“I’ll Be Home For Christmas”





Section 5 – Village outside Stuttgart; December 19th-20th - POV/Steven Redraven

I just had to interject a little humor into the scene between Irish and his Pup – before the big guy fell apart completely. I knew I could count on the boy to rise to the occasion. Hell, I’ve never yet known the kid to miss a cue. Truth is, he’s probably tougher than Luke, who’s one of the toughest men I’ve ever met. Trouble is, Luke’s got a heart as big as his feet – and those are size seventeen. Danny’s big-hearted, don’t mean to say he isn’t, but he’s got a self preservation instinct that Luke just never learned. Danny’s is probably a result of old Pat’s treatment, but even so, that tough streak leaves Luke vulnerable to that boy. Luke can take any amount of pain – and has – but if his boy should reject him, I don’t know if he would be able to stand that.

Danny’s condition was bad, I didn’t need English’s medical degree to know that we needed to get him to the hospital and fast. Big guys like that Jennings, they have something to fall back on when they’re fighting infection. Someone like Danny, he’s got no fat reserves; he gets pneumonia, he’s critical in a flash. But something else I saw that no one else had noticed yet, was that Luke was bleeding from at least half a dozen wounds. English was going to throw a fit when he found out what Luke did to cause that diversion for us. I knew what he had planned and I’d stolen a look out the window when we were tying up Ali and Tahnoun. I saw the results. Six men, all armed, all determined to take down Luke with using lethal force. And because of what had happened seven years ago when he’d been captured, Luke wouldn’t kill any of them. He fought to disarm those men out to kill him – at great risk to himself. If any of those men lying out there were dead, it would be from their buddies’ bullets or weapons hitting them, not from Luke.

I knew I’d have trouble not adding to his injuries myself out of sheer frustration when I realized what he’d done. I still had been shaking with the aftermath of realizing what he’d done when we entered the room on Danny and Kinney, using the secret passage just in case there were any more men left guarding them. If there were, we wanted to take them by surprise. We’d hoped to catch Jareed there but no luck in that respect.

So I said what I did to the kid since I only had Danny to take out my frustration on, until I got my hands on Luke, of course. Stupid damn stunt. Though I also had to admit, I admired the feat. There was sheer beauty to a warrior like Luke and there’s no doubt in my mind that it was his sheer courage, his appearance of fearlessness that defeated his opponents long before he ever laid a hand on them –t hey became so frightened that they lost their own guts and made mistakes. They became their own worst enemies. Which was a damn good thing because otherwise, Luke would be dead meat, he went so far to avoid killing anyone. It was something English and I both knew but never really discussed – Luke went far and away beyond what most in our line of work would do to avoid killing. Not just civilians on the other side, but combatants too. It was a long story and had to do with his capture when he went down behind enemy lines. The inside story had it that he massacred a whole village to escape. I’ve told him I didn’t believe it then and I don’t believe it now. It took me over a year to put the pieces back together when I found him and brought him back, and I’d be damned if I let his little brother tear him apart now in a guilt trip over the choices he made, choices that he saw no way of avoiding.

I poked my head back into the room, just to be sure everything was okay. No sense him bleeding all over the place holding onto the kid when English could be bandaging him. It looked like the kid really was out for the count. Linton was checking over Kinney and Luke was standing in front of him, no doubt protecting him from the arrival of Ali and Tahnoun – like I wouldn’t keep them covered. I snorted.

“Luke, you okay carrying him? Now that he’s done with his fainting scene, and I’ve called into base and ordered the copter, maybe you can have English bandage you up,” I said brusquely. I smirked at Kinney, who was bristling at what he judged to be my callous attitude toward his boyfriend’s condition. It really wasn’t. I loved that kid. But – I loved my best friend just as much.

“Luke?” Linton was looking at Luke suspiciously now while Luke glared at me for telling on him. “Dear Lord, you look like a pincushion. Change places with Brian. I’ll need something to clean those. Danny can be put down....”

That’s when the first shudder hit the building. I yelled for them to get down, pulling Kinney down myself as he seemed ready to go to the window to look out. There was the sound of an explosion and alarms started sounding throughout the house.

“Tahnoun and Ali?” Luke yelled. Smoke was beginning to fill the room already.

“Still down the hall. I’ll go get them,” I told him. He looked like he wanted to argue but I nodded toward Danny, who hadn’t woken up despite the commotion. Fuck, the kid was in dangerously bad shape.

“You made him a promise. Stay with him and Kinney. English can watch my back from the doorway. I think we’d all better try getting out of here through the passageway if it seems clear since that provides a direct path to the outside. Agreed, English?”

He nodded and handed me a dampened cloth, using water from the kit bag he carried. The man was a regular boy scout. I nodded my thanks and left the room, moving quickly to the room we’d left the other two men in. I wasn’t all that surprised to find them gone when I got there. Fuck.

I turned to wave to English who was standing in the doorway of the master bedroom, intending to indicate to him to stay where he was, I was coming back. That was when I felt the press of a gun’s muzzle against the small of my back. Damn, I should have known better than to think people wouldn’t waste time hiding behind doors in a burning house.

“Don’t give any warning to your friend or you’ll be sporting a bullet in your spine, Major.”

Williams. Who the hell let him loose? I relaxed my posture completely.

“Tell Linton that your prisoners have escaped and you’re going to go look for them. Do what you need to do to convince him not to come this way or you’ll be sorry.”

I was already pretty sorry. Fortunately, we had a fairly simple set of signals between the three of us for situations like this. Calling each other by our given names meant the shit had hit the fan and you were tossing the ball back to the person whose name you used. English was pretty good at picking up clues, so all I needed to give him was the vaguest of clues to go on.

“Hey, Peter, seems our captive birds have managed to slip their nooses so I’ll need to spend some time herding them back together. Get the others out and I’ll meet you outside.”

“Are you sure Steve? Wouldn’t you like me to stay and help you?” Good, message received.

“No...this is better handled by me. Get the others out of here. Stop wasting time, remember who is in charge of this mission.” I snapped the last bit at him and he nodded at me.

I edged back into the room and turned slowly to face Williams.

“So...what now? In case you didn’t notice...this place is on fire. Don’t you think, Nigel, it would be a good idea to...” I swung my hand down fast and knocked his gun away before he could blink. Too long behind a desk – really wasn’t up to field work any more, I thought.

“Well, I guess you didn’t need me after all, Steven,” Linton groused from the doorway. “So if you don’t mind, would you please hurry up and do something with him so we can get a move on?”

Hmm, that was a dilemma. Did we have to take him with us, I wondered. I looked at English and raised an eyebrow.

“Where are Tahnoun and Ali?” he asked Williams sharply, coming forward, the cold gray of his eyes hard enough to cut diamond.

“Gone. With that other one, Albashek,” Williams was quick to answer. “You can’t leave me here,” he added, looking from Linton to me. “It’s against all rules of procedure. I demand that I be taken into custodial care and removed from this area. I want a lawyer. I must see...” I clipped him on the jaw. He went down like a load of bricks. Linton gave me a disgusted look.

“Now someone will have to carry him.”

“If we bring him with us,” I pointed out.

“The place is on fire.”

“The fire department is sure to be on its way. The Germans are a very efficient people.”

Linton looked at me then nodded. “Good point. He’s in no more danger than the others in the area, I daresay. Certainly less danger than what he wanted to place you. Let’s go. He’s cost us enough time. I am quite annoyed with Ali and Tahnoun, rude of them to leave without a word.”

I loved English’s gift for understatement.

“Quite,” was all I said as I followed him back to the others, keeping a cautious eye out for attacks this time. What was that about watching the barn door after your pet terrorists have escaped? As we closed the bedroom door on the unconscious Williams, it occurred to me that this was one of those times when I found myself in closer accord with Linton than I would have been with Luke. Luke would have insisted on hauling Williams’ sorry ass out of this place – even after the man was proven to be a traitor. Linton had no qualms with leaving the man to his own devices if taking him with us posed a liability to us. Or even if it didn’t. He was a cold-hearted bastard after my own cold heart sometimes.

Getting back to the others, we soon discovered that the passage we’d taken on the way in was too full of smoke to leave by it. Danny was already struggling to breathe. I touched base with the medi-copter and learned it was only ten minutes away, but the pilot wasn’t sure how close he could get to the building, especially with all the smoke. We went up to the third floor. English had torn up pieces of sheet from the linen closet and dampened them in the second floor bathroom for us to hold over our noses and mouths to filter some of the air but it was still rough going.

“We’re going to have to get up on the roof,” Luke decided. “Red, if he can drop a rope down to you, do you think you can climb up and take over flying so you can take that bird down close enough for the rest of us?”

“Not a problem,” I assured him, leaning out a window and surveying the smoke cover. There was a heavy thick gray cloud of smoke coming up from the lower level of the house, mainly the other side; the view of the ground from this half was still fairly clear. Whatever incendiary had been used, however, was doing a good job of creating maximum chaos. It was early morning of what looked to be an overcast day so there was no sun breaking through. Neighbors were just beginning to filter up the long drive and were standing a good distance back. Sirens could be heard in the distance in addition to those in the house.

“How close is close enough for the rest of us to make it into the copter? Are we all going to have to climb up, Danny too?” Kinney asked, trying not to look as nervous as he was.

I grinned at him, trying to stir his male pride, even as I reassured him. “Close enough that Lanier could do it without stretching. Good enough for you?” I told him.

He looked relieved. “Oh well then, no problem. I can stretch that much and...”

“And maybe have to climb a little,” Linton told him, always a stickler for accuracy, the spoilsport.

“Like in gym class,” Luke added helpfully.

“How is Danny going to get up this rope?” Kinney asked anxious as all get out and doing his best to ignore their teasing. I didn’t bother telling him they weren’t teasing. He’d learn soon enough. Poor guy, he’d done pretty well...for a suit.

“I’ll carry him,” Luke told him. “Don’t worry.” Somehow that didn’t stop him from worrying.

We searched for an easy entry onto the roof. I was feeling uneasy about Ali and Tahnoun – and Albashek. Especially Albashek. A call to the German team told me that he’d escaped them and efforts to recapture him were unsuccessful. I had them put guards on Jennings’ and Lanier’s rooms just as a precaution. But clearly he’d come straight here. So the question was, had this bombing of the house been his parting gift to distract us from his “rescue” of Ali and Tahnoun, neither of whom should have wanted rescue by him, or was he still around and a problem for us? And where was Jareed?

Danny had been bundled up in a coat we found in a closet. We’d also put him in some spare shoes we scavenged from one of the bedrooms. English made Kinney put his own shoes and coat back on, insisting that he didn’t want two patients with pneumonia. Kinney held Danny while Luke and I worked on opening a trap door into the attic, from which we were able to locate a doorway leading onto a sunroof area that measured about twenty feet by twenty feet in size, before the roof slanted upward to provide for the higher part of the attic.

“Aside from this thick smoke and the cloud cover, there’s the problem of not enough space for the pilot to land unless he’s pretty good,” Luke observed, coughing into the makeshift handkerchief. He took Danny from Kinney, who was looking ready to drop himself. I guessed that none of us was looking all that spry. Maybe Linton. He tended to look bandbox neat no matter what. It’s a British thing. He was on the cell phone arguing with the medi-copter pilot since I hadn’t gotten far with my charm.

“But if you don’t come to the burning building with the helicopter, how do you propose to remove us from it?” he was asking the guy in a patient tone, one hand pressed against the bridge of his nose and his eyes looking upward as though begging for Divine Intervention. I grinned at Luke.

“I love it when he’s being reasonable, don’t you?”

There was shouting from the ground. Ali and Tahnoun were standing near Albashek and Jareed. Albashek was holding a knapsack straight out in one hand as he gesticulated wildly with the other. I looked at Luke.

“I don’t like the looks of that group – or that pack.”

“Me neither.”

“This place won’t take too many more hits. Where the hell are the authorities?”

“Hiding under their beds?”

“Has a certain appeal to it.”

Ali seemed to be saying something to Jareed; whatever it was, Albashek didn’t like it too much because he got right in his face then. I could hear the copter approaching finally, it drew near, but the sound had the unfortunate effect of drawing attention to us up on the roof. The men on the ground looked up, Albashek pointing at us and screaming something to Ali before he started running for the house. Tahnoun tried to take off after him but Ali violently threw his nephew to the ground to stop him from stopping Albashek.

That didn’t surprise me. What surprised me was Ali sprinting after Albashek himself and tackling the man. The knapsack exploded then, throwing Ali some distance...but at least he was in one piece so there was some hope for him. Albashek was a goner but that’s the chance you take when you go running around with packs full of explosives. Of course, he must have hoped that when he detonated whatever he had in that bag, he’d be in the house and would take the house down with him. Sucks to be a suicide bomber some days.

I sure as hell couldn’t find it in me to be sorry for him. As I turned my attention away, I saw that Jareed was taking advantage of Tahnoun’s attention being focused on helping his uncle to make good his escape. Another time, I promised myself. Of course, I was going to have to stand in line behind English, who was still on the phone with that fucking punk ass pilot.

“Red, he says he can only come within eighty feet, but he has a cable he can let down,” Linton called over to me. “What do you think?”

“I think he’s a pussy, but fine. Tell him to let it down and he’d better move the hell over and let me fly that bird as soon as I’m up there.” I grinned at Brian, who was looking a little green. “No worries, Kinney. No reason to make you have to stretch unnecessarily. I’ll land it on this fucking roof for you.”

I did too.



Section 6 – Pittsburgh; December 20th - POV/John O’Keefe)

I sat in the office Gen. Hunter had commandeered from someone lower on the military totem pole – which Eli assured me was pretty much everyone in this state – and allowed my injuries to be treated by several serious looking specialists who brought their equipment to me. It all felt like too much to take in. I wanted to tell them to get away, I’d had too much of strangers touching me, but Jamie was there, and he seemed to think it was all right, so I let them do what they wanted. It hurt like hell, but then, that had been pretty much the status quo for days. I did balk at having my arm set under such seemingly primitive conditions, but Jamie was watching everyone like a hawk, and he reassured me that it was okay so I let them go ahead.

“You’re doing good, Mr. John, just another couple of minutes and you’re going to feel much better with that arm set.” Eli smiled at me, his big warm smile. He helped support me – in all honesty, he was holding me up – as Jamie helped the orthopedic specialist set the bone and put the plaster cast on. At least it was my left arm, I thought. I refused any more painkillers, wanting to try to regain a clear head. I’d already had more drugs poured into me than during my entire college and law school life.

As soon as they finished, I tried to sit up straight so that I could look the General in the eye...not easy when both eyes were swollen almost completely shut.

“Where...where’s Thyme? You said you’d talk to her about getting my brother here to rescue Micky and Hunter. That woman, she’s really vicious, she’ll hurt my wife just for sport.”

“Relax, son, it won’t do you any good to become agitated. We’re working on getting your brother Danny here as soon as we can.”

“My brother Danny here?” I was confused. “Danny? What good will Danny do? How is he going to rescue Micky? You’re not going to have Danny try to go against some psycho terrorist are you? Besides, he’s on some surprise vacation in Germany and we can’t even reach him. Do you know something about that? Does Danny’s sudden trip have something to do with this attack on John?” Jamie was looking at the General sharply as he fired off his questions.

“I’m afraid that Gruning was questioning your brother so much about his brothers while he was drugged that he’s become confused, son. We’re getting your brother Danny here to be sure he’s safe given that your family is being targeted in this odd way, but he’s not being brought home to rescue Micky, that’s a whole different project. It can happen, the power of suggestion. Now, what I need is for you to step outside so I can....”

“No, I’m not leaving you alone with John.” Jamie stood squarely in front of me. I realized then that what the General needed to talk to me about was getting Luke here, as demanded by that woman they called Nance. The woman now holding my Michelle, and poor Hunter. I had to get Jamie out of the room so I could talk to the General. Damn, but I felt like hell. I wondered what Danny would do in a situation like this. He was the best con artist I knew. Play the kid card. That usually worked.

“Jamie...with Micky missing now and me gone so many days...how many days was it anyway?” I looked for my watch but of course it was missing. I went on, “Has anyone checked on Jared and Josh, not to mention Johnny? They must be going crazy with worry. Would you please check on them for me?”

“I think the boys are okay, they’re probably with....” Jamie wrinkled his brow. I knew it’d be a safe bet that he’d have no clue who was watching my kids. Most likely it was his wife but he wouldn’t know that – he was a lot like I’d been at his age. I looked at him pathetically, not hard to do with my face turned to purple mash.

“Please, Jamie. I’m worried about them. I don’t know when I’ll be able to leave here as I need to talk to the General and his people, get debriefed or whatever they call it and I need to make sure they’re doing all they can to rescue Micky and Hunter. Can’t you check on my sons for me and take that worry off my mind?” My voice was a bit sharper than I intended. My anxiety wasn’t completely feigned. Eli placed his hand on Jamie’s shoulder.

“Dr. Jamie, you do as Mr. John asks...I’ll keep a close watch over him and you can count on me. I won’t leave his side even if the General himself should order me to do it. Major Luke would have to return from the dead and give me leave to abandon my post before I’d leave your brother, I’ll be that faithful, okay?”

General Hunter raised an eyebrow but didn’t say a word, just waited to see if Jamie would leave without further argument.

With a few more minutes of token grumbling...he was an O’Keefe after all...Jamie left, accompanied by the rest of the medical people. It was just the General and Eli left with me.

“Are you going to do anything to save my wife?” I looked at the man opposite me. I refused to be fooled by his Santa like appearance. The people in this world liked to fool you with deceptive facades. A woman who looked like a Playboy cover girl was a ruthless killer and nice, white-haired old men were capable of moving people around like pieces on a chess board. My wife and a young man who had already overcome so much to get to where he was today were as negligible to him as the pawns on any other game board.

Except as they might matter to an important piece – like Luke. Did I say anything about Luke while they had me, I wondered? I tried not to, I knew, but at this point, I really didn’t know. A good part of the past several days was a blur of pain and confusion. I did everything I could to mislead them even when I couldn’t stop myself from talking. What had the General said, he was going to send Luke into the spider’s web? Something like that.

“Is Luke coming here?” I asked? My head was pounding so much it was hard to stay focused for very long but I had to, I had to know what was going on. “That woman, she’s after him you know. She was working with...with....” I stopped as the door opened. Eli moved in front of me, his gun ready. It was Thyme. She came in alone.

“Hello, John, Charles, Eli. I’m sorry to see you in such poor condition, John, but I commend the strength of will that you demonstrated with your brother’s enemies. The woman working with Gruning was also using one of our Directors, we’ve learned...yes, the pieces are coming into focus now. She was known as Nancy Lane, but her real name was Layla Sandeem. Sister to a man long on our most wanted list. She has been laboring under a delusion, fostered by Gruning and Director Williams. However, she is one pawn who turned into a Queen. She turned on Gruning when certain information was provided to her by a rogue player in this game and now she seeks an audience with Luke to confirm the rest of the information. I don’t believe she’ll harm your wife or the young man, although I regret the need to make Luke rush here from his current endeavors.”

“He is still alive then? And Danny? Did he find him?” I felt tears stinging my eyes and blinked them back. It had been a very rough week.

The three people looked at each other and Thyme sat down in a chair. “I have a lot to tell you, John. Much has happened while you were held captive...but a short while ago, at 6:00 a.m., German time this morning, your two brothers escaped, along with Brian Kinney, and two other Alliance operatives, from a building in Stuttgart. As soon as they get your brother Danny some needed medical care, they will be heading home to Pittsburgh.”

“In time for Micky and Hunter?” I asked, having trouble believing what I was hearing.

“I’ve addressed the travel time issue with Layla insofar as her deadline and it will be met, so that the boys will be here in time for Micky and Hunter, and in plenty of time for Christmas,” she confirmed.

I sagged back into my chair. Luke, home for Christmas? It was worth what I’d gone through if Luke were to be back with the family again this Christmas, as long as Micky and Hunter were okay.

Later I was to realize that it was a sign of how out of it I was that I didn’t catch the significance of what she said – they would be home in time for Christmas, she said. She never said Luke would be sharing Christmas with us.



Section 7 – Munich/Pittsburgh; December 21th - POV/Luke O’Keefe

I walked into the private hospital room in Munich. We’d arranged for Danny to be in a large suite with his two old boyfriends – it was the kind of thing that normally would irk Kinney to no end but he was too concerned about Danny to even think about it. I’d be worried about him if Peter didn’t assure me that he was fine, just a little dehydrated and of course bruised. He’d gone without food but that apparently was par for the course with him. Red bullied him into eating a couple sandwiches.

Tired as I was, the sight in that room, brought a faint smile to my face. Danny was sleeping peacefully, sprawled out on the bed, the IV tube in the hand that he had firmly wrapped around Kinney’s fingers. Kinney was slumped in the chair next to the bed, dead to the world. Lanier was out of his bed over by Jennings, quietly talking in French about something they were looking at in some old book. Red was dozing by the door – my raven, I knew he would be instantly alert should there be a need – and Peter, my Peter, was looking over the charts, still looking like he could go another ten or twenty hours. I didn’t know how he did it.

I walked over to stand behind him, wrapping my arms around his waist and pulling him back against me.

“A shower is a wonderfully rejuvenating thing,” I told him. “Did you get the chance to take one?”

He leaned back and sighed deeply. “Yes...for all of three minutes. He got right to the important news. “I’ve been looking over the test results. Danny will be fine. Excellent constitution really, considering all that he subjects that body too. Although he’s going to need knee surgery again, I daresay that won’t be good news, even if he’s no doubt figured it out on his own. Jennings is doing remarkably well also, I’m happy to say. And Etienne had only superficial cuts and scrapes, along with some minor soft tissue injuries. He stayed here mainly to keep a watchful eye on Jennings and to await our return, which was wise of him.”

“That’s good. Can Danny handle a flight back to Pittsburgh now?” Peter looked at me and knew it wasn’t an idle question.

“If he has to. I’d prefer to have him not undergo the stress on his lungs, but if it is urgent?”

“John’s been recovered but his wife was taken, along with a young kid who is a friend of the family. By Layla Sandeem. She wants proof from me that I didn’t kill her brother apparently. Tenacious family.”

“Like another one I know,” Peter murmured. He turned to look at me. “You could leave Danny here with me, you know.”

I thought about it. “No. It doesn’t feel right.” He raised an eyebrow. I hurried to explain. “Not because of you, you’ve been more of a brother and father to him that me or our dad. But that’s just it. I promised to be there for him. He thinks I broke that promise. Even if there were good reasons for what I did, I need to explain, and it’s past time he hears the explanation from me, not you, not Red.”

“You can do that after he’s well and you’ve taken care of this problem with Layla...your brother John is important too,” Peter pointed out reasonably.

“I know. Those are good points...but what if, Peter? What if something happens to me?” I rushed to reassure him. “No, I’m not saying I have any type of premonition, I’m just saying that I need to make it up to Danny, even if it’s by being ridiculously unreasonable. Mind you, if he wants to stay here, all well and good....”

“No, he doesn’t.”

I should have known...kid always did have ears like a lynx. Peter rolled his eyes. “You are getting far too old to eavesdrop, young man,” he admonished Danny, who was sitting up in the hospital bed. His eyes looked huge in his pale face. It looked like someone had made an effort to clean and untangle his hair; it fell about his face in a wild mane. It was so easy to see that fey, uncannily wise nine year old boy he used to be, hidden inside the beautiful, strong man he’d become.

While Peter went over to take his vitals, Danny asked me, speaking quietly so as not to waken Kinney, “If you’re leaving to go help John in some way, I want to go too. I want us all to go together. Remember – Jareed is still out there. And Terry was hurt taking care of me, I don’t want to just leave him alone now. Not at Christmas. And Eti, we can’t leave him behind! But most of all...I want to spend time with you, have you get to know Brian and have him get to know you better because he thinks you two don’t get along and I know that can’t be true, because you’re the two most important men in my life and....” He paused when he saw my growing grin. He sucked in his bottom lip and looked at me from under his lashes, one of his oldest tricks, the scamp. Kinney must have his hands full with him.

I reached out to smooth his hair back. “It’s good to see you, Pup.”

He smiled back at me happily. “I’m mad at you, you know, but I’m too damn happy, and tired, at the moment to talk about it – but just to give you fair warning – we’re going to have one hell of a discussion over this.”

“Duly noted,” I solemnly said. “Can I give you a hug now?”

He nodded, looking about as choked up as I felt. He pulled his hand free of Kinney’s and pulled me close in a strong hug. There was a moment of disconnect as I realized anew that, despite all the same old charming boyish tricks, the young boy of my memory was now a fully grown man. Sure, I’d been around Danny now and then after he’d left school, but never all that much, and never for long. In truth, it was Peter, as George Main, who had watched over him, guiding him and protecting him. Not me. I returned the hug just as tightly. At least I thought I was using the same amount of strength.

“Hey...little brother here, remember?” he gasped, even as Peter gripped my upper arms and pulled to get me to loosen my hold. “Not so tightly, Luke, you’ll cut off the IV,” Peter snapped.

“Sorry.” I smiled sheepishly. Peter hit me on the head lightly with the clipboard in his hand.

“This is why Red is the only one who has been able to put up with him so long, I suspect,” he told Danny. “He breaks all his other playmates.”

“Doesn’t bode well for you then, does it, Linton?” Kinney’s snarky voice chimed in – I wondered if Danny would take it badly if I smothered him with a pillow – it wasn’t like he didn’t have two other men right there in the room who were more than ready to take Kinney’s place.

Red spoke up then – guess nap-time was over. Might as well juice up the plane, I thought grumpily as my best friend felt the need to say, “You’re just not going to be happy until you’re spilling all the beans before Luke gets the chance, are you, Kinney? Don’t make me wish I’d made you climb up that eighty foot rope after all – there was a strong head wind, you know.”

Kinney sucked in his bottom lip and mumbled something that might have been an apology. Danny looked from me to him and then to Peter, confusion on his face for all of a second. But that was it. A faint smile broke out over his face and he seemed to chuckle to himself as he leaned back in bed.

“If I’m following all of this...and I think I am...that’s the least of the things we have to talk about Luke. Trust me. Now, did you say we have to get back to Pittsburgh in a hurry? Maybe you and Red better start making plans? And can someone tell me how Terry is doing today and did someone say that Etienne was involved in all of this? That has got to be the hardest part to fathom if you ask me.”

That was my cue to back away and start planning the next part of our mission with Red. Charles Hunter had a fueled plane waiting for us. Gruning was no longer an issue, which was a little bit of a disappointment, as I would have liked to have dealt with him myself, not only for what he did years ago, but also for what I just learned he did to my little brother John. Right now, though, I had a date with a lady. I watched for a second as Peter tried to convince Jennings and Danny to stay in their hospital beds while Kinney bitched and Lanier laughed. Laughing myself, I motioned Red over. Our planning could delay another minute while we rearranged the room, placing everyone within touching distance of my baby brother. Sitting in the center now, like the Sun of this particular universe, Danny lit up the room.

Peter joined Red and me.

“He should be resting, as should the others,” he commented.

“Lanier will make sure he does soon enough....” Red said.

“And Kinney will do it even sooner,” I added.

“You do give that boy a difficult time,” Peter commented to me.

“I know. I think it’s because I know, deep down, that he’s the one for Danny. It’s hard to look at him and realize that there’s someone else who comes first now.”

Peter raised one of those aristocratic eyebrows of his. I always thought we O’Keefes were good at doing that eyebrow raising thing until I’d seen Peter do it, and knew we were rank amateurs – when he did it, you could just see this line of about fifteen Mainwaring Earls lining up behind him, joining in, all of their fair eyebrows raised to the exact same height, their haughty chins lifted just that certain angle that didn’t need to scream their superiority, it was obvious. Like God, Lintons didn’t need to scream...they just whispered and somehow they managed to be heard just fine.

Made you want to turn him over the nearest flat surface and make him scream all right.

He must have seen what I was thinking because he cleared his throat suddenly and changed the subject.

“Let us discuss plans for our departure. What size plane do you have and can it hold two beds?”



Section 8 - Pittsburgh - POV/Luke O’Keefe

Getting out of the car and stepping onto the curb, I looked ahead of me at the small house. It wasn’t all that different from the house Kinney had grown up in. It was an interesting choice for a meeting place. Supposedly if I came here – alone – Layla would place a call telling the others where Michelle and the Novotny-Bruckner boy could be found. I looked up and scanned the windows of the house. No sign of anyone watching, not that it meant anything that I couldn’t see anyone. Shrugging, I walked up to the door and knocked. If she wanted to kill me, she could certainly take a shot now, or when I’d gotten out of the car, but I had the idea that Layla Sandeem was looking for answers more than revenge at this point.

“Enter, Luke O’Keefe.” A low, melodic voice was the response to my knock. I pushed the door open and walked in. The woman I’d known very briefly some eighteen years ago was standing in the house’s living room, dressed in Western garb, a semi-automatic pointed directly at me.

“Well, that’s a bit of an anti-climax,” I said lightly. “Your nephew wears Kevlar...I really should have learned from his example.”

“It isn’t much good against a head shot. Where is the boy, Tahnoun? I’ve heard that you know where my nephew might be.”

“Damned if I know. Ask Thyme Summers. Or Charles Hunter. Or, ask your brother. Tahnoun was with Ali Sandeem last I saw."

“You’re lying!”

“Why would I lie?”

Her hands shook on the gun and she could barely talk, she was so filled with anger. “Tahnoun would never go to Ali. My sweet baby. My sweet Leah’s boy. She died for him, for my Habib. She was so beautiful and he loved her so. But Ali! He wouldn’t allow it. So I had to sneak her in...she hid in my bed so many nights, after they were together, she came to me...and then when she was with child, I hid her still, because he asked me to. Because he was not man enough to face Ali and protect her from her family and ours.”

She spit on the ground. “Ali does not deserve Tahnoun.” She looked at me with her burning eyes. “But Habib did not deserve to die...not during a Christmas ceasefire! Did you order that bombing or not. Speak the truth or I will kill you and your brother’s wife.”

“You won’t kill anyone, Layla, but for whatever peace of mind you can find, I didn’t order it and you’ve already killed the man who did. I was lying in sickbay with a fever. I think you already know this. Your buddy Gruning had control of the base. The man you were working with was your real enemy, never me. And you were aiding Williams, a man who tried to kill your nephew.”


“It’s true. You know it is, that’s why you killed Gruning, isn’t it?”

She looked confused. I judged the distance between her and me. About eight feet. Red was probably entering the back of the house by now. The question was, where did she have Micky and the kid?

“I’ve played your game, Layla. You can shoot me now if you want. Give up the lady and the kid. They haven’t done anything to you. You got your pound of flesh out of my brother. Beat him pretty badly I understand, though I didn’t have time to see it yet. Good for you I didn’t, I’m thinking. Understand you broke his arm, his ribs, smashed his face.”

“Not so pretty anymore, is he?” She laughed. “Guess his little wife won’t have to worry about him cheating on her anymore, will she? Bastard men, you’re all alike. I should shoot you just because you’re just like the rest of them,” she muttered. “You’re all bastards in the end...even Tahnoun. Only Leah was good...so pretty...so good...she was beaten so badly...you couldn’t even tell it was her when she came back.” She looked up at me and I knew she was going to shoot. I threw myself to the ground just in time to avoid the blast. The second blast came within a second, throwing her forward onto her face.

Peter stood in the doorway of the kitchen.

“I really don’t trust women with guns,” he said cooly. “Shall we look upstairs for Ms. O’Keefe and the young man?”

“Sure,” I agreed, getting up from the floor and sidestepping the mess left by his timely intervention. Red was standing a little behind him. I looked at him questioningly.

“English insisted on rescuing you,” Red explained. “So seeing as how it’s Christmas and all, I thought I’d let him.”

“Ah,” was all I said. Sometimes I really don’t get those two. But I guess I don’t have to, as long as they were happy.




Section 9 - Pittsburgh; December 24 - POV/ Brian Kinney

“There is no fucking way you are ready to sing for Christmas services tonight, you do realize that? Am I the only one in this place who has a recollection of this idiot being at death’s door a couple days ago?”

I looked over at the assembly gathered in the townhouse. Emmett was staying over at the O’Keefe house – at Danny’s subtle suggestion – ostensibly because he was the main cook for the holiday meals and of course he didn’t mind giving up his room to Danny’s old friend, the opera star, Terrell Jennings. Mind? Size Queen Honeycutt was swooning all over the Christmas Goose. Lanier was staying at his usual hotel, supposedly, but you couldn’t prove it by the time he spent there since he seemed to live here. But they weren’t the reason Em was displaced, of course. The reason for that was the Mod Squad, currently lazing around the music room like they owned the place. They were camped out in the upper level and no one was to know they were here. Other than John, of course, who already knew about our visit from the ghosts of Christmas Present.

I glared at Linton.

“You’re a doctor! Can’t you order him to take it easy or something. Do you have any idea how hard he works when he’s performing?”

I didn’t have to turn around to know that rich laugh had to be Jennings. “Tell us, Kinney, how hard is it to sing? Damn, I got into this line of work for the easy hours and hot twinks.”

“Don’t forget the good pay,” Lanier chimed in.

“I don’t believe I was asking you two comedians....”

“Bri....” Danny walked over to me. Well, hopped really. He was using a crutch for now as his knee was in a brace. They were going to operate on his knee again right after Christmas.

“Mo gra’ I love you but I have to sing. It’s a tradition and this year especially...it’s important to me. We have a lot to be thankful for. John is going to be okay. Micky and Hunter are all right, thanks to Luke, Red and Ge...Peter.” Danny grinned over at Linton. He still had trouble not saying George. Linton told me that if he didn’t hate that name so much he’d consider telling him to forget about it and just call him whatever he wanted. But he really did hate George, it seemed. You could see him wince every time Danny did it. Which was less all the time.

“Besides,” Etienne, that perennial Pollyanna added, “Terry is going to sing also, so there will be much less effort required of Daniel. There is a little something extra planned as a surprise, which I think we won’t tell you, but it makes it even easier on Daniel. You’ll see. And even I, the lazy Etienne, I’ve helped my little bit also, with directing the ladies’ and children’s choirs, so that Daniel does not have to stand very long, and if his voice is a bit weak, we think it will still hold up.”

I grumbled. “It still seems an unnecessary waste of his energy.”

“Well, I kind of agree with Brian,” Luke said, surprising me. “He’s got hardly any wind, he’s recovering from pneumonia...how the hell do you plan on him singing any kind of anthem in Church, especially something for Christmas...I just don’t see it happening.”

Etienne smiled. “That is where my plan comes in, you’ll see,” he told him.




I sat in the Church with Micky and Ben. The younger kids were all supposed to be back at the O’Keefe house, waiting for Santa, but Gus and Briana, along with John’s two younger boys, Jared and Joshua, were feeling rather clingy, so we gave them all permission to come to the late service with us. Danny had been giving lots of extra hugs to Briana since getting back and I thought he’d been a bit more clingy with her also. The subject of Briana was one which also had been tabled until after Christmas.

There were many familiar faces in the pews this year, and there was a feeling of homecoming even without Luke’s presence being known. I think I was getting some of the feedback from Danny’s quiet happiness. Steven Redraven came in a little late and to my surprise, chose to sit next to me, nudging me over to make room, whispering, “I’m the only one who can sit out in the open so the other two insisted I had to.” He looked a little disgruntled, but he was certainly the hottest looking soldier I’d ever seen in his spiffy dress uniform. I told him so in a low whisper and he rolled his eyes.

“Like that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that, gay boy. Your boyfriend’s been telling me that ever since he was knee high to...me.” He grinned at me and I just had to laugh. I bet Danny did make passes at the man ever since he hit puberty. I knew I sure as hell would have.

“You know what they have planned?” he asked flipping through the program.

“No, but Danny said Lanier was a genius. Usually it’s only Lanier saying that, so it must be good.”

We had to stop talking for the service, Briana told us in a loud stage whisper, causing her cousins to laugh. She crawled over them to sit in my lap once everyone processed in. Danny skipped that part due to his knee and sat at the organ instead. The service was lovely, as services always were on Christmas Eve. I was beginning to like this Church, with old Fr. Baker, who never talked down to his congregation, and made God seem like the kind of Father you’d want to have when things went bad – at times like I’d had over the past ten days. I found myself giving thanks, for the visits from my three angels, and for all the help that brought Danny home again and our odd little group through those events safely. I was even thankful for Lanier. I drew the line at Jennings...but then thought Danny was probably glad to have company with him so was even thankful for him. But would be even more thankful to see the last of him.

When the time came for the anthem, the lights were turned down low as Danny sat down near the creche, leaning his crutch against the piano, where his old friend Sam was sitting, ready to accompany him. Candles were appearing in spots around the Church, and for the first time I was aware that there were small alcoves up high on either side of the Church, in addition to the Choir loft high up in the back where Danny often sang solos for weddings and special services. Shadowed figures holding candles were in each of these spots but I couldn’t tell who they were. From his seated position in the front, Danny started the song off, but the other voices took over singing lead from verse to verse, baritone, tenor, bass, and even counter-tenor. All male voices, all powerful and strong when they sang alone, but something incredibly beautiful when they joined in harmony together. And floating in the background, above the words of the Stevie Wonder song, there was a voice wistfully singing the words to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Neither was a Church song, not really, but with Red not the only soldier in the Church, and with more than one family with a son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father serving somewhere this Christmas, I bet it felt like a Church song to everyone listening.


Someday at Christmas men won't be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December all hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas there'll be no wars
[I'll be home for Christmas]
When we have learned what Christmas is for
[You can count on me]
When we have found what life's really worth
[Please have snow and mistletoe]
There'll be peace on earth
[And presents under the tree]

Someday all our dreams will come to be
[Christmas Eve will find me]
Someday in a world where men are free
[Where the love light beams]
Maybe not in time for you and me
[I'll be home for Christmas]
But someday at Christmastime
[If only in my dreams]

Someday at Christmas we'll see a land
[Christmas Eve will find me]
With no hungry children, no empty hand
[Where the love light beams]
One happy morning people will share
[I'll be home for Christmas]
A world where people care
[If only in my dreams]

Someday at Christmas there'll be no tears
All men are equal and no men have fears
One shining moment, one prayer away
From our world today

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime

[If only in my dreams]

Someday at Christmas man will not fail
Hate will be gone and love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmastime
Someday at Christmastime
[If only in my dreams]

Red leaned close to me in order to whisper as we stood with the others for the Doxology that followed the Anthem.

“Old Irish and English sing pretty well for soldiers, don’t they? Practically held their own with some opera singers and an Oscar winner, wouldn’t you say?” He was grinning proudly.

“Yeah, I would say,” I whispered back, glad to have my suspicions confirmed. I was pretty familiar with O’Keefe voices and while I knew Danny’s, and he’d sung the main part in the beginning, he’d switched off and let Jennings take the higher part for the second verse, contenting himself with the lower part harmony which didn’t require as much from him. But there were two other pretty stellar high voices in the mix in addition to Lanier’s distinctive baritone. I knew John was in place as though he were singing...but I also knew his voice fairly well and hadn’t thought it was his. Besides, he was in even worse shape than Danny, really. He was going to make a full recovery but he wasn’t there yet. How in hell did they talk Linton into such a stunt?

I looked up at the choir lofts, which of course were empty now that the lights were up. Micky’s eyes were damp with tears.

“Wasn’t that absolutely beautiful? How great of Danny to bring the others into it like that? I never knew Hunter and John could sound like that but it must have been them. So incredible. Like a Christmas miracle, don’t you think?”

I nodded, incapable of speaking. I looked at Danny, directing his choir once again, propped on his crutch, looking adorable in his white and black choir outfit. I caught his eye and he winked at me. Incorrigible. After all that we’d been through, he gets back here for his fucking Christmas anthem and he pranks the Church and his family. Besides which, it had been a fucking awesome song. And that choir outfit gave me more lecherous thoughts than Redraven’s uniform...though I had plans to try stealing one of those...and taking up the legs.

I was so glad to be home for Christmas.


Section 10 - Pittsburgh; December 26 - POV/Danny O’Keefe

I looked at Luke. We were up on the roof of the family house. Everyone was over at Mary Elizabeth’s today and I’d begged off, pleading fatigue and leg pain so I was able to sneak the guys into the family house. So far we’d been successful at keeping him hidden...and just as successful at avoiding talking about anything important. And tonight he said he had to head back to England and handle the mess left in the Alliance by Nigel Williams. I hated the idea of not seeing him for who knew how long.

“We need to talk about this, Luke,” I told him, trying not to sound whiny. It was hard; I felt whiny. I felt like I was nine years old again and he was heading back to some far off place after an all too short of a leave. Leaving me. But, I wasn’t nine anymore. I shouldn’t need him like this.

“Did I cling to you too much?” I suddenly asked. “Was that why you had to go through this elaborate ruse? Pretend to be dead so little Danny would grow up and learn to be a man?” I didn’t intend for my voice to sound so bitter but it came out that way. Odd, I usually had better control.

“No! Jesus, no! You were more grown-up at five than I was at twenty. It wasn’t you, Danny...it was....”

“If you dare say it wasn’t me, it was you, this will sound pathetically like a bad breakup speech, Luke.” Damn it, I was having trouble not crying, and I never cry. What the hell did Terry do to me on that plane ride? Cast some stupid crybaby spell on me?

“Is this a private party or is anyone lacking the requisite brain cells welcome?”

Peter’s voice...have to remember to call him Peter...or Linton, or English, or Sue, anything but George, it seemed. He was leaning out the attic window. Good thing it was fairly mild this year. Luke looked at me and I shrugged. I wasn’t thrilled with having my sanctum sanctorum invaded but I was beginning to realize that where Luke was, Peter belonged. I was okay with that. I was happy to see both of them with someone. Why Brian or anyone would think I’d have a problem with it, I didn’t get. Mary Pat had come up to me all toe kicking dirt abashed when she finally admitted to being bi-sexual also. Newsflash, I’d already figured it out. Only thing that surprised me, quite frankly, was finding out that Red wasn’t Luke’s partner. I still thought there was something more there than brotherly love. But if Luke was oblivious to it, and he and Peter went back as long as they must if Peter was the same man who caught me falling out of the tree – damn, they did go back a long way – then there was no point bringing up Red in that light. I loved Red, though, and hoped it wasn’t a problem for him. That would suck. This man who was Peter Linton, who had been George Main, I was pretty sure I was going to love him too, did love him, I just needed to incorporate all the memories properly. And get over my worry about Briana.

As for Red, of course he was right behind Peter, squeezing that long body of his out the attic window. I was about to feel out-numbered but then on came Brian and Etienne. Good thing Terry had to head up to New York for a performance or we’d have had him up here too and the damn roof would have collapsed.

I folded my arms and I’m sure I looked sulky as all get out.

“Did it ever occur to any of you brainiacs...super secret agents that you all are now, that instead of climbing out here, where, incidentally, we came for a private conversation...that one of you lean out that window and simply ask us to join you inside in the attic?”

“Yeah, me.” Brian scrambled up behind me and positioned himself with his legs around my waist and his arms over my shoulders. “This is the stupidest place to hang out in the winter. Not that it’s a particularly comfortable place in the summer either but....”

I leaned back and kissed him. Always a good way to change the subject. I still couldn’t believe all that he’d gone through for me. I mean, I could believe it, but I was overwhelmed by it. I was struck then by how much I owed these men, along with Terry, they’d each risked their lives for me. All of my irritation melted. I took a deep breath and started over.

“Listen...I love you. Each of you. Etienne,” I looked at him and he smiled his funny crooked smile at me. “We need to start our friendship over again. I have misjudged you terribly. I’ve thought you selfish and self-centered and then you do the things you’ve done over the past several days and I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say too much, he’s still selfish and self-centered and...” Brian interrupted, making Red laugh that barking laugh of his.

“Shh,” Luke warned, "you’ll have the neighborhood kids all looking up here, wanting to know how a dog got up on the roof.”

I shook my head. At this rate it would be Easter and we’d still be up here. Eti reached out and tucked my hair behind my ear where it had been blowing across my face.

“It is not necessary, my Daniel. I did it for love. Whether it is love of myself as Brian likes to say, or my love for you, I am content with the result as I think it has brought us closer together – all three of us, oui?” He winked at Brian

I was curious to see Brian actually blush slightly. Hmm, this bore looking into more. But...not now.

I turned to Red and Peter next.

“I thank you both from the bottom of my heart...for more than you realize maybe. I’ve loved you both, perhaps almost as much as I’ve loved Luke, and not only for what you’ve always meant in my life, surrogate fathers and big brothers, but because I’ve seen what you’ve been and done for Luke. Not the whole picture, I can see that now, but you’ve not let me see the whole picture. Red, there’s more to the story of his capture obviously, than I could be told, besides the obvious part that he didn’t die. I’m beginning to think that Mysterious Marilyn, in her inimitable way spoke a form of truth when she said that Luke did die on that mountain. Am I right?”

“Too right,” Red growled. “And he doesn’t need....”

“Doesn’t need to be torn in two...yeah, I can see what you’re worried about,” I said softly. Cuchulaiin’s faithful companion, the Raven. I suspect Red had never gotten over not being there when Luke’s plane went down. No plane flown by Red ever went down. But Red hadn’t been his pilot or co-pilot on that mission.

“But, I need to know why you didn’t come back...when you could, Luke. Is that too much to ask? Why didn’t you come home?”

Luke was looking down, his hands twisted. I reached over and clasped them in mine. “Look at me.”

He looked up and our eyes met. “You didn’t kill a village of people. I know you didn’t. It was made to look like you did. Did you ever ask to see the files? Ever check into the investigation yourself?”

“I couldn’t,” he whispered, his voice so low I could barely hear it. “I was too sickened by what they said I’d done...I could see it in my mind’s eye, Danny...the bodies...the blood....Ali was right...you’d see blood everywhere and the burned and scared women, and children screaming and no help for them. The men would kill them just to put them out of their misery.”

I took deep slow breaths and tried to get him to slow his rapid breathing. Peter saw what I was doing and he and Red did the same, hands on Luke, Red with his arms around his shoulders and Peter stroking his leg and arm.

“Think calmly, Luke, and clearly. What kind of condition were you in when you were captive?”

“Weak...they fed me once a week, water every three days. Didn’t want me to die but afraid of me regaining my strength.”

“Why didn’t they just kill you?” Brian interrupted. I elbowed him and I heard Etienne murmur something low to him. He tightened his hold on me but was quiet from that point.

Red explained patiently. “They were afraid of Luke in that region. He was really believed to be a kind of God, so they thought if they killed him, he’d come back to life as strong as ever and kill them all. Keeping him alive but weak was their best option they figured.”

“So you got out finally?”

“A family I’d helped once managed to hide me in a wagon. No...wait...I don’t know. I didn’t remember that before.” He looked at me confused. “Not sure how they got me in the wagon.”

“I found him outside the massacred village. I knew where to look based on a messenger’s note. When I got to him, he was in a hut. He had no idea how he’d gotten there. He never could say before, so when the hole where he’d been kept was found in that village and he was found by me in a village a short distance away, asleep, covered in blood, a wagon outside, the investigators believed the tales of a berserker rage. The village didn’t have a single survivor and the family that owned the wagon was gone. Luke had been known to have what the men called berserker rages...but only in battles against armed men.”

“Williams told us he planted that story...and he as good as admitted that he arranged for the villagers to be killed. Was proud of it,” I told them. Red and Peter looked furious.

“Why would he do such a thing?” Luke looked lost.

“He wanted to discredit you. And General Hunter, apparently. But the point is, you didn’t cause any deaths, Luke. I’m sure of it. You just need to find the evidence that will convince you.”

“Yes...I did. Cause one death of an innocent”

I looked at him, wondering how he was still blaming himself. He wouldn’t meet my eyes.

“I killed Dad, Danny.”

There wasn’t anything I could say to that. I looked to Peter and Red and they looked as stunned as I felt.

“That is total bullshit, Luke, and you should know it.” Brian’s voice was harsh. I leaned back against him and looked up into his face, trying to get a read on where he was coming from.

“Bri, perhaps....”

“No, Danny, let me say something.” Brian looked adamant. I looked to Eti for some help but he had a small smile on his face and gave a nod, as though to say, let him have his say. I took a deep breath. Okay....Brian gave Luke his coolest ad man pitch look.

“Your Dad, O’Keefe, was a hard drinking, high fat in his diet Irish man who didn’t do a bit of exercising after he stopping playing soccer some twenty years before his heart attack. Sure he did a little running around while coaching...just enough weekend warrior type stuff to cause a heart attack in a man his age. Plus, he smoked. He drank, he smoked and he ate red meat six days out of seven. Now, you’re going to tell me that the news of your ‘death’ killed him due to a massive coronary, what? Six months later? I don’t think so.”

“Much more likely it was Danny’s latest stunt up in New York,” Peter agreed.

“I was still gay.” I nodded.

“Which, speaking of things that would have killed Patrick....” Brian just had to bring it up again.

“Fine. Yes. Let me shout it on the rooftop. Danny, in case I forgot to ever mention it, I am, on occasion...such as for the rest of my life...attracted to men as sexual partners. Most particularly and rather significantly...one Peter George Linton, displaced Earl of Mainwaring.”

“You never do get that quite right,” Peter complained.

“You’re gay?” I exclaimed, eyes wide.

“Bi-sexual, is what I believe the term is,” Red primly corrected me, causing me to lose it completely. I collapsed on Brian’s lap laughing.

“Damn, you knew?” Brian slumped back against the slates.

“Well, he does look rather like a nancy boy, don’t you think?” Peter suggested, looking askance at my big tough Green Beret brother.

Once we all finished insulting Luke, I asked, “What about the whole rest of our lives now? Are you still going to stay away? Will I never see you? What about the rest of the family? Are they to go on thinking you’re dead?”

Luke exchanged glances at Red and Peter. “We still have a lot to discuss with you. There’s more you need to know about. Things Dad never told you and you should know and well...in short...I do want to see you, Pup. I’ve missed you. We’ve missed you. But, I don’t know that I could safely rejoin the clan. My life is dangerous and their lives are safer with me dead – that hasn’t changed even if the threat of Ali is removed. There’s always going to be another Ali. And the truth is, I left this world over twenty years ago and except for you, I don’t belong to it anymore. I love all of my family. I always will protect them in my way, but I’m okay with the status quo. They mourned me once and I know it was hard on them. I don’t think it would be a kindness to enter their lives now only to have them go through all that again. And, quite frankly, I know my older siblings. They wouldn’t be as forgiving as you about my staying away, even if it was for their safety.” Before I could protest, he raised his hand, “But...if you want to come visit us, you and your boyfriends are welcome. I’m satisfied that we can manage to make it safe, and that your boyfriends and you would exercise the proper precautions, now that you have an understanding of what’s involved. If you want to, that is. We thought you could come recuperate from your knee surgery there.”

Brian muttered that I only had one boyfriend while I hugged Luke...but then a new worry hit me. I looked at Peter nervously.

“Does this invitation include Briana...I mean...she is your daughter. Does this mean you are planning on claiming her?”

Before Peter could answer, Luke turned to him, “What the fuck?”

“Scotland should be lovely in the wintertime,” Brian said to Etienne as Red covered his face. I wasn’t sure if he was laughing or moaning. Quite frankly, I wasn’t quite sure how to react either. Peter looked like he was frozen in place. Me, I was wondering what other secrets my Dad had kept from me.

Tbc in Ghost Soldiers

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