Thirsty Boots
by Spica

TITLE: Thirsty Boots
AUTHOR: Spica (
ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my headers attached.
DISCLAIMER: The characters and the X-files universe are the legal property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Television. No infringement is intended.
KEYWORDS: S, A, Doggett/Kim Cook
SPOILERS: Season 8
SUMMARY: "How do you make love then, Agent Doggett?"
FEEDBACK: Is more invigorating than vitamin C. Pretty please?
NOTES: Thanks and kisses to KristenK2, Meridy M. and Livia Balaban for their amazing, inspiring beta. Extra special huggles to Kristen for all the patient input from the idea was conceived and right up to the finish line. Also, a big thank you to Bardsmaid for test-reading this when I was stuck.

This story was written for the Harem's Doggett Manwhore challenge.

"Why don't you take off your thirsty boots
and stay for a while?
Your feet are hot and weary
from a dusty mile.
And maybe I can make you laugh,
maybe I can try.
I'm just lookin' for the evening and the morning
in your eyes."
(Eric Andersen, "Thirsty Boots")

A.D. Skinner was, as Kim had expected, still in his office when she came back from the Christmas drinks in the bullpen. She saw the light seeping through the adjoining door which stood ajar, and knocked softly. He was sitting on his couch, staring out through the dark windows, at nothing much it seemed. At the sound of her knock, he stirred with a swiftness that told of embarrassment.

"Kim." He rose up, stretched just slightly. His glasses were off, and as always she thought he looked vulnerable without them. "Are you still here?"

"I was in the bullpen," she said. "The Christmas drinks-and-cookies thing."

He didn't look like that registered at first, but then he turned his gaze to her and nodded. "Yeah. I forgot." He walked over to his desk and put on his glasses with his back turned to her.

You wouldn't have gone if you'd remembered, she thought sadly. In earlier years, he had at least put in a token appearance along with a couple of the other directors, but this year she should have known better than to expect it. It seemed his whole focus, his whole life had narrowed down to a few essential things: that Agent Mulder had disappeared, that Agent Scully was alone and in danger, that somehow he himself must be to blame for these merciless facts.

She'd used to be able to reach through to her boss, not so long ago. Not touch him, not really, but come close enough that the two of them would look at each other in understanding and affection, across the necessary distance between boss and subordinate. And she'd used to--well, dream about more. That sounded so silly, like some foolish schoolgirl crush. But it wasn't; it was far from that. Anyway, it hardly mattered, because she didn't know how to reach him anymore. He'd closed himself off.

"I guess I'll be leaving," said Skinner, shouldering on his black woolen overcoat. "Will you lock up the office?"

She hovered in the door, waiting for she didn't know what. Suddenly she was aware that her feet hurt like hell; there was sure to be a blister on her left heel. And all because she'd put on these pretty new shoes at work--stupid, but they had matched the pretty black silk shirt, and she'd put it all on this morning, thinking of the drinks party and that maybe he'd put in an appearance after all, give her a chance to meet him with his guard lowered--

She stood back as he walked past her with a kind, distant little smile, and smiled back although she suddenly felt on the verge of crying. She smelled of alcohol, she realized, and wondered if he was offended by that. She'd probably taken a glass and a half more than she should have, lingering over her chat with Agent Doggett and one of the other secretaries, and waiting in vain for her boss to show up.

The door closed behind his big broad back and she counted to twenty before taking off her left shoe and hurling it across Skinner's office. It bounced off the cabinet at the far wall and lay on the floor. She took a few quick, shivering breaths and then kicked off the other. Leaving them there in their cruel elegance, she went back into her own office, sat down in her chair and looked in the drawer where she had her little first-aid kit.

No band-aids left. She could probably get some somewhere, but the thought of stepping back into the evil, beautiful shoes suddenly felt beyond her capability. She swallowed back tears, again and again. She rose up, walked into Skinner's office, and retrieved the shoes. She turned off the desk lamp he had forgotten about, and automatically put his spectacle case in its usual place. It was unusual for him to leave these little details unattended to, and it spoke clearly to her of the embarrassment that had driven his hasty departure.

Oh, shit. Shit, shit, shit. Kim was aware of tears rolling, dripping warm down onto her shirt front and her hands. She couldn't face going back to her own office with the revealing glass walls, so she let the shoes fall and sank down in Skinner's large swivel chair. She pulled off her pantyhose and examined the blister on the side of her heel. She put her elbows on the desk, and then her face in her hands. It was just the drinks, she told herself. The drinks and the stupid hurtful shoes.

A quick soft knock on the door to the outer office made her sit up abruptly and wipe her face with the back of her hands. She heard footsteps, which stopped, and then the door swung open after a few seconds and she panicked, fully expecting Skinner to walk back in and catch her taking liberties with his space. But he didn't. It was Agent Doggett standing in the door with a paper folder in his hand and a quizzical expression on his face. He'd thrown his trench coat on, hanging open over the suit, and looked ready to leave for the day.

"Hi, Kim," he said with that direct little smile of his--a gesture so warm it hurt her exhausted heart. "Skinner asked for this report earlier today. I only now had a chance to finish it up."

"You just missed him," she said, keeping her voice low to cover up for its hoarseness. "Please put the report on the desk, Agent Doggett, I'll make sure he gets it."

He approached the desk, put the folder down on it, and although she didn't look up, she could sense his gaze on her lowered head. There was a pause, and then his quiet voice. "Is everything all right, Kim?"

She nodded and for some god forsaken reason--alcohol-induced, most probably--decided to look up at him with a bright reassuring smile. Too late, she realized her makeup must be smeared.

Doggett stayed where he was, and looked closer. Then he glanced down, and his eyes widened a fraction at the sight of her bare feet. "You're--Kim, are you... okay to get home?"

Too much the gentleman, of course, to ask her outright if she'd had too much to drink. She felt herself flush, suddenly desperately embarrassed at the spectacle she must present, bare-footed, tipsy and tear-streaked in her boss's office after hours. "I'm... fine," she whispered, not quite finding her voice but straightening herself with hard-won dignity.

He made a short huff, a sound that surprised her with its mild bitterness, and shook his head. "Oh, you too, huh?"

"What?" she asked, confused.

"'I'm fine' would be some kind of universal female shorthand for 'I'm anything but fine but I don't know why I should trust a nosy idiot like you to handle that fact like a capable person.' Right?"

"No," she protested, her eyes widening in disbelief. "Agent Doggett, I know you are a capable person--a... a good person. It's--it's just--nothing to do with you."

That last bit came out sounding more flat than she'd intended. His mouth crooked up, not a happy thing--more of a tightening of his muscles. "Well then," he said. "I don't think either of us should drive tonight, so why don't I just call and get us a cab?"

He leaned forward and picked the phone off the hook, and something in the resigned set of his face cut her up like glass. She'd seen the way he looked at Agent Scully when he thought no one noticed--and Scully so unable to reciprocate, too wrapped up in her own loneliness to be receptive to his care. Just like--

Kim swallowed hard. Oh, sweet Jesus. Yeah, she knew that resigned expression--from her own mirror. It really took one to know one, didn't it?

She averted her eyes when he noticed her staring. She listened to him talking on the phone, but didn't hear the words, just the nice, calm cadence of his voice. It was a good voice. She searched for a descriptive word and landed on "sensible". Sensible wasn't supposed to be sexy, was it? Yet somehow... Agent Doggett's voice was seductive, in a soothing kind of way.

"You should put on your shoes," he said very gently. "The cab will be here in ten minutes."

Gentleness was a dangerous thing in her current state. Her voice wobbled slightly in response to his kindness. "My feet hurt." All the heartache of the evening seemed to spill out in that little piece of information. She sniffled hard and picked up the shoes from the floor, and looked for her pantyhose, because as much as the blister hurt on its own, it would be worse if she didn't wear hose with the shoes.

Agent Doggett's gaze was inscrutable as he fished something up from the desk between them. "Looking for this?" Her skin-colored sheer hose dangled from his hand. She blushed and took it.

"Thank you," she muttered gracelessly.

Suddenly he was behind the desk, crouching down. "Let's have a look at those tortured feet of yours." Was there a smile in his voice? Kim felt his warm hand cup the heel of one of her feet very lightly. Her stomach did some incredible warm twisting thing, and her foot ricocheted back as if he'd jabbed it with a red-hot poker.

"I'm sorry, did that hurt?" Somehow she got the impression that he knew very well it hadn't hurt. A sweet amusement was there only as a low breathiness in his voice. He looked up at her, and God, his eyes were so blue--so clear and blue and knowing. When he reached for the foot again, she let him hold it, her heart thumping harder than she could explain to herself.

He rubbed her toes and the arch under her foot very softly. "Poor little piggies," he commiserated, surprising her into laughter--a breathless, too-revealing sound. He located the blister at the side of her heel, and his brow knotted. "You should lance it and put a band-aid on, or walking in those shoes will be hell."

"I'm out of band-aids," she explained, and couldn't quite muster any grief over that sad fact any longer with what he was currently doing to her foot.

"All right, let's see what I've got here." He reached inside his trench coat pockets and found first a handkerchief, then a Swiss army knife and a lighter. He let her foot rest on his knees, and she watched in worried fascination as he flicked out the smallest blade on the knife, ignited the lighter and held the tip of the blade in the flame. She tensed up when he took hold of her foot again, a small warning sound in her throat.

"Nervous?" He glanced up at her with a small grin. "You can relax. I used to be a Marine. I've lanced countless blisters in my time."

"Sorry, Agent Doggett. I'll keep still," she promised.

Now it was him that looked somewhat consternated. "For God's sake, Kim. Call me John, will you? I've got your foot in my lap."

She cleared her voice, thinking that he might have phrased that so that it sounded less intimate. "Sure, John. I'll... just be still over here."

His grip on her foot was firmer now. He put a finger on either side of the blister, and punctured it swiftly and carefully with the tip of the blade. His grip relented, and handling her foot with a delicacy bordering on tenderness, he took the handkerchief and pressed it softly against the blister, soaking up the clear liquid as it seeped out, then cut up a small square of the soft cloth and folded it to the size of a stamp. "You got any masking tape in your office?"

"Hmm? Oh--" She made to get up, but he stilled her, rising to his feet.


"Bottom drawer next to the computer," she said, torn between embarrassment, guilt and gratitude. It felt good, being taken care of like this. Even if it was just a stupid blister. Even if it was in Skinner's office where she had no business being on her own.

He came back with masking tape and scissors and resumed his position with her foot over his knees. He cut off a piece of the masking tape and fastened the small bandage with it, then another piece which he fastened crosswise to secure the first one.

"That was the only one?" he asked, and didn't seem to notice that he was lightly kneading her foot. Something in his voice made the query sound almost wistful, and between that and the careful massage, Kim couldn't find her voice to reply. She found herself wishing that she'd had enough blisters on her feet to keep him occupied with this for an hour. The whole night, for that matter. He looked up at her, and his expression softened. "Hey, are you falling asleep up there?"

She felt way too tingly in various, awkward places to fall asleep, but she wasn't quite tipsy enough to share that with him. So she only said, "It felt... really nice. You're good at taking care of people, Agen... John."

He smiled broadly at that. "Takes one to know one, Kim," he said, echoing her earlier thought so perfectly that her heart almost stopped in her chest.

He made to rise up and she blurted out, "My toes--"

He looked quickly back at her, raising his eyebrows. She had the decency to blush, suddenly feeling on very shaky ground. "--feel much better now," she clumsily amended her intended, shameless plea, berating herself for her presumption.

He was still sitting there, something strange waking up in his face. Something very wary, very soft there. "But?"

She swallowed. "But--" She searched his expression frantically for a clue. There was no way to be sure. "But--my ankles are sore?" she said carefully.

"I reckon they would be," he said, "with those killer heels."

"They are lovely shoes," she said, not quite sure where this sudden compulsion to defend the shoes came from.

"They are, definitely," he said gravely. "I did notice."

"You did?" she asked, the question ending on a more squeaky note than it otherwise would have because he chose that moment to encircle one of her ankles and rub it gently with his thumbs.

"Yeah," was his only, wry response to that.

Kim's hands, which had been resting in her lap, shifted to discreetly grip the sides of the chair seat. She tried to imagine Skinner doing this for her, but gave up in the same moment--the notion was too absurd. Skinner protected himself from intimacy behind steel-armored walls; Doggett was too straightforward to need such protection. His touch on her bare skin was warm and sure and unafraid. Respectful, yet--seductive. She parted her lips at the thought. That wasn't what was going on here, was it--seduction? He was just... rubbing her ankles. Well, he'd actually progressed to her lower calves. Her bare lower calves. He had a sweet frown of concentration on his face like he was intent on doing a good job of it. *Agent Doggett is rubbing my calves.* And the fact was, she was feeling it all over. She was feeling it so badly that it was hard not to squirm in the chair, and she tightened her death-grip on the seat.

His breath seemed very deliberate, tightly controlled. Was he feeling it too? Or not? He ran his thumbs gently up and down the back of her calf, and Kim bit her lip on a moan, scared that she might be about to make the most horrid fool of herself. It wasn't that he seemed disgusted, but God, she had pushed him into this, and it was an irregular, unacceptable situation. What must he think of her? She said, in an apologetic voice, "Um... John. The cab--"

"Will be leaving right this minute," he said, shaking his head. "I'll call another one." He looked distracted, his blue gaze resting on the leg he was holding, his thumbs more than halfway up her calves now. She was achingly turned on, and suddenly she was certain that he could smell it. She shifted in panic and his hands slid up to behind her knee, fingers light on sensitive thin skin, and she couldn't hold back a small plaintive sound as the sensation shot sweetly unbearable through her.

Doggett looked strangely vulnerable as he looked up at her face, his own expression made milder by something she could only identify as need--the same defenseless, unwise, astonishing need she was feeling. "God," he said. "Kim, I'm..." He hadn't taken his hand away from behind her knee. His fingers were tracing slow circles, making her weak with arousal.

She leaned forward and kissed him. His lips tasted lightly of the sweet punch he'd had, and stayed closed under her own at first. But when she pulled back, made uncertain by his reluctance to respond, he followed--returning the kiss with gentle lips, wet smooth tongue slipping inside her mouth as she gasped with relief at his compliance. She moved her hands to his shoulders, scooted closer, met his advance with the same slow, deliberate sensuality he had demonstrated. Her mind spun with conflicting emotion. God, this was so wrong. It could only end in embarrassment and they shouldn't be doing it, but--her body and heart both cried out with the need to be touched. Not by just anyone, but someone like John Doggett--someone kind and capable and sure, someone who'd accept her kindness back in return. He deepened the contact and she arched her neck back with a whimper of despair and elation, luxuriating in his kiss but needing more.

Doggett came up for air with a sharp, harsh breath and pulled back, rose to his feet, as if her small sound had returned him to his senses. "God Kim, I'm so sorry--"

She scrambled to her feet too, reaching out her hand to him in an imploring gesture. "Don't be--you didn't do anything wrong." Her breath was all shaky. "It was me who asked--"

"You're... Kim, you've had a little too much... to drink, probably,"  he managed. "I shouldn't have taken advantage."

"Oh, stop it!" she pleaded, temper and new tears flaring in her simultaneously. "I'm not some poor ingenue made helpless by too much liquor. I'm a grown woman who's had three glasses of wine and... and maybe that made me a bit more forward than I'd otherwise have been to a man I... find attractive in the first place. You're probably no more or less drunk than I am, John. If you don't want me, that's fair enough, but please don't make phony excuses."

His gaze didn't stray from hers. She could see his agitation--blue eyes flashing, nostrils flared. "Me not wanting you is not exactly the problem here."

"Then what?" she said, although she knew, of course, even before he listed the expected, obvious obstacles.

"Protocol. Common sense. We'll have to live with whatever we do afterwards, too," he said with matter-of-fact kindness, still out of breath from the kiss. "That sort of thing can be awkward."

Clear enough warning that he wasn't interested in anything beyond the night. Fine, thought Kim wildly, neither was she. She stared at him. "But you do want me."

He gave an exasperated, helpless little laugh. "Christ, I'm only human. You're a lovely, giving woman and the way you responded just now..." His voice went a little husky at that point, his eyes fastening on her in near-wonder and something that looked like longing. It struck Kim that Doggett probably hadn't been spoiled with spontaneous responses lately.

"John," she said, her voice shaking with need and frustration, "if you really want me, but leave now and don't... fuck me, I'm going to... I'm going to... write stuff in your personal file," she ended on a note of desperate inspiration.

His face blanked as though he was trying to figure her out. "Write stuff," he repeated, his voice leaden. "What stuff?"

"'John Doggett is a tease,'" she challenged him, and held her breath.

He eyed her, disbelieving for a moment, and then he laughed. A real, open, warm laugh, sounding truly delighted with her. She hesitated, and then she laughed too, grateful that the mood had lifted.

"I don't want to... make you feel that you have to... do this to be kind to me, if you don't want it," she said haltingly. "But if you do want it, then I think I'd... feel happier for being with you. Maybe I could make you a little happier too. And I wouldn't treat you any differently later. That's not what I... what any of us would do, is it?"

She stood straight and still and looked at him, her stance brave but her face braced for rejection. But Doggett had moved closer, looking gravely down into her face with warm, thoughtful eyes, and rejection was the last thing she saw in that clear honest blue.

"I'd be a lousy ingrate if I didn't accept an offer so generous," he murmured. "Wouldn't I?"

She couldn't answer, because now the pad of his thumb had alighted on her lower lip, tracing its curved length slowly. She closed her eyes, and her hands rose of their own accord and clutched at his trench coat lapels to pull him closer. Not really thinking about it, she flicked out the tip of her tongue and licked at his finger and was swept into a new wave of desire at the sound of his hitching intake of breath. She whispered, "Please--" Swaying into him, her legs feeling nearly insubstantial whereas she felt entirely too much in other, more vulnerable places. "The couch--" she begged huskily, feeling a renewed stab of guilt as she said it. This was Skinner's couch, Skinner's office. It would be an obscene intrusion to use it this way but she wanted this to happen so badly--

"No way." Doggett's eyes were implacable when she glanced up at him again. He shook his head, a stubborn set to his jaw. "I'm not going to screw you half-dressed on Skinner's couch with you terrified to make a noise or all tensed up in case your boss comes back in that door. I don't make love to women that way."

She went flush with relief. "No?" Something about his intense, heated scrutiny made her all flustered and bothered at whatever alternative route of action he might have in mind. "How do you make love then, Agent Doggett?"

His stubborn expression smoothed out as he chuckled and traced his fingers tenderly over her hair. "Hell if I remember," he grinned. And this time it was Kim laughing in delight, and him joining in.

"Your memory seems to serve you well so far," she said warmly.

"Well, that's a relief." He let his hand fall. "Come on," he said. "Let's go to my place; let's just take the first cab we get."

"Got to put on the hose and shoes," she said. "Turn around." It was needless to say it of course; he had turned his back discreetly the moment she mentioned what she was going to do. Probably realizing the inelegant, embarrassing aspects of pulling on pantyhose and easing smarting feet into pinching shoes. He was such a gentleman, John Doggett. Kim's heart skipped more than one beat as she realized she'd get to see a more primitive side of the gentleman before the night was through.


Doggett's house was neat, cozy and lived-in--a real home in a way she hadn't quite expected. Kim walked quietly around the living-room while he put on lights and drew the curtains closed. At the end of one of the well-stocked bookshelves, she saw a photograph of him with a pretty, smiling blonde woman and a boy who looked a little like them both. She knew of Doggett's history, of course--it was the kind of story that got around, how he'd lost his boy. Her heart clenched at the sight of it, and at his easy movements across the room. He must have his demons to grapple with, but he was strong and good; he hadn't let this agony sour him. Most people didn't manage to stay so untainted by far lesser trials, she knew.

He came back and saw her with the picture in her hand. He stopped, still for a moment, then reached out and took the photo gently, put it back in place. She opened her mouth to apologize, anxious that she might have unwittingly intruded on his loss, but he shook his head--whether in reassurance or warning, it was hard to tell.

"Right now," he said in a low voice, "I just want to think about you. Us. Please."

There was an intensity in the way he said the last word that went straight to her heart. When he reached for her, she felt herself helplessly drawn into his embrace by a force beyond the simple strength of him or the desire between them. It felt as sweet as the tidal pull on a storm-tossed ship into safe harbor, a welcome she'd have had to be crazy to resist. She put her arms around his neck when he sought her mouth, responded to his warm approach with tender gratitude.

He kissed her with almost experimental carefulness, tongue probing against her own, then with deeper, intense longing. His hands ran up and down her back, settling on the small of her back and gathering her to him. In a rush of heat, she felt how hard he was. She drew back a little, reluctantly.

"I am... Could I use the bathroom for a minute?" she asked, breathless.

"Sure. Just use the largest one, it's upstairs at the end of the hallway." He let her go easily. "Could I get you something meanwhile, something to eat or drink?"

"Just a drink of water would be nice," she replied. She felt his gaze on her as she walked on wobbly legs up the stairs.

She peed, freshened up as best she could, then took out the pins in the little bun at her neck. She found her hairbrush in her purse and brushed out her hair. It suddenly occurred to her that she had nothing in the way of sexual protection, and John had made it pretty clear that he hadn't done much in a long time. God, she hoped he had something that wasn't too long past its sell-by date. He might have something at hand just in case, though. She was pretty sure his feelings for Scully weren't of the platonic kind, and he was the kind of guy who'd see it as the man's job to see to protection.

Scully. She looked at herself in the mirror and grimaced. Gleaming red hair, slight small build. She'd been mistaken for the special agent many times, seen from the back or at a cursory glance. A couple of times she'd considered dying her hair, rather than staying a pale copy of Scully's classical, almost arrogant beauty--but it just seemed too silly to make a symbolic gesture against something that didn't really bother her. Besides, bleaching made her hair a strawberry blonde that felt all wrong, and dying it dark didn't work with her skin and eye color. She hadn't noticed her hair had grown down to the same longer length as the other woman's--maybe she ought to cut it soon. She swallowed as she fingered the shoulder-length strands. It was a stupid thing to worry about. Doggett--John had said he wanted her, that she was a giving woman--and God, there could be no doubt from the look and sound of him that he meant it. If the glancing physical similarity with a woman he was in love with added to her attraction, then that wasn't so strange--it would be petty of her to resent it.

I'm Kim, she whispered to herself in the mirror. *Kim.* I'm enough. She unbuttoned two more buttons in her black silk shirt, leaving a hint of cleavage and the satin border of her plain black bra visible. She thought for a moment, and hiked up her skirt to pull off the pantyhose, which she rolled up and put in her purse, then shook down her skirt to its demure knee length.

She walked down the stairs, and he was sitting on the couch in the TV corner, leafing through a magazine. Two glasses with water and ice stood on the side table. He put the magazine away when he saw her, smiling at her as she halted in the middle of the floor.

"You're pretty with your hair like that," he murmured.

She felt naked under his hot gaze. How could blue eyes burn like that? But blue flames, she had heard, were the hottest of all. She took a step toward him, tentatively. Her heart hammered. She was worried for a moment that he'd see her hesitance as coyness; it wasn't that at all. It just--felt momentous. She'd never had casual sex so often that it had gotten to feel--well, casual. But something about John Doggett made her feel safe not to feign a bravado that wasn't really there. He wouldn't mock her for her shyness; he didn't pretend to be so very used to this situation himself.

She climbed up astride his lap on the couch, the smooth satin of her skirt lining riding up above her knees. The woolen material of his trousers felt scratchy against the soft insides of her thighs. His hands came up and curved over her hips to support her. He was sitting leaned back, his expression unsmiling but mild, expectant. Slowly she raised her fingers and started unbuttoning his shirt. One button. She leaned forward, kissed the warm skin at his neck, felt his hands tighten and unclench on her hips. Two buttons. Tasted the hollow at the base of his throat, counting the heightened beats of his pulse with the tip of her tongue. Three buttons. Nuzzled his breastbone, musky scented from clean male sweat just above the neckline of his undershirt. His chest rose and fell against her face--rose and fell.

She undid the rest of the buttons more quickly while he watched her with languid-lidded appreciation, and slid her hands underneath the shirt at his shoulders, easing the crisp white cotton down and away until it hung loose from his elbows. Then the white t-shirt underneath. She took it at the hem and pulled it upward, made him raise his arms and slid it off him along with the shirt. He stayed relaxed--just offering himself up to her exploration, compliant and unthreatening.

Oh. Kim bit her lip, only releasing it to take a deep, shaky breath. Oh. He was beautiful. Perfectly toned muscles, not too heavy for his frame--just right: hard and lean and sinuously male. Small hard nipples, flat stomach, breathtaking curve to his biceps. One of them had a tattoo. Before she knew it, her fingers were there tracing it, then outlining the hard rounded muscle.

A hint of amusement had ignited in Doggett's eyes. "Do I pass muster?" he asked with a lack of self-consciousness that seemed irresistibly cheeky.

The corners of her mouth curved up. "I think you know perfectly well that you do," she chided him, barely quelling a giggle. She withdrew her hand, uncurled her palms against his smooth hard chest, just looked at him.

"Well, I've got a hunch we may have a winner here, too." His hands left her hips, and with a finger he traced the inside line of her shirt collar against bare skin, finding and following the edge of her bra before starting to slowly unbutton the shirt. The light searing touches of his fingertips were exquisite torture. She arched her back in an effort to capture a longer, more satisfying contact, sighing with pleasure and impatience. "Please--"

Soft chuckle as he struggled with the last button. "I'm sorry--Jesus, these are *small*..." 

Nervous, involuntary laughter rose in her throat, and she swallowed it down with an effort. "I hope you're not talking about my breasts there, John."

His low burst of laughter petered out fast when he slid the shirt off her shoulders. He let his thumbs follow the upper swell of her breasts above the edge of her bra. "No," he said quietly, simply. "They're perfect. You're perfect, Kim." He raised his hands to slide into her hair, looked into her eyes as he sifted the soft strands between his fingers like coppery silk tassels. There was a strange, almost reverent look of concentration in his eyes. "Everything about you is so goddamned sweet. How the hell did I luck out this way?"

Her breath caught in her throat with an amazing surge of relief that she couldn't place immediately. Then the breath released and understanding flowed back through her in a warm wave. John's focus was all on her, he was seeing just *her*, just Kim. He didn't seem like he was missing anyone else, comparing her to anyone else at all. And how could she really have feared that a man so gallant-hearted would embarrass or hurt her that way? So much for needless worries. Her eyes filled with hot tears but she gave him a blinding smile to make up for it.

He seemed to understand that there was no cause for concern, because he only returned the smile, held her head cupped in his palms and moved forward to kiss her. She saw his lips part sensuously before they brushed hers. His kiss was so light--so coaxing--and then his tongue slipped inside her mouth and she was lost in softness and heat.

Her hands rose of their own accord and lay lightly, shyly on his shoulders. She moved her tongue tentatively against his. A low sound escaped her as the gliding, warm contact sent a shiver of goosebumps all along her body, making her nipples tighten and prickle, her stomach contract in pleasure-pain. Instinctively, she climbed closer to him on his lap, seeking solid contact with his body. With a low grunt, John put a hand around her ass, pulling her firmly up against his hardness. She rocked softly against him, whimpering just as softly, a quiet hum of wanting in her throat. He was kissing her, kissing her. Each time the tips of their tongues met, the sensation spread and crested between her legs, and she tensed the muscles in her legs against his thighs, wanting his hands on her so badly she was close to begging him to soothe the ache.

His hand at her ass slid down over her hip, her thigh, and stopped at her knee, cupping it gently. Slowly, slowly he began moving his fingers up the inside of her thigh, pushing her skirt up in the process. Kim gasped with the sensation and let her head fall back, breaking off the kiss. It had been so long, she'd forgotten the power of a man's tenderness, the magic of a gentle seduction. John's lips were on her neck now, nibbling and sucking, and oh, she should probably do something for him in return--and then she felt his other hand around her breast, kneading it gently, and she cried out in need and bliss, her head loose on her neck as she just gave herself up to what he was making happen in her body.

"Oh, fuck," she heard him whisper, and she realized that though his hands were still busy, his mouth wasn't at her neck any longer; he had pulled back a fraction and when she forced her eyes open she found him watching her with a burning hunger. There was wonder in his voice. "You're so hot, Kim--so goddamned hot."

She gave him a shaky smile. "Yeah?" she whispered back, not really up to more elaborate utterings at the moment. Her breath caught as she felt his hand slip inside her bra and pinch her nipple--just so, tugging at it leisurely--felt his other hand come closer to where she was open and wet and wanting him.

He brushed the crotch of her panties and she jerked back in sensory overload at first, then rocked back, moaning. Oh God, she was so wet she was probably leaving stains on his trousers--not that she thought he particularly gave a damn.

He caressed back and forth over the damp material. "I thought maybe you'd left the panties with the hose," he confessed, a small grin in his voice.

"Didn't want you to think... I was easy," whispered Kim, quite proud of herself for that coherent reply. "Oh," she cried, as his fingers slipped inside the elastic in the panties and immediately homed in on her clit, sliding over it in small circles, sweetly knowing. She managed to scramble together enough coordination to place her palm over his erection, stroking it outside the trousers. He jerked into her touch, a groan against her ear.

"Oh, Jesus, Kim. Honey. I need you, I need to be inside you," he murmured with an urgency that took her by surprise and pleasure--he had seemed so in control. He took her by the waist, rose up with her more abrupt than careful. She swayed on watery-weak legs and might have fallen if John hadn't steadied her and pulled her close. His heart beat a hard even pace against her ear, and his hand splayed out over her ass, lifting and grinding her into the solid ridge of his erection.

So the gentleman did have a primitive side. Standing on tip-toe, swaying and pressing into him, Kim felt giddy at the discovery.

"I want you in my bed," he said hoarsely into her hair, and the artless words drove home the reality of what was going to happen with a sensual force that shook her. She turned her face into his chest, pressing her burning cheek to his warm skin. John drew back a little, studying her with glazed, gleaming eyes as he breathed hard. Without another word he closed his warm hand around hers, and on shaky legs she followed him up the stairs.

In the bedroom, he put on the light, closed the door and the next second she found herself pushed up against it, claimed in a new passionate kiss. Kim ran her hands over his smooth hard chest, lowered her hands to his belt buckle and managed to get it open. John's fingers were deft behind her back, opening the clasp of her bra and smoothing it down her arms. He took one step back to give her a look of searing appreciation, then cupped her breasts in his palms, thumbing the achingly sensitive peaks with sudden, heartstopping delicacy of touch, his eyes catching and holding hers in a promise so profoundly erotic it seemed close to a challenge.

She was dry-mouthed, restlessly turning her head from side to side against the door, whimpering and pressing herself into his hands. She struggled with the button in his pants but it wasn't easy to multitask with so much sensation coursing through her body from his caress. Especially not when her fingers were repeatedly brushing the erection that tented his dress pants, reminding her how tantalizingly close they both were to completion and relief. She was reduced to "Please--" again, "Please, please--" and tugging on his pants waist in an effort to make him see the problem. John looked down, then up again with considerable wickedness in his eyes for such a sweet man.

"Damn, honey. You need a hand with that?" he empathized in a murmur approaching a purr.

Kim nodded urgently. Pride seemed an irrelevant commodity, all of a sudden. He chuckled and let his hands trail down between them, then undid the button and fly and pulled his pants down along with his boxers, stepping out of his socks at the same time. In the space of five seconds and without any self-consciousness at all, he went from half-dressed to stark naked, and Kim's mind went into overdrive. God, he was beyond beautiful. Strong and hard and well-proportioned and so intensely aroused. She reached out a hand slowly, gently closing her fingers around him. He gave a shaky sigh, his lids heavy as he watched her stroke him, explore him. He slipped a hand into her hair and held her head for a kiss, slow and wondering like her own caress of him. She felt him pulse and swell even more, silky smoothness gliding against the sensitive skin of her palm.

Her skirt fell, the cool satin lining swishing down along her legs. She hadn't even noticed him pulling the zipper at the side. She let go of him and stepped out of the puddle of clothing at her feet, and eager to get rid of the last barrier between them, she hitched her thumbs inside the waistband of her panties and pulled them down.

She straightened up, a slow flood of heat rising in her face under his rapt scrutiny of the coppery thatch between her legs.

"Don't say it," she pleaded. "All redheads *hate* that line."

Laughter flashed in John's blue eyes as they fastened on her own. "You hurt me, Kim. God smite me if I'd ever utter such a cliché."

Giggling, she took a step closer and leaned into him, amusement fading into churning need because just from the pressure of his hardness against her stomach she could already feel him inside her. "Do you... John, I haven't got any--"

"Yeah, I'll take care of it," he said easily. "Come here." He coaxed her with his hand on her back, eased her down sitting on the edge of the bed, and suddenly he was kneeling before her with her foot in his hand again. Kim looked at him in relative astonishment, not to say frustration. John's eyes were alight with laughter again at her expression. "Got a problem, Kim?"

"Um... my feet actually... feel fine now," she said politely.

"Maybe we can make them feel even better." He brought the foot to his mouth, kissed her toes, suckled on the little toe and nibbled his way down the arch of her foot. Kim sighed. Oh, God, she could feel the sensation streaming up her leg. *All* the way up. He nipped at her heel, kissed and licked up her calves. When he'd reached the spot where he stopped earlier, behind her knees, and still didn't halt his progress upward, she got a hunch where this was heading and took a deep breath.

"I... I thought you said you... um, needed to be inside me," she reminded him unsteadily.

"Organized to the last, aren't you?" he murmured cheerfully. "Lie back and enjoy yourself, honey, I'm just improvising a little."

Uneasy, she did as he asked, tightened and jerked as she felt his breath over her sex, felt him dip his tongue there and take a long taste of her. Pleasure coiled tight through her, shockingly sweet. She raised herself on the elbow and looked at him. "You don't have to do that," she said in a hoarse voice.

"Well, I'm not doing it because I have to." He looked up at her. "You got a problem with it?" he asked, more seriously now, his expression concerned.

She swallowed and fell back again, more nervous than she cared to try to explain to him. She'd never been too happy with this act with casual or short-term lovers. It was supposed to be so wonderful but it mostly just made her feel exposed. Peter, her only really long-term lover, had done it regularly as part of foreplay, but it had been such a perfunctory performance that it had only added to her anxieties. But dreams were a different matter and to tell the truth, she fantasized about it at times, touching herself. Only, at those times the mouth working relentlessly between her thighs was Skinner's mouth and the thought of his usually so reserved dark gaze smoldering at her to see her reaction always brought her to a swift climax.

She was dismayed at the intrusion of that image right now and it struck her with a feeling of shamed tiredness that for almost three years, those lonely, longing fantasies had been the entire extent of her sex life. She'd let him take over that part of her life as surely as he'd unwittingly infringed on everything else. And now--she saw his shuttered gaze as he bid her good night again, and thought in sudden insight that he would never let her in and yet she could never let him down.

She opened her eyes again and it wasn't Skinner's solemn brown eyes she met but John's open, warm blue ones, and to her absolute horror she felt tears well up, a hitching sob in her throat. She sat up abruptly, dabbing at her eyes, and he was by her in the same moment, alarm in his face.

"I'm sorry," she almost cried, "I'm so sorry... Oh God, you must think I'm so fucked up--"

"Hey, hey--" He eased her down again, drawing her tight, and his erection was still raging hard between them and she had no idea where he took his patience from but he was patient.

"Please--please don't tell me to go, please don't stop making love to me. It's no--nothing to do with you and me," she said into his shoulder, so terrified she'd scared him off that she was stammering to explain. "It's just... just that it gets so... I feel so beaten--sometimes I don't know what to *do*," she ended, inadequately and thin-voiced, and somehow by the end of that convoluted, cryptic statement, a light of understanding had come into his eyes.

"Kim, relax, will you? I'm not gonna tell you to go. I've seen this many times before," he said urgently. "It's exhaustion, battle fatigue. It doesn't happen only to the people in the line of fire, you know, it happens to those supposed to take care of them too. You've been with Skinner--what, seven years now? Strange cases, all kinds of threatening fucked-up intrigue and a person you've grown to care for being increasingly marked by the strain on him. And you're solid gold, Kim, you're loyal as they come. I don't know exactly what happened tonight to make it all come crashing over you, but you need to give yourself a break, you hear? You need to let someone take care of *you*."

She tried to swallow back the tears, afraid to look at him in case she might start bawling for real and irrevocably ruin any desire he might still have to finish what they'd started. His comparison had taken her by surprise--it would never have occurred to her to think of her own role in those terms, and she shook her head doubtfully. "I just see the admin side of things--I'm just a... a paper pusher. I shouldn't... shouldn't let it get to me so bad; it doesn't really affect me--I'm not... *involved* in any of it--"

Kim felt his calloused fingertips on her tear-stained face, stroking back her hair so he could see her, and it broke off her defensive stream of words. She forced herself to raise her gaze to his intensely concerned face at last, and was blindsided by the quiet recognition there.

"Oh yeah," he countered with emphasis. "You are."

Kim realized she was shaking. That gaze. Implacable and compassionate. One-time Marine, seasoned cop, tough-as-nails agent--John Doggett wasn't just throwing a facile theory at her. He had experience, he knew precisely what he was talking about.

"Ba--battle fatigue, huh?" she whispered, awkwardly rubbing her wet cheek against her arm. She thought of it for a few seconds, while he waited patiently, seeming to sense her coming around. Her thoughts spun--it was just too much to take in all in one go, and it all revolved intrinsically around another man, and she just couldn't talk about that now. It wouldn't be fair to either of them. She opted for a compromise. "Well... So what... do the Marines prescribe for that, then?"

He seemed relieved at her tacit admission as he caressed her tense back with long soothing strokes, trying to ease her trembling. "Some R&R would be a start. Anything you care for that makes it all go away for a few hours, or a few days."

"Well, I already got drunk and followed a sexy man home," said Kim with a sniffle and a feeble attempt at humor.

John gave her a slight, teasing smile, adjusting his own tone to match her lighter one. "Well yeah, that's a great beginning. Good choice."

"So what did you use to do when you had some of that... um... R&R time?"

"Well... let's see." He knotted his brow. "There was that time my first year in Beirut when I flew in for a weekend in Greece. I went straight to a bar and started drinking until I was reeling and stupid, and I made damn sure I stayed that way right until I was on the plane and well on the way back to Beirut. And that was pretty much all; God knows I was too goddamned plastered to be able to get around to anything else." He grinned suddenly. "And I only remembered when the flight attendant commented on my bare feet that I'd lost my shoes the first night."

Kim smiled involuntarily. "Did your shoes pinch, too?"

"I have a somewhat blurred notion that they did, yeah."

She saw the tattoo on his arm, it was right by her face--so close that the words on it were indistinct to her, but she'd noticed them earlier on in their simple power. "It was rough over there, right?" she asked quietly.

"Oh yeah. Baptism of fire." He said it low and matter-of-fact. "But I had friends there, and we took care of each other, shored each other up as much as we could. That made it bearable."

He lay on his side with her head on his arm, his hand still gently stroking up and down her back, although she'd stopped trembling. She looked up in his face and saw him suddenly in a new, almost unbearably real light--the patchwork of lines over his brow that she hadn't really noticed before, the furrows lining his cheeks, laughter lines around his eyes--such a mature, lived-in face, weathered by love and war, grief and loneliness which he had emerged from stronger and wiser of heart. The understanding and acceptance in his eyes seemed nothing short of a revelation. He would take care of her, for the night, if she let him. He wanted to, offered to.

"You make it so easy," she said in wonder. "You make everything so easy." She raised her hand to trace the lines patterning his forehead, and his eyes half-closed and darkened as she ran her fingers from there down his cheek, his neck--over his strong shoulder, the elegant curve of arm and waist and hip. At that point, he caught her wrist in his hand, firmly enough to stop her downward progress.

"You sure this is what you need?" he murmured.

The wariness in his expression clearly came from consideration, not reluctance. Maybe he was so used to taking charge and being the one others could lean on that it hadn't occurred to him to expect her to reciprocate. She wanted to take care of him, too. "I don't think I've ever needed it more in my life," she whispered back. "And there's strong evidence here that you need it too, John."

A rueful smile crossed his face. "You have powers of observation." He leaned down and kissed her softly. "I do need it," he muttered against the corner of her mouth. "More than you know."

But he didn't let go of her. He held her by her wrist, by his gaze, and then without ceremony his other hand slipped between her thighs and upward, knowing fingers sliding into her and tracing lightly back and forth in the slick warmth. And she was so ready for this, had been ready for it so long. She arched up to him, stiffening with almost painful anticipation, her breath rising.

His fingers traced light circles around her clit, without quite touching. "I'd like to kiss you... taste you there again," he said, his voice low and sensual. "You taste like fucking paradise, Kim. I could tell you liked it before you got scared. I could tell it felt really good."

She caught her breath in surprise, torn between excitement at his words and a painfully ingrained wariness. She hadn't expected him to press the issue. But he had her trembling and pliant for his touch, any touch, and the refusal caught and stayed on her lips as she remembered that caress, felt again the sharp flowing sweetness like fire and lightning from his tongue. She was struck with an abrupt, desperate impatience with herself. There was a man in bed with her, a generous, talented, flesh-and-blood lover who seemed to genuinely enjoy this act, crave this pleasure for her as though it were his own. Hell if she would let a hopeless fantasy or habitual inhibition ruin this for them both.

"Yeah," she whispered, flopping back nervously. "Um, I guess just... go ahead."

John contemplated her for a moment, his mouth pursed slightly as though he was evaluating the situation, though his expression wasn't quite free of amusement. He let his lips glide down her throat, nuzzle her shoulder and her collarbone, brush hot over a breast. He stayed there a while, flicked his tongue at her nipple, drew it into his mouth and suckled it gently, then harder, enough to make her start writhing against him with soft plaintive sighs, cupping her palms over his head and drawing that wonderful mouth as close as she could. His fingers moved away from her sex and closed on her hip. The other hand at the other side, and then his head was moving out of her grasp; he was lightly nipping his way down her stomach, dipping his tongue inside her navel--Kim seized up with tension as his progression continued southward.

She felt him settle in between her thighs, nudging her legs wide apart at the knees. His hands slid down and splayed out under her ass, raising her up a little to give him better access. She felt so laid bare the second she felt his warm breath there, it made a hard shudder go through her. She leaned up on one elbow and looked down at him, suddenly certain that she had to see him, see the man doing this for her--both for her own peace of mind and because...well, because she wanted to.

John glanced up, distracted by her movement, and lit up in the most devilish little grin as he found her watching. "Why don't you grab a couple of pillows and settle in for the show?" he suggested on a quietly tolerant note. "That arm of yours might just give out in a few seconds."

Kim closed her eyes for a moment, flushing to the roots of her hair, though his self-confidence was a greater turn-on than anything. "Oh, *you*--" she muttered, "And you seemed so innocent," and felt his answering laugh as another warm rush of breath against her, and shuddered again. Weakly, she reached behind her and took two pillows, arranged them behind her back, and before she'd even had time to lean against them, she felt his tongue in a long, delicate, probing lap and fell back with a gasp.

His gaze checked up with her sharply as he started his exploration, just relaxing her, tracing with slow, thorough licks along her folds as though he were learning her intricate shape by heart. She was tensed against his patience at first; all her old anxieties rose to the surface. But they fast seemed irrelevant; it was just so evident that John liked what he was doing--from the way his eyes half-closed in concentration, to the little grunts of satisfaction in his throat at his first few tastes of her, to the greedy way his hands tightened their hold on her, raising her closer to his mouth like a cup of water to drink.

Reassured, Kim gave up her anxious watch of his reactions and fell gradually into sensation which seemed piercingly specific and yet amorphous. The incredible swirling softness of his tongue over her clit, coming and going--then snaking inside her, impossibly deep: flickering, gliding, soft-pushing sensation of warmth. She surged gently toward his mouth, though when he returned to her clit and began sucking on it the intensity overwhelmed her and she squirmed to get away. John followed intently, soothing her for a while with a slower rhythm, but not allowing any escape.

Her mind spun, her body buzzed with the pleasure from the pulling movements of his mouth: relentless mercy, tender cruelty--all the intoxicating paradox of seduction. Disconnectedly, on a more distanced level of perception, she heard a sensual hum of sound in the room: her own impatient whimpers and moans, John's steady, controlled breathing and occasional soft grunts of encouragement.

"--sogoodohGodsogoodIcan'tbelieve--" Low incoherent sob--had that been her? She felt the squeeze of his hands on her in acknowledgment. She realized that despite her intention to watch, her eyes had fallen shut and her head was moving restlessly against the pillows, fistfuls of the sheets bunched in her hands.

"John--" She forced her eyes open, raised her head slightly and looked down at him. She could see his mouth working on her flesh, see the sensuous languid rhythm of his lips and the hollowing of his cheeks even as she felt it all through her body, and it felt so lush and strange, like an insanely erotic dream. This man, not quite stranger, not quite friend, driving her out of her mind with pleasure. She was trembling rhythmically. He'd opened his own eyes in response to her soft calls, and holding her gaze in the electric blue strength of his own, he moved one hand up between her legs and slid long fingers inside her--two or three of them, thick pressure but they glided easily, slowly in and out, not really thrusting at all, just insisting, coaxing her to open and open and open to him--

Heat flowed to her face. She cried out his name in ecstasy and desperation. It was so perfect, so good, so close but it wasn't enough. Wouldn't he release her? She didn't know how long this had been going on. She couldn't remember any longer how it felt between her legs without his mouth there. She extricated her hands from the sheets, curved her palms around his head, shaking and helpless and tender.

"John, oh God John I need, oh *please* let me come--"

His eyes widened and flashed, she could feel the impact of her incoherent plea like a sensuous shock through his body. And suddenly everything was happening harder and faster down there, his free hand clamping down on her hip holding her still for him as he sucked on her clit in a tight, intense, unrelenting rhythm and rubbed firmly up against some sensitive spot inside. She clung to his hair, crying out defenseless against the forward momentum of pleasure, feeling all the tension in her body close in and release on a point of dazzling convergence: kaleidoscope orgasm all in shattering arcs of light.

After, it was all a daze, John moving up her body, gathering her limp and shaking against his strength, his voice gently amused and just this side of smug.

"You liked that, huh?"

And she answered something meaningless, and she tried sluggishly to move but he held her tight and held on to her and held her, and she stopped moving and just lay there spent in the safe warmth.


She opened her eyes to dark night, disoriented for a minute as she tried to make the shapes and angles around her match those in her own bedroom. Then she recognized John's bed, larger than her own, and John's shape, moving across the room. He'd come in the door, and she registered that the main light had been turned off and only the reading lamp next to the bed lit the room sparsely.

Why wasn't he in bed with her? He'd pulled on a pair of wide tracksuit pants. Hadn't they just--

Mortifying realization struck and she sat up abruptly. "Oh God, no I didn't!"

Brief flash of white in his shadowed face, his eyebrows raised as he came into the soft circle of light. "Sure did, honey."

"I'm so sorry--oh, *God*." Her face burned and she brought her palms up to cool it. "I must be the lousiest lay in history," she said miserably. She took a deep breath, barely daring to ask. "How long have I slept?"

John cast a glance at his watch. "I dunno, less than an hour I think. Relax, Kim. It's all right."

"You don't hate me?" she asked, looking at him doubtfully.

He laughed openly now, a full, happy laughter that transformed his almost ascetic features into boyish playfulness. "I may not be immune to the affliction of blue balls, but I'm too old to be ruled by my dick." He sat down on the edge of the bed, leaned over to give her a deep, slow kiss, his tongue swiping gently over hers. "Actually," he added, pulling back a little, "I was flattered that you were that relaxed with me. And when you've been alone for a good long while, it's nice, you know?--to have someone so soft and pretty sleeping in your arms."

Kim reached out awkwardly and took one of his hands in hers, studying their fingers as they interlocked--his long, blunt ones twining into hers, shorter and slender. His generosity shouldn't be a surprise to her after the last few hours, but it stunned her a bit all the same. "Why are you so good to me?" she asked him, looking from their hands up at him quietly.

John looked surprised, the crinkles around his eyes smoothing out a little while the furrows between his brows deepened. "Why shouldn't I? Who wouldn't be good to you? You're the sweetest--" His voice trailed off and he just shook his head and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear.

She smiled a little. "So I... didn't, um... drool or snore or..."

"No drool," he assured her gravely. "There may have been a few snores, but they were... small ones. Very, ah, feminine."

Kim laughed. She took a deep breath, feeling her face go even warmer as she squeezed his hand. "John... what you did, before I fell asleep... I can't even describe how that felt. And it's not that I... don't have anything good to compare it with, either, but this, what you made me feel, it was..." She swallowed and failed to find words.

"It was?" he asked, his eyes warm, teasing. "Hey, I would have never been able to tell."

She tugged at his hand to get him closer. "Come back into bed," she whispered. "I want it to be just as good for you."

"You won't have to drag me kicking and screaming," he promised her, "but hold your horses just a minute." He leaned past her to the bedside table, and she followed his movement with her eyes and saw that he'd put a tray there.

"My stomach started growling so I had a bite of food downstairs. I figured you might start to feel hungry, too. You've only had those glasses of wine and a few cookies since lunch, right?"

"Yeah," said Kim. "That's so sweet of you." She surveyed the impromptu meal, more touched than she could express at his forethought, and making damn sure her face didn't betray any humor. On the tray was a glass of ice water to replace the one she'd forgotten downstairs, a dewy can of Coke, and a plate. He'd put a couple of crackers there, a glop of peanut butter and a knife, and a hot pizza slice. In a separate bowl lay a small blush-colored orange. She could just see him, the intrepid bachelor rummaging through his fridge and cupboards, trying to scrape together an appropriate offering to the unexpected guest upstairs.

In fact, when she stopped to check, she was incredibly thirsty--there'd been a whole lot of panting happening an hour ago, and her throat felt parched. She took the glass of water and drank half of it greedily. John looked apologetic as she put the glass down, drawing his fingers back through his spiky bed-mussed hair in a worried gesture.

"Very plain catering, I'm afraid. My kitchen isn't so well-stocked. Oh geez, I forgot--" There was a white candle in a holder at the edge of the tray, and he picked up the lighter next to it and lit it carefully.

"This is great," said Kim. She didn't feel very hungry, but took a cracker, spread peanut butter on it and munched on it more to please him than anything else. The cracker was rather stale, and she fought hard to hold back an indulgent grin. Stale crackers by candlelight. She'd bet there were finger tracks in his peanut butter jar, too. She swallowed it down with a swig of the Coke. "Mm. Regular Coke's my favorite. How did you know?"

"Actually," he said with a significant rise of his eyebrows, "I picked the full sugar version to you for the extra energy."

"Mm. And the caffeine to keep me awake, right?" God, couldn't she just stop blushing already? He probably thought her natural skin color was deep pink or something. She swallowed down the last of the cracker with another sip of Coke, and he looked at the tray with an anxious frown.

"You want a bite of pizza? The crust is a bit hard; I had to re-heat it, but--"

This time, she couldn't keep back a wide smile. "I'm really not so hungry, John. I was very thirsty, that's all."

He took the orange from its bowl. "If you're thirsty, these are nice though. It's a blood orange, really juicy. Wanna try?" He looked rather proud of his offering, and she hadn't the heart to turn him down.

"I'd love to. Where'd you get that, they're pretty rare to find, right?" She was honestly curious to know; the fruit seemed so out of place with the rest of the meal.

John peeled the fruit efficiently, seeming at ease now that he had something practical to do. "The grocer down the road stocks them when they're in season. My mother used to buy them through the winter when I was a kid, down in Georgia; they're not rare in the south. I used to love the color." He shrugged and shot her a quick smile as he glanced up from what he was doing. "I buy a bag full whenever I happen to shop there. It's an indulgence, I guess."

She watched him divide the peeled fruit in two, put one half back in the bowl and tear off a segment of the other. He held it out to her, and she leaned forward a fraction and ate it from his fingers. It was a deep garnet red, sweet and flimsy-skinned and messy, pink juice dripping from the torn membrane and running down his hand and down on the bedcovers.

He seemed to wait for a reaction, and she nodded in appreciation. "Mm. It's delicious--so sweet."

John looked pleased by that, offering her another bite, and she picked it up with her tongue and her lips. Sucking the juice off his thumb as she did so was just a playful impulse, but the look of stricken desire in his eyes made her stomach drop in a dizzy, heavy tumble. She gently sucked the next segment from his fingers in the same way. Drops fell from John's wrist down on her breast and he followed their tracks with his gaze in surprised concentration. One drop trailed coolly down to the tip of her breast and hung there indecisive, trembling in time with her heartbeat. As she watched, he leaned down unhurriedly and picked it up on the tip of his tongue, just a butterfly touch but she sat petrified, her pulse hammering at the aching surge of warmth between her legs.

The stale crackers were forgotten. Blood oranges by candlelight--now that was something else. Kim pushed away the covers, climbed up on her knees and sat back on her heels, naked before him. John fed the orange to her slowly, bite by bite, a slightly awed smile on his parted lips as though he were watching some wild shy creature eat from his hand, and she leaned forward on her hands and knees and swallowed the juice and licked at his fingers and didn't even bother to try and hide how hot it made her feel. Hot and squirmingly restless all over. She knew she must look wanton, and she was just glad. Glad that he made her feel this way, glad that she was safe to show him.

When he reached for the other half of the orange, she stopped him, took his hand between both of hers and cleaned it thoroughly with her tongue, licking sweet, sticky pink juice off his wrist and between his fingers and sucking at each finger in turn. John's face was a study in transported desire--heavy-lidded, his expression tense but his mouth slack and softly rounded. She couldn't stop looking at him--couldn't believe that the efficient, take-charge agent she knew from work was offering himself to her so nakedly, so perfectly.

He shifted, and she saw that his erection was tenting his pants, his hand fisted hard close to it, a sensual revelation of how much he ached to be touched. "Kim," he murmured, sounding dazed, and it occurred to her that he was probably just as stupefied by the abandon of the efficient, level-headed secretary. Their work relationship stripped away, and this newborn, fragile trust to replace it.

She let his hand go and moved her attention elsewhere, ran her fingertips delicately down his firm jaw line, his strong neck and shoulders, moved down to circle his nipples with gentle scrapes of her nails and actually laughed when she drew a loud groan from him. Maybe that was silly, but it was laughing from sheer happiness and John laughed in response, chuckling and relaxing back a bit so she knew he didn't mind. He reached for her, but she fended off his arm firmly, and tugged at the waistband of his pants. "Off," she whispered.

"Well, aren't we bossy all of a sudden?" But his eyes were smiling at her and he put his fingers under the elastic, raised his hips off the bed and pushed the pants down and off his feet.

His erection stood in an acute angle up to his stomach, and when she reached out and closed her fingers around it, a jolt went through him, arching back his spine and neck.

"Oh, fuck, yeah--" He closed his eyes for a second, shuddering at her first downward stroke. She stopped there a while, just feeling the hot hard pulse against her palm and watching entranced as he thickened and lengthened even more from her caress. His cock was heavier than she'd expected, yet it was exactly right for him, she thought--its firm curved shape and red-purple darkness pleasing her with its contrast of sturdiness and elegance.

John raised his gaze to her again, a glazed luminous blue, expressing something between humor and despair. "I take it you're waiting to hear me beg, right?"

"Oh! No, just... enjoying the view. Sorry," she said, with a flustered little smile, and resumed doing what she'd just started.

He watched her face as she stroked him, leaned back supporting himself on his elbows, and parted his thighs to give her access when she touched his balls gently with her other hand. He thrust slowly into her hand, his breathing strained and heavy, his eyes darkened and tender as she explored him. Kim's heart raced with the same heavy pulse that beat between her legs. Just the way he let her do this, so accepting and undemanding, made her want him desperately again.

Drops of moisture formed at the head of his cock, and she smoothed them out with her thumb, swirling and palming it gently, then bent down at the waist and licked at it, slowly with the flat of her tongue. John gave a harsh sigh, and she felt his fingers threading through the hair at her nape, sliding out to cup her skull. Far too chivalrous to push her down on him, but the gentle signal wasn't hard to read. He gasped out her name in something that sounded like shock as she took him in as deep as she could, sucking firmly up and down and feeling the throb and swell of him against the roof of her mouth, his salty taste at the back of her tongue.

"Oh God," he exhaled. "Ah, sweetheart... so damn perfect--"

His hand was petting through her hair, gradually getting more insistent than she thought he might be aware of, in fact pushing her down a little now as he grunted loud and thrust up in counterpoint, and even though it made her choke against the pressure to the back of her throat, it filled her with a darker excitement to sense him turning less than perfectly considerate, giving up control the way she had done. 

But John stopped at her gagging sound, his voice deep and unclear with desire. "Aw hell, honey, I'm sorry--" His hand suddenly left her and she missed it. She shook her head minutely to tell she didn't mind, but now his hand cupped her chin and raised her face. "C'mere," he murmured, sitting up.

She did as he asked. Her lips felt swollen from their work, her skin flushed and her hair fell down in her eyes. But John contemplated her with hooded eyes and looked like he loved what he saw. He leaned in and held her for a sensuous, wide open, sloppy kiss, his hand sliding up and searching between her legs, finding her wet and so sensitive she whimpered and shied away a little from his touch at first. His hand gentled, sweetly adjusting the pressure until she relaxed and undulated against his clever fingers, whimpering with appreciation and need now. She ached to feel him fill her, felt so empty and hungry, lonely for him inside. Trying to tell him, show him, she took his cock in her hand again, brushing her fingers across the head, and John gave a strangled yelp. His hand left her and he reached past her with imperative haste, rooting through the nightstand drawer, locating a small package from a box and tore it.

She reached for the condom. "Let me--"

"Uh-uh." The shake of his head was determined as he smoothed the condom down his length. He glanced at her in rueful appeal. "Listen, if you make me come now before I'm inside you, every time I pass through your office I'm gonna fuckin' *cringe*. You wouldn't do that to me, would you?"

She had to bite her lip to stifle a giggle at the intensity in his delivery. "Certainly not," she murmured meekly, "Agent Doggett."

His eyes sparked with surprised laughter before narrowing. He put his hands on her shoulders. "Don't you give me that demure little secretary act," he warned her. "I'm never gonna believe that again. Not after having seen how you eat an orange."

Kim widened her eyes innocently. "I really don't know what you mean, Agent Doggett."

"Don't worry, honey, I'll show you exactly what I mean," he told her with evident amusement, and in the next second she found herself tipped very firmly onto her back on the mattress, John watching her with laughing hunter's eyes.

The fierce clear fire in his eyes told her that laughter aside, they were done with the teasing. He put his hands on the mattress and came prowling after her, and she lay still, acquiescent, eyes wide with waiting now and her chest rising and falling rapidly. John's hand slid between her legs, and as she opened to him he came over her, fluid heat and strength and weight, moving decisively.

She felt him start pushing inside, and ready as she was, after the years without a lover the unyielding pressure seemed to stretch her past all reason and comfort; she wanted to ask him to go slow but couldn't find words, too lost in the intensity of sensation. But John seemed to sense it in her breath on his neck, the touch of her hands on his shoulders. "I know," he murmured, sliding back, brushing his lips over her temple, breath ragged. "Relax... 's no hurry."

But he was trembling with tension above her, trembling as hard as she did, and his eyes almost all dark pupil with their fevered coronas of icy light. She could only guess at what this transcendent patience cost him. "I'm all right," she gasped. "You need--"

John cut her off, his voice so quiet it silenced her in turn. "Don't you tell me what I need. I need to not hurt you." His lips slid to her mouth, taking it in a kiss that allowed no argument; it was passionate comfort and tender conquest in one. He hooked his arms behind her legs, brought her knees up toward her chest and held them there with his arms straight and palms flat on the mattress, fitting himself to her shape, his erection gliding slowly back and forth in her wetness to ease his entry. She was so sensitized already, the feeling obliterated all other concerns in the spinning vertigo of need. And then, holding her wide open, kissing her wide open, he rocked inside her slowly and with care, not hurting her at all.

It was possession, mutual and blindingly intense. As she felt him slide all the way in, Kim squeezed her eyes shut and gasped out at the shock of sticky-sweet, heavy fullness. She'd been braced for the initial discomfort, but not for this drowning wave of ease, not for the way her body would immediately contract around him, drawing him in closer. She felt all warm, yielding welcome. Above her, John lay still again, his eyes tightly closed and his breath harsh now as he tried to get his bearings. After a minute, he moved his hands, let her knees down from their trapped position and she slid them around his waist, locking her ankles at the small of his back.

"Kim." Husky-soft growl-caress of a word as his eyes opened. "You feel... incredible." He took her hands in his, pressing them down into the mattress as their fingers intertwined, kissed her again. He looked her in the eyes, his own smiling and burning with a lucent pale fire under hooded lids. His heart hammered against her breast so that she couldn't tell it from her own. "Here we go," he whispered, and pulled out almost all the way, thrusting back torturously slow with the most intense look of concentration on his lust-dazed face. Kim thought he was so beautiful her heart could burst from it.

He kept his motion slow and exploring at first. She relished the blunt-sharp distinctness of the sensation; feeling the length of him withdraw then surge back and open her anew, relearning the pleasure-ache and urgency of this dance of ebb and flow, claim and retreat. He was supporting himself on his forearms, head hanging heavy right above her shoulder. After the stops and starts she'd put him through, she could tell this wouldn't be a marathon run. There was a fine sheen of sweat all over him, a burnished glow to his skin like fever and gold.

As he built up momentum and a harder, steady rhythm, his expression hovered in some twilight zone between agony and delight. The sensation he evoked in her became less distinct, harder to keep track of; unmanageable and overwhelming, it built through her whole body in strong waves swelling out from each slide and impact, rolling dark and heavy like a pressure of deep seas from inside. Cast adrift, she tossed her head back and felt his mouth searingly hot at her neck, nipping and licking her there, and she moaned out aloud and rocked back against him in time with his thrusts, tried to catch the crest of each movement where it felt best. She usually found it difficult to come just from this, but she felt so open to it now--body and soul primed for surrender through hours of kindness. It might be uphill struggle but she knew she could get there--if there only was time--

"John." Her voice was urgent, near-crying, seemed to echo to her from the walls, surprising her. What had she wanted to say? "John--I need--" Feeling crazy with the need to touch him, bring him closer, she tugged to free her hands from his tender clasp. He let her one hand go but brought the other, still intertwined in his own, down between their sweat-slicked bodies to where they were joined. She looked up only to fall into the subaqueous light of his gaze, felt him slide his fingers out of hers, uncurl her palm to curve over her mound, his hand still cupping her own.

"Yeah, honey," he murmured hoarsely, slurring on the words. "Please. Show me what you need."

He'd slowed his pace with an evident concentration of effort. Rocking gently inside her, she could feel him pulse and swell, could sense him getting so close... She moved her free hand to caress his cheek, slide into his hair, moved her other hand under his and whimpered, feeling the bright steep escalation of pleasure from her own precise touch on her clit. She found she wouldn't need much after all, teetering as close as he was. She let her fingers slide very gently, felt his longer fingers join in, rubbing just as softly around the sheltering cup of her own hand, felt the hard, massive warmth of him almost still in her now--strange, welcome presence, like a cherished guest in her home--but he felt like home--

He gathered himself and began moving again, hard and powerful, holding nothing back now. The combined sensations of their fingers caressing and his forceful movements inside engulfed her. Her breath caught and rose, her legs came down from his back to brace against the bed, muscles tensing for the leap. And now they were both struggling to keep their eyes open, seeing and being seen, as though to ascertain that this was just for them and no one other; gifting each other with recognition. Because it mattered, seeing and being seen; held anchored in the passionate, imperative blue of his gaze, Kim sensed he knew it as well as she. She clutched out, held onto his arm, shaken by the impact of his pounding inside her and that gaze tingling through her like grace and light and cleansing her inside and out. And if bliss had a color, it would have to be this: kingfisher's dive through wide summer skies, into deep cool seas--

She cried out at being recognized like that, trembling and soaring held close in his eyes, dying her nerves and her blood and her marrow the color of joy. She was dimly aware of John gasping out--fierce, reverent words she only knew by the tenor of his voice--until at last he gathered her close with a soft, hoarse shout, all movement tightening and hitching.

He became a taut arc in her arms, shuddered and shattered, then sagged over her with eyes shut, breath heaving, cast up with her on the secret, closed shore of their embrace.

They lay quiet for a little while, regaining breath and drifting down, arms and legs still tightly entwined. John eventually kissed her on the temple and drew back to prevent any mess with the condom, making her feel the night chill, sweat cooling on her body where it had lain plastered to his. He was gone for only a minute, and when he came back he blew out the candle and switched off the reading light before lying down and pulling the covers over them. He wrapped an arm around her, his voice low and nearly wondering as it reached her through the dark. "Come here, you."

She made her sated, limp body move the necessary few inches to his warmth, snuggling in under the covers and breathing him in.

"Would it be okay if I stay the night?" she mumbled against his sweat-salty skin a bit later, a random impulse of sexual etiquette firing in her sleep-poised mind.

John's whisper-voice was part surprised laughter, part tender breath into her hair. "As if I'd let you leave. Jesus, Kim. Please stay."


Waking in the winter dawn was quiet under warm covers. She lay with eyes closed for a while, listening to his breathing and guessing from it that he was awake. Maybe watching her, maybe just waking up, like her. They'd made love once more during the night, stirring from a doze and turning to each other heavy and tender, moving with languid care in the sweet, blind deep of night before finally falling asleep for hours.

She opened her eyes, and John was there, tousled head on the pillow and wide strong shoulder above the covers, looking at her. There was a mild expression on his face, his mouth curved up like in welcome.

"Good morning." Sleep-voice, gravelly-soft, the way he'd talked to her as he loved her in the dark.

She just smiled, raised her hand and combed her fingers lightly back through his hair. He lay close, though not quite touching. She could smell herself on him, and him on herself, skin and memory and pleasure all shared and tangled. Her smile widened.

"What's that smile mean?" he asked, eyes crinkling up.

"I can't quite figure out how we got here," she said softly, "but it's a nice place to be."

The crinkles got deeper. "Yeah... isn't it?"

They just stayed there for a minute. Kim thought of all the things she should be worried about but wasn't really. Having morning breath, and no clean clothes, and needing a shower, and being really sore and needing badly to pee, and how to end this... She cut off the train of thought there, and started getting up.

"Where you goin'?" John asked her, placing a hand over her hip.

"Bathroom. Have to."

"Ah. Be my guest." He smiled.

"You wouldn't have a spare toothbrush lying around?"

"Yeah, but don't use it right yet, or I'll have to get up and brush my teeth too." His fingers tightened on her hip before sliding lazily away, skimming down over her ass. "Just get yourself right back here, okay?"

The frankly carnal grin he gave her sparked a little grin of her own. "*Again*? That is more than respectable for a man your age, you know."

He raised his eyebrows at that, laughter dancing in his eyes. "Morning wood. The saving grace of the fortysomething lover," he proclaimed cheerfully, managing to make her at once blush and laugh at his forthrightness.

She sat up, suppressing a wince at the sting between her legs. Knowing how considerate he was, she didn't want to send out even the slightest signal that might give him qualms about making love to her a final time.

Peeing was a rather smarting experience. She rinsed herself with cool water to ease the burn. She couldn't stop smiling though. This was a good kind of smarting. A being alive kind of smarting, instead of the gray desperate ache of the previous months.

John curled his arm around her as she came back into bed, kissed her deep and thorough with total disregard for morning breath, and nudged her over on her side, spooning her close. His erection felt very insistent against her ass, but he ignored that and busied himself with making her ready, leaning on one elbow and working his other hand over her breasts and between her legs while his mouth was busy further up--kissing her, sucking at her neck, biting her shoulder, licking and murmuring tender, dirty promises in her ear.

He brought her close to the brink, soaked and flushed and shaking, before putting on protection and gently sliding inside her. He didn't thrust hard, seeming quite aware of her predicament despite her efforts to conceal it, just rocked there quietly while his knowing fingers took her almost immediately to a moaning, shivering release. Then she lay sated, too content to strive for another climax, just catching his head with her arm behind his neck and turning to kiss him, rocking back against him and taking pleasure in his pleasure, the low sounds he made and his ragged breath and the tightening of his fingers on her shoulder and hip, and finally the way he lost rhythm and said her name in a gasping cry as he came.

They showered together, bodies sore-muscled and lazy, hands caressing without intent to arouse now, just kind and warm and generous like the water pouring over them.

"I'll go out and get some breakfast," said John, towelling off rapidly. "There's a donut shop a couple of blocks away. Give me fifteen minutes, all right?"

"You don't have to do that, you know," she said. "I can have some of those crackers. Or blood oranges."

"Oh, don't make me think of the blood oranges," he growled softly, "or you're not getting out of this house this whole weekend."

That felt, in fact, like not such a frightening prospect at all. Kim had to bite her tongue not to childishly tell him, 'Oranges, oranges, oranges'. "Either that or I'll be walking out of here like a cowgirl," she said instead.

John looked torn between guilt and undeniable male satisfaction. "Is it that bad?"

"No," she said, giving him a half-shy, reassuring little grin. "It's that good."

He chuckled, let the towel fall and put a large hand behind her neck, pulled her in for yet another kiss. "We've got other methods to make you squirm, if you remember. Less, ah, invasive methods. I'm not up to much else for a while anyway."

"Mm-hm." Her stomach did an enthused flop at the thought. But now she was getting a bit anxious about presuming too much. "Are you going to get us that breakfast, though, or are you all hot air?"

He let go of her with a rather wolfish gaze as though breakfast was standing right in front of him. "Fifteen minutes," he said, backing out of the bathroom grinning.


Kim thought of just putting on the top of John's pajamas which lay on a chair in the bedroom; it was long enough to make her decent. Then she remembered that he'd be fully dressed and thought better of it. She shook out and put on her clothes from the day before and stood before the mirror and brushed her wet hair. The clothes felt uncomfortable from a day's use and from lying on the floor, but she'd smoothed out the worst of the wrinkles and from the look of her it could be any ordinary day, nice shirt and skirt, freshly showered, getting ready for work.

She wished she'd had something more casual to put on, something less a reminder of everything that waited for them just around the bend. She thought of Skinner again for the first time since she'd freaked out on John last night, probed the familiar feeling of attraction, inadequacy and hopeless loyalty gingerly, and was almost shocked to find that it didn't hurt nearly as much. What had happened last night lay over it, padding the ache--like John's deft hands gently putting the makeshift bandage over her blister. She smiled to herself in the mirror, unexpectedly. John had been right. Some R&R, rest and relaxation, had done its work. The practical realities of the situation were still there, but she felt like she'd been granted space to take a step back, gain a little perspective.

She bit her lip, her last pulls with the brush slowing in hesitation. John *was* right. Something would have to change. It had turned out fine, last night--oh, so much better than just "fine"--but she'd been frightened to see how thin her veneer of control lay over the shaking exhaustion beneath. If John hadn't been there to catch her--

Warmth suffused her at the thought of it all. The heat of him, the tenderness. Catching the naked softness in her own eyes, she swallowed and her smile wavered. Now, with time to think, it was hard to ignore how easily this respite could turn on itself. It would hardly improve her general situation to have *two* unattainable men to pine over. Suddenly uneasy, she turned from the mirror. She went to the bedroom and picked up the tray from the nightstand, then walked downstairs.

In the bright, tidy kitchen, she washed the dishes from the night before, leaving them on the rack to dry, and was just finished when she heard John's footsteps on the gravel path outside. He came in, walked into the kitchen and gave her a quick smile--ruddy-cheeked, snowflakes in his hair and on his shoulders, bringing with him smells of cold and fresh air, donuts and coffee.

"You didn't have to do that. Thanks." He nodded toward the clean dishes as he put two boxes on the kitchen counter and shrugged off his leather bomber jacket, tossing it over a chair.

"No problem," said Kim, watching him open the box of donuts and take out two styrofoam cups from the other box. He'd put on a gray lambswool turtleneck and snug blue jeans that looked like they must be his favorite pair, worn pale and chamois-soft by use and washing. He looked so different from the efficient professional in trench coat and suit, different from the warm, naked man who'd made passionate love to her, too. He looked easy, comfortable, a man with a private life she knew little about and where she questioned her place. If there was a place for her in it at all.

"Let's eat in the other room. It's warmer in there," he suggested, taking the hot cups. He paused as he turned, his gaze skimming over her with an expression she couldn't quite pin down. "You got dressed," he said, something wistful in his voice.

She gave him a hesitant smile. "Well, I... figured that since *you* were--"

"Yeah." He nodded slowly. "I didn't think of that. I guess I just don't... want it to end quite yet."

She picked up the donuts, forcing her voice past the sudden tightness of her throat. "Well, there's breakfast first, right?"

She followed him into the living-room, to the TV corner where they'd started making out last night. John sat down in the couch, and she next to him, not too close. Suddenly she felt ridiculously shy. She just wanted to touch him through the softness of the clothes to the hardness underneath, talk a simpler language with palms and fingertips again like they had done in the night.

They sipped at the coffee. John swore as he burnt his tongue, then cut himself short with an apologetic grin. She took a donut, bit into it carefully and laid it down on a paper napkin.

"You okay?" he asked softly.

She looked up quickly, speaking around the food in her mouth. "Yeah--sure. This is really good."

"I'm not talking about breakfast. You're so quiet. Regrets?"

Her breath caught. "Oh, no. Not at all. Don't think that," she said, her voice low. "It's just... it's always difficult, isn't it? This morning after thing."

"Yeah, I know."

"You're feeling it too?" She was almost surprised.

"Oh, sure. I'm not so suave." His expression was rueful. "If I'd been, I guess you wouldn't need to be sitting here feeling lost."

"No, I'm glad you're not suave," she told him seriously. "I couldn't bear it if you were."

"Yeah?" His eyes were mild. "Maybe it's all right then, if we're both... a little out of practice at this."

Kim took a deep breath. "I guess I just don't know what is left now, other than for me to go home," she admitted finally. "You know, in the generally accepted course of these things."

John put down his coffee and reached out for her hands, knotting his brow a little as his own closed around them. "Jesus, your hands are cold," he muttered. He rubbed her fingers gently between his own warm palms. "Screw 'generally accepted,' Kim," he said quietly. "Just tell me if that's what *you* want--to leave?"

Under his grave scrutiny, her face felt hot as she weighed her options. It was so hard to make sense of it, separate reality from wishful thinking, even though it appeared he didn't want this to end yet any more than she did. She thought of going back to work, of being around Skinner all the time, of John working every day of the week with Agent Scully. She thought of how little they really knew each other, and how unreasonably hard it felt already to let this go--half articulated fears she couldn't say aloud.

Something stricken passed over John's face. A kind of recognition, she thought. He gave her hand a light, encouraging squeeze, his voice suddenly sounding a bit rusty. "There's no wrong answer to that question, you know."

Kim managed a smile. "Maybe there's no right answer either, John. I don't *want* to leave, but I think... it would probably be the wisest thing for me to do." Her breath felt a little shaky as she went on, but her hands, cupped in his, had taken on his warmth and the tender contact strengthened her resolve. "There are things I need to think through, figure out how to put right. You've been just wonderful to me, and I'm so grateful for it, but I hate being this fragile, needy person. I didn't use to be like this. I just want to... to figure out how to make it stop."

John's face was composed, but his eyes were bright. He raised a hand to smooth briefly over the hair tucked behind her ear. "That's okay, honey. You don't need to explain." He glanced at the table, a bit helpless as he took in the barely touched food. "Why don't you stay and have breakfast, at least? There's no rush, right?"

Her smile grew fonder as she, too, surveyed the meal on the table. In her nervous state she hadn't paid any notice to it, but three types of sugar for the coffee and four different kinds of donuts bore witness both to how little John knew about her and how much he'd wanted to please her.

"You're sweet," she murmured. "But I think it will be easier for both of us if I just go now."

He nodded slowly. "I'll call you a cab then." He let go of her hand and reached for the phone on the coffee table, and she stood up while he ordered a cab to come right away.

John rose from the couch too, following her out into the hallway. She put on the shoes while John took her coat from the hanger, and he smiled a little as he looked down at her. "Your feet feelin' better this morning?"

"Much better," said Kim, straightening up, feeling a stab of uncertainty at his tender, solicitous expression as he held the coat open for her. She bit her lower lip in thought as she eased her arms into the coat, then turned around to look up into his face. 

"John--" she began, in the exact same moment as he started, "Kim--" and they both broke off, glancing down with awkward laughter before looking up again.

"Sorry," he murmured.

She shook her head slowly. "I don't know what to say now... how to thank you enough," she whispered. "It's not just my feet that feel better, John. You've taken such good care of me." She hesitated, felt heat rise in her cheeks as she contemplated what she wanted to say--then gathered her courage and blurted it out to a point below his neck. "If there's any time that I can return your kindness... I know how crazy working on the X-files can be, so if you ever need some... rest and relaxation too--"

She forced herself to raise her chin and meet his gaze, determined to show him how sincerely she meant that offer... and was caught off guard. It was there again, the kingfisher blue, the complete, intense connection in his eyes--*seeing* her as he had when they--when they--

Her face flamed suddenly with blatant memory-flashes of the way he'd touched her, whispered to her, lust and gratitude taking her in mingled, devastating confusion. John parted his lips on a sharp intake of breath, his pupils dilating in sensual empathy, the same heat coloring his face--

She didn't quite know how she ended up in his arms, who took the step closing the distance between them, but in the next instant they were clinging to each other and kissing, urgent and hungry for a few tumultuous seconds. John scooped her closely to him, his caressing hands at her back bunching up the material of her open coat while Kim's arms went around his waist, palms and fingers uncurling to map his warm, muscled back through the scratchy-soft sweater.

He broke away from the kiss with a small, warning sound and she turned her face a fraction. John held her gently despite the desire evident in his heightened, unsteady breath against her cheek, careful--so careful not to overstep any boundaries. "Me too, Kim. If you need more of this--" He paused as if to gather his thoughts, shook his head. "It needn't be sex if you'd rather not... If you need to just talk--"

Somewhat at odds with his words, not to mention against the odds of his previous exertion, the beginning of an erection was stirring against her belly, and Kim drew breath in an involuntary gasp of amusement. "I guess we could *try*," she murmured with sweet emphasis, "to just talk."

John's fingers came to her cheek and tilted up her chin. His eyes shone with surprised humor. "Hey, you're laughing at me!"

Kim just shook her head, finally smiling without reservation or awkwardness. Outside, a car drove up and came to a stop, its engine still running. John tensed a little, holding her gaze. "That'll be your ride."

"Guess so." She took a step back, and reluctantly, he let his hands fall down at his side. They walked to the door and he reached past her, pushing it open and holding it for her. A crisp cold breeze flowed into the hallway, a rush of tiny snowflakes dancing in sunshine.

Kim's eyes stung a little in the sudden dazzle. "Well," she said softly, looking up at him, wistful to be leaving after all. "I guess I'll see you, right?"

"Yeah," he confirmed, his voice as soft as hers. The glare of the low sun gave a transparent clarity to his squinting, steady gaze. "See you, Kim."

She turned and walked down the property's gravel path to the road, cautious on her high heels, got into the cab and leaned forward to give the driver her address. Sitting back in the seat and looking toward the house, she discovered that John had remained where he was. He stood leaning against the door frame, calm blue-and-gray warmth in all the cold, looking out for her. Like a friend would, she thought with sweet realization, sitting up a little straighter.

As the cab started up, he smiled and raised his hand in good-bye, then turned to go back inside. Kim gathered the open coat better around her and watched the houses go by, low bungalows bright with new snow and Christmas decorations, and further away the windswept skyline of the city center where she had her apartment, her job--her life. There was a strange sensation bolstering her up, one she hadn't felt in too long. Hope or determination or...

Taking a deep breath, she relaxed back and closed her eyes, just enjoying the midwinter sun on her face as she thought in images rather than words of possibilities, of things that might change and of things that might stay.


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