TITLE: "indiscretion"

AUTHOR: Little Red (story idea by Little Red and DanaShipper)

RATING: PG-13 for some disturbing sexual situations

CATEGORY: It's DRR (Doggett/Reyes Romance), I swear to God! Other people show up and remove clothing, but it's definitely DRR. Monica POV.

SPOILERS: Nothing major. Super Soldiers get mentioned, but only in passing. This takes place sometime in season 9.

SUMMARY: "You're in a lot of trouble now, Monica. You thought you could handle it. For John, you thought you could handle it. And now it's three in the morning and you're falling the hell apart. Great."

AUTHOR'S NOTES: DanaShipper of the Simply Annabeth boards dared me to write a DRR fic where Monica has to seduce someone to save John. This is my first posted fanfic. Wheeee!

LINER NOTES: "i radio heaven" and "Melancholy Room" by Over the Rhine and "Save Yourself" by sense field are all reccomended listening

FEEDBACK: Send love and critical wisdom to russiandeptwench@hotmail.com... flames may destroy my fragile little mind, and nobody wants that.

------------

"you're no longer a child now
don't let them molest it
the wound is deep
i'm just trying to confess it
the truth is I bleed you
when these frequencies cut me
i'm a slut with a mission
a singular vision
i radio heaven
i get mixed signals" -- Over the Rhine, "i radio heaven"

----------------

"Someone's moving 'round inside of me
Someone's setting up shop where I can't see
But I'm fine... (lie)
But I'm fine... (lie)
In this melancholy room." -- Over the Rhine, "Melancholy Room"

------------

hands running everywhere, tongues, lips, teeth biting down on--

I wake up and hear screaming. It takes a second for me to recognize the voice and stop myself with an embarrassed laugh. I've been talking in my sleep again. What the hell was I dreaming about?

--teeth biting down on a neck -- my neck -- hands reaching all over me, an involuntary sigh, the unwelcome distraction of foreign tongues--

Oh, right. That nightmare. I glance around my room to cement myself in the present, to remind myself that although that nightmare was real and painful and vile, at least it's over. The streetlight outside my window pours a harsh white light on me, the piles of blankets I've kicked off, my unfinished cup of chamomile and the phone I dragged next to my bed in a moment of weakness. I consider calling him, waking him up just to hear him mumble "hello?" in an accent thicker than the one he sports by day, just as a reminder that I am not the only living soul left in the universe.

I almost laugh. The feeling coursing through me is a familiar one, from another time, another life practically, when I would wake up on Sunday mornings in a University dorm room and sort out the hazy flashbacks of the night before, trying to figure out what -- or who -- I had done when I'd been too drunk to care. My roommate, a sweet girl who was purer than God but endlessly forgiving would recount my adventures for me with a sympathetic smile until I finally realized that there were better ways to spend a weekend than passed out on some frat boy's floor.

It was different this time.

I'm not eighteen, for one thing, drunk on new freedoms and drunker on undefined punch. I hadn't been drunk at all. Maybe that's the difference.

I grab for the cold chamomile and drink it down to keep from picking up the phone. I can't call him. He will know it's me, by some sixth sense if not by caller ID, and he'll panic and fly over here like a bat out of hell convinced that I'm dying. I have to smile at that. My knight in shining armour, waiting for me to be in some sort of deadly distress. I don't think he quite knows what to do with me -- a damsel in tight jeans who so rarely needs rescuing. He doesn't like the idea that I rescue him every once in awhile.

Or, really only once.

-- fingers in my hair, pulling at it until I cry out, a wicked smile and a voice, whispering, "now I've got you..." --

That voice. A simple sentence, spoken in a bar, a hand on my shoulder, that started it all.

"Your partner's in a lot of trouble."

The memory of fingers and tongues assaults me and the chamomile tea settles badly. I wonder if I'm going to be sick. I wonder if I'm close enough to dying to legitimately call John, wake him up, drag him across town, just so I can assure him that I'm fine, I'm fine, don't worry... He will worry about me anyway. The strong bulldog G-woman FBI agent shouldn't be able to stand it that he worries about me, but nonetheless, I almost call him, just to see his brow wrinkle kindly as he tries to figure out what's wrong. I don't want to tell him, but some part of me, well-buried behind my FBI title, really wants him to rescue me from this. He can't, and I can't ask him to.

That voice.

"Your partner's in a lot of trouble."

You're in a lot of trouble now, Monica. You thought you could handle it. For John, you thought you could handle it. And now it's three in the morning and you're falling the hell apart. Great.

"Hell," I say aloud, to get the sound of that voice out of my ears and the taste of foreign tongues and stale chamomile out of my mouth. I look over at the phone again. I can't call him. I don't know what he'll do if he knows, and I can't take that chance.

Hell, you've really done it now, Monica. My internal monologue is not as forgiving of my sins as my former college roommate. I plead with my own conscience to forgive me with a wealth of excuses -- I didn't know what else to do. I got in over my head. I thought I could handle it. I did it for John. He loves me. He could have loved me. He loves the girl he thinks I am, the one who is blindingly loyal and would do anything to save him -- anything but this.

I start to cry, but only because I can't think of anything better to do. I look longingly at the phone again, and actually get as far as touching it before reality intervenes.

My mother's voice cuts through the sob-punctured silence of my bedroom: You made your bed, Monica, now you lie in it.

"You're partner's in a lot of trouble." The voice rings sickly in my head.

My partner. My friend. John. Oh, God.

------------

The voice belonged to a man in his mid-thirties, familiar in that he had a face I had probably seen on countless similar businessmen -- the very essence of nondescript.

"He's in trouble? You mean now?" I craned my neck to look around the bar in the direction of the restrooms. John had been gone less than thirty seconds and already the desperate vultures were circling, eyeing the date left alone for a moment in her booth. None of them knew that I wasn't really his date -- he would never admit to such ulterior motives to our friendly wind-down six o'clock drink.

This man, though, was creepier than most. He had to have been listening in on us to know that we were FBI partners rather than just ordinary, if well-dressed, patrons of this rather dingy establishment. He smiled at me, looking me over with a recognition I didn't share. "He wouldn't tell you," he said, still tracing me with his eyes.

I gave him my best icy glare. "Are you coming on to me? Because I don't think my friend will appreciate that when he gets back." I didn't mind pretending John and I were together -- I did it as often as I could for anybody who cared. Besides, together or not, he wouldn't sit back and let me get macked on by slimy strangers. His chivalric nature would demand that he take action, and I liked the idea of John Doggett defending my honour. It would be a push in the right direction. Maybe all he needed was a little friendly competition to realize that I might actually be worth fighting for.

"I don't really think he cares all that much," the man said evenly.

If John didn't hurry up, I was going to have to take this bastard on myself. I shot him a look and returned to my drink.

The man continued to speak. "Your partner is looking into things he shouldn't. He's making enemies of all the wrong people."

I felt my fingers go cold. His calculated voice worried me. Did he actually know something? "Are you threatening me?"

"I'm giving you a warning," he reached into his jacket and placed a blank business card down on the table, setting my glass down over it so the lazy ceiling fans wouldn't blow it away, "since it's only fair you have one."

I heard a door slam across the bar and looked up. John was coming back. My cryptic visitor was already walking away as though he hadn't spoken to me at all. I stood up and made to go after him, but John took my hand and I was momentarily distracted by the sensation of warm fingers against my skin. It was rare that he entered my personal space if he didn't have to, and each time he did, I wanted to take hold of him and never let him back out again.

"John, do you know that man?" I pointed.

He looked. The man was walking out the door, but a glance back gave us a glimpse of his face. "No, why?" He let go of my hand and sat down, and I almost winced at the loss of contact.

I flipped the business card over as I sat back down. A phone number, handwritten. DC area code.

"You collectin' phone numbers, Mon?"

I didn't like the casual nature of John's question. The smile that usually broke down all my defenses annoyed me all of a sudden. Shouldn't he care, if I was collecting phone numbers besides his? Was I only imagining the way he'd become steadily more possessive of me since my appointment to the X Files? More importantly, was I projecting my own emotions onto him, believing that he was falling for me too, when I had already fallen, hook, line and sinker?

"What can I say, you shouldn't leave me alone in public." I make a big show of pocketing the business card, searching his face for any hint of jealousy. When I finally found one, a slight tightening of the muscles in his neck, I smiled. Maybe that whole strange conversation I'd just endured was really just an elaborate pick-up line, albeit a disturbing one.

The conversation meandered, and eventually, I had to broach the subject. "John... you know that if you're in any kind of trouble, you should tell me. Right?"

He laughed at me. "Is this about me bribin' the cable guy?"

I tried to look sincere and lighthearted at the same time, and came off looking pretty ridiculous. "I just mean that... we're partners. And if you're investigating something without telling me... that's dangerous. And not fair."

His eyes darkened suddenly and my breath caught in my throat. "What are you talking about, Monica?" His level voice told me, subtly, in a way no one else would ever catch, that I'd struck near the truth.

I frowned. "I... you have to trust me, John. We're partners."

"Monica... if I ever don't let you in on something, I'm doing it for your own good."

"To protect me," I put as much indignance into those three words as I could possibly muster on short notice. I wanted him to protect me from the alcoholic lowlifes that inhabited the skanky bars we always came to, not from my job. It wasn't like I couldn't handle myself under fire. "If you can't trust me, with everything, then I'm no good as your partner."

He grabbed my hands across the table but I refused to let it placate me. "Monica..." he murmured my name, refusing to meet my eyes, running callused fingers over my skin, breaking down my defenses yet again. "I trust you."

The pained honesty of his words, like he felt he was burdening me with that admission, made my heart drop through the floor. I squeezed his hands, willing to forget all about that strange man and the business card I still held if he promised to not pull away. It was the little moments of intimacy, like this whispered promise of trust as he stared intently down at the wooden tabletop, that kept me hanging on pathetically to him.

He still didn't look at me as he absently stroked the backs of my hands. "There's nothing going on."

I smiled, forgetting my question, even, as I focused all my energy on our points of contact, wishing I could transmit a thought, an emotion, that I could make my skin a conduit to ask for everything I needed from him. I gave him what he needed by following him, by trusting him, by giving him daily unspoken assurances that I would be back the following day, and the day after, and that I would never disappear from his life the way other women had done. I had dropped everything, without thinking, to join him on the X Files the second he had summoned up the words to ask. Thought hadn't been necessary. He said he needed my expertise, my imagination, my creative crime-solving. He really needed my loyalty, and my continued presence. Maybe he even needed my love -- to have it there, across the office, for whenever he decided he could handle it. That need of his seemed more tangible than usual, as though I could feel his loneliness clawing at me through his fingers, held back by years of stewing over a painful divorce and a murdered child, by FBI regulations, and by habit.

I wanted to force the issue, to wrest an admission of love or at least of need from him, but he cut the evening short and dropped me off at home without so much as a longing glance. It wasn't until I had slammed the car door behind me that I realized the truth.

He had lied to me. There was something going on. My partner was in trouble, and he didn't trust me enough to let me help him. If I confronted him directly, with a demanding attitude and a complete lack of proof and information, I could drive him away completely. He was digging into things without me, was he? Well, two could play that game. And I would be damned if I wasn't better at it than he was.

---------

The phone number on the business card was not a personal extension, but rather the number for Tanya's, a sports bar near Capitol Hill. I did a bit of surprised stammering when I realized that, but managed to give his description to the bartender and got a vague assurance that, although, "honey, we got all kinds of guys comin' in here," a man like that did come in often, usually sometime after eleven. I looked at the clock and grabbed my car keys, letting my worry for John's safety and my anger at his stubbornness cloud my better judgment.

The man was there, sitting alone at a table in the corner, watching the baseball game on the television above his head with mild interest. "You said my partner was in trouble," I said as greeting.

He turned slowly and looked me over the way he had earlier in the evening. He indicated the seat across from him and I took it. His eyes wandered back up to the television behind me. "Monica Reyes. Agent Monica Reyes, if I'm not mistaken."

"It appears you have me at a disadvantage."

He smiled slightly, whether at me or at the game I couldn't say. "You don't remember me?"

I flipped through my mental rolodex of casual FBI acquaintances, and found nothing. "Have we met?" I replied lamely.

He looked down from the television. "A long time ago. Practically another lifetime. Would you like something? A drink, Agent Reyes?"

"Information. Who are you? What do you know about my partner?"

I didn't like his smile. He glanced back up at the game. "I insist you have a drink." He pushed a glass towards me and took a sip of his own whiskey. I hadn't even noticed the second glass when I sat down. He had been waiting for me.

"I don't accept drinks from strange men," I told him. I felt oddly trapped at the table and wanted to get up and leave, just to make sure that I could. I scrutinized the glass in front of me for powder, wondering if he had planned to drug me, and weighing the risks of taking a sip in order to perhaps get the information I had come for.

"Your partner has been investigating rumours of a secret military project involving the creation of superhuman soldiers."

"Super soldiers," I blurted out, not because I intended to tip my hand but because my mouth has a tendency to run off without any say-so from my brain at all. "I know that."

He continued watching the game above my head as he spoke. "It is possible that Agent Doggett began asking questions of lot of people, some of whom may have appeared more friendly than they actually were. It's possible he approached the wrong person too directly. If that happened, it's likely he was threatened. It's possible you were, as well. You and Agent Doggett are quite close, are you not?"

Disconcerted by the lack of eye contact, my gut instincts told me nothing about whether this man's statement was true or not. The words alone scared me. "If John were in danger, he would tell me." Even though he hadn't told me earlier when I'd asked. Even though he wanted to protect me, like some superhero. If the danger were real, he would tell me.

My companion finished his drink and set it aside. After a moment, he reached for mine. "I think you may have let your fantasies cloud your judgment, Monica." He shot a smirk in my direction and indicated the glass. "I didn't poison it."

I shivered at my first name, and at the way he spoke like he knew me inside and out, and had some sort of authority over my thoughts. "Why are you telling me all of this?" I pulled the business card out of my pocket and waved it. "Why warn me?"

"We're old friends, you and I. Or, we could have been. But, as Professor LaFave used to say: in literature, as in life, we have many chances to make amends for past mistakes and indiscretions."

My mouth dropped open of its own accord. Professor LaFave. Second year. A folklore class I remembered more for an ill-fated romantic liaison with the graduate teaching assistant than for anything literary I might have learned. Ancient memories rushed through me. "You were there. In that class. You went to Brown."

He toasted my fragmented conclusion with his drink. "You were in my section. Always bright. Had a lot of good ideas to bring to the table, and were never afraid to speak out of turn. You were sleeping with the TA, as I understand it." I felt naked. I moved my chair back a few inches. "Don't worry, I understand the temptation of powerful men. Whether their power is only temporary, a limited life span of a semester or two, or if it's a little more grown up than that. Imagine the kind of power held by the men involved with this super soldier program." He took another drink. "If there is such a thing. Your partner wouldn't want to make any enemies."

I was no good at this. My whole body was going cold at the mixture of old secrets and couched threats he threw at me, and I worried my voice would betray me. All the backbone my years in the FBI had given me seemed to flounder in the memory of being nineteen, spouting off half baked theories on Northern European folklore in front of a lover who saw me as little more than a willing convenience, and an unnamed fellow student who would one day turn into the man in front of me. I took a breath, and conjured Dana Scully. "What do you want?" I asked in a collected voice borrowed from my doctor colleague.

He smiled. "I don't want anything. Some knowledge -- hypothetical, of course -- came into my possession regarding your partner's current situation. It seemed only right to warn you. As an old friend."

He turned his attention back to the game as though I had disappeared from the table completely. I stood up awkwardly. I knew I should drive over to John's right then, in the middle of the night, confess everything I knew and how I'd come to know it, and demand that he let me help him. Something stopped me. I had to get a better grasp on what was going on, first. I went home instead.

-------

John stood up from his desk suddenly and I jumped. He shot me a disapproving glance. "I'm going for some lunch. You want anything?"

I nodded, cursing my skittishness. "Wow, lunch already?" He looked at me like I was from another planet. "I mean, yeah, get me something-"

"I know. Something veggie." This time, his bemused smile was warmer. "I'm still not sure how you live on that rabbit food."

I had to smile back at his departing form. We had both been edgy all morning. I had arrived my typical fifteen minutes late, already launching into well-practiced apologies as I walked into the office, before noticing with uncontrolled panic that John wasn't there. My late night rendez-vous with that creepy man and all of his threats very nearly drove me to a heart attack until John walked in a few minutes later. I almost yelled at him for an explanation of his tardiness. His quip about switching over to Reyesian time made me laugh, but I was still shaking.

By the time John returned from the cafeteria carts upstairs, I was buried deeply in a Brown University freshman class album for the class of 1990. The face-books, containing the high school yearbook photograph of every member of the incoming class, were handed out yearly during orientation week. I hadn't looked at mine in years, but I had found it that morning and figured that it would be as good a place as any to start looking for my strange contact's identity.

"Looking up an ex-boyfriend?" John asked, breaking my concentration to toss a sandwich in front of me. I frowned at him.

"No." I figured I could hint at the truth and give John every opportunity to tell me what was going on behind my back. "Remember that man I pointed out to you in the bar yesterday? He went to Brown. I don't really remember him, though." I waved the book, "I can only hope he was in my graduating class. It's the only face-book I've got."

"This is your face-book?" His eyes took on a wicked gleam as he snatched the book from me.

"John, no!"

I lunged for it, knocking against the open coke bottle he'd brought me. I caught it before it spilled, but the diversion gave my partner the chance to escape to the other side of the office and open the book, chanting, "Reyes, Reyes, Reyes," as he flipped through the pages. I leaped at him bodily, trying to wrestle the book away from him, thoroughly caught up in the game until he stopped struggling abruptly.

I was completely wrapped around him, my arms entwined with his as I reached for the book, my face nearly buried in his neck, close enough to feel his pulse pounding against my cheek. I shivered as our closeness dawned on me and waited for him to shake me off. He didn't. I was drunk on his cologne in a second, realizing that I should pry myself loose and scurry back over to my own side of the office before I got too used to his body heat against me, but unable to move in my desire to see how long he would wait before forcing me away. He flipped the pages unimpeded and traced his finger against the photos until he found me.

"Monica Reyes," he read off, and I realized that he would be able to reduce me to tears with only my name if he said it often enough. "San Miguel High School, Mexico City, Mexico." I smiled slightly at his forced pronunciation, relishing the feeling of his neck against my cheek as I moved slightly. I loosened my grip on him, suddenly aware of the open door and the picture we presented. I felt him react slightly, moving backwards as though to keep contact with me as I slipped away, but I might have been imagining it.

I walked around him to lean against the desk and look at my picture with him. I was painfully young in that photograph, all of seventeen, with long hair pulled up at the side and a silly grin that made it look like I was laughing to myself. "It was 1985. You'll have to forgive the ponytail."

He whistled. "1985?"

"Feeling old?" I smiled cheekily and walked over to my desk for my sandwich. Cheese and vegetables, without a cold cut in sight. The man was trainable.

He smirked at the photo and then up at me. "It's not a bad picture."

"I'm just lucky you can't see the leg warmer part of that outfit."

"I mean it. You look the same. I never... really thought of what you would've looked like as a kid. Well, not a kid, really..." He looked back down at the photograph and furrowed his brow. He flipped through the book, his thumb keeping his place on my page, scanning the photos of my classmates, snickering at the fashion of the day. I sat next to him again, smiling at the faces I recognized and savoring this unexpected distraction from our usual workday. That was when I saw him.

I seized the book without warning and gaped at the old photograph. He looked almost nothing like the man I'd met at Tanya's sports bar the night before, but the picture woke old memories of the second year folklore class I'd had with him. I remembered him now, vaguely. I had seen him at parties, as well. We may have even had conversations at one point or another, if he stopped me after class. I searched my memory for anything important that might have happened between us, but came up empty. He really was just another face in the crowd. Or, he would have been, if he wasn't back in my life now and threatening my partner.

"That the guy? From the bar?"

"I had a class with him once. Yesterday... he said he knew you."

John looked genuinely surprised. "He did?"

"Michael Rozen." I read his name out loud and watched John's reaction.

A flash of concern flew over his eyes. "Doesn't look familiar. But then, that picture's from 1985." He was lying to me again, but it didn't shock me as much as it had the first time. "This guy... you're not planning to see him again, are you?" His voice was laced with choked concern.

I played dumb. "Jealous, John?"

"That type of guy's bad news, Mon. You should stay away from him."

"What type of guy?"

He shot me a pained look. His eyes were worried. I steeled myself against his look of concern. If he wasn't going to tell me what was going on, then I wasn't backing down.

"Dunno. Just... guys like that." John shrugged and pushed me aside to get to the file he'd been working on before lunch. Our trip down memory lane was apparently over. It didn't matter. I had a name. And I could handle Michael Rozen -- John was the one who was in trouble, after all, not me.

I took another bite of sandwich. The lettuce tasted dry. I wished I'd gone ahead and let John buy me some red meat instead of this rabbit food -- I was going to need all the strength I could get.

----------

Michael Rozen had worked in the Pentagon in 1997. I could get very little else from the government databases with the low-level clearance that I had -- only a job title, "associate of military relations," and a last-known address in Crystal City. I confirmed the address in a local phone directory. Apparently, whatever he was involved in was clean enough or powerful enough not to necessitate an unlisted number. Government records said that he was transferred in 1997, at which point he dropped off the face of government employee records. I wondered if Michael Rozen had done a similar background check on my name to locate me, although he surely had better access and more sophisticated ways of stalking me if that was his intention. Although he had said very little about me in our short conversation, I got the distinct impression he had been watching both me and John. He could have guessed at the close, if unrequited, nature of my relationship with my partner, but he had always been the type to have evidence to back up his statements. In Professor LaFave's class he had always run off a bibliography for every comment he made, never even offering an opinion unless three known experts agreed with him.

John, for his part, had continued to shoot me worried looks all afternoon. The more he appeared to worry about me, the more assured I became that I was going to have to figure out what was going on and fix it. I offered him sympathetic smiles whenever I noticed him staring, wanting to assure him that everything would be all right -- that I would take care of it, if I could, and that I would take care of him if he would let me.

"Do you want to catch a movie tonight?" I asked him as our work day ended. "I'm in the mood for a comedy." The last thing I was in the mood for was a comedy, but I wanted John to relax, and I wanted to be with him if anything bad happened.

His face was pained and even nervous. "I would, Mon... but I've got some things I need to do."

"Do you want my help?"

He paused, considering it, searching my eyes with an intensity betraying the seriousness of the situation. He managed a smile as he said, "Nah, I think I'd better take care of it myself."

I considered following him, but knew that I'd be caught out within minutes. I was far too familiar to him to stay behind him unnoticed very long. I would have to help him another way.

 

 

I arrived at Tanya's sports bar promptly at eleven, armed with Michael Rozen's name and prepared to bully information out of him by nothing more than force of will. John wasn't answering his phone -- neither at his house nor on his cell -- and although I managed to rationalize it away, I was still panicking. I sat at the same table as the night before and waited impatiently, fending off the occasional unwanted advance by drunken bar patrons. I wanted a drink to calm my nerves, but knew that I should stay as sober as possible. I drank coke instead.

It got to be nearly midnight, and Rozen still hadn't arrived. I had been downing cokes maniacally for nearly an hour, and was literally buzzing. The caffeine and the late hour dragged unwanted nightmares through my mind of the kind of danger John could be facing. Although I legitimately should have been, I wasn't worried about myself. I glanced at my watch every fifteen seconds and learned the finer points of baseball from the closed-captioned announcers on the televisions strewn liberally throughout the bar. I mentally gave Rozen another twenty minutes before I left the bar for John's house to either ensure that he was home and safe or to wait for him there until he was.

"You Monnie Reyes?"

I blinked up at the waitress, a blue-haired girl who looked too young to even be in a bar like this. "Huh?" I hadn't been called Monnie since before I'd joined the FBI, when I'd started insisting on using my full name in a vain attempt to sound less girly and more professional.

"Phone for you. Some dude."

It could be, really, only one man. I looked around as I walked up to the telephone on the bar, searching for Rozen and wondering how he knew I would be there. Perhaps he'd hazarded a guess. I shivered at my own predictability.

"Monica Reyes," I said into the phone.

There was a moment of silence. "Come to the corner of Elm and Hope. There's something I want you to see." Click.

I gasped and whirled on the blue-haired waitress. "Where's Elm and Hope?" She stared at me blankly. "The intersection!" I must have sounded insane. I had lived in D.C. for months already but was still a stranger to most of the smaller streets.

A man at the bar overheard me -- as did everyone else in the place, since I was practically screaming -- and directed me. "Elm's the next street over. Hope's an alley, just a block or two that way." He pointed. I didn't even thank him.

I ran there, praying with each pounding step of my heels into the sidewalk that this wasn't going to be as bad as my imagination made it sound. I checked my gun over without breaking my stride, and reholstered it, not wanting to burst onto the scene already armed and possibly force a bad situation worse. John could be held hostage. He could be dead. What else could Rozen possibly want me to see? There were other possibilities, I knew, but I was at a loss to think of any as I ran through darkened city streets like a madwoman. I cursed every macho bone in my partner's body for wanting to protect me, and so not trusting me with the information that could get us both killed.

I turned onto Hope Alley and saw a black limousine. The windshield was tinted such that I couldn't see a thing inside. The rest of the alley was empty of people. I took a calming breath. Maybe Rozen only wanted to show me what it was that John was in so much trouble over.

The back door opened into the alley, and Rozen stepped out, taking me in with a superior glance. My heart thudded so loudly from the sprinting, the caffeine, and the mortal terror that I could barely hear him over it.

"Good," was all he said. He indicated that I should enter the back of the limo.

I hesitated, realizing for the first time that, armed or otherwise, I was a woman in a dark alley about to get in a car with a dangerous stranger.

"I don't plan on taking you anywhere, Monnie. Can I call you Monnie? I have something to show you."

"I know who you are," I told him, the weight of my gun holster reminding me of my years of training. I had been in far worse situations. So had John, most likely. "Michael Rozen. You used to work in the Pentagon."

He smiled a condescending grimace. "Are we going to stand here and reminisce, or do you want to know what's going on?"

I got into the limo. He locked my door electronically from his side of the car.

"Champagne?" He pulled a bottle out of a bucket of ice and poured some into a single glass flute. "I don't know anything about champagne, but I'm told that it's quite good."

I stared at him, trying to make my silence as menacing as possible.

"Or, a drink more to your liking? A rum and coke?" He didn't make to offer the drink to me, only watched my reaction. Rum and coke had been my drink of choice at college, the coke necessary to dull the rank aftertaste of dirt-cheap rum. He remembered far too much about me. But then, my dim recollection of him had him quoting exact lines of text from memory during class discussions. Perhaps he remembered this much about everyone.

"Where is my partner?" I asked him.

Rozen picked up a black telephone and dialed. "Jimmy, I've got a girl here who's very interested in a certain John Doggett's whereabouts." He turned to me. "I'm told he's just returning home now."

"From where?"

Another condescending smile. He reached over me and I gasped involuntarily. "I'm not going to hurt you," he said in a tone not at all convincing. He leaned over me again and picked up a remote control from a pocket attached to the inside of my door. He pointed to the television and flicked it on.

It was John's house. His truck was out front and the light was on in his living room.

"Pan in a little," Rozen commanded the man on the other end of the phone.

The camera zoomed in through the living room window. John was sitting on the couch, a beer bottle pressed to his forehead in a gesture of despairing thought. Relief flowed through my body at seeing him alive and unhurt, but that relief was swiftly replaced by the horrible realization that Rozen was having him watched. I was fairly certain that cameras were not the only thing trained on my partner at the moment. John was defenseless, and by his defeated posture, he knew it.

I turned to Rozen, suddenly burning with protective fury. I remembered my gun and knew that I could draw and shoot him at close range in less than a second. I could press the muzzle of my government-issued Sig to his throat and demand that he release my partner from whatever sick game was being played. Somehow, before I could act, my fury melted into a calm centre I forgot I even had. "I could kill you, right here," I informed him.

"You could," he agreed, "but I assure you, my driver is an able shot. You would never get out of this car alive."

"John," I said, somehow using his name to excuse my suggested action and my own resulting death.

"It would be intriguing to see his reaction to your death, wouldn't it? I'm not entirely sure he could survive it." He glanced at the television, where John was reaching for something out of the frame. "But then, it would clear up some questions, wouldn't it?"

My phone rang. I jumped about six feet. I looked at the television, where John was holding a receiver to his ear.


"Answer it," Rozen said.

I did. "Monica Reyes," I mumbled out of habit.

I watched him on the television, hesitating. "Hey... Mon... it's me. John." As if I wouldn't have been able to tell. "I... just wanted to see if you're okay. You called me six times, but you didn't leave any messages... Did I wake you up? It's late, I'm sorry..."

"No, John." I tried to infuse my voice with reassurances, but at the moment, I wasn't sure which one of us was in a worse situation. "I couldn't sleep. I was worried about you." I glanced at Rozen, who was sipping his champagne with finesse.

"I'm okay," he said. There was a pause. I stared at the screen, feeling guilty that I could see him and he didn't know, as he stared up at the ceiling as he spoke to me, sounding like a little boy. "I'm sorry... 'bout that movie. Some other time, okay?"

I wanted to crawl through the television and throw my arms around him. "Do you want me to come over?" I asked him, looking at Rozen again to see if he was going to object.

"No... get some sleep... I'll see you in the morning."

"Yeah," I said. I heard and saw him hang up the phone. The TV sparked off and I gasped in surprise. I turned to Rozen.

"Why are you showing me this?" I felt unbelievably helpless. My Sig was useless, and I was left completely unarmed. John's voice had both comforted and unsettled me. "Does this have something to do with me?"

The creepy smile was familiar. I remembered it suddenly from across the room in Professor LaFave's folklore class section, while my erstwhile lover had been rattling on in the unnecessarily verbose manner of literature graduate students and tossing less-than-subtle innuendoes my way. "You? The woman underneath every powerful man you've been able to catch?" I barely heard his insults as I stared at his expression. "I think you overstate your own importance to those men. I think you always have." My door popped as Rozen unlocked it remotely. I opened it, and took a moment before I could exit the car smoothly.

The creepy smile took form in my brain, and I recognized it. Desire. Lust. A sort of primitive emotion, a caveman desire to beat me over the head with a club and drag me home by the ponytail.

I was a symbol to him, because I'd ignored his advances in sophomore year to cavort with a then-powerful teaching assistant. I may have become involved in this scheme -- involving super soldiers and whatever else -- entirely by association with an ambitious partner who asked too many questions, but I was involved.

And now I had a weapon.

--------

I arrived at the X-Files office on time the next morning on less than two hours of sleep. The caffeine and adrenaline had taken hours to wear off, and I had tossed and turned all night, entertaining memories of the person I had once been, the last time Michael Rozen knew me, and thoughts of what I might now have to become if I wanted to save my partner.

I could do it. It had even been easy, once. After that graduate student had cut me loose with a string of insults I still writhe at, I had gone after men like a woman possessed, desperate to exact some revenge upon the male sex, to use them the way I had felt so cruelly used. The skills and knowledge I had acquired during that particular self-destructive phase were still in me, somewhere, stored next to 'riding a bike' as things I would never truly forget. I knew I was capable of seducing a man I didn't love, a man I didn't even want except as a means to an end. At one time, I had been able to do that and then get up the next morning, feeling no less myself for my actions, and cheerfully share the stories of my conquest with equally slutty friends over brunch, convinced that sex was made less painful without love involved. It was different now. I was in love -- just not with Michael Rozen.

John showed up to work a few minutes after me, looking even worse than I felt. He acknowledged my presence with a nod, not even bothering to rib me about being on time for the first time in weeks. He exuded a troubled exhaustion from every pore that convinced me he'd been up all night. I felt guilty the moment I saw him, even though I hadn't done anything yet. Even if I had... no matter what I felt, no matter what I thought we shared or were destined to share, at that moment John had no claim to me except as a partner.

"You want coffee?" he asked me without making eye contact, indicating the break rooms upstairs with a wave of his hand. "I think it's gonna be that sort of day."

"Might as well bring the whole coffee pot down."

Our Friday passed mostly in nervous silence. John found excuses to be near me, brushing hands with me as he handed me my coffee or touching my shoulder as he passed my desk to reach the filing cabinet behind me. I wondered at his newfound possessiveness, and ached to abandon all of this horrible mess and run away with him to some end of the earth on a case file, out from Rozen's grasp for the weekend or forever. From across the room he looked up at me more often than necessary, looking apologetic whenever I caught him.

"Checking to make sure I'm still here?" I asked him gently.

He smiled wryly at that and returned to his work. I wanted to ask him how they had threatened him, to demand that he tell me what exactly had gone on last night that had forced him to miss all of my desperate phone calls. I wanted to confess about Rozen's limousine and the horrible ideas that meeting had planted in my head, but I couldn't. Telling John that I was considering lying myself down naked between him and the trouble he was in would be the worst thing I could do to him. He would never allow me to put myself in danger for him like that, and if I did it anyway he would feel guilty. I wasn't sure he could stand to feel any more guilt in one lifetime. We were both protecting each other. And, as much as pieces of me wanted John to forbid me to ever go near Michael Rozen, I couldn't give up the only weapon I had.

John would protect me. He was protecting me now, at least in his own mind, by not telling me what was wrong. I had to do at least the same for him.

John lingered in the office until well after five o'clock, filing papers and staring at me occasionally, his eyes filled with a variety of emotions flickering past too quickly to pin down. I stayed, too, equally unwilling to begin a long, dangerous weekend apart. It was almost seven when he started to make his way, slowly, toward the closed office door, stopping every few feet to arrange an errant file or retracing his steps to check his email one last time. "I guess," he finally said, "we should call it a day."

He looked lost. I abandoned the file I'd been pretending to work on and stood up, forcing a reasonably convincing smile onto my lips. "Yeah. Thank god it's Friday."

He looked up at me for a second and then away, fumbling with a broken three-hole punch that had been tossed on top of the counter as a reminder to requisition a new one. I turned off my desk lamp and walked up behind him. When he finally turned around and I caught sight of his face I thought he was going to fall apart under the weight Rozen had placed on him.

My forced cheerfulness fell away instantly. I bit my lip against crying for him and touched a hand to his arm. "It'll be okay," I lied, rubbing my thumb against his sleeve comfortingly. I felt those claws of loneliness ripping at me from within him again and wanted to answer them, to throw myself around his neck and make it all better. I wished, more than anything, that making it better could be that easy.

His breathing was ragged and he looked up at me, locking tired eyes with mine with frightening intensity. Everything crashed down inside me.

He was scared.

For himself. For me.

I hadn't seen him scared in years. Not like this. What had Rozen's men said to him? Done to him? John Doggett was a rock, usually impervious to the outward signs of emotion that so plagued me. I knew, of course, when something was wrong, but that was because I was me, not because he had shown any signs of weakness. The fear in his eyes settled my dilemma for me. I had no choice. His emotions burned at me like they were my own, and I would do whatever I had to in order to make him all right.

His hands came up to grasp my arms, holding on tighter than was necessary. He hung his head slightly. "There's stuff going on, Monica," he said slowly, in a choked voice I didn't recognize.

I nodded my head as subtly as I could, not wanting to startle him in his moment of vulnerability.

"I can't tell you..."

"That's okay, John."

"I don't want... I never wanted you to get hurt."

"I'm fine," I whispered. Rozen must have threatened my life, held me up as collateral against John's obedience the way he was holding John's life up to me. He was trying to save me. It was killing him, my would-be knight, that he thought he couldn't. The barriers I'd struggled to keep up, to save at least parts myself from heartbreak if he ever refused me, were falling away faster than I could repair them.

He leaned his forehead against mine, sagging with the weight of a responsibility he thought he couldn't share with me, feeling powerless against this mess he'd brought on us. "God..." he whispered, barely audible. He didn't say it out loud, but he didn't have to. I felt it through our shared skin, in a way that words could never really express. He loved me.

I steeled myself against his emotions for a minute and then gave up, allowing myself to shiver at the pain, worry, and body heat traveling between us. He had escaped outside himself for a moment, sharing himself with me in a way he rarely, if ever, had before. He let go of my arms and his hands hovered over my body for a moment, trying to find a place to land. I closed my eyes and felt his fingers slip under my hair on either side of my neck as his weathered thumbs traced the edges of my jaw, trembling lightly with an emotion he couldn't outright express. I felt naked at the touch -- as though all of a sudden space, professional distance, and clothing had fallen away until there was nothing at all between us.

His fingertips dug into my neck as though trying to keep me from slipping away. I tilted my head up and opened my eyes, searching his face from a closeness I had only ever dreamed of.

I pressed my lips to his and held them there for a second, pouring as much emotion, reassurance and promise into him as I could without opening my mouth. I stepped back and smiled gently, shivering from head to toe at the unexpected intimacy. The pain in his eyes at his inability to protect me from Rozen and everything else had only grown greater. "It'll be okay," I said again, meaning it that time. I would take care of it. We would both be okay.

His hands trailed down my arms to my fingers before he returned my halfhearted smile. "Yeah."

"You've got more... stuff to do tonight?" I asked him, memorizing his face for the thousandth time.

He nodded, swallowing hard. I took a deep breath. Now or never, Monica. If I was going to turn myself into a weapon against Rozen, I had to do it soon, before Rozen could damage my partner any more than he already had.

I didn't want to leave him, but I gathered my things up quickly and walked out, powered by purpose and confidence.

I had signed myself over to him with that kiss. Perhaps that made my impending bodily betrayal that much worse, but I needed to take that with me, to remember who I was now even as I pretended to be somebody else. I was John's. He might never forgive me for what I was about to do, but that was later. For now, I was his.

I was ready.

 

 

I arrived on the threshold of Rozen's Crystal City apartment only a little after eight o'clock, dressed in a satiny shirt and the requisite short black skirt. I had coated myself with makeup in an attempt to look less exhausted, and to look less like myself whenever I passed a mirror. I looked like I had in college, only the effect was much sadder since I was fifteen years too old for my clothes.

I paused outside his door for only a moment to collect myself.

I could do this. It wasn't going to be hard. I was still the same person I had been all those years ago, and Rozen wanted me. I put the feeling of John's hands on my face, his emotions pulsing through me, out of my mind, focusing instead on the fear in his eyes that had driven me to this point.

I could do this. A seductive smile crept onto my face. I shifted position and tilted my head to expose my neck and low-cut shirt to his view and imagined myself irresistible.

It wasn't going to be hard at all.

Like riding a bike.

I knocked on the door.

Rozen answered it a moment later, looking me over top to toe with a satisfied grin. Oh, God..."Monnie," he said in a voice not at all surprised to see me. I doubt anything ever surprised him. "I wasn't expecting you."

I slipped inside, and shut the door behind me.

---------

I sit on the floor of the shower until I can't stand the cold water anymore. I imagine fingerprints and teeth marks all over my body and attack myself with a towel, hoping to remove every inch of skin that Michael Rozen ever touched. That I let him touch, because I didn't know what else to do, because I got in over my head, and because I am notoriously, unbelievably stupid. I thought I knew what was going on. I had it all worked out. I thought I could handle it.

fingers playing over my neck, up my skirt, down my back...

The hot water ran out long ago, but the waking nightmare is still going strong, replaying my every mistake and indiscretion of this past evening. I brush my teeth for the hundredth time since I came home and almost gag at the overpowering minty-freshness, hoping that this time will finally wash away the taste.

... a tongue shoves past my defenses and I refuse to close my eyes, holding my breath to keep from gagging until I almost pass out...

I had driven home from Rozen's -- God knows how I managed it -- and downed a few sleeping pills and half a pot of chamomile, hoping to fall asleep before the reality of what I did could settle in. I wanted John. I needed John. I craved a pair of loving arms to fall asleep in and I needed so badly to hear his voice whisper that it had all been a bad dream that I could almost hear it in the creaking of my apartment walls. I grabbed the phone from my kitchen and placed it next to me in the bed, almost wrapping myself around it, listening to my apartment walls lull me to sleep with John's voice. It's okay, Monica... you just imagined it... what a terrible thought!... of course you'd never betray me like that... where do you come up with these ideas? I didn't stay asleep long, probably because he will never say that. I hadn't just imagined it, for one thing. I really had betrayed him. And for what?

That voice in the bar, while John was away from our table. "Your partner's in a lot of trouble."

That voice in a strange bed, accompanied by a painful slap to my face. Rozen's voice. "I always knew you were a dirty whore, Monnie."

And I could only sit there, dumbly, half-clothed, eyes stinging from the unexpected slap as I stared at him. I was glad to be rid of his hands -- groping, striking or otherwise -- but that relief was overpowered by the sinking feeling that some part of my brilliant plan had gone horribly wrong.

I leave my bathroom and retrieve the nightgown I tossed aside after my nightmare woke me at three in the morning. It's almost five now. The sleeping pills are useless and I can't decide if I want to sleep or not, anyway. I need to. I know that I'll feel better if I can sleep for a solid eight hours -- that I'll be able to think straight and rationalize most of the hysteria away -- but my guilt and disgust is greater than any exhaustion.

Disgust at the memory of pressing my lips against Rozen's.

Guilt at the memory of my same lips against John's.

John, whispering, filled with worry and kindness, "There's stuff going on, Monica..."

Rozen, filled with contempt, offering me a rum and coke and telling me that I overstate my importance to powerful men. "You've always been bright, Monnie... even then, you knew more about literary analysis than anyone without even having to study it. But you've never understood the men that use you, have you?" Explaining that nobody had ever intended to kill my partner, only to scare him for asking so many questions, to rough him up a little and make him paranoid by staking out his house and threatening his life and the life of his partner, should he tell her about the threats and the henchmen and the surveillance.

"And where do I come into all of this?" I had asked, my voice contorted between yelling and tears.

Rozen didn't love me. He didn't even want me, except as a symbol of the power he had attained in the long years since Professor LaFave's course in our second year, except as a slut who would sleep with whoever was on top of the power food chain that day.

"I always knew you were a dirty whore, Monnie."

I sit, trembling, on my living room couch, watching infomercials for miracle exercise products and trying to believe that Rozen was wrong.

It doesn't matter, though, whether he was wrong or not. Even if I'm not a dirty whore, my actions would certainly manage to convince any thinking person that I am. I can't ask John to forgive me these sins -- I went to another man's apartment intent on seducing him. It sounds noble if I say I did it to save the man I love, but my intentions don't change the facts. John's life was never in real danger. If I had investigated Rozen and his threatening operation more carefully I might have figured it out, but I panicked and fell back on old, bad habits I had thought long purged from my system. Where had my legendary intuition been when I was in Rozen's limousine, being convinced that John would be killed if I didn't give myself over to him? Was Rozen right? Am I always stupid, blind, about men?

Probably. My brilliant track record speaks for itself. And now, here I am, a grown woman, dying to flaunt FBI regulations and risk my career to have the one man I've managed to convince myself will be the love of my life, and that man is perhaps willing to risk all the same things for me... and I blow my chances, so to speak, by bedding down with the enemy.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid!" I berate myself aloud. I am crying again, buried in the couch that still smells like new furniture. The sun is coming up, slowly, on what looks to be a dismally gray day. I'm not entirely sure I will survive the weekend. I have a sudden, strange desire to scour the planet for my saintly college roommate so I can curl up in her bed like I had on so many other Saturday mornings and listen to her tell me what I had done in the best possible light, and assure me that everything would be fine someday.

I am going to have to tell John. I know, somehow, that if I don't tell him, Rozen will the next time he wants to mess with John's mind for asking too many questions -- one last turn of the screws against me. Even if he doesn't, I'm sure John will be able to smell another man on me, a scarlet A scrawled invisibly across my features, obvious only to him.

I pace around my apartment, fighting more tears and finally just ignoring them.

"I always knew you were a dirty whore..." They are Rozen's words, but imagining them coming from John's mouth almost puts me over the edge.

Forgive me, partner, for I have sinned...

I hear something outside my door and stop crying instantly, listening intently. My curiosity overpowers my devastation as I hear it again, some kind of muffled, hesitant knocking. Who the hell would be at my door at five in the morning?

Only one person. Oh, God. I am torn between flinging myself through the doorway and into his arms, soaking up what love I can before he finds out everything that I've done, and running away from him forever so that he can never find out. My body makes the decision for me, walking me toward the door without even stopping to collect my appearance.

I open the door. John looks a little sheepish as I do, but his expression quickly morphs to one of horror as he looks me over. I am trapped in his eyes, and I force myself to breathe.

Forgive me, partner...

"Monica..." is all he can say for a minute. He looks afraid to come inside, as though he's treading on some precarious feminine nervous breakdown.

I step back and wave him in, trying to act casual and failing miserably. "Why... what are you doing here?"

He looks at his watch and then back up at me, shifting nervously. He looks exhausted and all his clothes are rumpled. "I thought... maybe you were trying to call me..." he realizes how silly his words sound and looks around my apartment for another explanation before settling back on my face. "Have you been crying?"

"No..." I lie badly, shaking my head, my sniffles betraying me. "Maybe..."

He touches my shoulder tentatively, and I lose it completely. He catches me before I hit the floor, and I bury myself in him selfishly, gasping and shaking like a fish out of water. I am beyond even wishing that I can control my emotions. He doesn't say anything, only holds me awkwardly, uncertainly. I can feel his concerned gaze through my closed eyelids.

"I... I..." I stammer helplessly. "Rozen... I did... things..." I stare up at him.

Realization, horror, disgust and guilt all dawn on his features all at the same time, piecing my story together less from what I say than from how I look. I wait for him to drop me, to begin pelting me with the same slurs I'd once heard from my graduate TA love and again from Rozen, and I cry harder. It's not fair to John for me to turn on the waterworks like this -- the Southern gentleman in him won't let him curse out a woman in the midst of tears -- but I can't help it. Even if he lets me down gently, I'm not sure I'll survive.

Then I realize those aren't his intentions. He seizes me in an embrace so tight that it hurts, all awkwardness gone. I can barely breathe but I summon the strength to squeeze him back, feeling safe for the first time all week.

"I'm so sorry..." I'm not even sure which one of us says it, but it sets me off again. A few minutes later, my tears stop as abruptly as they started, but John doesn't let me go for another minute, his fingers moving gently against my skin -- pouring as much emotion, reassurance and even love into me as he can. I lift my head again to look up at him, amazed.

"What do you need?" he whispers, his voice filled with an intensity of emotion I have never felt in my direction before.

A million responses flow through me, but only one makes it past my lips. "A kleenex," I say, and giggle slightly.

He knows I need more than that, but he smiles anyway and lets go. I can still feel his arms around me as I wander around the room in search of an elusive tissue box, and wonder at the sensation. God, he forgives me. He knows what I am, what I was, and forgives me anyway.

He's staring at me, and I let him. Energy crackles between us across the room, and I feel suddenly, terminally exhausted, wrung out from panic and emotion.

His hands are on me again, guiding me through my apartment to my bed, tucking me in with a paternal smile and unfathomable relief. I mutter something about how we're no longer in danger, repeating Rozen's words, and he shushes me gently. I watch him move my telephone and empty mug and pick my blankets up from off the floor to straighten them over me. In his eyes is a sort of relaxed purpose, a joy from being able to do for me what he has wanted to for so long.

He's rescuing me.

"John..." I start, unsure of how I plan to phrase it.

He cuts me off with a knowing smile. He's not leaving.

I sink into my bed and shake with relief.

"You'll feel better in the morning," he promises, sitting on the edge of my bed and leaning over to kiss my hair. I wonder if he became mine with that kiss, the way I gave myself to him in our office.

I snuggle against him, wrapping my arms awkwardly around his waist, and fall asleep in seconds. Rozen's voice fades away as I feel my partner stirring next to me from outside the hazy consciousness of my dreams, murmuring something I cannot understand.

We'll both feel better in the morning.

It will all be okay.

--------

He's still there when I wake up, sitting next to me on my bed, watching me with an openly kind expression I rarely see during the day. He smiles nervously when he notices I'm awake and looking back at him.

"Are you still here?" I ask with the classic brilliance that comes with just waking up.

"Sorry..." he mumbles.

I reach a clumsy, still half-asleep hand over to touch his nearest arm and smile reassuringly. I could get used to waking up to him. Dangerously used to it. A mental image of him driving across an entire city at five in the morning on nothing more than a hunch that I might need him warms me to my toes, and I snuggle an inch closer to him. He's still staring at me. "What's wrong?" I ask.

"There's nothing wrong." There's a touch of amazement in his voice, as though he never expected nothing to be wrong again.

I turn my head slightly to look at his watch. I only slept for a few hours but I feel as though I've been asleep for days. He looks rested, too, although I somehow know that he hasn't left my side since I fell asleep.

"You talk in your sleep, you know?"

I blush, even though he isn't saying it to tease me. He sounds almost amazed, for some reason I can't guess at. "So I've been told." I don't mention the various men who may have told me that in the past. "Did I say anything interesting?"

He shakes his head. "I woke you up once. I think you were dreamin' about... him. Do you remember?"

"No." I feel sick again for a moment and then chase my bad memories away with the unexpected sweetness of my partner watching my back against nightmares the way he usually guards me against armed perps.

A hand finds its way through my hair, coming to rest on my forehead. I try not to shiver, but I can't help it. Need pours into me. His touch is the polar opposite of Rozen's last night. I have never felt more comfortable, and I want to sink into him forever. "I was thinkin'..." he starts, and then trails off with a frown.

I prop myself up on an elbow and wait in silence while he searches for words.

Emotions chase themselves across his face faster than I can identify them. His fingers curl into my hair for a moment before releasing me. His hand falls next to my arm, close enough to exchange body heat but just far enough to keep from really touching me.

"We're partners," he says, uncertainly, as though asking me to confirm it for him.

I nod reluctantly, sitting up to be at his eye level. I don't want this to be wrong. I don't even really understand how it can be.

My hand reaches out selfishly to touch his face and I trail my fingers along his sandpaper morning shadow. I expect, from years of experience, for him to shove me away to the other side of the office, where he can be comforted by my presence but not threatened by my emotions. He doesn't push me away, only stares at me. I've never been the focus of such scrutiny before. "It'll be okay," I say automatically, as though my only role in his life is to reassure him when things get tough.

He grabs my hand with both of his and shakes his head. "I was thinkin'..." he starts again.

Possessed by a sudden need to get closer and spurred on by the loneliness radiating from him I move toward him, and, amazingly, he meets me halfway. My brain reels. He opens his mouth only slightly and still I feel the aftertaste of every other kiss I've ever received disappearing. I push him back after a moment to catch my breath and worry that I've somehow ruined everything.

"Yeah," he says with an embarrassed smirk. "I guess that's kinda what I was thinking."

He pulls me into his arms and I go weak, letting him soak up my horrible adventure. I can feel his loneliness melting into me and I wonder how long he has wanted to be this close. Maybe we're both rescuing each other.

His hugs are tight, pushing breath out of my lungs until I'm lightheaded, but I think I'll get used to it.

I smile against my partner's chest for all the FBI regulations I'm about to break.

This is one indiscretion I can live with.

~the end~

---------------

"He's got your picture in his mind
He's got your number, on a paper
at his disposal anytime.
....
Is it really true?
Could you save yourself
For someone who could love you for you
So many times we just give it away
To someone who couldn't even remember your name
Could you save yourself
For someone who could love you for you
Love me for me
Give it away to someone who will cherish your name." -- Sense Field "Save Yourself"

---------------

 

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