing as he kneeled down and began to perfunctorily wipe Zunoski clean. The nature of his relationships in the past had been short, hurried or nonexistent- he was unused to the nurturing required by this extended love affair. They had been living together as lovers since June, and it was nearly a year since Cy's surgery on his knee. The disability was now a faint scar, though he still daydreamed about the exhilaration of that drop into the hot zone in Panama.

Had Baines out-grown him so quickly? It was a difficult concept to contemplate. It didn't matter what the reality of the situation was; Baines' perception of their relationship was what mattered. Zunoski thought it skewed, but then again, he was willing to go for months without leaving the house.

Cyril Baines seemed to need a larger pasture to range. He had also discovered that he wasn't quite ready to fully commit to a permanent relationship. Zunoski had admired the courage it had taken for Baines to tell him, but it had hurt him just the same.

It was his Valentines Day gift to Cyril. He had been coming towards this since October, but this morning it seemed like a snap decision. Baines had returned the washcloth to the sink, and gone to the kitchen to make coffee and toast.

Zuni threw on a pair of sweats and walked into the kitchen. The room was chilly, but Baines didn't seem to notice the temperature despite his nudity. He was leaning against the open refrigerator door, staring blankly into the dark box.

"Light bulb burned out again."

Baines looked up startled. "Hey."

"If I told you that I would be willing to share, if you found a girl friend, would that help?"

Cyril Baines looked at Zunoski like a bat had just flown out of his ass. "Jesus Christ, you just don't get it. C'mon Zunoski, have you heard anything I've said to you?" He looked in the refrigerator in disgust, and slammed the door rather harder than he intended, startling Zunoski.

Zuni was taken aback; he hadn't expected this reaction. "I guess, I didn't hear the same thing you were saying. Why don't you tell me again?" He took few steps towards Baines, who was leaned over slowly banging his head on the freezer door. Finally, Cy stood up and turned around.

"I don't want to have to ask you for permission. I'm tired of feeling like I'm always the lesser half of this thing between us. I hate feeling like I'm property, an objectified ideal."

"Which is why you need to get out while you can. I'll always be here, but I can't think of you as mine when you are so unhappy. What good does that do you or me?" Zuni walked to Baines and wrapped his arms around him low on the waist. He dragged his face along Cy's neck slowly, inhaling the scent of warm, dry sweat.

"Do you want me to leave?" Cyril couldn't believe that he was hearing the words, so out of kilter with the affectionate caress.

Zunoski whispered in his ear. "God, no I don't want you to go, don't want you leave. But I don't want you to feel like you're trapped-that you have to stay, either."

The phone rang, interrupting the conversation. Zunoski answered it, and his face went business-like and impassive as he took down the information.

There was a local situation, local as in Northern California. They needed a small team to rescue some scientists that had gone missing, trapped in a parallel dimension. Secretary Kenmore had personally called McShane to make sure that the incident was handled discreetly and efficiently. The outline of the job was a simple one, go pick up the missing personnel and get back. It wasn't exactly a top-secret mission, but it was definitely ‘eyes only'; so McShane only took the ranking, senior personnel. Clarendon and Adams were left behind.

The four of them loaded crates of guns, ammunition and explosives into the back of the Land Rover like so many picnic baskets, then took off for the hills.

Mancini sat in front with McShane driving, leaving Baines and Zunoski to the back seat. Tension was high, they were all alert, taut and prepared for action; but the underlying current between Zunoski and Baines was chilly.

It wasn't about sex. The two of them fit together sexually, and they had near mind-altering experiences with each other, it was about exclusivity and mind-boggling jealousy.

Baines had discovered the flip side to the coin of a relationship where you felt warm cherished and loved. It was expected that you threw yourself into the relationship with the same fervor; total reciprocity was required.

He wasn't ready for that after all.

Zuni had wanted to make it permanent. He no longer wanted Baines for the duration; he wanted to know that they would love each other forever.

Baines didn't want to leave, but neither did he want to commit permanently. He almost felt like he was drowning, subsumed and merged with Zunoski. That had been nice in the beginning, but he felt that he was losing himself in the relationship.

Zunoski was trying hard to stay cool. He knew that Baines was antsy and it was going to take a little longer to bring him round; but there was no doubt the boy had gotten under his skin. It was a joy to have found a person that he could love unconditionally. His lover was smart, funny, moody and temperamental, and Zuni wanted it all. He was willing to let Baines have all the line he wanted - the hook was already set, and it was only a matter of time before he would come back. He knew he had to change, to learn to control his feelings of jealousy.

It was an uneasy truce in the back seat. They had successfully maintained the charade of being just two roommates for the Army, and McShane. He was clueless, and they intended to keep it that way.

The Nexus facility was a large type of warehouse facility above ground, with several smaller out buildings around it. They were checked and verified at the gate, and again at the facility by an MP; then they were waved into a large freight elevator. It appeared to have been designed for large equipment; the Land Rover barely filled it up.

They were lowered into the bowels of the earth towards their unknown hell.

The four of them walked out of the elevator together shoulder to shoulder. Whatever the minor squabbles and disagreements between them, once they were on duty, they were there for each other, and let no man attempt to rend them asunder.

"Tell me how this transporter of yours works, Doctor." McShane didn't want the physicists' version of the machine, but something he could understand.

Summerfield arrogantly looked them over briefly before replying to the question. "Biomagnetic Flux-- by altering your body structure you can exist within a parallel world."

Mancini took his slim, unlit cigar out of his mouth, and the disbelief on his face was evident, but his tone of voice was flat. "No shit."

"Like I said it's been tested, and it's perfectly safe for humans." Dr. Summerfield's words were meant to be reassuring, but the short statement left something to be desired.

As usual, Zunoski decided some sarcastic humor was needed. "Hey that leaves you out, Mancini!"

As usual, everyone ignored him. Summerfield continued. "Now there'll be a Dr. Shepard arriving and I do not want you to trust or take any orders from him. Is that understood are there any questions?"

McShane did not like this. The operations' danger quotient was skyrocketing with every word Summerfield uttered, and McShane did not want his team being the shuttlecock in whatever game of penny-ante power struggle was going on here. "Yeah, what aren't you telling us?"

"What do you mean?" Summerfield acted like he was clueless as to what McShane was talking about. Jesus. "An experiment like this is pretty off the wall, things go wrong; they get covered up." Summerfield decided to parry to McShane's thrust. "McShane something happened to three of my colleagues, and they have about 8 hours of oxygen left. Now, unless you have anything *pertinent*, I suggest you get on with it. All right?"

Colonel McShane's hands were tied. He had his orders, and he couldn't dump the mission because he didn't' like the asshole in charge. "Yeah, just don't bullshit me."

"Good Luck."

~~~~~~~oo(O)oo~~~~~~~

The Show Must Go On
"I, Robot"
Eric Woolfson/Alan Parsons 1975

Gaze at the Sky
And picture a memory
Of days in your life
You knew what it meant to be happy and free
With time on your side

Remember your Daddy
When no one was wiser
Your Ma used to say
That you would go further than he ever could
With time on your side

Think of a boy with stars in his eye
Longing to reach them but frightened to try
Sadly you'd say someday, someday
But day after day
The show must go on,
And time slipped away
Before you could build any castles in Spain
The chance had gone by

With nothing to say,
And no one to say it to
Nothing has changed
You've still got it all to do
Surely you know
The chance has gone by

Think of a boy with stars in his eye
Longing to reach them but frightened to try
Sadly you'd say someday, someday
But day after day
The show must go one
And you gaze at the sky
And picture the memory of days in your life
With time on your side

~fini~


Notes

Fandom: X-TroII

Category/Rated: Slash, Adult

Year/Length: 2002/ ~25,072 words

Pairing: Baines/Zunoski

Spoilers: Possibly for the movie.

Disclaimer: Not mine, no profit, only having fun. New Line Cinema, Inc. and North American Pictures, but it doesn't feel that way. A few minor original characters contained within.

Summary: Life before Baines goes to The NEXXUS Project.

Series: This is the end of a trilogy. If you've not read "Boy With Stars in His Eye" and "Ascent To Pine Grove", you might be lost at sea.

Author's Notes: Alright, this is the end of the beginning, and the end of the series. All of these were inspired by the song, The Show Must Go On by Alan Parson Project, and played on constant rotation for like TWO YEARS. Ow.

Beta: My darling Sue, of course--Queen of Slash, and a VERY pushy editor, to boot. Also many thanks to her for a midpoint clarification of vision.

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