Author Note: O.K. this is rated "M" for a reason. I know there are some readers who like the fact I go light on the smexy, but this time I just went for it. You've been warned. :)

Part X

We left Jamaica two days later, heading west through the Yucatan (affectionately renamed the "Pukatan" for its rough seas) straight south west of Cuba. Entering the Gulf of Mexico we only saw one miles-long thin arm of the oil that had been gushing out of the ruptured Deepwater Horizon well, but that was enough to make many of us weep. We bid farewell to the Cuauhtemoc and to the Elissa, who we heard also lost members of their compliment when Robert went missing in Jamaica and Jane stayed behind to deal with the police. I prayed that he would resurface; hangover, sunburned, and repentant, but quietly assumed he was probably jumped by the same gang who had attacked us and was just was not as fortunate.

The remainder of the voyage was a blessing of hard work that let me stay on deck until I dropped or was shoved below. We had some new scientific equipment to runs test on, which meant a lot of sail handling to get the ship into position to the current and at the right speed. Trying to bring up Niskin sampling bottles from 1000 feet when they have drifted to the other side of the hull is nerve wracking at best. I tried to lose myself in the physicality of it, just the constant movement and focus. Even doing the various types of rope coils can have a meditative quality to it. I shot the sun and the stars daily to plot our position. I took advantage of the time I now had to catch up mingling with the rest of the crew. In short, I tried to enjoy the trip for what it was supposed to be and forget what it had been. I had never intended to find a relationship when I walked onboard and I did not end up with one. Fine.

I hate being a grown up sometimes.

But standing alone on bow watch in the dark with nothing but the motion of the ship and sounds of the sea, the empty space of where a tall shape and deep voice used to be resonated with the ache in my chest. Sometimes as I fell asleep I would catch his rich, earthy musk, as if it still clung to my skin.

I wondered what changed his mind. If I had misread his intentions, I was puzzled what signs I had missed. There were some moments the night immediately leading up to it, odd flashes of detachment, but even Kevin and Rene, the only two I confided in, were mystified.

"The bastard!"

I shook my head "He didn't make any promises Rene. The only thing he said was that he wanted to see where it went. I guess it just it did not go far enough for him." I shrugged. "It's just one of those things."

"Still sucks," Kevin said, leaning against the shroud as we lounge in the headrig watching the bow cut through the dark blue waves.

"Yeah, but what are you going to do?" I shrugged again. "If he doesn't, he doesn't. No point trying to force it down his throat. I just have to take what I can from it...It's nice to be reminded I can feel this way about someone. Though it would be nicer if the someone who turned that engine over stuck around to drive it."

Kevin clapped my shoulder before he climbed back over the hull to answer a call from the Captain.

Rene just shook her head. "It's just so bizarre. You guys just…You were like the ship's cats. Independent and a bit aloof, but you curled up together so well. I would have never guessed…"

There was nothing in John's conduct that said he was anything other than a good man who had been open and honest and not taken advantage me, if perhaps he had allowed my feelings to get carried away when he wasn't sure of his. The only explanation I could come up with, when I could finally face it, was that he had mentioned a casual relationship with a coworker. Perhaps he had decided to pursue that more seriously. If having things in common and understanding the demands of his work were his priorities in choosing a mate, that would certainly make sense.

That she was more beautiful, smarter, and easier to deal with that he had fallen in love with her and not me was something I was not ready to face yet.

I had nothing to reproach myself for. I was not ashamed of my feelings for him, or having expressed them, even if they were ultimately unrequited. But I almost wished he had been a jerk, that he had left me with something to hate to ease the empty misery gnawing at the edge of my consciousness for nine days.

His replacement in engineering didn't help. Jason was young, eager, and a bit too solicitous towards me, leading me to spend a couple days hiding out around the ship until he got the hint. What the hell did John's friend tell him?

The turquoise waters of the Florida Keys reminded me of something and I took the necklace out, considering throwing it over the side. But even as I closed my hand around it in determination to walk up on deck, I found myself jamming it back in my bags, unable to let it go.

Not yet.

Even when I returned to my flat in London and unpacked I still couldn't get rid of the damn thing, instead relegating it to the depths of my little jewelry box.

Back in my own bed, I slept for a day and woke with tears on my face. Curling up into a ball around a pillow I screamed into it, finally letting myself cry as I had not been able to before.

I slept for another day after that.

And then got up and went on with my life as it was when I left it. Classes did not begin for another month, but my editor had a galley proof ready for me guaranteeing a long stressful process of negotiation as I always had ten thousand minor alterations that my editor would have to talk me out of. Between that, finishing up remodeling the study, making up for lost time with Pilot, and my part time job in the University bookshop that ensured I was social occasionally, I managed. I won't say I was happy, but after a couple weeks I had reached neutral.

Empty, but neutral.

Until I come home to find John sitting on my stoop and everything I had built to shore up my heart is washed away.

Clean-shaven in a blue dress shirt and a pair of fashionable black jeans, a suit jacket hanging from the railing. His dark brown hair is black in the northern light and his eyes reflect London's smoky blue skies rather than the brilliant azure of the Caribbean. Eyes regretful and unsure.

Just looking at him steals my breath.

But there is such an edge of unreality to the moment, creating an odd formality; I don't think either of us knows what to say.

"Hi," he begins.

I don't answer. I can't.

He stands, tucking his hands in the back of his belt. "Can I talk to you?"

I walk past him and open the door. Cursory introductions to Pilot follow and I ask him to wait while I take the brindle and white boxer/pointer mix out for her evening walk to collect myself. The question of "Why is he here?" answers itself. The question is "Do I let him?" is what is up in the air.

Well, not that up in the air, but I want answers, which is what I say as I hang Pilot's leash back up by the door.

"You deserve them," he says quietly from the far side of the living room, reaching down to pet Pilot who is ecstatically torn between delight at yet another person existing to love her and curiosity at what this new creature is.

I don't answer, instead heading for the kitchen to put the kettle on. I hear a plastic "click" from the breakfast bar behind me.

It's badge on a lanyard. Horrible picture of John, the light washing out his face completely. Someone seriously has to train to make someone that handsome look that bad. But it's the words printed over a triangular seal that bring me to a full stop.

"SECRET INTELLIGENCE SERVICE

MI6

Section 20

John R. Porter

34487566

Military Liaison"

I set the badge back down and put my hand to my mouth. John watches me carefully, waiting.

"So…the 21st?" I finally ask.

"Part of my cover. I'm listed on their rolls as well as Praesidium Security, in case anyone gets curious. "

"But you did...?"

He takes a deep breath, crossing his arms defensively. "Yes, I was with the SAS for seven years."

I match his posture, leaning back against the counter. "And I take it this has something to do with what happened on the Jones?"

"The worst of it. Kip, Honey, come sit down."

"Kettle will be going in a bit," I reply distantly, not ready to come into such close physical proximity to him.

He comes into the kitchen to lean on the breakfast bar only a couple feet from me. Just a step and a half and I could be wrapped in his arms, cradled against his chest. I could sink myself into the scent and the strength and the warmth I have missed so much that it aches to be this close to it. I have to almost physically beat back the part of me that wants to.

Well, that didn't work the way I had planned.

He clears his throat, his voice rough as he begins. "Remember how I said I had been said overseas and the job turned out to be more complex than we had anticipated? The problem was I walked out with information that could potentially destroy someone very powerful. Obviously, he didn't take that well. And worse, he knew who I was. My boss approved me going to sea to keep me off the radar until things cooled down."

"And this has what to do with…?"

"Do you remember when we were on the causeway in Samana and you said you saw a man there you'd seen at the waterfall the day before?"

"…Not really."

"Well, you did and you had. So had I. There were a couple of faces that became a little too familiar on that short visit. But I was...distracted..." The corner of his mouth turns up as he gives me a rueful look. "...and I brushed it off. And then there was Port au Prince. Didn't you wonder why they chose our ship?"

"I did, but I figured it was because we were one of the biggest ships moored the furthest out."

"That's what Greg said too, trying to get me to relax, but I spoke with Marcus when I arrived in Port Antonio and we contacted David, who works for the JDF's Intelligence Unit. He said he would put out some feelers, see if there was anything going on. Have me shadowed. And that night we were attacked."

The kettle comes to a boil and I pour us some tea as my mind, already reeling, processes the immediate data flow, no matter how fantastic it all sounds. "That's why Marcus was so quick on the scene. Someone was trying to kill you?"

"Yes."

"…An entire pirate attack seems a bit much…"

John takes the mug from me as his eyebrows pop in a wry gesture so familiar it makes my throat close up. "Also something Greg brought up, but I suspect that they had tried and failed earlier and that was a desperate plan B."

"During the warehouse raid the night before?"

He nods. "Probably. I was all over the place, buggar probably just missed me and I never knew it. In Jamaica they were gang members that attacked us, but they were higher level gang members known for their professional skills and they were operating outside their territory, which was enough to raise the red flags for Marcus and David, who came right out. The prisoners weren't talking, so we decided to get to the heart of the matter."

"…The hotel didn't lose our reservation did they?"

He takes a sip and shakes his head. "We were the decoy. I checked in and David sent a pair if agents to the room while I walked out the side with you. And it worked. We got him."

"I didn't suspect a thing," I murmur, thinking back on that might and feeling stupid. My focus was entirely on John, and having sex with John, whose focus was entirely elsewhere and I hadn't the slightest inkling. "Who was it?"

He shakes his head again. "No names. But between the JDF and Section 20, we figured out who hired him."

"The man whose career you destroyed."

"Threatened to."

"And that's why you had to get you and Alex back to the U.K."

"At that point we did not know how far it went, but we knew he was a professional. I needed to make sure she was safe."

"Is she?"

"Yeah. Finishing up her training with OxFam. Ready to ship out in a few weeks." Even the current emotional turmoil can't stop the slight smile of pride that crosses his lips.

"Good..." I nod perfunctorily. "But why did you…You didn't have to dump me!"

The hurt in my voice is reflected by the regret filling John's pale blue eyes. For just a moment he moves towards me, but I slide further down the counter away from him. It's too close, the need is too keen and I'm not ready. He sets the cup down, reaching for my hand which I let him have, suppressing the shiver his touch sends down my spine. "I'm sorry. It was the last thing I wanted to do, but there were multiple factors the first of which was your safety. They almost killed you trying to get to me." He looks at my hand in his, clutching it tightly as his voice becomes rough again. "I couldn't take that."

"Multiple factors…" My voice is flat.

He draws back, releasing my hand and returning to his defensive posture. "There were some concerns…"

"Concerns?"

"You have to understand we had to investigate everything…"

"What?"

"You're American."

"What?"

"You were with me at every attack…"

"WHAT!" I slam my cup down, sloshing its contents over the counter.

"Your family…"

"WHAT ABOUT MY FAMILY?"

""Oh, My mum's family is Army,"" he mimics sarcastically. "I've seen your background. You're practically fucking pedigreed. I feel like I need to petition your State Department just to talk to you. Your brother was in the Marines, your sister works for the government…"

"So I must as well?"

"It was the fact you didn't that stood out."

"So the General's granddaughter and the Admiral's niece can't have life of her own? I'm sorry, do I need to do a séance to contact Lafayette's aide de camp to get his permission for his descendant to spend her twenties screwing up?" I rant as I stride out of the kitchen with John at my heels. "Judas Priest, only the fucking Brits…"

"Kip, wait." He places a hand on my shoulder, turning me to face him. "I didn't believe it, I couldn't, not for a minute. My primary concern was your safety."

"DON'T TOUCH ME! " I smack his hand away. "THEY TRIED TO KILL ME JOHN! And you thought I was one of them?"

"I just said I didn't!" His volume increases as his frustration rises.

"So…what? You dumped me on someone's orders?"

"NO!" John roars, getting angry at last. "What the fuck do you take me for! My first priority was to protect you! There was a price on my head and you had already been caught in the crossfire. Twice! I had to keep you as far away from me as possible. But there were also too many questions at that point that I, we..." he quickly corrects, "...needed to sort out. We just needed to see the picture clearly."

I hold my hands out to shut him up, taking as deep a breath as the boiling rage will allow, and say very, *very* carefully, "This is me not hitting you," before turning on my heel and stalking from the flat, slamming the door behind me.

The western sky is glowing fiery red as I continue my stalk toward Greenwich Park. I probably radiate such pure fury everyone gets out of my way so I remain undisturbed until I find a quiet spot beneath one of the massive chestnut trees to pace back and forth in private, just in case I start talking to myself like a crazy person. It's a bad habit one gets into being a solitary writer when you tend to work out dialog while you are walking your dog.

Well, at least I don't wait for an answer.

It's about twenty minutes before I come to the realization that most of what I am feeling is anger from how much he had hurt me before. Anger I would not let myself feel. Another twenty before I can face the fact that, had our positions been reversed, I would have done the same thing for the same reasons: To protect him and even if I did not believe it, I would put space between us to clear the decks so I could sort things out.

I shake my head slowly as I make my way back to my place. He made the wrong decision for the right reasons, but he's here, trying to fix it. He isn't stubbornly clinging to his choice. He isn't too afraid to admit he's made a mistake.

He's never been afraid to go after what he wants.

He wants me.

After that, I'm practically racing home in the dark.

If he still is "here." I think as, jogging up the stairs, I check my phone to see I have been gone for almost an hour and a half. I open the door, but my heart falls when I see he's not there. I'm looking for a note when I hear a noise in the study.

Leaning against the doorframe, I watch John fitting the shelves in the floor to ceiling bookcases I had put up over the last couple days. Under his shirt, I can see the muscles of his broad back in motion as he crouches on the drop cloth covered floor, his dark hair and striking profile, the strong yet gentle hands. Creation and destruction. All the power and compassionate dichotomy in one man, made whole and beautiful by his courage to just simply be.

It's a bear of a position he and others like him are in. They can't tell someone they want to get close to what they do until they are completely sure of them, and then they spring the awful reality of that lifestyle on a person they care about after they have reeled them in. Being unsure of me, of us, John has taken a big risk. But taking second place to duty, the fear that he won't come back, the isolation from a significant part of his life, I have no illusions about what he is offering. The price tag is precious.

But what is being offered is equally precious.

"How long before you are sent out again?" I ask, knowing that he knows I'm here. Knowing that, like the first time, he's letting me make up my mind.

He does not look at me but instead fits another shelf in, "I don't know. I could get a phone call tonight to be on a plane in two hours or it could be weeks before they need me in the field again. I'm not sent on extended assignments," he temporizes as he pushes the shelf down into place. "When I'm gone, it's usually only for a week or two. The longest I have been away is under a month."

I nod quietly, processing. "...And you didn't even sleep with me. Don't they revoke your super secret agent badge for omissions like that?"

"It's the only thing they let me out of the office with," he says, turning to me with a hint of that warm smirk. "I don't get my gun and laser wristwatch back until I shag you silly."

It works. I smile.

"...Sorry," he says into the silence, gesturing at the shelves. "You left your keys. And I…er…"

"…got bored." I finish for him, moving into the room, feeling, but not acknowledging the tension almost thrumming in the air. "Thank you."

"'Figured it was less obnoxious than going through your South Park DVDs."

"Pilot didn't give you a hard time?" I ask as she watches John expectantly, just the white tip of her tail wagging back and forth.

"Nah. We're best mates now. Aren't we gel?" His northern accent gets thicker for a moment as he digs in his pocket and tosses her one of the treats I keep on the kitchen counter.

"And she's had how many?"

"I don't think she needs supper." Sitting on the window seat between the bookcases, he hesitates a moment before reaches for my hand again, still uncertain, his long fingers wrapping around palm. "So…"

"So you're here. I take it the danger has passed?" I watch a warm light come into his eyes and his narrow lips start to curve into a smile as I sit beside him, but just for a moment before he addresses my question, almost as if he was afraid of getting carried away.

"Yeah. I followed up on it, but found that he had also put a contract out on another party in the same…matter, and that other party had sent someone to deal with him. They got to him before I did."

"So he's..."

"Yes."

"And the other party?"

"Is a very practical man more concerned about being king of his own hill than he is in pursuing profitless personal vendetta's across the globe, or at least that was what I was told."

"And you trust him?"

"I do," he says almost wonderingly, looking at his thumb stroking the back of my hand. There is a moment of quiet that feels almost companionable.

"John?" There is naked hope in the soft blue eyes that rise to meet mine. "Never make decisions for me again. I know you can't tell me everything, but you need to give me enough so I can make my own choices."

He swallows hard before rasping out, "Promise."

As I lean towards him, he takes my face in his hand, his lips touching mine almost tentatively at first, so soft and sweet it makes my heart ache with the beauty of it, but soon kiss follows kiss and sweet becomes hungry as he pulls me close. Feeling his shaking breath against my lips as I open to him, my tongue brushing against his with a soft yearning whimper. I've missed you so much!

"God, I missed you!" John whispers harshly as he breaks the kiss to gather me to him.

"Never do that again," I mumble into his shoulder as I hold him as tight as I can.

"I swear it, love." He kisses my ear before pulling back to look at me, his eyes a watery blue as he brushes the tear from my cheek with the feather-like touch I have so missed. "I didn't want to, but I couldn't take the thought of you being hurt because of me. I couldn't deal with that again. Not with you."

There is a tiny voice in the back of my head that says, "Again?" but I ignore it. "I know John, I know why you did it. But just...don't."

"O.k," he whispers, kissing me again. "O.k."

The kisses continue, sweet and relieved and grateful, as I relish the feel of him in my arms again, his warm, earthy scent, the sound of his breath in my ear. Just having him close when I thought I had lost him, knowing by the tightness of his arms, the fevered nature of his kisses, he feels the same.

But soon his hands begin to move down my back, skimming the curve of my waist, and his kisses become sensual, persuasive, his warm tongue teasing mine with the taste of tea and bergamot and male desire. Our breath becomes deeper, more uncontrolled, as the physical sensations begin to take over. John's mouth leaves mine as he nuzzles my neck and my ear, breathing my name in a question that needs no translation.

"Yes..." is all I can manage.

The way John is smirking I know my eyes must have gone as big as saucers when he picked me up to carry me down the hall. "I want to do this properly."

"You're here. That's all I need for it be right."

The almost unceremonious dumping me on the bed is followed by eager smiles as we pull off our shoes and socks and John tosses a couple condoms from his pocket onto the bedside table. His weight sinks into mine as he lies with me, our legs entwining and our feet rubbing together as we kiss, hot and breathless. I feel the shape of his body, the living weight of it, his dark hair between my fingers, his hands drifting over my neck, my face. I turn from his mouth to capture his thumb in my lips. John freezes for a moment, watching me as I suck lightly on its tip and flick my tongue against the pad of it before breathing onto his palm and placing a kiss there. When his mouth returns to mine he's ravenous, devouring me as his hand moves down my body to stroke and squeeze my breast through my shirt. I moan, pushing my hips into his.

A concerned whining growl from the far side of the mattress answers me.

John's and my lips part, dazed, as we look at Pilot. Her muzzle is resting on the bedside, her brown eyes shifting back and forth between us with a very worried expression. John's drops his face in between my breasts and his back shakes with silent laughter as I reassure Pilot "It's o.k.. I'm o.k.. I'm not being attacked by the nice man who gives you treats", and tell her to go lie down.

"Not quite best mates yet," he chuckles, dropping a kiss in the hollow of my throat.

"Give her time, she's not used to male company, and she certainly is not used to this."

"Hrmmm," is his last word on the matter as he unbuttons my shirt, his soft lips dropping kisses in his fingers' wake. I sit up to let him pull the shirt from my shoulders and remove my bra, watching the light in his eyes become fervent as he trails the backs of his fingers over my tits, teasing them with the lightest of touches as he alternately nuzzles my neck and watches their tiny pale rose pink buds harden under his fingertips. Cupping a pale, silky swell he lowers his lips to it, kissing softly around the areola before capturing my nipple in his mouth, his hot tongue laving over it. I moan helplessly, arching against him, running my fingers through his hair as his lavishes attention on one breast and then the other, feeling the heat from his mouth flowing straight down my spine to build the warm pressure starting to ache between my thighs.

But it is not enough. I want so much more of him, all of him. I pull him up, kissing him deeply as I roll us over. John's deep voice growls in my ear as my mouth finds that one tiny spot under his jaw, so long missed. So long needing my attention. His fingers run through my hair as I straddle him, writhing against him as he strokes and grips my backside. He inhales sharply as I tease his ear with my hot breath and the tip of my tongue and his fingers dig into my shoulder as I nip the lobe gently before wending a warm trail of kisses down to his chest, mimicking his earlier movements as I remove his shirt.

My fingers thread through the small mat of chest hair and I drop a kiss on his lips, the hollow of his throat, and in the silky hairs under my fingers as I embark on a journey of exploration I have wanted to take for some time. My soft mouth moves across the broad expanse of his chest, finding, teasing and suckling one red nipple and then the other. His breath comes in stops and starts as I trail my lips and hot breath down his stomach, my hands roaming over his hips, down the outside of his legs, up the inside of his thighs before stroking the hardening length inside his jeans while I dip my tongue into his navel. Filing the sudden jump of his stomach muscles away for later, I follow the faintest of treasure trails down to his waistband. As I unzip his fly, he lifts his hips and I pull both his jeans and his trunks over his backside, down his strong thighs, his long legs, freeing him. Nuzzling around the base of his shaft while my hands trail up his legs, caressing his inner thighs before my fingers drift lightly over his balls, his cock, memorizing every ridge and vein, its soft skin the texture of rose petals sliding slightly over its firm length.

Sliding up his body I take his kiss, a wild tenderness dancing on the edge of something primal. I savor the catch of his breath and groan in my mouth as I stroke him between our bodies and he holds me close, his hands wandering over my skin. He rasps my name against my lips, an elemental need lighting the storm clouds in his grey eyes. I slide back down, my fingers splaying through the patch of dark hair below his hips as my soft lips glide over him, examining more intimately where my fingers had led. I reach the smooth hard tip, listening to the sharp intake of his breath as I swirl my tongue over it, before pursing my lips around it and drawing him into my hot, wet mouth as I hear him breathe "Yes!". He feels so good, his warm, hard flesh resting against my tongue as it ripples against the underside of his phallus. I begin to move slowly, drawing him out and sucking him back in, slow steady strokes as my tongue flickers against his head with each pass. Listening to him groan, I moan around him in response. I swear I could spend a lifetime making him make those noises. I wrap my hand around the base of his shaft and begin pumping, my pace following his rising pleasure as I watch him looking down at me in pure lust and delight, mouth open, his breath coming in shallow pants between moans of encouragement and obscenities. My other hand traces over his stomach, his thighs, before gently fondling his balls as his fingers tangle in my hair and his hips begin to move instinctively, showing me the rhythm he needs.

A few moments later, he gasps my name again. "…stop. Stop." Pulling me back up to him, his kiss almost savage as he pushes me back on the bed. Fumbling a bit, he yanks my jeans and panties off. He scores points by not making the ubiquitous "You really are a red head/carpet matching the drapes" comment, instead smirking delightedly as he brushes his fingers through the soft coppery curls at the juncture of my thighs. His lips wend a soft trail from my mouth, down my neck, stopping to suck at my breast. His tongue swirling against my nipple as I sink to the bed, the cool sheets on my shoulders countered by the pinpoint sensation of his hot mouth nuzzling from tits to my navel as his fingers dip lower.

"You're so wet," he says in wonder.

"I told you I like it." I gasp as he probes deeper.

"I know you did, I just never thought..." he murmurs against the inside of my hip as his deft fingers gently explore my warm, soaking cleft, teasing, stroking, before sliding inside me as his warm velvet tongue brushes against my clit.

My response is galvanic, a sharp gasp as my back arches, lifting my hips from the sheets. John lays a reassuring hand on my stomach, long bronzed fingers against creamy skin, steadying me as the fingers of his other hand move between my slick folds and his lips and tongue teases and suckles my small nub gently, finding the right touch, the right rhythm that builds a bonfire beneath his hot mouth as my fingers run through his dark hair. Stroking and sucking until my hips begin to rise against him instinctively in time with his mouth and his hand and the small mewling noises in my throat. The fire takes on searing edged quality that soon bursts open in a wave of molten heat that has me whimpering his name as I writhe mindlessly.

"My god woman..." He whispers, leaving a kiss on my navel as he moves up my body, sliding his arms under my shoulders and threading his fingers through my hair as he kisses me deeply, sensually sharing my saltiness with male taste of him. I'm not trying to regain my breath, I don't care anymore. All there is are his eyes and his voice and his breath and his weight and his skin and his rich scent and the teasing touch of him at my aching need.

I trace up the backs of his calves with my toes, pushing my hips into him.

"John, please..."

"Wait." He tears open the packet and rolls the condom on before settling back down between my thighs. There's a predatory fire in his eyes as, with a shift and tilt of my hips, my soft heat instinctively finds the tip of his hard length. Just as instinctively, he thrusts deep into me.

But I bite back a cry of shock and pain. My body, long unused to the act, struggles to accommodate the incursion as I squirm beneath him and my fingers dig into his ribcage.

"Fuck!" he gasps at the feel of me gripping him so tightly, but the primal lust in his eyes is banked quickly, though with effort, with concern. "I was too rough, I'm sorry." He lowers his body to mine, kissing me softly.

"No, you weren't," I reassure as I squirm a bit more, trying to get comfortable as the entrance of my body smarts as it adjusts to his girth. His mouth twists and those furrows appear along his brows as his eyes take on a skeptical glint."O.k. a little, but you didn't do anything wrong. It's just been so long, I need a moment to get used to you."

"Alright. But no more of that. Not here. I told you I need to know where I stand."

My fingertips trace the line of his eyebrow as I whisper, "I swear...Sorry."

"S'.o.k."

He drops gentle kisses on my face and neck as the tension slowly flows out of me. It has been so long that my body had forgotten what it felt like, and I can't remember it ever feeling like this. Not merely the touch of his lips, the weight of his body, his breath in my ear, his hard length pressing the tender walls of my body open. It's ...the purity of it, of him.

When he raises himself to look into my eyes I see what John is holding back; a desire that almost burns to the touch. He wants to fuck me in the most elemental, animal way and there is a part of me that wants to answer in kind, but it's untainted by shame or wickedness. There is no sin here. Like the rest of John's being it's just him. No bullshit. A primeval masculine energy born of nature, untouched by social mores or neurosis or jaded performance.

And in that ancient need there is such sensual gentleness and caring. As he softly brushes my cheek, I feel the tremor in his fingers, the thunder of his heart as he drops his forehead to mine, whispering my name. His kiss is a soft query, and as we take each other's breath in our mouths, our tongues teasing and tasting one another, I raise my legs to wrap around his waist, pulling him deeper into me. He groans softly and begins to move, slowly with small gentle strokes, coaxing my arousal with his. It still burns slightly with each movement, but the pleasure outweighs any pain and I moan in response, my hands sliding down his back, feeling the sweat that gathered there in his restraint as the sensations of the sweet friction he creates wash over me. Encouraged, he begins to move more freely, deliciously sliding in and out of my pussy to almost his full length, letting me feel the texture of every inch of his shaft as he buries his face in my hair and I taste the salt from his damp shoulder.

He rolls us over, gently pushing me up so that I am straddling him upright. Watching him stretched out below me like an offering, his shaft sheathed to the hilt in my tight, slick heat. His dark hair mingled with my own reddish-gold. His hands skate down the length of my body as he murmurs, "God, you're so beautiful..."

He smiles as he sees me blush. Taking his hands, I place them on my hips. "Show me what you want."

John guides me into his pace, his hips rolling under me as I ride him. He watches me with languid pleasure, holding my breasts in his large hands as they bounce gently with the motion of our bodies. But after a while, I falter in the rhythm and he notices my tension.

"Is this o.k.?"

The sudden apprehension in him, the fear of disappointing me, is so clear in his eyes, I feel utterly rotten. I lean over to kiss him thoroughly, reassuringly. "It's not you, John. It's not you at all. You're amazing. You feel...," I rise and slide down his dick again, delighting in the pressure and fullness he creates in me, the sensation of it moving through my swollen vulva, even if it is still a little tender. "...God, you feel so good. It's this position. I can't really let go and relax up here. I'm never sure what to do."

He breathes deeply in relief. Sitting up, his hands lightly running up and down my back as he nuzzles my neck. "Alright. We'll work on that later, but for now..." He kisses my lips. "...What do you like?" I can feel my face turn flaming red. John chuckles as he returns to my neck. "I've seen you shout down the length of a ship to order a crew around. I've seen you argue politics for hours. You practically tore my trousers off for…this," he purrs against my lips as he rocks his hips slightly, driving his prick and his point home to the delighted catch of my breath. "And *now* you're shy? Tell me what you want."

"I want you," I reply simply.

He strokes my hair, his look warm, affectionate, and encouraging. Trusting as he asks me to trust. "You have me. What do you want me to do?"

Still pink cheeked, I lie down on my side, watching John's eyes light with curiosity and lascivious amusement at my shyness as I tell him to straddle my lower thigh while holding my upper leg against his chest as he fills my swollen cleft again.

"See, this way..." I gasp a little at the sensation of his girth pressing me open like this. "...you are inside me...Oh God, John!...and...and your thigh rubs against..." My words trail off in a gasping moan as each thrust of his hips creates the sweet, warm, slick pressure and friction all over and through my pussy.

My God he's beautiful. The soft planes and sharp angles of his handsome face are thrown into warm relief in the incandescent light as his hands move over my leg and my hip and my backside. His eyes are narrow, silvery, filled with a dangerous fire on the edge of breaking forth into a blaze that will consume us both, yet in them is a soft gleam of wonder. His lips open slightly as he reaches a new plateau of pleasure. His long body is precisely drawn in golden skin and shadow in the light, broad shoulders and biceps flexed in tension as I run my hands down his chest, over his stomach to his hips, his thigh as he drives into me harder, faster. I see the animal satisfaction in his face as my hips began to unconsciously move to meet each thrust, before his eyes slide closed as he rides the waves of pleasure from our shared rhythm. Moving in me, with me, fueling the uncontrollable fire between us, a burning singularity of sensation growing in fierce intensity. I call out helplessly, rhythmic yearning noises as he groans my name, endearments, and lustful encouragement. I gasp his name just as he pushes me over the edge, the burning intensity exploding in a firestorm that sweeps through me as I cry out. My cunt pulsing around his shaft as I buck and shake against him.

Dropping my leg to his waist, John pushes me on my stomach and slides his other leg between my thighs. Never breaking contact as he pulls me up, slamming his hips into my backside as he fucks me. His rock hard shaft plunging into in my swollen, sensitized slit. Stroking in time with the residual ripples of my climax, coaxing me up another peak as I feel the pressure and heat build again. My shoulders on the bed allow my hands to roam free to reach back, stroking his legs. Reaching between mine, I find my clit. Rubbing it in time with his wild movements, I listen to the wonderful noises he makes; the groaning of my name, the "UHN"'s of elemental pleasure, the gasp as he crosses his threshold of release and his body moves with an instinctual tempo. Looking back over my shoulder, my eyes meet his, finding them rapt, wanton, warmly possessive. A wild force moving through him as he thrusts into me over and over in the most primal of drives. Another orgasm comes over me like a wave projected from him, powerful surge tearing through me as my pussy grasps his cock tightly, stroking in time with his thrusts as I shake with a feral cry. John calls out moments later, his fingers digging into my hips as he buries himself inside me, the surges of his climax emptying into soft, clasping waves of my own.

We fall forward together, John resting against me. It takes me a while to remember to breathe. When I do, I savor our mingled scents, touched with musk, and the feel of his shaft still filling me, all warm and snug. I savor the beat of John's heart returning to its steady pace, the damp hair of his chest against my back. I savor the living weight of his body and our limbs entwined, the hair of his legs against my smooth skin. John's chest moves lightly with his shallow breath in my ear, until an aftershock, my body clenching at his, causes him to inhale sharply with a small jerk. I moan at his slight movement inside me, feeling like a gentle echo of our union.

He shifts a bit to the side to look at me, his winter blue eyes filled with a warmth and affection that brings tears to mine. "Hi."

"Hi." Squirming my hand up between us, my fingers drift over the stubble of his jaw. He stokes my hair for a while as we lay together in comfort. Silent, resting and touching each other gently, looking into one another eyes, neither inclined to move beyond this moment just yet.

Until I start to giggle.

One of his dark eyebrows arches in query, which just sets off another spate of giggles. The problem with laughter and sex is it compresses a woman's abdominal muscles, causing other portions of our anatomies to tighten.

John 's eyes practically pop as he is pushed out. "Whoa!"

Deprived of his fullness, I groan petulantly and roll over, trying to stifle the laughter bubbling out of nowhere. "I'm sorry. Are you o.k.?"

"Uh, Yeah?" he replies, still holding himself up over me looking concerned and not just a bit confused.

"No, no, John. You were amazing, perfect. Better than I had dreamed," I breathe as the giggles subside and I kiss him. "I just feel …light, happy, floating." My fingers dance randomly in the air in an attempt to describe what I could later label "euphoria", and I feel the idiot grin spread across my face.

"Jesus. I thought it was just an expression." he says, smiling now in a combination of affection, contentment, and male smugness as returns my kiss.

He lifts himself up and the cool night air washes over my damp skin that has he exposed. He winces a bit as he slips the condom off and tosses it toward the wastebasket under my dressing table before rolling over to sprawl next to me. Stretching out, he crosses his hands behind his head, unconsciously creating an impressive display of masculine strength and beauty in the musculature of his chest and upper arms, the planes of stomach with his penis resting amid the dark thatch of hair below his hips, leading into the long lines of his thighs and slender calves to his wide bony feet. All this topped with a smile brilliant as sunlight across his chiseled profile as he sighs contentedly.

We lie in languorous quiet, holding each other gently as we float in aftermath.

Until John starts to chuckle.

"What?"

"Well, this must have been my best day." He grins, all smug again. "Or would it be better than my best day?"

"What…Oooooh!" That one gets him a thump with a pillow. Pushing him off the edge of the bed onto the floor with a satisfying thud feels even better. He manages to fight his way back onto the bed through a hail of padded blows. I haven't prayer, but I still make him work for it.

With a deep rumble from his stomach, a cease fire is declared as we forage through the take-out directory and 20 minutes later, after putting Pilot in her kennel, we take our prey of a pizza back to bed.

John sits up against the headboard, naked except for the sheet draped over his lap, as he alternately polishes off the last slice of the pepperoni and sausage side of our pizza and swigs from a bottled sports drink he found in my 'fridge. His eyebrow arches a bit warily as he catches me watching him.

"What?"

I roll over onto my tummy, my calves swaying in the air behind me. "This is just...I know you are smart and certainly clever enough for the work, and I don't mean any offense to you or what you do, but you seem so straightforward, you have such integrity. Military, yes. Intelligence...That came out of left field."

"It did for me as well," he says, setting the pizza box on the floor and sliding down on the bed to lie next to me, propping himself up on his elbow.

"Can you tell me how?"

"…I can't talk about where or who or exactly when, but I can tell you that it started years ago when I got this." He motions at scar on his shoulder. "When I lost my patrol. We were sent to extract a hostage with an intelligence officer. Insertion went smoothly. There was some heat coming out but nothing we could not handle until we ran into a kid who was...he was being used as cannon fodder. I didn't kill him. Saved his life, in fact. Then I just knocked the poor little buggar out to make sure he wasn't any more trouble for us and didn't get in trouble with whoever set him up. Not his fault he got pulled in over his head. But that held us up enough for reinforcements to arrive and two of my mates got stuck on a floor below, covering our rear. I got hit and so moved ahead with the hostage to the chopper. The intelligence officer went below and..." He inhales quickly, suddenly looking at the bed. "He came back up with Steve, who taken a head shot. Said that Mike and Keith, the other two members of my patrol, were dead. I tried to go back, but there was no time to get to them. There was some small part of me hoping that they were alive, but there was nothing after the invasion. No word." A deep breath now, cleansing himself. "At the debriefing, the intelligence officer said that he'd seen the kid I'd knocked out holding a gun on their position."

"Jesus, John." My hand finds his in the sheets.

"You can imagine what happened next. I counted myself lucky they decided to let me take retirement rather than bring me up on charges and booting me out on my arse."

"How did you cope?"

"Not well. I had a hard time making a go of it, I told you. Trying to explain why I took early retirement to anyone in the security field, who knew the right people to ask what really happened…" He shakes his head. "Who would hire a bastard who got drummed out of the Regiment for getting two of his patrol killed and another in a coma?"

"That's not what I meant," I say, brushing his temple with my fingertips.

He breathes deeply. "...Not well…I thought I had gotten my men killed. Part of you is prepared for it, you know, to lose some friends. Half the guys I used to watch matches with at Hereford are gone. Part of the life. But you never think that you will have to deal with losing all of them, and that you would be responsible it, for the deaths of people who trusted you to lead them safely...And the instant I stepped out of that chopper, I was a leper. The only mate I had who would have stood by me was in a coma and I thought it was my fault. Everyone did. I ran into Steve's wife at hospital once. I had stood best man at their wedding...She spat on me. My own family couldn't look at me and I couldn't blame them. I didn't want to look at me. Then Diane left with Lexie...Except for Lexie, I tried as hard as I could to disappear."

I can see the pale of hopelessness, the defeated ghost of him in his eyes when he speaks of that time. As much as I want to, I know there is nothing I can say to take away the memory of that kind of pain. I just move into his arms, holding him tightly. He rests in my embrace for a while, kissing my shoulder before pulling back a bit to continue.

"The intelligence bloke from the mission helped me out. Made sure Dianne and Lexie didn't want for anything, helped me find work. I kept going day to day. I couldn't do anything else. It was like I was still stuck in that stairwell. For years. Then last year that same kid, the one I had saved, turned up on another op and I was called in. He told me what happened. He had been conscious and in that position. He'd seen everything. It was the intelligence officer. The poor untried bastard had panicked and opened fire without identifying his target and shot all three of my patrol as they came up the stairs."

"Oh my God, what did you do?"

He shakes his head. "I couldn't extract the kid. The officer made sure of that. It was only my word against his, so I kept my mouth shut, hoped to find more proof. He offered me a job with the Firm and I took it. I think we both wanted to keep an eye on one another. A couple months ago now, Steve passed away and they were able to extract the bullet fragments from his head, proving that it came from Col...the intelligence officer's weapon."

"So you've been cleared?"

"Yeah. My new boss pushed forward with an internal inquiry before I got back based on the ballistics. Nothing is public about a classified mission of course. Woudn't want it anyway. You remember when you said to me that Lexie would someday get tired of the weight of it? I'd gotten tired of the weight of it. The bastard make a stupid fucking tragic mistake and then ran from taking responsibility for it. I was just... I was just tired of carrying his responsibility, his guilt. I just needed to hear him say it, that it wasn't my fault. To take it back. Destroying his life, destroying his family, it wasn't going to bring back my mates. Wasn't going to bring back my family. I just wanted it to be over."

"I understand."

"...I know. I know you do." He looks at me in sympathy as he strokes my cheek. "Was it the…?" His words trail off, as if afraid to bring the specter of that kind of violence into our bed.

"That and other things."

"What happened?"

But I shake my head. I don't want to bring it in here either. "Not now. We've have enough to deal with today."

He waits me out for a moment, holding my face while he looks at me with such open, tender concern, it's almost overwhelming, but I'm not going there tonight. "O.k." He kisses me swiftly, sweetly, before resting his forehead against mine for a bit. Then he rolls over on his back and pulls me into his arms. "He was killed on mission, the intelligence officer, saving my arse in fact. Years ago he sacrificed my life to save his career, then he sacrificed his life to save mine. He'll have to square what he did to the rest of my mates with God, but whatever he owed me, it's over...It's been hard on Lexie tho'."

"Why?"

"He spent so many years practically taking my fucking place, looking after Diane and Alex. I guess he felt guilty and was trying to make it up to me. She wasn't ready to hear that the bloke she had trusted was the one who destroyed our lives."

"And now?"

"We haven't talked about it since the inquiry was finished, but she faced up to a lot and grew up a lot on that trip. Maybe started to see her old man as something other than a monster. I think we're o.k.. She actually called me to get together."

"That's great."

"Yeah. She'll be the one leaving in a few weeks. I can't say I'm happy about that, but I guess it's her turn and..." He stifles a yawn. "...I'm going to try to see as much of her as I can before she goes."

We don't say much more. After tossing the pizza box out and brushing our teeth in companionable silence (lucky I had an extra from my last dentist appointment), we return to bed. I watch John fall asleep, tracing the scorpion on his shoulder with a new awareness of what it means, what he has survived. I soon follow, sleeping warm and safe in his presence.

But it is the next morning that we begin to realize the fullness of what we have. Waking in the first silver light of dawn to feel John hard and insistent against my back side as his sleep heavy hands slide over my body, his breath hot on my neck. The utter relaxation of the waking melds with proprietary ease of the taking and we fold ourselves into one another. Cradled and surrounded and filled by him, his strong body on mine, his arm wrapped under my shoulders as his fingers clumsily trace the lines of my face, his breath hot on my lips. We move together gently, my hips instinctively rising to meet his as I take him in, enclosing every sweet inch of him in my warmth, my hands running over his body and through his hair. Feeling every flex of muscle, hearing his breath grow ragged as he brings his right leg up to drive into me harder, finding that sweet rhythm between us that sends us both over the edge to something soft and pure and primal flowing between us.

Like waking in Eden, a quiet moment of beholding one another in wonder, as we are, simply and fully.

Until swept along by the river of sensation between our bodies. John tries to hold back, watching me as the burning spark of sweet friction he created explodes in lava-likes waves of heat that reach to my fingertips. He follows a moment later, the rhythmic pulses of his climax in time with the ripples of my own as his muscles tense under my palms, digging his fingers into my skin as buries his face in my neck with a gasp.

We hold each other in stillness as the fire abates and our breath falls back into our own rhythms. Our scents, the weight of his body, the texture of his warm skin under my hands, the look of affection and contentment in his blue eyes as they flutter closed. Nothing is said, nothing needs to be. He smiles in possessive pleasure at my little whimper of deprivation as he withdraws, and sprawls out on the bed to snooze like a great sated cat.

Most women treasure to vulnerability of their men when they are asleep, but John looks no more or less vulnerable to me now than he always does. I wonder if that is because I see less or more of him when he is awake? John. Just John. And all that entails.

I savor the happy ache in my chest as I delicately trace the ridge of his eyebrow, the plain of his cheek, before I slide out of the bed to visit the bathroom. After smiling at the fingerprint bruises on my hips, I pick up our clothes from the floor, tossing mine in the hamper and folding his. As I pick up his jeans, his wallet drops to the floor with a paper, folded into a small rectangle. I would have just put it back with the rest, except the handwriting is extremely familiar.

It's mine.

I sit on the edge of the bed as I unfold a photocopy of the page I tore out of my journal weeks ago:

Bombarded by illumination

Racked with knowledge

We forget…

Not all regions are charted

Not all hearts are known

I want to explore you

The fresh zephyrs of your space

The warm closeness of your arms

The bedrock of your being, immobile, eternal

Yet ever-changing in the light

I want to stand in the voice of your vibrant stillness

I want to dance like the sun on the surface of the rivers

That run so lively and sure in your eyes

And then as the day fades

And pale blue stars dot your velvet skies

I want to shelter in you

Curl up with you as man and woman

The firelight playing over the warmth of your skin

As we cast shadows by the hearthfire

Yours,

~K.

It's rippled with dried moisture and the corners of the folds are wearing through.

As I slide back into bed next to him, John rolls over on his side and pulls me into his arms, the length of his strong body against me, his legs entwined with mine, resting a heavy arm on my waist as the fingertips of his other hand lightly strokes my shoulder. I sigh in contentment, kissing his chest as he kisses my forehead.

"I like coming home to you," he whispers.

"I like you coming home to me."

"So we'll do it again?"

"Yeah."

~Fin~

Thank you all for your generous time and attention.