Exigency by Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu

Authors: Zoe Takashi & Louise Wu,  Email Us
Website: http://slashfactory.com/
Series: Exigency. Previous part: Yield3.

Exigency: Yield
(ek-'si-gen-see)
noun: urgent requirements, exacting want or pressing needs.

Starring:
Zoe Takashi as Alex Krycek.
Louise Wu as Walter S. Skinner.


Part 4


Washington, D.C.
Monday, 27 June 1994
8:08 A.M.

Johanssen called from BSU to update the Rose profile. They think the killer comes from a strict religious upbringing, probably Judeo-Christian. It's another too broad category and likely to be useless in solving the case.

I'm already getting a world of shit from the Director. He's under pressure to release information about the Metro Podiatry Clinic to the press. But that will certainly hinder our efforts. It might save lives. Might not if it sends the killer on the run. But it's virtually guaranteed to lead to lawsuits when Metro goes out of business. I manage to stall for another couple of days. Maybe the billing lead will pan out.

Kimberly buzzes me during the budget meeting, so it must be important.

"Sir, I just got a call from Agent Reese. They've got a suspect. Ian Roberts. He's the Patient Billing Supervisor for Metro. If they can find him, they're bringing him in for questioning."

It's refreshing to get good news for a change. "Anything else?"

"No, sir. I'll keep you informed."

"Thank you, Kimberly."

It wouldn't be the first time our initial suspect was a dud, but we do seem to be getting closer on this one.

Twenty minutes later, Kimberly is back on the line. "Agent Reese says there's been an arrest. He doesn't have any details yet."

In just a few minutes, she interrupts the budget meeting again, with Baker on the line.

"Sir, Robert Baker here. I think we have the Rose. But we have a man down."

"Net it out," I reply tersely, anxious and relieved at the same time.

"Our investigation narrowed to Ian Roberts this morning. We went to pick him up at his apartment, and Agent Krycek took a stab wound."

And suddenly I could care less about the damned perp. "Where is he?"

"Roberts is in custody-"

"Agent Krycek, dammit!"

"I'm sorry, sir. Krycek is en route to D.C. General."

"Is he going to make it?" Suddenly the entire world seems to be the telephone receiver and anticipating Baker's reply.

"He was conscious at the scene, stabbed in the lower left abdomen. Yeah, I think he'll probably live."

"Fuck."

"Don't you want to hear about the perp, sir?"

"Not right now. I'll phone you in five minutes." I hang up and press Kimberly's line.

"Sir?"

"We've got an agent down. Agent Krycek." I pause awkwardly to breathe, suddenly aware of a lack of oxygen in my lungs. "I want you to get on the phone to D.C. General and get me a report on his condition as soon as you can. He may still be en route."

I turn to the beancounters. "This meeting is over."

Five minutes later, I'm in my car, with my cell phone at my ear.

"Baker."

"It's Skinner. Any news on Krycek?"

"Not yet, sir."

Dammit! I am not feeling patient. Not about this. "So tell me about the suspect."

"We went to his apartment building. Krycek and Mathis were in the parking garage. It appears the perp was in the garage and tackled Krycek down a flight of stairs. I think Krycek's got a head injury."

"You said he was stabbed."

"Both. I guess he hit his head in the stairwell, but he was conscious. Roberts knifed him after he went down. I'm not exactly sure of the details."

Well, it's the fucking details that matter at this point. "Shit. Okay, what about Roberts?"

"Mathis shot him in the shoulder and cuffed him. He and half the team are following the suspect to D.C. General."

"Sounds like Roberts is going to live?"

"Yeah, probably."

Then Alex Krycek had better live, too. Or I'll give Roberts the death penalty myself. "Did you find any hard evidence, or are we going to have to get a confession?"

"Agent Gough is conducting a search of his apartment as we speak. All we have now is his involvement in the billing matters for each of the vics."

"Where are you?"

"I'm on my way to the hospital. Gough's got things under control at Roberts' apartment."

"Okay. Call me every half hour. Sooner if you get anything." I deliberately do not tell him that I'm turning into the parking lot at D.C. General myself. I dump my car at the valet, taking a ticket stub as I stride into the hospital. It's a bit of a walk to the E.R., but I already know the way.

I'm almost there when my cell rings.

"Skinner."

"Sir, it's Kimberly. Agent Krycek is in the E.R. at D.C. Gen. They're not reporting on his condition yet, but they assured me he is alive."

"Thanks. I'm almost there myself. I'll follow up."

I see Mallory at the E.R. desk, talking to a nurse. He seems a bit surprised to see me, but I don't have time to care.

I flash my credentials. "I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner with the FBI. Agent Krycek is one of my men. What can you tell me?"

"The trauma team is with him now, sir. There's nothing else I can tell you."

"Which room?"

"I'm sorry. We're not allowed to provide that information."

I give her a hard glare and open my mouth to insist, but she interrupts me. "Room six. Third door down on the right."

It's easy to see where they have the perp. Unit Manager Mathis is standing outside the room, trying to look important, his thin lips drawn back in a crude attempt at smug.

When I get to room 6, I want to enter, but I don't want to interfere. So I stand outside the door, looking through the window.

He's strapped to a board. There's a lot of blood, but he's obviously alive. From the look on his face, I'd say he's complaining. I want to smile, but I can't. Not yet.

Alex is twitching, as if struggling against the straps securing him to the backboard. His movements slow, then completely stop. The female doctor leans over him, shining a penlight in his eyes.

A man in blue scrubs pushes into the trauma room with several x-rays. As the door swings open, I hear the female doctor say, "Come on, stay with me."

Alex's body jerks and he growls, "Lady, quit shining that damned light in my eye."

"Okay but I need you to stay awake. Tell me what day of the week it is." She continues talking to him as the male doctor takes the x-rays and slaps them up on a viewer.

The doctor with the x-rays examines them for a moment, then pronounces, "Spine is clear." He turns to the man in blue scrubs, standing half in the doorway. "Have the O.R. standing by and let's get a transport up to radiology."

O.R. probably means internal bleeding. He could yet die. I've seen it happen before.

There's a yelp of pain, and then Alex's voice is suddenly audible above the din in the trauma room. "Just take the fucking straps off!"

"No. Now listen, your shoulder is dislocated and you need to keep it still until we can make sure it's not broken."

"Fuck that. Untie me, dammit!"

The man in the scrubs backs out of the room and the door closes. The male doctor returns to Alex, lifting bloody bandages and checking his abdomen. The two doctors confer briefly, and Alex's struggles seem to intensify.

I'm about to intercede, to try to help calm him, when the female doctor heads out of the trauma room and looks at me. "You here for Alex Krycek?"

"Yes, he's one of my agents." I show her my shield. "Assistant Director Walter Skinner."

"I'm Dr. Pathak." She nods a greeting. "Okay, two problems we need to deal with. First, at a minimum, he has a serious concussion, dislocated shoulder and the knife wound to the abdomen. We need CT scans of his head and abdomen and more x-rays. But we need him off the backboard and, frankly, he's combative. I believe he will try to leave if we let him up. And that would not be a good idea."

Section Chief Baker joins us, peering through the window before standing close to me and listening to the doctor.

I concentrate on the doctor's words. I need to know what I can do.

"We need him to calm down and cooperate so we can determine if there are any internal injuries. I can't give him anything for pain yet because of the head injury... need him to stay awake.

"Second problem is he tells us he has no next of kin. No emergency contact. He's a government employee, so I need to know who's responsible for him. Now, can you help me with either of these problems? If not, tell me who can."

"Baker, do you know his emergency contact?"

"No. I can call-"

"Use your cell and have Kimberly handle it." Turning to the doctor, I add, "I'll talk to him to see if I can get him to calm down. Baker will get his family information from his personnel file."

She nods and gestures for me to follow her into the room.

Alex is arguing with the male doctor, who's leaning over him, observing him intently.

The middle of his body is saturated with blood. The pad under his head is soaking, too. Blood is smeared on the side of his face, and his hair is coated with it.

I have to remind myself that a lot of blood isn't necessarily a death sentence. It's a fact I'm painfully clear on, but the reminder is necessary to reassure myself. He's on an IV and there's a plasma bag, so I suppose he won't bleed to death.

"...get me off this fucking thing!" He struggles against the straps holding him to the board.

"Mr. Krycek, I need you to calm down. We'll release the straps in a few minutes, but you've got to stop moving around until we can assess your injuries. Now, can you answer some of my questions?"

"God dammit! Untie me. You know what fucking day it is, why do you need me to tell you?"

The doctor glances at me, his expression concerned, then steps back to make room for me.

I get as close as I can, so Alex can see my face. "Alex, it's Walter." I want to touch him, but I won't until he knows it's me.

Alex focuses on me, and I see recognition on his face. He stops struggling and pleads, "Walter, please have them untie me."

I put a hand on his uninjured shoulder. "They want to untie you, Alex. But you need to calm down first. You've been hurt. They need to examine you carefully. And they can't do that if you're thrashing about."

He looks confused, which makes me worry about the head injury. "It's not that bad... I have to get out of here."

"No, Alex. You're going to be fine, but they need to check you for internal injuries. You can't leave yet. Now, you're going to stay calm and stop moving so the doctors can untie you. Okay, Alex?"

"You'll untie me if I stay here?"

The male doctor steps forward, standing next to me. "I need him to answer some questions."

"Alex, will you answer a few questions and agree to stay still while they examine you?"

I don't like him looking at me like that... as if I'm the enemy. He looks hurt and confused... more vulnerable than either of us wants to see him. "Okay, please untie me."

"All right, Alex. Just a couple of questions first. Here's Doctor," I read his name as embroidered on his coat. "Doctor Singer."

The doctor leans forward so Alex can see him. "Can you tell me your name?"

Alex sighs. "Alex Krycek."

"Okay, Mr. Krycek. Can you tell me your middle name?"

Alex's brow furrows for a second, as if thinking about it. He hesitantly replies, "I don't have one."

The doctor's expression becomes extremely flat. "Good. Can you tell me what day of the week it is?"

"I..." The look of confusion is back and he briefly struggles against the straps.

I wince. This could be bad. Really bad. Realizing I'm rubbing my forehead, I pull my hand away and neutralize my expression. Alex has enough panic on his own without responding to mine.

"Let's skip that one for a minute. Can you tell me where you're from?"

"Zushta." Alex's reply is immediate, but then he looks confused.

It sounds like a foreign word... like something my grandfather would say.

The doctor frowns. "Is that a town?"

"What?"

"What you said. Where you're from." The doctor's words are slow and patient.

"Where I'm from?" Alex seems completely lost.

Damn. I silently repeat a mantra to myself: he's going to be okay.

The doctor calmly continues, "Yes, where did you say you're from?"

"Iowa."

"You're from Iowa? What town?"

Alex looks like he's struggling to even understand the question.

The doctor tries again. "Where did you grow up?"

After a long pause, Alex replies, "Davenport."

"Do you know where you are now?"

Alex looks around the room. "In a hospital."

"Do you know why you're here?"

"No." Shit. "The other doctor said I was hurt but it doesn't feel that bad. I don't want to be here."

"Okay, I understand. Do you know who this man is?" The doctor gestures to me.

Alex glances up. "Walter."

"Good. What's his last name?"

Alex gives an exasperated sigh. "Walter Skinner."

"Can you tell me what your relationship with him is?"

Alex frowns and looks like he's struggling to come up with the answer. I don't even care what he tells them, as long as it's accurate. After a few moments he says, "I work for him."

"Okay, Alex, last question. What do you do for a living?"

"I work for the FBI." His eyes close tiredly. "Untie me."

The doctor nods and moves to his left arm, releasing the strap from around the wrist. Alex immediately tries to move his arm and hisses in pain. "Mr. Krycek, you have a dislocated shoulder. You're not going to be able to move it. I'll take the straps off, but you have to be still."

I intercede. "Alex, you said you'd hold still. Can you do that?"

He nods.

A nurse joins the doctor, and the straps are removed. Alex immediately tries to sit up.

My hand presses harder on his uninjured shoulder. I don't want to hurt him, but his hurting himself seems quite likely.

Not strong enough to win this battle, he slumps backward, glaring at me. "Why am I here?"

I breathe for a moment, so I can control my voice. "You were injured in the field. Do you remember going to a suspect's apartment building this morning with Agent Kym?"

He closes his eyes and tries to concentrate.

I remind myself... he's going to be okay. Got to be.

I catch sight of Baker in the hall outside the room, watching us with a baffled expression on his face.

Alex opens his eyes and appears more lucid. "I was in the parking garage. Something ran into me and..." he frowns. "Mathis was trying to shoot me."

"You were in the parking structure. The perp attacked you. But Mathis wasn't trying to shoot you, he was after the suspect."

I can see his brain is still trying to put the pieces together. Having seen men with similar injuries, I know it can take days to reassemble the memories but, for Alex, I have no patience. Only a gnawing fear that he's not going to be all right.

Dr. Pathak taps me on the arm. "We need to take him to radiology. Would you encourage him to stay calm?"

I nod briefly. "Alex, they need to take some x-rays. I want you to keep still and cooperate with the procedure. Can you do that?"

There's still a faint look of confusion on his face, but he nods.

"Good. They'll wheel you to x-ray, and I'll be here when they get back. Okay?"

He looks relieved and murmurs, "Okay."

I offer him a tense smile, before standing aside. Another hospital employee wheels his gurney through the doors. I join Baker just outside the room.

"Krycek okay, sir?"

I see other questions in his eyes, but reply only, "I think so. Did you get his emergency information?"

"He listed a David Michaelson in Houston, but the number is disconnected. His file indicates no living relatives."

Fuck. Can it be that he has no one? No one besides me? Dammit, and I offer him so little. I nod numbly. "You checked on Roberts?"

"Yeah, he's in good condition. They're moving him into a ward. Don't worry, he's cuffed to the bed. And Mathis is sticking to him like a barnacle."

"I'll stay here and make sure Krycek's okay. You need to start putting together a case."

"Sir, Krycek's my agent and I'm sure you have-"

"Just do it, Baker," I bark at him.

He eyes me warily before departing. Mallory watches from a nearby chair. "Sir?"

"I think he's going to be okay," I reply automatically.

"Can I get you anything?" His voice carries genuine concern.

I catch his eye. This scene is all wrong... A.D. Skinner in the role of distressed family member to an agent everyone thinks I barely know. I can't bring myself to try to conjure up a cover story. Fuck it. "Agent Mallory, I'm just fine." I doubt he believes the lie, but he's unlikely to challenge it.

"Yes, sir."

I'd love to think of an excuse to get Mallory out of here, but they were virtually partners. Instead, I head to the main desk, keeping one eye on the hall for Alex's gurney.

Across from the main desk is a row of chairs that face service windows. Patient Admitting. I stand in the line with the most alert appearing attendant.

Agent Kym joins me in line. "Sir, Gough just called. They found several knives that will be checked for the murder weapon. Also found what we think to be the victims' clothing. Apparently laundered. Evidence is going over everything for hair or fibers. And they found the matching shoe to victim seven."

"Anything else?"

"Perhaps the most damning thing is the notebook they found with dates and details of conversations with all the vics."

"It might be enough. Think we'll get a confession?"

Thoughtfully, he gazes away for a moment. "We might. He's not a savvy killer. No telling what he'll offer up once we get him away from the doctors."

"You read him his rights?"

"Yes, sir."

"Don't make any mistakes. You worked too hard for this one."

Kym nods.

The line in front of me has disappeared. "We don't need you here. You've got work to do."

"Yes, sir," he replies, suppressing a yawn. He exits as I approach the counter.

I take a seat. The plump woman behind the desk asks, "What can I do for you?"

Showing my credentials again, I reply, "I'm Assistant Director Walter Skinner. It looks like one of my men, Alex Krycek, is going to be admitted."

She taps her keyboard and waits while her computer brings up a file. "Yes?"

"Do you have all the information you need on Agent Krycek?"

"We checked his wallet and found no emergency contact."

"You can list me." I spell my name and give her my cell phone number.

"Relationship to patient?"

"Supervisor," I reply blandly.

"Do you know about his medical coverage?"

I pass her my own medical card. It's the same plan.

"Do you have his social security number?"

I phone Kimberly and have her read off some other information, which I relay to the clerk. When we're finally finished with what information I can provide, I pass her my American Express card. "I'd like you to upgrade him to a deluxe private room. Charge it to my credit card, but can you keep it anonymous?"

She blinks at me and grins. "My supervisor would never do that for me."

I grunt a non-reply.

Fifteen minutes later, I'm tearing apart the remains of a vending machine coffee cup, when I see Alex. An orderly pushes his gurney, with a nurse walking beside it. Her voice rings out in the hallway. "Mr. Krycek, stay awake."

Alex's irritated voice snaps, "I am awake."

The nurse responds in a soothing tone, "Okay, but keep your eyes open."

"You're absolutely right. I wouldn't want to miss the torture of fluorescent lighting." He's obviously going for sarcastic but it comes out sounding weary.

The gurney is pushed back into the trauma room, where both doctors converge. Discussion and examination recommences. Dr. Singer is asking Alex questions, while Dr. Pathak examines his abdomen again. The man in the blue scrubs returns, pushing his way into the room. He leaves a large envelope and exits. Both physicians move to the hallway, cross to a large x-ray illuminator and begin reviewing films.

They point and discuss the first set, then the next set takes their place. Same thing again, a little more pointing this time. When the third set goes up, the male doctor, Dr. Singer, gapes briefly and Dr. Pathak leans forward, until her nose is almost touching the films, examining them closely. What the fuck is going on?

I adjust my glasses, trying to see, but I give up. I probably wouldn't be able to interpret it anyway.

They talk for a moment, and the films are handed back to the man in blue who disappears with them. Dr. Singer returns to the trauma room and begins talking to Alex as Dr. Pathak approaches me. "Mr. Skinner?"

"Yes?"

"Nothing is certain yet, and the radiologist needs to review the films, but so far, he's okay. We'll need to keep him for at least two days. The abdominal CT doesn't show any internal hemorrhaging but his blood pressure and red cell count are too low. The scan doesn't show everything so, we'll monitor both. If there's no change by tomorrow morning, we'll need to do exploratory surgery to find where he's bleeding.

"We don't see any gross trauma to the brain but the CT shows some swelling. We'll need to monitor his concussion. He's still confused and having difficulty remembering the events of his injury. That should pass fairly quickly. The left shoulder is dislocated but nothing broken. It will be immobilized for a few days, then he'll have limited use for a couple weeks. We'll take care of all the stitches and the shoulder before we send him upstairs. Any questions?"

She's been so thorough my head feels clogged. "No. But is there anything I can do?"

"Well, yes. Unfortunately, I can't make him stay in the hospital and he's pretty adamant about not being here. The admitting paperwork has already been prepared in the hopes that you'll have more influence with him."

"I'll make him stay." I'm not sure how, but I'll do it.

"Okay, you can talk to him while we're stitching up the abdominal wound."

I nod.

Dr. Pathak continues, "We're holding his belongings, as usual, but we had security confiscate his firearm. He'll have to show his badge to get it back."

"Fine. Thank you."

"You know, you folks are really hard on your people. All in all, it looks like he was luckier this time around."

"Meaning?"

"His eight previously broken bones. That seems a little extreme, even for your line of work."

Christ. I shut my eyes for a moment, as her voice continues, "Give the kid a break and give him a gentler assignment the next time around."

Damn, I hate to think what he's been into. No military service. Car accident? Sports? He's so young. I can only hope we're not talking child abuse. Fuck! That thought is too hideous to contemplate at the moment.

My shoulders tighten painfully. I almost lose it. I need him to be safe and uninjured, preferably in my arms at his place, eating chocolate or something.

"I'm sorry." A supportive hand appears on my forearm. "Why don't you go in and talk to him now?"

I nod, grateful for her bedside manner. A couple of deep breaths and I'm grounded again.

Alex looks exhausted and cross as I approach him. When he looks up at me, he relaxes a little, but his clenched jaw and rigid grip on the gurney rail suggest he's in a lot of pain.

I stop Dr. Pathak. "Have you given him something for pain?"

"Not yet. We need him to stay awake. We'll give him something before we take care of his shoulder."

Fuck. I know how much that's going to hurt.

At the edge of the bed, I rest my hand on his. "Alex."

"Hi," he says with a grim smile. "I'm starting to believe I was injured."

"Yeah." I return the smile. "You're going to be in the hospital for a couple of days. Can I count on you to behave yourself?"

He groans and carefully rests his head against the gurney rail. "I don't want to be here."

Dr. Pathak watches Alex pensively for a moment, before pulling the drape around us.

"I know you don't want to be here, Alex, but you're hurt. It's just a couple of days. Please don't make this more difficult than it has to be."

My cell phone rings, but I ignore it.

"All right, Walter. I'll stay." He releases the railing and turns his hand palm up, so we're holding hands.

Dr. Pathak removes a bandage from his side. I freeze my face against a grimace. The wound looks deep, but it's just a couple of inches long. I can't prevent the idiotic reaction of wishing the wound away.

The doctor holds up a syringe. "Mr. Krycek, this is a local anesthetic. It'll numb your stomach so we can sew up the wound."

He flinches slightly as she injects his abdomen. His fingers tighten on my hand.

After the knife cut is stitched up, they carefully roll him onto his right side to stitch the back of his head.

Dr. Pathak murmurs, "Hmm... there's a bruise here that's a couple days old. Actually looks more like a... uh, oh." She cuts herself off, glances at me and then begins cleaning the head wound.

Oh, fuck. My mind flashes back to Friday night on the golf course. I hope the hospital is discreet about that. I don't want it to embarrass him.

They kick me out before they set his shoulder.

Back in the hallway, I hear raised voices coming from the front desk. Mallory is trying to fend off the press. I doubt he has enough experience to do it very successfully. We're lucky to have made it this far without them. I inhale another few deep breaths of chemical-tasting hospital air, and go help him ward off the vultures.

A half hour later, the nurse at the front desk tells me he's in room 668. As I'm climbing the stairs, my cell phone rings again.

"Skinner."

"Sir, it's Kimberly. Are you coming back?"

She has to be wondering. No way it makes sense for me to be here. I should be in the war room, facilitating the construction of the case. Or in my office dealing with the VIP calls. But it's not going to happen. "I'll be back later, but, uh, in the meantime, please cancel my meetings."

"Both the Director and the Attorney General's office called to complain that you weren't answering your cell."

"Would you contact Baker and ask him to call them both with an update on the Rose? And remind him he's going to have to give a press conference."

"Yes, sir. Anything else?"

"You tell me, Kimberly."

"Uh, lots of messages, but I think they'll keep until tomorrow."

"Thanks." I don't pay her enough. She's my lifeline.

Room 668 is at the end of the hall.

I'm relieved to find Alex asleep. He looks rather innocent. He's pale, but he doesn't appear to be seriously ill. They've cleaned the blood off his body and bound his left arm to his chest. I watch him for a long time.

Now that there's nothing for me to do, suddenly, I feel weary.

His corner room has windows on two sides. The sun seems unnecessarily bright, so I lower the blinds.

I've had agents injured, and even killed before. I never felt like this... regretful and guilty that I can't somehow prevent this after it happened.

A nurse enters and makes notes in his chart. Then she starts trying to wake him.

"You have to wake him so soon?"

She looks at me. "I'm sorry, we have to wake him every hour."

Turning back to him, she gently shakes his right shoulder. "Mr. Krycek? Come on, Mr. Krycek, I need you to wake up."

It takes a few moments, but Alex eventually responds. "What?"

"Sorry but we have to wake you up. Can you tell me your first name?"

"Alex. God, you people have to come up with some new questions."

"Uh-huh. You're on IV fluids, Mr. Krycek, but we'd like you to drink something. What would you like?"

"I don't care." He sounds fatigued. I have to control the urge to demand that the nurse leave him alone.

"Okay, I'll bring you some juice and water." She steps back and turns to me. "Will you try to get him to drink?"

**

Who is she talking to? I jerk my head to the right and see Walter. The sudden movement causes pain to flood through my skull. Shit.

I'm aware of the nurse leaving, but I stare at Walter. What's he doing here? "I... uh, hi." That was coherent. I can't seem to make anything work correctly.

He slides the chair closer to the bed and smiles reassuringly. "Hi."

It feels like reality is a big puzzle I haven't quite pieced together yet. The confusion is driving me crazy. "What's happening? Why am I..." Not quite what I planned to ask, but I'm trying to remember what led to me being in a hospital room. My only vivid thought is that Mathis tried to shoot me, but Walter already said that didn't happen. Didn't he?

"Do you remember this morning? The team went to Capitol Heights to question a suspect?" He looks concerned. Presumably at my inability to remember what happened. Hell, it's bothering me, too. I try to relax and remember this morning. Walter's hand touches my arm and rubs gently. "It's okay, Alex. It's normal to forget things after a head injury. It'll come back."

Yeah, but I feel out of control. I'm too exhausted to do much more than acknowledge the panic. I just want everyone to go away... leave me alone until I'm fixed. Except... some part of me needs Walter here. I don't understand, and it increases my sense of being out of control.

The nurse steps back into the room with juice and a pitcher of water, leaving them both on a tray with an admonition to drink.

I look back at Walter for a few minutes, then a name suddenly pops into my head. "Ian Roberts?"

"That's right. We arrested him for the Rose murders this morning."

Some things are starting to slip into place. I give him a weak smile. "So, I guess Mathis didn't really try to shoot me?"

"No, Alex. Do you remember talking about this in the emergency room?"

"Vaguely."

His fingers squeeze my forearm. "That's good enough for now. Why don't you get some rest."

Because I want to know what happened. "Walter, please. I need to figure out what happened. It feels like everything is in pieces-" I cut myself off, realizing how pathetic I sound. Fuck, I hate this.

He nods, accepting my need, before replying, "You were in the garage and so was Roberts. He knocked you down a flight of stairs and stabbed you. You hit your head. Mathis shot Roberts. They brought you here to D.C. General."

I sigh. Most of it feels right... I just needed to hear it.

Walter stands and holds out a cup of red juice. "Drink."

I don't really want anything to drink, but it seems rather pointless to argue about it. I take the cup, disgusted at the slight trembling in my hand.

Needing to finish putting the puzzle together, I ask, "I hurt my shoulder falling down the stairs?"

"I think so, Alex. I haven't spoken to Mathis. He's the only witness. Besides the perp."

Great. I close my eyes for a second, trying to think clearly, then look back at Walter. "Why are you here?" That didn't come out right. "I mean, how can you..."

"Well, it has been a little dicey, but I needed to know you were okay. Is there a friend or anyone I should call?"

"No." I glance away for a second, then back at his troubled face. There's an element of sadness or pain in his expression. Shit. I don't want Walter feeling sorry for me. "I, uh, thanks for being there this morning. I know I was confused... I'm sorry about this mess."

His fingers brush my hair off my forehead. "There's nothing to apologize for. You were doing your job, you got hurt. I'm here because I want to be."

I can't deny I like it when he touches me. I capture his hand and then don't quite know what to do with it. After brushing the fingertips with my lips, I hold it near my uninjured shoulder. "One of the doctors talked to me about this, but it's a little fuzzy... how long do I have to be here?"

"Probably just two or three nights. But for 24 hours they're going to be waking you every hour to check your lucidity because of the concussion."

I guess you don't go to the hospital to rest. Everything is getting fuzzier, which is the exact opposite of what I want to happen. With a gentle squeeze, Walter releases my hand and whispers, "Go back to sleep."

My hand drops to my side, and my eyes involuntarily slide shut.

"Mr. Krycek? Come on, it's time to wake up." I groan and try to block out the voice that seems to intrude every time I fall asleep. I think this is the fourth time. I'm somewhat pleased I can keep count. The ability to count seems like an absurd thing to get excited over, but right now I'm happy about anything that shows my brain returning to normal.

Her voice intrudes again. "Come on, Mr. Krycek." I feel her hand gently shaking my good shoulder.

I keep my eyes closed. "Do you think you could call me Alex?"

"Well, sure. If you'll open your eyes and tell me what day it is."

Fucking hell. I open my eyes and growl, "Monday." I realize it's the first time I've been able to answer that question. Now, if they'd just let me get a little more sleep, I could probably recite the entire alphabet.

"Thank you, Alex. I brought you some more juice, so drink up." God, this woman is too cheerful. I can't resist looking at the chair by the bed. The second time she woke me, I immediately went back to sleep, not knowing if anyone was here. The third time, I stayed awake long enough to see that I was alone. This time, oh god, Mathis is here.

At least he doesn't have his gun out.

The nurse pats me on the arm. "Your uncle is gone but you have a new visitor." What uncle? It dawns on me that she's referring to Walter. I don't want to deal with any of this.

Maybe if I pretend I'm dead, Mathis will go away.

"How you feeling, buddy?" Buddy? He cannot be serious. I look at him intently, convinced this must be a hallucination. He really does look like a used car salesman.

"What?"

"Yeah, they said your brain was messed up." I'm sorely tempted to kill him. "How. Are. You. Feel-ing?" He draws every word out slowly.

He's dead. "Why are you here?"

"Well, you're my agent. I couldn't go to all that trouble to save your ass and then not make sure you were doing all right."

I feel my eyes widening with horror. Save me? He must be lying. I open my mouth to say something and nothing comes out. I haven't wanted to kill anyone this badly in a long time.

The door to the room opens, but I can't bring myself to tear my horrified gaze away from Mathis. And why was he making such a big deal about me being his agent?

Mathis suddenly straightens up and tries to look professional. Walter walks into the room, sees Mathis and fails to completely suppress a look of distaste.

"Good afternoon, sir." There's a faint note of surprise in Mathis' voice.

Without missing a beat, Walter says, "Mathis, I have a delicate personnel matter to discuss with Agent Krycek. And he needs his rest." The tone of his voice is a clear dismissal.

"Sir, Agent Krycek is assigned to my unit. If there's a pers-"

Walter scowls at him. "Out." He gestures with a thumb, in case there's any doubt.

Mathis looks like he wants to argue, but he nods. Turning to me, he fakes a punch and says, "Later, buddy. Hope your brain's working better tomorrow." He gives me a leering smile, pleased with his own sense of humor. I feel homicidal.

Fortunately, he exits before I can rip my bandages off and strangle him. I turn an accusing glare on Walter. "He saved me?"

Walter shrugs. "That's what he says."

I run my hand over my face. "Oh my god." I have to ask about the other... thing. "He said he was told my 'brain was messed up.' Walter..." I can't even bring myself to ask the question.

I might have been fooled by Walter's placid face but for the twitching of his jaw muscle. "Mathis is an idiot. The doctors say you're fine, Alex. They're going to keep waking you up, but after they've tortured you adequately, they're going to send you home. You'll be just fine."

He comes closer, leaning over the bed. "About that delicate personnel matter..." He kisses me lightly on the lips.

My hand finds the back of his head, just holding his mouth to mine so he doesn't try to pull away too quickly. This may be the only good thing that's happened all day.

Walter stays with me for a while. I drift in and out of sleep. Sometimes on my own, sometimes because the nurse is pestering me. At times, Walter is here, reading something in a case file, other times I'm alone. He's here when I'm able to tell the nurse both the day and date, and I see the flash of relief on his face.


Tuesday, 28 June 1994
3:01 A.M.

Time is a blur until I wake to the smell of cigarette smoke and am acutely aware that it's the middle of the night.

"Good evening, Alex. Do you know who I am?" The malicious humor is not appreciated.

I just stare at him. He will eventually get around to telling me why he's here, and any other discussion will just draw out an already unpleasant encounter.

"I understand A.D. Skinner came to see you."

Time passes while I simply look at him. I keep my expression blank but my brain is rapidly trying to prepare my answers.

Eventually the silence stretches long enough and I reply, "Was there a question?"

"I'm curious about what the Assistant Director had to say."

I allow a disbelieving expression to cross my face. "Nothing terribly profound."

"Why did he come to see you?"

"I don't know. It's likely he was here to check on the Rose Killer, or talk to the press, or some such thing. I'm sure it would look bad if he didn't stop in and check on his 'wounded agent.'"

"Did you say anything to him?"

"Such as? Idle chitchat isn't my strong suit when I'm feeling well."

"Your records indicate you have quite a concussion. I want to ensure you didn't let anything slip."

My eye roll answers the question. A surprisingly painful gesture, all things considered.

He takes another long drag on his cigarette. "I get the distinct impression you don't like our esteemed Assistant Director."

My expression smoothly slides into a disbelieving gape. "Am I supposed to?"

Spender sneers at me. "I can see he's not the kind of man you prefer." I glare at him. "But alienating Skinner will not be good for your career, and you know what your priorities are."

"Well, I'm not planning to tie his shoe laces together." I pause briefly and let a faint hint of confusion creep onto my features. The thing that scares me is I'm not just acting confused, I feel confused. "I wasn't aware I was supposed to get chummy with him."

"You're not. But you are supposed to distinguish yourself. And that did not include getting yourself thrown down a flight of stairs and stabbed."

Finally. I wish we could get to the point faster. It would prevent major headaches. I revert to my default 'no response is the best response.'

He looks at me for a long time, letting me feel his displeasure before continuing, "Well, this probably works to our benefit." Fucking bastard. "You were shaping up to be the golden boy on the Rose Killer case, and that would not have fit into my plans. I didn't know I would have to worry about you distinguishing yourself too much."

My jaw clenches and I wonder what the son of a bitch has planned now.

A cloud of smoke accompanies his next words. "Yes, your little screw up today is just perfect for your next assignment."

I can't help but ask, "Which is?"

"All in due time. Wouldn't want you to let something slip while in a mentally deficient state."

After he leaves, I turn my head and stare at the wall. Eventually the nurse enters.

"Oh, you're awake. How're you feeling?"

I nod my head. It passes for an appropriate response.

"Well, it's time for another pain shot if you want, hon. Are you in pain right now?"

"No." It's a lie. I hurt like hell but I don't want to sleep right now.

The nurse steps into my field of vision. "Now, I know that's not true. Just press the button when you're ready."

"What time is it?" I feel like I'm in a vacuum.

There's a pause, then, "Nearly five. You sure you don't want that shot now?"

"Yes."

She putters around for a while before leaving.

I've had enough of this place. Without thinking about it, I find myself struggling out of bed. Shit, I'm weak. Bracing my arm on the side of the bed, I try to catch my breath, feeling off balance. Everything hurts, and I wonder if I hit every single stair on the way down.

Pushing past the pain and weakness, I step away from the bed to find myself attached by tiny wires and thin tubing. Using my teeth, I yank out the IV. Some hair and skin accompany the tape. There are still all these things stuck to my chest. Not bothering with the pads, I gather the wires in my hand and yank them off. The machine begins to make a distressed beeping sound.

Feeling slightly dizzy, I stumble over to the locker-style closet. The paper bag at the bottom has all my 'personal effects.' I tug it out and start fumbling through it. God, this one-armed thing is a pain in the ass. I don't think I'll manage the next few weeks trying to make do with one hand.

I lose my train of thought and find myself on my knees. Oh, balance is better down here. My head hurts. What was I doing? Clothes... looking for clothes.

About the time I realize my clothes are in pieces, there's the sound of several people crowding into the room. Where's my gun?

"Are you okay?" A nurse is kneeling next to me, her hand on my arm. "What are you doing?"

I jerk away, nearly falling over, muttering, "Looking for my clothes." Got to go home.

She starts to reach for me again, and I feel other hands on my back. This time I almost land on my face trying to get away. Someone catches me, pulls me upright, then releases me. I see her hand waving at the other people, but I don't know what it means. "Do you want to tell me why?"

I upend the bag. "...going home. Why are my clothes in pieces?"

"Because they had to cut them off you. Now, why are you trying to leave?"

What is this woman rambling on about? I notice the holster for my gun and the sheath for my knife. Hmm... they've left me weaponless. That wasn't very considerate. I see some movement in my peripheral vision and hands are pulling me up and taking me back to the bed.

I distinctly remember not wanting to be in the bed anymore. Why won't that woman quit talking? And why are they taking my pants off? Not pants. More like pajamas. I never wear pajamas.

Oh, okay. They're putting clean ones on. The talkative woman is muttering about me bleeding everywhere.

My head stops spinning when I'm lying down. I try to focus on the chatterbox. "...you decide to remove your IV, just gently pull it out. Don't yank it in the opposite direction, it makes a mess." It seems like good advice, but why is she telling me this?

There's a man talking now, leaning over me with a light. It's a little easier to focus on his voice but the light shining in my eye hurts. "Mr. Krycek? Can you answer my question? Are you in pain?"

That I understand. "Yes." A lot, actually.

The pain in my head drowns out their incessant babble. Then the throbbing recedes and I feel warm and sleepy.

The man keeps talking. Hmm... I bet I could get them to quit talking if I could find my knife. "...Neurology consult. Oh, and call his emergency contact. Then get hematol..."

Wonder why they want to talk to David?

When my eyes blink open again, Walter is standing at the foot of the bed, scrutinizing me.

I fight off the inevitable confusion that greets me every time I open my eyes. Quickly, I try to assess what's different. Walter's presence and an ache in my right arm. I glance down and see a new bandage near my elbow. A picture of me yanking out my IV flashes through my mind. Jesus, what was I up to last night? This is worse than drinking too much.

Fuck, my head hurts. I'll piece it all together later.

"Walter?" Why is he here? I can't believe the chances he's taking.

"Yeah, it's me." His face is tense with concern.

I glance around the room. The light filtering through the blinds indicates it's still early. I'm thrown off because I didn't expect to see him this morning. "I... don't you need to be at work?" Very nice, Alex. "I mean... I'm glad to see you, but..." Now, I'm babbling like an idiot. I run my hand over my face.

Abruptly, I remember what happened last night. My need to get out of here. The need suddenly feels just as strong. The more my brain doesn't want to cooperate with me, the more I want to leave. Something else occurs to me, but it seems so improbable. Hesitantly, I ask, "Did they call you?"

"Yes," he replies tersely. The tone of his voice is all wrong, but I can't put my finger on it. "Are you all right?"

"I'm fine."

He steps around to the side of the bed, but doesn't touch me. There's a hint of something severe in his brown eyes. "Agent Krycek," his face shifts from worried to stern in a blink, "I expect you to remain in the hospital until discharged per doctor's orders. If you do not, I will assign you to the motor pool for the next three months."

My mouth opens and then closes. What can I say? Some part of me is terrified that my brain is not going to start functioning properly again. And I don't want to be here, watching a random series of people making notes on the decline of my mental state. And yes, as soon as I'm able, I planned to try to leave again.

I find myself saying, "Yes, sir." And that response just proves my point. I'm completely brain damaged.

He gives me a rather pained glance, and his face gradually slips out of A.D. mode. In some ways, this is less comfortable. I feel so trapped and vulnerable; it's easier to deal with Assistant Director Skinner than to face Walter. His fingers entwine with mine at the side of the bed. "Is there anything I can do for you?"

I feel grounded again having his hand on mine. Unable to stop myself, I squeeze his hand, almost hating such a limited touch. Even though I know there's nothing he can do about it, I can't help but ask him to fix this mess.

"I can't stand this-" I cut myself off, feeling like an idiot. When did I start trying to lean on him? And when did he start encouraging it? Something has shifted in the last day and I can't quite figure it out. "No, Walter. I'm okay." You wouldn't know it by the death grip I have on his hand.

Walter sighs. He seems to want to say something, but doesn't. He brushes my hair off my forehead.

His tenderness brings back my panic. My grip on his hand tightens even more. "Walter..." I feel my breath catch, but the words tumble out unbidden. "What if my brain is permanently damaged?" They've left me here, defenseless, and no one in their right mind would give me a weapon. The only protection I have is not telling them how many gaps there are in my memory, or what a struggle it is to come up with the date.

"I spoke to the attending physician this morning when I came in. He examined your chart and he thinks you're going to be fine. I believe you're going to be fine." The confidence in his voice makes me want to believe. "I've seen lots of men with head injuries. You'll probably never remember all of what happened yesterday. But there's no reason to believe you'll have any long term problems. If it will reassure you, we can get a neurologist in here today to give you a full workup."

I shake my head, the tiny movement causing more pain than it should. "Where are my weapons?"

Something shifts in his face. This is not where he thought this conversation was going. "The hospital confiscated your gun. Did you have a second... your knife? Were you wearing your knife?"

"Yes. It's not in my stuff. Just the sheath. I need..." Okay, let's not start babbling about needs.

"Do you remember if you had the knife on you when you entered the garage in Capitol Heights?"

I pause to think. I remember putting it on Sunday morning when the eighth victim was found. I never went home. "I, uh... not specifically. But I remember putting it on, and the sheath is in with my holster and clothes."

Walter thinks out loud, "Then the knife recovered from the garage is probably yours." He gives me an open-mouthed astonished look, then squeezes my hand. "Alex, you may have been stabbed with your own knife."

"What?" I gape at him in horror. This can't be happening. The words that come out are all wrong. "I need it back."

His expression is puzzled. He gently takes his hand away and reaches for his cell phone. After dialing and waiting he says, "This is A.D. Skinner. I want to talk to the technician working on yesterday's Rose evidence. ... All right, can you pull the file? ... Did he run Agent Krycek's prints on the knife found in the garage? ... Do that comparison now. I'll wait." He pushes a button on the phone and asks me, "Describe the knife. Does it have any distinguishing characteristics?"

It wouldn't matter how hard I hit my head, I'd be able to describe that knife. "Black texturized rubber over steel hilt. Double-edged, five-inch blade. Nothing terribly distinctive. Tiny knick in the blade about a quarter inch from the guard." Please don't let it be my knife.

He nods and presses a button again. "Got those results? ... Yes." His face turns grim at this point, so I expect bad news. "Describe the knife to me. ... Does it have a tiny knick in the blade about a quarter inch from the guard?" He eyes me grimly and nods. "The knife belongs to Agent Krycek. Would you phone Unit Manager Kym right away and give him this information? ... Yes, thank you."

I finally piece together what this means. A serial killer stabbed a federal investigator with that knife. I'm never getting it back. I'm out of bed without any conscious thought, instinct driving me to get away from a situation gone very bad. I hear myself mumbling, "No," over and over. God dammit. Fucking tubes and wires.

Walter's arm finds my waist. "Alex, no." He gently pushes me backward toward the bed.

I struggle against him. A tiny, rational part of my brain tries to figure out what's going on. "I can't... no..." I try to get a hold of the IV tubing with my teeth, while resisting being pushed back to bed.

He stops targeting the bed and just holds me, one arm around my waist, the other around my good shoulder. "It's okay, Alex. Please try to relax." A hand strokes my back. The side of his face presses against mine.

My body tries to twitch away from his hold but he's so much stronger than I am right now. Fifteen seconds of activity and I feel completely drained. I let my head drop against his shoulder and take a breath. Even though I fight it, my body eventually starts to relax against him. Okay, this is more like sagging against him. If his arm weren't around me, I'd be on the floor.

I find myself in the midst of my usual divided reaction. Horrified I let Walter see me like this, and grateful he cares enough to be here. My brain stops working as the thought finishes sinking in. Cares? No. No. Definitely not. Don't think about it.

"I'm not letting you go until you agree to lie down and talk to me." His hand is still soothing my lower back. "And if I don't let you go, both of our careers are in for a substantial change as soon as someone walks in that door."

A faint smile creeps over my lips. I don't particularly want him to let me go, but I'm not so far gone I would actually say that. I nod against his shoulder to let him know I'm sane again.

He helps support my body weight, easing me back into the bed. Fuck, I hurt everywhere. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he takes my hand again. "What's got you so upset?"

"I... the knife. I have no control over anything. I have either carried or known where that knife was for ten years. And now, I've lost my knife, too. Fuck, I'm babbling." In reality, I've gotten too close to the truth. "I don't know why I'm upset." God, that sounds so... hysterical. I need my brain to work a little faster. Change of subject. "I just can't believe I was stabbed with my own knife."

There's a lot of concern in Walter's expression, and I can almost see him trying to decide which details are significant. He's obviously worried about me, but I need to not let us go any further down this path.

"Walter, I'm fine. Sort of free-associating in an inaccurate kind of way. I'm still struggling to piece things together, and I wasn't prepared for even the possibility that something else could go wrong." Okay, that sounded good. Believable, too.

"That's so much bullshit, Alex." Maybe not so believable. "I know you're afraid. I'd like to help, if I can, but I don't know how." He gives a frustrated shrug. "And I want you to keep your goddamned ass in this hospital bed until you're released by the doctor. So I'll ask you again, is there anything I can do for you?"

I want to reassure him. "I... no... I don't know. I've never been in a hospital before and I'm not used to strange people just wandering in and out. But I'll fumble through it... and I'll stay put." I pause. My hand clenches on his briefly. "It helps to see you." Too much information. Where did this chatty Alex come from? A syringe of Demerol, no doubt.

He presses his lips to my forehead, then gazes down at me with a wry smile. "If you don't stay put, the next step is handcuffs or an armed guard." He takes a card case out of his pocket and hands me a business card, showing me the reverse side. There's a phone number stamped on it. "My cell. Call me if you need anything, okay?"

I nod, somehow certain the 'handcuffs or an armed guard' thing was not a joke. I try to smile, but it feels pretty pathetic. "Could you persuade the nurse to come ask me what day of the week it is and bring the pain medication with her?"

He grins a little, trying not to look so concerned. "Will do. I'll stop by later." He kisses my cheek. "Try not to worry so much. You're going to get through this, Alex."

"Thanks, Walter." I resist the urge to say anything else, completely unfamiliar with this version of me who can't seem to stop talking. I watch him leave. The nurse arrives a few seconds later.

**

Ah, fuck. There's more going on with Alex than he's telling me. I need to help him, but I don't know how. And I'm not going to pester him. Just because we've been lovers for a few weeks... it doesn't give me the right.

I wait impatiently for the valet, needing to get out of here. Now.

Dammit, what's happening between me and him? I've had agents in the hospital before without visiting at all, but I'm in a panic over Alex.

I was not looking for a relationship. Fuck, I already have one I can't make work.

But Alex is mostly alone in the world. I hate that he might rely on me... his married lover... and I might not be able to give him what he needs. When have I ever been able to give anyone what they need?

This affair was a really bad idea, but there's no point in dwelling on that. I'm in it now. And I'm not sorry either. But I wish this were a better deal for Alex. I'm no fucking prize... even without a wife, and a job above him on the org chart.

**

9:33 A.M.

I wake in time to see Mallory shifting uncomfortably at the foot of the bed. I'm not sure I know what to make of this visitor thing, but this is infinitely preferable to finding Mathis in the room.

"If you looked any more uncomfortable, I think you'd combust." Despite trying to keep my voice normal, to my own ears I sound tired.

"Hey!" Mallory instantly looks contrite. "I didn't wake you, did I? I was going to leave... I didn't want to just hang around while you were sleeping."

I wave away his disclaimers and reply, "It's fine. Fill me in on the case."

He looks uncomfortable at the mention of the case, but sits in the chair next to the bed. "Ah... I heard about..." His voice trails off, and he fidgets a little.

"My knife?" I force my tone to something near bland.

"Uh, yeah." He looks at me for a minute, then continues, "It really sucks, Alex. Sorry all this happened to you."

I give a one-shouldered shrug and urge the conversation in a different direction. "Anything out of Roberts yet?"

Mallory's expression clears. "Yeah. He confessed early this morning. I'll bet you his attorney pleads insanity."

"Is he insane?"

"Well, he's certainly a little fucked in the head, but I don't think he's criminally insane. He understood right from wrong when he killed those people."

I really don't want to discuss the case, but there are so many mysteries around these killings, I might as well take the opportunity to get a few questions answered. "And speaking of that... why?"

Mallory rolls his eyes in a disgusted fashion. "We found the billing connection, right?" I nod to encourage him to continue. "Well, turns out all of these people had been extremely rude when dealing with him about their billing problems. He felt they needed to be punished because, let's see... how did he put it? Oh, 'just because I work in customer service, that does not entitle people to treat me rudely. They had to learn.'"

Oh, fuck. "And why the disemboweling?"

He grimaces. "Apparently he'd just seen Braveheart."

This gets worse and worse. "Uh-huh. And the flowers?"

"That's the worst part. He just happens to really like roses and purple is his favorite color. Uh, he left them to signify that he forgave them. For all the meaning he gave the color or the flower, it could have been a cactus."

"He sounds like an idiot."

"Yeah, pretty much." Mallory sounds almost chipper. "It's kind of embarrassing that it took us so long to catch the guy. He must be the luckiest bastard alive."

Not nearly as embarrassing as having said idiot stab you with your own knife. I resist the urge to groan and bury myself under the covers. Instead, I keep a neutral but interested expression on my face and muse over minor details of the case with Mallory for several minutes.

As he is preparing to leave, he asks, "Hey, do you need a ride home when you're discharged?"

It's on the tip of my tongue to refuse, but someone has to drive me home, and I cannot ask Walter. "Uh, yeah."

"You know when you're getting out of here?"

"Not yet. Probably tomorrow or Thursday."

He begins shifting uncomfortably again. "You got clothes or whatever?"

Poor Eugene Mallory. He looks like a fish out of water. Much like I imagine I would look in similar circumstances. "No, but I have clothes in the trunk of my car. Which presumably was taken to the Bureau?" I hadn't even thought of it until this moment.

Mallory nods.

"My car keys are in the bag on the floor of the closet."

He looks much happier. Probably because he doesn't have to go to my apartment to find me clean underwear. I suppress the urge to laugh. He hands me a card with some numbers on it. "Call me when they set you free. I'll bring your clothes and take you home."

We talk for a few more minutes, then he leaves. As soon as I start to relax again, I feel the sleepiness pulling at me. Dammit, I hate this constant exhaustion. My last thoughts, before sleep claim me, are about Ian Roberts and how this situation should have never happened.

Sometime after Mallory leaves, the nurse arrives for my hourly wakeup call. While she's asking me the round of stupid questions, a volunteer bustles in carrying a vase. She coos over the flowers. "Look what just arrived for you, Mr. Krycek."

I groan and resist the urge to bang my head against something. Definitely don't need to scramble my brains any more than they already are.

"You don't like them?" She sounds shocked.

I glance at the vase holding eight perfect purple roses. "You're kidding, right?"

She looks perplexed. "What?"

"You seriously don't know?" I sigh at her confusion and hold out my hand. "Just give me the card."

After making a disgusted sound, she sets down the vase, hands me the card and stomps out of the room.

--
Krycek,
Way to get out of the paperwork.
Mallory. Lawrence. Reese. Gjersee.
--

I roll my eyes and set the card on the bedside table. Feeling the nearly perpetual fatigue winning yet again, I let myself drift off to sleep.

When I wake, a new nurse is standing near the bed. Not doing anything... just watching. She's standing so close I only get a vague impression of someone tall with dark skin, and extremely... curvy. I shut my eyes and try to shake off sleep. I really hate waking up and finding people in the room. It's unnerving.

When I open my eyes again, she's stepped back, and I can focus a little better. Definitely curvy. My sleep and drug addled brain liken her to a fertility goddess... with short, curly dark hair.

She smiles at me, her teeth startlingly white. "Hi there, hon. Welcome back. How are you feeling this afternoon?"

That catches my attention. "Afternoon?"

"Yes. It's 4:30."

I gape at her. That would mean I slept for nearly five hours. It was just after 11:00 when the flowers arrived.

I didn't even realize I'd mumbled my thought out loud until she responds to it. "Correct. You've slept through three blood pressure checks--which is up, by the way."

That is good news. The first step to getting out of this damned place.

She repositions her glasses and looks at me intently. "How's your head feeling?"

Not what I expected. "Huh?"

She raises her eyebrows. "Your head? Is it feeling better?"

"Yeah, I guess."

She flashes me a speculative look, but changes the subject. "Do you need anything?"

I find myself mumbling, "Yeah, a shower."

After a pause, she grins at me and replies, "Well, a sponge bath would-"

I groan. I really don't want another sponge bath but I'll take what I can get.

"All right, sweetie. A shower it is. But you have to cooperate and help me not get your bandages wet." I think I detect a mischievous glint in her eye.

I want a shower badly enough to agree to anything. I wonder if she'll let me get the water hot enough?

She disconnects the heart monitoring equipment and IV tubing, then helps me out of bed. As she guides me to the bathroom, I notice more about her appearance. She's not as tall as I thought. More average height. She's wearing scrubs. Blue bottoms and a white top decorated with blue and red creatures... I think they're lizards.

When we get into the bathroom, she mumbles, "Good thing you managed to swing such a nice room. We wouldn't be able to do this in the showers in the regular rooms."

"What do you mean?" She opens the shower doors and, without a word, pulls my hospital issue pajama bottoms off. I would swear it felt like she rubbed her hand over my ass. I must be imagining it.

"Well, the showers are all large enough to hold a shower chair but, in the regular rooms, the space is too small to fit two people and keep the bandages dry."

That wasn't what I was talking about. "I meant, what do you mean about me 'swinging such a nice room?'" I would rather not have any company while I do this, and I'm really not accustomed to having someone bathe me. But, I know if I want to get clean, I have to deal with this. And I really do want to have a normal shower.

She maneuvers me onto the shower chair, and unwraps the bandages holding my left arm against my chest. "Oh. Well, this is a private room. Insurance doesn't cover private rooms, so you either paid a lot for an upgrade or they had a bed shortage. Now, don't you move that arm."

I am distracted by the information about the room. If this isn't a normal hospital room, how did I wind up here? Maybe the Bureau always puts wounded agents in a private room? I'll have to ask Walter about it.

She uses a few pieces of tape to keep my arm secured to my side... a reminder not to move it. Angling the showerhead away from me, she turns on the water and adjusts the temperature. As she begins soaping up my chest, I try to get the sponge away from her and wash myself, but she bats my hand away.

"Be still. You're not doing anything but sitting and you already look exhausted. We'll be done in a few minutes, but it will take longer if you don't cooperate." I force myself to still and let her finish. It's surprisingly easy to not notice what she's doing because she keeps up a constant stream of idle conversation and questions.

A few times, I am jolted back to the reality of being bathed. Was it really necessary to spend that much time washing my butt? I think my ass cheeks must positively glow after all that scrubbing. The random questions distract me again.

Oh... I can wash that myself. No... really, I can.

We have a little tussle over the sponge. She wins and I stare at the wall, praying she doesn't give my balls the same attention she gave my ass cheeks... they will fall off.

I answer a few more trivial questions, fighting off yawn after yawn.

Okay, now... there is no way that was necessary! I wiggle uncomfortably... this is going to be embarrassing if she doesn't stop. I mean, she's attractive and she's got alarmingly adept hands that are currently... fuck, how do I get into these situations?

The shower feels like it lasts an eternity, but when it's finally done, I'm infinitely relieved to be clean, albeit somewhat embarrassed.

She dries me off and helps me into clean pajamas. I have to lean on her more than I would like, but I'm so damned tired. As she helps me back into bed, it occurs to me that she feels different. I realize it's the breasts. It's nice. Kind of... soft.

The IV is reattached, but not the heart monitor. She tells me it's not necessary anymore. It seems odd that she would make that determination.

After I'm settled, I concede defeat and ask for pain medication.

She nods sagely and says soothingly, "I told you the shower would wear you out. I'll ring the nurse and give it to you after I've completed my exam."

I stare at her, uncomprehending. Then, it starts to make sense. "You're not a nurse?"

"No, I'm not. Dr. Robbins. Neurology resident."

"Why didn't you tell me you were not the nurse?" My voice comes out barely above a whisper.

She laughs. "And miss the opportunity to get you wet and naked? Not to mention getting to scrub those buns. Now, let's get back to the exam."

I feel myself flushing and cannot remember the last time I felt this kind of embarrassment. She chuckles and tells me I'm 'cute' when I'm 'rosy-cheeked.'

I'm doomed.

The exam takes about five minutes and she discusses it with me as she progresses. All those idle, random questions were not so idle and random after all. Designed to help jog my memory. She asks if I can remember the attack. I find that I can, and am pleased to realize I remember almost everything that happened Monday morning.

When the real nurse arrives with the syringe, Dr. Robbins takes the needle and instructs me to 'turn over and bare my hip.'

I really want to get out of this place.

**

I phone the nurse's station every hour, ready to relieve Mallory of his duties and assign him to keep Krycek in his bed. But the nurse, who is unfailingly polite each time I call, assures me he is sleeping peacefully, now that his hourly wakeups are no longer required. She also tells me he slept through three blood pressure checks. And said blood pressure is up today. Good news.

When I arrive at the hospital around dinnertime, Alex is awake. He's sitting in a chair by the bed, arm bound to his bare chest--finally free of electrodes--and staring out the window.

Alex turns to look at me, wincing slightly at the movement. He gives me a very faint smile and I notice the perpetual look of confusion in his eyes is now gone. It's obvious he's improved dramatically since this morning. That's such a relief.

Something in my peripheral vision catches my eye. Someone sent flowers. Fuck, purple roses! I gape at the flowers and then at him.

His eyes flick to the vase and he shrugs. Then seriously winces and the shoulder movement is aborted.

"Who sent them?"

Alex's only response is a one-shouldered shrug. His lack of affect is distressing.

I step to the other side of the bed and read the card, shaking my head. "This is really in poor taste. Do you want me to take them away?"

Alex looks back at the flowers and murmurs, "Eight roses. If he had been a little more competent, or I'd been just a little more inept, it could be nine." Though quiet, his tone is harshly self-deprecating. He sighs. "No, you don't have to take them away."

I squat next to his chair and place a hand on his forearm. His clear green eyes focus intently on me. "Don't fault yourself for any of this, Alex. It just happens. We're in law enforcement, but we're not perfect."

He glances out the window. "I talked to Mallory. Ian Roberts is barely competent. Incredibly lucky, but not exactly a criminal mastermind." Looking back at me, he continues, "He should never have been able to get the drop on me."

"All of my agents, from the worst to the best, have been in situations they lost control of. Sometimes with fatal results. You're going to be okay and we caught the perp." I don't know what else to say to him, except something personal. "Alex, I... I'm so glad you survived this assault. I... I was scared when I took the call."

There's a brief flash of something like astonishment in his eyes. Then his brow furrows and he stares at me for a long time. His expression clears and he pulls his arm out from under my hand. He begins to move slowly and carefully. I'm not aware of his intention until his hand is resting on my shoulder and he's leaned forward enough to press his lips to mine.

There is so much emotion in his kiss. It almost overwhelms me. I wrap a hand carefully around his waist and hold him as his tongue delves into my mouth. Something feels so different... then I realize this is the first time we've really kissed in a way that has nothing to do with sex. Just because the contact feels good. It feels so damned good... after I almost lost him. I shudder slightly as my feelings of the past day and a half threaten to erupt.

The kiss is slow and searching. As if he can know me by exploring my mouth. His body trembles against me, arm anchored around my shoulders. His tongue retreats as his lips part in invitation.

I enter his mouth, tasting him again. It seems as though it's been a long time since we've kissed. And for a moment it feels like I can reassure him with my tongue... Perhaps not, but it's grounding me. Alex is alive and in my arms, where he belongs.

This situation is so terribly out of control. I am so terribly out of control. I want to give him so much, but I feel like I have nothing to give. Suddenly needing air, I break the kiss and press the side of my face to his. My cock is hard, but that's not the point. I almost wish it were.

I stroke his hair. It's so soft.

His breathing is rapid near my ear and he tips his head, resting his lips against the side of my neck. After a moment, the stroking of his scalp has the usual effect, and he sighs with pleasure. Tension flows from his body. I hadn't noticed how hard he gripped my shoulder until his hand relaxes.

I find myself smiling at the simple pleasure of making him stupid by petting his head. We stay like that for a long time, until my legs start to tingle. "Shall we get you back in bed, Alex?"

He groans and mumbles, "I really wish that had a different meaning." But he pulls away, moving cautiously. His hand briefly touches the side of my face before he sits back. After looking at me for a moment, he slowly scoots to the edge of the seat and braces his hand on the arm of the chair to push himself up.

I escort him to the bed, but he goes out of his way to not need any of my assistance. That makes me smile, too, but I'm still worried about what he said before. He's beating himself up for Roberts' attack. I know I'd be doing the same thing if it happened to me, but I'm no model of mental health. I should call the division shrink, but I won't. She'll inflict herself on Alex soon enough without my intervention.

Alex settles painfully into the bed, and I pull the covers over him. Turning the chair toward the bed, I take a seat. He chews his lip for a second, then a look of resignation settles over his features. He presses the nurse call button. A couple seconds later, a voice chimes over the speaker asking if he's 'finally' ready for pain medication. He mumbles an affirmative.

He runs his hand over his face and says, "I am finally able to string three coherent thoughts together and they ruin it by sending peppy people with needles." Sighing, he turns his head to look at me directly. "You seemed to be here a lot yesterday." His voice has become softer. "Did it cause any, umm... problems?"

"No. And if it did, it's not important." The truth is that Kimberly knows something unusual is going on, but I can't bring myself to care. "Did you see the neurologist today?"

He flushes slightly and murmurs, "Yeah. I saw her."

I have to wonder what that is about. He's avoiding my obvious question... but I don't want to pry. "I'd like to know what she said, if you don't mind sharing it." Not that I won't get a written report in a few days. Privacy is nonexistent with Bureau related injuries.

"She said there were a couple abnormalities but she felt they were concussion related and nothing to worry about. They will recheck before I'm discharged." He looks faintly uncomfortable as he continues, "She, uh, worked with me on some mental exercises to see if it helped my memory. It did." He shifts a little agitatedly. "Most of the missing pieces have filled in."

I get the impression he's not uncomfortable about telling me, but rather uncomfortable about something that happened. "Is there something else?"

"Uh, no. She said everything will be fine."

"Okay, that's good to hear."

He taps his finger against his leg for a second then says, "Uh, Walter, someone mentioned that it's unusual to be in a private room. How did I wind up here?"

I catch myself blinking at him mindlessly for a moment, then shrug. "A gift from an anonymous citizen."

He looks confused. "Huh?"

I frown, not wanting to elaborate on my deception. "Someone must have heard about it on the news, called the hospital and volunteered to do it. It happens all the time with high profile cases."

He thinks about it for a moment, then looks horrified. "They won't try to visit, will they?"

Suppressing a smile, I reply, "Your name was never released to the media, so I think you're safe."

Alex nods, in obvious relief.

"You owe me big time for preventing another Mathis visit, though."

He groans and rolls his eyes. "You're right. I do owe you. How about a devoted sex slave?" His lips twitch but his voice drops half an octave. The nurse chooses that moment to enter, bearing a blood pressure cuff and hypodermic. A few minutes later, she pronounces his blood pressure is a little higher, gives him the shot in the left hip and departs.

After rising to close the door, I take my seat again, placing a hand on his blanket covered thigh. "What were you saying? Something about devoted sex slave? I might hold you to that when you're feeling better."

He smiles. "God, I hope so." He's already acquiring that slightly fuzzy look from the pain meds.

"Those shots are more effective than the head rubs."

Alex blinks as if trying to process what I've said, then his lips curl up slightly. "Hardly. And I enjoy the he..." his voice fades out briefly, "... lot more." I see him struggle to not go to sleep but he inevitably loses. When I think he's fallen asleep, he shakes himself awake, then starts fighting the battle again. "Walter..." he's barely whispering, "... thank you... glad you..." And he's asleep.

I kiss him on the forehead before I depart.

**

D.C. General
Washington, D.C.
Thursday, 30 June 1994
8:19 A.M.

The attending physician turns up right around breakfast. After an exam and brief conversation, he tells me they're going to do some blood work and, if everything still looks okay, I can go home this afternoon.

I sit still for a moment, staring at the wall, just grateful to finally be getting out of here. Then I consider what to do next. I feel so much better, it's impossible to believe the blood tests won't be normal. So I call Mallory and tell him they're setting me free this afternoon.

I feel the need to talk to Walter, but it's awkward. I felt... dependent on him several times this week and I'm not comfortable with it. After contemplating it for a long time, I phone Walter's cell phone. I get his voicemail and I'm a little relieved. "Walter, uh, just wanted to tell you I am being released today. Mallory is taking me to my apartment. I'll... talk to you soon." I hang up feeling idiotic. I should be able to leave an intelligent voicemail for the man.

He has visited frequently... much more so than I expected, or is even safe for him. I find myself enjoying every minute of his company--despite the constant struggle to easily converse--but after he leaves, the sense of something being different between us bothers me for hours. Like his willingness to be here changes the dynamic of our relationship.

In truth, he's been the only thing that has kept me in the hospital. Every time I woke up and found someone in the room, I wanted to leave. And every time I thought about how I wound up here, I wanted to leave. But I was absolutely certain Walter would follow through on his threat. He would find me, and put me here under guard. Or worse, in handcuffs under guard.

It's one thing to choose to be here, and quite another to be forced to be here. I hate being forced to do something, and I don't want to resent Walter for making me stay. But, if I'm honest with myself, I admit I don't like the worry in his eyes. So I've stayed, despite every instinct urging me to get as far away from here as possible.

Something is definitely different. But I know I'm not really looking at the obvious. Because I don't want to. Not yet.

3:45 P.M.

As soon as I open the door to my apartment, I know someone's been here. I cannot easily pick out what exactly is out of place, I just know there is something different.

I give nothing away as Mallory brings my stuff inside. He begins fidgeting while asking if I need anything. Reassuring him that I'll be okay on my own, I finally manage to urge him out the door. I immediately set about sweeping the apartment.

Yesterday, they switched me to a sling for my left arm. Even though I have more mobility, the bug search taxes my pain threshold and my shoulder is throbbing after a half hour. But I find two bugs. Shit.

Obviously Spender, but why? I can only assume he wants to ensure that my brain is fully operational. And this means I'm going to need to do more than a manual search.

I grab my keys and head for the car--conveniently driven to my house yesterday by Mallory and Lawrence. At the payphone in front of the 7-11, I phone a number I never thought I would need.

It takes several minutes to get past various middlemen, but eventually the voice I want to hear is on the line. "Morgan."

"Morgan, it's Alex Krycek."

"Alex! I was hoping to hear from you again." Did I imagine it, or did his voice become a bit warmer? I tamp down the urge to sigh.

"I need a favor. Can you meet me?"

"Always repay my debts, Alex. Where and when?"

Without telling him why, I arrange for him to meet me closer to Falls Church, rather than in D.C., so I do not have to drive as far.

At the agreed-on time, I meet Morgan in a nearly deserted diner. I take the sling off and leave it in the car. Never display a weakness.

"You look like shit, kid."

I ignore the comment and quickly outline what I need.

He looks thoughtful. "I take it this is not something you want our smoking friend to know about? Because, otherwise, you would have gotten the stuff from him. Right?"

I nod and wait.

"Not a problem. We can pick it up now... we'll go in my car and I'll bring you back here later." I'd rather not go anywhere with Morgan, but I'm the one asking the favor, so I agree.

An hour later, I'm back at my apartment with the equipment I need to electronically check for surveillance devices. I had to fend off two offers of employment and one heavy pass, but it was worth it. I did agree to consider the occasional job for him or one of his 'associates.' It doesn't hurt to have contacts.

Morgan's gear turns up one more bug. Within five minutes of deactivating the third device, the phone rings. When I pick it up and hear Spender's voice, I become aware of how tired and sore I am.

His tone is more raspy than usual today. "Glad to see your brain is still functional."

Fucking dickhead. "Was there anything else?"

He chuckles. "No, Alex. Just making sure you're still on your game. You are, as always, a constant source of entertainment."

I flip my middle finger at the telephone receiver, but choose to remain silent. He lets me listen to him inhaling and exhaling for a while.

I decide to ask a question about something that's been bugging me for a couple of days. "While I was in the hospital, they tried to call my emergency contact."

He's silent for a moment. "Yes?"

"They said David's number was disconnected."

"Correct." His tone is bland.

I can see he's not going to be forthcoming. "Is there a new number or has his line been permanently disconnected?"

"You will be unable to reach Mr. Michaelson in the future."

I wonder why the Consortium felt the need to take David out. He seemed perfectly happy to do anything they asked. "You couldn't have told me that?"

"I tell you what you need to know." The line clicks off.

After taking a painkiller--something I thought I would be able to avoid--I collapse on my bed and immediately go to sleep.

The distant sound of the phone ringing breaks through to my sleep-shrouded brain. I'm halfway down the hall before I am even fully awake. I forgot the admonition to keep the sling on, and my shoulder is killing me now.

After picking up the phone, I manage to bang my left arm against the counter. "Fuck!" I lift the receiver to my ear. "Yeah."

"Hi, it's Walt."

"Hi. What time-" I have no concept of time and glance around the kitchen seeking the clock. 7:12.

"I'm sorry I woke you. Why don't you go back to sleep. Phone my cell later?"

"No. It's okay. I'm awake now." Nice, Alex. Very articulate.

"You don't sound awake," he replies, voice edged with disbelief.

"Well, then, I must be dreaming." I realize I sound snappish.

There's a heavy pause. "Do you need anything? Food? Supplies?"

I sigh and wearily reply, "Don't coddle, Walter. Just talk to me."

He chuckles lightly into the phone. "It sounds like you're tired of being injured."

Unable to resist a slight laugh, I respond, "Yeah, since Monday morning."

"But you were too tired to be really testy until today."

"I don't know about that, Walter. You should ask the nurses. They might not agree with you."

"Actually, they were all rather fond of you. Or so I hear."

Thinking of the neurologist, I groan and mumble, "A little too fond in some cases."

"Meaning?"

Hmm... better keep this light. "In some cases, I think they were not so much 'fond' of my disposition as my butt." I'm not sure I want to know how Walter would react to 'one of the doctors fondled me in the shower.'

"Oh. Well, I suppose I can appreciate that not every patient is young and handsome..." he trails off as if totally lost.

"Apparently, or else there would not have been a raffle over who got to give me shots." I pause for a second, then continue, "I'm just kidding, Walter. It's not my strong suit. So, where are you?"

"In the hall outside the Bureau library."

"Ah. So how much longer before you get in your requisite sixteen hours?"

"As always, there's an infinite supply of work. I haven't decided how much of it I'm going to attend to this evening."

"Meaning, you've worked thirteen hours and are deciding if you want to eat dinner or work another three. You work too much, Walter. Go for the food."

"You sound like Kimberly." He chuckles at me. "I called an hour ago. You must have slept through the phone."

I start to respond in the affirmative, then stop. Uncomfortably surprised at how I hesitate to lie to him, I find myself replying, "I was probably at 7-11."

He doesn't answer for a long time, then says, "You do know you can call me if you need anything, don't you?"

Do I? "I, uh... yeah. I just, umm... yeah. Sure. Uh, thanks." Babbling. Nice touch.

"I could try to make some time this weekend," his voice is uncharacteristically tentative, "if you'd like a visitor..."

I instantly reply, "Of course." Okay, I think a little less enthusiasm is in order. Thankfully, I didn't say 'please.' I really want to get back the Alex who controls his responses. Must be the pain medication.

"Maybe Saturday afternoon? I'll call before I come, in case there's something you want me to bring."

His consideration for my schedule is nice, but wholly unnecessary. I laugh lightly. "Anytime, Walter. I have no prior engagements." Well, provided I don't have to do another bug sweep of the house.

"Saturday, then. I'll call after lunch."

"Okay, Walter. I'll see you Saturday."

After an awkward goodbye, I hang up and stumble back to bed.

**

Falls Church, VA
Saturday, 2 July 1994
2:58 P.M.

I arrive at Alex's door just before 3:00, bearing the requested tea and a small paper bag.

When he admits me to the apartment, I see he's still pale, but looking heartier. However, he doesn't have the sling on, and I know he's supposed to wear it for several weeks.

For the first time, his apartment is less than compulsively neat. There are books and magazines spread over the coffee table, a few on the floor. An issue of Discover is open on the couch.

Alex runs his hand through his hair and sighs. "It's kind of messy. I hate recuperating... it's terminally boring. I learned to speak a new lang- uh, nevermind." He takes the tea and starts toward the kitchen. "Thanks, Walter."

I notice he's moving a little awkwardly in concession to the abdominal wound.

Stepping around him to block his path, I slip an arm around his waist. There's a bottle rattling sound as he drops the tea over the arm of the couch. It's the first time in almost a week that I've been able to touch him without worrying about someone walking in. My lips start at his temple and kiss a trail to his mouth.

He gasps and shifts his head to bring our mouths into immediate contact. Then his arm wraps around my shoulders and his lips part, tongue slipping out to caress my lower lip.

Before I can stop myself, my tongue assaults his mouth. I have to keep my cool here, but it's so damned easy for every touch to turn into total lust. Breaking the kiss way too soon, I pull back enough to focus on his face. His lower lip looks swollen and moist, his eyelids limp and lashes quivering. My cock is noticeably erect. Damn!

"Alex, we have to cool it tonight. You need to heal."

His expression is blank while he processes what I've said. Then his eyes are spitting green fire at me. "Dammit, Walter. I am not going to break."

"Fuck, Alex! I've had abdominal wounds. You can't con me about this. I know."

He makes a sound somewhere between a groan and a growl and steps away. Grabbing the tea off the couch, he stalks into the kitchen. Even from the living room, I can hear him taking deep breaths.

A few moments later, he returns and leans against the wall. "Can I get you something to drink?"

"No, thanks, but if you put your sling back on, I'll let you pick the movie." I pass him the paper bag, expecting further crankiness. Fuck, he's a worse patient than I am.

He looks murderous as he takes the bag and sets it on the coffee table. Despite his bad mood, he grabs the sling off the floor and puts it on while mumbling, "You might be surprised to learn that I've been taking care of myself for years."

Fuck, all I've done for the last week is tell him what to do and piss him off. With a resigned sigh, I sit on the sofa. "I'm sorry, Alex. I don't mean to be so fucking... paternal. I just want you to get better." I rub my forehead with my fingertips. "I'll try to butt out."

Alex looks at me for several moments, then rummages through the bag. He selects a tape and pops it into the VCR. Sitting close on the sofa, his good arm pressed against me, he takes a deep breath and says, "Ignore me, Walter. I'm not accustomed to having people around. I... thanks for everything this week."

His body turns toward me and he swings one leg over my lap. Leaning in close, he stops when our faces are only a couple inches apart. "But if you say 'no kissing,' I'm going to have to cause you serious bodily harm." Then his lips lightly touch mine.

It looks like I'll be leaving here with blueballs.

I explore his mouth thoroughly, finding it unexpectedly reassuring that he still tastes the same. My hand caresses the side of his face, smooth with just a hint of stubble. I groan into his mouth. Will I suffer more not touching him at all? Or touching him and going home unsatisfied? Maybe it doesn't matter, because I don't think I can not touch him.

He breaks away gasping and looking dazed. I hear him mumble, "Fuck," under his breath before he swings his leg back to the floor and drops the remote in my lap. I start the tape. Looks like he chose 'The Hunt for Red October.'

Alex rests against me, with his hand idly stroking my thigh. I put my arm around him, careful not to jostle the injured shoulder. About forty minutes into the movie, I realize he's asleep.

I leave the tape running and try not to move. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed the simple act of sitting close to someone... just because it feels so good.

It's tempting to pick him up and carry him to bed. He can't weigh that much. But I'd probably bump his shoulder, he'd wake up and give me shit about coddling him. Sigh. I am obnoxiously protective of him. I can't blame him for getting angry.

I make a mental note to never tell him how cute he looks when he's pissed off. It's that crease he gets between his eyebrows and the way his lips tighten. His eyes darken and seem to almost shine. He looks so completely annoyed.

Fuck, wasn't I in this for the sex? So why am I so happy sitting here with him sleeping on my arm as I ponder his cuteness? I'm not acting like a teenaged boy, I'm acting like a teenaged girl. Christ, where have my brains gone?

After another hour or so, the sound of guns firing in the movie causes Alex to suddenly jerk to a fully upright position. He's almost on his feet before he sees me and sits back on the sofa, looking a little flustered. Almost simultaneously, he winces and his hand makes an aborted movement toward his abdomen.

Looking back at the TV, he sighs. "Sorry... didn't intend to fall asleep."

"I didn't mind." I kiss his temple. And tell myself not to offer to put him to bed or ask him what he needs. "You awake now?"

"Yeah, I'm awake." Uh-oh. His voice has dropped to its sultry tones. He scoots next to me and swings both legs over mine. His arm slides behind my back while his lips and tongue play at the side of my neck.

"Fuck, Alex. You're a menace," I complain as I stroke his silky hair.

"Mm hmm." Agreement doesn't seem to deter him in the slightest. He yanks up my shirt and his fingers glide along my lower back, caressing and kneading the muscles. My earlobe is between his lips.

Shaking my head in dismay, I admit I'm a goner. Wrapping my fingers around his forearm, I tug his arm out from under my shirt and place his hand over my erection. "This is what you're doing to me, Alex."

He moans against my shoulder and squeezes my cock through my jeans. Turning his head, he looks at my crotch as he fumbles with my fly.

"You have to stop, Alex. I don't think there's anything we can do."

Alex continues pulling at the buttons until my jeans are open. He murmurs a breathy, "Bullshit." Then his hand is sliding into my briefs and closing around my cock.

A flicker of sanity comes... My fingers close around his wrist, holding it still. I meet his gaze.

He pulls against my grasp, trying to free his hand. After a few seconds, he gives up and squeezes my erection again. "Walter... don't torture me." Leaning forward, he trails kisses along my jaw.

My laugh is half groan. "Just who is torturing who here?" I pry his hand off my dick and put it on my chest, where I can keep an eye on it.

Alex's hand immediately returns to my crotch. So I capture the errant hand and hold it against my chest.

"I am not trying to torture you, Walter. If you'd let go of my hand..." He shifts his hand up, so I release it. He wraps it around the back of my neck and his mouth is suddenly sucking at my nipple through my shirt.

I remember being concerned he'd think I was using him for sex. Maybe I'm the fucktoy.

Suddenly the room is quieter. The movie has ended.

I extract myself carefully from his clutches and take a seat on the other side of the sofa. "Let's talk, Alex."

He's still for a minute, then shifts so his back is in the corner. He looks at me expectantly. I notice his cheeks are flushed and he's breathing a little rapidly.

For a moment, I can't breathe... "Don't look at me like that," I say in a petulant tone.

"Like what?"

I think I have a headache. "You have no idea, do you?"

Alex shakes his head. He really doesn't know.

"It's just... sex. It's all over your face. Lust and need and smoldering sexuality. It's incendiary. You turn that up just a notch and I'll orgasm from looking at you. And that's about all we can do tonight. Right?"

Alex looks flustered and his cheeks become a little redder. Clearing his throat, he says, "Wrong." He starts inching across the couch toward me. "My mouth is fully functional and I have one working hand. I think we can manage."

I'm not worried about getting me off... but any orgasm he has could tear open that abdominal wound. I almost say it, but I stop myself. Reality check. "If we don't, you're just going to jerk off after I leave, aren't you?"

Alex stops moving and looks at me with a bemused expression on his face. "Well... yeah."

Fucking stubborn... "If you promise to lie as still as possible, I'll suck you or jack you off." I can't believe we're having this conversation.

He resumes his journey across the couch and absently says, "Whatever." When our knees bump, he rests his hand on my abdomen. "Can I take off your clothes now?"

Maybe I'm too old for this. Maybe I'm not. "Bedroom." I rise, stripping off my own shirt. Leaving a trail of shoes and clothing on his floor, I make my way there, confident he's right behind me.

I stand near the foot of the bed and wait for him. Considering his obvious enthusiasm, he's moving rather slowly. He watches me for a few minutes then gives me a seductive smile.

Alex stands next to the bed and takes off the shoulder sling. He grins at me. "Before you even say it, I'll put it back on as soon as I get my shirt off."

I give him a mild glare.

Using an awkward movement, he gets the T-shirt off one arm and over his head, then works it down the injured arm. It's a struggle not to help, but it would only irk him.

Once the sling is back on, he opens his jeans and starts sliding them over his hips. The abdominal wound is revealed, and I notice his face is carefully blank as he watches me. It takes a little bit of struggle, but eventually his jeans are in a puddle by his feet and he kicks them away. As I have come to expect, he didn't bother with underwear.

I see the stitches through the clear dressing. Instantly, I'm filled with regret over agreeing to have sex, but I remind myself that there's no stopping Alex. I can only hope we'll be more careful together than he would be alone.

Watching me, he sits on the edge of the bed. His eyes are bright and he radiates sex.

Alex lost a little weight in the hospital, but my cock has no complaints. He's long and lean, light on body hair and masculine in a pretty way. Can he see how much I want him?

He sighs and shifts his position so his legs are slightly apart and he's leaning on his good hand. Looking at me from under his lashes, he says, "Walter, I need to touch you... taste you." His voice is husky and seductive. "I feel like I'm chasing you around the apartment. Would you come here and let me have you for a little while?"

I can't help but smile. As much as he turns me on, he really shouldn't have to work so hard to get me in bed. It's not like I'm uninterested. I sit next to him, on his good side, and pull him close. I slide a hand up his chest, running my palm over the smooth surface of his skin.

His arm winds around my waist and he arches into the touch. The movement is abruptly halted and he hisses. The reality of an abdominal wound. I wonder if he's going to wise up and reconsider, but he kisses the side of my neck. Stubborn.

"Alex, why don't you lie on your back or your side and I'll fit my body to however you're comfortable?"

He looks at me thoughtfully for a second, then replies, "Okay. Will you stand up?"

I give him an uncertain nod and rise to my feet.

Alex moves so he's perched at the edge of the bed, legs apart. "I'm comfortable now. Will you stand here?" He gestures between his legs, then reads the expression on my face. "What now?"

"You need back support."

"Oh, fucking hell." He slowly gets to his feet and moves to the foot of the bed, mumbling, "Jesus H. Christ... I've never seen anything so damned complicated in my entire fucking life." He looks around trying to decide how to go about this.

I intercede. "How about on your side, with a couple of pillows?"

He sighs and looks pained. "I want to... touch you. That position takes both hands out of commission."

It's amazing that both of us are still hard. "Okay, there has to be a way..." I run through a myriad of positions in my head...

"There is, if you stop being so stubborn. Wait a minute... what about the dining room chairs?"

I bite back a sharp retort. I'll readily admit I'm stubborn, but Alex can beat me hands down in his sleep.

Chairs... I'm not sure it will work. "I'll get one." My cock is flagging a bit as I retrieve it, but maybe this set-up will suffice. I can't help thinking Alex might be a whole lot happier if I had gone to work this afternoon. I shake my head, entering the bedroom with the chair. It's tempting to tie him to it. Instead, I brace it against the wall, in case stability is necessary. When did sex become an engineering problem?

Alex lowers himself into the chair, still mumbling unintelligibly under his breath. He becomes quiet and looks at me pensively for a few moments. Then he smiles. "I had no idea this would be so difficult." His voice is laced with amusement. "I have back support. Now, would you please come over here?"

Okay. Fine. Who's giving the orders today?

He opens his legs as I come closer. I situate myself between them. My cock is at about his breastbone. I stand a little straighter to get it at the right height. Have we completely destroyed the mood here? I'm thinking more about the mechanics than anything else. I try to smile, but it probably comes off a bit stiff.

Alex rests his head against my hip and his hand finds my knee, touching lightly. From this position I see the stitches in the back of his head. This is a really bad idea. My mind churns for a way to talk him out of it, then his hand starts moving up the outside of my leg. He takes a deep breath, then releases it slowly. It's warm against my skin.

And then my normally quiet lover starts to talk. "It isn't as complicated as you think, Walter. I just wanted to touch you... feel your skin." His voice is a throaty murmur that vibrates against my flesh. The questing hand reaches my hip, circles around to my butt and strokes lazily. "The last week has been strange. Having you around and not being able to touch you... not really touch you." Warm lips press against my skin and his tongue flicks out to caress me. "I just want to feel your skin against mine... remember what you taste like." His mouth marks a path across my abdomen.

I am suddenly, terrifyingly, aware that his seduction is about his emotional needs. I am not the only one having feelings.

A premonition of disaster fills my head.

My eyes slam closed... as I struggle to sort myself out. He needs me. I want him. It feels so damned good, but I can't do this. This is way beyond my abilities. I'll only let him down. Like I did Sharon.

Fighting the desperate urge to bolt from the room, I focus on keeping my breathing steady. My softening cock tells him what I cannot.

Alex's hand and mouth become still. After a few seconds, his touch is removed. I open my eyes and glance down. He's looking at me, eyes wide open, features expressionless. His hand gently pushes at my hip and I step back.

Slowly rising to his feet, he says, "Usually when I torture people, it's intentional." His tone is light and he gives me a half smile. "How about another movie? Or I can kick your ass at Go?"

"I'm sorry, Alex." Fuck. We've reached the point where everything I do or say seems to make things worse. "I'm afraid... of hurting you." That wasn't quite what I intended to say. Wrapping an arm around his waist, I kiss his forehead. How can I want him so badly and, at the same time, feel such a need to be anywhere but here?

He leans against me briefly, then pulls away. "It's okay, Walter." He smiles and steps around me. "But when these stitches come out..." He leers at me, but it seems forced. Looking at the floor, he makes several abortive movements, then finally asks, "Would you hand me my jeans?" There's a hint of self-annoyance in his tone, but otherwise he's trying for light and courteous. It's all wrong... nothing like Alex.

I meet his brilliant green eyes and imagine I can see disappointment in them. Already, I'm letting him down. "Do you want me to go?" But now I don't want to go. What the hell is wrong with me, anyway?

"No, god dammit!" His sudden vehemence is startling. His voice is a couple decibels shy of a yell. "I'm not bashful, Walter. If I wanted you gone, you would not be standing there. I want you here. I want you." Definitely yelling now. "I just..." He trails off and his tone becomes much softer. "I just wanted to give you a fucking blowjob. Not try to solve an engineering dilemma." He gestures toward the chair. "I wasn't thinking. Hell, I'm still not thinking." His hand passes over his face in an aggravated gesture. "Fuck."

Taking a deep breath, he steps to the dresser and pulls out a different pair of jeans.

Shit. I rub my temples with my fingertips. Turning toward the hall, I retrieve my clothing, one item at a time, making my way back to the living room. Once dressed again, I step into the kitchen and remove a Coke from the fridge.

**

What a fucking disaster. Perching on my bed, I struggle to get my jeans on. I had been feeling fine, but the clothes-off-clothes-on thing makes my abdomen throb.

I was an idiot to not accept Walter's determination to not have sex. But occasionally I feel totally lost in whatever's going on between us and I need to get it back to something familiar. Sex I know. Sex I can deal with.

But that didn't work out too well, now did it? Maybe he doesn't find me as appealing with the injuries?

Not quite certain what to do when confronted with Walter not wanting to have sex, it seemed like the only thing to do was move on to something else.

An argument wouldn't have been my first choice. But I was serious... I do want him here. I just don't know what to do with him now. And I lost my temper. Fuck. I guess I should... uh, apologize? Christ. I'm out of my depth again.

I head out of the bedroom feeling annoyed with myself. Dammit, I should be able to just sit in a room with him, watch a movie and have a conversation.

Again, I ask myself, what the fuck is this?

I find him in the kitchen, sipping a can of Coke. I step around him and grab a bottle of cranberry juice--I became hooked on the stuff in the hospital. "Sorry about that, Walter." I give a self-deprecating laugh to try to lighten the mood. "I'm old enough to not take my sexual frustration out on other people."

Setting down the bottle, I touch his waist and lightly kiss his jaw. His lips trace a line across my brow. Then he pulls away a little and gazes at me. His expression is filled with turbulent emotions I can't identify. His words, when they come, are spoken in a raspy tone. "Don't ever question my desire for you, Alex."

My mouth flops open and I quickly snap it shut. I have no idea how to respond. In truth, I'm not familiar with practically having to beg for sex. I don't like what it reveals about me and how desperate I am for Walter... and what I would do to have him. Then to be told no... well, what's not to question?

But I don't want to do this. Making certain none of my confusion shows on my face, I paste on a pleasant smile, retrieve my juice and move out of the kitchen.

Walter follows me into the living room, eyeing me uneasily as I lower myself carefully onto the sofa. He joins me there, sitting a little further away than before. After a lengthy silence, his hand reaches out and takes mine. He lifts it to his mouth and kisses each finger, then the palm of my hand.

My fingers twitch at the warm contact of his lips. Like a bee to honey, I find myself moving closer. Then I catch myself and stop. This is confusing. "I'm confused." I did not mean to say that. "What is it that you want, Walter?"

His eyes flick away, as if something on the carpet has caught his attention. "This isn't where I expected to end up... when I first let you touch me in my garage." He shakes his head. "I don't know what the fuck I'm doing, Alex, but I..." he grimaces slightly before continuing, "I enjoy your companionship."

I hastily retreat across the sofa, feeling a sharp pain in my stomach. My hand clutches at the sore throbbing spot, as if that could make it better. "Why? I mean, I thought you were here because it was what you wanted. I... how..." Something is not clicking. I should stop talking and just let it be, but the words keep tumbling out. "Walter, I... I don't understand. You said you, uh... desire me. And you enjoy being here. Even though you feel I've coerced you into having sex? It doesn't make sense. Why... oh, fucking hell."

Walter's mouth drops open and he gives me a baffled look.

I rest my head in my hand, feeling a dull throb start at the back of my skull. I feel slightly panicked. Christ. I hadn't realized how dependent on this, uh, relationship I had become. This is so wrong. Time to let us both off the hook. Mumbling into my hand, "Walter, you should not be doing something you don't want to do... I don't even understand why you would to begin with." I hope he leaves soon, so he doesn't see how much this bothers me.

"Don't want...? Coerced me...? Christ, Alex. I get within a hundred feet of you and I have to stop myself from bending you over the nearest ... fuck... whatever I can find." His voice gets louder. "Dammit, and I just said that I value your companionship... I like being near you, even when we're not fucking." Pinching the bridge of his nose, he takes a couple of deep breaths. "I'm sorry, I'm not very good at this."

Yeah, I've been misunderstanding everything tonight. It suddenly dawns on me that Walter has been trying to take care of me tonight because he cares. As in, feels something for me. The thought creates a warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. How astonishing.

Shit. This is bad.

I stare at him for what feels like an eternity. Still looking away, he rubs his forehead. Oh yeah... I need to say something. I move back across the sofa, ignoring my throbbing stomach, until my leg touches his thigh. He looks at me intently. Taking a deep breath, I reply, "I'm sorry, Walt." There are about sixty things I could say, but I cannot risk revealing anything more tonight. Unbidden, my hand rises to touch the side of his face. I lean forward to press my lips lightly to his, half expecting him to stop me.

His tongue enters my mouth and his lips grind against mine. There is so much passion in that kiss... something he's been holding back is released in the simple physical act. I cannot suppress a moan.

I can't help it... I need to feel him, solid and reassuring, against my body. My hand is at the back of his head, holding his mouth to mine, while I swing my leg over his thighs, then quickly shift to straddle his lap. I am not quite successful at suppressing the grunt of pain caused by the movement.

To my relief, he doesn't stop kissing me. He nibbles on my lower lip. One of his hands finds my lower back, massaging a path up my spine.

I relax against him, trapping my injured arm between our bodies, and let my hand slide around his waist. Breaking his teasing nibble on my lip, I suck his tongue into my mouth, then yield any control, encouraging him to take whatever he wants.

Walter's tongue brushes along the inside of my lips, then seeks out the underside of my tongue. His hand is on my good shoulder, holding me close on the uninjured side of my body. I am starting to recognize all the protective things he does. It's somewhat distressing that he feels this way toward me. Even more distressing that some previously unnoticed part of me likes it. This cannot happen. What Walter doesn't know could kill us both.

When he breaks the kiss, his breathing is rapid. His strong arms tighten around me. I rest in his embrace, finally understanding that Walter and I have been struggling with the same problem; concern over where this is going. And how fast it's going there.

The only natural thing to do is avoid it. And especially avoid talking about it.

I find myself still needing to understand this evening a little better. I whisper against the side of his neck, "Why didn't you want me to suck you off, Walt?"

He sighs softly. "I did. I still do. I... I just..."

I trace the contours of his neck with my tongue while stroking his back. "Mm hmm. Let me now, Walter. I still want to... want to make you feel good."

"Yes," he replies in a breathy voice. He pulls his head away and looks at my face. His thumb softly strokes my lower lip.

Lightly capturing his thumb between my teeth, I suck it past my lips, working it in my mouth as if it were his cock. His denim-covered erection presses against mine. I release his thumb and lean forward again, playing my teeth and lips gently along the side of his neck. My fingers work the buttons on his shirt, and I slide my hand inside.

I caress his chest, running my fingers through the hair until I reach his nipple. I cannot possibly bend down to use my mouth, so I tease it with my fingertips. God, his body feels good... this is what I wanted... just to touch him. And taste him.

Knowing I will not be able to handle another twisting motion, I carefully climb off and sit with my back against the sofa. All the gyrations we went through, and we wind up back where we started. When he stands, his crotch is right at the level of my mouth. If it wouldn't break the mood, I would point out the irony.

Except this time the mood isn't broken. His eyes seem to darken as he looks at me. Opening his fly, he takes his cock out. "Don't move yet... just let me."

I nod my assent.

Fingers wrapped around his cock, he guides it to my mouth. I open it automatically, but he only brushes the silky head of his hard-on across my lower lip, then traces it along the upper lip. It feels so smooth.

I cannot resist licking my lips, gathering the taste of him. Teasing could drive me crazy, but I'll live with it to feel his cock against my lips and in my mouth.

There's the sound of a faint whimper. Oh, that came from me, because I'm not getting what I need. I need it, Walter... don't tease. "Please, Walter... let me..."

"Do it," he says in a voice so low as to be almost inaudible. "Suck me."

Yes. I want him down my throat as soon as possible, but I decide to take him literally. Swallowing only a few inches, I suck... hard. After I break the suction, I lave him with my tongue, circling the head and teasing the slit. Then I take him a little further in and suck again. No rhythm, no stroking... just my mouth sucking his cock.

Does that feel good, Walter?

His face gives me the answer. Eyelids half closed, mouth slack with pleasure. Lost to anything but the feel of my lips and tongue on his cock.

Having the use of only one hand, I have to hold him for balance, but over and over again, it's the same pattern. Sucking him, teasing the head, pushing into the slit, enjoying the salty sweet taste of his skin, savoring his spicy smell. I feel lightheaded with the pleasure of having him in me and listening to the soft moans that rise from deep in his chest. When I cannot stand the teasing anymore, I deep throat him, holding his cock fully in my mouth until I need air. I back off, lick the tip and take him down again.

"Ah, fuck," he mutters, shifting his weight forward, so he can brace his hands on the back of the sofa. The change in position makes it easier for me to work his cock. I deep throat him several times in succession, until I feel his body begin to shake.

I revert to sucking him, then teasing the sensitive head. His chest is expanding and contracting with each rapid gasping breath.

Before long, I begin the serious rhythm of getting him off. I don't want to draw this out too long because I want to taste his cum. Want to feel his cock pulsing on my tongue as his semen shoots into my mouth.

Taking him down my throat again, I put pressure on the underside with my tongue, pushing hard. I pull back and do it again... and again. Delighting in his cock head sliding into the constricting passage of my throat.

I feel his fingers in my hair, on top of my head. He grips tightly and very gently fucks my face.

I wish I could encourage him to do it hard... to show me what he wants... to take what he needs.

Suddenly, he growls and throws back his head. His body tenses and he thrusts harder as his pulsing cock erupts and his cum hits the back of my throat.

He releases my head and his body becomes limp, but he continues to brace his weight on his arms. I softly suck him, milking every drop of fluid. I lick at his cock, cleaning him with my lips and tongue.

At last he pulls away and stands upright, shoulders arching back to work out the kinks. Then he leans down and his mouth closes over mine.

I part my lips for the invasion of his tongue, briefly wondering if he can taste himself. I want to hold him to me--a fleeting wish to feel the weight of his body pressing down on mine.

Walter's kiss is unexpectedly gentle. He explores my mouth and nips at my lower lip. Breaking away, he whispers, "Shall we take this into the bedroom?"

I stare at him blankly for a second, then find myself nodding. I cannot help but wonder what we are taking into the bedroom. I really only wanted to suck him off... feel his cock in my mouth... taste him.

I slowly get to my feet, realizing I cannot possibly tell him that. Because, hell, even I think it sounds weird.

Yeah, I'm losing it.

When we get to the bedroom, he brushes his fingertips along the side of my face, smiling at me almost shyly. "Tell me what you want, Alex."

Oh, great. "I, uh... well, we... fuck." I hope I don't look as flustered as I sound. That would be too embarrassing. This is challenging my perceptions of myself... and it's insane. "We did it. I mean, that was what I wanted." I feel my face getting hot. Yeah, Walter... I just wanted to blow you. Please cut me some slack.

A look passes over his face I've become all too familiar with in the past week... concern. "Alex, don't you want to come? I would enjoy that... if you would."

Well, I am turned on--just being in the same room with Walter can accomplish that--but I realized earlier it was not my high priority for the evening. But I can't explain it to him. Or rather, I don't want to explain it to him.

I wrap my good arm around his neck and kiss him slowly. Sex, I can deal with. "Yeah," I murmur against his lips.

"Let's get you naked," he replies, his fingers at my fly. I like the sound of that. Deftly opening the buttons, he slips his hand inside and squeezes my cock. I groan and grip his shoulder hard... it's been too long since he's touched me like this. The hand slides around my hip and strokes my ass. I press into his touch, the sensations making my head spin. Suddenly, I wish we could fuck. I want to feel his cock sliding into my ass. Considering the twinges of pain in my stomach with every movement, even I have to concede that fucking is not a possibility.

Both of Walter's hands are now in my jeans, gliding over my ass and pushing them to the floor. He guides me to the bed. Not sure what the plan is, I sit and carefully move to the center, bracing my weight on my good arm.

With a few quick gestures, he strips off his clothing. I wish he would do that slowly. I nearly laugh, picturing Walter's expression if I asked him to do a strip tease. But he's certainly got the build for it. My cock throbs as I look at the hair-covered expanse of his strong chest. It's still a mystery to me--why I'm attracted to him--but all the muscular definition and the barely leashed power in every movement make my cock unbearably hard. He would make my evening if he would turn around and let me look at his firm ass.

My eyes are on his well-defined abs when he joins me on the bed, wrapping an arm around my waist. "Can you lie on your back comfortably?"

I nod and lie back, gripping his arm for support more than I would like.

Walter stretches out next to me, lying on his side, so my hip is at his groin. A strong arm wraps around my waist, carefully avoiding the wound on my abdomen. Something about lying here like this, unable to move without pain, him treating me tenderly as if I might break, makes me feel more vulnerable. I don't like it. There's been enough vulnerability in the past week to last a lifetime.

But then his fingers glide up my chest, massaging my pecs. And that feels good... I've missed the rasp of his hands on my skin. He stops to pinch my nipple, gently at first, then increasing the pressure very slowly. I gasp, feeling the sensation in my groin. Then he scoots down a few inches and takes the nipple into his mouth. My breath catches. Licking so lightly I can barely feel it, he teases me before he finally grabs it with his teeth. He uses a sawing motion to make it burn. I moan and heat floods through my body. I'm certain there's a direct connection between that nipple and my cock.

Then, supporting himself on one arm, he bends over my body, nudges the material of the sling out of the way, and repeats the process on the other nipple. He never allows any of his weight to rest on me. I recognize the necessity but I don't have to like it.

But the burn on my nipple is making me insane. "Walter... god, that feels... good. Fuck-" My own groan interrupts the words.

He gives the nipple one last bite, and glances up at me, offering a hint of a smile. Kissing a path down the center of my chest, he takes a playful nip at the flesh around my navel. I hiss through my teeth. My skin is hyper-sensitive and even the light touch is electric.

Moving lower on the bed, he's on his side again, his hand caressing my thighs. My legs open automatically, offering him easy access to whatever he wants. He groans softly, as his fingers tease my inner thighs. My legs tremble. I want to touch him--to participate in this. My fingers glide across the back of his head, then caress his neck and shoulder. It's not enough. But I keep touching him wherever I can reach.

His fingers ease underneath my balls, and he holds them lightly, thumb brushing gentle circles on the surface. Gasping, I move restlessly, becoming still as sharp pain in my stomach overrides the pleasure. He pauses for a moment, eyes meeting mine. Then he takes a breath and shifts his body until he's between my legs, his face pressed close to my groin. My breathing becomes labored and I fight to stay still. A wet tongue laps at my balls. Christ, I cannot possibly remain still for this. Then he slowly takes one into his mouth, sucking it and teasing it with his tongue. I groan, my back involuntarily arching off the bed. It turns into a groan of pain as I collapse back against the mattress. Instinctively, my hand moves to the source of the pain, then twitches away.

Walter's attention is immediately diverted to my face. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Fine." I sound breathless, hopefully he thinks it's just lust. Keep still, Krycek.

His shrewd glance suggests he's seen through my deception, but after eyeing me for a moment, his head returns to my groin. Hand cupping my balls, his tongue paints the shaft of my cock. I'm instantly focused on the incredible pleasure. The touch is gentle... too gentle. It makes me want to squirm.

Lips glide along the head of my cock, nibbling lightly. The pleasure is so intense it's almost painful. I bite the inside of my cheek, trying to force myself to remain still. His tongue swipes the slit. I gasp and feel my body arch slightly. Yeah, I always liked that. A little too much, my throbbing stomach reminds me.

I realize my fingers are biting into Walter's shoulder and pry them loose. He doesn't appear to have noticed.

He sucks the head of my cock into his mouth, tongue spiraling around it, then concentrating on the underside. I groan and fist my hand in the comforter. It feels much too good to be real. And he seems to be enjoying himself.

The intense pleasure is more than I can experience and keep still. I thrash until I'm frozen and gasping from pain.

Again, he backs off. A hand on my hip holding me still. "Shhh." Fuck. He's going to leave me like this... damned protective bastard.

Walter shifts his body, so he's sitting next to my hip, with one muscular thigh extended across my legs, holding me down. The he reaches for my cock, thick fingers curling around the shaft.

Half of my brain recognizes the advisability of this change in position, but the other half objects... strenuously. I squirm, ineffectually trying to get out from under his hold, until my body protests and I have to stop. When I'm finished torturing myself, the pleasure created by his stroking fingers penetrates my brain. Moaning, I relax against the bed.

My hand grips his upper thigh, then I caress it at the same rhythm as his hand on my cock. Struggling to breathe normally as his fingers create sensations that assault my nerve endings, I look up and meet his eyes.

Many emotions are revealed in his passionate gaze. His desire is evident... How could I have thought otherwise? There's also tenderness and a hint of calm satisfaction, as if touching me is a simple pleasure.

I swallow hard enough that it hurts. This should be more familiar--more in my sexual repertoire than sucking him off or being fucked--but it's not. The tenderness, the passion... no one has ever looked at me or touched me this way. I feel disconnected from reality.

Walter's eyes are locked on my face, and I cannot bring myself to look away. His hand creates a pleasingly rough friction as he jacks me off. I whimper as the sensation builds. I realize it's easier for me to be still with our gazes fixed on each other. The intensity of his stare sucks me willingly into the reality where I will give him anything he wants. I nearly cringe at the realization that I feel completely possessed by him, even as his hands cause raw pleasure to mount in my body.

His thumb rubs the tip, spreading the moisture over the head. He appears calm, but his shallow breaths give him away. I cannot handle the intensity of his stare much longer... any more than I can handle the intensity of sensation spreading out from my cock.

Something in his expression shifts and I am unaware of doing or saying anything until the sounds of my own pleas reach my ears. "Walter... please. Please, I need..." You. Fuck. Air, I need air. I struggle for breath. "I need... to come. Walter, it's too... much... teasing. Please. Oh, fuck." I buck into his hand and am rewarded with a jolt of pain. But I do it again. "Walter..."

Mouth open in astonishment with a hint of a smile in his dark eyes, he says slowly, "I want you to come, Alex." The words seem to release me. His fingers increase the pace... squeezing and stroking my cock furiously. When his thumb rubs the head again, the knot of sensation at the base of my spine explodes and, on his next down stroke, the orgasm completely robs me of any sense but pleasure. At some point, I'm dimly aware of Walter trying to hold me still and then pain creeps in as the dominant sensation.

Gasping, I collapse bonelessly against the mattress, feeling both sated and pained. I realize my hand is clamped onto Walter's thigh. I try to focus on him, but my eyelids feel heavy.

**

Alex is asleep. I inspect his stomach and am relieved to see that we didn't tear open his wound.

I should have been home hours ago, but I want nothing more than to curl up next to him and go to sleep myself. Shaking my head, I lament my fucked-up life... but I can't feel anything except satisfaction... the gnawing anxiety buried deep for the moment.

Easing my leg off his, I rise and retrieve a bottle of tea, which I leave by the bed. I watch him sleep, thick eyelashes quivering. He looks like he's about sixteen years old. After kissing him lightly on the lips, I exit the bedroom. It's difficult to depart without saying goodbye, so I find a pad of paper in the kitchen and leave a note.

**

8:03 P.M.

I wake to the languorous feeling of recently having had sex, coupled with an insistent throb in both my abdomen and left shoulder. Glancing around, I discover that I'm alone in the bedroom.

Awkwardly, I rise to my feet and go in search of my missing lover and some pain medication. I don't find Walter, but grab the bottle of pills and move into the kitchen. Then I see the note on the counter.

--
Alex,
Thank you.
Good night,
Walt.
--

I stare at it for a long time, not able to even interpret all the things I'm suddenly feeling.

Just like so many other times with Walter, I find myself in unfamiliar territory. I've never had this experience before... waking to find someone gone. I'm surprised he left without-

It doesn't matter. I wad up the note and throw it in the trash.

After swallowing a couple pills, I let my brain wander over the afternoon. No doubt Skinner would prefer to stay away until I'm functional again. We're in this for the sex, not to try to work around my injuries.

I walk back to my room, not thinking about it anymore. It really doesn't matter.

** End Part 4 **


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