(Quick note: if you jumped directly here from another site, here are a picture of the guys and a little bit of background for the story.)


WHEAT FROM CHAFF

by Dorinda


All the way back to the hotel, one hand gripping Kelly's shirt collar so he wouldn't topple over and pitch bonelessly out of the jeep, Scotty thought about catatonia. The dictionary definition was relatively easy. Signs and symptoms were a little harder (and he was distracted from those in any case, trying to support Kelly's sagging weight with one hand while steering the jeep around a banking curve with the other). But etymological roots, linguistics, now there was Scotty's specialty, and he gladly lost himself in the criss-crossing trails and marriages behind the word itself. Not Latin, he could recognize a Latin root, he knew Latin like he knew his numbers and the Pledge of Allegiance. This one was more interesting, following the path behind the Latin back to the Greek, letter-signs changing and sculpting into the older forms. Cata, from the prefix kata. Down. A catatonic had turned downward, lost his footing, sunken and gone somewhere inside. That place where Kelly was.

The lines and strokes of ancient languages faded from his eyes at this last intrusive thought, and he was sitting in the idling jeep in its parking spot below the hotel, still hanging onto Kelly's collar. It was hard to make himself move. Part of his mind suggested that maybe he was having a little bit of delayed reaction to nearly getting killed; another part of his mind wanted nothing more than to sit peacefully here in the thrumming of the engine and play with Greek and Latin roots until the rest of his thoughts went away. He breathed for a minute. Ordered his mind. Finally he brought his hand under control and switched off the ignition, and he could turn to the next task.

With a little planning and a lot of effort, he got Kelly out of the car. Kelly was still supporting some of his own body weight with blind, shambling steps, but it was only in obedience to the guiding pressures of Scotty's hands; Scotty could have steered him anywhere and he'd go, up a mountain or round in circles. In the end it seemed easiest to once again half-carry Kelly at his side, one arm around his waist and one of Kelly's arms over his shoulders. Less conspicuous than a fireman's carry. If everything went well, nobody would think twice, other than wondering why that nice American had been drinking so hard before the evening's parties had even started.

Halfway up the stone stairs to their individual bungalow, Kelly was starting to get heavy. He didn't lift his feet in anticipation of each step--only when the toe of his shoe scuffed into the riser did he automatically grope his foot upward, half-lifted and sliding onto the step to start the process again. The brushed nap of Kelly's shirt felt soft all the way down Scotty's bare side as he leaned and pulled, stair by stair. Slowly they made their way up to the patio with its little private pool, around to the glass entry door, and inside, finally out of the hot sun of another bright Acapulco afternoon. At the moment Scotty couldn't remember why this hotel had ever gotten to be their favorite--not only did you have to climb stairs to get up to your patio, but even on the inside there were more stairs before you could get to your bed. It had a terrific view, he thought, dragging an increasingly unresponsive Kelly up the last step. But the stairs had to go.

The bedroom door swung open to a gentle kick, revealing the two rumpled beds, one (Kelly's, as usual) covered with the detritus of a Mexican vacation: tennis racket, three clean pairs of socks, folded windbreaker, bathing suit, bow tie that needed ironing. Scotty awkwardly lowered Kelly onto the bed nearest the door instead, and stood still for just a moment, resting while his mind cleared a little further and let him concentrate. Next step? Suicide sweep. It came to him almost like a slap. He felt faintly disloyal, but after all, Kelly's last conscious act had been to try to step over a cliff. Just a precaution, no harm in being safe. He turned away from the figure on the bed, going to the closet, kneeling to dig out the duffel bag that held most of their weapons.

He swiftly cleared the room of pistols, extra clips, the box of bullets, his throwing knife, and Kelly's handful of knockout pills for administering Mickey Finns, dumping it all into the bag. Then with a start he realized he was still carrying the revolver in his back pocket, the one he had taken away from Kelly--they'd been lucky no one had passed by to see it during the long struggle up the outside stairs. He threw it in with the rest. Pack of razor blades from the bathroom and his razor with the latest blade still clamped in its jaws all clattered into the bag. He double-checked to confirm that Kelly was only carrying an electric razor in his kit at the moment. The window didn't lead to a drop anywhere near as precipitous as the one they'd faced back at the cliff, but he locked it anyway. There wasn't time to bother with shoelaces or belts, and he trusted that that sort of thing would take too much thought and energy. Enough. One last look around and he turned on his heel, trotting quickly down the steps to the glass door. It was a ridiculous door, he thought as he locked it. It couldn't keep anybody out who really wanted in, or in who really wanted out. He tested the knob, unlocked it, locked it again. Dropping the duffel, he sat heavily on the end of the sofa and picked up the phone; his hands were shaking slightly, enough to make him misdial once before getting through.

"United States Embassy, good afternoon," said a neutrally pleasant female voice.

"May I speak to Mr. Scott, please?" Scotty asked.

"I believe you have the wrong number."

"I'm sorry, I was trying to reach him at his hotel. I'll try again right away," he said, and hung up to wait for the bosses to cross-check and call him back. He slouched down and rested the body of the phone on his chest, the metal base cool against his skin. There was no noise from upstairs. He could only hope that was a good sign.

Before the first ring had finished, he lifted the receiver to his ear.

"Well?" Greenburg's voice was sharp, irritated.

"I got him. Now what about Karolyi?"

"Karolyi," Greenburg said with emphasis, "is no longer your concern."

"Listen. He's my concern as long as he's running around out there, ready to do who knows what to me or my partner. Now what about him?"

The phone was thumped down and someone else picked it up. "We've got men on Karolyi," came a slow, sardonic voice. Tate. He had a cigarette in his mouth; Scotty could hear him take a deep pull at it and puff out the smoke. "We'll wait until he leads us back to his lab and his people, and we'll get them all at the same time. You just sit tight."

Something about Tate's heavy, flat directive didn't sit well. "Sit tight for what?"

This time the phone wasn't dropped. Someone's hand went over the mouthpiece for a moment of muffled conversation, and it was Greenburg again. "Stay there, and keep Robinson with you. We're sending someone over to get him."

"No one needs to get him, okay? Let him sleep it off, that's all, and we'll come in first thing in the morning."

Greenburg started to say something, but he was cut off; it sounded like the phone was pulled away from him.

"We're coming to get him, Scott." A new voice this time, Blaine, leader of the terrible trio who had been leaning on Scotty since this whole thing started. Blaine on the phone meant nothing but bad news, and his words confirmed it. "He has to be officially debriefed."

The back of Scotty's neck tingled. He and Kelly had both heard about what the Department did with broken toy soldiers. If they weren't melted down for scrap, they were locked up in the toy box and no one ever saw them again. He switched the receiver to his other hand and leaned forward slightly, as if he could push Blaine back a step. "No sir."

"Scott--"

"No. Uh-uh. Listen! I did what I promised. I brought him in, undamaged--" he shot a look at the staircase--" and I'm going to keep it that way. I said I'd take care of him, and I meant it. If you come...well, you won't find us here, that's all."

Blaine was silent for a moment. "Are you telling me," he said at last, "that you're leaving our employ, Mr. Scott? I don't need to remind you--"

"You don't need to remind me," Scotty said impatiently. "We'd be rogues, and you and everyone else in this hemisphere would be ready and willing to bring us down. Would you listen for a minute? Kelly's all right."

"His memory is suspect. He must be debriefed properly."

"I can do it myself. They didn't have that long to work on him-- the conditioning couldn't have done that much damage. And I know him best. I'll sort it out." As Blaine drew in another breath to argue, Scotty said, closing his eyes, "I haven't let you down yet."

Twenty or thirty long seconds rolled by. There was no noise on the line, not even breathing, and Scotty was sure that Blaine, the consummate professional, had opted for the hold button instead of wrapping his hand around the mouthpiece. He glanced down at the gun duffel, wondering if he and Kelly would have enough ammunition to tide them over if they had to go on the run.

Finally, Blaine broke the silence. "We'll let you try," he said evenly, "But we're not wasting any more time. If you don't have Robinson debriefed to our satisfaction and on the phone to us within two hours, then all bets are off. Do you understand? That's it. We'll put out a code ten on him."

"On us."

"All right! Yes. Both of you," Blaine growled. "You will have left us no choice. Why are you so determined to do this the hard way?"

"Thank you, sir. Two hours," Scotty said, and dropped the receiver into the cradle. No time to waste. He scooped up the gun duffel on his way up the stairs, heading into the bedroom--and stopped short in the doorway. Kelly still lay as he had been dropped, flat on his back, one long leg dangling off the side of the bed, and for a disorienting moment Scotty was convinced he wasn't breathing. He could have done it, a small and shrilly unfamiliar part of his mind insisted as it began to circle in on itself. He's a pro, he'd only need a few seconds, could have ripped out the lamp cord and electrocuted himself, broken the bathroom mirror for a shard to neatly slit his arteries from elbow to palm, found some overlooked chemical in their stash. It took too long for the call-and-callback, it took too long to convince them--

Okay. Enough. Don't lose it. Scotty took a deep breath and stared hard at Kelly's still form. There it was, a slight rise and fall of his chest. Of course he was breathing. It was too shallow, almost shocky, but it was there. No blood, no burns, no nothing. Kelly was breathing in and out, and they had some time before worse might come to worst.

He set the bag down in the corner and stepped quietly to the side of the bed, reaching for one of Kelly's shoes, intending to remove it and elevate his feet to help against the shock. But the instant he touched the shoe, Kelly's leg twitched and his eyes jerked open. Scotty held up both hands and took a few slow steps back, watching him closely. At least Kelly's gaze was tracking steadily on him now. Good sign. He felt his back touch the wall and he leaned against it, tucking his hands behind him. "How you doing, Duke?"

"Lousy." The broken rasp was the first word Kelly had said since emptying his pistol in Scotty's direction, and if he felt as bad as he looked, it must have been pretty accurate. Sweat shone on his pale, angular face and was starting to darken the collars of both shirt and undershirt; he looked sick, and unsteady, and desperately confused. But he was awake and aware, and that was definitely a step forward.

"Well, you've had a rough day."

The wildness was draining from Kelly's eyes, and he squinted at Scotty with something more like understanding. "Yeah." His voice was low and indistinct.

"And all because you took a walk with a stranger." Scotty paused and glanced at the clock. Starting gun. "Or did you walk? Maybe she had a car."

Kelly answered automatically, though slowly, his words faintly slurred: "Yeah. Uh--I mean, yeah, we walked, but then she was--tired, I guess, so--I think we took a cab." He blinked at Scotty once, and then again.

"Where'd the cab drop you?"

Kelly closed his eyes in a long blink, and then opened them to stare more piercingly at him. "I can't remember. I'm tired."

"I know, Kel."

"You know. Kel." His voice died away into a rumble as his eyes fluttered closed.

"Where," Scotty said, a little louder, "did the cab drop you? Kelly. Was it a long drive?"

Kelly didn't stir for a few moments, and Scotty pushed himself away from the wall and stood upright, flexing his hands; before he could move forward, Kelly, his eyes still closed, spoke under his breath: "I don't know."

"Well, did you have a lot of time to talk? Did you trade life stories? Think!"

"No, man, I mean I don't know!" His eyes opened wide this time and stayed open, bright and hard. "I don't know where we got dropped off because I never finished the cab ride!"

Scotty nodded. "Okay. Okay, so we've got one thing. They took you out on the way, in the cab. Means the cabdriver must work for Karolyi too."

Kelly blinked rapidly as a trickle of sweat ran into his eyes, and he abruptly looked away, fixing his gaze on the ceiling. "Wonderful. Now--leave me alone, can't you? It's too hot."

"When you woke up, who else was there?"

"It's just really really hot in here," Kelly said. "I can't get any air." He started to tug at his shirt collar, pulling it away from his gleaming throat.

"Vanessa must have been there. And Karolyi. But there must have been other people to help him. Tell me about them."

Convulsively, Kelly sat up and clawed at his shirt, pulling it and his undershirt up over his head in a series of jerky movements. He whipped the tangled clothing free and threw it awkwardly toward the wall, where it landed in a damp heap at Scotty's feet, before twisting to glare at the window. "No wonder. Whose bright idea was it to shut that?"

"Kel--" Scotty began, as Kelly heaved himself to his knees on the bed and leaned to yank on the window. He pulled hard, paused, sucked in a breath, and pulled again--and then he stopped. With marked slowness, he pressed the stiff lock open with one thumb and slid the window to the side.

Cool sea air filtered in, ruffling Kelly's sweaty hair as he sank back down on the bed, one hand splayed limply across his chest. "Did you lock that?"

"Yeah."

"Am I..." He let that thought trail away, and started over. "Are you keeping me here?"

"Listen--"

"No, I want to know!" A flush was building in Kelly's cheeks, and Scotty couldn't help but be glad to see it replace the waxen pallor there. "We're just going to have a friendly little chat, is that it? You've got your miner's helmet on, gonna go digging around in the deep dark underground of my mind."

A thin line of sweat pricked its way down Scotty's backbone. "We've dug around worse places."

Kelly regarded him in a grim silence.

"Since when have you been so nervous about going to the dentist?" Scotty asked, bending over to pull off his shoes. He stepped carefully up onto the end of the bed and settled himself on the wrought-iron footboard, resting his forearms on his thighs, his sock feet planted wide. "If you got a bad tooth, an infection, you get it pulled out as soon as you can."

"Before it spreads."

"Right."

"Debriefing."

"That's what they call it. You want me to tie a string to your brain and tie the other end to the doorknob?"

A shiver rippled through Kelly's shoulders and stomach, the muscles reflexively contracting. "I wish you would," he said, with only a hollow echo of his customary élan. "But maybe some other time, huh?"

Blaine was shouting in the back of Scotty's mind, but he didn't pay any attention. "You know we've got to do this right now," he said evenly.

"Without even any anesthesia." Kelly turned his head away, looking with longing at the small decanter of scotch next to the festive bouquet on the bureau.

"That's the last thing you need."

"No, sir, I believe that this is the last thing I need."

"Well, Kel, it's what you're going to get. So focus."

Kelly looked back up at him, finally, his mouth set in a tight line. "Look, will you give me a break, please?"

"I will give you a break across both your legs, if you don't start cooperating." Scotty met Kelly's gaze steadily until Kelly glanced aside and started to rub his eyes with the heel of one hand.

"Okay, doc, what's your plan?" he said wearily. "You want to hear about my childhood? Or some dreams about my mother?"

Scotty shrugged. "Sure, if you think it'd help--I've told you about mine." Kelly's tension seemed to ease very slightly at that, so Scotty forged ahead. "Listen. They didn't have you for very long, so they can't have gotten in too deep. They just got you out of your mind, made you think a couple of things, gave you a bad memory or two to get you moving. All we have to do is track those down and cross them out."

Kelly's hand now covered both eyes, and his grip tightened, but he said nothing.

"So help me out here. They made you think you had to kill me." Kelly flinched visibly at that; Scotty glanced at the clock. "The question is how. What did they plant in there to make you feel that way?"

"Ahh." Kelly gritted his teeth. "There was--it feels like a lot." His voice sounded clipped and breathless, as if he were going to vomit.

Scotty said, gently, "Feels like a lot. But there couldn't be too much. They didn't have the time. Let's take it piece by piece."

Kelly managed a nod. The tendons in the back of his hand stood out in high relief.

"Okay. On the cliff, and at the warehouse, you were convinced I'd sold out. Right? That I was a traitor. Now, you had to find that out somehow. You were convinced. Tell me what convinced you."

He let a little time go by, ignoring the urge to watch the clock, watching Kelly instead. Kelly's breathing seemed to be steadying and deepening as he concentrated, and his color looked back to normal, though the hand over his eyes was clenched taut from temple to temple, probably to a painful degree. Sweat still glistened across his chest and in the hollow of his belly, streaking his sides with damp trails. Scotty frowned at the end of a faint welt that seemed to lay across the lean ribcage, but before he could move down from the footboard for a better look, Kelly spoke.

"There was a meeting," he said slowly. "I got...flown to Washington for a special meeting. About you."

"Good. Who'd you meet with?"

It didn't take as long this time for Kelly to have an answer. "General Farrell. And his assistant."

"Older lady, curly hair? Keeps a jar of candy on her desk?"

Kelly started to nod, but stopped short, and let the hand slip from his eyes. He looked at Scotty uneasily. "No. She was young. Blond. She--General Farrell said she was the only one I could trust. It was Vanessa Pemberly, wasn't it."

"Was it?"

"Yeah."

Scotty watched Kelly's eyes focus in the middle distance as he explored the memory. "Doesn't seem as real anymore, does it."

"No," Kelly said, still gazing into nothing. "No, it doesn't. Once I see her there, I can see...everything. No Pentagon, no Farrell, none of it. Just...Vanessa. And him." His voice dropped on the last word, and his eyes narrowed.

"We're getting there. So the phony General tells you I'm a traitor, and eventually you think you have to execute me. But what else?"

"What?" Kelly asked absently, obviously still watching the fake meeting dissolve in his mind's eye.

"There's something else," Scotty said. "The meeting at the Pentagon explains why you had to execute me for treason, okay. But what about the restaurant? The broken bottle, in the restaurant?"

That hit a nerve. Scotty was a little alarmed to see Kelly go pale again so quickly. All the sun he'd been soaking up on their vacation, going a smooth ruddy tan all over, and in the end it couldn't help camouflage his feelings one bit. Now he was giving Scotty his full attention, and he looked white and horrified.

"Seemed to me that part wasn't about an execution," Scotty prompted. "So Karolyi must have put something else in there. I mean, he couldn't just count on you obeying a waving flag, right?"

"I guess not," Kelly said at last.

"So what else was there?" He paused, rethinking the question. "What did you feel, what was going on inside?" That wasn't much better, but it might shake something loose.

Kelly still looked stricken, but after a few moments he said, very tightly, "I was--angry."

"Good. Now where'd that come from? Not another meeting with General Farrell."

"...no."

"Then where?"

"I don't know," Kelly said, one of his fists clenching around a handful of blanket.

That brought Scotty up short. Kelly was no good at lying to him, despite all his practice in deceiving other people, and the funny thing was that Kelly himself knew it full well. He'd said in the past that Scotty was the one person he couldn't help but tell everything to. He'd interrupted himself in the middle of weak fibs, falling back gratefully onto the truth no matter how difficult. They joked about it, even. What made him think he could pull off a lie now?

Scotty laced his fingers together and spoke lightly, gazing out the window for a moment, letting Kelly out from under his eye contact. "Okay, let's trace that one back. If you were angry at me, you must've thought I'd done something to you, right?"

Kelly didn't answer, not even to try to back up his shaky lie; Scotty looked down at him and saw that he was still wound up tight, his fist knotted, his jaw set.

"Kel," he said softly. "It can't be that bad. Remember, they're fake, they're not yours. He put them there. And we have to get them out."

He fell quiet, leaving some breathing space, and Kelly finally responded. "You...hurt me," he said thickly. "He made me think you hurt me."

"Makes sense. What did he give you for that? What'd I do?" He was steeled for anything, given the strangely brittle nature of Kelly's reluctance. But watching Kelly's face, as expressive in pain as it was in joy, he saw something strange. That reluctance seemed in a few moments to change into a squint of confusion and finally resolve into something more like relief, a letting out of held breath.

"I was nine," he said, unexpectedly.

"You were nine?"

"Yeah. My mom was still alive. She called me to get up for school, and I didn't want to get up, you know how it is--"

"You haven't changed much," Scotty interjected, waiting for the punchline.

"--Anyway, I ran out the door to get to school, so I wouldn't be late. And I got hit by a car."

"Okay," Scotty said slowly, "I can see how that hurt you. So where do I come in?"

Kelly gave a token little smile that flickered away almost at once. "You were driving the car."

Scotty couldn't help but smile himself. "I was driving a car when you were nine years old?"

"You were a grownup." Kelly shrugged. "You...weren't very happy about it, either. I was hurt, something was broken, I think, and you didn't help me. You shouted. Shook me by the arm." He spoke with forced lightness, and Scotty's smile faded in response.

"I get it," he said. "You were helpless. Hurt. Skinny little kid like you. And not only did I not care, I made it worse."

"Yeah."

"Of course, now, I'm younger than you are. Take another look--can you really see me driving that car?"

With an effort, Kelly concentrated, his eyes focusing into the middle distance again. He was starting to look thoroughly wrung out. "No. That part's fading pretty quick." He spared Scotty a brief glance and then let his head fall back slightly onto the pillow. "It's a real enough memory--I remember going to the hospital, and all the mess that went on afterward. But you're not there anymore."

Scotty unclasped his hands and thoughtfully eased a kink in his back. "So that's where the problem in the restaurant came from."

"Yeah," Kelly said. But he still looked like he was holding himself rigid, as if he was afraid to be jostled or something might break. That lie was still in there somewhere, Scotty was increasingly sure of it. He'd seen what might have been terror on Kelly's face for a second back there, and it didn't seem to fit with the strange little car story. Something else.

He looked down at the rumpled blanket between his feet, marshaling his thoughts. "Looks like Karolyi sort of laid a foundation first. Spread out a layer of pain underneath, and topped it off with me selling out. The ultimate one-two punch." He let his gaze stray from his own feet to Kelly's, still clad in the favorite white loafers, and spoke with a casualness he did not feel: "So how else did he have me hurt you?"

The long, narrow feet slid out of his field of vision, and he looked up to see Kelly draw his legs partway toward his chest and shake his head from side to side. "There's nothing else."

"Yes," Scotty said. "Yes there is. And you're going to tell me."

"It was nothing," Kelly replied emphatically. "Nothing specific, anyway. He just--it was a layer of hurt, like you said. Just general pain. All right?"

That was a more slippery tack, and Scotty felt a little less certain about what might be underneath. All he knew was that he had to push. There was no time for half-measures; if this debriefing left something behind, and that something either leaked to the bosses or hampered Kelly's performance, they would both be dead. One way or the other the bullet would find them, by friend or by foe, and he was not about to let that happen.

He waved a dismissive hand. "Look harder. You've got to look harder! You say it was just pain, but how did he get you to feel that pain?" Kelly started to move in something like a shrug, his eyes everywhere but on Scotty, and Scotty raised his voice. "Don't give me that! I was there--you fought me from your gut, man, not from your head!"

Kelly bridled, fixing him again with a stare. "Maybe I would have fought anybody who happened to be there, you ever think of that? Maybe he just got me so twisted up that I would have punched out anyone in arm's reach!"

"You know that's not true. It was personal. Planted," he said quickly as he saw Kelly recoil, "but on a personal level. This isn't about your comfort anymore, or mine. It isn't about what we wish had happened or about your pride. Just forget that. It has to be about the truth, from you to me. So let's have it."

"Can't you--" Kelly began, but Scotty cut him off.

"I'm asking you, now. Straight up. Nothing could be that bad, nothing." He took a deep breath. "What did I do to you?"

There was a moment of charged silence, Kelly looking at him through a frozen mask. And then, the words starting slowly but building almost to a torrent: "Hey, listen. It was--I guess he'd studied me. Okay. It would only make sense. Maybe he watched me, or he had his people watch me. He probably knows my reputation, you know how we work on keeping that up, all the clubs and the late nights and barely keeping out of trouble. A tennis bum's just a playboy with a good serve, remember the girl in Madrid who said that? So they watch me, and eventually they buy it, they figure this guy's a hard-core swinger, that's all, up for anything and everything. And so they play on that." He paused, running his tongue quickly over his dry lips and swallowing with a visible effort.

Scotty sorted through the tangle of thoughts as best he could. "Well," he offered hesitantly, "they figured you'd be likely to let Vanessa pick you up..."

But of course that didn't lead anywhere, and he let it go, watching Kelly subside into a miserable half-fetal curl, slicked with sweat again in the heat of the late afternoon despite the gentle ocean breezes coming through the window. "Did we fight over a girl?" he asked at last, more to say something than because he believed that could be the thing that had brought Kelly to this state. Again, no reaction. He wasn't sure if he could expect any more help from Kelly at all--the man looked close to another collapse. So Scotty fell silent and thought hard. Thought about their cover, and about what Karolyi might have seen as they drifted from tournament to tournament, big cushy house to big cushy hotel, through Latin America, the Aegean, the Orient, and beyond. Kelly Robinson, award-winning amateur tennis player, guest of the rich and corrupt. Cocktail in one hand, cigarette in the other, lazily patronizing some of the most exclusive parties as well as some of the seediest dives--and in all of it, seldom straying far from the side of his manager, trainer, and traveling companion, Alexander Scott. They'd been known to get their pictures on the back page of local newspapers, and if it wasn't for Kelly winning some match or other, it could just as easily be for some minor infraction discovered by a police raid, usually accompanied by a photo of a stolid Scott leading a hung-over and bedraggled Robinson out of an overnight jail cell. A soft, high-living, dissipated American. A debaucher. A....

He passed by the idea, circled it, and came carefully back to it. It might be what he'd been looking for; it didn't entirely explain all of the horror and reluctance he was sensing, but maybe it was at least on the right track. In any case, there was no room for delay.

"Kelly," he said quietly, "Did he have me go to bed with you? Did I...do something to you like that, is that it?"

To his surprise, Kelly answered at once, his voice toneless. "No. Of course you wouldn't. Don't have to worry about that. And you'd be quick about it, too. One 'beat it, you disgusting drunk' and one shove out the bed and there you go, a quiet night for everybody."

Scotty swiped one forearm anxiously across his damp brow and tried to read Kelly's face, straining to understand, when something about the words struck him.

"One shove out of bed?"

No answer.

"Kel, listen to me now. This is important. You tell me how you remember it--did you crawl in bed with me, and I pushed you out?"

Kelly's head moved against the pillow in a faint, jerky nod, once up and once down. His eyes were glassy, and he hardly seemed aware that he had moved.

"And this was the night before we chartered that fishing boat?" Scotty asked him steadily.

Another automatic movement of Kelly's head began, but was abruptly checked. He rolled flat onto his back and gaped at Scotty, his brows drawn darkly together, expressions roiling on his face too chaotically to be clearly distinguished. "How did you know that?"

"I know it because I was there."

Kelly's eyes closed when he heard that, and the muscles on either side of his jaw bunched under the skin. "You were there," he said hoarsely, drawing out each word.

"Yeah."

He remembered it, but he hadn't given it a thought since it happened. It had been one of the last days of their vacation, bringing to a close a blissfully trouble-free round of sun, sailing, swimming, and socializing, shoring up their cover with minimum effort while they had the maximum amount of fun. This particular night they had ended up bar-hopping with a boisterous crowd of expatriates of various nationalities, picking up friendly locals as they wandered from club to club. Scotty enjoyed the talk and the laughter, and he definitely enjoyed the dancing, but by midnight he had decided to head for home. By then everyone else was pretty well in the bag, and he was finding it harder and harder to have any kind of conversation with any of them, even just light chit-chat. Besides, there was a limit to the amount of milk or soda-water any one man could drink in an evening. He had tossed an arm around Kelly's neck, temporarily pulling him away from the flushed and giddy young beauty swaying him around the dance floor, and given him a good night and a be good, like usual. There'd been no trouble on his solitary stroll back to the hotel; the air had been cool, and the moon lush and gold.

He'd been solidly asleep, he was sure of that. Not drifting just below the surface, but deep down and out--might have been dreaming at one point, but if he was he didn't remember it. What he did remember was coming not-quite-awake for a few moments at the sound of a key in the lock, until his drowsing brain recognized that it was Kelly, and then he went out again--only to snap awake all at once when someone crawled into his bed and up against his chest, arms and legs squirming warmly around him. There'd been a thick smell of booze and stale cigarette smoke and aftershave and sweat. He had managed to stifle his first impulse to go for a weapon or grab the intruder in a headlock; not only were his reflexes slowed by sleep and vacation, but he was sure there was a part of him that recognized Kelly right away, whether by sound, feel, or smell, from alcohol to aftershave. The man was just something that was supposed to be there.

For a few moments he had grinned to himself there in the dark, Kelly crowding against and over him with body language both expansive and enveloping. Man went for the wrong bed, he had thought lazily, took the first one he came to, that'll teach me to claim the one closest to the door. In a second he'll catch up and figure out that Goldilocks is already sleeping here.

That was when he'd felt the caressing mouth on his ear, warm and wet, hot breath triggering a shiver. He had flinched and nearly laughed. Got the wrong bed and thinks he's with the wrong person, doesn't this beat all. Is he going to roll his eyes tomorrow when I liven up his hangover with this little gem. I wonder which one of those girls he was dancing with does he think he's--

"Hey..." A low, breathy rumble had sounded in his ear before Kelly trailed his mouth gently down the side of Scotty's neck. "Hey...come on, here, let me..." One nimble hand groped at his pajama pants. Scotty easily flexed his hips backward, only thinking with that same sleepy humor, oh wouldn't he get a surprise if I let him. But he'd figured he had let poor Kel swim around in his distilled dream long enough. He had put the flat of his hand against Kelly's chest, feeling the smooth muscles there through the half-unbuttoned shirt, and given a good push.

He'd obviously caught Kelly by surprise, and maybe his judgment of how much force to use had been dulled by sleep like everything else, but in any case, Kelly had rolled, overbalanced, and flailed out of bed and onto the floor with a sliding thump and a guttural noise.

"Listen, Otis," Scotty had said through a loud yawn, snuggling back down under the blanket. "This is me in here. Crawl on back home and dry out." He'd seen a vague shadow rise slowly from the floor and move away in the direction of the other bed, and that was it, eyes shut and lights out.

Kelly had spent the next morning with his head under a pillow, nursing a fine specimen of a hangover, but by noon or so he was relatively upright and drinking coffee with Scotty by the pool. That whole morning Scotty could have brought up the night's events and amused himself at Kelly's headachy expense--it was usually pretty entertaining to tease him at times like that--but frankly, he had forgotten all about it. And eventually, as they lazed poolside, one of them had had the idea of chartering the boat and going fishing. A long, relaxed afternoon on the boat and one giant fish later, they were back ashore, mellow and sun-warm and happy. A passing girl had made a play for Kelly, and Scotty had sent him off with a smile and a "go for yourself, Arnold." No problem. Except that the girl had turned out to be Vanessa Pemberly, and Kelly had turned out to be in terrible danger, and apparently that night before had meant something very different than Scotty had thought.

His stunned introspection was disrupted when Kelly started speaking again, still with his eyes closed, his forehead and hairline so drenched in perspiration by now that it looked like he'd stuck his head under the shower. His words were slow and drawn out. "I...thought that it was...his. Karolyi's. I thought he got deep down inside my head and...found out what I...as if he knew what I would...."

It took Scotty a few moments to realize that Kelly wasn't going to finish the thought. When the silence had gone on markedly too long, he resolutely rubbed his damp palms dry on his pants and cleared his throat. "Okay. Let's--we've got to keep on going. Think. What else did he put in there?"

He spared another look at the clock, afraid that by now Kelly had been plain old used up. It was true that he would have fared far worse at the hands of Blaine and the Department boys, but even this informal debriefing had nearly stripped the skin off him, and it wasn't over yet.

However, just as Scotty began to fear they had hit a dead end, Kelly's eyes moved rapidly beneath their lids and then opened again, meeting Scotty's gaze straight on, and his brow once more creased in dogged concentration. There it was, that familiar and amazing resilience that Scotty both admired and cherished. It was true, Kelly got knocked down a lot...but he got up a lot too.

Scotty threw his shoulder to the wheel, and they moved on with the questions and answers without any more mention of that night. They field-stripped and banished the collision with the truck that Kelly thought had injured him. Back and forth they went through Kelly's mind, circling the twin poles of betrayal and hurt, until it became clear to Scotty that Karolyi really hadn't had time or resources to plant any more specific memories, only a heavy layer of conditioning to obedience. Piece by jagged piece they recovered basic descriptions of a couple of Karolyi's additional assistants, as well as a layman's outline of a few of the larger items among his equipment. They couldn't figure out where the lab was, though, no matter how hard they tried--it was obvious that Karolyi had been careful to have Kelly completely unconscious at both arrival and departure. Together they wracked Kelly's psyche inside-out, upside down, and backwards, by the book and then some, and eventually Scotty felt that he could hate Karolyi if he only had the energy to spare.

It was done. The time limit was getting a little tight, but they were within the deadline, and Scotty was more than satisfied that none of Karolyi's mental tinkering remained. Not to his probing, and certainly not to the bludgeons of the bosses. He was still in the same position on the footboard of the bed, his back aching; the sun was getting low in the sky, and a cooler gust of wind swirled in and made him shiver. He thought vaguely about putting on a shirt, but only then did he realize that he had left his blue shirt out at the cliff, tossing it aside right before inviting Kelly to shoot him. He decided he didn't have the energy to dig out a fresh one. Forget it. He clambered stiffly down from the bed and stuffed his hands in his pockets, looking alternately at Kelly and at the sky through the window going soft with washes of crimson and amber.

"Kel," he said, leaning down toward the motionless form. "Come on. There's one more thing you have to do."

From behind the hands covering his face, Kelly made a small, muffled noise.

"I know," Scotty said reluctantly. "But you have to call Blaine's people and prove you're all right."

Not even a noise this time, just a bone-deep outswell of breath.

"You have to do it now," Scotty said. He picked up the receiver from the nightstand and waited. One of Kelly's hands finally left his shuttered face to take the phone from him, and Scotty relinquished it and headed blindly for the door. As he paused on the threshold, behind him he heard Kelly dial, give the signal phrase to the Embassy receptionist, and clatter the receiver back into the cradle. Once he heard the callback ring and Kelly picked up the phone (saying sourly after a moment, "Well, hello there, Tate old buddy,"), Scotty fled the room entirely.

His legs felt stiff and a little unfamiliar as he made his way down the stairs, as if he had just belted through a hundred-yard dash without warming up first or stretching out afterward. The bungalow was quiet except for the low rise and fall of Kelly's voice almost out of earshot, but Scotty was hearing something else now, something that turned over and over in his mind with increasing clarity.

"Oh! That's right--I forgot. My man has never been known to be impure." Kelly's voice at the restaurant had been dark, dragged down--by a car accident and too much booze, Scotty had thought at the time, but now hindsight was inflecting much of that strange bitterness with the desperation of a man confused and sick in mind, reeling from the heavy doses of pain and conditioning. "I've tried for many years to force upon him some of the evil ways of other impure and evil people like myself, but it just doesn't...."

My man has never been known to be impure. Scotty went to the glass door and rested his hot forehead against it, gazing unseeingly out at the warm tints of the waning afternoon. Seen from the other side now, Kelly's words in the restaurant and his own words in his bed, it all shifted and rearranged itself into something hard. Something with teeth. It was a stone fact that the events of that one late night had ended up grouped in Kelly's mind with the false elements of pain and betrayal Karolyi had practically introduced with a sledgehammer.

It hurt him that much. That much, Scotty marveled numbly to himself, disoriented. He might never have known. And where was the guy who was just patting himself on the back about how bad Kelly was at lying to him? The guy who'd pulled Kelly down from the wall before he'd been able to step off the edge, and thought that now he could keep him safe? He remembered something his mom had said once, while she was watching him straighten his tie and prepare to board the bus for college. She'd talked about forks in the road, and how sometimes you knew just when something truly momentous was happening. And as Scotty had gotten older, he had come to know the corollary of that wisdom through sheer experience: sometimes you didn't know something momentous was happening until it had already happened. You had already turned onto one fork or the other and gotten a good way down the new road before looking back and realizing you had made a choice that had changed you. If you were lucky, you didn't have to second-guess yourself, but he doubted he'd ever met anyone who got that lucky every time.

He brooded, leaning there against the door, and if he had been so disposed he would certainly have had time for a drink and a smoke to help his brooding along. But he was never so disposed, and so there was little to distract him from his own thoughts. It was the quiet that finally roused him; the sound from upstairs had ceased entirely. Blaine and the others had gotten their pound of flesh, and Scotty hoped they choked on it. With an unfamiliar tightness in his stomach, he went back up the stairs and into the bathroom, drawing two glasses of water from the tap. Don't drink the water, went the folklore of the tourist, but by now he and Kelly were both well inured to the food and drink of foreign lands--in fact, it was American tap water that tasted strange to them, when they were back in San Francisco or shoring up their cover in LA or visiting Scotty's mom in North Philly. Resolutely he turned and carried the glasses into the bedroom, which felt a little cooler.

Kelly was looking at the ceiling, one arm folded behind his head, smoking a cigarette that looked only recently lit; the tip flared as he took a slow drag. Scotty held out one of the glasses, but he didn't take it. He didn't acknowledge it at all. So Scotty thirstily drained the glass himself, set it and the full one on the nightstand, and after a moment of hesitation stepped carefully back up to his seat on the footboard. He knew he was probably looming, but there was little to be done about that.

"Well." Kelly let a thin stream of smoke escape his lips as he exhaled, and his voice sounded cold. "Now you have gone and done it."

"Yeah?" Scotty had done lots of things lately, including a few he'd only just discovered. He waited, ready to take whatever came. Trying to be ready, anyway. It was hard when you couldn't see the road anymore.

The cigarette glowed again. "Oh, yes." Almost in a singsong, smoke curling from his mouth, he intoned, "Imagine my delight and my surprise when our friend Greenburg, so highly esteemed in his own mind, says to me, he says, Robinson, thank your lucky stars, it would be one thing if your screwups made us deactivate you and you alone, but we couldn't risk it with Scott putting himself in the line of fire."

"Uh huh." Trust Greenburg to rub that in. Terrific.

Kelly propped himself up on his elbows, the cigarette between his fingers smoldering dangerously close to the blanket. "You bought yourself a code ten. You insisted on it. More than once."

Scotty opened his mouth to reply but Kelly cut him off, his voice rising. "What the hell is wrong with you? Have you gone soft in your head all of a sudden? You invite those guys to put out a Department hit on you-- and you just stand there and tell me, tell me to shoot you!"

"Kel--"

"You should have knocked my head off and pitched me in the bay, and don't you think otherwise--you could do it with one hand tied behind your back!" He abruptly sat up, ash scattering from the unattended cigarette in his hand. "Do you have any, any idea what I would have done if you'd been killed?"

"I know exactly what you would have done. You almost did it." Scotty had an idea that that moment would be with him for a while.

"You should have let me." Kelly's eyes were shining, overbright, and he lifted his cigarette for one last hard pull before stubbing it out sharply against the base of the bedside lamp. "And good riddance."

"Good riddance?" Scotty echoed, and gave a helpless grin that felt a little crazed. "Good riddance. That would be just great for me. Just great. Because you're expendable. Right? You're just a cog in the machine, some guy from the office, and I don't care what happens to you!" He could hear that he was almost shouting. There was an ache at the base of his throat.

Kelly didn't seem to have the strength or the anger left to fight him. He lay back down flat on the bed, and his voice cracked: "You shouldn't."

Scotty rubbed both hands over his face and took a deep breath. He could almost see the palpable load of guilt and grief descending onto Kelly in a shroud, the aftermath of this whole nightmare. If he himself was going to relive pulling Kelly down off that wall, what was Kelly going to see behind his own eyelids at night--his arm unwillingly outstretched, pistol cocked, sending bullet after bullet narrowly past Scotty's chest? And some nights, he guessed those dream bullets would find their mark. "Hey," he said, leaning down to gently shake the toe of Kelly's shoe. "Come on."

Kelly moved his head back and forth restlessly, but said nothing.

"Don't worry about it. It's okay." He squeezed the shoe helplessly and let it go.

"I...."

But Kelly would not finish the thought, nor would he meet Scotty's eyes. Scotty let a little time go by, his hands dangling over his knees, just watching Kelly stare bleakly up at nothing in particular. There was no time limit pressing on them now, so there was no need for urgency...but then, there was no clear way to go from here, either, and no way to move backward to the last unseen fork in the road. Everything was muddy, and Kelly looked like he was mired in it up to his neck and had completely lost his way.

After a while, Scotty tried again: "I couldn't have let you get too far out of line, anyway. Mom would have smacked me upside my head. And you, too. She'd get her hands on you, and I don't care how big you think you are or what's in those nice letters you write to her, man, she'd still let you have it. You'd end up four feet high with a permanent limp."

There was no answering smile, no attempt at a comment or a joke. Instead, Kelly rolled over onto his stomach, his head half-pillowed and half-hidden by his arms. Scotty knew he should probably just try again tomorrow, but when he tried to imagine getting off the footboard and maybe eating some dinner, he started to feel queasy. He wondered if he could at least persuade Kelly to eat a little something--he was looking skinnier than usual, and Scotty had to suppose that Karolyi hadn't been any too solicitous about making sure his lab rat got a good meal. He rested his chin on his fists and eyed the soles of Kelly's shoes.

The sky outside was gradually unfurling into the early stages of a bona-fide paradise sunset when Kelly unexpectedly spoke again, startling Scotty from a dark reverie. "And that, sports fans," he said, beginning to turn and lift himself up, "concludes today's game."

His tone was light, but Scotty could hear the tremendous effort in it. It sounded like an offer, a gesture--that night never happened, didn't bother me, let's laugh it off and bolt it down and just move along. And he knew they could manage it, too. They could sweep the whole thing under the rug, pretend everything was the same, and if you pretended something long enough, it might as well be true. It was one of the oldest lessons of their chosen profession. He looked down that road and he didn't like what he saw.

"Don't." He settled one of his sock-clad feet onto Kelly's ankle.

Kelly paused, halfway onto his side, his face ducked toward the pillow and hidden from Scotty's view. "Don't what?"

Good question. Don't go? Don't start hiding yourself from me now. Don't give me that choice, because it's no choice and you know it. But the stiff, hunched lines of Kelly's back told him he had to be careful. And looking a little closer, they told him something else.

"Just hold it," he said. "Let me see." He moved down and knelt close to Kelly on the small bed, the mattress dipping and shifting under his weight. From this angle he could see more of the faint welt he had noticed earlier, straight across the side of Kelly's ribs, and he cautiously laid one hand over it. Kelly hissed, but didn't move. His body didn't show its injuries easily, despite his fair skin--an asset in the trade, sure, but a liability for those who tried to look after him. Scotty often had to judge a bruise from a break, especially in Kelly's ribcage, with nothing but his bare hands; he concentrated on doing that now, probing with two fingers. This one, as was common with Kelly's hard-used frame, was worse than it looked but not as bad as it could have been. No true fracture, at least.

Scotty smoothed his palm along the length of the suspect rib once more. "That can't feel too good. And how about this?" He reached up tentatively to trace a finger along a strange mottled stripe banding Kelly's throat, only apparent from this close. "What's this--a burn?" Kelly tipped up his chin at the pressure of Scotty's hand, holding himself tensely still, and as he did so, Scotty noticed the lightest of matching stripes on Kelly's forehead and made the connection. Electric shock was what it was, from one of the machines they'd been able to partly reconstruct in the debriefing. Metal bands for electric shock. Of course. Scramble the brains before you wash them. He had thought he was too tired to hate Karolyi, but it was getting to be a close thing.

Passing one hand lightly around Kelly's burned throat and behind his neck, he felt some swelling. "Where'd this come from?" He didn't wait for an answer, even if one had been forthcoming; he automatically pulled at Kelly's shoulder to turn him back face-down and get a closer look. There was a ghost of resistance in Kelly's body--Scotty felt him brace himself for a second--and then old habits took over and he lay flat on his stomach under Scotty's hands, his head turned away.

It was another bruise, at the base of his neck this time, practically invisible except to a touch. "They hit you there," Scotty concluded, rolling his palm and fingers gently over it. "All kinds of gadgets and medical advances at their disposal, and they knock you out by cracking you on the neck. What's the world coming to?"

He let his other hand join the first one, touching, testing, gradually moving into a soft manipulation of the taut muscles in Kelly's upper back, just like a post-match massage. A standard part of their cover since the beginning, this sort of touching came as second nature by now to both of them. He was grateful for that as he had never thought he would be, grateful to feel Kelly slowly going warm and pliable beneath his fingertips, letting Scotty minister to him. But there was an unaccustomed remoteness to it now, working the familiar body in this unfamiliar silence, without any of the usual running commentary or idle conversation or plans for the latest assignment. He had to work only to the rhythm of Kelly's breath, pressing in small, overlapping circles, chasing knots through every plane of sheathed muscle across his back. With one thumb he found and traced the old dog bite on Kelly's shoulder blade, the faintest peculiar crescent of a scar, and for a moment he almost smiled.

"Arm," he said, and to his delight Kelly automatically slid one arm over to the side so he could work on it. Over the point of the shoulder, down the tricep, to the vein-traced skin and twined sinews of the forearm, even to the long deft fingers and then up again, Scotty tended to that arm as if Kelly had just come off the court at Wimbledon.

"You know..." came Kelly's voice at last, rumbling and slow, "...last time you did this was when I lost that little tournament in Cuernavaca."

Scotty studied the back of Kelly's averted head, finishing the length of the arm with some extra attention to the side of the shoulder. "I know."

"And I'm still in your bed."

"I know." He slid the side of one hand up the groove next to Kelly's spine, running it all the way over the nape of the neck and spreading his hand out to rub the back of the skull, his fingers leaving furrows in the rumpled dark hair.

Kelly let out a deep, gusting breath, the small of his back arching, and turned his head slowly under the pressure of Scotty's fingers until he was facing him. There were circles under his eyes, and he looked both sad and a little bemused.

Scotty didn't stop to think or fear or wonder about anything. He just reached out and stroked the very tips of his fingers over the angle of Kelly's jaw, wondering how deep the bruises lay from his own punches in the restaurant. Kelly closed his eyes--not tightly, like someone expecting bad news, but hesitantly, like someone afraid to stir and wake too soon--and reached up with one hand to tangle his fingers with Scotty's, just for a moment, seemingly almost as much to prolong the touch as to ward it off.

Carefully, a little awkward in such close quarters, Scotty eased down to lie alongside him. He settled one hand carefully on Kelly's shoulder and squeezed it. "Listen," he said, very low, almost whispering in this safe, small space between them. "I didn't know."

Without opening his eyes, Kelly slid his hand around the back of Scotty's neck, pulling their foreheads together. He didn't speak, but Scotty could almost hear the thought beating its wings inside Kelly's brain: and if you had...?

So Scotty did what he would have done, what he wanted to do, closing the last of the distance and kissing Kelly's mouth, once, and again harder, and a third time, tasting bitter heat and salt, feeling Kelly's thin, mobile lips crush against his in motions almost of biting. But just as he was starting to lose himself in that taste and that ferocious touch, he felt Kelly pull away--not far, the narrow bed wouldn't permit it, but far enough. He blinked to regain focus in his eyes. Kelly was gasping for breath, and his hand on the back of Scotty's neck spasmodically tightened and let go, falling to Scotty's shoulder and holding him there.

Scotty watched, dazed, as Kelly clumsily turned from his stomach onto his side and faced him, his expression shaky and troubled, one hand still keeping him at a scant distance. He wondered what Kelly was doing. He wondered what he was doing. This was all kinds of bad idea, and he wanted it. He licked his lips and caught a faintly salty trace.

"You all right?" he managed.

Kelly started to speak, cleared his throat, and tried again. "Yeah. You?"

"Oh yeah." And it was true and clear, he was more than all right, now that he had them both safe on the other side of the last few days, past everything that had gone so wrong, out from under the time limits and the code tens and all the rest of that garbage. Now it was a long Acapulco sunset, and his bed, and Kelly's warm breath.

Kelly's hand moved then, easing its hold, sliding from Scotty's shoulder down to his chest and pressing flat there, in the perfect position to give him a reciprocal push out of bed or perhaps to feel his heartbeat. His face was wary, and he looked intently at Scotty as if expecting him to balk or flinch. Scotty lay still and breathed deeply, feeling the hand slightly flexing away and then back with the movement of his ribcage. It was strange to be here so close, just watching, just breathing in and breathing out, hoping to see the hunted look fade from Kelly's eyes. But that long, still moment finally melted away, and Kelly passed his hand across Scotty's chest in a careful caress.

Scotty meant to reach for him. Something in Kelly's face stilled him, though; that wariness, in the very act of fading, was petrifying into something else, something startled. At that moment, Scotty felt a gentle twinge of pain on his chest, and he glanced down at himself and saw that Kelly's fingers had found the faint burned patch on the outside of his pectoral, up near the shoulder, where one of the close gun blasts had caught him with a mist of hot powder. It barely showed against the darkness of his skin, though he figured it must feel a little rough to the touch. He had disregarded it. It was hardly a scratch, especially as powder burns went. But it was seemingly enough to remind Kelly, and his hand there had gone stiff.

He couldn't hesitate. That burn was nothing, even the gunfire itself was nothing. He grasped Kelly's hand with his own, holding them together on his chest before bringing them up to press his lips to Kelly's palm.

Kelly drew a loud breath. "Scotty--"

Scotty loosened his hold, but Kelly didn't pull his hand away. He lightly stroked Scotty's cheek. "Hey," he said faintly. "Look. We--somebody might be bugging us, right now."

But Scotty wouldn't be so easily dissuaded. Kelly's tone might be dubious, but his hand felt warm and sure in its touch. "True true," he replied solemnly. "For instance, right now, you're bugging me." And he moved forward to kiss Kelly again, savoring the feel of Kelly's mouth curling up into a surprised grin against his own, making their kiss sloppy and perfect. Kelly's hand cupped the side of Scotty's head, and Scotty in turn slipped one arm around Kelly's chest and pulled him in tight for another kiss, which turned into another, and another, gently and thoroughly feeding on each other.

Scotty felt like he could do this forever, listening to the little sounds deep in Kelly's throat, feeling the eager lips on his and the sweat spreading between their bare chests, trailing his hand down Kelly's spine just to feel him shiver and press closer. But in the middle of a breath Kelly broke away to instead touch his mouth to Scotty's cheek, moving gradually toward his ear, in an echo of that drunken night that might as well have been a hundred years ago. It almost tickled, but not quite, leaving Scotty's nerves singing at a high pitch. He arched his neck under Kelly's grazing mouth, focusing on the moist track passing along his jaw, down his throat, across his collarbone and to his chest, where Kelly softly and repeatedly touched his tongue to the skin around the raw patch left by the powder burn. Threading his fingers into Kelly's hair, he heard himself make an involuntary, inarticulate noise.

That seemed to spur Kelly on, or at least cause him to forget his earlier hesitation, because his body slowly began to stretch out into a more comfortable octopus-like tangle, twining one arm and leg over Scotty, the heel of one loafer scraping against Scotty's ankle. He squirmed and shifted, kissing and licking Scotty's other shoulder and back up his neck, until Scotty was ready either to shout or cry. But he took Kelly's head between his hands instead and eased him back to kiss him. And as before, once wasn't nearly enough. It was a subtle and shifting taste, Kelly's mouth, better every time he came back for more. This time it was deeper, looser, long and slow, and Scotty slid into the rhythm of it and put his arm around Kelly's waist, fingers smoothing the warm skin in circles there in the small of his back.

After a while, Kelly's hand began to echo that touch, fingertips and fingernails tracing and softly scratching aimless patterns on Scotty's back. The slow-motion spiral provided a counterpoint, lower and gentler with each revolution, until Kelly's hand slipped down inside the low waistband of Scotty's jeans and trailed across the sensitive skin there, from one hip to the other.

It wasn't really a surprise, and yet it was surprising, triggering a reflexive twitch forward; he pressed himself full-length against Kelly's body, his hips jerking, and Kelly molded himself to meet him. They grappled, awkwardly pushing and pulling in the confines of the little bed, each giving helpless, half-checked thrusts. Scotty felt wringing wet with sweat, his chest slick against Kelly's, his mouth on Kelly's shoulder sliding damply over the skin. Together they generated too much heat for the sunset breeze to carry, and he desperately wanted to strip off, get out of the last of the day's clothes, start the night wrapped up in nothing but Kelly's body. But the bed was too small to undress in (well, technically it was too small for two grown men period, but they were finding ways around that), and that meant they'd have to let go and get up, and that meant...it might get different. He ran one hand feverishly down Kelly's back and up again, over and over, his mind racing--what if the bed was a, a what, a magic circle that wouldn't work once you broke it and stepped away? He wasn't a natural pessimist, but there was still a picture in the back of his head of an uncomfortable silence, a joke, separate showers, and a long, quiet, suffocating night, each back in his own bed that felt much roomier now, and much colder.

Their combined struggles began to slow and ease off, and Scotty breathed wordlessly against Kelly's neck. He'd sooner stay in jeans and socks all night than let Kelly retreat from him again, both of them pretending to understand. But it wasn't all up to him; he could feel Kelly stumbling into the same place, the pitfall between instinct and decision, and for a moment he truly had no idea what to do.

Kelly put one tentative hand onto Scotty's shoulder and hung on, dragging, heavy.

And unlooked for, there was the answer. The pressure of that hand brought unexpected sensations, flashes of the many times Kelly had stood on Scotty's shoulders, his feet digging into the muscles, to peer out the window of a locked room or find the way over a wall. From that came other pictures of other moments, hand signals and pre-laid plans and even the occasional plain old significant look, getting them into and out of assignments like a pair of lucky aces in a stacked deck. He felt like laughing at his own fears. He and Kelly were their own magic circle. It wasn't the locked room or the high wall or even the bed that made it so. And so it was all right, it'd all be all right, they could do as they pleased and all the worries about undercurrents and circumstances could just go hang.

Scotty peeled himself away and rolled over, gleefully sliding and falling off his side of the bed to land on his hands and knees. He knelt up and looked over the edge of the bed at Kelly, who lay there all flushed and sweaty and uncertain, and let his suppressed smile break out and spread. "Let me take off my socks."

There was one more moment of uncertainty before Kelly's smile sparked back in answer. Scotty rose, and stretched, and lifted each foot in turn to remove and discard its sock. He wiggled his bare toes against the floor. That felt good. Kelly kicked his loafers off, struggling to sit up, and pulled off his own socks. Then he paused, glancing at Scotty. Scotty didn't need another cue; he unfastened his jeans and tugged them down, stepping out of them completely bare, feeling Kelly's gaze moving and sliding over his revealed skin like an air current, bringing up gooseflesh.

Kelly undid his own jeans with one deft hand, but from there his grace deserted him. He managed to yank them down to his thighs before his sitting position and the shifting surface of the mattress made the rest difficult. Scotty stepped to the foot of the bed, feeling light and brave and a little bit giddy. In one easy move he took hold of Kelly's cuffs and pulled, and Kelly lay back and let the jeans slide down his legs, off into Scotty's hands, and down into a heap on the floor.

Scotty just looked at Kelly for a few seconds, up and down (and especially down), waiting for some leap of shock or maybe even a little worry to kick in. Naked was naked, and here they were. But instead there was a thoroughly pleasant clench low in his abdomen, and Kelly didn't look like he was having any second thoughts either. They had seen each other naked before, plenty of times, in a thousand hotels, in locker rooms, in the community baths in Japan that Kelly loved so much. Scotty had even seen Kelly erect now and then, and he was sure the reverse was true; that was just how it happened when you lived together so close, day and night. And the sight of Kelly spread out flat on the bed, long and lanky, his cock hard along one thigh, watching and waiting for him--it didn't trigger any worry at all, but a definite surge of want, and a surprising upwelling of proprietary pride. Kelly's body was in a sense Scotty's too, had always been partly his, to look after and take care of.

Looking wasn't enough anymore. He knelt on the foot of the bed and crawled upward to straddle Kelly's lean thighs, hands braced flat on the bed to either side, bending down to him until they were nearly nose to nose. A droplet of sweat fell onto Kelly's cheek from his own. Kelly was looking up at him searchingly, and almost everywhere they were touching Scotty could feel the faintest quiver in Kelly's skin, trembling as if with a chill. Then Kelly craned up slightly and caught his mouth in an eager kiss, and Scotty closed his eyes and let Kelly's hands on his back coax and pull him until Scotty lay draped over him like a living blanket, letting his weight settle, feeling his erection press against Kelly's hip. Kelly held him close and kissed the side of his head, releasing a long breath in a gentle, half-voiced sigh.

It felt sweet to rock against him like this, skin on skin. Scotty moved slow at first, almost maddeningly slow, taking his time, savoring the building pressure in his groin. But too soon the pressure built into a continuous buzzing current, and he just had to speed up, he had to get more of that friction and feel Kelly's body heat up against his. Kelly's hands never stopped moving, stroking, leaving trails of sensation wherever they went, urging him to push faster, thrust harder. He pressed his hips forward in short strokes, tensing, feeling the beginning of the end. He didn't want to go over yet, though, not yet, not if he could help it. He gritted his teeth and eased away just slightly, feeling his cock throb at the lack of attention, and tried to slip one hand between their bodies, reaching for Kelly.

At once Kelly's hand was on his, pulling his hand away, lacing their fingers together and gripping tight. Scotty didn't understand, but he was almost past the point of understanding, and as Kelly guided him back into the rhythm of thrusts he simply obeyed, rotating his pelvis to find that perfect spot along Kelly's hipbone, pushing sharply, strokes quicker and quicker until he was almost vibrating in place with the intensity of it. He was close, too close to do anything but move, and he heard wordless encouragement hot in his ear that all at once brought him up and over, coming at last in warm wet pulses that left his heartbeat pounding behind his eyes.

Before he had even caught his breath he felt Kelly's hand move, still trailing Scotty's hand along with it for a moment before letting go to slip in between their sticky bodies and adjust himself. Now his erection was trapped tightly against Scotty's lower belly. Scotty shifted, thinking he would lift up a little to leave him some room to push, but Kelly's arms closed around him like a vise, and with only three snapped thrusts Kelly was suddenly shaking, coming hard and uncontrollably, panting with low, staccato cries. Scotty held onto him; he stroked Kelly's side through the steadily diminishing aftershocks, and kissed the hollow of his throat.

"Oh," Kelly said quietly against his temple.

Scotty stretched out, sliding over a little bit to ease some of his weight off of Kelly, resting his head on Kelly's shoulder. "Mm-hm."

They lay together in the gathering dark as the sweat dried on their bodies. Scotty's hand on Kelly's chest rose and fell with the slowing tides of breath, riding ocean swells. A blanket would be good soon. Though someone was going to have to go to the other bed sooner or later, Scotty thought peacefully--the first time somebody rolled over in his sleep in this one, somebody else was going to take quite a fall. He yawned, and wondered what Blaine would say if he saw that medical bill on the expense report. Maybe they'd choose for the other bed. Odds or evens. But later. Right now his eyes wanted to close up and he wanted to let them. His eyes and his mind drifted down, floating, easy, toward a soft muffled landing.

A jolt along his spine woke him to the ring of the phone, and he blinked groggily into the shadowy room. He was starting to get a little chilly.

"Answer the phone," he said, prodding Kelly's breastbone with his fingers.

"What?" Kelly's voice was deep and thick.

"Answer the phone."

"Well...I would...but, you see, I seem to be trapped under a sack of cement."

"You want me to answer it," Scotty said, "I'll have to climb up over you and kneel on your head. Save yourself the trouble."

"Save me the trouble," Kelly muttered, shifting under Scotty's arm as he reached out and fumbled the receiver off the hook. "Yes, what!" He paused, and Scotty knew it wasn't room service on the line. "I was sleeping. No, I'm fine. I'm fine, will you cool off about it? Scotty knows his job. You guys shouldn't push him around so much. Now, you want me to give you some code words or do a little song or what? Just let me know so I can do it and go back to sleep." He fell silent for a while, listening, and then in a different tone he said only, "I understand. Yeah. We'll be there," then hung up the phone and leaned to switch on the light.

"We'll be where?" Scotty asked, blinking against the glare.

Kelly slapped him lightly on the shoulder. "Come on, get up. They traced Karolyi back to his lab, moved in and caught him and the whole bunch. All the gadgets too. They were wondering if we wanted in on the roundup."

"Get along, little dogie." Scotty pushed against Kelly's chest for leverage and lurched up to a sitting position. "Let's go say hello to the laundry man."

"I have a few other things to say to him." Kelly sounded grim, and Scotty turned to look down at him, still lying so close, thoroughly rumpled and tired.

"Hey," Scotty said. "You're going to be all right, aren't you."

It wasn't really a question, but Kelly seemed to think it over like one. Scotty waited for him. His leg where it lay next to Kelly's was warm all the way down. "Yeah," Kelly said at last, sounding a little surprised.

And after they had rolled out of bed to sketchily wash and dress in fresh clothes, Scotty spent five full minutes hunting for his razor before finding it jumbled in the bag among the pistols. He had forgotten why it was even there.


For Kay, March 2001

Thanks to Jessica, for beta-reading, and to Kay and Wa for batting the ideas around.