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Fumbling Towards Ecstasy

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Pacing backwards and forwards as if he had a limitless supply of energy - or was trying to draw some from a near-empty well - Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard became increasingly exasperated with the slow-to-arrive elevator. His gesturing hands sliced through the air.

"I've had it with waiting for the damn thing to show! I'll catch up with you kids in the basement," he announced to his team of deputies before he left in a swirl of dark topcoat.

"Like we haven't had enough exercise," remarked Poole as she directed a hard stare after him.

"Be grateful he didn't make you take the stairs too," pointed out Renfro. He stood back to allow her to enter the elevator, which had finally arrived.

Newman held the door open for two women who were hurrying towards them. They ignored him and got into the adjoining elevator. Giving a philosophical shrug, he let the doors close. "Sam could be mellowing," he suggested.

"Sammy?" Renfro gave him a look of disbelief, then spoke with the authority of Gerard's number two. "You must be confusing him with some other guy. Man, I'm tired." He wiped a hand over his face.

"Me, too," said Poole, tart because she was still on duty. "I've got this theory that Sam's really a clockwork toy. Poke around under that red vest of his and you'll find a key."

"I wish someone would hide it," moaned Newman as he refixed his ponytail. "The guy never stops."

"Sam doesn't ask for what he can't deliver," Renfro retorted. "This case has really got under his skin. With everyone else convinced Judd is dead, the asshole has an open field to snatch another kid."

"I know that," soothed Newman. "But even Sam can't work miracles."

Poole snorted. "You'll never make him believe that."

Renfro pulled on his gloves as the elevator came to a halt in the basement car park. "Never mind our resident miracle-maker. Show me why his new car should be causing so much talk, then I can go home."

"It's in his usual spot." From the proprietorial pride in Newman's voice the car might as well have been his own.

Following in the younger man's footsteps Renfro stopped in his tracks, his eyes wide. "This is Sam's new car?" he checked in a reverent tone. "Oh man." He whistled his appreciation as he studied the sleekly beautiful vehicle Gerard had acquired. Like polished jet its body gleamed in the artificial light.

"Why didn't anyone tell me?" Renfro complained as he walked around the object of his desire. "A Ferrari 456 GT. Nought to sixty in five point two seconds. In-your-face, strut-your-stuff, heaven-on-wheels. Forget Helen of Troy. This baby could start a war or two. We are talking seriously sexy."

Poole groaned and rolled her eyes, but even she could not resist caressing the powerful, elegant curve of the hood.

"There's only one phrase fit for this honey," continued Renfro in a hushed tone, love in his eyes. "Marilyn Monroe in metal." Hearing footsteps, he swung around and shook his head in mock despair when he saw who was approaching them. "Sammy, Sammy. We all know what it means when a guy your age gets a car like this."

Looking resigned, Gerard gestured for Renfro to get it over with. He had taken a lot of ribbing since he had succumbed to temptation. Now he was the proud owner of his heart's desire - and if the having had proved to be an anticlimax, only he knew that. In the last couple of years or so he had been plagued by a sense of restlessness. Cosmo would say he wasn't getting enough. Which was true, he conceded wryly, even if it wasn't the whole answer. Reluctant to examine his own emotions too closely, because he suspected he wouldn't like the answers he got, he had taken the easy option. For his peace of mind it was easier to obsess over an inanimate object than to admit what he really wanted and was never going to have.

"Aren't you going to defend yourself?" asked Renfro plaintively.

Gerard cocked his head. "How long have you known me, Cosmo?"

"Too damn long. You're no fun," he complained.

"I've heard that before," Gerard conceded. The sickle-shaped creases down his cheeks deepened into gouges as he smiled. "Save it - unless working a twenty-eight hour shift hasn't been enough for you." Having showered and changed at the office he knew he looked in better shape than the others. Equally, he was just as tired, despite his attempts to inject vitality into his speech and manner.

"You want me to stay on?" Renfro asked him, sobering,

"Now he thinks he's indispensable. Go home, Cosmo. Give Caroline grief, kiss your kids, kick the dog and never ever mention this car again. Clear?"

Renfro held up his hands. "I'm outta here. Don't let Noah drool on the upholstery. And keep Poole's feet off the dash."

"I heard that," she said.

Renfro had already taken off for his own car with more prudence than valor.

"Wow, look at that yellow streak down his back," remarked Newman. He looked half-asleep and pale under the strip-lighting.

Gerard clapped his hands briskly. "Let's see some energy here, boys and girls. We've miles to go before we sleep. Noah, are you travelling with us?" He gestured to the back seat.

Newman got in and spread himself luxuriously across the soft, black leather. "This car smells great. Very sexy."

"Of course it does. I'm a very sexy guy." Amusement warmed Gerard's dark eyes as he reversed out of his parking space.

Poole popped her gum. "Dreaming again, Sam?"

Before Gerard could reply Newman prodded him in the shoulder, having overcome his awe of the older man a long time ago. "How come Poole gets to ride with you in the front? She always gets to sit next to you. That's favoritism - and sexism."

Gerard gave the younger man a considering stare in the driving mirror. Newman held out for almost thirty seconds before he retreated back onto his seat and sulked as Gerard began the drive to Chicago Memorial Hospital.

Despite days of overwork and nights where sleep had been conspicuous by its absence, Gerard could feel himself coming alive, more energized than he had been for weeks. Catching a red light, he leant forward and hit the play button of the compact disc player. ‘Bad to the Bone' thundered out of the speakers, rich and raunchy and full of energy. He began to sing along with the chorus without even realizing it. After chasing Judd it would be a refreshing novelty to renew his acquaintance with the saintly Doctor Kimble, who had been his first innocent - most likely his only innocent - and therefore memorable.

While Kimble had made it plain he wanted nothing more than to put the past behind him, the past refused to lie down and die. Instinct insisted that Kimble's near-brushes with death over the last three months were personally motivated; if Devlin-MacGregor had wanted Kimble dead he would be worms' meat. Gerard knew his was the minority view. Given the billions at the drug company's disposal he wasn't about to be dogmatic about it. The FBI were botching the investigation into Devlin-MacGregor, which looked likely to drag on for years rather than months; the local branch had placed Kimble in protective custody for eight days, then decided it was unnecessary after all. Chicago Police Department had nothing to offer on the attacks Kimble had suffered, beyond conflicting evidence from eye-witnesses. Kimble himself seemed the least interested in what might be going on. But in the space of a month had come the death in prison of Nichols (ostensible suicide) and three days ago of Sykes (killed in a prison riot).

It was that event which had made Gerard decide that unless immediate action was taken Kimble would join the list of those who had conveniently died. The deputy intended to take a personal interest in the attacks on Kimble - if he could manufacture the time. With Kimble in protective custody by the Marshal's Office he could take Renfro and Poole off the Judd case without them realizing it; they got a break, Kimble would be safe and he could sleep easier - when he got time to sleep.

Gerard gave a soft snort. His budget was shot, spare time a luxury he had forgotten how to enjoy. His kids were being run ragged, the entire division stretched so thin he'd had to accept a couple of secondees and then find somewhere to put them where they couldn't do any harm.

Watching Newman's reflection in the driving mirror, he realized the younger man was still trying to play the sick puppy card. The kid never knew when to quit, he reflected as he flicked off the compact disc player.

" - get motion sickness when I ride in the back."

"Irritate me and that will be the least of your troubles, young man," Gerard promised him. Impatient to be up and doing, his fingers tapped out an insistent rhythm against the wheel when he caught another light. In contrast to his passengers, who were trying to look cool about the attention they and the car were attracting, while loving every second of it, Gerard was genuinely oblivious.

The silence must have lasted all of a minute before Poole started to pop her gum. Gerard ignored the provocation, but when the window at her side slid down, then up again, he turned to glare at her. One glance at her expression was enough to confirm his suspicions; before she could react, he said:

"Noah, stop playing with the window, it's too damn cold out. Poole, don't even think of clogging up the ashtray with your gum."

Poole gave Newman an unnerving stare before she resettled herself and said to Gerard: "What am I supposed to do with it?"

Gerard's lips moved as he murmured something to himself before he held out his hand, palm upwards. "Spit."

"You're too cheap to buy your own gum? Here, have a fresh piece." Catching Gerard's expression, Poole thought the better of it and slipped the pack back into the pocket of her coat.

"Just give me the damn gum." He gestured impatiently with his fingers.

She gave an audible swallow, looked pensive for a moment, then gave him a disenchanted scowl. "It would have served you right if I had spat."

"It would," he agreed. The smallest of smiles tugged at the corner of his mouth.

"You are the most - Getting this car has turned you into a real grouch," she complained as she began to fumble through the compact discs which had already accumulated. Locating what she wanted, she reached towards the player. Gerard brushed her hand away without seeming to glance in her direction.

"Uh huh. My car. My choice of music. You'll be wanting that mushy crap you're so fond of."

Poole gave him a considering look.

"OK," sighed Gerard after a short time. He ejected the George Thoroughgood CD, muted the volume control and held out his hand, grimacing when he saw her choice. "I knew it. You can have one track. My choice. I don't want you fiddling with buttons. And Noah, no playing with the windows while this is on. I have an image to protect."

"What image is that, Sam?" asked Poole, before she held up her hands. "You play the music, I'll be nice."

He snorted but otherwise held his peace.

Relaxing back in her seat to enjoy his selection, Poole watched Gerard's lips move as he silently sang an accompaniment to the song. While he would claim he knew the lyrics only because she inflicted it on him so often, she preferred her theory.

Having begun to listen intently, Newman frowned. "What is she on?"

"Who?" asked Poole.

"This singer. Did she just say ‘companion to our demons'?"

"Yeah."

"So what's all that crap about chairs and stuff?" pursued Newman, aggrieved. It wasn't easy being a New Man.

Poole looked blank. "It's symbolic," she said finally, when inspiration failed her. Beside her, Gerard was wearing a wide grin.

"Of what?"

"Of - Damn, the track's finished." Poole gave Gerard a look of hope.

"Don't even think it," he said mildly. "It's not my fault you got suckered."

"By Noah?" she said, incredulous with chagrin.

"Yeah," Newman confirmed happily.

"I admire your courage, young man," said Gerard, "but you've gotta learn to quit while you're ahead." He swopped compact discs, cranked up the volume and returned to singing ‘B-B-B-bad to the bone' with the growly enthusiasm which anyone who worked with him had to get used to hearing.

Newman shook his head in admiring disbelief. "Whatever you're on, I want some," he said with feeling. "It can't be legal."

"Just happiness. I'm a very happy guy," Gerard broke off singing to say.

Poole turned down the volume. "And I'm Snow White."

"Yeah? Which of the dwarves have you got me down for?" enquired Gerard, before he frowned. "Noah, what you doin'?" What little beat there was against the back of his seat faltered.

"Playing the drums."

Gerard conceded the point with a small nod. "OK. But try to keep better rhythm. And watch the leather."

"You spoil that boy," Poole told him dryly.

"I know it. I guess I must be compensating for giving you the front seat."

"Don't start Noah on that nonsense again," begged Poole. "He's getting as bad as you."

"Thanks." Newman sounded genuinely pleased.

"You're a vicious woman," Gerard murmured, smiling again.

"Never mind the compliments. When are you going to let me drive?" Poole asked as she stroked the upholstery with a sensual appreciation.

"This car?" Gerard's eyebrows rose.

"Of course this car."

"When hell freezes over."

Newman leant forward in a hopeful manner. "What about me?"

"Is that a joke?" Gerard’s eyes sparkled with amusement.

Newman looked affronted. "Give me one good reason why not," he challenged.

"I can think of several. One, you never stop talking. Two, you don't watch the road ahead. Three, I still remember the day you were too busy eyeing that blonde to notice the truck until you ran into the back of it."

"That was almost a year ago," protested Newman, aggrieved.

"Ten months, two weeks and four days. Big Dog never forgets."

Poole snorted. "Big Dog's full of it. Though that explains the cautious way you were sitting down for a while after the accident. You were lucky."

"Damn right," agreed Gerard with fervor, remembering the lapful of glass fragments he had acquired from the shattered windshield.

Newman was a few sentences behind. "You remember exactly how long ago it was?" Having hoped he had lived down that accident, his disappointment was obvious.

Drawing up to the kerb, Gerard gave a quick, fierce grin. "Watch and marvel, bambini. Now, let's go persuade the good doctor that he needs to go back into protective custody."

"If I'd been through what that guy has, I'd have my bags packed - " muttered Poole.

"How could he know we're coming?" pointed out Newman. Having slid out of Poole's side of the car, he virtually stroked the door to a close. He winced when Gerard slammed the door on the driver's side as if this was some rusting pick-up.

" - to leave the country," she added. "Don't interrupt your betters."

"Shouldn't that be elders?" mused Gerard as he locked the car.

Newman belatedly turned his snort into an unconvincing cough when he discovered Poole was eyeing him in a terrifyingly thoughtful manner.

"I didn't say it, Sam did," he protested with large-eyed innocence.

"I know, but you scare easier," she told him, unimpressed.

"When you think what the guy's been through, Kimble's had some rough breaks," Newman said, abandoning the contest.

As a personal favor to Gerard, Newman had spent some off-duty hours at Chicago Memorial, trying to ascertain Kimble's well-being after the knife attack. While it was information Newman had kept to himself, he wasn't surprised that Gerard planned to step in now the local FBI's half-hearted investigation into that attack had petered out. The police had drawn a blank; Kimble himself wasn't pushing them. Though given what he'd been through in the last few years that wasn't to be wondered at. With his own ideas about what was motivating Gerard, Newman was looking forward to seeing what happened next.

When Gerard changed direction, Newman looked slightly puzzled but assumed the older man knew a short cut as he abandoned the path to the main hospital doors and took them in via a loading bay, through which was a shabby set of swing doors and a narrow flight of stairs.

"We've never had an innocent one before. Or since," Newman offered, testing the waters.

Gerard ignored the bait, presuming he was even conscious of it.

"Doctor Kimble's going to be real thrilled to see us again," remarked Poole, "especially once he hears that the people who hunted him down two years ago want to put him back in protective custody."

Gerard looked suddenly tired. "Right." Poor lighting threw long shadows down the stone stairwell; it gave his half-lit face a surreal look, part gargoyle, part harsh beauty where shadows smoothed out imperfections. He was frowning as if he had a headache.

"How do you put your life back after what he's been through?" mused Poole. "Did he get in touch - after you helped speed up due process, I mean?"

"He did." Gerard's stride lengthened. The narrow, winding corridor was deserted and without signposts, those doors which led off it locked and unmarked.

"You never told us," accused Poole.

"There was nothing to tell. Doctor Kimble couldn't wait to see the back of the guy who came this - " he gestured with his thumb and forefinger, "close to blowing him away." He stopped so abruptly that Poole bumped into him.

"Damn-it-to-hell! Where are we?" He flung his arms out and turned in a full circle, scowling.

"We're lost." Newman always gained a certain comfort from stating the obvious. "Stay put, I'll check the end of the corridor." He took off at a trot.

His glare ricochetting off the walls, Gerard prowled up and down, looking mean enough to bite. "How did we get here - wherever here is?" he demanded of Poole.

"We followed you," she reminded him placidly, tolerant of his poor sense of direction in enclosed spaces and the accompanying burst of temperament.

Jogging back to them, Newman gestured onwards. "To the head of the stairs, then turn left. This is the way to the furnace."

"How far do we have to go?" Gerard thrust his fists into the pockets of his dark blue topcoat, his red scarf providing the only splash of color.

"The end of the yellow brick road," muttered Poole, who was having trouble keeping up with him.

When she stumbled, Gerard finally slowed his pace. "When are you going to buy boots without a heel?"

The top of her head level with his shoulder, Poole stared pointedly up his advantage of height until his hands parted in a gesture of surrender.

"What can I say?"

"Nothing, if you like living," recognized Newman.

Gerard had already set off again, although at a slower pace. "What does a surgeon who can't operate do?" He slowed to a halt.

"Normal people would take a holiday," muttered Poole as she passed him.

"What was that?" Gerard's tone was bland.

"Never mind," sighed Poole. She didn't need to look up to know Gerard was grinning; she could feel it piercing her shoulder blades. "Why can't Doctor Kimble operate?" she added.

"Do you ever listen to my briefings?" said Gerard. "He was attacked in the garage in the basement of his apartment, knocked unconscious and cut up. He was never clear about exactly what happened but from the pattern of the slashes on his palm and fingers it's probable he grabbed the knife by the blade while he was trying to defend himself."

Poole sucked in her breath.

"Unpleasant," agreed Newman. "He was real lucky - in the circumstances. The surgery paid off and he's just finished an extensive course of physiotherapy. I don't know how you missed the press coverage. The only person who didn't give his side of the story was the doctor himself."

"It must have been when Roger and I were on vacation. Doctor Kimble doesn't have much luck, does he?" Poole remarked, not without sympathy.

"Not if Devlin-MacGregor are on his back," said Newman.

"They're not," said Gerard positively. He began to relax the moment they emerged onto a wide, well-lit corridor which grew increasingly busy as they headed for the Information desk.

"We'll see," Poole said serenely.

"Ten bucks," challenged Newman.

Looking at them both, Gerard waited until Poole's cocky grin was fully formed before he said, "Make it twenty."

"OK," she said, aware that Newman was nodding.

Gerard gave the slowest of smiles, the lines which spread out from his eyes and down his lean cheeks betraying how often he did that.

"Has he suckered us again?" asked Newman with foreboding.

Poole feigned deafness.

"Hey, that's Jenny on the Information desk!" exclaimed Newman with pleasure. "I didn't realize she'd be on duty."

"What happened to Monica and Abby?" asked Poole, who had difficulty keeping up with Newman's ever complicated sex-life. Mild-voiced and seemingly unassuming, he had a lethal record of infidelity, yet rarely parted acrimoniously from an ex-lover.

"Ssh," said Newman hastily. "Jenny will hear you."

"Nothing's happened to Monica and Abby," interpreted Gerard. "Noah, go get that information about Doctor Kimble that we need. And be quick about it."

"Sure thing, Sam."

Poole pensively watched Newman approach the strawberry blonde desk clerk; if it hadn't been for her sullen expression the woman would have been beautiful. As Newman leant in close and began to talk, a smile blossomed on the woman's face.

"That boy has real talent," Poole noted.

"That he does. My, that's some scowl his young lady has," Gerard noted with amusement when Jenny looked past Newman to glare at him with real venom.

"I feel like I should check you out for scorch marks," agreed Poole. "It's my bet you're Noah's alibi for those nights he's with Monica and Abby."

"No bet," said Gerard lazily, as Noah hurried back to them, list in hand.

"What have you got?" he asked Newman, before he scanned the list. "Doctor Kimble obviously believes in keeping himself busy. I suppose it's too much to hope that he's wearing a pager?"

"Yep. He's not here in any official capacity. Just visiting patients," said Newman. "Apparently he's spending a lot of time with people without families or friends of their own."

"A regular boy scout," muttered Gerard as he tore the list into three. "You better take this section," he said, thrusting a portion at Poole. "You won't want to go wandering the corridors in those heels."

"Do I criticize your dress sense?" she retaliated. "Often," she added when he gave her a quizzical look before he turned his attention to Newman.

"Noah, my man. You take these floors. Is your young woman due a coffee break?"

"Sure," said Newman, looking at him with hope.

"You can have fifteen minutes downtime with Jenny. No more. OK?"

Newman gave him a high five. "Sam, I think I love you."

"That's very nice, Noah. Now go, before I change my mind."

"Some might say you've lost it," remarked Poole, watching Newman hurry over to the Information desk.

"I'm a romantic," Gerard explained, dead-pan.

Poole wandered off with the word ‘pitiful' floating behind her.

 

 

Absently flexing his fingers and mentally assessing the performance of movements he had once taken for granted, Kimble turned from the window when he heard the door of the private room open.

"Can I help you?" A sense of familiarity nagged at him as he stared at the diminutive black woman who had entered the room. Then he noticed the embroidered badge on the breast of her jacket, and the yellow printing on the other side.

"Deputy Poole, U. S. Marshal's Office." She gave no indication that she had noticed the fleeting apprehension on his face.

"What can I do for you?" His voice was slower and deeper than she remembered it.

Before she could reply a burst of automatic gunfire sounded some way away - but inside the hospital.

"What the - ?" Kimble headed towards the door to investigate.

"No, sir! Your life is in danger!" While she spoke Poole had hooked out her radio and she broke off to snap three sharp sentences into it.

"Sophy!" exclaimed Kimble as the sounds of gunfire and screams came closer.

"Who's she?" Poole tightened her grip on his arm. The press of her body against his made him retreat into the room without being conscious of it.

"A patient. She's in the bathroom. Sophy," he called, "stay put no matter what. Gunmen!"

There was no time to be certain she had heard him. Over Poole's shoulder he could see through the glass in the top portion of the door, where he glimpsed a gun barrel. Instinct took over. There was no time for the niceties and he virtually hurled Poole around the end of the bed into the corner by the wall, diving after her as the door was thrown open. Bullets sprayed the wall above where they lay. Poole groaned and stirred as he fumbled for the automatic at her waist. A detached portion of Kimble's brain hoped that the blow she had sustained had not caused too much damage.

The gunman burst into the room, seeking a better angle on the people behind the bed. "I can see you," he crooned as he raised the semi-automatic machine gun he held.

Kimble could hear the calm voice of the instructor from the shooting gallery as he released the safety catch and brought up the automatic, aiming for the largest target. As he fired off three rounds he heard two shots come from the doorway and he swung the automatic over to meet this new threat, firing once more. He managed to pull the shot when he realized the other gunman was Deputy Samuel Gerard.

For a split second after Kimble had fired Gerard's gaze locked with his. Gerard's eyes were wide with shock, his mouth open with disbelief that Kimble had fired at him.

Kimble looked back to the gunman, who lay sprawled on the floor; the man's breathing audibly faltered, restarted, then faltered again. The habit of a lifetime kicking in, Kimble lurched towards his patient.

Shaking his head, Gerard watched Kimble block his line of fire before he dropped to his knees beside the gunman. The surgeon seemed unconscious of the threat posed by the submachine gun, which was still caught in the limply curled fingers of his attacker. In three strides Gerard swooped down to remove the weapon, his automatic trained between the gunman's eyes. His attention was on Kimble - a reluctant admiration on his face when, with a tenderness which seemed second nature to the medic, he tended to the man who was seconds from death.

Kimble paused to push Gerard's gun barrel away with the side of his hand. "Get that out of his face," he snapped without looking up.

"Sure, why not?" Gerard murmured, his inconvenient sense of humor sneaking up on him. He straightened when, through the open door, he saw armed security guards rushing up the corridor, on edge and ready to shoot anything that moved.

"Deputy U. S. Marshal Gerard! We're clear in here. The gunman's dead. We have no injuries. I repeat - " He continued speaking until he was certain they had seen the badge pinned to the breast of his coat.

Turning back into the room, Gerard lowered his automatic when he saw Kimble close the gunman's eyes with the sides of his thumbs. The he noticed the gun Kimble had placed on the floor at his side.

"Hand me the gun you used, sir. Do it now!" Gerard commanded, hardening his voice as he recognized the signs of mild shock in the other man.

Kimble blinked. It was a tone he had heard once before and it penetrated the cotton wool in his brain. Then, as now, it was unthinkable to disobey. Getting to his feet, he put the safety catch on and handed the automatic to Gerard. His eyes never left the other man's lean face as he wondered if he had imagined the deputy calling him ‘sir'; confirmation that he hadn't came within seconds.

The stern set of Gerard's mouth softened. "Thank you, sir. Please stay away from the door. Security and Chicago Police Department will be hot out there. I don't want any accidents." As he spoke, he moved to block the open doorway, using his own body to shield the occupants of the room. "Poole, you all right?"

"Just peachy," she said weakly as she pulled herself to her feet.

Gerard glanced back and grinned. "You're OK." He turned to speak to someone outside the room, reholstering his automatic as he did so. "Noah, you got a lid on security? Excellent. CPD? OK. Yeah, miracles take longer. No, I'll stay in here with the doctor. I want you camped outside this door until the hospital has been locked down. That guy might have had a buddy working with him. How bad is it out there?"

Busy examining Poole, who had a gash and small, swelling lump on her forehead, Kimble could not hear Noah's reply. By the time he straightened from his patient Gerard, who was still blocking the entrance, was talking into a radio while his gaze swept the room. He was issuing a slew of orders with a calm competence which made him such a reassuring figure to be around in a crisis. Having settled Poole into an easy chair, Kimble suddenly remembered Sophy and turned to the bathroom door.

"Sophy? It's me, Richard. It's safe to come out now. It's all over."

Gerard's head shot up, his eyes fierce; he had not considered the possibility that the bathroom might be occupied. "Sophy?" he snapped.

"Armstrong," supplied Kimble, relief on his face as the door crept open, a task hindered by the walker on which the woman relied. "It's all right, Sophy. It's over."

"Thank the lord for that." The door swung back fully to reveal a frail-looking black woman.

"Are you OK?" Kimble unobtrusively took her pulse.

"Are you serious?" Her faded eyes bright with intelligence and an unquenchable spirit, her deep, rich voice sounded as if it should have come from a far larger person. "I would've peed my pants if I hadn't already been to the john."

She had already smiled at Poole and taken in the body of the dead gunman. Now her gaze travelled over Gerard where he stood.

"And who might you be?" she demanded, in a tone that expected to be answered.

His relaxed face was already showing its appreciation. "Deputy U. S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, ma'am. Bodyguard to Doctor Kimble." His relaxed drawl was warmly reassuring.

"Me?" blurted out Kimble as he stared at Gerard in appalled astonishment.

"We'll discuss that later, sir."

"You don't trust me, eh?" said Sophy wisely.

Gerard parted his hands. "For my part, with everything I have. But my boss is a hard man. I'm not allowed to gamble with Doctor Kimble's life."

"Bullshit, Sam," she returned forthrightly. "You're too used to getting your own way. You've got that look about you."

Poole gave an appreciative snort. "She's got you there, Sam."

Propped against the closed door, his legs crossed at the ankle, Gerard tilted his head slightly in surrender, humor revealing a totally different side to him. "I know it. And you're right, of course, Mrs - "

"Armstrong. Call me Sophy. And it's Miss. Three husbands are enough for anyone. They were all good men, but I'm my own woman."

He nodded his admiration. "That you are, Sophy. Wouldn't you be more comfortable sitting down?"

Her smile in response to his unleashed charm faded as she recognized the significance of the sounds coming from outside the room.

"Dear lord. How many?" There was sorrow in her eyes but she had seen too much to be shocked by senseless violence.

"Too many," said Gerard quietly. "Too many." He had the sensitivity not to try and help her during her torturous shuffle back to bed.

"I should be out there," muttered Kimble, appalled by his failure to react to a crisis.

As the other man approached the door Gerard straightened, slapping his palm on the door jamb, further blocking the doorway. It gave him no pleasure to see Kimble flinch before Kimble controlled his reaction. But his body language remained defensive, his broad shoulders hunched, his head and gaze slightly lowered. Less, Gerard recognized, because of what had just occurred in this room than because the posture had become a habit - an armor adopted to enable Kimble to survive fifteen months in a high-security jail: to escape the attention of prisoners and guards alike; to stay safe; to stay alive.

"Let me pass," said Kimble in a voice that was tight with tension.

"You're needed here," Gerard said, softening his tone. "Every doctor in the hospital is out there. There have now been three attempts on your life, let's not make it four. Besides, what could you do? You're not supposed to be working with that hand yet."

While it was a necessary reminder, the fleeting expression on Kimble's face was one Gerard would rather not have seen and he found time to offer what reassurance he could. "The Chicago Police Department will require a statement from you about the killing. You won't be facing any charges, the formalities won't be a problem, but they will take time."

Not a problem, thought Kimble sardonically as he shoved his hands into his pockets to hide the fact they were unsteady. His very public exoneration had wounded police department pride; there were still those who believed he had got away with murdering Helen.

"This is my hospital," he said as he began to absorb the full scope of the tragedy. "I work with these people."

"I hadn't forgotten that, sir. As soon as I have the details, I'll get them to you," Gerard promised him.

His frustration at his inability to do his job building, Kimble nodded, but he wasn't a good enough actor to hide his resentment of the other man. Then, catching Sophy's gaze on him, he managed to produce a smile as he went to check on his favorite patient.

"Poole, you look like hell." The laziness of Gerard's drawl was negated by the concentration with which he was watching her.

"There's good reason for that," she retorted, casting an unfriendly glance at Kimble.

"Doctor Kimble got in your way?" anticipated Gerard.

"Of course not."

"It was those damn heels of yours, wasn't it?"

"What it is with you and your fixation about my footwear? No, Doctor Kimble decided to play Superman and threw me over the bed."

"Hey, he doesn't waste any time, does he," grinned Sophy admiringly. She gave Kimble a nudge in the ribs. "Way to go, Richard."

Poole shook her head, then winced when it protested. "He saved my butt," she muttered.

"Wow, that hurt to say," recognized Gerard.

"I'm saying it, aren't I? It wasn't his fault I caught my head on the way down. He's checked me out and I'm fine. Though if you want to give me two weeks' vacation I won't argue."

"That would be a first," said Gerard absently, his unblinking gaze on Kimble. "I owe you, doctor. Poole, sit back down until I can organize a ride home for you. Do you want me to contact Roger?"

"He's home sleeping, you let him be. And I don't need a ride."

"Humor me. Getting that headache has turned you into a real grouch."

It was a moment before she picked up on the reference. "OK, Sam. Your department, your rules. I wouldn't say no to a chance to sleep this off. But you'll be short-staffed."

"There's Cosmo."

"He might have offered but he didn't expect to be taken up on it," Poole pointed out.

"Then he'll know better next time, won't he," said Gerard unsympathetically.

Chapter Text

It was gone midnight before the Chicago Police Department finally - and reluctantly - released Kimble, and that was only thanks to the intervention of Deputy Renfro, who had been sent over by Gerard to see what was taking so long.

Renfro faced up to the two detectives who had been questioning Kimble. "If we have a problem here I know Sam would appreciate hearing about it. He isn't expecting to take as long when you come over to take his statement." The warning was unequivocal.

Kimble began to relax, having wondered if the nightmare might not be starting all over again. Ironic that it should be Gerard he had to thank for that reassurance.

Five minutes later, Kimble and Renfro stood in the car park, Kimble shivering more from reaction than the cold.

"Is your car here?" asked Renfro. He continued to scan their surroundings.

Kimble shook his head. "A colleague gave me a lift in this morning." He and Kath had talked so late that he had stopped over. He still had the kinks from sleeping on her too-short couch.

"That makes life easier. Chicago Police Department gave you a hard time," remarked Renfro as they got into the department-issue black Ford Taurus.

"No more than I expected." Untwisting the seat belt so he could fasten it, Kimble missed Renfro's intent look. "Where are we going?" he thought to ask. "I can easily get a cab home."

"Uh, no sir. It's our considered opinion that you should be in protective custody. I'll take you to your apartment so you can pick up some clothes and other essentials. Then I'll take you to the safe house."

"This is ridiculous," exploded Kimble, feeling control of his life beginning to slide away from him all over again. "I don't need protective custody, least of all from - " Regaining control, his mouth compressed, his gaze searing through the windshield.

Renfro sat firmly on his instinct to spring to Sam's defense; he could look after himself.

"Wait a minute. Am I a suspect here?" demanded Kimble.

"No, sir, but - "

"Then you can't force me into custody, can you?"

Oh great, thought Renfro tiredly, although his expression did not change. Then he remembered Kimble's track record was that of a man who would put himself on the line for a stranger in need of help. While saints were in short supply in this day and age, it couldn't hurt to put the doctor to the test. A cunning gleam entered the deputy's eye.

"No, we can't do that sir. Just as we can't hope to protect everyone you come into contact with."

In the silence which followed, Kimble turned to stare at him. "What are you talking about?"

"This evening - yesterday," Renfro amended with a tired grimace, "four people died and twenty-nine more were injured - some severely. Their attacker was a gunman called Floyd Patterson, who just happened to burst into the room where you were visiting a patient."

"Deputy Gerard promised to let me have a list of everyone who was killed or injured," interrupted Kimble as he remembered.

"I forgot. Sam wrote all the details out for you so you would know exactly what the state of play is. It was up-to-date as of eleven twenty-three." Fishing in an inside pocket, Renfro produced a three-page list. Written in vivid black ink, the script looked as if the writer had made an effort to be more legible than usual.

Scanning the pages, a small portion of Kimble's brain noted that all the medical terms were spelled correctly; the thorough list would have taken time and trouble to complete. Not that he had expected less of Gerard. To his relief none of the names on the list were known to him; guilt followed. They had been loved by someone.

"Guess you were lucky, huh," remarked Renfro. "Even for Chicago this was a bad one. You didn't know the gunman - Floyd Patterson?"

Kimble made a sound of irritation. "I've never even seen him before. I've already been through this with the police."

"I'm sure you have, sir. Equally, you'll have to keep going over it until we can be certain why, out of all the rooms, Floyd should have picked yours."

"From what I saw of him, Patterson was wired. I presumed he was using - probably PCP, although as I don't work the E.R. I've lost track of the new cocktails on the streets. Do you really think he was after me?" Despite everything Kimble had been through in the last three years, the concept that he could be the target was difficult to accept.

"I don't know," said Renfro with truth. "At the moment we have no idea what he was doing there. He could just be a random psycho. God knows there's enough of them."

"I thought Deputy Gerard didn't solve puzzles," said Kimble, an edge to his voice at the memory.

"I don't know who gave you that idea. He's been known to tackle a few in his time. Until this one's been resolved he wants you in protective custody. There's a risk you could go the way of Nichols and Sykes."

That gave Kimble pause. "Sykes is dead, too?"

Renfro noted the too-controlled voice as Kimble spoke the name of the man who had murdered his wife. "Oh, yeah. Day before yesterday, in a prison riot."

A look of savage satisfaction crossed Kimble's face, the expression gone so fast that Renfro began to wonder if he had imagined it.

"Well Sykes' death has nothing to do with..." Kimble's voice trailed off. "A riot would be one way to disguise a murder. But something of an overkill - no pun intended - surely?"

"Sam, Deputy Gerard, is concerned for your safety."

"That's very caring of him."

"Sammy's a very caring guy."

"I could tell that," said Kimble dryly. "Though why he should imagine locking me up - "

Renfro shot him a quick glance, his expression softening when he recognized the thinly disguised panic behind the calm mask. "It won't be like that, sir. It's a really comfortable place and CPD won't be involved in any way. You're our responsibility. Are you willing to risk another massacre?" he added gently, when Kimble did not respond.

Kimble's face tightened. "Does Deputy Gerard always get what he wants?" he asked wearily.

Renfro visibly thought about it. "Mostly," he said.

To ease them through any difficult moments, Renfro kept up an inconsequential monologue while Kimble packed. This apartment was even closer to the hospital, and very different from the stylish ice palace Kimble had shared with his wife. This was the home of a man with no interest in where he lived. Sparsely, if elegantly, furnished, this could have been an expensive hotel suite for all the personal items it contained. Renfro felt vaguely envious until he thought of life without Caroline and the kids; even the damn dog. He was careful not to talk about his family, not least because he couldn't begin to guess how Kimble had come to terms with being sentenced to death for the murder of the wife he had loved. Instead, he chose the safe subject of cars; specifically his car, which had just gone back to the mechanic for the third time in a year.

"Caroline needs the station wagon to make the school runs, which are in the opposite direction from the office. I'll have to rent, which is going to put one hell of a dent in our budget. Damn cars. Can't live with them, can't get by without them," Renfro muttered as he loaded himself with boxes. "Is this all you want?"

"I can't think of anything else," said Kimble, who had allowed for ten days, which he would try to think of as a vacation. He followed Renfro down to the basement car park but ignored the department car Renfro was driving to head for his own vehicle.

"Uh, sir - " Renfro began.

"You can ride in yours if you'd rather but I'm using mine," said Kimble in a tone which brooked no argument. While it was irrational, he needed some proof that he still had some control over his life, no matter how small.

Recognizing the desperation behind the antagonism, Renfro allowed himself to be over-ruled. But he would not allow Kimble within twenty feet of the car until he had made an exhaustive search.

"At last," said Kimble in the weary tone of a bored adult humoring a troublesome child. The car packed, he got behind the wheel.

"You can give me directions to the safe house," he said when Renfro looked at him. "I might have to accept a nanny for the next few days but I'm damned if I'll have a chauffeur."

"OK, sir," murmured Renfro peaceably.

It was an easy concession to grant and it was essential that Kimble should feel he still had charge of his life. If he wanted to walk there wasn't a damn thing they could do to stop him. He was an intelligent man - and a caring one, or he wouldn't have risked recapture to ensure a kid got the emergency treatment he needed. This was one doctor who saw his patients as more than dollar signs.

Renfro's expression brightened. That was their hook. The best way to keep Kimble cooperating was to reinforce the fact they couldn't guarantee he wouldn't risk the lives of anyone around him if he chose to leave protective custody. He hoped they could keep Kimble alive until they found out what was going on. The guy deserved a break. Besides, any man with the balls - and desperation - to dive off into that spillway had his respect.

Having become aware of everyone's fatigue Kimble wondered what case Gerard and his people had been working on. Renfro wasn't the only one over-working. The inner vitality that had made it seem as if energy crackled around Gerard, even when he sat still, had been missing, and Poole's reaction time had been way down.

The car caught up in the gridlocked traffic in the aftermath of the attack at Chicago Memorial, Kimble began to relax. This time he wasn't on the run. This time he was the good guy as far as Gerard and his people were concerned. Besides, when he'd had enough he was free to leave.

The house Renfro directed him to was situated in what was turning into an expensive suburb after years of urban decay. The grounds were so extensive that the house wasn't visible from the road. Protection was provided by high walls, electronic gates and security cameras. The set-up wasn't even close to what Kimble had been expecting of a safe house. As he turned the final curve in the drive to see the unpretentious brick and wood house, he nodded his appreciation. The grounds accommodated what was essentially a modest family house. He was given little chance to enjoy his surroundings.

Taking Kimble straight indoors, Renfro introduced him to a younger, vaguely familiar man called Newman, who looked like a kicked puppy when Kimble failed to respond to his smile of welcome.

"You'll have to excuse Noah," said Renfro. "It never occurred to him that you had a lot on your mind last time you met."

Kimble shook his head ruefully. "I don't remember much at all about that night. Except you, of course. And who could forget Deputy Gerard?"

Renfro chose to take the comment at face value, his grin making him look like a blond chipmunk. "Yeah, Sam tends to make an impression on people. No, leave that, sir. Noah will bring your stuff inside. Why are you giving me your car keys?" he added, catching them automatically when Kimble tossed them to him.

"Am I right in believing that I won't be going out much for the next few days?"

"You know you are," Renfro said warily.

"You need a car. Someone may as well make use of mine while I'm your...guest."

Not certain he had heard correctly, Renfro stared at him. "You can't go lending your car to a total stranger," he protested.

Kimble gave him a quizzical look. "You're a deputy marshal - hardly a likely candidate for auto theft."

"No, but it's tempting in this case. I've always had a thing for Corvettes."

Kimble gave the faintest of grins, the frozen look fading from his eyes. "Me, too. I'll risk it."

"Thanks. Man, I hope they never send my car back. I'll take good care of it."

Kimble shrugged. "It's only a car. You look after yourself."

Renfro blinked. While Kimble was nothing like Sam, the sentiment he had just voiced was identical. "That nonsense when the police pulled you over on our way here. How often have they stopped you under some pretext or another?"

Kimble's face tightened. "About once a week," he said colorlessly, but his body language betrayed him.

Renfro nodded. "I figured as much by the way they..." Trailing off, he shrugged. "I think you'll find things will be better from now on."

Kimble looked skeptical. "You're going to wave your magic wand?"

"Not mine. Sam's. He's kind of old-fashioned when it comes to abuse of power."

Kimble didn't say anything untoward but his expression made it plain he wasn't a member of the Sam Gerard fan club. Hardly surprising in the circumstances, Renfro conceded, but it wasn't going to make the next few days any easier. Because Kimble was obviously too uptight to sleep straight away, despite the late hour, Renfro took him on a guided tour of the house.

"This place is amazing," said Kimble, when he and Renfro were sat in the huge living-room with a beer. "It's good to know my taxes aren't being wasted." He had expected the safe house to have the basic characterless facilities to be found in any moderately priced motel. Instead, the sturdy, turn-of-the century wood and brick house felt immediately welcoming; spacious, well-lit, with a lot of polished hardwood, comfortable furnishings and a minimum of clutter. His bathroom was frankly luxurious, the only downside the fact he would be sharing it with Gerard, who had the bedroom on the other side.

"Wasted on what?" asked Renfro, puzzled.

"Paying for something as comfortable as this safe house. Are you sure I'm in the right place?"

"I'm positive. Your taxes aren't maintaining the house," added Renfro. While Sam hadn't said he could tell Kimble, he hadn't said he couldn't either. "This is Sam's house."

Kimble blinked. "Sam as in Gerard? Have I missed something here? This is Deputy Gerard's home?"

Renfro visibly bristled, his friendly gaze hardening. "Look, let's get one thing out of the way right now. Sam never has been and never will be on the take. His family left him money, which is how he has this house and stuff. Clear?" Fiercely protective of the other man's honor, he glared at Kimble.

Kimble nodded. "Relax, deputy. That wouldn't have occurred to me," he said with truth.

Renfro nodded and slowly relaxed. "That's OK then."

Kimble looked thoughtful. "From your reaction I take it other people have made that assumption."

Renfro gave him a level look of some severity. "Not to Sam's face they haven't."

"Rest assured. Any doubts I have, I'll be sure to voice them to Deputy Gerard."

"Fair enough, doctor."

"You still haven't answered my question," Kimble pointed out. "Why am I going to be staying at Deputy Gerard's house?"

"If the home of a deputy marshal isn't safe, where is? Besides, we're up to our eyes in witnesses needing protective custody."

"And Chicago doesn't have any hotels."

Renfro ignored the sarcasm. "This is easier to guard. And we can work from here. You have free run of the place - except for the office. Any shopping you need, of any kind, write it on the list stuck to the refrigerator. Don't compromise your safety - or ours - by making use of any cellular phone. If you have to make any calls we'll arrange for you to use a secure land phone. Don't go into the grounds without an armed escort, or sit at a window. That aside, enjoy your stay, doctor."

"I like a challenge," said Kimble sardonically.

He fought to subdue the panic fluttering in his gut. No matter how comfortable this might be, it was still a prison.

oOo

Despite having slept for six hours, Kimble still felt heavy-eyed as he went downstairs and through to the kitchen. His stomach rumbling, he tried to remember when he had eaten last. Uneasy at the knowledge that everything around him belonged to Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard, he intended to have out this nonsense about needing protective custody with the deputy. To his irritation, when he went into the kitchen he learnt that Gerard had yet to arrive home, although Poole was there, looking rested and bright-eyed.

"Twelve hours sleep will do that for a woman," she said in response to Kimble's comment on her improved appearance.

"Has a doctor checked your head? If not, I'll take a look at it."

About to turn down the offer, Poole realized that Kimble probably needed this more than she did. After that knife attack he would be eager for any chance to confirm to himself that he had retained his old skills. This was a situation where he was out of his depth and relying on the expertise of strangers - not easy for a man accustomed to authority in his own field.

"Thanks, but later." Pouring him out some coffee, she gestured to the scrubbed wooden table on which the milk and sugar sat. "For now, help yourself to doughnuts - the chocolate ones with sprinkles are spoken for."

"Someone has a sweet tooth," Kimble remarked, before he bit into an aromatic cinnamon ring.

"Don't they just," she murmured as she watched him lick sugar from his fingers.

Kimble had attractive hands. There again, he was an attractive man, particularly now he was beginning to relax a little, loosening the locked muscles in those powerful shoulders and down his back. She'd thought he'd looked good with the beard, but without it he looked years younger and the sensuality of his face was more apparent. The scar on his chin, rather than detracting from his looks, served only to draw attention to his mouth, which was sinfully tempting. As Poole watched, his tongue flicked out to lick sugar from that deliciously full lower lip. Blinking, she reminded herself that she was a happily married woman. But this spell of duty was going to have some unexpected perks.

"How do you like your eggs, sir?" asked Renfro, turning from the stove. One look at his face made it obvious who had been on night-duty.

"You don't have to wait on me," said Kimble.

"It's easier to share out the chores. Can you cook?"

"I give great breakfast. I saw myself through college as a short-order cook."

"Terrific, because Poole can't."

"Won't," she corrected, her tongue flicking out to recapture the spot of jam at the corner of her mouth. "I know you. And Sam's not much better. Give Cosmo your order, sir, then we can discuss a few ground rules."

Kimble had just taken his first mouthful of omelette when Newman came into the kitchen with two other men, who broke off what they were saying to introduce themselves as Robert Biggs and Henry Ritchie. In common with the rest of Gerard's people that he had met they were businesslike, but friendly, with a reassuring air of competence. Helping themselves to doughnuts, Biggs and Ritchie left after having a brief word with Renfro. The chocolate doughnuts remained unclaimed.

"Busy night?" Poole asked Newman, who had sagged limply into a chair.

He groaned and stared at the doughnut he had grabbed, as if it was too much effort to eat it. "That's not funny. I haven't stopped. I'm going to be walking down wind of myself any minute now." While a little crumpled, he still looked smart enough in a dark, well-cut suit, the exuberance of his hair severely curtailed in a tight-drawn ponytail.

"What's Sam doing?" Renfro passed his barely touched meal to Newman, who after one mouthful started to eat like a man possessed.

"Talking," he mumbled. "He's spent so much of the night on the phone it's a wonder his ear isn't numb. Damn, these eggs are good. Cosmo, will you marry me?"

Renfro turned from where he was preparing a fresh breakfast for himself. "In your dreams."

Listening to the friendly banter between the deputies, Kimble was reminded of his relationship with Charles Nichols. He felt a sharp pang of grief when he remembered his friend's death, before other memories kicked in. He'd tried to convince himself that Chuck had been sucked into the scheme in which Helen had died and he had been framed for her murder, but the ugly truth was that Chuck had been a willing participant. Kimble wondered cynically what it would take to break the friendship between Renfro and Poole. All Nichols had needed to betray a friendship of twenty years standing was money.

"Some more coffee, sir?" asked Poole, who had been keeping a close eye on Kimble. Whatever he had been thinking about, it couldn't have been pleasant.

Kimble visibly jumped, although he tried to cover the fact. "I'm fine," he said. From then on he concentrated on the conversation going on around him.

"Who are you hurrying off to - Monica, Jenny, or Abby?" asked Poole.

"Monica. She's not working this morning. Nor am I," added Newman with glee.

"You're supposed to be catching up on some sleep," Renfro pointed out with disapproval.

"Give me a break, Cosmo. I'll be in bed. I'll see you guys later. Sir," Newman added to Kimble, talking through his last mouthful of eggs, before he left, his energy levels renewed by the thought of the morning ahead of him.

"I've only got eleven years on that guy, so why do I feel old enough to be his father?" groaned Renfro, before his expression grew more stern. "He'd better not screw up because he's been catting around when he should have been sleeping."

"He won't," said Poole positively, before she added, "You make the best eggs."

A prickling at the back of his neck told Kimble when Gerard entered the room and swept past him. The deputy's set, pale face and dark coat increased the air of intimidation he brought with him.

"Doctor." He slumped onto the chair at the head of the table, then slid down the seat with his hands punched in his coat pockets and his legs crossed at the ankles.

Poole pushed the plate of doughnuts towards him but Gerard pulled a face and shook his head, scowling from under the jut of his eyebrows. Kimble tried to concentrate on his meal but the food had lost its savor. He only just stopped himself from over-reacting when Gerard suddenly leant forward to take the mug of coffee Renfro had been reaching for. Swallowing a mouthful, Gerard made a sound of disgust.

"Jeez, Cosmo. When are you going to learn to make decent coffee? My tooth enamel just melted."

"The coffee's fine," said Poole. "You've just drunk so much of it recently that it's making you nauseous."

"Thank you, Doctor Poole," Gerard said, subjecting her to a hard stare.

Unmoved, she raised her eyebrows in question.

He gave a small nod, as if conceding the point, and sipped without enthusiasm from the glass of milk she handed him. Rubbing his sore eyes, he pushed himself up on the seat before his tailbone slipped off it completely, hooked an ankle over his knee and turned his brooding gaze on Kimble.

"We have some questions for you once you've finished breakfast, sir."

Kimble picked up his fork again.

"Take your time." Gerard's expression was so bland and his voice so mild that it was a moment before the sarcasm bit. By then his attention was elsewhere.

"Cosmo, have CPD got their asses in gear on Patterson?"

Renfro hesitated and glanced at Kimble, who pretended not to notice.

Gerard missed none of the interaction. "It's OK. We have no secrets from Doctor Kimble. Well, not many."

Renfro was halfway through his report, talking with his mouth full for the most part, when Gerard glanced down and realized he was still wearing his outdoor clothes. He was so damn tired he hadn't noticed. Tossing his scarf over the back of the spare chair, he stiffly got to his feet to shrug out of his topcoat.

Watching him without appearing to do so, Poole's frown deepened when she noticed the stiffness of his movements and that his face had moved from lean to gaunt since he had started to work on the Judd case. About to bully him into eating something, she noticed the hole in his coat.

"Who's been taking pot shots at you, Sam?" Poking her index finger into the hole in the cashmere and wool mix, she waggled the tip of her finger at him.

Abruptly Kimble saw the disbelief on the deputy's face after he had fired at him in the hospital room.

"Me," he said into the silence. He hoped he did not look as guilty as he felt.

Renfro's eyes widened slightly. "Are you OK, Sammy?"

Gerard parted his hands as he sat back down. "As happy and handsome as ever." Fatigue dragged at the muscles of his face.

"I owe you a new coat." Kimble was flippant to cover his realization of how close he had come to hitting the other man. If he hadn't pulled the shot he could have killed the deputy.

Gerard's all-encompassing gaze flicked over Kimble, noting the new signs of tension. "If you're feeling guilty, how about sewing up the damage? You're the surgeon."

Relaxing, Kimble nodded. "Sure. I need to keep my hand in." Leaning forward to top up his cold coffee, he sat back and discovered Renfro was frowning at him.

"Was yesterday the first time you've ever had to shoot someone, sir?" asked the deputy.

Cradling his mug between his hands, Kimble nodded. "I hope it will be the last. Patterson gave me no choice. I was so wired that I only just managed to pull my last shot. There was a moment when I was afraid I'd killed your deputy here."

Gerard's head shot up, his eyes wide before he thought to guard his expression.

"What?" demanded Kimble, picking up on the moment with disconcerting speed.

His expression smoothing out into a bland mask, Gerard shook his head. "It was nothing."

"The hell it wasn't. That was surprise on your face. Did you think I'd deliberately fired at you?" All his attention on Gerard, Kimble was oblivious of the fact Poole and Renfro were also staring at the other man.

"People shooting at me is an occupational hazard, sir," evaded Gerard.

"I can understand the temptation better now," snapped Kimble. "That didn't answer my question. Did you think I deliberately aimed and fired at you?"

Gerard gave a wry half-smile, which had the unfortunate effect of further inflaming Kimble.

"Damn you. If I'd wanted I could have shot your fucking head off!"

Gerard raised his large hands in the universal gesture of surrender, his tone conciliatory. "Doctor, doctor. I jumped to the wrong conclusion back at the hospital, but only for a few seconds, OK?"

The expression on Kimble's face made it obvious it was anything but all right.

Stifling a sigh, Gerard shifted on his chair as he tried to find a position of comfort. If the way Cosmo was frowning at him was any indication, he must look like shit. Refocussing, it was with no great sense of surprise that he saw that Kimble was still staring at him as if he had just crawled out from under a rock.

"Yes, sir?" he prompted with a trace of resignation.

"You don't seem shocked."

"Not a lot shocks me any more," Gerard told him without emphasis.

Kimble's widening eyes betrayed his contempt before he got to his feet, his chair scraping back over the floor tiles. "What kind of a man are - ? I need a break before you ask your questions."

Gerard's face hardly seemed to move, even when he spoke. "No problem. We'll be in the office across the hall."

He watched Kimble leave the room before he pinched the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb. "Shit," he muttered tiredly, to no one in particular. "I screwed that up, didn't I."

"That can't have been a question," said Renfro, before he exchanged a glance with Poole.

"Low blood sugar, that's your problem," she told Gerard briskly. "Cosmo, he needs some high energy food."

Renfro nodded, losing some enthusiasm when he realized he was expected to do the cooking.

"I don't..." began Gerard, trailing off when both his companions glared at him. Shrugging, he let them get on with it, tuning out their low voices. Simply sitting, harboring what energy he had left, he became aware that Poole was staring at him.

"What?" Gerard asked with resignation. Poole's silences always said more than speeches by most people.

"That scene with Doctor Kimble just now. Why would you think he would deliberately aim at you?"

Gerard gave an exaggerated sigh. "I made a mistake, OK?" His eyes wide, he was the picture of innocence.

"Kimble did good to pull his shot. He did pull it, didn't he, Sam? Only you were missing for almost two hours during the night. And when you got back you were wearing a different shirt."

"Cosmo - "

"Save it, Sam," Renfro advised him, turning from the pan where he was stirring the egg mixture. "Kimble didn't miss you, did he? Do we have to strip search you to get the truth?"

"Don't even think it. I'm damned if I want you prodding me, too. It's a nick, in my side. Nothing. I got it seen to at Cook County. Chicago Memorial had enough to do patching Patterson's victims together."

"And what treatment did you have?" demanded Renfro.

"Can we move on from here, people?"

"I don't like it when you lie to us, Sam. Particularly not when it's for our own good. Either you trust us to do a professional job or you don't," snapped Renfro, his angry gaze boring into the other man.

"Yeah," Gerard sighed, "I know. I screwed up. But there's no need to tell Kimble what happened."

"Jeez, no," agreed Renfro with feeling. "Eat these while they're hot." He set a plate of fluffy scrambled eggs in front of Gerard.

"Shouldn't you be resting instead of chasing around after Judd?" added Poole.

"I will be. I've got Noah's twenty-six year old legs to do all the running around for me." Poking the eggs with his fork, Gerard took a reluctant mouthful and discovered he was hungry.

Ten minutes later, licking chocolate sprinkles from the corner of his mouth, he strode into the office, a fresh mug of coffee in one hand and his energy levels restored by food. "You'd better set up another computer and modem in here. A fax, too," he added as he stood by the desk, finger-sifting the stack of papers awaiting him.

"They're on their way," Renfro told him.

"Excellent." Gerard picked up a Chicago police department file marked ‘Judd, Henry John' and started to re-read it, even though he could have quoted most of it. He broke off to ask, "Are you up to handling the Kimble case for a while?"

"Sure, Sammy." Renfro set down Gerard's topcoat and scarf.

"Good man." Flexing his stiff shoulders, Gerard grimaced, seated himself behind the desk and began to read in earnest. In the background he could hear Poole ask Renfro if he wanted a piece of the action.

"What's the bet?" asked Renfro with caution.

"Noah and I still favor the conspiracy theory. We think Devlin-MacGregor are behind these attacks on Kimble. Sam's convinced it's personal."

Glancing up, Gerard's jaw tightened when he saw Kimble was standing in the doorway behind Poole and Renfro, who had no idea he was there. While Kimble's usually expressive face might have been set in stone, contempt blazed from his eyes, his beautiful mouth set in stern lines.

"We've got the boss-man down for twenty bucks," continued Poole.

"I'll take a piece of that. Twenty bucks on personal," said Renfro without hesitation.

Kimble crossed the room and reached for his wallet. With deliberation he leant between Poole and Renfro to place twenty dollars on the edge of the desk.

"Put me down for government conspiracy." While his deep voice was level enough, rage left jagged edges beneath the velvet.

Renfro half-turned but a dramatic exit was the last thing on Kimble's mind. Sinking into the vacant chair, Kimble drew it closer to Gerard's desk and glared at the other man as Gerard flicked through a file.

Kimble was visibly disconcerted when it was Renfro rather than Gerard who began to question him.

"OK, sir. Who wants you dead?"

"Why don't you tell me? This is your theory, not mine."

"It's hardly a theory," said Poole briskly. "Unless you think all the attacks on you were just happy coincidences?"

"Where's the smart money?" asked Kimble, a bite to his voice.

He glanced at Gerard, but the other man seemed oblivious of their conversation, and the interest he was attracting as he studied three photographs. His eyes slightly narrowed, his concentration was total, the force of his will a formidable presence. The surge of resentment Kimble experienced when he realized Gerard was working on another case besides his own took him by surprise. The deputy might symbolize everything he wanted to forget, but the man had a formidable track record of success. Since they had first met while he was on the run Gerard had been featured in the media a number of times - unwillingly, if his monosyllabic replies had been anything to go by. He had a high public profile - there were even rumors that the Republicans had approached him to run for office.

"The smart money, as you call it, is on trying to keep you alive," snapped Poole, her expression disapproving. "But we're not getting much help from you."

"It might look like a personal vendetta on our part but, trust me, the department isn't short of work. We have better things to do than shut ourselves away in a safe house with you," Renfro told Kimble, who gave an exaggerated sigh.

"If someone really wants me dead there isn't a damn thing anyone can do to save me. It depends how committed the attacker is - presuming the attacks weren't random crimes. My bad luck at being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Gerard's head rose, his bloodshot eyes pinning Kimble where he sat. "No one's that unlucky. Someone wants to hurt you," he said, chilling in his flat certainty. "The faster you accept that, the faster we can move on. You're not the only one who wishes they were elsewhere. If you insist on returning to your apartment, or the hospital, and the hell with the safety of anyone who comes into contact with you, go. Now. We don't have time to waste on this shit." Even with his energy levels muted, his bluntly-voiced option had a daunting force.

A highly respected surgeon, Kimble was not accustomed to being spoken to as if he was an irresponsible moron. He was about to set Gerard straight on a few points when he absorbed the finer points of the deputy's appearance; anyone who worked in a hospital was familiar with the signs of exhaustion. The FBI special agents had made it plain they thought they were wasting their time keeping him in protective custody. That Gerard obviously didn't share that view compelled Kimble to face up to the threat in a way he had avoided doing until now.

"I'll stay," he muttered ungraciously to Renfro. "What do you need to know?" He was overly conscious of Gerard, who was collecting up files.

"Noah's just arrived, Sam," Poole announced quietly, having left the room to go to the front door.

Riffling through a desk drawer, Gerard nodded and unobtrusively pocketed a pack of extra-strength Tylenol.

Renfro leant across, recapturing Kimble's attention. "We've compiled a list of your patients since you resumed work." He handed a copy to Kimble. "We need your confirmation that the list is complete."

"What possible relevance do my patients have?" retorted Kimble, his good resolutions forgotten.

Gerard swung around in the doorway, his top coat half on and half off. "Take a long, hard look at your hand, doctor. Someone wanted to stop you from performing surgery - and they came close to succeeding. In the first attack you were followed when you left the hospital one night and almost run down in the car park. Your right hand was slashed with a knife. Then Patterson tries to kill you - in the hospital. You're supposed to be a bright guy, think about it." He swept out, the door slamming shut behind him.

With Gerard gone, the air seemed thinner and easier to draw into the lungs. Kimble relaxed as if he had been relieved of some invisible weight. He shook his head when he realized Renfro was still waiting for him to respond.

"I'm sorry, deputy, but if you want details of my patients, you'll have to get them without help from me."

Renfro gave an exasperated sigh, then nodded. "OK, sir. Let's start with your family."

Chapter Text

While the house was nothing like a high-security prison, Kimble was overly aware that his movements were restricted and that he was under constant, if discreet, surveillance. With Gerard appearing when he was least expected, like the Demon King of legend, Kimble was constantly on edge, never knowing when he could expect to see him.

Given a free rein, he explored the lower floor of the house. It consisted of small storage rooms, and a laundry and drying room, neither of which seemed to have been used for some time. The rest of the space was given up to a vast area which, while it seemed to be intended for a gym, contained only a punch bag, an ancient exercise bike, a sagging couch and a television. But there were a number of intriguing looking boxes and packages which, if the labelling could be believed, contained equipment waiting to be unpacked and put together. While there was no natural light, the illusion of space was heightened by the mirrors panelling two walls, which made Kimble wonder how vain Gerard might be.

While it hadn't really occurred to him before, the deputy was a fine-looking man, even if he didn't flaunt his good-looks. If anything, Gerard dressed to play down his physical impact - which was considerable. But then in his line of work the last thing he would want would be to attract notice. Kimble wondered idly about Gerard's preferences where his private life was concerned - or whether the man had one.

It was difficult not to be aware of Gerard. The more time he spent in the deputy's house, the more conscious Kimble became that everything around him, from the coffee he drank to the towels he used, belonged to Gerard; he was even using the other man's soap and toothpaste until those he had ordered should arrive. He was surrounded by the deputy wherever he went, whatever he did, and he didn't care for the sensation at all. Gerard needed no help to make his presence felt. Kimble still couldn't credit that he'd been brought to Gerard's house. It couldn't be normal procedure, but he rather suspected that the other man made his own rules.

Finding it difficult to settle during his second night in custody, Kimble woke a number of times. On the last occasion he sat up in bed, his heart racing from a dream which was already fading, as he tried to establish what had woken him. Then he heard the sound of water running in the bathroom next door; Gerard was home. Straightening the tangled bedcovers, Kimble resettled himself and was soon asleep.

oOo

Awake just after six, Kimble pulled on a jockstrap and sweats and went downstairs, acknowledging a red-eyed Renfro before heading for the gym. After a warm-up routine, during which he discovered he was not as fit as he thought he was, he applied himself to a lengthy session on the exercise bike. He kept boredom at bay by watching the news on CNN.

While he knew he would feel the effects later, by the time he stopped he was sweating freely, his muscles loose and his skin glowing. Mopping his face with the towel slung around his neck, he quickened his pace as he left the gym and hurried up to the ground floor and through the kitchen. Rounding the corner to the stairs, he walked smack into Gerard and instinctively grabbed him for support.

Giving a soft grunt as he absorbed the impact of Kimble's muscular body, Gerard's senses were flooded with the other man: fresh sweat; heat; and the intimacy of their close-pressed bodies, the other man's thigh partially between his own. Becoming aware that his fingers were curved around the firm resilience of Kimble's rump, Gerard released him and stepped back.

"Sorry," said Kimble, hurrying on with a faintly self-conscious air.

Exhaling softly, Gerard watched him go, his impassive face masking a number of conflicting emotions.

 

Only Poole was in the kitchen when Kimble came back downstairs, his hair still wet after his shower. She was making french toast, while sipping what smelt like very good, freshly-ground coffee. It was only Kimble's innate good manners which stopped him from mugging her for it.

"That smells terrific. Is there enough food for two?" he added diffidently, as he brushed back the hair which fell over his eye.

Poole looked him up and down. "Nice, try, sir. You've got that wistful look off pat. But after working with the guys for four years I've been scammed by experts."

Kimble looked philosophical and went to check on the contents of the stocked-to-capacity refrigerator. Spoilt for choice, he opted for cholesterol heaven.

"Help yourself to coffee," invited Poole, serving her meal onto the plate she had warmed.

"Where is everyone?"

"Working."

Telling himself that such dedication could only mean he should be out of here within days, Kimble was whistling as he cooked himself breakfast. He stopped when he caught Poole's eyes on him, murder in their depths.

"You're not an early morning person?" he said, amused.

"Just not a whistling person," she told him pointedly. She thawed perceptibly when he gave her a slow smile of immense charm, with just a hint of wickedness to it.

"Duly noted. Would you like some of this?" Kimble gestured to the pan.

"That's very forgiving of you, sir." Poole gave a knowing grin. "You cooked too much."

"As we're obviously going to be seeing a lot of one another for a while, call me Richard. And I'm a forgiving sort of guy. About most things." His smile hardened when he heard Gerard's voice in the hallway.

"You sound just like Sam," she muttered. "And it's still Poole. I don't use my first name."

He gave an equable nod before his expression grew more intent. "Weren't you the one who brought me the ice for my hand after they arrested Chuck - I mean, Nichols?" His tone flattened out when he remembered the betrayal by his best friend all over again.

"That's right. Though I can't take the credit. Only Sam would have thought of that in the middle of all that madness."

"He must have quite an eye for detail."

"Oh yeah," she agreed dryly. "Detail could be his middle name."

"Deputy Renfro's made a good recovery, hasn't he?"

Poole raised her eyebrows. "From what?"

"Charlie knocked him out with a metal beam. In the laundry when I was caught," Kimble prompted.

"I forgot you knew about that. He's fine, though he played the wounded hero for weeks. He told us you helped him out, which makes you one of the good guys straight off."

Kimble shrugged. "I'm a doctor. It's what I do. Though CPD arrived before I could do that much. How bad were his injuries?"

"Whose, doc?" enquired Renfro as he bustled into the room.

"You can call me anything you like, except doc. My name's Richard. We were talking about your recovery from Nichols' attack. Do you mind if I take a closer look?"

Kimble had already taken hold of Renfro's chin and was turning it to the light, his fingers gently probing the chin, jaw and cheek through the other man's ragged beard. "No lingering problems from whiplash?"

Poole sighed when Renfro happily began to detail his treatment with the enthusiasm of a true hypochondriac. Then she realized that Cosmo, who was never slow to pick up on things, had recognized that talking about medicine had brought a sparkle back to Kimble's eyes. After what he had been through in the last three years it was a wonder he wasn't totally paranoid.

 

After a couple of hours exploring in exhaustive detail the extent of the wooded grounds, an unenthusiastic Poole trotting to keep up with the fast pace he set, Kimble looked around for ways of killing time indoors. Since Helen's murder he had lost the ability to enjoy his own company and had tried to avoid vacations. Going to bed early, he woke at the slightest sound, taking longer to get back to sleep each time.

 

Waking yet again, he rolled over in bed and saw a thin strip of light under the bathroom door. Fumbling for his watch, he flicked on the light for long enough to see the face: three forty-two. Gerard was putting in so many hours on his case, it wouldn't be long before he cracked it, Kimble mused, unaware of his egocentric view of life at the moment. The team assigned to guard him seemed quick and clever and competent, and he liked all of them, but they lacked the magnetism which gave the comforting - if irritating - impression that there was no crisis beyond Gerard's capabilities.

Kimble grinned to himself as he recognized the unmistakeable sounds of the magnetic Deputy Gerard cleaning his teeth. It must have been the splatter of the shower which had woken him. Those domestic noises were a poignant reminder of some of the trivial pleasures he missed now he lived alone. In the two years during which he had tried to rebuild his life, he had begun to believe he would never find anyone he wanted to share it with for more than a few weeks.

Strange how such mundane sounds could be so comforting.

oOo

"Good morning," drawled Gerard as he swept into the room.

He appeared so suddenly that Kimble jumped and choked on the mouthful of cereal he had taken. Gerard gave him a helpful thump between the shoulder blades.

"Sorry to startle you, sir," he said with patent insincerity.

"Do you have to be so damn cheerful?" groaned Newman, who looked puffy-eyed and vaguely pathetic as he sipped his tea.

"And it's Richard," announced Poole, who was eating fresh papaya and pineapple with an irritatingly virtuous air.

"My, isn't that cozy," drawled Gerard.

Straight of back and leading from his groin as he walked, he was pacing up and down the length of the kitchen, swinging around on each turn to drive himself on. Rather than an excess of energy it was obvious he thought that if he stopped he might not be able to get started again.

"Not that I've noticed," said Kimble, tart because the deputy had paused behind his chair, making the back of his neck prickle. "Is there any news yet?"

"About what?" Making a long arm, Gerard helped himself to a piece of croissant from Renfro's plate before he reappeared in Kimble's line of vision.

"I have this faint interest in getting my life back," Kimble told him acidly.

"I'm sure you do, Richard. And we'll do our very best to accommodate you," soothed Gerard, but there was little real interest in his voice.

"Was Patterson trying to kill me?" Kimble's expression grew stony when Gerard glanced at Renfro before seeming to remember who Patterson was.

"No question about it, Richard," said Renfro. "He was about to use a sub-automatic machine gun on you."

"Given that I'm the one who killed him, I'm hardly likely to forget," Kimble pointed out, a bite to his voice.

Gerard, who had walked around the table topping up coffee for those who wanted it, sank into the chair opposite Kimble's, a mug cradled in one large hand. "You didn't kill Patterson. The post mortem showed my two shots were responsible. While all three of yours hit his torso, none would have been fatal in themselves."

"Oh." Sitting back, Kimble was disconcerted by his lack of relief - or guilt. He had expected to feel...something. He was even more disconcerted when he saw Gerard recognize what he was experiencing and give him a nod which, oddly, felt like approval.

"I know, Richard," he said.

Believing him, Kimble gained an odd comfort from their shared experience.

A phonecall took Gerard and Newman away before the former had a chance to drink any of his coffee.

"Is it always like this?" Kimble asked, conscious of the space Gerard had occupied.

Poole shook her head. "Though it's been this way since well before Christmas. Not that Sam had time to notice the festive season. This is definitely a holiday for us."

"I can't understand how anyone could enjoy this," muttered Kimble as he stared wistfully at the world visible through the kitchen windows. He didn't notice Poole and Renfro exchange a glance.

"From the way you're peering over my shoulder, would I be right in thinking you'd like to get out of the house again - even though it's pouring with rain?" asked Poole.

Kimble's face lit up. "Could we?"

Renfro proved just how good Gerard's people were.

"Hey, that's not bad, Richard," he said admiringly. "My three year old gives me a look just like that. Trouble is, you're not so cute."

Kimble gave one of his slow, crooked grins. "I'm working on it."

"And doing real well," Poole assured him, as she got to her feet.

"Give me some work to do and I'll be off your backs," said Kimble, a thinly-edged desperation behind the plea.

"My pleasure." Poole pointed from the dirty dishes to the dishwasher and went off to collect her outdoor clothes.

Kimble looked at Renfro. "Where did I go wrong?"

"Don't sweat it, Richard. Even Sam only has a limited success with Poole," the other man comforted him.

 

Wearing his silver-framed reading spectacles, Renfro was scribbling on a pad already covered with notes when Poole and Kimble finally returned to the house almost two hours later. Both of them were soaking wet and the tip of Kimble's nose was lavender with the cold.

"That was great," he said, in answer to Renfro's query.

Renfro gave a chipmunk grin when he saw Poole's stony expression. "I think you got your revenge for the dishwasher, Richard. You should change," he added to Poole.

"What a great idea. I would never have thought of it. You find the good doctor something to do, Cosmo. Something warm and dry," she added, her teeth chattering.

"I offered to come in," said Kimble, as Poole left the room.

"Cunning move, Richard," Renfro congratulated him.

"I thought it was pretty neat myself," Kimble conceded smugly.

"Are you any good at working with your hands?" Renfro asked out of the blue.

Kimble gave him a look of disbelief. "Is this a joke?"

"Why?" frowned Renfro.

Kimble gave his companion a patient look. "I'm a surgeon, Cosmo."

"Oh, right. I forgot you have to use your hands for that. See, while this place is being used as a safe house, we can't call anyone in to fix the washing machine. You know anything about them?"

"Not a thing," Kimble admitted cheerfully. "Helen would never let me near anything when it broke down. Do you have the manual? Never mind, I'll take a look at it anyway."

oOo

Having returned to the house for a couple of hours, which he spent on the telephone in his office, Gerard almost bumped into Renfro as he emerged into the hall.

"Hi, Sam. You got time for a coffee?"

"I wish," said Gerard, standing on one leg as he pulled on his second boot. "I lost track of time. Where's Richard?"

"In the basement seeing if he can fix your washing machine."

Gerard's eyebrows rose. "It's broken?"

Renfro heroically refrained from the obvious retort, but his expression spoke volumes.

"Dumb question," accepted Gerard wryly. "I only asked because I haven't used it for - I can't remember when. When I changed maids I took to sending the laundry out. It comes back pressed twenty-four hours later. Shit." He gave a tired grimace. "It does if I remember to drop it off. Remind me to see to it when I get back."

"Leave it to us. Which place do you use?"

"It's a couple of blocks from here. Between the drug store and deli. I've an account with them."

"No problem," said Renfro. "I'll organise a laundry rota so we keep on top of it. I don't intend to be the one who has to explain to Poole why she can't have clean sheets. She's never forgiven you for that time in the field when she had to pee in the woods."

"Tell me about it. I'm the one with the scorch marks on my back from her glare." Taking his topcoat from the peg, Gerard shrugged into it. "I know Richard is working on my washing machine, but you mind telling me why?"

"Because he's going out of his mind with boredom. He doesn't watch much TV, can't exercise all day and can't settle to reading because he's already feeling like he's back in high-security."

"That was inevitable I suppose," conceded Gerard, but he was frowning. "He OK?"

"He is now he's got something to keep him busy."

Gerard mentally sacrificed his washing machine without a qualm. "Let's hope he doesn't fix it too fast then. We both know a wet, cold Poole is an unhappy Poole."

"You heard about that?" asked Renfro, his face breaking into a grin.

"You know Poole," shrugged Gerard.

"I heard that," she said, coming into the spacious entrance hall.

"Amazing the talents this woman has," Gerard said admiringly. "Keep Richard busy. Break whatever equipment you have to. I must go," he added after he glanced at his watch. "I should be back some time tomorrow." He hesitated at the front door.

"So go. Where's your overnight bag?"

Gerard gave him a tolerant look. "Hey, I'm not that absent-minded. It's - " He paused and looked around the hall " - in your left hand," he discovered wryly. "Thanks. I must be slowing down."

"No," said Renfro, "that's the problem. You're not. In fact you're doing far too much."

"Yeah, yeah," dismissed Gerard, taking the bag from him.

"We'll take good care of Richard," Renfro assured him.

"I know it." Gerard still hovered, before he gave a grimace and left the house.

oOo

"Did you order these meals with meat in them?" asked Renfro as he sorted through the contents of the freezer.

"I think it was Biggs," replied Kimble. "So you're the vegetarian. I had wondered. I thought it must be Poole."

"Poole?" Renfro gave a crack of laughter. "Man, she'll eat anything that isn't actually fighting back. No, Sam's the only vegetarian. While he'd never tell us what to do, Poole and I don't tend to eat meat while we're with him. It's no hardship."

Kimble wondered what Gerard had done to inspire such affection.

Renfro shot him a glance. "If you want a steak, I'll get you one."

"No need," said Kimble easily. "While, like Poole, I'll eat anything, I gave up red meat when Helen and I first started dating."

Reading the other man's expression with ease, Renfro abandoned thoughts of going home. It was obvious Richard had a lot of unresolved feelings about what had happened to him - not least in the part Sam had played. One of the things he must miss most was the chance to talk about his wife; people shied away from the subject of death at the best of times and when it was murder -

"Mrs Kimble was a vegetarian?" he prompted.

"In a big way." A slow, warm, lop-sided smile lit Kimble's face. "And she wasn't nearly as tolerant of meat eaters as Deputy Gerard. She had a lot of strong opinions for someone so tolerant."

Recognizing the unvoiced longing, Renfro sat down as if he had all the time in the world.

"Do you still miss her?" he asked, when the stream of reminiscences dried up.

"Sometimes. When I'm feeling sorry for myself. Or when I first wake up. It was months before I could bear to remember all the times when we were happy. I doubt if I'll ever find someone that special again." His eyes sad, Kimble visibly roused himself from his memories.

"And you don't need to hear this. You should have shut me up."

"Hey, Richard. This is just between the pair of us, OK? I'm on my coffee-break, not department time."

Kimble gave a faint smile and tried to remember the last time he had been so open with a relative stranger - not that Cosmo felt like a stranger, which was worrying. He was obviously lonelier than he'd realized.

"That was a kind lie. You should have gone home hours ago," he discovered, looking at his watch.

Renfro shrugged. "Listen, if you need to talk and I'm not around, you give me a call. Though Poole's a good listener. Tell you what, as I'm this late I may as well eat here. You raid the freezer while I call Caroline."

 

Exerting himself to entertain, Renfro maintained an effortless flow of conversation throughout the preparation and eating of the meal.

"Anyway, Wesley - that's Robert's partner - calls in and says - "

"I thought you guys worked in teams rather than duos," said Kimble, side-tracked.

"No, no. Wesley's Robert's lover," said Renfro impatiently.

"Biggs is gay?"

"Is that a problem for you, Richard?" Renfro asked bluntly.

Kimble gave a private smile. "Oh no. Not at all. It was his wedding ring which threw me, that's all. But then he should be able to wear one. Would you pass the vegetables?"

"Here you go. What's set you off grinning like a fool?" Renfro asked tolerantly.

"I was just thinking. You don't expect a Texan to be a vegetarian," said Kimble happily.

"Especially not one reared on a cattle ranch."

Kimble's crack of laughter before he fell into helpless giggles made Renfro eye him tolerantly, glad that for once he had broken his golden rule never to gossip about Gerard.

 

As he cleaned his teeth that evening, it occurred to Kimble that his perception of Gerard as a cross between the Demon King and Superman was even more flawed than he had supposed. The idea of a vegetarian Demon King was still making him grin when he went to bed.

oOo

Kimble took refuge in the kitchen when Biggs began to watch Chicago Hope. While Kimble could sit through most things, he drew the line at medical soaps, no matter how ‘accurate' they were supposed to be. Engrossed in an article by Kathy Wahlund, which he wished he could call her about, he looked up when Gerard walked past where he sat without seeming to notice him.

The deputy looked very, very tired. On automatic pilot, he pulled a frozen dinner from the freezer and without looking at it, ripped off the cover, stuck the foil container in the microwave, set the timer and tossed the packaging in the direction of the garbage. Turning, he looked around as if trying to remember what to do next. He visibly tensed when he saw Kimble watching him.

"I thought you were in the living-room," Gerard said.

"Robert's watching Chicago Hope."

"Which can't you take - Biggs or the soap?"

Kimble wondered how many people that dead-pan delivery had deceived over the years. "Give me a break. You're lucky in your people." He had been disconcerted by how easy the various individuals were to get on with. Betrayed by his oldest friend, he had avoided trying to make new friends, keeping every encounter light and superficial, where it couldn't touch his emotions.

"I know it, Richard," Gerard nodded.

Meeting those dark eyes, Kimble had the disconcerting feeling the deputy understood a great deal more about him than he would be comfortable with. The microwave pinged before Kimble could say anything.

Sinking onto the nearest chair, Gerard peeled the top off the container and picked up a fork. It was obvious he had no idea what meal he had selected.

"Sam, don't eat that! It's meat," Kimble added, when Gerard gave him a look of surprise.

He looked down. "So it is. I forgot the kids have been stocking up on supplies. Thanks." Shoving the pack away, he pushed himself back to his feet.

"Stay put. I've had nothing to do all day."

Subsiding without a protest, Gerard wiped his face, as if hoping to eradicate the fatigue dragging at him. Then he noticed that Kimble was rinsing mushrooms.

"Save yourself work, Richard. A tin of soup will be fine. Two minutes after I've swallowed the last mouthful I plan to be asleep."

"Long overdue by the look of you." Kimble had already set water to boil and was now chopping onions and garlic with a speedy precision. "Fifteen minutes tops, OK?"

"Sure, whatever," murmured Gerard, taking the line of least resistance. His head propped on one hand, his eyes sank to a close.

As he worked, Kimble glanced behind him occasionally but the other man did not stir. Quietly adding the finishing touches to the simple meal, Kimble said the deputy's name but gained no answer. Moving around to face him, he lightly shook Gerard's shoulder.

His eyes opening, Gerard gave a dopey smile of singular sweetness. "Hi. You want me?"

Disconcerted, it was a moment before Kimble thought to reply, overly conscious of their physical proximity and uncomfortably reminded that there was a vulnerable human being behind the mask of the so-controlled Deputy Samuel Gerard.

"Your meal's ready," he said lamely.

The smile faded and Gerard came awake with a dizzying speed. "Right. Thanks." Then he looked at the plate set in front of him.

Flakes of hard cheese were melting into the tomato and herb sauce, pieces of mushroom and garlic nestling in the tagliatelle. There was even a sprig of fresh basil perched in the center of the display. Gerard spun it between his index finger and thumb, an expression on his face Kimble wasn't sure how to interpret.

"I've always been an over-achiever," he said apologetically. "That was too much."

Gerard shook his head. "I would have gone for it too," he said lazily. "I don't want to worry you, Richard, but we seem to have something in common."

"It isn't a new thought," Kimble told him dryly. It had been an uncomfortable realization when he accepted that Gerard had been a part of his life since the moment they stood face to face in the tunnel.

"I guess it isn't at that," said Gerard, picking up his fork.

Kimble watched the deputy eat with a neat dispatch and enviable minimum of splashing of tomato sauce.

Gerard visibly revived as he ate his first meal of the day. The raw memories of the items they had found in the house they had raided were beginning to recede in Kimble's presence. He had proved himself to be tough and resourceful, but most of all he was a good man: one worthy of respect. Not that Judd and his kind were much competition, Gerard conceded as he set down his fork.

"Thanks. That was great. What's this?" he added when something aromatic and chocolaty was set in front of him.

"Comfort food. Eat." Kimble handed him a spoon.

All thought of rejecting the idea that he could possibly need comforting - in any form - faded when Gerard inhaled the sinful combination of aromas.

"What about you?" he asked, his spoon poised.

"I sinned earlier," Kimble assured him.

Needing no further invitation, Gerard enjoyed the treat with an unabashed sensuality. Licking the spoon clean after his last mouthful, he looked up to find Kimble watching him, an indecipherable expression on his face.

"Richard?"

"Yeah?" Jumping, Kimble looked self-conscious.

"Beer?" invited Gerard. Tilting his chair back, he opened the door of the icebox and hooked out two bottles of imported beer when Kimble nodded.

While all Kimble wanted was to talk about how soon he could put his life back together again, he could see the other man needed to unwind, not to talk shop. Biggs appeared while Kimble was searching for some innocuous topic of conversation.

"It's OK, I've got him," said Gerard. "Go home - or back to your soap if you'd rather."

"Thanks, Sam. I'll catch the end before I leave. ‘Night, Richard."

As Biggs ambled away, Kimble glanced at Gerard and wondered how one very tired man could project such an air of reassurance.

"That young man watches way too much TV," remarked Gerard, his index finger and thumb idly sliding up and down the condensation-slick neck of the bottle.

"Where's the harm if it helps him to unwind? I read medical journals." Kimble gave his companion an expectant look.

"I can't remember," said Gerard.

"So the books in the den are there to insulate the walls?"

"The spines pick up the colors on the cushions," Gerard replied without missing a beat.

"And you read by running your finger along the line with your lips moving. Sure."

"While I haven't had much time to read recently, I enjoy the occasional cigar. Don't give me that medical look, Richard," Gerard sighed. "I'm talking one or two a week. And I've more sense than to light up in front of you."

Kimble had the grace to look abashed. "I didn't mean to be so judgmental. And if you want one, have it."

"Bullshit," snorted Gerard, amused. "I'll survive. What is it?" he added in a different tone when he saw the other man's change of expression.

"Can you give me any idea of how much longer you'll be over this investigation? Only I thought you would have cleared it by now."

"Right." Gerard's eyebrows rose. "You're serious?"

"You mean you aren't close to finding whoever's behind these attacks?"

Gerard gestured to himself. "Personally, you mean?"

"Who else?"

"That's very flattering," Gerard said after a moment.

In anyone else Kimble would have called the expression disconcerted. "It's realistic given your success rate."

"What do you know about our success rate?"

"I watch TV, I read the papers. You're quite a local celebrity."

Gerard's mouth puckered as if he had just sucked a lemon.

"You don't like publicity?" Kimble pursued.

"Damn straight I don't. That nonsense wastes everyone's time. Four-fifths of my job is about delegating. I have an entire department behind me."

"So why are you working such long hours?"

"You're a persistent bastard, aren't you," Gerard noted, part exasperated, part amused. There was a gleam in his eye that could have been approval.

"You noticed that, did you?" said Kimble dryly.

Gerard gave a faint grin of acknowledgement. "If you weren't, I guess we wouldn't be able to have this conversation. We are kind of busy right now. And save your breath, I can't - won't - talk about the cases I'm specifically involved with."

"You work on more than one case - personally, I mean?"

Gerard shook his head at such naivety, then nodded. "I have six at present."

"Including mine," said Kimble confidently.

Gerard looked surprised. "I'm just the night watchman. It gives the kids some downtime."

It had never occurred to Kimble that Gerard wouldn't be pursuing his attacker with the same energy with which he had pursued him; he felt resentful, foolish and disillusioned all at the same time.

"I thought it was my case that was keeping you so busy," he said tightly.

Gerard's gaze never left the other man's face. "Poole and Cosmo are the best of a terrific bunch of people - though don't tell them I said so. They're making good progress but I won't lie to you, this is going to take time."

"It already has," said Kimble in a desperate tone. "I have things I need to do."

Gerard raised his eyebrows encouragingly.

"I was going to get back to work in a couple of weeks." Kimble tried to keep his desperation hidden but knew he hadn't totally succeeded.

If Gerard felt any sympathy, he kept it well hidden. "I know. We're working as fast as we can. I'm not up to speed on what's happened today. You want me to call Cosmo?" he offered.

"Making me the villain of the piece," said Kimble, his expression lightening as he recognized the tactic.

Gerard parted his hands. "Hey, I'm many things, but dumb isn't one of them. If there had been any kind of a breakthrough, I would have been notified."

Wondering who the other man was hunting down, Kimble's intellect and emotions collided; emotion won, his sympathies all with the hunted.

"Who are you after this time?" he demanded, his voice harsh.

Gerard exhaled softly. "For the record, and just so you know why we all hold you in such high regard, you've been the only innocent anyone in the department has ever come across."

"That you know about."

While Gerard picked up his bottle of beer, he made no attempt to drink from it. "How many guilty men did you meet in prison?"

Kimble shrugged. "I know," he said ruefully. "I just can't be logical about it. Or you."

Gerard looked down for a moment. "No," he conceded colorlessly.

Kimble grimaced. "Look, that sounded kind of stark. It's just - I look at you and there's a lot of baggage," he admitted in a rush.

"I understand that." Gerard had never seemed more self-contained. "Relax, Richard. You won't have to see much of me. My kids will keep you safe." He gave the other man a nod of farewell then headed out of the room the moment he stopped speaking.

oOo

It didn't help Kimble's feelings of claustrophobia when he recognized that he had already formed a routine with small rituals to see him through the endless days. Nothing helped with the nights, particularly as the anniversary of Helen's death drew closer. This year Kimble knew he needed to visit her graveside, but he was determined to do so in privacy. Too much of his life was still in the media spotlight; he wasn't about to confide his most private feelings to Gerard, or anyone else.

During his seventh night at the house Kimble awoke with his heart racing, convinced he was being watched. Prison paranoia - and fact. Shooting up in bed, he saw that the door to the bathroom was closing. His pulse beginning to slow, he wiped a sweating hand back over his hair, feeling limp with relief. He wasn't paranoid, he was being watched; Gerard was checking on him before he went to bed.

Taken aback by just how reassuring that knowledge was, Kimble punched up his pillows. Now he thought about it, he didn't seem to have seen much of Sam recently; it felt good to have him home.

Resettling himself, he fell asleep within five minutes.

Chapter Text

It had been sleeting all day, a raw, cold wind making life outdoors miserable. Moisture gleaming on his hair and face, Gerard tucked the file he had returned home to collect under his arm and then paused in the center of the wide entrance hall. Renfro had told him that Kimble was reading in front of the fire; there was no possible reason to disturb him, except for the need to check for himself that Richard was safe.

Without giving himself time to regret the impulse, Gerard went into the living-room. There was only one lamp on, additional light coming from the log fire, which looked so welcoming it belonged on a television commercial. Kimble was sprawled in one of the comfortable leather armchairs, his legs outstretched, his linked hands supporting a heavy volume.

Gerard had heard enough from the adjoining bedroom to know Kimble wasn't sleeping well. It wasn't surprising. A prison was still a prison, even if it offered a log fire and the guards were well-intentioned. It had been a mistake to bring Richard into his home; he had stretched the budget in the past, he could have done it again. But he had wanted - needed - to be certain Richard was safe.

His hands deep in the pockets of his topcoat, he continued to watch Kimble's sleeping face, although what exactly it was he was looking for Gerard could not have said. He was already too aware of Kimble's physical appeal. He noticed with a pang that even when Kimble should have been at his most relaxed a certain tension remained. Whatever his dreams, they weren't sweet.

Wondering what book Kimble had chosen to take from the shelves, Gerard padded forward to check what he had been reading.

It was obviously something Kimble had ordered while he was in custody because Gerard knew he didn't own any books on surgical procedures. While he had only the haziest idea what they might be, it seemed unlikely that a surgeon of Richard's eminence would need to refresh his memory. But he might need to reassure himself that he would be able to return to practising surgery again. It was impossible to spend any time in his company and not notice how he kept his scarred hand hidden from sight - when he wasn't exercising it.

Studying the pink, thread-like scars, from the suture marks which had yet to fade, Gerard realized how lucky Richard had been not to have suffered any nerve damage. Small wonder he was so desperate to return to the work he loved.

Kimble jolted awake with no memory of where he was. Out of the shadows leaping across the room came a demonic figure in black; the gargoyle face red-lit, the eyes were pits of darkness.

"It's OK, it's only me," reassured Gerard, concerned by the panic on the other man's face as he pushed himself up in his chair.

"That's the problem," snapped Kimble, before he was fully awake.

Giving a peculiar grimace, Gerard stilled the hand he had extended in reassurance, then let it fall to his side, as if he no longer knew what to do with it.

"Yes," he conceded, all emotion pressed from his voice. Turning away, he left the room without another word.

oOo

Jumpy after a sleepless night and too much coffee, Kimble was radiating nervous energy as he prowled the house like a shark cruising for a snack.

"Is everything OK, Richard?" Renfro asked finally, the other man's unusual behavior beginning to affect even his equable nature.

"Sure. Couldn't be better. I'm back in prison, under guard, with no fucking control over my life and - " Stopping, Kimble sucked air into his lungs, his head going back as he fought to steady himself.

"Sorry, Cosmo," he said shortly, avoiding the other man's gaze. During the last three years he seemed to have spent his life pretending not to notice other people staring at him.

"Sure," said Renfro easily, but he was eyeing Kimble with a worried caution. Richard usually saved any flare-ups for Sam. This wasn't good. "Look, I need to get on with some calls in the office. Before I start, is there anything I can do?"

Rubbing the back of his neck, Kimble tiredly shook his head. "I'm going to make myself a drink and take it up to my room. I haven't been sleeping well recently. I could use a few hours shut-eye."

"I'll be sure not to disturb you," said Renfro. Going into the office, he closed the door and got down to work.

 

Slowing as he approached the entrance to his security gates, Gerard braked hard when he realized the driver in the red Corvette sailing past him on the other side of the road was Richard Kimble. He signalled to Newman, who had barely avoided driving into the back of him, to tail Kimble, then rang Renfro.

"Cosmo, you mind explaining why Doctor Kimble's driving down the road outside my house in his Corvette?"

There was a dumbstruck silence for a good three seconds. "He's taking a nap upstairs."

"No, Noah's following him east onto - I suppose Richard is alone?"

"Damn it, Sam. He must have just walked out and drove off. I've been leaving the keys out on the table behind the front door, so he'd have no trouble spotting them. Where the fuck's he going?" Cosmo added in frustration.

"Should I know? You can think of a good explanation for how come you didn't hear the sound of the engine. For now, arrange backup for Noah. Wait! It's the nineteenth today, right?"

"Yeah?"

"Then I know where Richard's going. Check his file for which cemetery Helen Kimble's in. Today's the anniversary of her death."

Renfro was back with the required information within a couple of minutes, during which Gerard sat drumming his fingers against the steering wheel.

"Sam, I - "

"Save it, Cosmo. I should be able to get there before Richard. I'll check the place out."

"You're going to let him visit her grave?"

"Like I have a choice?" returned Gerard sourly.

Setting off at high speed, he took a different route from that used by Kimble and Newman. The fact Kimble stopped off to buy flowers gave him additional time to sweep the large cemetery for anything suspicious. A funeral cortege was leaving the grounds, which were otherwise deserted on this bleak, raw day. While the graves were impeccably maintained, the slush and snow and dead vegetation of the trees and shrubs added to the gloom of the place.

Shivering in the icy wind, Gerard wondered what had become of his scarf as he watched Kimble arrive, Newman a car's length behind him. Ignoring the young deputy, Kimble took a large bouquet from the front passenger seat. Straightening, his mouth tightened when he saw the other deputy.

Surveying the emotional terrain, Gerard took a couple of steps back and parted his hands. "We can talk later. For now, do whatever you need to do. We won't intrude," he added quietly, signalling Newman to cover the other entrance to the large cemetery.

Kimble was still staring at Gerard. "Won't intrude?" he echoed bitterly. "When have you ever done anything else?"

When Gerard made no attempt to reply he wheeled away. He took a moment to collect himself before he walked the thirty or so yards to the ostentatious headstone selected, paid for and erected by Helen's parents while he'd been in prison, charged with her murder. With some deliberation he turned his back to Gerard, pointedly trying to deny his presence.

Cold to the bone, Gerard lost track of time as Kimble remained crouched beside the snow-covered graveside while sleet swirled wetly around them. Two more funeral corteges came and went and still the bowed head did not move. Details of the forensic report about the Kimble apartment on the night of the murder suddenly returned to Gerard; amongst all the other items had been the poignant detailing of the rose petals scattered up the staircase and the other preparations made by a woman anticipating the arrival of her lover of sixteen years. Having checked the site of the grave before Kimble arrived, Gerard had seen the headstone, which failed to acknowledge Kimble's place in his wife's life: Helen Kimble had been buried under her maiden name. Reminded of what Kimble had been through, Gerard's expression gentled now he was not under observation.

When Kimble finally rose to his feet, his set face was pale and tense, his chin stubbornly jutting. Stalking towards Gerard he looked slightly guilty, but a defiant glint in his eyes seemed to dare the deputy to comment.

"You should have asked, Richard," said Gerard in a level voice. "Arrangements could have been made to bring you here."

"Why do you think I kept quiet?" snapped Kimble harshly. "I've had a gutful of you in my life! I didn't want you picking through Helen's bones, too." The force of the emotions roiling in him were making him quiver.

Gerard's mouth tightened but he made no attempt to defend himself, his gaze sliding away to study the ground.

Spoiling for a fight, Kimble was disarmed by the set of the dry lips and the downsweep of dark eyelashes, which gave the misleading impression of submissiveness. Then it occurred to him that Gerard, while wet and cold, hadn't made a murmur of complaint about his physical discomfort.

"Christ, let's get out of here," Kimble muttered, sounding suddenly exhausted. Fishing in his pocket for his keys, he slid inside the car, only now realizing how cold he had become. When Gerard went over to the department's black Ford Taurus he felt mild surprise that he was going to be allowed to drive himself back to the safe house. He took his time fiddling with the heater, adjusting the seat and fastening his seat belt to give his hands time to stop shaking. Then he put his head back against the rest and closed his eyes, centering himself.

 

Shivering while he waited for the heater in the Taurus to thaw him out, Gerard glanced into the driving mirror. His frown deepened and he wondered why Kimble hadn't driven off. He was just sitting in the driver's seat with his head back and his eyes closed.

Studying the other man's reflection, Gerard's mouth thinned. Kimble looked so damn lonely - and lost - that he couldn't stand it. Switching off the ignition, he grabbed up the papers on the seat next to him, left the car and locked it before he could change his mind. The worst that could happen was that Richard would tell him to fuck off - and that would be no novelty. Richard did that silently every time he looked at him.

 

Kimble jumped when the passenger door opened and Gerard slid onto the seat, several files under one arm.

"You don't mind giving me a lift, do you? Great," said Gerard as he made himself comfortable.

"What about your car?" asked Kimble numbly.

"Someone can collect it." Falling silent, Gerard made himself as inconspicuous as possible while he continued to scan the area ahead of them, comfortingly aware that Newman was guarding the rear.

Kimble gave an audible swallow, his fingers whitening with the force with which he gripped the steering wheel. Slowly his breathing came back under his control, muscles relaxing. He turned the key in the ignition and glanced at Gerard.

"Is it OK to leave?"

"Whenever you're ready, Richard," he replied quietly. "There's a shortcut back to the house you might want to take."

Following the directions he was given, Kimble felt oddly glad of the company on the journey. While Gerard made no attempt at conversation, or to draw attention to himself, he was indisputably there, a comforting presence against the bleakness of his thoughts.

Kimble picked up the remote control, which had been next to the keys for his Corvette, and watched the security gates glide open. Turning into the grounds of Gerard's house he shivered; without being aware of what he was doing he slowed the car's speed along the drive which wound so much that it made the approach to the house seem longer than it was in reality.

Relaxing now they were in relative safety, Gerard watched his companion without appearing to do so. He found it unexpectedly difficult to gauge Kimble's mood; more puzzlement than grief, he thought.

Drawing the car to a halt outside the large garage, Kimble switched off the engine with obvious reluctance, took the keys out of the ignition and tossed them at Gerard, who caught them on reflex.

"What's it to be, deputy - bread and water and handcuffs for a fortnight?"

"Only if you're eager to try them," Gerard said evenly. "Please don't go off like that again."

Kimble had the sense not to commit himself, and he saw Gerard's mouth thin just before the keys were returned to him.

"It's your car, and you're not a prisoner here," Gerard reminded him. "We just made the mistake of expecting a more mature attitude from you."

Before Kimble could reply the heavy front door opened with a speed which made it obvious Renfro had been waiting for them. The look he directed at Kimble was a mixture of relief and betrayal.

"I'll speak with you in my office," Gerard said as he passed the other man. His voice had all the warmth of an arctic wind.

Nodding, Renfro went into the other room and closed the door behind him.

"I let him think I was going upstairs to sleep," said Kimble, his conscience pricking him. "It wasn't his fault."

Gerard gave him a measuring look. "Then whose fault was it, doctor? Cosmo was here to guard you. No other reason. Until I called in he didn't know you'd left!"

Kimble grimaced. "He probably didn't hear me. He's been seeing me about a medical condition."

"Then it better be critical," said Gerard grimly.

"I can't discuss his treatment with you. Medical ethics."

"You pick up that shield when it suits you," noted Gerard.

The expression in Kimble's eyes hardened but he made no attempt to defend himself.

"The security system will be reset to go off if any of the doors or windows are opened from the inside without keying in the security code. It hadn't occurred to me that would be necessary," Gerard continued as he grasped the handle of the office door.

"I can't apologize for going," Kimble blurted out.

He felt oddly empty, wondering now at his imperative to visit Helen's graveside this year when he hadn't last. He hadn't needed the visible, tangible symbol of a tombstone to remind him of his loss. Going there today, he had been more aware of the dark shadow Gerard cast in the background than of his dead wife. There had been no sense of Helen, no rush of memories. Just a mild panic, followed by an acute sense of guilt when he realized he couldn't quite get her face into focus in his mind's eye.

Gerard shook his head slowly. "Even I don't expect the impossible, Richard. I should have thought of this a week ago and made arrangements accordingly. If you'll excuse me, I need to speak to Cosmo before I leave."

 

Looking like a kicked spaniel, Renfro straightened from where he was propped against the wall and waited for the other man to speak.

Gerard parted his hands. "Relax. I can't say anything you haven't thought of for yourself. And I don't have the time to think of anything original. Or the inclination," he added with deliberation. "I'm due in court at two-thirty. Warn the others. We have to assume Richard could take it into his head to walk again at any time."

"Maybe he'll settle down now the anniversary's over. This has to be rough on him. Especially being in custody at this time. He might give us his word to stay put," suggested Renfro.

"Shit, Cosmo, he won't give me the time of day without snarling." Gerard sighed. "Maybe you'll have more success with him. It's obvious he can't stand having me around. I'll keep my distance as much as possible."

"I'm sorry, Sam," added Renfro. He sounded subdued and looked unhappy, but his voice was a touch louder than usual.

"I know you are," replied Gerard. "What's the problem with your ears?"

Renfro's eyes widened. "How did - ? It's nothing. They probably just need syringing, that's all. How did you know?"

"You don't miss things," Gerard said simply.

That statement of faith brought the sparkle back to Renfro's eyes.

Clapping the other man on the shoulder, Gerard went upstairs to change for his appearance in court.

 

Renfro narrowly avoided collision with Kimble in the doorway to the kitchen.

"Cosmo!"

"Yes, doctor?" Unsmiling, Renfro waited for the other man to continue.

Kimble grimaced. "I should have been honest with you."

"Yes, you should."

I hope Deputy Gerard wasn't too rough on you. I tried to - "

Renfro interrupted before he could finish. "Listen, Richard. It's time you started giving Sam some credit. He's not getting a kick out of having you here. All he's trying to do is keep you alive. Don't make our job any harder than it is already. You could have told us why you needed to go out," he added in a gentler tone. "We would have understood. All of us."

Exhaling, Kimble looked up. "How could you? I don't understand it myself. I'm moving - I've moved on without even being aware of it. You know the real trouble with being in protective custody - it gives you too much time to think."

Renfro patted Kimble's arm. "Come and have a coffee with me," he urged, drawing the other man into the kitchen with him. The more Kimble could be encouraged to talk, the better he would be in the long run.

"Have you made an appointment to get your ears attended to?" Kimble asked as he put away the coffee beans, after grinding a fresh supply.

"Give me a break here, Richard. We're kind of busy for me to take time off for something so trivial. Couldn't you see to it?"

Kimble sighed. "We've had this conversation. I'm a vascular surgeon. I can recommend a couple of - " Sensing someone behind him, he swung around.

Gerard was looking at Renfro. "Make the appointment, Cosmo. Now."

"Sam, I'm fine. Really. It's nothing. I can get by without - " Renfro ran out of steam under the influence of Gerard's less than benign stare.

"I thought you were over that thing of yours?"

"I am. Kind of," Renfro defended.

Kimble looked from one man to the other. "Over what?" he asked.

There was a small silence.

"Will you tell him or shall I?" asked Gerard steadily.

"I will. I hate needles," Renfro explained with a grimace. "I mean I really hate needles. And I know this won't necessarily involve any but it might and I can't do it."

"That's a common enough phobia," said Kimble matter-of-factly. "Off the top of my head I can think of two people who specialize in patients with a problem about needles. They're good people, Cosmo. You want the details?"

Renfro visibly steeled himself. "Sure. I'll call now. Before I lose my nerve."

Gerard's face broke into the kind of smile that few people were privileged to see. "You won't," he said with certainty.

Still reeling from the impact of that smile, Kimble blinked; he felt as if he was stepping off the edge of a cliff and didn't know if he was going to fall or fly. It was a moment before he realized Renfro was patiently waiting for the details of the specialists.

Kimble and Gerard listened to the other man make an appointment for the following morning.

"Good man," said Gerard, when Renfro came off the phone.

"I feel such a wuss," he grumbled, looking self-conscious.

"Well don't," Kimble told him forthrightly. "Most people have some weakness. It's just a matter of degree. Since the knife attack I find I'm hiding my scarred hand." Despite himself, he tucked it into a pocket.

"It's small spaces with me," said Gerard out of the blue, surprising both his companions - and himself.

Renfro stared at him. "I never knew that," he lied, astonished that after all these years Gerard should have brought the subject out into the open.

Gerard gave him an irritable look. "I'm hardly likely to broadcast it. I get by. Kind of. I get a bit terse at times."

"Oh, you terse is quite something," Renfro agreed, patting the other man's side. "Thanks for telling me, Sammy. I appreciate it. I'll be fine. Damn, you know it's one twenty-five? Judge Bailey would just love to get you for contempt."

"Shit! I promised I'd be early so Pauley could go over the evidence again." The last part of the sentence was indistinct because Gerard had already taken off. The front door banged, swiftly followed by the growl of a powerful engine.

Kimble looked up from his coffee to find Renfro watching him.

"Now that," said Renfro, "is the real Sam Gerard. Take time to get to know him, Richard. I can recommend it. Thanks for your help," he added hurriedly, steering clear of further sentiment.

Kimble nodded and fished his car keys from his pocket. "Sam gave these back to me. Here." He tossed them over.

"You sure you want me to keep using your car? I mean, I'll understand totally if you - "

"It's there to be enjoyed."

Renfro gave a happy beam. "Rest assured. I'm enjoying it. Caroline's threatening to cite the ‘Vette in any divorce proceedings. In fairness, that was after I'd told her she couldn't drive it," he added with evident satisfaction.

"Why can't she?"

"You mean she can?" Renfro sounded so dismayed Kimble had to grin.

"Hey, don't involve me," he begged, putting his hands up. "But she can as far as I'm concerned."

"You're a sad disappointment to me, Richard."

Kimble just grinned. "Don't despair. You might be able to negotiate yourself an interesting pay-off."

"Hey, I hadn't thought of that," Renfro said, brightening.

 

Having dozed during the day, Kimble couldn't sleep that night. Just after four a.m. he abandoned the pretence, dressed and headed for the gym. Going into the kitchen he was surprised to find Gerard sitting at the table, a mug of what smelt like tea cupped between his hands.

"You couldn't sleep either?" Kimble noted.

"It must be a guilty conscience." Gerard eyed the other man's workout clothes. "Isn't it kind of early?"

Kimble shrugged. "Yeah, but it beats thinking. You mind?"

"Hell, no. I'm against thinking myself. I'll leave you to it," Gerard added colorlessly. He drifted away before Kimble had the wit to call after him. Heading down to the gym, he wondered if it was his imagination, or if Gerard found an excuse to leave any room soon after he came into it.

oOo

"Evening, Sam. How's it going?" asked Ritchie, when Gerard arrived home just after nine.

The older man leant back against the front door and pulled off his boots, slinging them in the general direction of the wooden rack. His car keys were tossed into the bowl which sat on the table, his gloves and coat dropped on top of the lot.

"It's going like shit, Henry. I've run out of leads to follow. None of Judd's slimeball friends have a clue where he is." Gerard's monotone delivery gave an indication of his depression - and fatigue - because he tried to maintain an upbeat face to his kids, whatever might be going on.

"Even you can't do the impossible."

Fierce-eyed, Gerard gave him a hostile look. "If I can't, he'll snatch another kid. And I can't convince the FBI Judd is alive."

"I don't understand why they're so set on the idea. Forensics don't support them."

"They don't help us, either. Everything OK here?"

"No breakthrough but otherwise fine. Richard is a pleasure to be with."

"He's great with washing machines, too," Gerard told him absently. "He fixed mine anyway."

"That's nothing. Since then he's been busy putting together all that equipment in the gym."

Gerard looked vague.

"The stuff you ordered eighteen months back and never did anything with, remember?" Ritchie prompted.

"I do now. You mean it works?"

Ritchie grinned. "You bet. It looks great down there. You told Cosmo to let Richard have his head," he added when Gerard still did not react.

"So I did. But if he's finished down there we'll have to find him something else to do. Maybe I should bring him in on the Judd case. Richard's a bright guy."

"He's a nice guy, too," added Ritchie. "Can I fix you something to eat?"

"Where's Richard now?"

"Watching TV in the living-room."

"I'll grab something later. There's a mess of paperwork to catch up on. Go home. Your report can wait until tomorrow."

"You need some downtime yourself," Ritchie told him.

"So do you. Go, before I change my mind."

"Don't work too hard."

"I'll fight against it," Gerard promised him.

As he left the house Ritchie wondered why Sam had taken to avoiding Kimble.

oOo

Standing under the flow of the water, Gerard looked up as his shower curtain was drawn back.

"Deputy," murmured Kimble.

Naked, and sporting a massive erection, his eyes were heavy and brilliant with desire as he stepped into the shower cubicle. Moving behind Gerard, Kimble pressed against the length of his body, his arms encircling him, mouth nuzzling his neck and ears, nipping and sucking him. Kimble's cock pressed against the cleft of his ass, prodding his anus. He made a soft sound and Kimble's hands encircled his cock, expertly working it until -

Unable to sustain the bittersweet fantasy, Gerard slumped against the wall of the cubicle as he jerked off with increasing urgency. As he convulsed, semen mingling with the slick lotion coating his hands and cock, his teeth closed over his bottom lip to silence the sounds which might carry above the noise of the pounding water.

Sagging where he leant against the wall, Gerard redirected the head of the shower and held his face up to the water.

He must have been crazy to jerk off while the subject of his fantasy was in the next room. Richard could have walked in on him for real at any time.

Though maybe that had been a part of what had made this time so hot, Gerard conceded wryly. Applying shower gel with a lavish hand, he began to wash away the evidence of his solitary loving, but a few seconds later he was singing softly to himself, glowing with a sense of well-being and an optimism which had stubbornly survived, despite all his efforts to suffocate it.

 

Rubbing the back of his neck, Kimble ambled into the bathroom to urinate.

The sudden appearance of a naked Richard Kimble in his line of vision made Gerard jump at this example of life imitating fantasy; the razor he was using nicked the side of his jaw, a small trail of blood seeping into the shaving foam. He hardly noticed; he was too busy feeling grateful that he'd jerked off, saving Kimble from more of a reaction than he would have been prepared for.

Looking up as he saw movement from the corner of his eye, Kimble stopped in his tracks. "Sorry. I never gave you a thought. I'll use the john down the hall." Giving Gerard a considering look, he paused to tear off a piece of toilet tissue and hand it to him.

Having control of himself by this time, Gerard's fingers were steady when he took it.

"Where would we be without medical science," he wondered out loud, applying the tissue to the spot. "Go ahead," he invited, jerking a thumb behind him. Shaving with short, practised strokes, for a moment the only sound was the rasp of his razor.

"I didn't realize it was this late," said Kimble as he made use of the facilities.

"It isn't. I have a pre-breakfast meeting."

Gerard flicked foam from the head of his razor. He was pleased to note that his hands were steady and his breathing normal; unfortunately he had no control over the rising tempo of his pulse or his eye movements. His gaze fixed on Kimble via the mirror, surveying the other man from his sleep-rumpled brown hair to the soles of his feet, which shifted a little as Kimble continued with his mundane task.

Small wonder that his fantasy, while arousing, had ultimately been lacking. That Kimble had been composed of imagination, optimism and remembered half-glimpses. How could it compare to the glorious reality of smooth muscle, curves and hollows that made his hands twitch with longing and a firm, perfect ass that would no doubt be giving him restless nights? He was just grateful that he was no longer sixteen and given to instant hard-ons, though his groin was sending definite signals that were hard - difficult - to ignore. It was just as well he had jerked off.

With a small start Gerard realized he really shouldn't be playing voyeur with a man he was supposed to be protecting.

The muscles of Kimble's ass twitched.

Gerard's gaze remained frozen on the sight for a few seconds longer before he found the strength of will to drag his eyes to face front. His own reflection looked back at him, the cheeks faintly flushed, the lower lip a little swollen. But it was the fever-bright eyes that disconcerted him and made him feel a little ashamed of his behavior.

But Richard did have a great ass.

Correction, Richard had a fantastic ass.

He could live with a little shame for that memory.

 

Comfortably positioned, Kimble shook himself dry and depressed the flush. Turning, he hooked the spare bathrobe down from the peg on the back of the door and pulled on the dark blue towelling robe. While it reached mid-calf and fastened around his midriff, it was tight across the shoulders; but it wasn't until he caught a waft of expensive perfume that it belatedly occurred to him that this was a woman's robe. Busy speculating about Gerard's private life, he settled himself on the closed lid of the toilet.

"You mind?" he asked, when he caught Gerard's eye in the mirror and realized he was under an unsmiling surveillance.

"Why should I mind? I could have sold tickets." His wet hair slicked back, Gerard wore a bathrobe of faded burgundy towelling. Half-bare and with the remnants of a summer's tan on the visible portions of his legs and torso, he seemed altogether a more approachable figure.

Disconcerted by his own behavior in invading the other man's privacy, Kimble slowly got to his feet.

Gerard waved him back. "Sit. I'm always mean till I get my first cup of coffee."

Already looking appallingly awake, Kimble gave an equable nod. "It's whistling with Poole."

"You always this lively first thing in the morning?" Gerard asked, mildly amused.

"Pretty much," allowed Kimble smugly. "It used to drive Helen crazy. But then she was a night owl. Can I ask you something, Sam? It's personal."

The razor paused for a moment. "Sure," said Gerard, but his eyes were wary.

"It's not that personal," Kimble hastened to assure him.

"That's good."

"Yeah, I can see it's a relief to you," said Kimble dryly, before he added, "Am I paranoid, or have you been avoiding me recently?"

"Is this the personal question?" When Kimble nodded, Gerard's expression closed. "Yes, I have."

"I can't blame you for being pissed with me. I should have checked before I put up those shelves yesterday, I know."

Gerard made a gesture of impatience. "It isn't about that. I've been meaning to get round to it for months." Exhaling, he turned around and leant back against the sink to face the other man, his expression set. "Look, we both know you have good cause to hate me. I understand that. Seeing me reminds you of the past. I make you uncomfortable. It's natural you'd rather avoid me. I've been trying to make it easy for you."

As he mentally sorted through what he had been told, Kimble gave a dissatisfied frown. "I don't hate you, Sam. I never have. Though you do remind me of the past. But that's no reason for you to let yourself be turned into a bogeyman."

"I thought I already was." Gerard turned back to the sink to rinse the remnants of the foam from his face. He took his time.

"So did I," admitted Kimble slowly, his gaze on the other man's back. "Can we start over?"

It was a moment before Gerard emerged from the towel he was using to dry his face. "If that's what you want." The props kicked out from under him, he reminded himself that the best he could hope for was an armed neutrality, but he was disconcerted by how much it meant that Richard didn't hate him.

"It is," Kimble said in a definite tone.

Gerard gave a reluctant grin of recognition. "You're used to getting your own way."

"Pretty much," Kimble allowed, before he grimaced. "I sometimes wonder if I'm in danger of turning into one of those pompous jerks I used to despise when I was a med. student."

Gerard raised his eyebrows in exaggerated surprise.

"Thanks, Sam." Kimble's grin drew a full smile from Gerard this time.

"You can't be that bad. My kids have given you the thumbs up," he comforted.

"They're not likely to say anything else," Kimble dismissed, but he looked pleased.

"We are talking about the same bunch, aren't we?"

"Don't give me that," scoffed Kimble. "You think the world of them."

Disconcerted, Gerard held his gaze in the mirror. "You think I play favorites?"

Abruptly realizing why, despite all the odds against it, he liked this man so much, Kimble shook his head.

Unconvinced, Gerard continued to stare at him.

"Trust me, I'm a doctor."

"Yeah, right. You have much success with that line?"

"None at all," Kimble admitted sadly.

"That's a relief."

"What time is it?" Kimble asked as he noticed that Gerard was wearing his watch.

"Close to five ten."

"Do you ever get a full night's sleep?"

"Sure, though I admit it's been a while." Putting his cleaned razor back in the cabinet above the sink, Gerard raised his eyebrows when he saw that Kimble was still watching him. "Another question?"

"I was just trying to remember the last time I saw anyone use one of those things."

"You use an electric shaver?"

"Doesn't everyone?"

"Shame on you, Richard, and you a surgeon."

"I'm not the one going around with toilet tissue stuck to my face," Kimble reminded him. His gaze sharpened. "Or the one who bit his lip. You want some more tissue for that spot?"

Gerard probed the wound with his tongue, the small smart reminding him of how it had been gained. For the life of him he couldn't control his smile of satisfaction.

"Don't gloat, Richard," he murmured.

It was then that Kimble accounted for the other man's air of well-being and the faint glow to his cheeks. He felt a fool for not having realized what must be behind it and tried not to speculate about Gerard's preferences, and what fantasy it was which slipped him over the edge. Fidgeting with the edges of the skimpy towelling robe he wore, he noticed that Gerard had taken the tissue from his jaw and was about to apply aftershave to his face.

"Sam - " warned Kimble, but Gerard had already acted.

He yelped when the astringent found the cut on his jaw. "Shi-it." He was virtually hopping up and down on the spot.

"I've never heard that many syllables in a four-letter word before," mused Kimble.

"I thought doctors were supposed to alleviate suffering," retorted Gerard, blinking the moisture from his watering eyes. "Damn, that smarts." Bare foot and with his drying hair fluffing out, he was both a far more approachable and complex figure than the Demon King of Kimble's imagination.

"You must be thinking of some other guy," Kimble told him unsympathetically. "I did try and warn you."

"Rub it in, why don't you." Gerard gave his companion a narrow-eyed look, paused, then padded over to him.

"Where did you get this?" Taking hold of Kimble's jaw, he lightly ran the side of his thumb over the scar which crossed his chin. "Cut yourself shaving?"

"Certainly not," said Kimble with dignity. His pulse leaping, he was overly conscious of their physical proximity; Gerard was close enough for Kimble to see the small oval of black hair between his flat pectoral muscles and to catch the elusive drift of his French cologne.

Gerard looked skeptical.

"Would I lie to you?" Kimble said, his eyes wide.

Gerard ran the side of his thumb back across Kimble's chin, then released him to prop his back against the wall a couple of feet away. "Is that a serious question?"

"Maybe not," Kimble conceded with a faint grin, before he looked thoughtful. "I don't think I have yet."

"Are you anticipating starting?" Gerard enquired with interest.

"That depends," evaded Kimble.

"I'll just bet it does. So, the scar. How did you get it?"

"Would you believe while I was sky-diving?"

"Not a chance."

"How about when I was deep-sea diving?"

"Uh-huh."

"Or when I fell off my bike when I was eleven?"

"That's a possibility. Is it true?"

"Guess," invited Kimble.

"It must be something real embarrassing then," Gerard mused.

"You got that much right. Have you time for breakfast before your meeting?"

Gerard shook his head with what looked like genuine regret. "Are you comfortable staying here?" he asked out of the blue.

"Sure. Who wouldn't be? This house feels more like a home than my apartment ever has. I bought the first place I saw," Kimble added, unaware of how much he had just betrayed in two sentences.

"Did you cut yourself with your own scalpel?" Gerard asked abruptly.

Kimble gave a soft chuckle. "You have a high regard for my dexterity. It's not that embarrassing."

"That's a relief. While we're asking questions, I do have one for you," Gerard admitted.

"Sure," murmured Kimble, feeling as flattered as hell.

"Would you get your ass off my john and outta here so I can use the facilities," said Gerard in the same seductive drawl.

It was only when the other man held the bathroom door open for him that Kimble realized he was being kicked out. "You want me to leave?"

"I knew subtlety was a mistake. Go. And don't waste your breath telling me you're a doctor. There are some things a man does best in private."

Kimble paused in the doorway. "I would never have taken you for a bashful guy," he mused.

Gerard aimed a swat in his general direction, a smile still in his eyes as he closed the door behind Kimble.

Chapter Text

" - and I love you too, sweetheart. No, Mom will kill me. OK, but make it snappy. Poole. The kid wants a word with Aunty Euph," said Renfro.

"Don't push your luck, Cosmo. Hello, sweetie. Did you have a terrific time?" she added in a totally different tone as she took the receiver from him.

A couple of minutes later he took it back from her again. "That's it, kiddo. Go to sleep. Don't let the bedbugs bite."

Renfro looked sheepish as he hung up the phone and caught Kimble's eye. "Patrick's kind of excited after his birthday party," he excused.

"I'm sorry you had to miss it," said Kimble.

Renfro waved that away. "Sammy made sure I had a couple of hours off. All I missed was over-excited kids tossing up their cookies over the new carpet. Caroline's as mad as hell with Sam. Not that it will do her any good. He can sweet-talk her a damn sight better than I can."

"You know Sam well, don't you," remarked Kimble, as he helped himself to an apple.

"Sam's a private kind of guy. We've worked together for eight years." Renfro's tone was not forthcoming.

"How many kids do you have?" Kimble asked, accepting that Renfro was not going to gossip.

"Don't start Cosmo on his kids," Poole begged him.

"Is it our fault Roger got called in on an emergency?" asked Renfro, grinning.

Poole gave him a long, considering look and he caved in immediately.

"OK, it's my fault and I'm really, really sorry. There. Happy now?"

"Getting that way," she conceded, mellowing despite herself. "Cosmo's got five kids," she told Kimble.

"Hey, my kids, I get to boast about them," interrupted Renfro happily. "Louise is three, Patrick is five - today - Karen's seven, Bruce is nine and Alex is twenty-two."

"Twenty-two!" exclaimed Kimble, betrayed into surprise.

"Cosmo likes to give the impression he matured early. No chance," added Poole with a snort.

"Did anyone ask you?" retorted Renfro with spirit. "Technically Alex is my step-son, but Caroline and I have been together almost thirteen years. He feels like mine. He's spending a year bumming round Europe. The damn kid never rings home. It drives Caroline nuts but - You don't need to know this," he recognized, giving a rueful grin as Poole mimed sleep.

She brightened when Gerard arrived home to relieve his deputies. Sparing him a scant couple of sentences, she was out of the door and off home.

Renfro hooked down his jacket.

"You're going?" Kimble's wistful expression made the other man feel guilty.

"Hey, you've got the best night watchman in town on the job. Feel flattered, Richard. There are people who would pay serious money for Sam's services. Listen, can I get you anything - anything you can't get from the local store, I mean?"

"What esoteric sexual aid did you have in mind? I'll settle for a shovel."

"To bury Sam's body?" The surprise on Kimble's face was reassuring.

"No, so I can start to tunnel my way out." While he tried to make light of it, Kimble went up to his room so he would not have to watch Renfro leave. The walls closing in on him, he soon went back downstairs in search of distraction from his thoughts.

Gerard looked up from the file he was reading when Kimble entered the room.

"I'll be out of your hair in a couple of minutes," he promised, before he gestured vaguely behind him. "I'm waiting on the microwave."

Kimble took in all the signs of fatigue and tension in the other man. "Don't go on my account. You're my aversion therapy, remember? Or maybe I'm yours. I hate frozen dinners," he added as he rummaged through the packets in the freezer. Finding nothing of interest, he manufactured a sandwich whose contents left Gerard eyeing him with disbelief.

"Relish and peanut butter?" he queried, looking queasy.

"Don't knock it until you've tried it. Here, live dangerously." Kimble offered up his plate.

Gerard looked from it to Kimble, who gave a cocky grin.

"Can't take it, huh?"

"You really eat this stuff for pleasure?"

"It's the contrast in textures and the sweet and sour flavors that makes it so good." Kimble took a large bite and chewed with obvious pleasure.

"I just know I'm going to regret this," murmured Gerard. Taking the other sandwich, he tried to avoid inhaling as he bit into it. His face scrunched immediately and he spat neatly into his cupped hand, depositing the result in the garbage.

"Jeez, Richard, that's the most disgusting - " Having washed his hand, he broke off to rinse out his mouth.

"It's an acquired taste," Kimble conceded.

"You're a sick puppy. Or if you're not, you should be. Boy, the taste lingers." Returning to the table, Gerard poked the meal he had been about to eat, pulled a face and tossed it away,

"No sense of adventure, that's your trouble," Kimble told him, watching Gerard construct a salad sandwich on rye.

"Damn straight," Gerard told him, before he drank some milk from the carton. "I swear my taste buds fainted from shock. Tell me you weren't setting me up?" he added in the same tone, before he belatedly licked away the milk outlining his upper lip.

Kimble gave a resigned sigh. "You really are good, aren't you. What gave me away?"

"Your sandwich only had relish in the crust - so all you ate was peanut butter. As for being good," Gerard gave a rueful sigh, "if I was that great I would have noticed how smug you were looking before I took a bite. I bet you won't try that trick on Poole."

Kimble gave him an appalled look. "Are you insane?"

While the silence which followed was a comfortable one, Kimble searched around for some innocuous topic of conversation.

"So who do you support," he began in a casual tone " the Cubs or - ?"

Gerard snorted.

"Hey, they've had a bad time but they'll come good," Kimble said with the optimism of a true fan.

"I'll take your word for it," Gerard said, still looking amused. "Is it that hard to find something for us to talk about?"

"You don't follow baseball?" said Kimble curiously.

Gerard's eyes looked near black and were sparkling with life. "Bad choice, Richard. I must be the only guy in Chicago who loathes baseball and who doesn't follow football, basketball or any other damn ball. Or puck," he added after a moment for reflection.

"Heresy."

"I know it." Gerard's slow, easy smile changed his entire face.

"If team sports are out, what do you do?" pursued Kimble.

"What makes you think I do anything?" returned Gerard.

"Intuition," said Kimble dryly. "Running, swimming, flying- ?"

"With or without a plane?"

"According to your deputies you could do that any time you wanted."

Gerard ignored the compliment, although Kimble was willing to swear that he looked awkward until he thought to cover it.

"I climb," volunteered Gerard.

"Climb what?" asked Kimble, blank because that was the last thing he had been expecting to hear.

"Rock faces."

"Why?"

"Because it's better than falling off them," explained Gerard, unsmiling.

"I guess I invited that one," Kimble acknowledged, amused despite himself. "Of course, you're not from these parts, are you?" His tone was that of a man searching for some explanation for an aberration and Gerard's mouth twitched appreciatively.

"You could tell?"

"I had a hint. There aren't any rocks to climb around here."

"You mean I can stop looking?"

"Get outta here. Where do you go?"

"Pretty much anywhere that I choose. I get away at weekends. And I pick a likely spot when I take a vacation."

Kimble cocked his head.

"What?" asked Gerard with resignation.

"It's just - You work so hard I suppose I assumed... "Kimble found the tact not to finish the sentence.

"That I don't have any kind of a life outside my work? There's plenty who would agree with that. My life suits me," said Gerard easily.

"And god knows not many people can say that." Kimble fidgeted with his plate.

"I'm lucky. I know it." Gerard eyed Kimble’s downbent head but decided against testing their fragile rapport too far.

"I used to believe we made our own luck," murmured Kimble, as he got up to make himself a fresh sandwich of dull but edible cheese and salad. "Now - Now I try not to think too much at all."

Glancing over, he made another sandwich for Gerard, who inspected it with pointed care before he took a bite, nodding his appreciation as he chewed.

"We don't get many Texans this far north," Kimble mused between mouthfuls. "You get lost?"

"Sure. I headed out one morning and forgot to stop till I hit Lake Michigan. I should qualify as a native pretty soon. I've been here - " Gerard paused to make some private calculation, then grimaced " - shit, longer than I like to admit."

He was visibly more relaxed and Kimble was determined to keep up the good work. "Don't you miss the wide-open spaces?" he asked, genuinely interested.

"I'm more comfortable with a few city blocks to take the edge off the elements. Too much sky makes me uneasy."

"You're agoraphobic?"

"No, I just prefer people to cows," said Gerard simply.

"Oh, come on. That's such a cliché."

"Not in my part of Texas. You're a native of Chicago, aren't you?"

"Yeah, that's right. My idea of a wide-open space is Lincoln Park. Do you still have any family back in Texas?" Kimble added, having been speculating about the other man's personal life for some time.

Gerard finished chewing an over-ambitious mouthful. "Any family I might have is probably in Mexico."

"They all as tight-lipped as you?"

"If I ever meet them I'll be sure to ask. You want some ice cream?" It was clear that the subject of Gerard's personal life was closed.

"What kind is it?" Kimble asked, as if it made a difference.

Gerard looked unimpressed. "Just eat," he advised Kimble. He set the tub of Ben and Jerry's double chocolate on the table and tossed the other man a spoon. They soon learnt to alternate dipping into the pint-sized tub, which had a short but much appreciated life.

"Do you realize this is the first time we've had a halfway normal conversation?" remarked Kimble.

"You've got ice cream on your upper lip."

Kimble wiped it away. "Was that a snub?"

"If it was, it didn't get me far," Gerard pointed out. He sounded lazily amused until he had to swallow a yawn.

"You should be in bed."

"I'm fine."

It only took Kimble a moment to recognize what lay behind that dismissal.

"I won't try and sneak off while you're asleep," he snapped.

Gerard held up his hands. "Whoa, Richard. But thank you for that assurance."

Kimble's eyes widened. "Of all the devious, manipulative - How do you know I'll keep my word?"

Smiling faintly, Gerard shook his head. "Uh huh. I'm not falling into that trap. Is there any of that coffee going?" he added, looking hopeful.

"It will keep you awake."

"Trust me, nothing will keep me awake," Gerard assured him, but he got to his feet when he was interrupted by another yawn. "OK, so I guess I could use an early night." He shot Kimble a look from beneath his eyelashes.

"Is that a subtle way of asking me to go to bed?" asked Kimble, before the double-edged possibilities of that remark occurred to him.

"I'd rather you came upstairs, yes." The left-hand side of Gerard's mouth was definitely threatening another smile but Kimble pretended not to notice.

"I can work in my room," he conceded. "Give me ten minutes or so to collect up my papers. Sleep tight, don't let the bedbugs bite."

Gerard turned around in the doorway, his eyebrows raised, eyes wide. "Is that a Chicago thing?"

Kimble hoped his embarrassment was well-hidden, but the other man's wide grin made him accept it was a vain hope.

"I've spent too much time listening to Cosmo on the phone to his kids," he said wryly. "Just go, marshal, before I start to read you a bedtime story."

"It's deputy," corrected Gerard, with the resignation of a man required to make that correction at least once a day.

"Now I know you must be tired," teased Kimble.

Gerard grimaced. "Yeah. I'm outta here." The words ‘Sam-I-Am' floated behind him.

oOo

Remembering that he now owned a fully-functional gym thanks to Richard Kimble's clever fingers, Gerard waited until he was certain the coast was clear before he sneaked down to the basement of his own house. Stopping in the doorway, a happy grin lit his face. Padding around the room, trying to decide the use of half the items, some of which looked daunting in the extreme, he spun around when he heard a sound behind him and saw Kimble watching him with some uncertainty.

"Cosmo said it would be all right for me to put the stuff together," said Kimble, making a question of it.

"It's more than OK," said Gerard with unfeigned enthusiasm. "I've had this stuff so long I've forgotten what most of it is. Where are the manuals?"

"There were instructions for putting everything together but that's it."

"Oh. In that case I guess it must be obvious." Gerard looked doubtful as he studied a complicated arrangement of pulleys and weights. "If not to me," he conceded, giving Kimble a look of appeal, a wry smile tugging at his lips. "Does this make sense to you?"

"Sure. I did have the advantage of putting it together," Kimble reminded him. He abandoned the chance for one-upmanship without a thought. "You see?" He slowly demonstrated, glad that his days of working out were already paying off.

"You want me to show you how the other stuff works?" he asked, and when Gerard gave an equable nod, grinned his satisfaction. "Good, because I was planning to show off anyway. Step this way." Kimble's pleasure in the situation was obvious even in his walk. This was the most relaxed he had seen Gerard and he was enjoying making the other man smile.

"You'd think they'd supply manuals," mused Gerard, shaking his head over the complexities of one piece of equipment.

"They probably figure anyone spending this much on a fully functional gym would know," Kimble pointed out. "You're obviously into working out in a big way."

"It's a reasonable assumption," Gerard conceded.

"You mean you're not?" His gaze sweeping over the lean, fit figure, he gave Gerard a look of disbelief.

"Oh, I tried to get to a gym a couple of times a week but I got so bored I thought I might do better working out from home. The only thing that keeps me peddling that bike is watching TV."

"And the punchbag?"

"Ah, that serves an entirely different purpose."

Kimble nodded his comprehension. "It's better than Valium. Hey, this machine is neat. You'll like this."

 

Curious to see what the two men were doing, Poole arrived halfway through the display; it always made her a little uneasy when Sam and Richard were together without a buffer because she had the constant sense that sparks were about to fly. Sinking onto the battered old couch, she ended up wearing an indulgent smile as she watched the ease between the two men, visible in everything from the light banter they were exchanging, to their close physical proximity.

They were of a height but their physical builds were quite different. While Sam seemed to fill twice the space he actually occupied, without the bulk of heavy clothing he was surprisingly lean, though as most of the female personnel would declare, perfectly formed. That straight back and wonderful ass had given a lot of people a lot of pleasure. By contrast, Kimble was a little heavier but superbly built. Poole had thought him attractive in casual clothes but in shorts and a white sleeveless top he had perhaps found his optimum look. He obviously believed in keeping fit - the firm muscles of his arms, thighs and calves were not a happy accident. Her gaze lingered appreciatively on the honey-colored thighs, before it slid up to take in the sight of the ass, wonderfully displayed in dark blue satin. Was he wearing - ?

Kimble bent over a piece of equipment, pointing something out to Gerard.

Oh yeah. Just a jockstrap. Very nice.

Gerard leaned over, the better to see what Kimble was showing him, and Poole was treated to the sight of two delicious backsides lined up side by side. Smiling contentedly, she sat back to enjoy the view.

It took a minute or so before she became aware they were talking to one another. Warm Texan and Kimble's deep, so deep, caressing voice gave her an auditory treat that made her toes curl. She wriggled happily on the sofa. What they were actually saying to each other took a little while longer to register and when it did she listened more closely, the tone rather than the words making an impression. She switched from happy drooling female to detached observer in the blink of an eye, and made a surprising discovery. Richard was showing off - and Sam was enjoying, if not actively encouraging, the display.

Damn it, Richard was flirting with Sam.

The real shock came when, watching the amused enjoyment on Gerard's face as he replied to something Richard said, she saw that the attraction was mutual - even if neither man had realized it.

Her preconceptions sent flying, Poole tried not to dwell on everything that could go wrong and refocused on the men in front of her. Kimble was comfortably settled on a bench-press, instructing Gerard to increase the weights.

"Who are you trying to kid, Richard? You'll never lift that." It was obvious Gerard was not going to give him the chance to find out.

"I might be able to," Kimble defended stubbornly.

"And I might win a Mr Congeniality award, but I'm not banking on it. You want a hernia?"

"You could be right."

"I usually am," Gerard told him.

Kimble continued to raise and lower the bar in a smooth rhythm. "You shouldn't use this when you're alone."

"Nor should you."

"It's OK, Sam. I'm down here most mornings while Richard works out," said Poole, announcing her presence.

Gerard turned and strolled over to her, wearing a thoughtful look which experience had taught her to mistrust.

"Now, I wonder why you would do that," he murmured with a smile.

"Cardio-vascular work out," she replied glibly, her gaze on Kimble as he continued to use the weights.

"I presume that means your heart rate goes up while Richard works out. Stop drooling. Though at least I know what you're doing here each morning. And you a married woman," he mocked, his voice too low to carry to the other man.

"The day I stop enjoying a fine ass is the day they stick me in a pine box," she retorted. "There's nothing wrong with a little window shopping." Over the years she had gone to some pains to ensure Gerard never realized how much pleasure his rear view gave her.

"I've heard it called a lot of things but that's a new one on me. Don't get comfortable, you have work to do. So do I," Gerard added briskly. He raised his voice. "Richard, you've done great down here. Thank you. But don't go using those weights unless one of the guys is here."

"I might be small, but I'm wiry," Poole told him, as she glared upwards.

"You have the strength of ten because you're pure in heart, but you're not up to catching for Richard. Clear?" By this time Gerard was looking at Kimble.

"Clear," he confirmed easily. "Don't work too hard."

Gerard left with a wave of acknowledgement but he did not look back.

oOo

That night Kimble awoke to a sense of being watched but no threat: Gerard, he recognized, relaxing because he was too sleepy to question the other man's presence in his bedroom. Lying on his side facing the window, he was careful to make no betraying move as he opened his eyes. Gerard was a shadowy silhouette on the window seat; he sat so still he hardly seemed to be breathing.

"It's OK, Richard. Go back to sleep," Gerard murmured, not needing to turn his head to know he was under surveillance.

"How did you know I was awake?" Kimble demanded, stretching across the unoccupied portion of the bed to switch on the lamp.

"Intuition," said Gerard sardonically. "No, don't put on the light."

Kimble propped himself up on one elbow but he felt no sense of danger; if there was any threat Gerard would be dealing with it. "What can you see out there?" he asked, curious about what could be holding the other man's interest for so long.

"See? Why, nothing." Gerard gave himself a little shake and got his to his feet. "Nothing at all."

Kimble frowned. There had been something oddly wistful about Gerard just now, a fleeting sense of vulnerability. Now the defenses had snapped up and he felt shut out and cheated, as if something precious had been taken from him. As he watched, the heavy drapes fell to a close, swamping the room with darkness, and Gerard became one with the shadows.

"Did you hear something outside, is that it?" pursued Kimble, puzzled.

"Something like that," said Gerard. The shadows stirred as he moved. "I'm sorry I disturbed you."

When he opened the connecting door he flicked on the light, revealing the stark unhappiness on his face before the door closed again and he was gone.

Remaining in the darkness, Kimble was still replaying that oddly disturbing scene in his mind's eye as he heard the sound of a car driving off. Unable to settle, he got up to make himself a drink. Renfro, who had obviously been called in without much notice, if his pulled-together look was any guide, told him that Gerard, in the company of Biggs, Ritchie and Newman had left for Iowa in pursuit of their quarry.

Kimble was conscious of an absurd sense of loss. Gerard wasn't a noisy man, or physically overwhelming, but he was vivid and vital and there seemed to be this black hole where he had been.

oOo

Renfro broke off from the story he had been telling to grab the telephone receiver. Both Poole and Kimble looked up when they heard him say, "We're fine, Sammy. Cozy as can be. Richard's just having the complete, stitch-by-stitch account of my surgery. Of course he's enjoying it. Not everyone is as squeamish as you."

"How is he?" asked Poole when Renfro hung up.

"Fine, according to him. So we know what that's worth. He's in St. Louis."

"What's he doing there? The murder was in Davenport."

Renfro's expression was grim. "As Sam predicted, it was a copy-cat killing. The locals hadn't done their homework. Too eager for the publicity that being linked with Judd would bring."

"So why's Sam gone to St. Louis?"

"Following his nose, he said. He only rang in to check everything was OK this end." Renfro was frowning. "I wish Sam had taken one of us. He's driving himself into the ground on this case."

"He's got Robert, Henry and Noah. Don't let that sad spaniel act of Noah's fool you. He's a smart cookie - and he doesn't lose his head in a crisis. He's all grown up, Cosmo. You've gotta stop babying him. And you know you can trust Robert and Henry to keep an eye on Sam. They're just not as obvious about it as you."

"I resent that - " began Renfro.

"Only because it's true," pointed out Poole, giving him a look of affection. She began to flex the locked muscles of her shoulders and neck. "As for being with Sam, this is one time I'm damn glad to be as far away as possible. This case is - Shit," she broke off to exclaim, her eyes on the middle distance.

"Damn him. That's why Sam left us on this babysitting job. He could see we weren't handling the Judd case."

"Jeez," hissed Renfro. Running his hand through his streaky blond hair, he ended up looking like a demented gopher. "I shoulda spotted that. Like the case isn't getting to him just as much as us." He stopped as he realized Kimble was not only present but openly listening to every word. He gave the other man a hard stare.

"Do I have to remind you that anything you overhear is confidential?"

"I am a doctor," Kimble pointed out in a long-suffering tone.

"Spare me the bullshit, Richard. Yes or no?"

"Of course I understand. This Judd case must be a real horror story," Kimble added encouragingly. He was curious about the case that was taking all Gerard's concentration and energy.

"It's a nightmare," said Poole frankly. "I'm surprised you haven't caught it on the news. It was regular fare on the bulletins until three weeks ago."

"I don't watch much TV." Kimble saw no need to add that he had grown tired of being featured on it himself, seemingly as a perennial victim after the attacks he suffered on top of the famous miscarriage of justice. "Wait a minute. You mean the paedophile who's - "

"That's him," Renfro confirmed, his expression grim.

"According to the news he died in an automobile accident during his escape from prison."

"Sam thinks he's still alive. And he's been right enough times to convince me," Poole said.

"How good is Sam?" asked Kimble curiously.

"What do you think?" she returned, now he had brought the subject into the open.

"I'm biased."

Renfro gave Kimble a hard-to-read look. "In what way, Richard?"

Kimble rubbed the scar on his chin, then gave a rueful grimace. "Promise you won't tell him?"

"That depends," said Renfro, looking disapproving.

Poole gave him a gentle nudge. "Get a grip, Cosmo. OK, Richard, let's hear it. But if you've swallowed the legend of Sam Gerard I'm going to be very disappointed."

"What legend is that?" Kimble countered, reluctant to commit himself.

"The usual stuff. Always gets his man, is never wrong, scales tall buildings in one bound - and eats iron filings for breakfast."

"He seems to prefer doughnuts, but apart from that, pretty much," Kimble conceded. "I don't know why you're looking so superior. You should try being hunted down by him. It's an awesome experience."

"That's our Sammy," said Renfro, "awesome. He does OK," he allowed, so puffed up with pride that Kimble expected to see him pop at any moment.

"He told me four-fifths of his job was delegating," murmured Kimble into the silence.

"He tells me exercise is fun, that doesn't mean I have to believe him," retorted Poole. "He delegates plenty and still does the work of two."

Getting to his feet, Kimble lightly touched her on the arm to gain her consent before he began to work the knotted muscles of her neck and shoulders.

"Oh, this feels so good," she virtually purred. "Cosmo, you've gotta let Richard get to work on you. You have talented hands, doctor."

For a moment the massage faltered. "I used to. But until I'm out of here I'm not going to know if that's still true. How much longer, Poole?" His voice low, Kimble could not meet their eyes as the reality of his loss of freedom swept over him again.

Reaching up, she patted the hand resting on her shoulder. "While it might not always look like it, we're doing all we can."

Chapter Text

Poole's whoop of delight brought Renfro and Kimble into the living-room at a run, where she had just switched on the television to catch the midday news.

" - capture of the man the other authorities claimed was dead is U. S. Marshal Samuel Gerard. Kevin, what does the marshal have to say about - ?"

Mesmerized, Kimble stared at the television screen, where the picture had moved from the newsdesk to live coverage. Gerard, Newman, Biggs, Ritchie and two other men he did not recognize were escorting a solid-looking white man, who was passed into police custody in an official handover of responsibility.

The media circus hurled Kimble back in time. His memories were confused but above all else he remembered being blinded by the lights, and the wall of noise beyond the people shielding him with their own bodies. But most of all he remembered the calm center of the storm that was Sam Gerard as he padded along at his side, all his ostensible attention on the crowd - except for one moment of eye-contact; a reassurance Kimble hadn't known he'd needed until he'd received it. During those first hours the deputy had been his lifeline to sanity, just as he had previously been his Nemesis, springing up when he was least expected; uncompromising, single-minded, and as intimidating as hell when he put his mind to it.

"Another triumph for Deputy Gerard," Kimble said, in a voice which sounded strange to his own ears.

"Sam's done great, hasn't he," enthused Poole. She paused when she recognized Kimble's expression. "Look, I know seeing all that," she gestured broadly in the direction of the screen, "must bring back what you went through but trust me, the only thing you and Judd have in common is the fact you're both breathing. Don't kid yourself this guy is innocent. There's enough solid evidence to ensure he never gets hold of another child."

Renfro was still staring at the television screen but seemed oblivious of the commercial break which was showing. "It's funny, after all these years I still expect guys like Judd to look different. Like they should have some distinguishing mark. The FBI sure fucked up on this one. They were convinced Judd burnt to death in that auto accident up in Evanston."

"But Deputy Gerard knew better." Kimble could not keep the sarcasm from his voice.

"Obviously. He's captured Judd, hasn't he. And there isn't a parent who won't sleep easier tonight because of that."

Kimble glanced at Renfro's face and knew why Gerard had taken the other man off the case.

oOo

Making fresh coffee, Kimble idly picked up the newspaper on top of the pile sitting on the kitchen table; Judd's capture was front page news, media hysteria rife. Tucking the papers under his arm, Kimble took them into the living-room. Having been the victim of so much media attention himself, he was looking forward to reading about granite-faced Marshal Gerard, who always got his man. Cliché was piled on inaccuracy. The photo of Gerard was unflattering in the extreme, making him seem a far more sinister figure than Judd.

Tossing the tabloid to the floor, Kimble unfolded the broadsheet. His feet up over the chair arm, he began to read, but the grisly list of Judd's offenses, plus the discovery that Gerard had arrived too late to save Judd's last victim, wiped the smile from Kimble's face. No wonder Sam had looked so grim, he thought, wishing he'd paid closer attention to yesterday's newscast.

He took little notice of the noise coming from the entrance hall until he heard Renfro give a pleased exclamation.

"Man, we didn't expect to see you back yet. You did good, Sammy."

" - pining for your happy, smiling faces," said a familiar voice. Gerard swept into the room, bringing the scent of frosted air with him as he took in everything there was to see in one encompassing glance.

"I'm glad to see you've made yourself comfortable, Richard." His tone smooth and sweet as molasses, there was nothing remotely pensive or wistful about him today. This was the in-your-face adversary Kimble remembered best. Such was the impact of the other man's personality that the very air seemed suddenly charged.

Without being conscious he was doing so, Kimble swung his legs off the arm of the chair, sat up straight and folded up the newspaper he had been reading. He gave the collar of his polo shirt a quick tweak, before brushing a hand first over his hair, and then his chin.

Formally dressed in a dark, well-cut suit, white shirt and silk tie, Gerard dropped his coat onto one of the sofas and shot Kimble a searching glance. While his face was drawn, his dark eyes were snapping with life. He was exuding so much vitality Kimble half-expected to see him emitting sparks.

"Cosmo, a word with you in the office. Richard, we'll speak later. I hear you've been bored while I've been away. I'll have to see if I can't change that." The promise had the sound of a threat.

Renfro trailed after Gerard as if he was attached on a string, looking unhappy at the prospect in front of him.

Absurdly Kimble was reminded of a saying he had heard somewhere. ‘Hell's hell, the devil's back again.'

"OK, Cosmo, save the bullshit. What have you got for me?" Kimble heard Gerard say before the two men moved out of earshot.

Feeling as if he was waiting outside the Principal's office, Kimble kept reminding himself that he could leave any time he wanted throughout the seemingly endless wait. Gerard finally re-entered the living-room with the same lack of warning with which he had left it.

"Richard, could we have a word in my office? Now," he added in the same mild tone, when Kimble nodded and stayed where he was.

"Can't we chat here?" he asked pleasantly, aiming to maintain the illusion of control.

Gerard raised his eyebrows. "My my. What a charming thought. This isn't a social occasion. I intend to get this interrogation on tape. At your convenience, of course." He stood back from the doorway.

"Interrogation has an ominous ring to it," joked Kimble as he crossed the hall, uncomfortably aware that Gerard was a pace behind him the entire way.

"Does it?" Taking the file Poole was holding out for him, Gerard scanned the contents as he walked unerringly through the arrangement of chairs in front of his desk. A subdued-looking Renfro avoided Kimble's gaze.

Seating himself, Kimble's eyes widened when he saw that Renfro had set up a tape deck and was now unwrapping audio cassettes. The crackle of the discarded cellophane as it uncrumpled again seemed inordinately loud. Kimble surrendered to the urge to move on his seat and was pinned by an assessing look from Gerard that was so hostile he automatically braced himself.

"You'll be delighted to hear you have my undivided attention, Richard. So speak to me."

"About what?" snapped Kimble.

Gerard's unblinking stare left Kimble experiencing a fleeting empathy with a rabbit caught in the headlights of a car.

"About why someone wants you dead."

Kimble swung around to stare at Poole and Renfro. "What's happened?"

"Nothing," said Renfro, falling silent when Gerard stared at him.

Kimble divided his glare between them. "I'm not feeble-minded, and I'm certainly not the guilty party. What's been going on? I can't - won't - spend the rest of my life in custody. I want to get back to work."

"Frustrating for you but not the end of the world." Gerard sounded faintly bored.

"Sam," protested Poole, only to be silenced by a quick, fierce frown.

"Would you mind telling me what this is about?" demanded Kimble. "If something's happened, I have a right to know about it."

"Nothing's happened. That's the problem," said Gerard. "We need more information from you. I intend to get it."

"You're welcome to try," snapped Kimble, ruffled.

"Why, thank you, doctor," said Gerard smoothly. "We'll start with your former patients."

Outrage kept Kimble silent as, despite the fact he had given them no help of any kind, Gerard made a roll-call of every patient Kimble had come into contact with, and a couple of referrals he had forgotten about. Patients were named and discussed between the three deputies with a dispassionate thoroughness which made it obvious Gerard's trust in the abilities of his people wasn't misplaced.

"Damn you," grated Kimble in a low voice, his chair jarring back as he got to his feet. "I don't care what excuse you make, there's no possible justification for violating doctor/patient privilege."

Slamming the office door behind him helped - a little. He got as far as the front door before he remembered that walking out wasn't an option at his disposal. Or only if he was prepared to risk someone else's life - Kathy's perhaps.

Giving a shuddering sigh he slowly closed his hand into a fist and brushed it against the door jamb, his control more eloquent of his despair than fury would have been. After a moment his bowed head sank to rest on his fist.

The sound of footsteps on the polished hardwood floorboards made him tense before he slowly turned around. The ferocity of his expression intensified when he saw it was Gerard who had come after him - the last person in the world he wanted to see right now.

"I can't believe my life's being screwed again - and by you, of all people," he muttered, fighting his rage at having control of his life taken away for a second time.

Kimble's head tilted back against the front door, exposing the vulnerable line of his throat as he swallowed. Feeling hunted and at bay, he was looking everywhere but at Gerard; he couldn't bear to see the other man watching him with no more interest than he would give to a fly beating against the window.

"Seen enough?" demanded Kimble spikily, when Gerard made no attempt to speak. He had to look away from that cold, cold stare. "You don't have to follow me everywhere, I'm not going to run away."

"That's lucky. I was wondering when you were going to stop feeling sorry for yourself." The hint of contempt in the deputy's voice stung. Severe and unsmiling, Gerard looked as if he was pacing himself; he probably had no choice. The shadows beneath his eyes were grape-black and set deep under the skin, his facial muscles slackened by the fatigue he had forgotten to disguise.

"Fuck you, Gerard."

The dark eyebrows rose. "Do I detect a note of hostility here?"

"If you're in any doubt, I'm not projecting it properly. What is it with you? Every time we exchange two civilized sentences you slam the door in my face." Firing up as he spoke, Kimble pushed himself away from the door. "Do you know what my very first memory of you is?"

"Pointing my gun at me?" enquired Gerard, his emotions locked down.

"Oh, no. It was long before that."

Gerard was betrayed into surprise.

Kimble snorted. "You forget, like it or not, you're a public figure. I first saw you being interviewed on TV about the Lamine case. You already had a reputation for being an honest man - listening to you I could understand why. I remember saying to Helen that you sounded the kind of guy I'd like to meet. Don't think those words haven't haunted me since."

Gerard raised his chin. "And your point is?"

"That you're a lying bastard," said Kimble with some deliberation, a harsh undertone to his voice.

Gerard didn't twitch, but there was a split second when Kimble was seriously afraid. The silent warning wasn't enough to stop him from pursuing the point, his voice unsteady with the force of the emotions roiling in him.

"I believed you were an honest man right up to the point when you lied to me. I was on the run, desperate for someone who would take me seriously. I find I'm holding a gun on you and I've never been so fucking relieved in my life because I thought - I really believed - that justice would be more than a word to you. So I tell you I didn't kill Helen and what do I get? ‘I don't care.'"

Breathing hard as he was racked by emotion, Kimble stared at the stony-faced man in front of him. "Do you have any idea what that felt like?" he whispered harshly, reliving the despair of the moment. "Of course you fucking don't. Well, I'll tell you anyway. It was the final betrayal by the whole lousy system - confirmation that I had no one, because you'd been my last hope. And you didn't care."

Gerard moved slightly then, and Kimble refocused, self-derision twisting his face.

"Pathetic, isn't it, expecting you to understand. But I forgot, I'm not allowed to feel sorry for myself, am I? Well, we can't all be like you, marshal. So you contemplate your perfection while the rest of us carry on as best we can!"

Without moving Gerard gave the impression of blocking Kimble's path. Implacable and unyielding, there was not an ounce of give in him. "First, I have some more questions for you, sir."

Kimble's mouth twisted. "Only you could make an insult of the word. Has it ever occurred to you that you might have spent too long in the company of men like Judd?" Without waiting for any reaction he brushed past Gerard and stalked into the office.

Gerard remained where he was for almost a minute, but a muscle was still jumping in his jaw when he returned to his desk in the office.

Kimble looked up from where he was slouched on his seat with every appearance of ease. "Bring on the thumbscrews," he invited. "Should I be grateful I'm not in handcuffs?" He held out his wrists.

Poole and Renfro, who had heard the entire exchange between the two men, shared a glance but otherwise kept their heads down and their mouths closed.

Gerard gave Kimble a considering look but made no attempt to reply. Reseating himself, he continued to read aloud from the report on file, unerringly picking up at the spot where he had broken off.

Kimble sat in a brooding silence, his angry, resentful gaze fixed on the man he held responsible for taking away his freedom. Absorbing the fact he would not be practising surgery in the foreseeable future, it was all he could do to stay on his seat. He unconsciously flexed and relaxed his hand, rubbing his thumb across his finger tips as if to check on the amount of sensitivity he still possessed.

"Have we missed any salient details?" asked Gerard. He eased back in his chair as if trying to find a position of comfort.

"I don't discuss my patients with anyone." The heat of Kimble's glare collided with the chill of Gerard's.

"Very laudable, doctor. But not a lot of use to us," Gerard said at last. "What have we missed?" he added to Renfro and Poole.

Ideas were tossed into the pot, argued and discarded in the space of seconds. Kimble shared his glare impartially between the three deputies as they played around with his life as if it was some mildly entertaining game.

"Is something wrong, Richard?" Poole broke off to ask.

That was all the invitation Kimble needed, his resentment spilling over. "This is my life you're dissecting. You should try being reduced to ‘a case' and see how you like it."

"Don't sulk, Richard," growled Gerard.

Renfro slid down on his seat and tried to look as if he wasn't there; Poole studied her hands and Kimble sat debating methods of murder, an expression in his eyes which his friends would not have recognized.

His shoulders hunched, as if adjusting to some new burden, Gerard leant forward in his chair and focused all his formidable will in Kimble's direction.

"Talk to me."

"Pass."

"Very constructive. Who out of your acquaintances, friends or lovers might have a motive for wanting you dead?"

"I don't know." Pure frustration echoed in Kimble's voice.

"Not good enough. You have a brain, apply it to the problem." Gerard's voice was like the crack of leather.

Barely camouflaging his flinch, Kimble raised his chin and locked glares with the deputy before he visibly remembered Gerard was supposed to be on his side.

As if sensing Kimble's change of mood, Gerard sat back. Linking his fingers over his flat belly, his thumbs twisted and turned without ever making contact as he continued to watch the other man.

"I can't believe Devlin-MacGregor would bother with me, least of all in this way," mused Kimble, trying to be dispassionate about it.

"I never have believed it," said Gerard. "So?"

"It could be anyone," said Kimble, considering the problem as if it belonged to a stranger.

"This is getting us nowhere. You can't be more specific?"

"About what?"

Gerard visibly got a rein on his temper. "Anything would be good," he said tightly.

Kimble exhaled noisily. "From the moment you brought me in I've been in the media spotlight. Even now, every time you catch your man, I get journalists ringing me up, camping outside my door, plaguing the hospital - just to hear what it's like to be pursued by Deputy Marshal Gerard."

The muscles around Gerard's eyes tightened.

"It's nothing I can't handle," continued Kimble in a dismissive tone, "but I'm sick of you being a constant, uninvited part of my life. I thought about moving out of the area but I'm damned if I'll let anyone dictate my actions again. Then there's the response I get from the public - and it's nothing like as bad as it used to be. I got mail like you wouldn't believe in the early days. Hate mail, pornography, letters of support, begging letters and letters from people asking me how I got away with it."

It was Poole's turn to wince; on a roll, Kimble did not notice.

"I must have heard from every nut, inadequate, lonely person - and a few I couldn't begin to fathom out. After a while I had my bills sent to my lawyers and I trashed everything else unread. Then there were the phonecalls, the packages - some gifts, most not. I even had a couple of stalkers."

Gerard's expression grew more intent. "That's not on file."

"You've been keeping a file on me?"

"The Chicago Police Department's file."

"Oh." Kimble felt curiously deflated.

"Why didn't you report the stalkers?" pursued Gerard.

"Are you serious? The only thing which would interest CPD is my suicide - or murder. There are still those who are convinced I got away with killing Helen."

Gerard nodded without seeming interest, which stung Kimble's already raw sensibilities.

"Am I boring you, deputy?"

"Not yet, Richard. Rest assured, you'll be the first one I tell."

"Sam," began Renfro.

Gerard raised his eyes, pinning the other man where he sat. "Save it. I don't need you and Poole here for this. Go do something useful."

Kimble unconsciously tensed. If Gerard was using this tone on his kids, it was an indication of his frame of mind. He shot a glance at Renfro, sensing that he and Gerard had fought about something to which he was not a party.

"Shut the door behind you," instructed Gerard, his hard stare boring into Renfro when the other man paused in the doorway.

"Let's go back to the very beginning," he said to Kimble. "Do Helen's parents still believe you murdered her?" His mild voice made the question all the more obscene.

For a moment Kimble thought he must have misheard until he met Gerard's chilling gaze. It was then that Kimble began to appreciate just how bad this was going to be, the other man's shock tactics concentrating his thoughts wonderfully.

After a tape's worth of remorseless pressure Kimble felt as if he had been run over by a steam engine. He privately conceded that if this was Gerard's interrogation technique when he was tired, he would rather avoid one when the other man was wide awake.

The questions followed no discernible or logical pattern as they leapt from subject to person and off on another tangent. From a patient to his maid, Kathy Wahlund to his secretary, Helen's father, the death of his parents in an automobile accident -

A tension headache took Kimble in an iron grip.

"When I last saw my brother is irrelevant," he said irritably, with what he hoped was finality.

"I'm not Cosmo. I decide what's relevant. Speak to me, Richard."

A knock on the office door provided a welcome respite.

"A word with you, Sam," said Renfro crisply.

Gerard's mouth thinned. "Later."

"It's important."

"No, you think it is. There's a difference. Let me get back to my job while you do yours. If you can't manage that, say so and I'll replace you."

The anger on Renfro's face faded to a hurt acceptance. "You can be a regular asshole when you put your mind to it, can't you," he said quietly, before he closed the door behind him.

Kimble felt a pang of unease when he looked back at Gerard. Anyone with any sense would have been intimidated. At their worst the CPD hadn't come close to inducing this sense of dread. He refocused to find Gerard staring at him intently.

"What?" demanded Kimble.

"I asked about your brother."

"For chrissake, what is it with you? I haven't seen Neil for twelve years - and that was by accident. He's thirteen years older than me and we never had anything in common but blood. He's a successful commodity dealer in New York."

"And?"

Kimble finally gave Gerard what he'd asked for. "And he doesn't care enough to want to harm me. I'd stake my life on it."

"You are, Richard. With every answer and evasion you give me."

Gerard flicked on the lamp, the glow spreading across the desk top to highlight his lower face. Accentuating the jut of his eyebrows and the harsh planes and angles of his cheekbone and jaw, it left his eyes in darkness. He was an unsettling figure at best, sinister at worst.

"Now, about Kathy Wahlund," he said.

"She would never - "

"See your wife murdered and stand back while you faced the death penalty? Nichols did."

Kimble flinched. Charles Nichols and he had been friends for twenty years - or so he had believed. It was a betrayal he had yet to understand, and it haunted every relationship he had tried to form since. If his judgement could be so at fault where Chuck was concerned, he had no sense of who he could trust. And he missed that, more than he knew how to express.

"You really enjoy your work, don't you, marshal," he said harshly.

"I'm just trying to do my job. The sooner you help me out, the sooner it's done."

Kimble opened his mouth, then closed it again to stare at nothing. "It isn't Kathy," he whispered at last.

"What makes you so sure of that?" asked Gerard. His voice softened as he coaxed the other man into making a fuller reply, using whatever worked to get the information he needed.

One tape later they reached the topic of Kimble's lovers over the last nineteen months. By this time Kimble just wanted this session over before he gave in to the desire to leap across the desk and batter Gerard unconscious for the contemptuous disregard with which he fucked with every person and every memory that Kimble cared about. Doing his best to hide his feelings, so that he should have something left he could call his own, he supplied a list of names, but nothing made the exercise bearable. There were not many on his list but it sounded a lot to him because his sixteen-year marriage had accustomed him to fidelity, after a highly promiscuous period in his youth.

"Ginny Vidal, the writer. I met her while I was speaking at a conference in San Franciso the year before last. The fifth of September was the first day of the conference. I already had a vacation booked and no plans, so I stayed over for a couple of weeks. The last was Doug Ross. He's a paediatrician at County. We were lovers for approximately three weeks in last autumn. We parted on the best of terms. I still see him occasionally at the sports club we both use. He's in a committed relationship with a physician now and - "

Kimble's voice faltered when he looked up and found himself pinned by a savagely angry gaze. Childishly he had hoped to disconcert the other man when he mentioned a male lover but he had the uneasy feeling he was going to get more than he bargained for. Under his apprehension he felt a sick sense of disappointment; for some reason it had never occurred to him that the other man might be a homophobe. Biggs was homosexual. Surely if Sam despised gays he couldn't - Ah, of course. It was clear from seeing Gerard with the other deputies that there was a bond between them. What was unacceptable in a stranger was so often excused in a friend or family member. And Kimble knew he was neither.

Feeling battered and bruised after this endless interrogation, and the knowledge that the man he had unconsciously looked up to was a bigot, Kimble longed to find some chink in Gerard's armor.

"There must be something else you want to know. My favorite position? What kinks I have? Have I tested clean?"

Gerard had himself under control by now, his gaze on the nib of his fountain pen, which was in danger of being ruined by the pressure he was exerting on it as he doodled on a piece of scrap paper.

"If it has a bearing on this investigation then I'm interested," he returned tonelessly.

Kimble slammed the flat of his hand on the desk top but the other man did not flinch. "None of this is relevant. You fuck with my life as if it's some boring comic you're flicking through. What's the problem, marshal, not enough pictures for you?" He leant forward to snatch up the file from which the deputy had been reading.

Gerard instinctively grabbed Kimble's hand. Seeing he was gripping the one injured in the knife attack, he released him as if his touch burned.

Still conscious of the power there had been in the other man's grip, Kimble pulled his hand away fully. He had yet to accustom himself to the way people's eyes lingered over the scars - as if wondering how a surgeon could still function. But that Gerard should find them repulsive - Without realizing what he was doing, because it had become such a habit, Kimble tucked his hand out of sight.

"For the department's eyes only," said Gerard, gesturing to the file.

If Kimble hadn't been so wired he might have picked up on the apologetic tone.

"Is there any one or thing else?" continued Gerard.

"You haven't heard enough?" retorted Kimble bitterly.

Gerard parted his hands in an oddly eloquent gesture that succeeded in prodding Kimble's public spirit back to life.

"I can't think of anyone else," he said sullenly. "Helen was my only lover for over sixteen years. She was all I wanted."

The nib of Gerard's pen dug through the paper; he casually crumpled the sheet and tossed it away.

"None of the people I mentioned - A month would be the longest I saw any of them. Some were only a night or two. But then I expect you already know that. Does delving into other people's sex lives make up for some deficiency in yours? Is that it, marshal?"

Gerard's only reaction was to recap his fountain pen and lean forward to switch off the tape recorder.

"The interrogation's over?" Kimble checked, wary of relaxing.

While he tried to sound casual, Gerard was painfully reminded of the man so desperate he had dived from the overflow outlet into the spillway. The memory of Kimble's expression had haunted him for months. Abruptly Gerard relived the moment when he had stared down the muzzle of his own gun and been certain he was going to die. Strange that after all he had seen and done, the near misses and the times when it seemed as if his luck had run out, it should be that moment he remembered the most. Damn, but that water had been cold. And Richard had jumped into that spillway rather than be taken -

"It's over," Gerard confirmed. A wave of exhaustion swept over him now he no longer needed to project the illusion of vitality.

"It's over," echoed Kimble, his deep voice unsteady with the effort it took him not to explode. "You take my life, squeeze out the pulp and expect me to be grateful? Prison's supposed to be the place for rape. So why do I feel so royally fucked?"

His head bowed, Gerard was tracing his capped pen over the outside of the file. "It was necessary," he said in a monotone.

Getting to his feet, he turned the file around and pushed it across the desk to Kimble - in contravention of his own rule and what he had just told the other man.

Kimble was reading it before Gerard reached the door. The first item was a note in the deputy's handwriting.

‘Confirm RK's HIV result clear. Potential motive.'

Seconds later Gerard was being confronted by an infuriated Richard Kimble.

"You have a question, you ask me! You don't pry into confidential hospital records. Not that you'd be able to get into them! Yes, I test regularly. And I'm clean. You bastard. Not only am I a surgeon, but six weeks ago I had surgery myself. You think I'd put patients or a colleague at risk - no matter how slight?" Kimble thrust his face into Gerard's.

"What about you, marshal? Are you clean? Or do only queers get AIDS? Oh, I forgot, I'm only here to answer questions, aren't I."

"Richard, you - "

"That's doctor to you, deputy marshal." Cold and clipped, Kimble's voice was that of the eminent vascular surgeon depressing the pretensions of a brash intern.

Gerard suddenly looked very tired. His mouth tightening, he parted his hands. "OK, sir. Whatever you say," he murmured. When Kimble made no response Gerard walked away.

 

The moment Gerard was unobserved a hand went to his side, which felt as if someone was holding a lighted match to the spot. When Renfro intercepted him seconds later, Gerard dropped his hand from the site of the injury and found some energy from somewhere.

"You have something to say, Cosmo?"

"Plenty, but this isn't the place for it. In here," Renfro stood back to allow Gerard into the living-room, then closed the door behind them. Poole was already there, her expression giving nothing away.

Gerard leant against the closed door. "Is this the lynch mob?"

"No, but maybe it should be. What the hell was that in there?" Renfro demanded, jerking his thumb angrily in the direction of the office.

"That was me doing my job."

"If that's what you really believe, you've lost it. Richard isn't a suspect. We're supposed to be looking out for him."

"That's what I'm trying to do," said Gerard tiredly. "Christ, you think I get off on crucifying the guy? But he had to be made to open up."

"Oh, he'll have opened up. You left the room knee deep in his guts. Don't be surprised if he decides to walk. I, for one, won't blame him. If your judgment's so shot you can't see what you've done to him maybe you should consider stepping back from this case and letting me handle it."

Gerard's head turned whipfast. Unintimidated, Renfro glared back at him but his voice was cajoling the next time he spoke.

"Sam, I'm not the enemy here. Whether you want to admit it or not, you were too rough on him. Your judgment's compromised because you're having a reaction to the Judd case. You're depressed, exhausted - "

"And in pain," cut in Poole, who had been watching Gerard intently.

Renfro turned immediately. "Sammy?"

"Sore," dismissed Gerard, irritable that he must make the effort for this.

"Why?" pursued Poole, placid in the face of his glare.

"There was a ruck when we caught up with Judd. I collected some bruises and messed up my side."

Poole gave him a considering look. "Shouldn't that gunshot have healed by now?"

Gerard shrugged. "We've been on the move a lot." Unfastening his tie and shirt collar, he stayed on his feet because he would fall asleep otherwise. "You think I've lost it?" he asked her brusquely, his eyes never leaving her face.

"That's always a possibility. You know the writers of the crank letters were both arrested the day before yesterday. There was no need for you to interrogate Richard. In fact he should be allowed to get back to his own life."

Gerard evaded facing up to the fact he had been avoiding since he had been told about the arrests. "Two of the cranks were caught. Read the reports again. We pay the experts enough to produce them. They say there are two, possibly three clear personalities at work. The dangerous one is still out there."

"So you claim," snapped Renfro. "By the time you'd sweet-talked the psychologist she would have said whatever you put into her head. All the crank letters were made up from cutouts from local newspapers. There hasn't been anything from this hypothetical third person in all the time Richard has been in custody."

"You concede there is a third person then?" Gerard took two extra-strength Tylenol with the dregs of Poole's cold tea.

"It's only a possibility - and a faint one at that. What you put Richard through just now was - "

"You said. I know you like the guy. Hell, I like the guy. But pussy-footing around while you waited for him to decide to cooperate was getting us nowhere. Check the notes and tapes. Tape three in particular. I got a lot of stuff from Richard that he's never bothered to mention before. Trivial, if spiteful, incidents in themselves but they have the feel of being part of a pattern. Itching powder in the handcream he uses after surgery. Letters turning up in his office - that's the room he actually uses, not the one officially allocated to him. Nuisance calls from within the hospital. The message ‘You are mine' coming up on his pager. Poison ivy tucked into the sleeves of his jacket. It has to be someone working at the hospital."

"The first writer was a religious nut with a fixation on Richard. No access to the hospital. But the second was a porter there. He had the means, motive and opportunity," said Renfro, in a point-scoring tone that would have ruffled more even tempers than Gerard's.

"Would Bellamy send Richard red roses?" returned Gerard.

"Romantic," noted Poole.

"Not real roses. Plastic and paper flowers and cutouts from flower catalogues, magazines, cards. Hundreds of them. Not that Richard counted."

"You think the number of roses might have been a clue?" asked Poole.

Gerard gave her a weary look. "Like I'd know."

"It could be a ploy to throw us off the scent. Make us think it's a woman. Or a gay."

"It could be a cross-dresser with a taste for big-eyed surgeons," retorted Gerard with thinly-veiled impatience.

Interested by his choice of words, Poole wore a thoughtful look.

"When he could remember them, Richard gave me an indication of the dates the various tricks were played on him. They gradually became more dangerous. See if they tie-in to anything else going on in his life," commanded Gerard.

"Now you're really searching," snapped Renfro. "We've got the cranks. It's over. Not that we should have ever been involved in investigating the attacks on Richard in the first place," he added with a renewed sense of grievance.

"It isn't over," said Gerard with the certainty which could make him so infuriating at times.

"Right," snorted Renfro.

"Do I need to remind you not to discuss any elements of this investigation with Richard - particularly not the arrest of the cranks?" continued Gerard evenly.

"I don't need you to tell me my job," bristled Renfro.

"I wish I could agree with you."

Renfro straightened. "You want my resig - "

"Why don't the pair of you cool it before you both say something you'll regret," interrupted Poole. Losing patience, she stepped between the antagonists to glare at Renfro, whom she judged to be most at fault. He swung away.

Gerard sank onto the broad arm of a sofa and pinched the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb before he looked up. "Sorry, Cosmo," he muttered into the silence.

"It's OK," Renfro replied without turning.

Gerard gave a little nod, more to himself than his companions. "I know it isn't, but I need you with me on this one."

Given how rarely Gerard asked for help, the two deputies exchanged a worried glance before Renfro returned to the other man's side. While his sympathies were with Kimble, and he was convinced this case had never been a runner, all his loyalty was given to Gerard. Richard was tough, he'd survive. And if this would take away the bruised look from Sam's eyes he was prepared to put the cuffs on Richard himself, before going to find some thumbscrews.

"Who'll keep you grounded if I walk?" he muttered. The trace of doubt he saw on Gerard's face demolished the last of his pride. "Of course I'm with you," he said gruffly, patting the other man on the shoulder.

Gerard nodded again, but he relaxed to a degree before he looked at Poole in silent question.

"Sure," she said casually. "Richard might be feeling a little raw right now but it will take more than an interrogation from you to break him. Anyway, getting mad with you will stop him from brooding about the fact he can't go back to work yet."

"All part of the service," Gerard drawled. He fished in a jacket pocket. "Here, the list of his lovers over the last twenty-three months."

"Jeez, Sam, what did you do to him? All he would tell me was that - "Renfro glanced at the list and his voice trailed away. "Sam..." Eyes wide, he stared at the other man, understanding Gerard's mood better now.

"You handle it," Gerard told him, his voice clipped and cold again. "I'm too busy."

Poole got up to stare at the list over Renfro's shoulder. While her expression did not change, there was an increased softening in her manner towards Gerard. "We will," she said quietly. "Why don't you catch up on some sleep?"

"I plan to," he said as he got to his feet.

"Uh, Sam, do you want to be woken an hour before we have to leave?" asked Renfro, as he smoothed his hair down.

Gerard paused in the doorway. "Leave for what?"

"The kids back at the department are really hot to take you out for a celebration and - "

"Celebration! Don't they know - ?" It took Gerard a moment to collect himself. "Sure. Where and when?"

"Monro's for eight. It could be just what you need to unwind." Renfro tried to look encouraging.

"Sure," repeated Gerard.

"Did Noah come back with you?" Poole asked.

"No. He stayed in St. Louis to be with Jamie's mother. He can keep the press away and - " Gerard made a helpless gesture. "It's not department business but she's - she was a single parent and - Noah will stay for as long as it takes."

"How will you swing that through the budget?" asked Renfro.

"He's on vacation."

"I thought he'd used up his entitlement," frowned Poole.

"What is it with you two?" demanded Gerard, his temper slipping again. "He's using some of my stockpile. Any objections? I'm going to bed. Wake me at seven. Poole, you might want to take Richard a drink. He looked like he could use some TLC when I left him."

"OK, Sam," she said peaceably, of the view Richard was not the only one.

 

When Poole entered the office Kimble was still slumped on the chair he had been using earlier, staring into the middle distance; he looked stunned.

"Sam thought you might be able to use this," she said matter-of-factly. She handed him a generous measure of brandy.

"Yet again, Deputy Gerard triumphs where other men fail," intoned Kimble in a bitter voice.

The warmth of the brandy was like a kiss as it slid down. Having gulped his first mouthful, Kimble sipped the rest. Catching Poole's eye, he held out his hand, which was trembling slightly.

"See that? Last time I was shaking this much I'd just recovered consciousness after falling down an elevator shaft. What's that guy on? I mean, I thrive on pressure."

Poole sat opposite him. "There are all kinds of pressure."

"You can say that again. There was this one time - I could feel Sam literally willing the information out of me. Information I didn't even know I knew." Kimble couldn't credit that Gerard had reduced him to this state with nothing more than the force of his personality.

Poole patted him on the shoulder and resisted the urge to brush back the glossy light brown hair which had spilled onto his forehead. "Sam was just doing his job."

"I suppose there's no law against job satisfaction." Kimble finished the last of his brandy and peered wistfully into the glass as if hoping more would appear.

Poole began to wonder exactly what had gone on in here. From the moment Sam had got home she had recognized the signs of Gerard at his most driven. The Judd case had hit a nerve, although Sam was denying it with everything within him. But what he could have said to leave Richard with this steely rage was a mystery. Richard was as tough, both mentally and physically, as they came. His chosen work necessitated difficult decisions and an assumption of responsibility on which he thrived. He had survived with his courage intact events which would have broken a lesser man. Yet after five and a quarter hours with Sam he looked as if he had been run over - several times - by something very heavy. More worryingly, Richard angry would be a far harder proposition to guard than Richard cooperative; it troubled her that Sam should have forgotten that elementary point.

Perhaps he was letting his hormones cloud his judgment, she mused.

"You'll feel better when you've eaten something," she told Kimble, horrified to hear the echo of her mother's voice.

He shook his head without looking up.

"I'll cook," she added persuasively, her heartstrings twanging because he looked so lost and unhappy. She realized he was on the road to recovery when he gave her a look of exaggerated disbelief.

"You heard me," she confirmed. "This is a special case, never-to-be-repeated offer, clear?"

"Clear," he said meekly, before he gave a lop-sided grin of immense charm. "A sort of pity cook?"

"You're better," she said, laughing.

"That's no excuse for you to welch on the deal," he told her, linking his arm with hers. But he tensed as they went into the hall.

"Cosmo's working in the living-room and Sam's gone to bed," Poole told him, as if he had spoken aloud.

"I'm sorry I kept him up for so long." Kimble's mouth hardened.

"What would you like to eat?" she asked, ignoring what he had said. "Eggs?"

"Fine." Helping himself from a jar of olives, he held it up to Poole, who shook her head.

"Sam only gets them in for Henry."

"What a prince."

Poole checked through cupboards for the pepper mill and then discovered it was sitting in front of her. "If Sam gave you a hard time it might help to know that he hasn't slept for two days. I don't suppose he can remember the last time he had six hours uninterrupted sleep."

Kimble spat an olive pit into his palm. "If you're aiming for the sympathy vote, save your breath. Any intern would pay good money to work those hours."

"Most interns are twenty years younger than Sam."

"Most interns prefer to save lives instead of des - " Pretense falling away, Kimble swung around, desperation on his face. "Don't you understand? I wanted to kill him. I sat there picking my spot. I'm a surgeon, I know them all. He made me so - " Falling silent, he slumped onto a chair at the table and began to fidget with the silverware.

Sensing that he wasn't done yet, Poole took her time in her cooking preparations. It was best if Richard let off steam to her rather than Cosmo, who thought only he had the right to criticize Sam.

"I can't believe Gerard's allowed to get away with treating people like this," Kimble burst out angrily.

Poole shot him a wary glance. "Sam doesn't ‘get away' with anything. Ever."

"Huh. Your precious Sam is nothing but a damn control freak. And if you can't see it - What is it, do you have to be brain-washed before you can work for Sam Gerard?"

Poole swallowed the tart retort hovering on her lips. "Some might say so," she conceded in a tight voice Kimble was too preoccupied to notice. "In the best possible way."

"There's no good way to be a control freak," he said flatly.

"You should know. No, hear me out, Richard," she insisted, when he looked up, anger stark on his face. "In your world I bet you'd have a lot in common with the way Sam runs the department."

Kimble shot her a furious look. "Then you know nothing about - " Stopping, he took a steadying breath. His head bowed, he ran his fingers through his hair over and over again before he slowly raised his head, having regained a measure of control.

"Sorry," he muttered, avoiding her gaze. "I shouldn't be dumping on you. Particularly not about your boss. Those eggs look terrific," he added, injecting a false enthusiasm into his voice.

A short time later, his meal finished, he nodded his thanks and left the kitchen. After some aimless wandering around the house he finally settled in the living-room and stared blindly at the medical journal he was pretending to read, while he mentally relived his ordeal by interrogation.

Losing all track of time, he was roused from his abstraction by the sound of laughter coming from the hallway. Poole and Renfro, he identified as Biggs flicked on the light and entered the room.

"Sorry, Richard, I didn't know you were sitting in the dark."

"There's no reason why you should. What's going on?" Kimble added, unaware of how wistful he sounded. He could have done with a good party tonight.

"Sam's taking the department out for the evening."

"To celebrate his notable triumph? Does he always celebrate the close of a big case?"

"That depends," said Biggs with caution, only now sensing dangerous waters ahead.

"Did capturing me rate a celebration?" While Kimble's tone was casual, Biggs's expression closed.

"You've got Sam all wrong," he said earnestly. "I suppose it's inevitable given your memories of him - us - hunting you down. But he was the first of us to believe in you."

"Right," snorted Kimble. "He believed in me so much that he tried to empty his ammunition clip into my face. The only thing between me and brain death was a sheet of glass - and once I realized it was bullet-proof I didn't know if that would hold."

"Ritchie told me about that," Biggs exclaimed. "Listen, if Sam had intended to kill you, you'd be dead."

Kimble shook his head.

"Trust me on this," Biggs urged. "Ritchie said you got your foot caught between the automatic doors. Sam can hit the wings off a fly. There's no way he would have missed from that range," he added with authority.

"You give me too much credit," said Gerard, as he entered the room in time to hear that.

"Not me," snapped Kimble.

Gerard turned to acknowledge him with a courtesy usually reserved for strangers. "No, not you," he agreed. "Has anyone seen Poole's gloves? I swear I'll get her a pair on elastic that we can sew onto her coat."

He looked unfamiliar and elegant in a superbly cut dark blue suit that emphasized the width of his shoulders and narrowness of his hips. His five-hour sleep had obviously done him good, but there was something about him that was slightly off-kilter. It kept Kimble watching him long past the point of good manners as Gerard quartered the large room.

Biggs spotted the gloves behind a couch. Taking them from him with a nod, Gerard paused on his way out.

"You have something you want to ask me, doctor?"

The use of his title took Kimble aback until he remembered his pompous insistence on its use. "Not to ask, to confirm. When you chased me down in the lock-up you were shooting to kill, weren't you?"

"You know I was." His manner uncompromising, Gerard hardly blinked, his gaze never leaving Kimble's face.

"Yes, I do. After your first shot why didn't you remember it was bullet-proof glass?" pursued Kimble.

Fidgeting with Poole's gloves, the severity of Gerard's expression lightened. "Damn, but you're good. Biggs, how come no one else thought to ask me that?"

"Because we work for you," Biggs snapped back at him.

"That is such bullshit," retorted Renfro, as he came into the room, Poole at his shoulder.

"So how come you didn't say anything, Cosmo?" asked Gerard, displaying no gratitude for the support.

"Because, like me, it didn't occur to him," said Poole calmly.

"The thing is, we're used to you being perfect, Sammy." While Renfro made light of it, behind that flippancy Kimble sensed a truth which could not otherwise be voiced.

"No, you can't have a raise," Gerard told him.

When he turned back to Kimble any trace of humor was gone. "There you have it, doctor. I screwed up big-time. I was so pissed with you that I forgot to lock-down the building, which would have enabled me to catch up with you at my leisure. I should have had my ass in a sling for that alone." Gerard shook his head in reluctant admiration. "You had balls going back there."

"I had to," said Kimble, with a trace of the stubborn determination which had seen him through the entire nightmare.

"So we discovered. I was fit to be tied when you used their security guards to stop me. It's lucky for both of us that I wasn't thinking straight then because, if I hadn't shot your foot off, I had a clear line straight up your ass.

"That's right," Gerard confirmed as Kimble's eyes widened. "Lucky, huh?"

"You're a reasonably intelligent guy," Kimble said in calculated insult. "You must have had doubts about my guilt by that time, yet you still tried to kill me."

Renfro moved then. "Richard, that isn't - "

"Butt out, Cosmo," ordered Gerard. "It was my job to bring you in," he told Kimble evenly. "It isn't my function to decide guilt or innocence. We have to maintain a sense of distance or we're liable to screw up and risk innocent people getting killed."

Searching that unyielding face Kimble found no chink in the armor.

"Bullshit, marshal. It's just easier to kill them than make a difficult decision, isn't it?"

As Kimble headed for the doorway Renfro and Poole stood back to let him through; their expressions made their feelings about him plain. Kimble didn't blame them; he was already regretting that last remark himself - if not to the point where he felt prepared to apologize. He stopped when he was out of sight from those in the living-room.

"What the heck was that about, Sam?" asked Biggs.

"Leave it, Robert. The doctor's entitled to his opinion."

Frowning, Kimble turned around in the hall. With only Gerard's voice as a guide, the other man's exhaustion and depression were obvious. It didn't take much imagination to realize what weeks of hunting down a paedophile serial killer must have been like. And Sam had found Judd too late for the latest victim, which stole away any possible sense of victory. Yet he still had to take his kids out for the celebration they expected.

And what had the compassionate Doctor Kimble done?

Without giving himself time to regret the impulse - or lose his nerve - Kimble went back into the other room. He knew exactly when Gerard noticed him because the other man shifted his shoulders, as if to prepare his defenses.

"I was out of line just now," Kimble said clearly. "I apologize." The fleeting surprise on Gerard's face stung.

"It's forgotten, doctor."

"Richard," he corrected with a crooked smile, even if it didn't quite reach his eyes. "I hope you have a better evening than you're expecting."

Gerard's mask slipped for a split second. "Thanks."

"We'll have to bring you a doggy bag," said Renfro with forced cheerfulness.

An interested spectator, Kimble watched as Gerard found the energy to camouflage his true emotions; his grin looked genuine until you saw his eyes.

"Not if you're in my car you won't. You and Poole can toss for who gets to drive it tonight," Gerard added.

"Your car?" squeaked Renfro.

"Of course my car. You don't have one of your own. Which reminds me, why are you still driving Richard's?"

"I said he could," offered Kimble quietly, his voice very soft, very deep.

"You're spoiling this man," Gerard told him, his tone almost playful, but the gaze he fixed on Kimble was assessing.

"I can second that. Cosmo's turned into a real bore about it," said Poole. "As he's already driving his dream car, how about letting me have the Ferrari tonight?"

"Ferrari?" pounced Kimble, jerked out of his somber mood.

Gerard looked wary. "That's right."

"What make? It won't be the Testarossa," said Kimble with confidence.

"Why not?" asked Poole curiously.

"Too Miami Vice. Is it a classic or - ?"

"Or," said Renfro. "The 456 GT."

"Oh wow," breathed Kimble, rapidly forgetting things were supposed to be uncomfortable between him and Gerard. "What color?"

"Black."

Kimble gave an approving nod. "Good choice. Well, the only choice."

"I thought so," confirmed Gerard, recognizing the love-light in Kimble's eyes.

"I would have gone for red myself," mused Renfro. "Like your ‘Vette."

"Red suits that. But it would have been wasted on this babe." Kimble glanced at Gerard. "I suppose there's no chance I could - ?" He broke off as reality bit - the deputy must be having regrets about letting him in his home, let alone what must be his pride and joy. He looked away, eyes lowered, feeling like an idiot.

"Get real, Richard," Poole told him kindly. "And in the queue. As at the back of. Cosmo and I have first claim. Sam, what - ?"

Gerard pulled his gaze from Kimble's averted face and turned to Poole. He held up his hands. "Leave me out of this. You kids can argue it out between yourselves. Robert, a word in the office before I leave."

Having hoped his transgression had been forgotten, Biggs's face fell. "But, Sam, I was only trying to explain to Richard that - "

"Now, Robert." Turning at the door, Gerard nodded to Renfro. "OK, he's got fifteen minutes and he doesn't drive it anywhere near the front gates."

"No way, Sammy. You are a prince among men."

"I know it."

"What was that about?" asked Kimble, because Poole had left the room before Gerard had finished speaking.

"Grab your coat, Richard. You've got fifteen minutes to play with Sam's car, even if you'll be lucky to get into fourth gear."

Kimble dispensed with his coat.

 

While Renfro had been right about the gears, Kimble was deeply in love by the time he eased the car to a halt outside the front door. Remaining in the driver's seat, happily swopping specifications with Renfro, who was standing outside the driver's door, oblivious to the cold, it was some time before Kimble noticed that Gerard must have got into the back of the car from the other side - a while ago, if his resigned expression was any indication.

Kimble turned on the seat. "That was -" his hands moved expressively " - fantastic doesn't even come close. I bet she's a dream on the open road."

Gerard nodded, the faintest of smiles hovering. "When this is over, you can take her out."

"My good conduct prize?" asked Kimble quizzically. "No, don't answer that. Poole, stop poking me. I need to adjust the seat before you can use it."

"For my little legs?" she cooed.

"Boy, are you in trouble now," Gerard murmured.

Kimble quickly left the car. "There's a vicious streak in you," he told Poole sadly.

She nodded. "I know it."

"You're really going to let the kids drive this?" Kimble asked Gerard, as Poole made herself comfortable in the driving seat.

Gerard parted his hands. "What can I tell you, Richard?"

"You're a brave man, deputy."

"I heard that," said Poole, but she, too, was grinning. "Be good!"

"You just be careful," Renfro told her, bracing himself in the front passenger seat.

Kimble stepped back and enjoyed the sexual throb of the engine before the Ferrari slid away, Poole's whoop of delight audible over the night air.

Chapter Text

"Yeah, I heard you, Cosmo. Hush, now, or you'll wake Richard," murmured Gerard as he guided an inclined-to-be-giggly Renfro into one of the spare rooms. "Night, Poole."

With no intention of going anywhere yet, she remained on the landing, frowning as Gerard steered Cosmo towards the bed. She had spent the entire evening watching Sam keep a smile pinned on his face while pain bled from his eyes. Laughing and joking as he mingled with his boys and girls, he had been the center of attention - and not just from his own people. Media hysteria about everything linked to the Judd case had thrown Sam back into the spotlight. All Poole had been able to see was the bleak unhappiness which lay behind his smiling mask. The only reason Cosmo hadn't picked up on it yet was because he had cut loose tonight and drunk more than his usual couple of light beers. As designated driver, she had been one of those not drinking. Sam had nursed the same glass all night, just as he had moved the food around his plate to disguise his lack of appetite.

Her feet aching and her eyes gritty with fatigue, Poole stayed where she was. She couldn't remember seeing Sam this wired before and needed to find out if she could help in any way.

 

Having expected Gerard to return from his meal by eleven or so, Kimble had gone to bed early, ready to have a word with Gerard when he got back. He wanted to call a truce - and make it clear he would do anything he could to help out.

His bedroom door ajar, Kimble woke in darkness to hear Renfro's high-pitched giggle, followed by Gerard's voice trying to quieten him. Pulling on his bathrobe, Kimble waited at his door; about to go out, he paused when Poole stepped into his line of vision - and Gerard's path.

 

When he saw Poole waiting to speak with him Gerard straightened his shoulders, as if preparing for battle.

"Sam, you need to talk," she said with gentle insistence.

He shook his head. "Go to bed. It's late. Or early," he added after a moment. He tried to manufacture one final smile but this one wavered before it slipped completely.

Poole made a soft sound low in her throat and slid her arms around him. For a moment he tensed before, with an exaggerated care, he delicately drew her even closer and wrapped his arms around her warmth. It was then that his grip tightened, Gerard beyond being capable of disguising his need for comfort any longer.

The disparity between their heights was such that his face was hidden from view against the top of her head. Stroking his back and feeling inadequate in the face of the immensity of his grief, she felt him rub his cheek over and over against her hair, and the terrible tension in him. Unable to do more than be there, she held on tight, absently glad that Roger carried more meat on his bones.

Gerard gave an unsteady sigh, planted the lightest of kisses on the top of her head, and eased free of the hug long before she thought he should have done. But Poole made no attempt to stop him or to speak, although the effort of not doing so almost killed her.

Her reward came from the gratitude in his murmured ‘Thanks' before, still avoiding meeting her eyes, he went into his own room.

 

Standing at his just-open door, Kimble listened as Poole went into the room she was using for the night, followed by the quiet sounds which indicated Gerard was in the bathroom. Unable to forget the glimpse he had been given of the other man's all-too-human face, Kimble's first instinct had been to go to him. Sam might be willing to talk to a man where he wouldn't to Poole. Then reality had set in. Gerard would hate knowing he had been caught out in a moment of vulnerability. The best thing he could do was to keep quiet.

Going back to bed, Kimble folded his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. His emotions confused, he relived the worst moments of the interrogation he had suffered at Gerard's hands. While he hadn't forgiven the deputy, his sense of betrayal was fading.

Sam wasn't his enemy, or his friend - he just was. And for now that would have to be enough.

 

Kimble started awake, trying to place what had disturbed him. Sitting up in bed, his heart racing, he realized the incoherent sounds were coming from Gerard's bedroom. Small wonder, he thought grimly, remembering what he had seen earlier that evening. His instinct to comfort paramount, he was still pulling on a bathrobe as he ran through the bathroom they shared. He skidded to a halt in the doorway of Gerard's room when he heard the sound of a safety catch being released.

The automatic was too familiar from nightmares, the hand holding it rock-steady.

Gerard slept with the drapes pulled back and moonlight flooded the room and the man in the bed. It was light enough to see the sheen of sweat on his temples and naked torso, betraying that he wasn't as cool as he liked to appear.

"You won't need that." Shaken, Kimble couldn't disguise the unsteadiness of his voice this, stupidly, the last reception he had expected to receive.

"No," Gerard agreed.

The safety catch clicked on and Kimble relaxed. Gerard twisted around to place the weapon on the nightstand, revealing the right side of his body, which was silvered in the unearthly light. Naked beneath the twisted covers, muscles moved easily under skin that was set close to the bone.

Kimble tied his bathrobe tighter and searched for professional detachment.

"What are you doing here, Richard?" asked Gerard, resettling the bedcovers as he turned back to his visitor.

"I heard you call out."

"I was having a nightmare. Sorry I woke you." Dismissal in his tone, Gerard's manner made it obvious he assumed Kimble had only come here to score points.

"Is there anything I can do?" Kimble pursued, battling against the odds.

"Yes, close the door behind you. Or pull up a chair for a ring-side seat," Gerard added sardonically.

Kimble just managed to bite back his instinctive retort. In similar circumstances he would have been equally savage.

"I didn't intend to intrude," he said quietly.

"Then you'll know better next time, won't you. Close the door behind you, doctor."

Nodding, Kimble did as he had been commanded, carefully closing the two doors which separated them. But it was some time before he slept, haunted by the unhappiness he had seen on the other man's face before Gerard had thought to slide back behind the mask.

oOo

Having slept poorly after his interrupted night, a desire for caffeine took Kimble downstairs. Gerard was the only person in the kitchen and he acknowledged Kimble's arrival with an abstracted nod. Sitting at the far end of the table, he had one foot hooked on the rung of the chair beside him, his forearm propped on his upraised knee.

Rather than the sleek-haired, neatly-pressed deputy marshal in his uniform of dark blue jeans, tailored jacket, shirt, tie and a knitted vest, his hair was rumpled and he had not shaved, his gray-flecked stubble shockingly dark against the pallor of his skin. Beneath his baggy forest-green sweatshirt he wore a couple of tee shirts, a reminder that he felt the cold.

There was no trace of that daunting vitality; Kimble faced an exhausted, pensive-looking individual whose bruised eyes had the most ridiculously long eyelashes he had ever noticed on a man. From the look of him, Gerard hadn't got any more sleep after the nightmare which had woken him.

"Have you eaten, or can I make you something?" Kimble asked as he straightened from checking the refrigerator.

"Not for me," said Gerard, his voice hoarse.

Kimble gave him an assessing look. "A cold?"

"Seems like."

"Tough luck," said Kimble, brisk because he didn't want to be snubbed for showing an interest. Gerard had been working long and hard on a stressful case; the body had the habit of taking its revenge. A cold was par for the course. "I need the use of a phone so I can rearrange my diary," he continued.

"I suggest you let it be known that you're remaining in protective custody until further notice."

"How long is that?"

"A few weeks."

"Weeks! I'm not giving up my life for a few weeks."

Gerard sat back tiredly. "That's your privilege. I can only recommend a course of action, not enforce it."

More swayed by this muted manner than any oratory, Kimble finger-fed himself a single ring of Cheerios, crunching the cereal with some venom.

"OK, fine," he said at last. "But I need more stuff from my apartment: clothes; papers; my lap-top. When can I - ?"

"You can't. Give me a list of what you need, with an indication of where I'm likely to find it."

Kimble's expression soured.

"I can send one of the kids in if you'd prefer it," Gerard added.

"When you're being burgled does it matter by whom?" retorted Kimble bitterly.

There was a small silence.

"I guess not," conceded Gerard, staring at the table top.

"I didn't mean - " began Kimble unwillingly.

Gerard slowly looked up. "It's OK, Richard, I understand. Let me have the list and your choice of visitor." When Kimble hesitated, he added, "If I needed to search your apartment, I'd get a warrant."

Kimble gave him an irritable look. "I know that. And I don't have a problem with you in my home." He was surprised to realize he meant it.

Gerard nodded without any outward show of interest. "I'll go round later. Don't forget that list."

"Sam, can you take a look at these figures? I need your OK by nine-thirty at the latest." Poole came into the kitchen and started setting papers out along the work-counter.

Padding over to her, Gerard began a low-voiced discussion. His informality included bare feet; the under-floor heating made going barefoot a pleasure at this time of year. Studying one long, narrow, slightly grimy sole, Kimble wondered why it should give the illusion of vulnerability.

Pouring himself some fresh coffee, he sat back to watch the two deputies at work. Within a short space of time all his attention was on Gerard. The deputy was wearing a pair of fraying, faded Levis which fitted him so well they might have been spray-painted on. Even knowing who those narrow hips belonged to could not detract from the pleasure of the view, the age-softened denim moulding Gerard's muscular ass all the way up the cleft. Kimble rubbed the side of his thumb over the tips of his fingers, itching to check out those tempting contours.

He gave an involuntary snort of amusement when he imagined Gerard's reaction. It would almost be worth it for the look on his face. Of course, it might also be the last thing he saw before he died but he'd die happy.

"Richard?"

Kimble was disconcerted to discover that the subject of his thoughts had turned around and was studying him with a degree of puzzlement.

"You want me?" Kimble had to make a determined effort not to stare at the unfettered bulk which nudged at the flies of the other man's jeans in a highly tantalizing manner.

Gerard moved a hand in negation. "I thought - Forget it. I must be hearing things." He returned his attention to the figures.

Made bold by his near escape from discovery as a voyeur, Kimble hooked his ankle over his knee, and sat back to indulge in the neglected pleasure of window shopping for goods he had no intention of sampling. Then Gerard straightened from where he had been leaning over the counter, offering an interesting view of lean thighs and a flat belly, the creases in the denim leading the eye to the worn fabric around the groin. This time Kimble had no reservations about staring at the other man's groin.

A happy fantasy was destroyed by a growl from Gerard.

"What's this shit they're trying to pull here? Gimme the phone," he commanded, leaning back over the counter to hook a pen from the fruit bowl.

Kimble blinked and wondered how it could have taken him so long to spot the illusion Gerard maintained. If asked, he would have sworn that the deputy was both taller and more powerfully built than himself. In front of him was a man of his own height but at least twenty pounds lighter. What flesh there was sat in all the right places but it was disconcerting he should have made such a mistake; an indication he didn't know Gerard nearly as well as he thought he did.

Without ever raising his voice or using bad language, Gerard gave the unfortunate on the other end of the telephone hell. Poole applauded as Gerard hung up the phone.

"I always knew you were more than a pretty face."

"Lucky as hell, isn't it," he croaked. "Is Cosmo with us yet?"

"I'm afraid so, and he's as chirpy as can be. No sign of a hangover."

"There's no justice," Gerard commiserated.

"We know that," said Renfro as he bustled in. "Damn, have I missed breakfast?"

"You have."

"You're a hard man, Sammy." Renfro gave him a critical once-over. "You feeling OK?"

"No, and you're not helping," Gerard told him, clapping the other man on the shoulder.

"Where are you going?"

"If it's any of your business, to soak in the tub. Go home. Don't come back until Monday. Bring doughnuts. With sprinkles," Gerard added as he headed out of the kitchen.

Renfro shook his head affectionately. "Like I haven't been doing that for the last eight years. I don't know why we humor him."

"Because he makes our lives a misery if we don't," said Poole, before she raised her voice. "You catch that, Sam?"

"You bet. Go home, Cosmo. Make Caroline's life a misery," said Gerard as he padded back into the doorway and propped one hand on the opposite jamb.

"What about Richard?" Renfro asked.

"I can make him miserable all by myself. Poole, you have a problem working this weekend?"

"None," she said equably. "Roger's on duty."

"Fine. Tell me when he's off and I'll fix you up with some downtime. Richard, are you OK?" added Gerard.

Having been certain that Sam was looking the other way, Kimble jumped guiltily. "Fine," he replied too quickly. Hoping he hadn't been caught staring, he feared the worst.

"Excellent. Anyone seen my phone?"

"I thought you were going to relax in the tub?" said Renfro critically.

"I am. On the phone. If I can find it."

Poole located it on top of the refrigerator and Gerard disappeared with a suddenness which made the Demon King seem a possibility again.

"You will keep an eye on him?" murmured Renfro to Poole in a low tone that obviously was not supposed to carry to where Kimble sat.

"Like that'll make a difference. You let Sam handle it his way and go on home," she advised him tolerantly.

"Thanks. Though I knew you would. Richard, I'll catch you after the weekend. Don't give Sam any grief."

"You don't let me have any fun," complained Kimble. "I'll be on my best behavior," he promised when, instead of grinning, Renfro looked worried.

When Poole returned from seeing the other deputy out, Kimble had cleared the dishwasher, reloaded it and was wiping down grubby worktops.

"You don't have to do that," she told him.

"I know it."

Bending to pick some orange peel off the floor, Kimble inadvertently gave Poole a happy couple of moments as the seam of his jeans slid up the cleft of his ass. She had thought him attractive when he first arrived at the house but the view just kept getting better and better. Working out was certainly paying off - for which she was sincerely grateful.

Kimble had begun to take on some of the domestic chores when he realized Gerard had been forced to cancel his maid service while this was being used as a safe house. The experience had made Kimble resolve to give his own maid a substantial raise.

"Can I ask you something?" he added, as he inexpertly began to mop the floor.

"Sure, though I don't guarantee I'll answer the question."

"Why would Sam open up his home as a safe house for a complete stranger?"

"You're hardly a stranger, Richard. We know all the important stuff."

"Like the fact I didn't murder Helen after all?"

Poole ignored the bitter tone. "That's a given. I was thinking of stuff like you risking death by lethal injection to ensure a kid got the emergency treatment he needed. Not shooting Sam when you had the drop on him. Not - "

"I get the message," Kimble interrupted. "But I wouldn't recommend giving me a gun for a few days. I'd enjoy shooting the deputy far too much."

"Get in line, Richard," said Gerard from behind them. His hair slicked back, shaved and dressed for work, he looked severe and very pale. "I've got a mess of paperwork to catch up on, so I'll be in the office until mid-day. If you want it, the time's yours," he told Poole.

"Gee, a whole three hours."

"I'm spoiling you, I know," Gerard conceded with the faintest of grins. "While you're out shopping, get yourself some boots without a heel."

"Sa-am."

"Just for once do as you're told without arguing. We'd rather have you short than you with a broken neck. Clear?"

"This is harassment," she said sulkily.

Gerard gave a faint sigh. "No, this is me asking," he said quietly. "It scares the crap out of me watching you race down stairs in some of the heels you've got."

She frowned. "Really?"

"No, I'm lying. Get real."

"OK, I'll get new boots," she surrendered. "Though don't think I'm going to make a habit of listening to you."

"It would never occur to me," he told her with truth.

 

While Gerard returned with innumerable boxes containing all the papers and books Kimble had requested, Kimble paid his belongings little attention. Afternoon became evening and Poole went home but still Gerard remained in his office.

Refusing to admit he was lonely and bored, Kimble justified interrupting Gerard with the excuse to himself that the other man hadn't eaten all day. The door was half open and he stepped inside without thinking to announce his presence.

Gerard started awake.

"Damn it, don't you ever knock?" he snapped, his face set with irritation.

"I didn't think," said Kimble lamely, recognizing just how on edge Gerard was at the moment.

"That's obvious. Did you want something?"

"Not really," Kimble admitted. "Is there anything I can do?"

"Well, yeah, there is," said Gerard in a hard tone. "Find yourself a hobby and stop bugging me." Pushing himself to his feet, he stalked from the room.

That was the last Kimble saw of the other man that evening.

oOo

"Where's Richard got to?" enquired Gerard, halfway through the morning.

"Working in his room - he said. He seemed to be sulking to me." There was speculation in Poole's voice.

"I'll have a word with him. What?" added Gerard when she continued to look at him.

"I got the impression you might have had a word with him already."

"That would be the charitable way of looking at it," he acknowledged. He turned when he heard a sharp knock on the door from the hall.

"Is that loud enough for you, deputy?" asked Kimble, hard-eyed and very much on his dignity.

Sulking, identified Gerard with a trace of amusement. That full lower lip was definitely pouting; that, combined with the thrust-out chin and the glint in the eyes probably worked real well on most women - or the susceptible of either gender. Gerard had a number of reactions to it, and ruffling Richard's hair was in there somewhere - along with giving him a swift kick up the ass. But it was comforting to discover flaws in the saintly Doctor Kimble; saints were impossible to live up to but Richard was shaping up good and normal - even if he sometimes looked a jerk in the process.

"That's fine, Richard," he confirmed. "Would an apology cover it, or do you require blood?"

"I know what I'd prefer," said Kimble.

"Me, too," said Gerard brightly. His smile congealed at a look from Kimble which deemed him unworthy of consideration. "As we're all here, how about we have lunch together?" he persevered, a pointed look at Poole ensuring she forgot to mention her diet.

"Lovely," she said with an inward sigh. The testosterone levels in the room were climbing rapidly and she subdued the urge to tell both men to go away and play nicely together.

Kimble's expression made it plain he thought they had both gone mad. "I'm not hungry," he dismissed.

"Well, we are," said Poole. "I was hoping you might have time to show me that sauce you made the other night. The one with the mushrooms and herbs," she prompted.

Aware that Poole regarded cooking alongside exercise on her list of least favorite occupations, Gerard had the sense to stay in the background. That was not enough to prevent lunch from being a disaster.

After twenty minutes in the company of a painfully patient Gerard, Kimble virtually exploded with frustration.

"Don't patronize me, deputy," he snapped, open hostility in his glare. "You don't know the first thing about what it means to be a prisoner."

Poole's head jerked before she gave all her attention to the contents of her plate. Alerted, because he was learning he could not afford to miss any clues about Gerard, Kimble looked from one deputy to the other, his eyes narrowed with speculation.

"Do you?" he challenged.

"Eat your greens, Richard," Gerard told him placidly. He made a long arm to help himself to more salad dressing, even though he had yet to do more than push food around his plate.

When Kimble tried to pump Poole for information after lunch she gave him short shrift. Desperate times requiring desperate measures, he actively hunted out Gerard, tracking him to one of the utility rooms. He was surrounded by polystyrene, plastic, cardboard and cellophane, together with a lot of pieces of something unidentifiable.

"I know you can put together a gym. You any good with coffee-makers?" Gerard enquired, holding the instructions out at arm's length, as if hoping to make them comprehensible.

"It's been a while, but I'll give it a try." Kimble peered over the other man's shoulder. With that close proximity he became aware of the heat radiating from Gerard; he looked as if he had a splitting headache as well as a fever.

If Sam wanted to make a martyr of himself it was nothing to do with him, Kimble reminded himself. He was side-tracked from self-righteousness when he read the first couple of lines of the instructions. He looked up when he was halfway through them. "It looks like English but it doesn't make sense," he said blankly.

"Nor does the Spanish version," Gerard told him absently.

Kimble added Spanish-speaker to the list he was compiling about the deputy.

Five minutes later the two men were sat on the floor, swopping pieces and arguing interpretations of the illustrations, none of which resembled anything they were holding.

"This is ridiculous," said Gerard at last. "I'm a bright guy, you're a bright guy and neither the instructions or the illustrations make any sense."

"Then we'll work without them. I used to be good at puzzles," said Kimble. "It's difficult to believe you aren't, given the work you choose to do."

Gerard gave him a quizzical look. "Very few of those we track down have your IQ, Richard."

"And yet you caught me."

Gerard shot him a quick glance. From the sound of it, the idea had been rankling - unnecessarily. Sitting cross-legged on the floor, feeling spaced-out and cold to the bone, he forced himself to concentrate on their conversation.

"You wanted to be found. You came home to do CPD's work for them. If you hadn't I'd still be looking for you."

Taking that statement literally, Kimble stared at him. "I believe you would. Don't you ever give up?"

"Not where my job is concerned," replied Gerard unguardedly.

"Only in your private life then?"

Gerard shrugged. "Sure. Sometimes. Sometimes there's no option. You can't spend your life yearning for something you're never going to have."

"The voice of experience?"

"Hell, yes. At my age it would be strange if it wasn't," dismissed Gerard briskly.

Not to be so easily diverted, Kimble frowned. The idea of a man as positive as Gerard yearning for anyone or anything was strangely unsettling.

"About your private life - " he began.

"This is my private life," Gerard interrupted with a snort of amusement.

"Your kids might believe everything you say, I'm not so gullible," Kimble told him astringently. He resisted the urge to wipe the dampness from Gerard's temples with the side of his thumb.

"No," agreed Gerard, his sad tone making Kimble grin despite himself.

"You, deputy, are full of it."

"Thank you, doctor." Heavy-eyed and pale, Gerard's charm battled through the grip of whatever wirus was afflicting him.

Flustered, Kimble bent over the assorted parts of the coffee-maker.

It was obvious that he enjoyed working with his hands, no matter how menial the task, and gradually Gerard left him to it, content to sit back and watch the other man while unobserved himself.

"Can you hold this steady while I screw it to the base?" requested Kimble, before he proceeded to give a string of politely worded commands.

Gerard's expression lightened as he was given an insight into Kimble the surgeon; the snap which entered his voice if there was a delay in response made it obvious he was used to having the best around him. He was probably a good teacher, Gerard mused, listening to the clear, concise directions.

Kimble paused in the perplexities involved with trying to fix two things together which obviously were not inclined to be joined when he noticed the faint, crooked band of silvery scar tissue around each of Gerard's wrists. With a stunning lack of tact, he took a firm hold of Gerard's right hand and turned it to the light to examine the marks. "Wire or rope?" he asked without thinking.

Gerard slid his hand free. "That's none of your business." While the tone was still pleasant, it was final.

Made conscious of his breach of good manners, Kimble decided to go for broke. "Pleasure rather than business then," he said.

During the ensuing silence Gerard's gaze remained on the disassembled coffee-maker, but his mouth had tightened.

"My my," he murmured at last, "that's some opinion you have of me." Getting to his feet, he collected up some of the rubbish.

"The bruises on your hands are fresh. And from the way you're moving they aren't the only ones you've acquired. Those scars around your wrists are years old."

"True. As for the rest, Mr Judd wasn't eager to accept our hospitality."

"Were those scars from some kind of an accident?" pursued Kimble.

"It was no accident." Gerard scrunched cellophane into a ball and tossed it into the trash, where it promptly unwound again.

"I didn't mean to pry," muttered Kimble.

"Bullshit, Richard."

"Yes," he conceded after a moment, his eyes on the tense lines of the other man's shoulders. "And curiosity's a poor excuse."

Gerard turned around. "About me?"

"Is it so surprising? My life's an open book to you, yet I hardly know a thing about you."

"It's not supposed to work on a reciprocal basis," Gerard told him dryly.

"Well I'm not supposed to be living in your home either. Since when have you done what you're ‘supposed' to do?" returned Kimble.

Gerard looked up with a wry grimace. "You've got me there." Exhaling, he seemed to come to a decision. "What do you want to know?"

About to push the issue, Kimble paused, shrugged and parted his hands in defeat. "Whatever you want to tell me," he said simply.

"Right," snorted Gerard.

He began to walk up and down the length of the room; not the pacing of a caged tiger but the abstracted movements of a man steeling himself for some unpleasant task.

Recognizing as much, Kimble was about to dive in with some inane remark when Gerard began to speak. There was something unfamiliar about his voice; soft and roughened, it betrayed more than he could know by its very lack of emphasis.

"When I was fourteen a guy called Hank Dewy abducted me. He dumped me in a cellar and went off to kill my dad. Because Hank died of his injuries two hours later no one knew where he'd left me."

Kimble stared at him, trying to absorb what he had been told. "Your father must have been frantic with worry," he said, lame because this was the last thing he had been expecting to hear.

"He was dead. Dewy had murdered him."

Without being aware of what he was doing Kimble moved to the other man's side, but Gerard was staring at some distant memory, his mouth twisted, as if he was in pain.

"Not that I knew dad was dead for a while. It was close on two weeks before the owner of the house came back from vacation and found me locked in her cellar," he continued in a toneless voice, his eyes opaque. "I was lucky. There was a water tap and a freezer with some supplies in it. But I never did manage to get my wrists unfastened, which is why they got so messed up."

"Jesus, Sam," choked Kimble, appalled by everything that had been left out as much as what he had heard. "I had no idea."

Gerard gave him a quick, fierce glare. "How could you?" It was obvious he was regretting making the confidences he had.

Without thinking to question his imperative to reassure, Kimble touched him lightly on the arm. "I don't - and won't - gossip," he said steadily.

The muscles on his set face easing, life was returning to Gerard's eyes. "I know that."

Oddly warmed by that assurance, Kimble gave a faint smile, but before he could say anything, Gerard sneezed and fished for a handkerchief.

Kimble followed the movements of the large-boned hands. The scarred wrists provided a graphic reminder of what a fourteen-year-old boy had been through, both physically and emotionally. Yet it helped to know that the other man understood exactly what it felt like to be innocent and a prisoner.

Gerard put his handkerchief away and suppressed a shiver, before rubbing his hands together in an attempt to generate some heat.

"You should be keeping warm, drink plenty of fluids, take something for the fever and have an early night," Kimble told him authoritively. He had to remind himself that a cold made anyone look pathetic - even deputy marshals.

"Whatever," murmured Gerard. Heavy-eyed, he leant tiredly back against the wall, rubbing one scarred wrist until he caught Kimble watching him and realized what he was doing.

"Time we got this damn coffee-maker put together," he growled, pushing himself away from support.

"Sure," said Kimble peaceably. "You want to hold the base steady again?"

"Well, gee whiz. It's one hell of a responsibility."

"I trust you with it," Kimble assured him, before he gave his attention to a fiddly maneuver. "When I was a kid I toyed with the idea of becoming an engineer. I've always got a kick from putting things back together."

"That must be a comfort for your patients."

Kimble glanced up. "The frightening thing is how quickly a doctor has the trust of a total stranger. Take your kids for example."

Gerard raised his eyebrows in silent query and Kimble shook his head.

"They're fine. But it didn't occur to one of them that a vascular surgeon might not be the best person to ask about their particular problem."

"You have something of a reputation," Gerard pointed out.

"Medically speaking?" enquired Kimble quizzically.

"The publicity must have been a bitch," Gerard acknowledged into the silence.

"It was," said Kimble shortly. "If it hadn't been for work - It kept me going. It's odd. I had no problem getting patients to trust me. I suppose it helps that I'm good at my job. But then it's what I always wanted to do most. How about you?"

"Oh, I'm good at my job," Gerard confirmed blandly.

Kimble gave him a considering look, but what might intimidate junior members of staff had no effect on Sam Gerard. Kimble abandoned the attempt with a shrug of defeat.

"You never wanted to do anything else?" he pursued doggedly.

"I can't remember."

"A failing memory, too."

Gerard had the sense not to pursue the invited question, but he took a certain pleasure in holding up a small valve when Kimble announced that the coffee-maker was ready to be tested.

Relieving Gerard of the valve with an admirable restraint, Kimble began to unscrew the base. "You can put it back together this time."

"Hell, no. I won't do any better. I pick up a screwdriver and things just naturally fall apart."

"I read somewhere that you'd been approached by the Republicans," Kimble said out of the blue.

"I read that too," allowed Gerard.

"And?" prompted Kimble with a trace of exasperation.

Gerard looked smug before he relented. "Get real, Richard. I would never consider a political career - least of all for the Republicans." Leaning across the table, he hauled the instructions over. "Let's see if we can get this damn machine to work."

By the time they had taken it apart and put it back together again twice more two hours had gone by and any lingering constraint had been dispelled by their frustration with an inanimate object.

"Haven't you guys finished that yet?" asked Poole, as if she had not been keeping an unobtrusive eye on them.

"Don't get smart," Gerard advised her hoarsely.

Ignoring him, she picked up the instructions.

"Don't waste your time with them," Kimble said. "They don't make sense."

Poole checked the box, then the make and model, before she looked at the illustrations. "I'm not surprised. None of the model numbers match up. Didn't either of you trained observers check before you started work?"

There was a pregnant silence before the two men exchanged a sheepish glance and began to laugh.

oOo

Renfro munched a doughnut while Poole brought him up to speed on the various cases they were working on while babysitting Kimble. A sound made Poole look up in time to see Newman enter the room. Her smile of welcome faded to concern when the light caught his face.

"What's wrong, Noah?" she asked, leaving the table to go over to him.

Renfro was at her side.

"Hayley Cox killed herself last night," Newman said tonelessly. "I caught the first flight out this morning because I need to tell Sam myself and I wanted to do it face to face. Only I don't know how to because - " Unable to continue, he made a helpless gesture, the tears already running down his face.

Before Newman could swing away Renfro slid his arms around the younger man, enfolding him in his warmth and comfort, as he would have done for any of his family. Poole stood with an arm around both men, rubbing their backs until the younger man stirred and withdrew from the embrace. Vigorously blowing his nose on some paper towelling, he washed his face under the cold tap and refastened his hair. Then, taking a shuddering breath, he gave Renfro a more coherent report.

"Where's Sam?" he finished.

"Having a soak in the tub," said Poole as she handed Newman a mug of the tea he preferred, generously laced with sugar because he obviously needed the energy.

He took a gulp of the drink without questioning where it had arrived from. "He's not working yet? How come?"

"I persuaded him to take a couple of hours off," Poole said. "He's sick."

"Then this will really make his day," murmured Newman. Finishing his drink, he set the mug on the work-top.

Renfro had remained at the younger man's side. "It's going to be bad whenever you tell him, Noah," he said gently, rousing Newman from his abstraction. "But he has to be told."

"I know. I just - " Newman blinked rapidly. "Sam gave so much to this case, Cosmo. Now I've got to tell him that it was all for nothing." Straightening his shoulders, he walked out of the room. As he climbed the stairs a trick of the light turned him into an old man.

 

 

Beginning his workout, Kimble felt faintly aggrieved that it took Poole so long to join him in the gym. While she returned his greetings absently, she seemed oblivious to her surroundings as she slumped onto the couch, forgetting to put on the television. There was none of her usual sparkle, the glint in her eye absent; in fact she hardly seemed to register his existence.

Cutting short the session because the atmosphere was unsettling him, Kimble went up to the kitchen. The house seemed very quiet, unnaturally so. Hearing the front door close and a car drive off, he headed upstairs, presuming Gerard had left for the day. He nudged open the bathroom door and stopped dead when he realized the room was still occupied.

Gerard lay in the large, custom-made tub, one arm outstretched along the rim, a folded towel behind his head. The air was steamy and tinged with an elusive, expensive fragrance, but all that registered with Kimble was the devastated expression on the other man's face. Then Gerard saw Kimble's reflection in the mirror. Kimble was already in retreat even before Gerard turned his head away, rejecting him.

Casting an unconscious glance behind him, Kimble hovered in his room for some time before he used the bathroom farther down the landing to shower and shave. Unable to shake off the memory of the expression he had glimpsed on Gerard's face, Kimble dressed and headed down the stairs. The office door was ajar and he knocked and went in to see Poole, in the hope she would know what was wrong with Sam and could be persuaded to tell him.

She looked up, her expression stony, and he recognized whatever was wrong affected more than Sam.

"Are you all right?" he asked with a quiet concern.

"Of course. What do you want, doctor?"

"To help - if I can." He sank onto the chair next to where she sat.

Her glare lacked both direction and force. "You can't. Not everything can be put right by your magic healing touch."

"No," he soothed. "But it might help if you talked about whatever it is."

"It's nothing to do with your case," she snapped, rejecting him.

His eyes never leaving hers, he leant forward and gently took hold of her hands, his thumbs circling her wrists. "Tell me," he coaxed, his deep voice at its most soothing. "I know it must be confidential but I won't tell anyone. You need to talk."

Glaring into the understanding face so close to her own, Poole's defensive antagonism melted when she saw the steadfast affection and desire to help in his eyes. Remembering the experiences Richard had come through with his compassion intact it was unthinkable not to trust him.

The moment she began to speak her control crumbled, words spilling from her. Her sentences jumbled, she spoke so fast she was barely comprehensible at first.

Kimble's own expression grew bleak when he understood what had happened.

"Everyone tried so damn hard to get something back from the nightmare, but it was all for nothing. That poor woman couldn't stop thinking about what her son went through before -

"I don't need that," Poole broke off to snap as she pushed away the handkerchief he was trying to offer her. "I never cry at work." All fierce, outraged dignity, she glared at him as the tears poured down her face.

He gently brushed back the hair which was spilling into her eyes. "I know," he murmured as he drew her into his arms. "I know."

 

Having realized that the only thing he could do to help was to make as little work as possible, Kimble remained in the den or kitchen for the rest of the day, listening to the stream of deputies visiting the house. Poole brought him in a large plateful of sandwiches around lunch time.

"A small thank you. You've saved Roger having to deal with the fallout when I get home tonight," she added wryly, sitting down next to him and helping herself to a sandwich.

"Is he a deputy, too?" asked Kimble.

"No, a head nurse. At Chicago Memorial. Yes, he's worked with you," she anticipated with a smile. "He gave you a glowing reference."

"And all the dirt, I bet," said Kimble with a grin. "Though I can't place a Roger Poole."

"Try Barton. I use my maiden name for work."

"Oh, yeah, I know Roger," exclaimed Kimble with a pleasure that was obviously genuine. "I've asked for him specifically several times for post-op. care. It doesn't make me popular but he's a terrific nurse. The best. And a great guy."

"I know," Poole sighed with mock sorrow. "I don't deserve him. Cosmo's always telling me."

Remembering Roger's confidences about the wife he adored, but who had sounded a real fluffy bunny of a woman, Kimble had trouble not laughing out loud.

"If everything I've heard is any indication, Roger is happy enough. I always thought he was a newly-wed until he put me straight. What you have is very rare," Kimble added quietly, his gaze on his clasped hands now.

"I know how lucky we are," Poole said, sobering. "Neither of us take it for granted. I don't know how I'd get on without Roger to - Damn, I never get sentimental."

Kimble wasn't about to let that opportunity slip. "That's not what Roger told me," he said wickedly.

Poole gave him one of her patented looks.

Kimble's grin widened. "Save it. They've never worked with me, you should have remembered that. Though I wouldn't have connected you with his wife Euph - "

"Finish that and you're dead meat," she warned him, a steely glint in her eye.

"It's not so bad."

"Says the guy called Richard. I was the one who had to grow up with it."

"I bet it made you strong," Kimble teased.

"Very droll. One word to Noah and you're chopped liver."

Poole and Kimble forgot their banter as Gerard appeared in the doorway; his face expressionless, he was radiating tension.

"Did you want me, Sam?" Poole asked, getting to her feet.

"Stay where you are. The media have got hold of the story. I have to go in. The press conference is scheduled for five. It won't affect your downtime. Noah's coming back to relieve you."

Wanting to say something to the man totally closed in on himself, Kimble's usual eloquence deserted him.

"Will they blame Sam?" he asked Poole, once Gerard had left.

"Some will," she said, tucking her legs beneath her as she nursed a mug of coffee. "Hero one day, villain the next. He hates the publicity but it goes with being as successful as he is. If you can call this success," she added bitterly.

 

When Newman arrived at the house he looked much as usual, several hours sleep and the resilience of youth having worked a small miracle. While his distress had been real, he was by far the most pragmatic of the team and had already put the Judd case behind him.

Before the evening was over Kimble was dispensing advice; yet again he marvelled at the casual way in which people put their trust in a total stranger just because he had the title ‘doctor'.

"See, I've been having this problem over the last few weeks," confided Newman in the manner Kimble had already realized was deceptively mild. "I'm not able to maintain - "

Kimble patted him on the shoulder, while exuding reassurance. "That's perfectly normal."

"Not for me it isn't," Newman told him.

"It happens all the time, to anyone."

"You've - ?"

"Of course."

"But everything's working OK now? That is, I'm not prying but - "

"Everything's fine," Kimble told him, his amusement well hidden. "How long have you had the problem?"

"Well, after the second time with Monica it took longer than usual to, you know. Then the next night I was with Abby and after the first time I was finished for the night."

Kimble fought to subdue his twitching mouth. "Two girlfriends?"

"Three, but Jenny and I aren't having sex." The word ‘yet' hung in the air. "While I'm not up to my usual form I'm not about to push it."

"Three girlfriends. It hasn't occurred to you that you might be over-doing it?"

"Why should it?" Newman asked with honest perplexity.

Kimble dismissed any farther thoughts of trying to sell the idea of moderation. "The answer to your problem couldn't be simpler. Just don't have sex with any of them for a week."

"A week!"

"Seven days. Don't even allow yourself to touch. No kissing."

"What about - ?" Newman's hand moved in a graphic pumping movement.

"Certainly not. That would defeat the object."

"Not to me it wouldn't," said Newman sadly, giving Kimble a look of disillusion. "If this is your idea of helping..."

"Trust me, Noah. By the end of the week you'll be so horny that - "

He brightened instantly. "Really? Way to go. Thanks, Richard. I've got a couple of calls to make."

When Newman disappeared into the kitchen, Kimble turned unerringly to where Gerard stood propped in the doorway on the far side of the room.

"How long have you been there?" he asked in a friendly tone.

"Long enough. My kids come to you for advice, I need to know they can trust it."

"And what - in your expert opinion - did you make of my advice?"

Gerard found a smile from somewhere. "That isn't a problem I've ever experienced."

"Right," scoffed Kimble. "It happens to every man at least once in their lives. So I'll be interested to hear why you're immune." He eyed the other man up and down, allowing himself the luxury of lingering here and there. "Any problems you want to tell me about, Sam?"

Before Gerard could reply he was interrupted by a hacking cough. "How the hell would I know?" he said thickly, one hand on his side as he tried to catch his breath. "You're the doctor, Richard, so what's the cure for flu?"

"There isn't one." It was obvious the virus had Gerard in an iron grip: he had pasty skin; red-rimmed eyes; a fever; and a general air of pathos.

"Does this happen to you often, people expecting free advice?" Gerard asked.

"Are you kidding? Any place, any time. The men's washroom at a charity function is the worst."

Gerard's grin was genuine on this occasion. "Do I want to hear this?"

"No way." Eyeing the other man, Kimble tried to think what comfort he could offer as a virtual stranger; what he would be allowed to offer.

"Would you mind if I light the fire?" He gestured to the logs in the hearth.

Gerard shook his head and came fully into the room. "You want me to - ?"

"Hey, I might not be a Texan, but I'll have you know I went to camp."

"Fine. How old were you?" Gerard enquired, when he could stand watching Kimble's efforts no longer.

"Nine, and I hated every minute. That's not the point."

"Absolutely not," Gerard agreed.

Kimble looked up at the man towering over him. "Well don't just stand there looking competent. Tell me what I did wrong." He sank back on his heels with a helpless gesture when the one pathetic spark he had been tending flickered and went out.

Gerard hunkered down beside him and gave his companion a quizzical look.

"I was that bad?" recognized Kimble.

"Even over-achievers have to have the odd weak spot," comforted Gerard.

Breaking large pieces of wood into tiny twigs, he coaxed the glowing embers into flames and nurtured them. Within a few minutes the logs had caught and a healthy looking blaze was going strong. Comfortably balanced on his haunches, his absent gaze remained on the heart of the fire as he soaked up the warmth he had created.

Unnoticed by the man lost in thought, Kimble went into the kitchen and quickly made a cheese omelette and poured a glass of wine. If asked Gerard would say he wasn't hungry but when presented with something simple would probably take the line of least resistance.

Gerard ate his meal sitting cross-legged in front of the fire, although he passed the glass of wine to Kimble with the comment that his head was fuzzy enough. Sitting beside him, Kimble made no attempt to break the comfortable silence which had formed, content just to watch Gerard.

"What, we're not going to discuss the Cubs' chances tonight?" mocked Gerard into the silence.

Kimble almost choked on the mouthful of wine he had taken. "You're never going to let me live that down, are you? It would serve you right if I told you," he added with spirit, while he wondered what it was about Gerard’s mouth that made him want to kiss it so badly.

Then he remembered that he was fantasizing about a straighter-than-straight homophobe and his awareness became a goad rather than a tantalizing possibility. But that didn't prevent him from staying where he was. While Gerard sleepily watched the flames of the fire, he watched the man gazing at them.

Chapter Text

Waking as he dry-humped the mattress, Kimble groaned and making a super-human effort rolled onto his back to finish the job with his scarred right hand. He climaxed just as the gutsy growl of Gerard's Ferrari ripped through the pre-dawn quiet.

One arm over his eyes as semen dried on his hand and belly, Kimble waited for his breathing to calm and the fantasies which had fuelled his climax to fade away.

He dispensed with his usual workout and joined Newman at the breakfast table.

"I heard Sam leave before dawn," he remarked as he poured milk over his cereal.

"That's right. All leave's cancelled until further notice, while most of us practise Sam's trick of being in two places at once."

"Doesn't it ever let up?"

Newman smiled. "If it didn't I wouldn't be dating Monica, Jenny and Abby. This no sex thing is going to be a real pain. I'm never going to survive another six days without some kind of relief." From his tone, catastrophe was imminent. "It can't be natural to have to go so long."

"Struggle," Kimble told him tersely.

Eyeing Kimble without appearing to do so, Newman understood Gerard's instructions a little better. Richard was displaying all the signs of going stir-crazy.

"Whatever you say. As I've caught up with my paperwork, would you like a game of chess? If you play, that is."

"I do and I would," said Kimble with alacrity.

While it had been some years since he had played, he had been a decent strategist in his youth. Newman took all three games, although by the third Kimble was making him work for his victory.

"This is a beautiful set," Kimble said appreciatively as he put away the intricately carved pieces, the opposing teams carved from dark and light woods. The quality of workmanship was obvious.

"Caroline - Cosmo's partner - made it."

"Does she take orders?"

"You better ask Cosmo. When I can afford it I'm going to get her to make me a decorated headboard," said Newman.

Kimble had an instant image of notches and a complicated scoring system patterned in some exotic wood. "What kind of a player is Sam?" he asked in strangled tones, trying to distract himself.

Sliding shut the lid on the box containing the pieces, Newman gave an affectionate smile. "Terrible. The worst I've ever played."

Kimble blinked. "Sam?" he checked.

"Inconceivable, isn't it? But I swear it's true. He has a guilty secret. Don't tell him I told you this, but he can't bring himself to sacrifice any of his pieces."

Kimble smiled at nothing in particular. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me," he admitted.

"I didn't think it would," Newman murmured.

"Have you worked with Sam for long?" Kimble asked in a would-be casual tone.

His expression bland, Newman selected a few of his favorite Gerard stories, from the man who didn't bargain, to the man who didn't care, via a few interesting diversions.

 

When he heard a noise in the hall, Kimble walked out of the living-room and found himself facing Ritchie, who was shrugging out of his topcoat.

"Hi, Richard. You want something?" he asked, trying to account for the puzzled frown the other man wore.

"No. That is, no," said Kimble, appreciating that the only reason he had come out here was to see if Gerard had come home. He'd lost more than control of his life, he'd lost his mind.

Oblivious of Newman and Ritchie, who were both watching him in silent puzzlement, he wandered from room to room as he absorbed the extent to which Sam Gerard had taken over his life. Part of the reason was the other man's unpredictability; he never knew when he could expect to see Sam, and was constantly on edge because of that. It was no comfort to realize he was hot for the guy.

Some joke.

Except it was deadly serious.

He wanted Sam Gerard.

Kimble completed his circuit of the house and ended up in the kitchen, where Ritchie was getting himself a meal. In urgent need of some diversion from his thoughts, Kimble encouraged the other man to unburden himself about the problems he and his wife were having in starting a family.

As Ritchie left when Newman returned to the house an hour and a half later, it occurred to Kimble that he liked all the deputies, both as individuals and as a group. He had tried to avoid getting close to any new people since Helen had been murdered at the instigation of his friend of twenty years. Now he knew the most intimate details about Ritchie and Newman's sex lives, about the schooling of Cosmo's kids and the fact the stolid-looking Biggs was a closet romantic. He could - had - talked to all of them in his turn. It was both scary and reassuring to know he was still capable of forming new relationships. The problem was, they were formed on the quicksand of the false intimacy imposed by being in protective custody. He should back off - far safer not to get involved because it was going to hurt like hell when he had to say goodbye.

It would be strange not to see Sam on a regular basis.

Kimble thumped down onto a chair. Strange didn't begin to cover it, he realized irritably, wondering when Newman would get off the phone so he could get some fresh air.

oOo

It was early evening when Gerard returned to the house. A frown in place, he wore a black padded jacket over his jeans, his silver deputy marshal's badge on display. He looked like the evil twin of the charmer who had taught Kimble how to set a fire.

"You look terrible," Newman told him frankly.

"Well, shit, thank you for sharing that." The tip of Gerard's nose was almost the same colour as his red-rimmed eyes. "Where's the good doctor?"

"Right behind you, deputy. Why, do you want a free consultation?" demanded Kimble, who was in the mood where he was willing to take offense at the slightest provocation.

Gerard rubbed his hands together as if he was cold. "Given where I'm sure you'd like to ram the thermometer, I'll pass. Has he been giving you any shit, Noah?"

Kimble visibly bristled at being talked about so slightingly.

"Not at all. But I think he'd appreciate the opportunity to get some more fresh air," said Newman, prettying up the truth.

Gerard glanced out of the window; it had been dark for several hours and sleet slapped wetly against the glass.

"Figures," he muttered. Turning up the collar of his jacket, he ripped away the velcro protecting his second Glock, drew it smoothly into his hand and released the safety catch, all in one seemingly unbroken movement of expertise.

"Stay with him," he told Newman as he slid out back.

Stranded in the kitchen, Kimble was overly conscious that Newman, with a flair for the dramatic, kept a hand on the butt of his automatic the entire time Gerard was checking out the grounds.

Gerard returned in a blast of icy air, moisture glistening on the planes of his face; his hair was stuck to his scalp, his chapped lips the driest thing about him.

"It's cold, you'll need a coat, Richard," he said, just as the wind howled around the corner of the house. The wet had turned his thick eyelashes into dark stars, what could have been tears rolling down his face.

"Forget it," snapped Kimble pettishly, uncomfortably aware of Gerard. "I don't want to go out any more."

"But - " began Newman, indignant on Gerard's behalf.

"Go check upstairs for me, Noah," requested Gerard, his voice mild. Having wiped his face dry, he shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on a hook above the radiator. He did not want Kimble to embarrass himself in front of Noah; it was obvious Richard was spoiling for a fight.

Looking as aggrieved as a toddler deprived of a toy drum, Newman trailed off with a poor grace.

"Don't sulk, Richard," Gerard instructed, as he rubbed his cold hands together.

It was never pleasant to be told an unpalatable truth and there was real venom in the glare Kimble directed at him.

Gerard was irritatingly forbearing. "Kick something if it will make you feel better," he invited, before he correctly interpreted the expression in Kimble's eye. "Not me. I'm here to protect you."

"Give me the damn gun and I'll protect myself. I've done it before."

Gerard raised his eyebrows in silent query.

"In the hospital. With Patterson," prompted Kimble.

Gerard went very still.

"Oh yeah. The hospital," he repeated, his voice very slow and soft. "I knew there was something I'd intended to talk to you about." As he spoke he was padding closer and closer to Kimble.

Hypnotized, Kimble found himself giving ground without realizing it until his back thudded into the refrigerator. Gerard thrust out an arm, his outspread hand flat against the center of Kimble's chest. He pushed with a steady inexorability until Kimble's weight tilted the refrigerator so that its back rim hit the wall.

Kimble instinctively put out a hand to save himself, discovered he was clutching Gerard's shoulder and let his hand fall to his side. "Say what you have to," he rasped, pleased with the steadiness of his voice when his senses were swimming with his awareness of the other man's proximity.

Gerard gave a sharp, white grin that was devoid of humor. "That's real kind of you, Richard. Remember how it was in the hospital?" he continued, a hypnotic cadence entering his voice. "Let me remind you. I had my gun trained on Patterson as he went down. Remember Patterson? He was the guy who'd just tried to kill you. So there we were, with Patterson safely under guard, when you went and put your saintly ass in the way. Save your justifications. This is the only warning I'm prepared to give you. Don't ever obscure my line of fire again."

Gerard's head swooped until he was so close that his mouth was almost brushing Kimble's ear. "Ever," he breathed, before he immediately retreated, deliberately using Kimble as a prop to push himself back to the vertical.

By the time Kimble had recovered his balance Gerard was halfway across the kitchen. "Noah?"

Newman appeared in the doorway with a betraying speed. "Yes, Sam?"

Shaken as he was, Kimble was irresistibly reminded of a golden retriever wagging its tail in a hopeful manner.

"What were you doing out there?" asked Gerard in that deceptively mild tone he sometimes adopted.

"Checking the hall," said Newman, oozing virtue and seemingly oblivious to the warning signs.

"Don't bullshit me, young man," growled Gerard. Whatever he had planned to say next was lost when he sneezed three times in quick succession and had to fish for his handkerchief.

"I hope I don't catch that from you," said Newman, with more fervor than tact.

"Gee, thanks," said Gerard thickly, but he wore a wry grin as he went into his office.

Still feeling oddly shaken, Kimble retreated up to his room and wondered why it had taken until now for him to realize that such behavior was not usual or acceptable between two men who were virtual strangers to one another.

So why hadn't he stopped Sam?

 

After a cursory knock, Newman stuck his head around the office door. "What are you still doing here, Sam? Have you forgotten you're up for that dinner with the mayor and some suits tonight?"

Gerard blew out his cheeks. "Damn it to hell," he muttered, making one word of it in his exasperation. "Yeah, I had. You sure know how to ruin a fun evening. Black tie?"

"Afraid so. You've got a couple of hours before you need to be there," Newman reassured him.

"That's something. Will you be OK to cover until Poole can get back?"

"Let her be," said Newman easily. "I'm fine."

"Good man." Gerard gave the younger deputy's pony tail a gentle tweak as he passed him.

Unfastening his fourth attempt at a bow tie, Gerard muttered under his breath and stalked out of his bedroom and onto the landing. "Noah, you there?" he called, leaning over the carved mahogany rail at a dangerous angle.

"Sure. What's the problem?" Newman asked as he trotted into view and squinted upwards.

"You know how to fasten a bow tie?" Gerard demanded.

"This is a joke, right?"

"The joke's watching me struggle to fasten one. I always get someone to do it for me. You're a severe disappointment, young man. Get Poole to teach you. And stop grinning."

"I was just thinking, this is like the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet," said Newman.

"You're definitely losing it," Gerard told him, after a moment to get over the surprise. "Where you hear about them?"

"Abby."

"That's a relief. The thought of you reading a book was worrying me. You sure you can't fasten a bow tie?" He held up the mangled silk he had been torturing.

"Positive. Is that a knot I see before me?" Newman added cheerfully, before he added, "Macbeth," with a beam of sheer triumph.

"I hate smart kids," Gerard muttered as he straightened. He turned to find Kimble on the landing behind him. Noticing Kimble's heightened color, glassy eyes and heavy breathing, he hoped the other man hadn't caught ‘flu from him - Richard had enough things to blame him for already.

"I'll see to your tie for you," Kimble offered, his concentration improving now Gerard wasn't bent over that damn rail. He enjoyed the effect produced by the clean lines of the deputy's black tuxedo and simple evening shirt.

Gerard just nodded and led the way into his bedroom.

Trying to appear unconscious of their intimate setting, Kimble looked from the mistreated tie to Gerard. "Do you have another?"

"Sure." Gerard took a couple from the walk-in closet and handed them to Kimble. "Don't give way to the temptation to draw that too tight," he warned.

"You're no fun." His attention on what he was doing, Kimble stooped a little to give himself the best angle.

"Everyone's always so eager to tell me that," mourned Gerard.

Kimble was surprised into a splutter of laughter. "Damn, I'm all thumbs myself," he grumbled. "Keep still and stick your chin up. And don't get smart. You know what I mean."

Achingly conscious of their close proximity and the nimble fingers brushing his throat and jaw, Gerard meekly did as he had been commanded. But he couldn't stop himself from speculating what other skills those scarred fingers might possess. He quashed the idea immediately, knowing from past experience where such thoughts led. He'd spent enough sleepless nights over Richard Kimble during the last two years. He must have been crazy to bring him into his home. Everywhere he looked he saw evidence of the other man's occupation. And it was too much; a too poignant reminder of what he was never going to have but had never learned to stop wanting.

Richard's face was so close to his own, the lighting bringing the beauty of his strong bone-structure into relief. The beginnings of a beard shadow emphasized the constant temptation provided by that delicious mouth. Gerard swallowed and fixed his gaze on the middle distance while he concentrated on trying to balance the department's budget. The distraction never stood a chance.

Kimble stepped back to view his work with a critical eye, then leant in close to make a few minute adjustments.

For a moment Gerard could have sworn Richard was going to kiss him. His own mouth unconsciously parted fractionally, his breath quickening.

Kimble gave Gerard a light, approving pat on the chest. "You clean up good," he announced, intensely aware of the warmth of Sam’s body and the fact he had been close enough to inhale the mixture of scents which were coming to mean Gerard to him. "Have fun."

Gerard gave him a disenchanted look. "With the mayor?"

"Whoever turns you on," replied Kimble.

He met with a look from those dark eyes so disconcerting that he left without further preliminaries, afraid he would somehow betray his longing to feed from that seductive mouth.

Motionless for a moment as he watched Kimble head into his own room and quietly close the door behind him, Gerard gave himself a tiny shake. Freed from whatever spell had held him in thrall, he lightly ran down the stairs. He was so preoccupied that he failed to notice Newman, who without conscious thought, had discreetly tucked himself in the shadows under the curve of the staircase.

Shrugging into his topcoat, a sound made Gerard turn to see Kimble coming towards him. Unmoving, his lips just parted, Gerard watched through unblinking eyes as Richard strolled over to slip a scarf over his head and settled it around his neck.

Wholly disconcerted by the unthinking intimacy of the gesture, Gerard's head went back an inch or so before he controlled the move. Blinking, he managed a strained half-smile but his eyes were wary.

Kimble was far too busy avoiding meeting Gerard's gaze to be aware of his reaction. "I noticed you seem to have lost your scarf," he said, speaking more quickly than usual. "Keep this one. It's not quite the same color but it's near enough." Giving one end of the scarf the smallest of valedictory tweaks, he stepped back. "Have a good evening."

Inhaling the heady scent of Richard Kimble which was emanating from the soft cashmere, Gerard made a conscious effort to concentrate. "Thanks," he said gruffly. Scooping up his car keys, he left the house in a flurry of dark topcoat and cold night air.

Standing full under the center light, Kimble's expression was nakedly revealed to Newman where he remained in the shadows. There was such a yearning hunger on Kimble's face that Newman had to look away, momentarily ashamed to be spying when Richard believed himself to be alone.

When Kimble slowly went back upstairs Newman emerged into the light. In view of what he had just sensed between Gerard and Kimble, he was trying to decide what it was about Kimble that would attract a man like Sam Gerard and began to catalogue his more obvious charms. Richard kept himself in good physical shape and seemed fit enough. The legs in the faded 501s were long, the ass firm-looking, with a good shape, Newman decided, viewing Kimble's receding back view with the dispassionate eye of a connoisseur. The principle was the same whatever the sex of the individual. Broad-shouldered with glossy, well-cut brown hair and greenish eyes, there was something attractive about the lop-sided face. Or perhaps it was the grin that was lop-sided, thought Newman, squinting slightly as he tried to remember.

Thinking of the sexual tension which had virtually crackled in the air between the two men, Newman looked dissatisfied. It would take more than sex-appeal and a good body to press the buttons of a man as straight as Sam Gerard.

Something like love, Newman realized with a sense of shock as he remembered the fleeting expression he had glimpsed in Gerard's eyes before he’d left the house.

Becoming very still and staring at nothing in particular, Newman took a steadying breath and began to relax. Love would do it every time, he mused. Strolling into the kitchen to fix himself some coffee, he made a private bet with himself about how long it would take the two men to fall into bed together.

 

It was almost two in the morning before Gerard got home. Kimble looked up from the book he was reading and exhaled softly; the simple severity of the black and white evening dress looked even better than he remembered.

"What, no gravy stains?" he said, flippant to cover his leap of arousal.

Unfastening his bow tie and the first few buttons of his shirt, Gerard exhaled with relief, then gave a weary shrug. "Save it until morning, Richard. I'm no match for you tonight." Between the ‘flu and his twenty-one hour day, that was obviously true.

"I can use all the advantage I can get with you," Kimble retorted.

The ends of Gerard's unfastened bow tie hung down on either side of the partially unbuttoned shirt, offering glimpses of the pale brown skin beneath it. It was tantalizing - like looking at a partially unwrapped present, Kimble thought with absent appreciation.

Arrested, Gerard gave him a long, level look. "Yeah?"

"Maybe not," Kimble conceded, backing off because he sensed that the atmosphere could so easily become more intense than he could handle. "You want a beer?" he asked briskly.

"That would be good. I thought you would be asleep," Gerard said to Kimble’s back as he headed into the kitchen.

"Is that a subtle way of saying you want your living-room to yourself?" Kimble enquired as he returned with a couple of bottles of beer. "What's wrong with your side?" he added, his eyes narrowing as he took in the awkward way the other man was sitting in the chair; he looked extremely uncomfortable.

"You're very observant," said Gerard. The betraying caution with which he straightened from where he had unconsciously been hunched made Kimble frown.

"Doctors are supposed to be. What's wrong with your side?" he repeated.

"Gas," said Gerard briefly. "The mayor's cook must really hate her." Nodding his thanks for the beer, he held the chilled bottle to his forehead.

"Headache?" asked Kimble quietly. That gesture told him just how tired Gerard must be to permit himself that show of weakness.

"You know the mayor, what do you think?"

"As this was a black tie function, didn't you need a partner?" asked Kimble, his tone would-be casual.

Gerard opened his eyes. "I had one."

"Oh. You didn't bring her back with you?" managed Kimble, appalled by the jealousy that ripped through him.

There was a small silence.

"For your approval? I don't think so."

The smart retort Kimble had planned died unvoiced when Gerard took a long swallow from his bottle of beer. Kimble couldn't take his eyes from the other man's rippling throat muscles, dizzy with the images of Sam Gerard on his knees, those large hands gripping his ass while Sam swallowed his cock.

"I'm going to bed," he said thickly.

Puzzled by that abrupt departure, Gerard stared after him, before he sighed and closed his eyes. Late at night was the worst time of all, he decided tiredly.

oOo

The following morning Gerard was all business.

"If you want me to check these names, and you're planning to question the porter, who's going to look after Richard?" asked Newman.

Gerard looked up from flicking through his mail. "I don't want to call Poole back, but there isn't any one else free. Damn it, Richard can come in to the office with me."

"Is that a good idea?" asked Newman hesitantly.

"It's a terrible idea, but give me another option that keeps him out of circulation. Who's going to be dumb enough to attack a federal building? Richard's been bitching to get out the house, I'll grant his wish."

Newman had the sense to keep his doubts to himself.

Tucked under a blanket in the back of the department car Gerard was driving, Kimble discovered he got motion sickness in this position. He was pale green and glassy-eyed by the time Gerard parked in the basement car park.

"Consider me duly grateful for your restraint. Haul ass, Richard. A little energy won't hurt your stomach."

"It's my stomach."

"I'll get you some pills when it's time to go back," Gerard promised as he bustled Kimble into the express elevator.

Kimble watched the floors flash up on the display panel. "Where am I?" he asked. Not that he cared. Any change from the safe house was welcome.

"My office," said Gerard, who was beginning to have second thoughts about the wisdom of this, not least because of the gossip it would stir in the department. And if the press got hold of the story -

When Kimble stepped into Gerard's line of vision he wasn't smiling. "This is a joke, right?"

The opening elevator doors saved Gerard from having to reply. Kimble recognized the truth before they had gone more than a dozen paces beyond the reception area when person after person greeted Gerard.

"OK, people," called Gerard, pitching his voice to carry once they were in the middle of the open-plan office. "Spread the good word. Doctor Richard Kimble is our guest for the day. He's in protective custody. While he has free range of the office, he doesn't leave it unless I say so. If he needs anything - within reason - get it for him. Richard, make yourself at home," he added, as he steered Kimble over to the corner he occupied. He immediately started to check his messages, while listening to what his secretary was telling him and turning down a request from a deputy young enough to make Newman seem middle-aged.

In the two hours which followed Gerard demonstrated a continuing talent for multi-tasking. Within a couple of minutes he was briefing the two strangers to Kimble, in between issuing a slew of orders down the telephone receiver tucked between jaw and shoulder as he picked the bones from a report in front of him. Those deputies left to be followed by two more, before Gerard was able to give his full concentration to the telephone.

Forgotten in the corner, Kimble was under no illusions; until he made a nuisance of himself Gerard had forgotten his existence. For once Kimble had no complaint. He was enjoying this chance to watch Sam with his people, and he appreciated the fact he was trusted enough for Gerard to conduct the business of the office in front of him. But it was impossible not to be conscious of the surreptitious glances Sam's people were shooting his way when they thought he wouldn't notice. It was obvious they remembered him and those not involved in the current investigation into his case were clearly wondering what he was doing here.

Easing himself from the desk he had been sitting on, Kimble slid behind Gerard, having decided to go and explore.

"A moment, sir," said Gerard, before he covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "Richard, the coffee-maker's that way. You know how I take mine. Don't get lost."

"How did - ?"

Gerard looking irritatingly superior. "It's my job." He returned to his phonecall. "Yes, sir. No, sir, my people will not be assisting you. We will take over the investigation as of - "

Grinning as he listened to Sam Gerard laying down the law - a task he was born for - Kimble obediently went off to the coffee-maker. Getting into conversation with a couple of women who had drifted over to join him there, when he finally returned to Gerard's desk, he had a cinnamon Danish balanced between his teeth while holding two large mugs of coffee.

Still on the phone, Gerard watched the coffee being set on his desk and waited expectantly. Kimble shook his head and pointed to himself.

"Yeah. A moment, Henry." Holding the receiver against his shoulder, Gerard gave Kimble a hard stare. "You eat all of that, you're going to be sorry. Which of my staff were you suborning?"

"I relied on other talents," Kimble told him as he broke the Danish in half. He ensured Gerard's portion included the piece which had his teeth marks in it. "If I promise to behave, can I call Sophy and find out how she's doing?"

Gerard examined the indentations. "No over-bite," he noted, before he began to eat with relish. "Call who you like. Now go away - "

" - and play quietly in the corner?" anticipated Kimble, no more than amused.

"I couldn't have put it better myself. That Danish was good. You must teach me the secret of your success."

"I would, but you're doomed to failure. It involves charm."

Grinning, Gerard waved him away and raised his feet onto the corner of his desk as he tilted his chair back. "OK, Henry, what you got for me?"

 

Five minutes after ringing off from Sophy Armstrong Kimble was standing in front of Gerard's desk. Catching Kimble's expression, Gerard motioned for him to sit down and quickly wound up his phonecall.

"What can I do for you, Richard?"

"I need to see Sophy Armstrong. My ex-patient. You met her the day Patterson broke into her room and - "

"I remember Ms Armstrong," interrupted Gerard. "She OK?"

"No. She's back in hospital for major surgery and she's terrified. I need to speak with her surgeon, I intend to see her. This isn't a request, Sam," Kimble added evenly. "I'm going, with or without you."

After one glance at Kimble's determined expression Gerard did not bother to argue with him, or to point out all the obvious risks. "OK. Give me twenty minutes to clear up here, then we'll leave. Order up some flowers and candy."

"You're coming?"

"You thought you were going off alone?" Gerard queried dryly.

"No, but it didn't occur to me that you would come."

"Try not to sound too enthusiastic," Gerard advised him. "I could do with stretching my legs. And I like Sophy."

"It's mutual," Kimble told him, disconcerted by the other man's easy agreement to something he had resisted so adamantly in the past. "She asked after you."

"And you said I had no charm. Don't give the hospital advance warning of your arrival."

"Sa-am."

The intonation familiar, Gerard cocked his head. "You've been spending too much time around the kids," he noted. "You haven't told anyone?"

"Not exactly," hedged Kimble.

Gerard waited.

"I might have mentioned it to one or two people," Kimble conceded, reduced to a guilty thirteen-year-old under that severe, unwavering stare.

Gerard looked heavenwards. "You may as well tell me because I'll find out later," he pointed out with monumental patience.

Kimble gave an involuntary grin. "You sound just like my father used to," he explained.

"Thanks, Richard. I really needed to hear that. Now, spare me the delaying tactics and tell me who you called."

Because Kimble had spoken to his secretary, Admissions, Records, Administration and Kathy Wahlund, he and Gerard were accompanied by four deputies when they went to Chicago Memorial.

"Do they have to make us look like a Presidential party?" Kimble hissed to Gerard. He was surrounded by wall-to-wall suits, all were strangers to him except for Ritchie, who kept shooting him sympathetic smiles, and a look that said ‘Humor Sam'.

"You bet your ass they do," said Gerard tightly, one arm in the small of Kimble's back as he tried to sweep him past the Information desk.

Kimble was met with a chorus of welcome by what felt like the entire hospital staff, plus several of his old patients. Initially frustrated by this delay, because it was an obvious threat to Kimble's security, Gerard began to relax when he recognized the affection which Kimble engendered. To his amusement, Kimble took his reception for granted. But watching him, Gerard received confirmation that the edgy man who sniped at him so often wasn't all there was to Richard Kimble by any means.

As he continued to check the large, constantly changing group of people for possible danger, Gerard was aware of Kimble scanning medical charts, discussing treatments, and exchanging gossip - on everything from vacations to broken romances. It all confirmed that Kimble was one of those rare doctors who actually liked people. Gerard's deputies hovered uneasily around Kimble, hard put to keep the man they were supposed to be protecting within their midst.

Gerard decided to bring Kimble's performance to an end when he realized just how much Kimble was enjoying wreaking havoc to his security plans. Twitching a medical chart from his hands, he thrust it at a starry-eyed strawberry blonde, whom he belatedly recognized as Newman's girlfriend, Jenny. He briefly wondered how Noah would take to having a rival fifteen years his senior, before he put a firm hand to the back of Kimble's neck.

"Time we were going, Richard."

"Anything you say, Sam," murmured Kimble submissively. The fingers on his nape tightened and he half turned to see the amusement in the dark eyes before Gerard swooped in close to his ear.

"If you don't get your ass in gear, I'll say something to wipe that smile off your face."

"Yeah, yeah. I figure I'm safe enough." Kimble's face lit up with pleasure as he slid away from Gerard to catch a graying red-head in a one-armed embrace. He kissed her cheek with obvious affection. "Angelica, honey. I was hoping I'd bump into you. You look terrific!"

She returned his kiss, then eyed him with care. "You look better than when I saw you last."

"Not difficult. Sam, you remember Angelica Flynn, my very own general factotum, without whom I'd be in a mess. Angelica, this is - "

"I remember Deputy Marshal Gerard perfectly," she said in a frosty tone. "He's the one keeping you in protective custody?"

"That's right, ma'am. A piece of luck, huh?" said Gerard brightly.

Kimble stepped on the deputy's toes without troubling to make it look accidental. "We have a mutual friend who's a patient here," he said, wondering why she should have taken Gerard in such dislike. "Sophy Armstrong," he added when she looked blank. "Incidentally," he continued, his voice pitched to carry around the group, "we have Sam to thank for the fact that gunman didn't get further than he did the other week."

A number of heads turned Gerard's way.

"He was the deputy - ?"

"We've been wanting to thank whoever was responsible - "

"Oh, my."

Looking smug, Kimble watched as Gerard was surrounded by a chattering crowd, all of whom were trying to thank him.

"You're an evil man, Richard," Ritchie murmured in his ear.

Kimble beamed. "You bet."

He made good use of the time he had won for himself by giving Angelica a stream of instructions. He knew he was on something of a high at the moment, revelling in his first day of relative freedom and the ease between Sam and himself. It seemed a pity to rush things. Edging through the people around Gerard, he patted the badge on the breast of the deputy's coat and raised his eyebrows.

"Well, let's go, Sam. Time's a-wastin'." Without further ado he strode off down the corridor, three of the other deputies hard-pressed to keep up with him.

Gerard shook his head. "One of these days," he muttered, amusement in his eyes.

Beside him, Ritchie wore a wide grin. "Can I hold him down for you?"

"Oh no," said Gerard, as the pair of them headed towards the elevator and an impatiently waiting Kimble, "when that day comes he's all mine."

When they arrived at the room Sophy was occupying they left the deputies outside the door; Gerard accompanied Kimble inside.

"You're violating doctor/patient privilege," Kimble told him, without any expectation of Sam taking any notice.

"You're not Sophy's doctor at the moment," Gerard returned, before he directed all his ostensible attention to the bright-eyed woman watching them with evident enjoyment.

Sophy seemed remarkably level-headed about her forthcoming surgery, and she got on famously with her surgeon. Spooked by the presence of armed guards at the door, the younger man was obviously nervous and in awe of Kimble, who gave him a grilling Gerard could not have bettered with one of his deputies.

"He didn't have to be so rough on him," Sophy murmured to Gerard, who was sitting at her bedside.

While his mouth continued to curve in a smile, his gaze assessed her. "It's character-building. You won't convince me you haven't made sure he's up to the job."

Sophy gave an appreciative snort and patted him on the hand. "You're too clever for your own good, Sam Gerard. Thanks for my flowers. I really appreciate you taking time out to visit an old woman you scarcely know." She placed a frail hand to her chest. "I might give you a hard time but I don't mean to."

The smiled faded from Gerard's face.

"Richard is such a sweet man," Sophy continued, her gaze shrewder than her artless prattle would suggest. "It does my heart good just to see him." Her fingers tightened over Gerard's hand. "Is he in trouble? And don't lie to me."

"Then stop trying to use emotional blackmail," Gerard returned evenly. "I resent it like hell, and it generally has the reverse effect on me. I didn't expect such a cheap shot from you."

She gave a guilty twitch before staring piteously at him.

"Don't you dare play the sick puppy card with me," Gerard warned, but his roughened voice had lost its bite, betraying his vulnerability to this line of attack.

Unnoticed by the two protagonists, Kimble was listening to the exchange from the foot of the bed now that Sophy's surgeon had left the room. He wondered who had first used emotional blackmail on Sam, but that couldn't distract him from feeling guilty.

Sophy wrinkled her nose. "I won't make that mistake again. Though I'm no puppy."

"I know it," said Gerard, looking rueful, "but if I use the alternative I'm liable to get my face smacked."

There was genuine affection in the smile Sophy gave him. "Not by me. You're one of the few men who still treats me like a human being. Growing old's hell. Till you consider the alterative," she added after a moment's reflection. "Now, stop evading the question. Is Richard in trouble?"

"Someone's threatening his life, yeah. He's in protective custody while the matter's being investigated."

"By you?"

"And my deputies. I've trusted them with my life more than once," Gerard added.

"That's OK then. You should eat more," she added critically, "You're getting skinny."

Kimble made an unconvincing attempt to turn a snort into a cough.

"I'd like to know what's so funny," Sophy said with spirit. "You should be making sure he does."

"I can see that scenario. Do I look suicidal?" Kimble said, moving to Gerard's side.

"You could have a point," she conceded fairly. "That's some scowl you've got there, Sam. Thanks for coming to see me, Richard, but as I told you when you called, it really wasn't necessary."

Gerard didn't even twitch but Kimble flinched just the same.

"Now, don't come back here until Sam says it's safe. Though I'd appreciate another phonecall if you can manage it," continued Sophy.

"He'll manage it," Gerard told her but all trace of warmth was missing from his dark eyes by this time, disillusion thinning his mouth.

"That would be terrific," Sophy said, regretting her loose tongue. "Wait, I'll come out to see you off. While I'm not as fast on my feet as I used to be, I'm not in my dotage," she continued, of the opinion Gerard would benefit from a cooling-off period.

As Kimble held out Sophy's decorative robe for her to put on, Gerard drifted up behind him, so close that his lips brushed Kimble's ear. While the tone was intimate, the threat was implicit.

"Don't ever lie to me again, Richard."

By the time Kimble turned around Gerard was already at the door giving low-voiced instructions to his people. That was the last Sophy saw of Kimble, who was swept away behind a wall of suits.

"It isn't safe for Richard to hang around here," Gerard explained as he matched her pigeon steps without appearing to do so. What he could not disguise was his genuine concern that Richard should have made himself so visible on his home ground, his eyes constantly assessing every one and thing they passed as they approached the elevator.

"You go catch up with them," said Sophy gruffly.

"He's just leaving the hospital grounds," Gerard murmured, holding the doors open for her.

For the first time Sophy noticed the tiny earpiece he was wearing. "Neat," she approved as Gerard closed the elevator doors. "I did want to see him today. He's a reassuring kind of guy to have around - and he doesn't bullshit me. Or if he does he's so damn good I can't spot him at it. Thanks for bringing him here. He's a good man."

Recognizing the unvoiced plea, Gerard softened despite himself. "I know it, Sophy. But I swear he'll drive me crazy one of these days." He blinked, as if wondering where that piece of honesty had come from.

"Not if you drive him there first," Sophy pointed out tartly. "And I don't need your damn help," she added as Gerard reached out a hand to steady her.

Of the view he was the innocent party here, Gerard gave her a resentful look. "Your saintly Doctor Kimble lied to me, and I don't appreciate being lied to." The abrasive edge to his voice allowed for the existence of none of the softer emotions.

Slowing as they approached the busy Information desk because she needed to catch her breath, Sophy glared up at him. "For your information, Richard is a damn saint. You think my insurance covers all this?" She flung out a shaky hand.

Gerard gave her a piercing look, his expression thawing as realization dawned.

"You mean - ?"

"Who else? And I bet I'm not the only one he's helping out. So don't you go riding him too hard." She gave a sudden, richly lewd chuckle and studied the man beside her with a frank appreciation. "On the other hand, why the hell shouldn't you? I thought you and Richard made a hot-looking couple the first time I saw you together."

Gerard's head shot up. He was so visibly taken aback by what she had just said that it was a moment before he could speak.

"Sophy, I know you're fond of Richard, and it's obvious you see yourself as a matchmaker, but you're way off base. Richard and I - "

Her smile faded to be replaced by irritation. "Now don't you bullshit me, Samuel Gerard. I may be old but I'm not senile. A blind man could see what there is between you," she told him trenchantly.

Belatedly realizing they had acquired an attentive audience behind the Information desk, Gerard treated them to the malevolent scowl he had perfected over a number of years; it had never failed before and today was no exception.

Taken aback when Sophy took an involuntary step away from him, his expression immediately gentled and he put out an arm to steady her. "Take it from one who knows, Sophy. There isn't."

Alerted by some note in his voice, Sophy gave him a sharp look and tucked her arm through his, hugging it to her side. "You're a bright guy but even you don't see everything. Have you ever considered that?"

Smiling down at her, he shook his head in resigned admiration. "More often than I like to think about. I have to go," he added quietly.

She nodded her understanding. "No, leave me here to catch my breath. I'll be fine. You take care now."

When he was two strides away, he paused before returning to her side and lightly kissing her cheek. "You, too," he muttered gruffly.

"Go and make up with Richard," she told him, a grin on her face.

Gerard's last sight of Sophy was of watching her persuade a porter to help her to visit a friend on another floor.

Taking the car that had been left for his use by one of his deputies, Gerard headed for the lockup to find out if Bellamy knew anything about cutouts of flowers - and red roses in particular.

Chapter Text

Sulking, and making no bones about the fact because guilt never brought out the best in him, Kimble spent most of the afternoon propped against the window behind Gerard's desk. If he couldn't be out in it at least he could watch the life of the city going on far below, he thought, aware that his stupid stunt had disrupted work for at least five people. What made it worse was that no one had reproached him, except for that oddly disturbing warning from Sam. Lost in thought, he was oblivious of the fact his every move was recorded; no one wanted to take responsibility for losing him during Gerard's absence from the office.

Kimble refocused only when he saw Gerard's reflection approaching in the glass. He turned to face him; Sam was carrying a sandwich in one hand and a carton of low fat milk in the other.

"Hi," said Gerard, giving him a sharply assessing look.

It was then that Kimble remembered the deputy didn't hold a grudge. It was obvious the effects of the ‘flu were waning.

"Is there anything you want?" Gerard continued.

"Lunch would have been good," said Kimble, realizing why he felt so hungry.

"Oh. Right. Here." Gerard handed over the remaining portion of his sandwich and the carton of milk, collected up a file from his desk and took off again, calling three deputies with him.

Kimble stared moodily at the bite which had been taken from the sandwich before he deliberately set his teeth into the marks. Blue cheese and date, he discovered with disbelief, wondering if this was Sam's revenge for relish and peanut butter. But because he was hungry he persevered, discovering the combination was quite palatable once he was over the first shock. Finishing the milk, he crumpled up the carton and tossed it into the waste bin before he sank into Gerard's chair. It felt very comfortable.

"Hi, Richard," said Renfro as he bustled up to deposit some papers on the desk. "Getting a feel for the boss-man's chair?"

"That's right," said Kimble, as he sank back onto the seat which had taken on the shape Sam imposed on it day in, day out.

"Is there anything you need?" pursued Renfro.

Giving him a vacant look, Kimble shook his head. His chin sunk onto his chest, his hands were linked across his belly, thumbs moving in an unconscious imitation of Gerard. Lost in brooding thought, he did not notice Renfro wander away.

Reluctantly, grudgingly, and doing so only because he no longer had a choice, he finally faced up to the fact that his feelings for Gerard had never been casual. There had always been an awareness sparking between them - on his side, at least. More than awareness. He had acknowledged to himself that he was attracted to a guy who was not only unrelentingly straight, but a homophobe to boot. He had tried to kid himself that attraction was merely sexual. But if that was true, why was it the warts and all reality of Sam Gerard that he wanted, not the hot four a.m. fantasy?

The knowledge that he was never going to have what he wanted, craved so much that he ached with it, left Kimble in a bad temper. His state of mind was not improved by the fact it was Renfro who took him back to Sam's house during the other man's unexplained absence.

Feeling raw and vulnerable and certain that his need of Gerard must be broadcasting itself at full volume, Kimble hid himself in the den. Desperate for even crumbs of knowledge about Gerard, he studied the contents of the predominantly non-fiction collection of books.

Given Gerard's choice of career, the number of books on criminology and psychology was not unexpected; it was obvious he kept up-to-date with current opinions from the number of new volumes stacked in haphazard piles, where they had yet to be read. More interesting to Kimble were the books which might give a clue about Gerard's personal taste and preferences.

There were shelves of American history, concentrating on the nineteenth century and exploration and colonization of the West in particular. Two shelves were given to philosophy, the collection too catholic to hint at what stance Sam took, if any. Again, most of the titles were familiar from his own collection, as were the shelves of literature, although Gerard gave preference to the modern while Kimble's collection had more nineteenth century works. But their taste had more in common than he would have believed.

Kimble was interested to discover that the man who claimed to love cities had another two shelves of books on Antarctica, the emptiest continent in the world: it was an interesting contradiction. He resolved to check out the books Gerard had on Chicago; he had a sizeable collection about his home town himself. But it seemed odd that there should be no specific works on Texas. While Sam had abandoned his roots and his family, he had made no attempt to lose the accent which was one of his greatest assets.

Kimble gave a slow grin of realization. Sam was nobody's fool. While he had a great body by anyone's standards, his face would be considered ugly by some and plain by many more. Not that Kimble had ever seen it that way. The force of Sam's personality had drawn him in to warm himself at the blaze of life the other man exuded; everything else was a bonus. An image of the small, tight ass made Kimble take a shuddering breath, before he remembered the sweetness of one of those unforced, uncalculated smiles. He turned his attention back to the book shelves.

Just as he was despairing of finding any reading matter light enough to distract him from Gerard, he came upon an entire set of political thrillers by one of his favorite authors. Remembering the holiday romance he had enjoyed with her, he gave a reminiscent grin. Pulling out a volume at random, then another and another he discovered that Gerard had a first edition of every book Ginny Vidal had written, including her impossible-to-track-down, highly sought-after first novel. Giving it a faintly envious look, Kimble hooked down a title he did not recognize.

Prepared to enjoy himself, he got a bottle of beer and took it into the living-room. He had always enjoyed political thrillers and conspiracy theories and Ginny's were better written than most, giving the tantalizing impression that she knew the world she wrote about. Although, with her background that was probably true, he mused. This book was set in her home town of Chicago, which was a real bonus.

Opening the volume, Kimble frowned in puzzlement when on the blank page next to the inside cover he saw a sprawling inscription.

‘Sam, the tight-assed bastards wouldn't let me add "and the best screw" - even though it's true. Love always, Ginny.'

Kimble re-read the message twice before he accepted that both he and Sam Gerard had both been lovers of Ginny Vidal - and if her inscription was any indication, Sam was still in a relationship with her.

Staring bitterly into space, Kimble knew he could not compete with Ginny Vidal. She was attractive, articulate, successful, sophisticated, intelligent, highly-sexed and belonged to one of the oldest families in Chicago. At first she and Gerard weren't an obvious couple but the more he thought about it, the more likely it seemed.

He forced himself to turn the page. The printed dedication stopped him in his tracks.

‘This book is dedicated to Deputy U. S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, the finest law-enforcement officer, the most wonderful ex-husband, and the best friend any woman could have.'

Stupid with shock, Kimble's lips moved as he read it out loud.

Dear god, he had sat in Sam's office, righteous in his outrage, and thrown in Sam's face the fact he had taken his wife as a lover.

He'd fucked Sam's wife.

Once over the first shock, Kimble's reaction was that of embarrassment; his second was the hope that Gerard didn't believe he'd known this when he had casually supplied Ginny Vidal's name.

No wonder Sam had been such a bastard to him during that interrogation.

Christ.

He'd fucked Sam's wife. She'd given him head. They'd -

Shit, they'd done every damn thing.

Dear god.

Feeling slightly sick and shaky with a mixture of excitement, arousal and anger, Kimble returned to the other room and took down all of Ginny's books. Each one contained a personalized inscription. The first book had been formally dedicated to her parents, the last to Sam; they were the only dedications in fifteen volumes, one book for each year. He wondered whose decision the divorce had been. To judge from Ginny's dedication there were no hard feelings - rather the opposite. When he and she had been lovers she had told him -

What the hell had she said? he thought in frustration.

Squinting into the middle distance, Kimble forced himself to concentrate as he mentally dredged up forgotten conversations. They'd talked a lot, but not about anything important. He and Ginny had enjoyed the most glorious, perfect holiday romance, with plenty of laughter, good food and fantastic sex. Some of the best of his life, if he was honest. She had told him she was a three-times-divorcee and had cheerfully added that she was forty-four years old.

It sounded as if she and Sam were still on fucking terms.

And Sam was the best screw.

Somehow that didn't require any great stretch of the imagination.

Kimble sat envying Ginny Vidal with everything in him.

By midnight he was virtually bouncing off the walls with frustration. Gerard still had not come home, so he could not make his confession and receive absolution - or anything else Sam felt minded to give him.

 

Gerard's only justification for returning home to the house was that he wanted to check that Kimble was safe. In reality he had finally admitted that he needed the comfort that being in Richard's presence brought him. Even a few minutes would be better than nothing; he had several hours to spare before he must leave to catch the ten o'clock flight to St. Louis to attend the double funeral of Jamie and Hayley Cox.

What should have been a solemn occasion showed every sign of turning into a media circus. Hayley's mother had made it plain to anyone who would listen that she held Gerard personally responsible for the murder of her grandson and suicide of her daughter. While, intellectually, Gerard knew he had nothing to reproach himself with, this case had slid under his defenses long before he found Jamie Cox's body. He could not shake off the conviction that, somehow, he should have been able to locate Judd sooner. Attending the double funeral of Jamie and his mother, Hayley, was his self-imposed penance as he fulfilled his final responsibility to them.

Only he knew how much he was dreading it.

At least Noah was safely away from it all, guarding Judge Jane Briskin. Gerard had the comfort of knowing that she would keep Noah so busy he'd be lucky to have time to take breath, never mind catch the news.

 

It was just gone seven-thirty in the morning when Gerard let himself into the house. Exchanging a few words with a heavy-eyed Poole, who had just started work in the office, he was left with the uncomfortable impression she knew exactly what he was doing back here.

He went upstairs to change into his oldest jeans and a fleecy sweatshirt. The wound in his side increasingly uncomfortable, he avoided looking at the clear signs of infection by slapping a new dressing over it and taking two more extra-strength Tylenol. When this was over he must find the time to get it attended to. He could have made the time now, of course. Big Dog could do what he wanted - within reason. What he couldn't find was the inclination to leave Kimble for longer than he must. The time he spent in Kimble's company was bittersweet because he knew the other man would never have chosen to be with him, but it was better than nothing. More than he had expected.

As far as Gerard knew Richard had never received any counselling, let alone an opportunity to release his rage at the way he'd been fucked by the system. It was only recently that Kimble had begun to vent that anger at a safe target - the man who'd hunted him down, and who was now restricting his freedom. Bad enough to be the deputy marshal who'd almost killed Kimble, but Gerard knew he was more than that. To Richard he represented the entire justice system: a few old-fashioned cops in the police department; pompous but inefficient attorneys; judge; jury; prison warders; and every stinking thing that had happened to him in those fifteen months in prison.

Gerard sighed. He'd thought he'd been prepared to be made scapegoat for the system - which just proved he was as given to self-deception as everyone else.

The only bright note was that at least Richard and he were communicating better now.

Knowing that at this time of day Richard would be working out in the gym, Gerard headed into the kitchen for a caffeine fix. He faltered when the first thing he saw was Kimble in his sweat-damp workout clothes, drinking orange juice from the carton. He was glowing with exercise and health, the thin cotton of his tee shirt clinging to his strong muscled back, his ass was delineated by the sweat which darkened his satin running shorts just above the swell of his buttocks. The long muscles of his bare thighs were defined by the sheen of sweat on them. Aching for him, Gerard stifled a soft groan of despair.

Hearing a sound behind him, Kimble swung around.

With no time to prepare his defenses, the sight and scent of him was too much and Gerard felt his cock twitch. Looking away from the bare, muscled thighs, his gaze settled on the unfettered mound in the dark blue shorts and he was lost. He drew in a shaky breath, his head spinning with a dozen images and desires, the wanting naked in his eyes.

Tearing his gaze away, he looked up to see the recognition dawning on Kimble's face. Mortified, Gerard blindly headed for the nearest escape route, his pulse thumping in his ears and feeling as if two layers of skin had been stripped away.

 

Dribbling orange juice down himself from the tilting container, Kimble slowly set it down on the nearest surface. It was then that he realized his hand was shaking. Staring in the direction Gerard had taken, only the hard-on he was hunched over told Kimble he hadn't imagined the scene.

That look -

He took a shuddering breath. That was some going for an oh-so-straight homophobe.

Not necessarily a homophobe, he realized suddenly. Gerard's reaction had had nothing to do with his affair with Doug Ross. That had been the icy rage of a man who heard about his ex-wife's sex life from a casual lover in a way that must have made Sam believe he was being taunted with the details.

So, not a homophobe. And if the heat in those dark eyes just now was any indication, not so unrelentingly straight that he wouldn't be open to persuasion.

Adjusting himself in his shorts, it occurred to Kimble that Gerard had retreated to the one place from which there was no escape.

 

Having trapped himself in the gym, Gerard began to relax when Kimble did not come after him. Then it occurred to him he was tired and confused enough to be paranoid. Though it was pure luck Richard hadn't noticed, he thought, still shaken by his narrow escape.

Needing to take his mind off the dangerous subject of Richard Kimble, Gerard headed for the nearest piece of equipment.

Catching hold of one of the wall bars set above his head, he made an involuntary sound of protest as the wound in his side provided a sharp reminder of why he should avoid using the equipment yet; grimacing, he slowly lowered his arm again, then flexed his back. He still had not adapted to the shoulder holster he was using until the wound healed and his waist holster became a comfortable option again. Making a sound of impatience, he shrugged out of the leather strapping and hung it from a convenient lever.

He paused in the center of the gym before drifting over to the exercise bike which Kimble used every morning. Unable to stop himself, Gerard covered the saddle with his palm as if physically trying to absorb some sense of Kimble, even if it came from his sweat. Christ, he'd be reduced to licking the leather soon, he thought, sardonically amused, but helpless to deal with the longing.

A movement glimpsed in one of the mirrors on the far wall caught his eye and he spun around, only to stop in his tracks when he saw Kimble was pointing a gun at him; his own Glock.

"I've just got the drop on my own bodyguard. Not very impressive, is it, marshal. What are we going to do with you?" Kimble gave a slow, speculative smile.

Deaf to the teasing note in the deep voice, or the expectancy in the hazel eyes, Gerard was staring into the muzzle of his own automatic. This was his recurring nightmare given flesh. Then he saw the erection tenting the front of Kimble's shorts and tensed. It had all happened too fast for his besieged senses and exhausted mind to take it in. All he saw was the threat implicit in the muzzle pointing at his belly.

"Well, at least I know how to get your full attention. It's quite like old times, isn't it," mocked Kimble lightly, the barrel of the gun drooping as he relaxed his grip. He rubbed the side of his face with the barrel, before stroking it along his lower lip.

"Put the gun down, Richard," commanded Gerard. It was the tone which had served him so well in the past.

That one phrase he'd never expected to find a turn-on, Kimble shook his head admiringly. "You're really something, Sam," he murmured. He was uncertain as to why he had started this game; but he was thrilled, relieved, that something that had been one of many painful memories could become something else entirely. He gloried in this discovery, wanting Gerard to glory in it too. Padding closer, he wondered how far the other man would follow him in this sexual play.

The gun muzzle at his mouth again, Kimble slipped it between his just parted lips, tonguing the rim. From Sam's gun it didn't require much of a leap of the imagination to -

"You want me to give you this?" Kimble murmured. "I don't think so. This time we'll play by my rules. But we can't have a marshal without his gun. So I guess I'll have to give it to you. Eventually. The only questions are where, and how."

Holding the gun in a loose grip, Kimble caressed the length of his cock with the barrel in one long, slow stroke - a gesture which was almost his undoing. Lust shivered through him, but he wanted the warmer touch of flesh to his flesh; was certain he would get it if he could just coax Sam into easing that formidable control of his.

Gerard was still frozen in place, his expression fixed, hands at his sides. His mind had been sent whirling into chaos; there was too much input with too little time to assimilate it. Kimble was playing a game - a power game - the aim of which seemed to be both to taunt and to inspire fear.

To destroy all hope.

And Kimble was aroused, that much was undeniable. The other man had seen his sexual response in the kitchen - he must have done. This was his reply. Payback.

Gerard stared at the gun pointing at his belly and at the man behind it. Kimble stood there, tall and strong and so damned beautiful it made his heart ache almost as much as his balls.

Look but you can't touch. You want this, but you can't have it. You can never have it.

And the bastard was getting off on his little game.

Maybe the gun gave it added spice.

Fear turned to a leaden lump of sickness in the pit of Gerard's stomach. Richard was enjoying this.

Bastard.

Gerard drew an unsteady breath, needing to regain control of himself and of the situation. Sweat gleamed at his temples and upper lip, and to anyone who looked closely the fact he was shaking would have been obvious.

Kimble saw only what he expected to see, the man trying to stare him down the image of Gerard he remembered best from that nightmare week when he had been on the run. Raising the gun barrel, he missed Gerard's flinch as he stroked the deputy's strong throat with the barrel, before resting the muzzle in the hollow at the base of the other man's neck.

Gerard gave an audible swallow. "Use it or lose it, Richard."

Alerted by some new note in the tight voice, Kimble refocused. This time he really looked at the other man and finally recognized that the expression in the dark eyes was fear, not desire.

Lust turned to ice in the pit of Kimble's stomach as the magnitude of his mistake came home to him. What the hell did Sam think he intended to do to him? The automatic drooping in his grasp, Kimble's eyes widened.

Oh Christ.

This wasn't a game for Sam, and he didn't - never had - wanted him. No wonder he was scared shitless. He wouldn't know whether he was going to be shot or fucked.

Scalded by humiliation that he could have got it so wrong, all Kimble wanted was to get as far away from Samuel Gerard as was possible. He'd made a total fool of himself. How could he ever look Sam in the face again?

How had he managed to convince himself that Gerard wanted him, let alone teased the other man with his own gun?

Oh god. He'd done everything but wear a flashing neon sign declaring his availability.

His sense of humiliation total, it took every ounce of Kimble's courage to meet the other man's stare. Believing he saw contempt on Gerard's face, the expression in Kimble's eyes hardened; denying his misery, he brazened it out.

The hell with it.

His own face stern with purpose, Kimble raised the automatic, holding the muzzle steady just over Gerard's heart.

Let Sam finish this farce, he was going to bluff it out and be damned to his fantasies.

As if he had read that ultimatum on the other man's face, Gerard slowly raised his right hand and with great deliberation put his palm over the muzzle of the gun, curling his fingers around the barrel.

In the silence came the deafening sound of a safety catch being released.

Kimble's gaze dropped to watch the movement of Gerard's long throat as the other man swallowed. The plum-colored sweatshirt he wore flattered skin, eyes and hair and Kimble was swept by a wave of lust so acute it made his hand shake.

Gerard could feel sweat clammy against his skin. There was an expression on Kimble's face that was unfamiliar, and terrifying in its unpredictability. He flinched when Kimble leant forward, coming so close his mouth brushed his ear, the warmth of his unshaven skin a slight abrasion against his cheek, but more than that was the unwashed, fresh-sweat sweetness of him: a heady aphrodisiac.

Gerard closed his eyes, his eyelids scrunching with the immensity of his despair because he'd lost control of the situation and his body's response to the other man.

"Don't play these kind of games with me," he said, more in plea than warning. Whether the fear in his eyes was of being shot, or of being raped, only he knew.

"Who said this was a game?" whispered Kimble, just before his teeth sank with a slow deliberation into the fleshy lobe of Gerard's left ear, his free hand squeezing the other man's ass.

Like a bucket of icy water Poole's strong voice sounded from the stairs.

"Sam, Robert's on the phone. He needs his back patting."

Kimble's head jerked back, his teeth inadvertently closing on the very tip of Gerard's ear lobe. He flicked the safety catch back on the automatic before he released his grip on the butt of the gun, leaving Gerard holding the barrel; he left the gym without a backward glance.

Standing at the bottom of the steps, Poole's smile congealed as Kimble went by without registering her presence. She gave a soft sigh. The situation between Kimble and Gerard was so volatile it was in danger of getting out of hand - if it hadn't already. Realizing Gerard would be even less inclined to stroke Robert's insecurities than usual, she did not bother to call out to him again but went back to deal with the other deputy herself.

His legs barely able to support him, Gerard sagged back against the support of the wall bars and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of an unsteady hand. It was a moment before he appreciated that he had a massive hard-on, or that his ear lobe was smarting slightly.

"Shit," he hissed, his eyes closing as he fought the surge of lust tightening his balls.

It was several minutes before he was in any state to think to check his gun; as he had begun to suspect, the ammunition clip had been removed. Kimble had left it tucked in the leather pocket of his holster; confirmation of exactly what kind of power game he had been playing.

Bastard, Gerard thought again, as he accepted that his fantasy of the saintly Doctor Kimble had been tarnished.

It was only as he pushed himself away from the support of the wall bars that Gerard realized he was shaking again - but not with fear this time. If Richard wasn't careful he'd get more of a demonstration of power than he was ready for. Gerard was grimly certain that he had enough self-control left not to grab the other man by the scruff of his stubborn neck and fuck him through the nearest wall.

But it was tempting.

In that moment he wasn't sure who he hated more, Richard for playing that sickly dangerous game, or himself for being aroused by it.

 

His movements jerky and uncoordinated, Kimble had the fastest shower in history. He took his time to dress, selecting a more formal outfit than his usual jeans and tee shirt. But the trivial task could not stop him from reliving his supreme humiliation in the gym and the more he thought about it, the worse it got.

His balls in knots, because he had punished his stupidity by refusing to jerk off, Kimble tried to imagine how he was going to get through the rest of his time in custody with a man who despised him.

About to return to the bathroom to collect his watch, he heard the sound of the shower and realized Gerard must be in there. Hardly daring to breathe, because the last thing he wanted was to attract attention until he had regrouped his defenses, he remained by the window, staring blindly outside. He heard the click of the bathroom door, followed by a lengthy silence; only then did he walk into the steamy room. He was late in recognizing his mistake.

Wearing black shorts and an unfastened white shirt, Gerard was checking the merits of two suits with the aid of the full length mirror the bathroom boasted.

"Another party?" blurted out Kimble. His sense of humiliation burning brightly, he no longer knew how to talk to Sam; he opted for attack because his emotions were too close to the surface. "It must be great to be feted as a hero." It took a conscious effort not to stare at the other man's bare legs, or the reflection of the partially revealed bare torso. His eyes fixed on Gerard's slightly swollen left ear lobe; a sharp stab of satisfaction mixed uncomfortably with shame and he had to look away, his gaze fixing, instead, on the suits Gerard was holding.

Apart from an initial start, Gerard hadn't reacted to the intrusion. Unsmiling, and remote looking, his mouth was severe, his black eyebrows drawn together, making him seem an even more formidable figure.

"It is," he said without discernible emotion.

Deciding the three-piece charcoal gray suit would be the most appropriate for the funeral, he headed back into his room and closed the door behind him. There was the pointed click of a key turning in the lock.

His brooding stare on the door, Kimble resisted the urge to kick it down, lock or no lock. Replaying their exchange in the gym, he cursed Poole for interrupting them when she had. Then he wished he could remember the taste of Sam's flesh, knowing he was unlikely to get a second chance.

When he went back into his room he saw Ginny Vidal's novel with its double eulogy, and his sense of grievance spilled over. Gerard claimed to be against abuse of power, but what had his interrogation been but that? Just because he'd slept with Sam's wife for ten days.

Grabbing up the book, Kimble marched into the hall, thumped on Gerard's door with the side of his fist and entered the room a second afterwards. A wooden coat hanger lay on the large bed but Gerard was gone. His face set, Kimble began a room by room hunt for Gerard which was interrupted when he emerged from the living-room to see Poole, who was in the company of a man he did not recognize.

"Richard, I've been looking for you everywhere. This is Mark Lowe. He'll be spending the day with you when Sam and I leave."

Kimble barely spared the middle-aged man with the discontented face a glance. "I need to speak to Sam," he said, his voice tight with suppressed urgency.

She nodded. "Maybe you do, but it will have to wait until he gets back from St. Louis."

Before Kimble could insist, she left to answer the phone.

"Last I saw, he was in there," offered Lowe without interest as he pointed to the office.

Turning on his heel, Kimble headed straight there. Bursting into the room, he slammed the book onto the desk where Gerard was sitting with an open file in front of him.

Having drawn deep into himself, Gerard’s face was almost blank, but his eyes betrayed the ferocity of life seething behind the mask.

"So tell me, Sam. Are you the best screw?" Kimble demanded. His tone made it plain he knew that to be an impossibility.

The point of the question escaping him, Gerard looked from Kimble to the book; a muscle twitched in his jaw as he picked up on the reference. Silent, he slowly got to his feet and shrugged into his dark topcoat. When Kimble reached out to him, he flinched away.

"Don't flatter yourself, marshal," said Kimble, dying inside at this proof of what Gerard really felt about him. "Your virtue's safe with me. My taste runs to red-heads," he added, glancing down at the book, whose back cover had an excellent studio portrait of Ginny Vidal, whose glorious chestnut hair was flowing out in artistic disarray.

Gerard made no attempt to reply. In fact he gave no sign that he had heard the insult directed at him.

"Did you hear what I said?" demanded Kimble, one hand slamming on the desk top.

Gerard looked up then. "I heard you. I just don't have time for this shit," he muttered tiredly.

Kimble caught hold of his arm as he tried to leave.

"I need to know," he said tightly. "Is Ginny the reason you were such a bastard when you were pulling that inquisition crap on me? Did you lose your professional detachment, marshal?"

"Richard - " began Gerard with care, every emotion leashed.

"Or was it because you discovered I was fucking your ex-wife? Afraid of the competition, are you?"

For a split second Kimble thought he had won, but Gerard stilled the move in his direction, shrugged free of the grip biting into the muscles of his upper arm, and left the room.

Swinging around, Kimble went after him. Grabbing Gerard, he thrust the off-balance man back against the solid mahogany front door.

"Don't turn your back on me, you son-of-a-bitch!"

"Get outta my face, Richard! This isn't the time or place."

"The fuck it isn't," snarled Kimble. Exerting all his strength to pin the other man against the door, he was in no state to notice that Gerard made no attempt to retaliate. Running on naked emotion, Kimble wasn't capable of understanding his own actions, let alone being capable of analyzing those of anyone else.

His shoulder to Gerard's shoulder, Kimble gripped the deputy's left wrist above his head while holding the other hand down at his side. The other man's body open and undefended, Kimble plastered himself against the lean torso: chest to chest, belly to belly and groin to groin, his breath mingling with Gerard's. When he felt the other man try to shrink from him, Kimble thrust one thigh between Gerard's and deliberately moved against him in a crude parody of intercourse, letting him feel his erection.

Gerard's eyes widened before his mouth twisted. "Jeez, Richard. You've already had the wife. Are you intending to fuck the husband, too?"

Having heard the sound of raised voices from the kitchen, where she had left Lowe, Poole came racing into the hall, her stride lengthening when she heard what Gerard said. She assessed the situation in seconds. If she didn't separate the two men fast, it would be beyond her. She had never suspected the warm and gentle doctor of harboring this dark side, and the violence on his face scared her. She tried to make her presence felt in that intense, highly-charged tableau.

"Richard! Back off! Now!"

He didn't even hear her, all his attention fixed on the man whose mouth he looked about to devour with his own.

Cursing her lack of inches, Poole did the only thing she could think of, short of drawing her gun on them, and slapped Kimble on the face, just hard enough to get his attention.

His head swung around and she flinched back, for a split second convinced he was about to lash out and knowing she wouldn't stand a chance against his strength. Then his expression smoothed and he released Gerard, stepping back one, then two paces.

"It's time to leave, Sam," she said quietly. Watching Gerard's muscles bunch and the unnatural frozen expression on his face begin to thaw, she knew she had to act fast. Stepping in front of him, she grabbed his wrist and tugged insistently, while she opened the front door with her other hand.

"You have a plane to catch, Sam. Obligations to meet."

A moment later he focused on her. "I know that," he said, the danger draining from his eyes. Docile, he allowed himself to be pulled out through the open doorway.

Breathing as if he had been running hard, Kimble glared at the door Poole had just pulled shut behind them, gripping his forearms in each hand in an attempt to conceal the fact he was shaking.

Christ, what had he just done? Almost done, he amended to himself, achingly conscious of how close it had been, and that his main regret was that Poole had interrupted them when she had. After all, there had been a response. Hadn't there? He could have sworn Sam wasn't completely indifferent to him.

"Now I understand why Gerard wanted a real man around the place. It's to protect his ass," said a harsh voice, as Lowe walked fully into the entrance hall. "Boy, you must be horny to want a piece of a guy that ugly. You faggots make me sick. Don't give me that big-eyed look. You've got the hots for Gerard, haven't you? No wonder he can't stand you."

Lanced to the heart, Kimble stared blindly in the direction of the other man. "What do you mean?" he asked hoarsely.

"You mean you don't know? You must be the only one. You've only got to see the way he looks at you. Like you make his flesh creep." Lowe's face tightened. "You try anything with me and I'll straighten you out permanently." His hand settled on the butt of the gun at his waist. "You get my drift?"

Barely registering the man's existence, Kimble turned away and went up the stairs and into his room.

‘No wonder he can't stand you.'

 

Carrying three boxes containing the things which meant the most to him, Kimble pulled on his topcoat. He was fishing in the bowl on the table just inside the front door for the car keys and a spare remote control for the security gates when Lowe appeared, a newspaper in one hand.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?" he blustered.

Kimble gave him a level look. "I'm in voluntary protective custody, emphasis on the ‘voluntary’. I can go when and where I want. So I'm exercising my democratic right. Don't forget to lock up behind you when you leave," he added over the top of the boxes. "You want to catch the door for me?"

Lowe did so automatically. "What am I supposed to tell Gerard?" he protested in a near-whine.

The keys of the Ferrari warming in his palm, Kimble gave a bitter smile. "You won't have to tell him a thing, deputy."

 

It was mid afternoon when Gerard rang his office as he drove back from O'Hare in the department car. Renfro immediately came onto the line, which was its own warning. Braced for bad news, Gerard had not been expecting to hear that his Ferrari had been stolen by Richard Kimble, who had walked out of protective custody three hours and eighteen minutes ago.

For a moment he lost the capacity for thought.

"What was Lowe doing?" he managed to ask.

"Nothing, that was the problem. Sam, I'm real sorry. I've got people staking out all Richard's likely bolt-holes."

"This isn't your fault. Where's Richard been?" Gerard was surprised by how calm his voice sounded. It would have been a relief to hit something, very hard.

"By the time Lowe reported in, Richard had already been to Chicago Memorial, where he dumped the stuff he took with him - medical books, papers, computer disks. Nothing personal."

Gerard, who knew Kimble well enough to be certain they were all he would care about, frowned against the headache which had been with him all morning.

"I've left someone there in case he goes back. We've staked out his apartment, the cemetery, sports club and Kathy Wahlund. I couldn't think of anywhere else he would go. Don't worry, Sam. We'll find him, but it might take a while. I haven't reported your car as stolen. It didn't seem a good idea to involve CPD."

Gerard breathed a sigh of relief. "Good man. What about Lowe?"

"I kicked his ass back where he belongs. I can see why they were so eager to loan him out. He never did give a good explanation for what went on. It's my guess he said a few things to Richard before Kimble walked - they might even have been enough to make him walk - although Lowe denied it. Did you want to talk to him?"

"Hell, no." Realizing he was automatically heading for his house, Gerard pulled over to the side of the road. "If Richard had wanted to go to ground he wouldn't have taken the Ferrari."

"That was my thinking. You OK, Sammy?"

"Just peachy."

"I meant after the funeral and all."

"I know what you meant." Without realizing what he was doing, Gerard wiped the left hand side of his face with the heel of his hand, then removed the dark glasses he had put on when he'd arrived in St. Louis. "I'm going to see Doctor Wahlund. She's always been a friend to Richard, and while he wouldn't go to her while he was on the run, he might now. Leastways, I can't think of anyone else he might go to."

"I've got Ramirez staking her place out."

"Then I'll send him back to you when I get there," said Gerard, before he cut transmission.

 

Kathy Wahlund arrived at her apartment with the luxury of a free afternoon ahead of her, which she intended to fritter away with some mindless pampering in time to answer her ringing phone. She forgot all thoughts of relaxing when she heard Kimble's voice.

Frowning by the time he rang off, she dialled the number he had given her to check that he really was safe.

"Give me some credit," he said tartly.

He rang off before she could tell him exactly what she'd like to give him for scaring her like this.

Standing at the window as she watched the car parked fifty yards down the road, which Richard had told her would belong to the U. S. Marshal's Office, Kathy nibbled the side of a finger nail. Richard hadn't sounded ‘fine', he'd sounded tense and unhappy. Certain he hadn't told her anything approaching the full story, she was unable to settle to anything. It was a relief when Deputy U. S. Marshal Samuel Gerard arrived. She was disconcerted to find her living-room filled by a dark, brooding, intensely masculine man whose emotions seethed beneath a brittle surface calm as he explained why he was calling on her. She tried to manufacture a convincing degree of shock but she had never been a good liar.

"Is Richard here?" Gerard asked, his steady gaze never leaving her face.

"No." When he continued to watch her, she added, "Are you intending to search my apartment to check?"

He gave her a weary look. "No, doctor. But it would have been a relief to know Richard is safe."

She just stopped herself from giving him the reassurance he had asked for. He probably believed he was manipulating her, but his anxiety about Richard was palpable and she began to warm to him for that alone.

"I'm afraid I can't help you. Richard hasn't been here."

"And if he had you wouldn't tell me."

The acceptance in his quiet voice took Kathy aback, but it was from then that she began to study Gerard more carefully. "No, I wouldn't," she confirmed in a mild tone. "You're going to a lot of trouble for a man who's chosen to walk out of protective custody."

"Possibly because he actually drove out - in my car." Gerard absently wiped his left cheek with the heel of his hand.

She blinked. "Wait a minute. Are you trying to tell me that Richard Kimble has stolen a car?"

He nodded. "A Ferrari to be precise."

"What make?"

"The 456 GT," he said with resignation.

"Oh wow. I've always coveted one of those babes," said Kathy before she visibly deflated when she realized what Richard had forgotten to mention to her. "Your car, you said?"

He nodded without much interest considering he had just been relieved of a two hundred thousand dollar car.

"God. Have you reported the theft to the police?"

Her apprehension told Gerard all he needed to know about the on-going persecution of Kimble by a small minority of the Chicago Police Department. He shook his head. "That wouldn't be a good idea."

"No," she agreed, limp with relief. "Look, you better sit down, Mr - sorry - Deputy Gerard. This is obviously going to take a while. You look frozen. While I see to coffee, put on the fire."

"There's no need for - " Gerard spoke to thin air. Shrugging, he put on the fire and crouched in front of the instant warmth, his chill bone deep; it had been with him all day.

As Kathy came back into the room with a tray of coffee Gerard rose to his feet, the courtesy unthinking.

"Tell me exactly what's going on," she invited, surprised that she should feel so at ease in Gerard's company despite their short acquaintance.

"What do you know?" he asked.

"I know that the porter arrested for writing threatening letters to Richard is believed to be the person who's been behind the attacks."

"Not by me."

"What do you think?" asked Kathy, stirring her coffee.

Gerard gave her a considering look. "I believe Richard is in more danger than ever. He's been out of circulation for long enough for whoever's obsessed with him to get really antsy."

"What view does Richard take?"

"He thinks I'm over-reacting," said Gerard colorlessly.

"Do you often ‘over-react', deputy?" she enquired, finding it difficult to believe.

He gave the ghost of a smile. "I try not to make a habit of it."

If Kathy noticed the evasion, she gave no sign of it but she had warmed to this exhausted, desperately unhappy man whose interest in Richard seemed to go well beyond the line of duty. And if Richard had taken to auto theft he certainly couldn't be indifferent to Deputy Gerard - but then that had been apparent from the way he had spoken about the man in the past.

"Could a woman be behind these attacks?" she asked.

His head rose. "Sure."

"Then I must have been a suspect."

"You were my first thought," he told her frankly.

While she had been expecting that, she didn't like it and her hackles rose. "It didn't occur to you to lie to me?"

He parted his hands and shrugged. "What would be the point? You wouldn't have believed me."

"I guess I wouldn't at that," she conceded with a poor grace. "I presume I'm in the clear now?"

He gave her an irritatingly indulgent smile. "You were cleared some time ago, doctor."

"I'm delighted to hear it," she snapped. "You better stake me out, deputy, because I won't ring you when Richard comes here."

"You don't believe me either." He sounded resigned.

"On the contrary, I do. But Richard's needs come way above yours."

This time Gerard smiled fully, warmth in his eyes as he enjoyed the fact she had the courage openly to lock horns with him. "So Richard still has one true friend," he remarked, his satisfaction evident in his voice.

"Are you surprised?" she retorted, her tone sharp to counteract the softening of her reserve towards him.

Gerard held up his hands. "Whoa. Not in the way you're thinking."

"How do you know what I'm thinking?"

His smile had no visible reservations. "At the risk of offending you more than I have already, you have an honest face. I'll be staking out your apartment myself."

She recognized that he had relaxed to a degree, trusting in her judgment that Richard was safe. "Of course," she nodded, not troubling to hide her relief. There was something oddly comforting about this man; the sense that there would be few situations beyond his ability to cope. "Can you give me a couple of minutes?"

He did not insult her by glancing at the telephone sitting on a side table. "Sure," he said easily.

Going into the den, Kathy dialled the number Kimble had given her. "He's here and he's going to stake me out," she said quickly, keeping her voice low. While it was obvious Gerard knew she knew Richard's whereabouts, and that she had come to call him, there was no need to rub the deputy's face in it.

"Yeah?"

She frowned when she heard the triumph in Kimble's voice. "What game are you playing here, Richard?"

"Nothing. It's OK. Really."

"Mmn. How long are you going to be?" she asked, thinking of the tired man in the other room.

"Three, maybe four hours."

"You can't keep Deputy Gerard hanging around for that long," she protested.

"The wait will do him good. I'll see you later," Kimble added, ringing off before she could protest further.

Muttering under her breath, Kathy hurried into the kitchen.

When she returned to Gerard she was carrying a tray loaded with coffee, toast, cheese omelette, salad and a large slice of apple pie. There was even a small jug of cream.

"Sit down and eat this. Richard could be three or four hours yet."

Gerard stared at the tray, looking bemused. "Doctor Wahlund, you shouldn't have gone to - "

"Call me Kathy. And you're not responsible for my compulsion to feed people. Eat."

Gerard sat, then picked up the fork. "Three or four hours?" he queried, through a mouthful of food.

"I'm afraid so. But I'm sure he's safe. And I think too much of him not to be certain of that," she added pointedly.

While still off-balance at being made so welcome - not a usual occurrence in his line of work - Gerard searched her face. He gave a small nod, some of the tension leaving his body.

"As you're obviously going to be here some time, I'm going to have a soak in the tub," Kathy announced, surprising herself. But feeling as if she had known Gerard for years, she saw no need to change her mind. Besides, if she spent long enough in his company she had the feeling she would tell him everything he wanted to know - and a few things which he didn't.

"Help yourself to anything you want from the kitchen, deputy. Make yourself at home. Why don't you have a nap?" she added impulsively. "I'll wake you around six-thirty."

"Thanks," he said, mildly amused by this topsy-turvy situation, despite his tearing anxiety about Kimble. "And it's Sam."

Feeling more human as he ate his first meal in almost twenty-four hours, Gerard watched her leave the room. It was no wonder Richard valued her friendship, he mused. It occurred to him that the reason he felt so comfortable with her was because something about Kathy Wahlund reminded him of Ginny. Finishing off the simple but excellent meal, he got up to wander restlessly around the room.

Three to four hours.

Three to four hours during which Richard Kimble was a loose cannon. And all he could do was take Kathy's word for it that Richard was safe.

She wasn't a fool, or irresponsible. Nor was Richard - most of the time. So he would wait - mainly because, realistically, he didn't have any other legal option. This situation was volatile enough already. Their only hope of containing it was for one of them to remain calm and in control.

That had been relatively easy when he had known Richard was safely under guard in his home. But now -

Fuck it, he thought despondently as he stared out of the window onto the street below. But while he was this tired he should be able to stay in control, whatever provocation Richard threw his way.

Warm enough by this time to take off his topcoat, Gerard tested the sofa he had been sitting on. It felt wonderful. Pulling off his boots, he stretched out along it and drew his coat over himself. Despite all that had happened today, he was asleep within five minutes, trusting in Richard's friend to keep her word.

 

Having enjoyed her time off despite her unexpected guest, Kathy glanced at her watch and headed for the other room to wake Gerard. The deputy fascinated her because, like an iceberg, she had the sense of immense stresses kept hidden. He was obviously a strong personality, but with a weakness where Richard Kimble was concerned. There was an aura of power about him, balanced by a gentleness around the mouth and the ready smile which warmed his eyes. Small wonder Richard found him as compelling as she did.

Kathy entered the living-room to hear indistinct muttering from the direction of the sofa. The temptation to go to Gerard was strong but certain he would hate that, she backed out of the room and went into the kitchen, taking care to make plenty of noise.

 

Woken by a loud knocking, Gerard shot up. Disorientated and still drugged by sleep, he was disconcerted to find himself in a pitch-black room; it took a moment to place his surroundings.

Kathy flicked on the lights. "It's six-forty, Sam."

"Thanks." Blinking, Gerard watched as she set a flask of coffee and packet of sandwiches on the coffee table.

"For you to take with you. In case Richard's late," she added, defensive when he continued to stare at her.

The surprise at her casual kindness that he was too tired to hide, left her with a strong desire to give Richard Kimble a piece of her mind when he did turn up.

Chapter Text

The moment he saw the black Ford Taurus parked opposite Kathy's flat Kimble knew who it must be, an unacknowledged excitement fluttering in his gut.Accelerating, he pulled the Ferrari up with a flourish that left it parked with its wing no more than a couple of inches from the base of the street lamp. Confident he must have attracted Gerard's attention, but refusing to look across the road to confirm it, Kimble left the car, ostentatiously locked it and, tossing the keys in one hand, ran up the steps leading to the entrance to Kathy's apartment.

"You've seen Deputy Gerard?" she asked immediately, after assuring herself in one quick but thorough glance that her friend really was all right.

Kimble hugged her in a way he hadn't since he had discovered Nichols' betrayal. "In passing. Has he been bothering you?" he added, his expression hardening.

"Of course he hasn't! I gave the poor man some coffee and sandwiches to keep him going. He's been sitting out there for over four hours," she lied, decideing to pile on the agony. She abandoned her intention of lecturing Kimble because he looked so haggard. Samuel Gerard wasn't the only one suffering in this little drama. "You are a bastard," she added fondly, patting his shoulder because it was such a relief to know he was safe.

Kimble blinked. "When did I become the villain of the piece?"

"Why did you walk out of protective custody? Never mind what you're doing with the Deputy's Ferrari. Though I don't blame you, it's gorgeous. You must have been mad going to the hospital without a guard. Are you - ?"

"Don't you start," he said irritably. "I've had it up to here with - " He broke off to cast an uneasy glance at the window. "Is Sam still in his car?"

Kathy looked out without troubling to disguise the fact. "Sure. He's drinking coffee. I haven't noticed him eating the sandwiches I made."

"I hope the bastard chokes on them. They were probably meat," Kimble added absently. "Sam's a vegetarian."

Kathy smothered a smile at this confirmation that Richard was far from indifferent to the man outside. "That never occurred to me. They were tuna. He looked desperately tired."

"He'll survive," said Kimble callously, before he began to pace up and down the long, narrow room again. "How did he seem?"

Kathy gave him an old-fashioned look. "You mean did he look like a guy who'd just had his Ferrari stolen?"

"Not exactly. Well, that, too."

For a moment Kimble looked rueful and Kathy knew he had just realized what he had done; he didn't look or sound remotely remorseful. In fact he looked too damn pleased with himself by half. Richard had always been hard to resist in this mood. Exasperated, but delighted to have her friend back as she knew and loved him best, Kathy absent-mindedly brushed the hair out of Kimble's eyes.

If stealing a Ferrari took second place in Richard's concerns she was working overtime on what - or who - came first. As if she couldn't guess. If Gerard had smashed the ice which had kept Richard's emotions locked down then she owed him a large debt.

"Is there anything you want to talk about?" she asked gently, her elation well hidden.

This was the wildly passionate Richard Kimble she had met in college twenty-three years ago, but who had been missing for too long. He had disappeared some time during his marriage to Helen. If Sam Gerard had done nothing else he had brought Richard roaring out of the staid, sedate rut he had fallen into. Richard and Helen had often been described as the perfect couple, but Kathy had privately wondered how anyone with Richard's temperament could have been satisfied by such a bland relationship - and what had driven him to maintain it for sixteen years. But then Helen had been a perfectionist, not least in her relationships, and while he was the sweetest of men, Richard had a stubborn streak wider than the Mississippi. He was used to succeeding in whatever he undertook.

"Damn him, why doesn't he just come in and get it over with?" Kimble demanded edgily.

"Maybe he's hoping I'll be able to talk some sense into you. Really, Richard. Deputy Gerard is nobody's fool. If he doesn't believe that porter is behind the attacks then it must be someone else. Perhaps someone you know."

"Someone else, you mean," he said. The bitterness in his voice stopped her dead.

"Oh, Richard. I'm sorry. God, I'm sorry. I forgot about Chuck. But, yes. You must have wondered if it was me at some point. No, don't look so guilty. Anyone would. Your Deputy Gerard did. Though I'm obviously in the clear. Boy, the snow's really starting to come down now," she added absently.

Casting increasingly edgy glances in the direction of the window, Kimble ran a hand over his hair. "I'll have to go back with him, of course."

"Of course," nodded Kathy affectionately, careful not to show even a trace of a smile. For such a loveable guy Richard could be a real jerk at times. Glancing out of the window again, her gaze remained on what she saw until finally he cracked and came to stand beside her.

"What's so fascinating?"

"Nothing much. Just your deputy standing in the snow."

Kimble peered over her shoulder. "He must be mad," he said moodily. "He gets cold if he so much as opens the door of the refrigerator."

"Then he's definitely in the wrong place," she said with conviction.

Kimble was too busy staring out of the window to hear her.

The Ferrari slewed across the sidewalk where he had left it, the car's owner, looking just as sleek, if far more desirable, stood propped against the wing, hazed by the orange glow of the street lamp. His gloved hands linked in front of him, Gerard's legs were crossed at the ankles. From the upturned collar of his calf-length topcoat to his heeled boots he was dressed in unrelieved black, except for a clerical flash of white at the throat. His face set and still, he seemed impervious to the whip of the wind, which must be stinging his face as it caught the open edges of his coat, sending them streaming out. The falling snow drifted over his hair and shoulders, lighting the various shades of black. The scarf he had given Sam was missing.

Gerard must have seen him arrive but had no intention of coming to get him. Instead he would stubbornly stand there - all night if need be - while he slowly turned blue because he didn't have the sense to eat enough or sleep right. He might look desperately tired to Kathy, but to Kimble the other man's contained menace was a potent force, the simmering aura of violence no less intimidating for being leashed.

Under that impassive exterior Sam was as mad as hell, Kimble noted with satisfaction. When Kathy touched him lightly on the arm, he jumped, looked self-conscious and tried to relax.

"How long are you going to leave him standing out in the snow, Richard?" she asked gently, heartened by the yearning on his unguarded face.

"He can stay there until hell freezes over as far as I'm concerned," snapped Kimble.

Gerard moved for the first time, his bowed head lifting as he tried to draw the collar of his coat closer around his neck. The street lamp softened the harsh angles of his face as he wiped something from his cheek, but it also made his eyes seem dark enough to drown in. He looked as if he was shivering.

Kimble glared outside, furious that Sam Gerard could reduce him to a state of helpless longing by doing nothing more than stand there. Grateful for his front pleated trousers, he retreated from the window and willed his untimely erection away.

"I'll have to go," he said harshly.

"OK," Kathy said peaceably, having placed a mental bet with herself about how long Richard would hold out. She'd lost, having over-estimated his will-power by fifteen minutes.

Giving her an absent kiss on the cheek, Kimble quickly let himself out of the apartment. By the time he reached the main door he was shaking with tension, the sneer in Lowe's voice echoing in his head.

‘Like you made his flesh creep.'

One way or another he needed Sam to react to him so he would know the truth - although if Lowe was right he didn't know how he was going to bear it. Taking a deep breath, Kimble pushed open the main door.

Emerging onto the street, he used the remote to open the Ferrari before he tossed the keys at Gerard. The deputy managed to deflect them before they hit him in the face but he had to stoop to pick them out of the slush they had fallen into.

"I see you finally noticed me." Kimble jerked his thumb at the car. "I knew you'd never manage to find me if I didn't make it easy for you." Turning away from the magnet of Gerard's presence, he glanced up the street at the cab rank.

"Don't make me come after you again, Richard." While Gerard did not raise his voice, the warning carried effortlessly through the strengthening wind, which was lashing them both.

Sam wasn't a man to make idle threats. Taking his time, Kimble turned back, allowing himself the luxury of studying the other man - from the slicked back, snow-wet hair to the heeled boots which made his black-clad legs look endless.

"If I hadn't wanted to be found you'd still be fumbling in the dark," he dismissed as he set out to test the limits of the other man's control.

‘Like you make his flesh creep.'

Search as he might, he could find no comfort on Gerard's face and the hurt of it was a physical pain for which Kimble sought immediate distraction. Any attention would be better than none.

"I suppose it would have been a blot on your copy book if you didn't take me in again. I hope I didn't drag you away from another party?"

Gerard's eyebrows drew together. "Party?" he echoed.

"I presume that's what all the primping in the bathroom this morning was about."

Gerard flinched and turned his head as the wind drove sleet straight at him. His nose was already lavender, his face pinched with the cold. "That's right." He sounded bored.

Kimble's eyes hardened. Maybe Sam couldn't stand him, but he'd wanted him. He hadn't got that much wrong. Crossing the sidewalk, he deliberately invaded Gerard's personal space, coming to a halt only when they stood so close that he could feel the warmth of the other man's body and could recognize his scent: part cologne; part cigar; and pure Gerard.

"Gee, I'm sorry to have spoiled your fun," he murmured, his tongue touching his lower lip.

The fathomless gaze flickered then, Gerard's mouth tightening like a steel trap.

The sight spurred Kimble to new heights. His gloves forgotten in the pocket of his topcoat, he rubbed the small bloody mark at the side of Gerard's mouth with his bare index finger. "I see someone caught your best side."

"I'm warning you, Richard. Don't push it." The unnatural calm of Gerard's voice was even more intimidating than the focused concentration blazing from the unblinking eyes.

Kimble met him head-on, glorying in it.

Holding Gerard's gaze for long enough to establish his move wouldn't be interpreted as a retreat, Kimble took a sideways step away so he could run the flat of his hand along the curved roof of the Ferrari; the icy metal burnt him like a brand.

"This is a nice penis extension you've got here, Sam," he murmured, goading the leashed beast.

Gerard slowly turned his head, a muscle jumping in his jaw; his visible hand clenched, then unclenched before it was tucked into the coat pocket.

Adrenaline kicked in as Kimble recognized the rage he had stirred in the other man. He gave a smile of the darkest satisfaction. "Very nice. Does it take gas or testosterone? With all your posturing I've got to wonder. Big car, big gun - it seems to me you must be compensating for something, Sammy. As you don't want to share the secret with your friendly neighborhood doctor, shall we go?"

He leant forward to open the door, confident that Gerard would move the necessary few inches.

His upper body motionless, Gerard kicked back with the full force of his rage behind the move. The flat of his foot slammed the partly open door shut again, crumpling sleek metal like paper. Having narrowly escaped having the tops of his fingers amputated, Kimble flinched back, slipped and sprawled his length. A door slammed, the engine gunning. He sat up in time to have slush sprayed over him as Gerard sped off in the heavily falling snow.

Clambering to his feet, Kimble watched the Ferrari slow before it stopped, then reversed back to him, kicking and bucking as the wheels tried to grip the poor road surface. The car slewed to a stop just before Kimble thought he might have to jump for it, the passenger door opening.

Kimble ignored it.

Gerard slowly got out of the car and stared at him over the roof, his face pale in the gloom.

"You can get in slow, or you can get in fast. It's your choice, Richard. Conscious or unconscious, it makes no difference to me. But do you really want to make a scene and upset Doctor Wahlund?" He glanced unerringly up to her window and raised one hand; his smile switched off like a light when he turned his attention back to Kimble.

Looking up, Kimble waved at Kathy, gave a grimace that might have passed for a smile at this distance, and slid into the car with the greatest reluctance.

 

A sullen lump of misery, Kimble sat hunched in the front seat of Gerard's car, appallingly aware of the man next to him, although neither of them made any attempt to speak. While his feet thawed out as the heater did its work, his heart seemed to be icing over. He wasn't proud of the way he had behaved today but he could see no way out of this. The thought of returning to live in the house of the man who preoccupied his every waking minute, but who found him physically repulsive, was unbearable.

Because he couldn't help himself, Kimble shot a glance at his companion, only to find Gerard looking at him with such brooding intensity that adrenaline kicked in before he shuddered with lust. Kimble gave an unsteady sigh and dug his chin into his chest, keeping his gaze firmly on the sleet hitting the windshield. In time, the ache went away.

Outside the car weather conditions worsened, the number of abandoned cars they passed increasing. Kimble's attention slid to the movement of Gerard's gloved hand as it cupped the head of the stick shift. Certain Gerard must be able to hear how loud his breathing had become, Kimble fidgeted uncomfortably on his seat and met another look so scalding he thought he must have imagined it. Then the Ferrari drifted slightly before it came back under control and he hoped that perhaps he hadn't imagined it after all. The atmosphere inside the warm, soft Italian leather interior of the car became so highly-charged that his skin began to prickle. About to pull on his gloves, he thought the better of it, certain his over-loaded senses would not be able to bear the touch of any more leather.

Eventually the seemingly endless journey along almost deserted roads was over. The warmth of Gerard's house enfolding them, Kimble paused on the threshold for a moment, pierced by a sense of how right it felt to be here - as if he had come home. While Gerard pulled off his black boots and slung them on the rack, Kimble hung his coat on the hook, then realized he had dropped his only pair of gloves somewhere between the car and house. Without thinking, he opened the front door to go and find them.

"Where the - ?"

Gerard was on him in two paces, slamming the door to a close and the off-balance doctor into it. One splayed hand saved Kimble's face from the first impact.

Aware of the glorious heat of Gerard plastered down his length, including the press of his cock against his upper thigh and ass, Kimble made no attempt to protest. He thrust back encouragingly.

A sigh gusted down his ear, followed by a gravel-voiced, "Damn it to hell, Richard."

Kimble felt his pants being unfastened; as they slipped to the floor his shorts were yanked down, although not without a degree of care for their contents. A gloved hand was pulling on his erection, cupping his testicles, before it returned to his rock-hard cock.

Kimble moved to improve the angle.

Obviously believing the other man was trying to escape, Gerard's other hand clamped around Kimble's neck, the heel of his hand on Kimble's jaw, the fingers gripping the scruff of his neck. There was no attempt at gentleness, Gerard's strength unleashed in the mindless need to rut. It excited the hell out of Kimble, lighting his every sense.

"Yes!" he hissed.

He managed to get one hand settled on Gerard's flank but the material of his suit was difficult to keep hold of; eventually he gripped firm, warm flesh and pulled Gerard in, wanting all of him. To his frustration Gerard was still wearing his topcoat, although at least it was unfastened. He hadn't even unzipped his pants; it seemed unlikely he would because he was already moving strongly, each thrust pushing Kimble into the closed front door, which moved infinitesimally to the rhythm they dictated.

The edge of Gerard's zip abrading the tender skin of the cleft of his ass, his shorts around mid-thigh, and his polo shirt bunched under his armpits, Kimble was grunting with each thrust, the knock, knock, knock of the heavy cast-iron door handle slowly gaining pace as their urgency increased.

The ridged leather seam of Gerard's glove abrading his cock, Kimble's mouth opened as he felt the gathering swell. He climaxed with a shout of pure triumph as he came and came and came.

Gerard didn't have a hope of holding back. He wanted to howl with the intensity of his climax. Instead, his teeth sank into the salt sweetness of the bared flesh of Kimble's left shoulder. He came as Kimble shuddered one final time, his fingers convulsing over Gerard's flank with strength enough to tear the pocket of his trousers.

When he was done, Gerard virtually collapsed over Kimble's muscular back, shaking with a mixture of weakness and emotional intensity. From the burning pain and warm stickiness at his side, he had reopened the bullet wound again; that wasn't important. He tried to control his ragged breathing so he could inhale Richard's scent, wanting to absorb every memory where it could never fade. The sense of separation was unbearable, even though there had been no true connection, in any sense of the word. Yet the face Gerard buried against Kimble's neck was dazed with a confused happiness.

He had been fighting his feelings for Richard for so long that the struggle not to give in to them had become a way of life; not one he would have chosen, but necessary. In defeat he had found victory - he felt like a man who had lost a battle, yet won a war. For the first time in a very long while - since he'd first met Richard David Kimble - he was at peace.

 

Revelling in every sensation he was getting from the burden of Gerard's still clothed body plastered against him, Kimble slowly unhooked his cramped fingers from Gerard's trousers to rub the flesh beneath them, delighting in his freedom to do so. Breathless and giddy with the overwhelming sensations, he was alight with happiness.

"Wow," he said at last, trying to sound blas, knowing he was failing and not caring. "What was that all about? I mean, it was always on the cards that we'd make love or war. I'm glad we opted for love."

"I wouldn't count on it," muttered Gerard, thinking of the violence of his actions.

Kimble missed the exhaustion and heard only a flat rejection.

"Then you can stand on your own two feet," he snapped, a slight, betraying break in his voice. Heaving Gerard away when the other man was slow to react, Kimble brought his elbow back sharply. Because Gerard was closer than he realized, the blow caught the off-balance deputy over his injured side.

Gerard jack-knifed with a choked cry, his legs giving way. He stumbled back against the door, his hands pressed against his mid-section in a useless attempt to reduce the hurt.

Fumbling with his clothing so he could move, Kimble was hauling his pants up as he turned to the other man.

"Don't make such a fuss," he snapped. Grabbing Gerard's arm, he tugged him upright. It was only then that he saw the vivid stain spreading across the white shirt, blood seeping between the gloved fingers.

Professional detachment non-existent, for a few seconds Kimble could only stare at the blood, stupid with shock, before training kicked in. Drawing Gerard's hands from the site, he murmured something vague and reassuring as he eased the shirt away. When he saw the blood-sodden dressing beneath it, he ripped the shirt open with force enough to send buttons skittering across the polished floor. Peering under a corner of the dressing, he frowned in puzzlement before he relaxed on discovering the wound was more messy than serious.

"This is an old injury. It's infected and needs immediate attention. The bathroom has the best light down here. I'll get my medical bag." Kimble paused on the bottom step, then turned, anger on his face.

"Damn it, you should have told me. I could have - " Alerted by the way Gerard avoided his gaze, Kimble stalked over to him. "Sam?" He took the other man's jaw in a strong grip, drawing his head up. "That looks as if it started life as a gunshot wound." The connection wasn't difficult to make. "When I fired at you last month I didn't miss, did I?" he recognized.

Dazed and in pain, Gerard wasn't sure what had happened, or why Richard had suddenly lashed out at him. But it was no surprise to discover he was pissed about shooting him. He eased free of the painful grip.

"It was an accident. There was no point telling you," he said tiredly.

"No point? You moron," said Kimble with contempt. "I hope it's been as uncomfortable as it looks - it's no more than you deserve. How could you be so stupid? That wound should have been history, instead it's an infected mess. What is it with you and your macho crap?

"Do you need help getting to the bathroom?" he added, when he saw how pale Gerard had become.

Avoiding the condemnation on the other man's face, Gerard shook his head. As Kimble headed up the stairs, he drew a shaken breath and tried to muster his tattered defences.

 

Kimble came into the downstairs bathroom carrying the medical bag he had put together when he discovered Gerard's idea of a first aid kit was a few Band-Aids and a pack of Tylenol. Over-compensating for the fact he hadn't been able to practice medicine for so long, Kimble had spent a small fortune stocking enough equipment to supply a mobile surgical theater; the bag must have weighed almost twenty pounds.

Slumped on the closed lid of the toilet seat, Gerard thought he understood what was behind Kimble's preoccupied brusqueness when he saw Kimble frown at the blood which had dried on his bare fingers.

"It's all right, Richard. I test clean," he assured him.

"I know that," Kimble snapped as he scrubbed his hands at the washbasin. "You wouldn't have let me touch you without gloves if you didn't."

Taken aback by that unthinking announcement of trust, Gerard stared at him, but he had the sense not to comment. As he watched, Kimble opened up his bag, snapping on a pair of latex gloves before taking out everything he would need.

"You allergic to penicillin?" demanded Kimble as he prepared a hypodermic of ampicillin and another of lidocaine. A muscle was jumping in his jaw, an angry glint in his eyes.

Gerard shook his head, then winced when his pants and shorts were roughly dragged down. He was given two injections; first the antibiotic, then the local. He flinched both times, more in surprise at Kimble's manner than real discomfort. With forceps, scissors and swabs to hand, Kimble checked the anaesthetic had taken before opening a sachet of saline, with which he cleaned away the dried blood and pus which was obscuring the state of the now ugly wound in Gerard's side.

"I suppose this mess," Kimble gestured with a swab, "is the reason for your ‘gas'. And why you've been so short-tempered over the last week or so." His face was intent as he meticulously cleaned the angry-looking flesh, laying an alginate dressing over the site of the infection and covering it with a dry dressing, which he taped in place. He didn't stop lecturing Gerard for his stupidity the entire time he was working.

"Damn it, keep still," he ordered when Gerard raised his arm to wipe one cheek with the heel of his hand.

Feeling vaguely sick, Gerard froze. Pale with shock and pain and the emotional drain of a day which had gone from bad to worse, he sat staring at Richard's head while Kimble knelt at his feet. All Gerard could think of was the care he had seen the other man lavish on others; a tenderness he had dreamed of experiencing at first-hand. These grudging ministrations were a world away from Richard's manner with his kids - hell, even Patterson had enjoyed more simple human kindness. He tucked his beginning-to-shake hands out of sight, averting his head slightly as he felt his eyes beginning to burn.

"OK, I'm done," announced Kimble in the same hard tone. He peeled off his gloves, dropping them on top of the dirty swabs and other garbage.

"Thanks," said Gerard mechanically.

When Kimble had left the room Gerard closed his eyes, holding everything he was feeling locked inside. He had been punished without understanding the nature of his offense and felt oddly as if a trust had been betrayed. One moment he and Richard had been -

Gerard stopped the thought as it formed, the nature of his offense now obvious. Knowing why he had been punished was no comfort.

At the zenith of physical and mental exhaustion as events of the seemingly endless day caught up with him, he realized his torn shirt was hanging free from one shoulder, although his collar and tie were still fastened, adding to his discomfort. He unfastened them with one hand, dropping his tie on his jacket where it lay at his feet, before he shrugged out of his shoulder holster, aware of the heavy feeling of his numbed side.

It was ridiculous to feel as if he had been physically assaulted; Richard Kimble was far too good a doctor - and man - to so abuse a position of trust. Ridiculous even to think it given how close he'd come to fucking Richard through the front door. Later he would be grateful he hadn't. For now there were only regrets and snapshot memories of the day sliding one over the other: of Richard's bare thighs in those blue shorts; Richard mouthing the muzzle of his gun; thrusting him against the door; the ramrod of Richard's cock pressed against him; the moment he heard Richard was free - and therefore a target; the kindness of a stranger, Kathy's hospitality keeping him going during the hours of waiting; the relief when he had seen for himself that Richard was safe, just before he'd fought the urge to grab the scruff of his neck and fuck him senseless; the anger and the wanting and the scent of him, the glorious taste -

But wherever Gerard's mind skittered, the memory of the double funeral was lurking to ambush him. The worst hadn't been the public humiliation of being backhanded by Bridget Cox, before she spat in his face. The worst had been when she had stared at him in mute agony, seconds before she collapsed, sobbing, into his arms. That was the memory he carried with him - of a woman with no one to turn to for comfort except the man who had failed her family.

The media had recorded it all, wringing every last drop of emotion from the moment. And so the circus had gone on.

Racked by tremors, Gerard unconsciously wiped the side of his face dry again. He was so tired he couldn't see straight. His hands icy, he closed eyes which had begun to smart.

He would move in a minute. When he could stop thinking. When he could be certain he had his feelings under control again.

In a minute.

When he could stop thinking.

 

Showered, changed and growing more angry with Gerard by the second, Kimble stalked into Sam's room, found it empty and began to search for him. Stupidly, the downstairs bathroom was the last room he tried.

When the door was flung open, Kimble appearing on the threshold, Gerard flinched and visibly tried to regroup his defences, but they no longer fitted as they once had. Pain spilled through the gaps. His face stripped bare, his eyes were too bright and too bloodshot; their expression made Kimble long for the right to wrap him in his arms.

Appalled to realize he had vented his temper on a man with nothing left to give, he was already at Gerard's side, inconspicuously taking his pulse; his skin was cool. Gently removing the remnants of the torn shirt, Kimble pulled off his own cashmere sweater and eased Sam into its warmth.

"I was worried when you didn't come upstairs. Jesus, Sam, I'm sorry," Kimble added in a low voice as he crouched beside Gerard, rubbing the other man's thigh in an unconscious gesture of reassurance. "I've never mistreated a patient the way I just did you. I'm so very sorry."

Exhaling, Gerard searched for and found the energy to respond. "It's been that kind of a day," he dismissed.

When Kimble flinched and wouldn't meet his eyes, Gerard sighed and touched him lightly on the shoulder. "Don't beat yourself up over this."

Searching the face above his own, Kimble shook his head in disbelief. The gentleness of his expression was in marked contrast to what it had been. "You shouldn't let me off the hook so easily."

Gerard gave a tired shrug. "What am I supposed to say, Richard? We've both done things we regret." His voice was very soft, deeper than usual, and slightly husky.

Kimble's anxiety increased because he had never heard the other man sound like this. Gerard sounded so vulnerable it made his heart ache.

"But I shouldn't have done," Kimble protested in frustration. "Only I saw all that blood and - I lost it. It's ridiculous. I'm a surgeon and I - lost it. But you don't need to hear this," he realized, one hand remaining on Gerard's thigh because he needed the reassurance of physical contact. "Did you get any sleep last night?"

Gerard looked vague.

"That's what I thought. Go to bed," Kimble urged, his voice gentle of intent. Rising to his feet, he held out one hand.

Gerard gave no sign of noticing it as he got up under his own steam, then clutched at his slipping shorts and pants. Kimble noticed the purpling finger prints he'd left on the other man's flank, then looked away, unable to deal with that right now.

Fastening his torn trousers, Gerard said, "I need to call Cosmo or Poole in for the night. I'm too tired to be any use as a bodyguard this evening."

"Let me do it," said Kimble impulsively. "I've seen them at work enough times. I know what to do. Will you trust me to keep watch while you sleep?"

Gerard opened his mouth, then closed it again.

"I know it might sound odd," defended Kimble, as Gerard continued to stare at him.

"Odd? Why should it sound odd for you to want to guard your bodyguard?"

"I'd wake you the moment I saw or heard anything," Kimble assured him earnestly.

"Have you been taking lessons from Noah?" enquired Gerard, looking pained. "He does the best sick puppy routine I've seen till now."

"Then you'll trust me?"

Gerard slowly exhaled. "For a bright guy you can be a real moron." He looked resigned, irritable and amused all at the same time - and infinitely better than he had five minutes ago.

"That's a yes, then," said Kimble with satisfaction.

"One of us is crazy," muttered Gerard.

"It must be you."

"That's a distinct possibility. I'm sure as hell not firing on all cylinders tonight. You were set on going out again when we got back here earlier. Where were you headed?"

Kimble looked surprised. "To get my gloves," he said simply. "I must have dropped them somewhere between the car and the house."

"Oh." Gerard grimaced. "It's a pity I didn't know that at the time." He looked up abruptly, trapping his companion's gaze and holding it with his own. "We should talk, Richard."

A trace of panic replaced the warmth on Kimble's face. While he might have babbled about them making love, he didn't need Gerard to rub his face in the fact they'd made nothing of the kind - or worse still, his pity.

"No!" he denied instinctively. "There's nothing to talk about. It never happened, clear? It never happened."

While the rejection was no surprise, it hurt more than Gerard had been prepared for. His shoulders hunched, he stared at the floor until he should have mastered his errant emotions. "Whatever you say," he conceded, a defeated note in his voice.

"Then go to bed," urged Kimble, relaxing now the difficult moment had been avoided.

The message unequivocal, Gerard nodded. Needing a moment more to tuck all his inconvenient emotions away, because they were obviously a source of embarrassment, he stiffly leant down and picked his holster up from the floor. Drawing out his automatic, he handed it, butt first, to Kimble.

"Don't play with it," he said sardonically. "And this time, keep the clip in."

The reminder missed its target. Somber now, Kimble realized he had just taken responsibility for the other man's life. "I'll take care of it," he promised, his steady gaze on the other man.

Disconcerted, because he had the feeling he was missing something here, Gerard knew he was incapable of solving any puzzle tonight. "I'm definitely too old for this shit," he muttered gruffly as he glanced at his watch, "it isn't even eight o'clock. I'm going to bed."

 

His side still numb from the local, Gerard took advantage of the fact to assume his favorite sleeping position. Sprawled on his stomach under the bedcovers, he doggedly fought exhaustion until he could be certain the other man had settled down; Richard still looked like a kicked puppy and was jumping at shadows. The door to his room open, Gerard heard the footsteps coming up the stairs again; it felt strange to have their roles reversed. Even stranger to realize that, against the odds, he did feel - protected. But it was a partner that he wanted, not a doctor, or a bodyguard.

As Kimble approached the room Gerard evened out his breathing to a slower rhythm. He heard the other man pause in the doorway.

"You're supposed to be sleeping."

"I'm trying," Gerard defended himself as he opened his eyes. He was too tired to analyze the change in it, but tonight Kimble's slow, deep voice was like luxurious brown velvet. But all it did was stroke his senses to unwanted life, making his heart ache even more than it did already.

"I'll avoid stating the obvious. Is it your side keeping you awake?"

"No. Really," Gerard added when Kimble continued to stare at him. He willed the other man to go away.

"I forgot to leave you any painkillers for when the local wears off," Kimble said into the silence. Coming over to the bed, he fished in a pocket and set a small tub down on the nightstand. "A maximum of two every four hours." He gave the man on the bed a worried look. "You will take them , won't you?"

"Sure. Get real, Richard," Gerard added when he saw Kimble was still staring at him. "I'm no masochist."

"Then if everything's fine, why aren't you sleeping? It's me, isn't it," Kimble added before he could reply. "What am I doing, or not doing? I'm doing too much, aren't I," he recognized in the same breath.

"Just relax. You're doing fine," soothed Gerard. Given everything Richard had been through, he couldn't work out why a simple spot of guard-duty was flustering Kimble so much.

"I'm being a total jerk, you mean. And keeping you awake," Kimble said ruefully. "I'm out of my depth and I know it. Cosmo, Poole and the others always seemed so relaxed about it, and you could give a master class in the art of seeming to do nothing."

Gerard crooked an eyebrow at him. "That's because I'm not."

"Bullshit, Sam. Though now we've established everything's fine, go to sleep."

"No problem," Gerard assured him.

Watching the dark lashes sinking to a close, Kimble accepted that tonight he wanted Gerard where he could see him. He was haunted by the realization of how close he had come to losing him - and not just because he'd narrowly missed shooting him dead. He was so confused that he didn't know if he'd been justified in meeting rejection with rejection - or if Sam had rejected him earlier this evening. All he knew was that he wanted Sam Gerard. And that scared him more than anything else.

"Would it bother you if I sit in your room when I'm not doing the rounds?" Kimble asked impulsively. Knowing he was over-compensating for the way he had treated Sam didn't stop him from making the request.

There was a small pause.

Gerard opened his eyes but his mouth tightened, as if he hadn't seen what he had been hoping for on Kimble's face. But when he spoke, he voice was oddly tender. "No, it won't bother me. Put the light on, read if you want. Do any damn thing, so long as you stop talking," he added with a more familiar asperity.

Some of the tension slid from Kimble's face. "Don't be subtle," he begged, grinning.

"I tried that."

"It must have been the Texan version. Sam, I - "

"What?" asked Gerard with resignation.

Kimble was staring at what he could see of the lean face and partially naked shoulder. "Uh, n-nothing," he stammered, taken aback by the emotions which made rational thought impossible. It was ridiculous. He wasn't the impulsive type. He and Helen had enjoyed an orderly, planned life. He'd done the sensible thing ever since he'd got married

And look where it had got him.

Slumping against the doorjamb, Kimble continued to stare at Gerard.

He was right to be scared - for Sam's sake if not for his own. He didn't want history to repeat itself and Gerard to die just because he'd been unlucky enough to involve himself with Richard Kimble.

"Are you OK?" asked Gerard, trying to place the expression on Richard's face.

Kimble started, then nodded and found a small smile from somewhere. "I'm fine, Sam. Just fine." He didn't flinch under the narrow-eyed stare.

Gerard's expression relaxed again. "Good. Then you can stop talking. I keep losing track of the sheep I'm counting."

"Shouldn't that be cows?"

"Cows?"

"You mean that isn't a Texan accent?"

"Cows," repeated Gerard with loathing. Punching up his pillow, he muttered under his breath and fell asleep within two minutes.

He barely stirred until gone seven-thirty the following morning, which Kimble found more flattering than anything else the other man could have said or done.

Chapter Text

Having persuaded Renfro to do her a favor without asking why, Poole turned up at the house just after seven-thirty the following morning, feeling highly apprehensive about what she might find. Closing the front door, she flinched when something crunched under her feet but it was only a shirt button. Holding it in her cupped palm, she frowned when she remembered Sam had been the only one wearing a white shirt yesterday. There were three other buttons half-hidden under the boot rack - and a faint, partial hand print in blood on the wall.

Taking her automatic from the holster, Poole stepped lightly across the hall, alert for sounds of life. Wheeling around, she trained her gun on Gerard, who stood on the landing above her.

"Whoa. A simple good morning would do," he told her, holding his hands palms outwards.

"Damn it, Sam. That isn't funny," she snapped, her system flooded with adrenaline.

"You're edgy this morning. I know better than to creep up on you like that," he conceded, "but you woke me up."

"Where did this bloodstain on the wall come from?" she asked, reholstering her gun and gesturing behind her.

"I must have forgotten to wash it off," said Kimble as he came through from the kitchen. "Hi, Poole." He was just grateful he had remembered to clean the front door, where he had left some stains of his own.

She gave him a long, hard look. "Don't you ‘Hi' me, Richard Kimble. Sam, you look like shit," she added critically as he came down the stairs; his burgundy towelling bathrobe made him appear paler than ever.

He raised his eyebrows. "That's supposed to make me feel better? Boy, you're mean till you've had breakfast."

She had the grace to look abashed. "Seeing that blood worried me. Where did it come from?" Her worried gaze moved between the two men.

"I bust that sore spot in my side again," Gerard told her with resignation.

"I hit him," said Kimble at the same time.

Poole's head jerked around.

"To hear you tell it anyone would think you'd done it on purpose," drawled Gerard, his voice at its most soothing. "Poole, stop glaring at him, he'll get a complex. I thought you were down for the Ryder case?"

"Renfro's taken that."

Gerard's head rose, his gaze hardening. "Yeah? Good of you to tell me. How many others have taken it on themselves to swop assignments?"

"Sam, we - "

"Won't do it again? You got that much right."

The weight of his disapproval settling over her, Poole looked distinctly chastened.

"You could have cause to regret your burst of initiative," continued Gerard. "I'm taking some downtime. As Cosmo's busy elsewhere you'll have to cover for me."

"Me?" Her eyes widened.

"You can't do it?" Gerard returned.

"Of course I can do it," she said firmly. "The duty switch was my idea, not Cosmo's." She began to fidget under the influence of Gerard's considering stare.

"Is that supposed to help? You should know better than to give me excuses."

Kimble had never expected to feel sorry for Poole. "Where are you vacationing?" he asked, partly to rescue her, but more because he wanted to know. Although why he should be surprised he had driven Sam away...

"Uh huh, you don't get rid of me that easy, Richard. The farthest I intend going is out in the yard. Poole, if you need me, call, otherwise I'll see you here in a week's time, bright and early. I'm going back to bed."

When he was certain Gerard was out of ear-shot Kimble turned to Poole. "You and Cosmo should have told me I'd shot him. I had a right to know. Damn it, Poole, I came that close to killing him."

"Sam's choice, Richard," she reminded him, eyeing Kimble thoughtfully. While he was undoubtedly angry with her, there was none of the tension which had characterized him the previous day.

"Well, it sucks," he told her bluntly. "If I'd been treating him he wouldn't have been leaping tall buildings and tearing up his side."

"I wouldn't put money on it. Is he OK?"

Recalled to himself, Kimble slipped into professional mode. "He's fine. And I'll make sure he stays that way. I presume you swopped duties with Cosmo after the situation here before Sam left yesterday?"

"That's right," she confirmed crisply.

"You have nothing to worry about," he told her in a level voice.

"Who was worried? While I'm here, I want a word with you about that stunt you pulled stealing Sam's car. He won't say this to you so I'm going to - "

"No," said Kimble, his unemphatic voice cutting effortlessly through hers, "you're not. What happened is between Sam and myself. Not you, not Cosmo, not the U. S. Marshal's Office. It ends here. Clear?" The controlled sternness of his manner was a marked contrast to his behavior the day before.

Searching his face and satisfied by what she saw there, Poole relaxed, a gleam of respect in her eye. Richard was a sweet guy, if prone to sulking when he didn't get his own way, but it was good to know there was more substance to him. And that he understood the need to guard Sam's privacy from those he worked with.

"It's clear, doctor," she said, her approval of him obvious. "I'll see you next week."

"Sure thing," he said lightly, ease itself once she had taken his point.

"You'll take care of Sam?" she added, just before she opened the front door.

"Whether he likes it or not," Kimble confirmed, smiling.

When Poole left the house, he went upstairs to collect a couple of things from his room. The sound of the shower made it obvious Gerard had decided not to go back to bed. Kimble entered the bathroom without ceremony.

"Mind you don't get that side wet," he called, as he pulled the shower curtain aside and peered inside the stall.

His back to Kimble, Gerard gave a small start.

"You've got that side wet, haven't you," recognized Kimble with resignation. "Well, be careful. If you get soap in that wound it'll smart like crazy." He paused to eye the man coated with bubbles.

"You've already got soap in it, haven't you?"

"Who made you so damn perfect?" growled Gerard, turning to glare at him. "And get your head outta here. Can't a guy have any privacy?"

"Just wash the damn soap off," Kimble advised him tolerantly. He tried not to notice the lean, clean lines of the muscular back presented to him, half of Gerard's rump fetchingly covered in bubbles. Backing out while he still had a semblance of medical decorum, Kimble went to get his medical bag.

As slick and sleek and shiny as a seal, if a lot thinner, Gerard shrugged back into his bathrobe before towel-drying his hair. He peered through the folds as Kimble walked in at the same time he knocked on the door.

"You want something?"

"I was going to take a look at your side. But if you'd rather have another doctor that's - that's fine. That wet dressing needs to be changed."

Kimble sounded so subdued that Gerard surrendered without a fight. "Don't be dumb, Richard. Why would I want another doctor now I've finally found one with warm hands?"

Putting the lid of the toilet seat down, Gerard eased on to it and watched as his companion took what he would need from his medical bag. He was as meticulous in cleaning his hands as if he was going into the O.R., the habit so engrained he obviously wasn't aware he was doing it.

When Kimble sank onto his knees in front of him, Gerard swallowed and concentrated on counting the tiny pieces of tile which made up the mosaic on the wall over the other man's shoulder. He lost count the moment his bathrobe was unfastened and peeled back. With would-be casualness he tweaked folds from the other side over his groin. Richard was far too close for comfort, the position he had adopted like a dream come true. It was impossible to ignore the delicate brush of his hands, the sheen on his glossy light brown hair, or the gentleness on his downbent face as he quietly talked his patient through the treatment.

"I've put a fresh alginate dressing on first to draw out the infection, but it needs to be kept dry. While I'll check on it every day, it'll probably need to stay there for about a week. Keep getting it wet and the whole process will take longer. You have a low-grade fever from the infection, but the antibiotic should clear that up fast. Don't forget you can't drink alcohol while you're taking these."

Listening to the slow, deep voice rather than what it was telling him, Gerard nodded and fervently wished he was wearing more clothes. In a few seconds the bunched towelling was going to be inadequate cover.

Having taped a new dressing into place, Kimble looked up as he drew off his second glove. "Sam, I - " The breath faded in his throat when he saw Gerard's partially visible erection. Raising his eyes to the other man there was an answering hunger on his own face.

"Jeez, Richard," groaned Gerard, with something that sounded like despair.

Leaning forwards, his large hands curved around Kimble's head, readying him, before he swooped down and stuck his tongue into the mouth parting to welcome him.

Making a sound of unmistakeable satisfaction, Kimble was open to anything Gerard wanted to give him. His cheeks hollowing, his hands slid beneath the bathrobe to touch the other man's naked cock for the first time; not with subtlety, or tenderness, but with a need that would not be gainsaid.

Tongue-fucking, they sank to the floor in a desperate tangle of urgency.

It was ease itself to bare Gerard's torso, the robe falling open, but Kimble was not so lucky. He ended up sprawled on his back on the bathroom floor, his unzipped jeans and shorts bunched around his upper thighs, restricting his movements. Not that he had been required or given time to do much.

Kimble thought he must have come when those wonderful hands squeezed his ass while the head of his cock rubbed the abrasive fabric of Gerard's towelling robe. He could still hear Gerard's voice panting out his name over and over again as the other man came, jerking against him, face buried against his throat, fingers bruising now.

If they had entered speed trials they would have been in the top three, which didn't stop it from being one of the best experiences of Kimble's life. He cradled the man slumped over him with a fierce protectiveness, absently nuzzling a fleshy ear lobe while Gerard's ragged breathing gusted into the hollow of his throat. He didn't bother to take the other man's pulse.

"It's obvious you've pulled your side. If the pain doesn't ease up, tell me." Uncertain if it would be allowed, Kimble only just stopped himself from kissing Gerard.

Mortified on a number of levels, not least that this was the second time he'd grabbed the other man and dry-humped him like a damn dog, Gerard pushed himself to his feet with a grunt of discomfort. Having discovered his legs would support him after all, he left the bathroom without a backward glance.

Still flat on the floor, Kimble raised his head the better to watch him go, while his index finger idly slid through the cooling stickiness on his bare belly. Rubbing their mingled semen into his skin, he was looking very smug. While he didn't pretend to understand what the hell was going on in Sam's head, he was clear about one thing: he was wanted. And it felt like nothing he had ever known before.

So much for not being the impulsive type, never mind his noble intention to save Sam. Self-sacrifice obviously wasn't his forte.

Shit, what did he do now, go with his heart - well, his hormones - or go with his head?

Sam wanted him, and god knew he wanted Sam.

The echo of their loving still tingling along his nerve-ends, Kimble tried to think rationally.

Semen dried unnoticed on his skin, tension slowly sliding away as his brain cleared. He even gave a small smile, which slowly broadened into a wide grin of sheer triumph. There was an advantage to living with a man who, even if he wasn't really a cross between Superman and the Demon King, was very, very good at his job. Kimble knew that if whoever was after him had been a professional, he would have been dead months ago. Therefore his attacker had to be an amateur. And he'd back Sam Gerard against an amateur any day. Besides, he'd be at Sam's side. Together they could deal with anything.

He hoped.

 

To Kimble's dismay, when he next saw Gerard the other man was as remote as the moon. To look at him no one would have known they had grappled in a lover's frenzy only twenty minutes before. Turning down Kimble's casual offer to cook breakfast, Gerard tersely announced he had paperwork to catch up on. He disappeared into his office and pointedly shut the door.

Uncertainty leaving him feeling vaguely depressed, Kimble ate in the too-quiet kitchen. Beginning to feel the effects of his sleepless night, he wandered into the living-room. Stretched out on a couch, he fell asleep over a medical journal within minutes.

 

He woke with his heart racing to find Gerard crouched at his side, a hand on his shoulder.

"S-Sam?" His mouth dry and his hands damp, Kimble tried to look as if nothing was wrong.

"Everything's OK. It was just a dream." Gerard's tone was so matter- of-fact that it left no room for Kimble to feel defensive.

"Yeah," he acknowledged shakily. "Just a dream." Swinging his legs off the couch, he wiped his hand over his face.

Gerard rose to his feet and ran a hand through his hair, which he had forgotten to slick back today. "There's fresh coffee in the kitchen. I was about to fix some lunch."

Kimble nodded absently. "I'll be out in a couple of minutes." He wondered if he had talked in his sleep again. That habit had cost him two lovers; not that they had been important. Sam was. "Sorry if I disturbed you," he muttered, finally nerving himself to meet the other man's eyes.

"Why should gibberish disturb me?" Gerard dismissed. "Though I bet it made sense to you at the time. That's the thing with dreams. Kathy Wahlund rang. I told her you were sleeping but I'm not sure she believed me. Call her so she knows I haven't buried your body in the yard. While you're about it, you might want to call the hospital to see how Sophy's doing after her operation," he added gruffly.

"Thanks, Sam."

"Use the land phone in the office. I won't disturb you."

Knowing Gerard was wrong about that much, Kimble obediently trailed away to make his calls.

 

 

"That didn't take long," noted Gerard as Kimble came into the kitchen.

"I've been well-trained by Poole in acceptable behavior while in protective custody," Kimble explained. "Kathy's fine. Sophy's in ICU and likely to be there for another twenty-four hours. But she's doing better than I dared hope. I said I'd call again tomorrow."

"Sure. You know not to make unnecessary calls. That apart, use the phone when you like."

Nodding an acknowledgement, Kimble turned down the offer of food. Sitting at the table opposite Gerard, he idly watched the other man eat.

"Could you at least pick on a grape?" complained Gerard, when he looked up again and found Kimble still staring at him. "I keep waiting for you to snatch the food from my mouth."

"You get nervous?" scoffed Kimble.

"You'll never know. Jeez, Richard, I know you credit me with the sensitivity of a block of wood, but of course I get nervous. And every other damn emotion. It would help if you could remember that occasionally." Seeming to have lost his appetite, Gerard shoved his plate away. His eyelashes were so thick and so dark that when he lowered them slightly, masking his eyes, it was like a curtain closing.

"I didn't mean it like that," said Kimble quietly as he recognized that he had hurt him.

"Right." An occasional smoker of cigars, Gerard began to prepare one with small jerky movements.

"I meant that you always seem to know exactly what you're doing. And that's very reassuring - when it's not irritating the hell out of me," added Kimble fairly. That it could also be one hell of a turn -on was a thought he kept to himself.

Having lit his cigar, Gerard squinted at him through the smoke. "Sure."

"About yesterday. I'm sorry for the extra work I must have caused," Kimble added in a subdued tone. "You didn't report the Ferrari stolen."

Gerard eyed the glowing tip of his cigar. "I figured CPD didn't need any excuse to go after you."

Kimble's eyes widened. "I never thought of them," he said blankly.

"I could tell," said Gerard dryly. When he pointedly refrained from asking Kimble why he had walked out, Kimble began to fidget on his chair.

"Maybe we should talk after all," Kimble said at last, and without discernible enthusiasm.

Drinking his coffee, Gerard made no attempt to help him out.

"I've given you a rough time," continued Kimble. "See, I really thought I'd dealt with being accused of Helen's murder, the trial, appeals, jail and - "

" - me," interjected Gerard.

"And you," Kimble confirmed. "Did I ever thank you for everything you did after you captured me - steering me through the formalities so I could get my life back together, I mean?" he asked abruptly.

"I didn't capture you and yes, you were meticulous in your thanks."

Kimble shot his companion a searching look. "Was I that bad?" he asked shrewdly.

"Not at all. I still have the letter of thanks you wrote me." Gerard's voice spoke volumes.

Grimacing, Kimble looked down. "I'm sorry, Sam. At the time - I just wanted to get control of my life back. I needed a chance to mourn Helen and come to terms with fifteen months in a high security jail. I needed to make a clean break. Can you understand that?"

Gerard went very still. "Am I missing something here?" The weariness that was still on his face reminded Kimble that the last thing he needed was to rehash all the times he had been snubbed, slighted or insulted.

Kimble shrugged and parted his hands. "I'm just trying to apologize for taking it out on you. I thought I'd dealt with all that stuff."

Gerard gave him a long look. "That's in character. A man just doesn't shrug off the experiences you've had. It takes time."

"I'm just beginning to understand that - at gut level. I've lost track of the times I've told patients that over the years. Doctors tend to make terrible patients - we're either total hypochondriacs, or we work until we drop. I thought I could handle anything."

"You'll be able to perform surgery again," Gerard said with the certainty which was his hallmark.

Kimble's eyes widened. "How - ?"

"Give me a break here," mocked Gerard gently, and Kimble relaxed with a grimace.

"It has been bothering me," he confirmed.

"Maybe sometimes you expect too much of yourself."

"And you don't?" returned Kimble.

Gerard parted his hands. "How do you suppose I recognize it? Maybe we're two of a kind."

"In a lot of ways I think that's true. It's not necessarily a comforting thought, is it? You seem very relaxed about leaving your department to run itself."

Gerard looked surprised. "First off, Poole's keeping an eye on things. Second, they're good people. They don't need me to hold their hands."

"Maybe not, but they seem to enjoy having the boss around. Do you regret what we did?" Kimble added, without giving himself time to think about it.

"Yes, I do," said Gerard unequivocally. "It was unprofessional on my part."

"Unprofessional! Who gives a fuck about - Oh, forget it!"

"Sit down, Richard. Please," added Gerard, looking up at the angry man towering over him.

Kimble compromised by collecting the coffee pot and topping up their mugs. "I guess I'd feel the same if you were a patient of mine. Hell, you are," he realized, coffee dribbling from the lip of the spout before he thought to right it.

"No, I'm not," Gerard denied, in a tone that dared contradiction.

Kimble gave him a moody look and slumped back into his chair. "Samuel Gerard has spoken."

His fingers obscuring most of the mug they were curled around, Gerard relaxed in the high-backed chair. "What's your problem?"

The problem is that I want you face down across this table, with a finger full of butter up your ass, thought Kimble, before he mentally started to list the bones of the foot just to keep himself sane. He was concentrating so hard that it was a moment before he realized Gerard had repeated the question.

"What was that?"

Gerard had the sense to improvise rather than to repeat a question he didn't want answered. "It'll be interesting to see what stirs in the undergrowth after your trip out yesterday. I'll need to ask you a few questions. Don't give me those big eyes, it won't be like the last time," he promised.

One of Kimble's major preoccupations came blurting out. "Sam, I swear I didn't know Ginny was your ex-wife when I - " He stopped when he realized he was only making things worse.

"That wasn't the problem," said Gerard, who had almost convinced himself that he wasn't jealous of the two weeks Ginny had spent with Richard.

"Something was," said Kimble, before he grimaced. "Judd, I suppose?"

"Amongst other things. You caught most of the fall-out."

"So you're OK about Ginny?" pressed Kimble, picking at the scab.

"Sure."

"Good. Are you and she still - ?" He wasn't given the chance to complete the question.

"Whatever Ginny and I might be is none of your business, Richard." While the tone was pleasant, it was final.

"How many times do we have to screw before it becomes my business?" demanded Kimble, the jealousy coming from nowhere.

Gerard gave him a considering look before he got up and quietly left the kitchen.

Grimacing, Kimble had the sense not to go after him.

 

 

Kimble ended up in the gym, although he spent most of his time stretched out on a workbench pensively staring up at the ceiling. By the time he wandered back upstairs he had almost convinced himself that he would be able to ease Sam into a relationship. Making a couple of plates of sandwiches, he left some with Gerard before going into the living-room and flicking on the television to catch the news round-up for the week.

The Judd case received extensive coverage and the double funeral of Jamie and Hayley Cox had enough sensation to keep the most avid voyeur happy. Gerard was prominently featured. While dark glasses masked his eyes, his mouth had no such protection. Watching through to the end, Kimble switched off the television. He was still staring into the middle distance when Gerard came into the room an hour later.

"Why did you come after me yesterday, Sam?" Kimble asked, his voice tight with tension.

"It's my job," replied Gerard glibly, this the last conversation he wanted to have.

"Of course. It was a dumb question."

Shooting him what had been intended as a glance, Gerard paused. "But I would have come after you anyway," he added with deliberation.

The message took a moment to sink in before Kimble looked up with what was obviously supposed to pass for a smile. "Thanks, Sam."

Gerard sank onto the edge of the opposite easy chair. "What's happened here? Something has." Richard looked pinched, as if he was recovering from a knee in the balls.

"I saw the news round-up. It included full coverage of the funerals yesterday in St. Louis. Why didn't you tell me?"

Gerard studied the floor. "Because it would have been a cheap shot," he said slowly. "And because - Damn it, I'd had enough." Without realizing he did so, he wiped the heel of his hand down the cheek which had been spat on.

Recognizing the source of the gesture, Kimble realized how many times he had seen Sam make it in the last twenty-four hours. Getting up, he crossed the small space which separated them. Crouching down, he cupped Gerard's cheek with his hand, his thumb stroking the smooth skin behind the ear.

"Stop beating up on yourself because you couldn't do the impossible," he urged quietly. The muscles beneath his palm tightened.

"Spare me the platitudes, Richard. I've heard them all before." But Gerard permitted the caress.

"Only from people who care about you. I wish I'd known," Kimble added in a low voice. "Don't ever lie to me about the important stuff again." With some reluctance he removed his hand and got to his feet, but he remained standing above the other man.

Gerard searched Kimble's face. "OK," he said at last. There had been enough of a pause to confirm that he'd thought about it before making the promise.

Satisfied, Kimble patted him on the shoulder. "You want me to do guard-duty tonight?" he asked casually.

"There's no need. I'm fine. In fact, I should - " Realizing he had lost his companion's attention - or gained more of it than he had bargained for if Kimble was really staring at rather than through him - Gerard paused and waved his hand in front of Kimble's face.

"Earth to Richard. You OK?"

"Why shouldn't I be?"

"I kind of lost you for a while. What the hell are you staring at now?" Gerard added in exasperation.

"You've got brown eyes," Kimble accused.

Taken aback, Gerard gave a snort to cover the fact. "What were you expecting, red?"

"Black. Night black. But they're this - " Kimble visibly thought the better of whatever he had been about to say, his tone studiedly matter of fact. "Brown, they're brown. I'm going for a soak in the tub," he added flatly, disconcerting Gerard, who had been certain Kimble had been about to kiss him. "Night."

"Goodnight. Don't let the bedbugs bite," Gerard added as Richard reached the door.

Kimble didn't turn, although his shoulders had relaxed. "Cheap shot, Sam."

"You bet," he agreed, feeling more cheerful than he had all day. While he didn't pretend to know where they went from here, it helped to know that Richard was as confused as he was.

oOo

There was no moon, the sky heavy with snow clouds. Recent falls were thick on the ground, ice glittering on the crust formed by the frost; the snow offered a strange light to the otherwise dark bedroom because Kimble had deliberately left the drapes drawn back.

His linked hands folded behind his head, he lay in bed listening to the sounds of Gerard closing down the house for the night; anticipation twitched in his belly. It grew as he heard Sam come upstairs and enter the bedroom next door. A short while later the light went on in the bathroom; the cistern was flushed, water running in the sink, followed by the sound of teeth being brushed. While it wasn't a sound Kimble had ever expected to find erotic, his pulse quickened.

Soon.

The light under the bottom of the door connecting the two rooms went out; a few moments later his door was quietly opened as Gerard checked on him, in what Kimble had come to realize was a nightly ritual.

"Hi, Sam," he said quietly.

"Richard?" Disconcerted to have been caught out, Gerard paused in the doorway, poised to retreat.

"Don't go!" said Kimble involuntarily.

"OK. It's OK. I won't. What is it?" As he spoke, Gerard had already scanned the room. It was noticeable that he avoided looking at the man on the bed.

Sliding out from under the covers, Kimble padded towards him. "Sam, I - Let's not talk." Drawing the other man into the room, he closed the door.

Kimble was already half-erect and Gerard audibly caught his breath before air-brushing the beautiful cock which was rising up to greet him. He lightly sifted the very tips of his fingers through the luxuriant brown hair.

The heaviness of Kimble's hazel eyes, his parted mouth and quickened breathing left no doubt as to his desire.

"Richard," groaned Gerard softly, something close to despair in his voice.

Kimble placed a hand over his mouth. "Ssh. Don't complicate things. It'll work if we keep it simple. You'll see."

Nuzzling the side of Gerard's neck, he skimmed his palm under the loose sweatshirt, enjoying the sensation of the warm, smooth skin; the only hair on Gerard's torso was a small, silky oval between the nipples. The skin was set close to the bone and he traced the curve of ribs and the small nipples before easing the fabric up. With Gerard's cooperation he managed to remove the top and stood studying Sam for a moment, his appreciation of what he saw obvious before he gave in to his longing to touch.

Stepping in to learn the contours of the lean torso more intimately, Kimble discovered that Gerard was already hard. He felt the echo of that jolt in his loins just before he slipped his thigh between Sam’s, the denim of Gerard's jeans rough against his naked vulnerability.

A calloused hand stroked the rise of his rump and Kimble's breath sucked inwards, his head drooping before his mouth latched onto the temptation of the brownish-pink nipples. As he sucked and tugged with his teeth at the tiny nubs of flesh, Gerard pulled gently on his cock, cupping his testicles, before caressing his ass again. While none of the touches made any demands of him, Kimble had the feeling Gerard would set the pace if he didn't. It was all the encouragement he needed. His hands fumbled downwards until they found the button at the waist of Gerard's jeans; to his frustration he discovered the fly was a button fastener.

Gerard brushed his hands away. "Quicker if I do it," he muttered.

Jeans unfastened, he remained hobbled at the knees because he wasn't given the chance to take them or his shorts off as Kimble returned to working his nipples.

His mouth brushing the brown hair, Gerard gave a snort of amusement. "Forget those. You've entered a dead zone. Try farther south."

While true, Gerard hadn't expected the throwaway comment to result in Kimble sinking to his knees to kiss the head of his cock.

Gerard's breathing caught, stuttered and restarted. He sagged against the support of the wall, held steady by Kimble's flat-palmed hands pressed against his upper thighs and hip bones.

Heavy-eyed with lust, Kimble looked up the length of the other man's body, finding the sight of Gerard half-naked and mute with need under his hands intensely arousing. Savoring the moment, Kimble unconsciously licked his lips.

"Mind your side," he muttered. Nudging the beautiful cock with his nose, he gave the head an experimental lick, testing the taste and texture, learning the heat and the pulse and the wonderful delicacy of the skin here, and here.

Gerard hardly moved and remained silent under his touch but his face was stripped bare, his eyes closed against the pleasure of it - and his need to thrust deep into the moist warmth that promised what might not be on offer.

His mouth flooded with saliva, Kimble took in the head of Gerard's cock, accustoming himself to the bulk and the weight.

"Jeez!" hissed Gerard, his hands outspread against the wall, fingers crooked as if searching for additional support.

Doubt setting in because he wanted this time to be special, Kimble eased back, releasing the needy weight of Gerard's cock, so that it gleamed in the eerie light, slick with his saliva.

"Richard?" His voice tight with strain, Gerard made no attempt to move, but the muscles of his stomach quivered with each dragging inhalation for air.

"You don't like it? You want me to stop?" Kimble asked with a trace of nervousness, his worried gaze moving up the other man's body.

Gerard stared at him for one incredulous moment before his head thumped backed against the wall. His groan of despair turned to laughter, softly at first until it caught fire and the sound came from his belly, rich and unrestrained enough to make his eyes water. The laughter stole away his erection, his tension and the frown lines which had been engraved on his forehead. As control went, he slid slowly down the wall to settle on the floor in an awkward heap. Eventually the spasms stopped and he lay silent and spent, his eyes closed and one arm curled around his sore mid-section.

"Sam?" queried Kimble, worry and amusement present in equal measure on his face as he rubbed Gerard's bare shoulder.

"Shi-it. I'm being punished for past transgressions, right?" Gerard checked, opening his eyes. "This is my hell on earth. And you were showing such promise," he mourned.

"What - ?"

"Gimme a break here," scoffed Gerard, but his eyes were warm with a rueful affection. "I mean, have you ever known a guy who doesn't get off on a blow job?"

"I - uh - I guess not," admitted Kimble unhappily.

"It's OK. I didn't expect you to go through with it," Gerard reassured him.

Kimble missed the point. "I just wanted this time to be - " Falling silent, he busied himself moving Gerard's forearm out of the way so he could check the other man's side.

"To be what?" demanded Gerard. Oblivious to what Kimble was doing, his expression was intent.

"Nothing," denied Kimble, his nerve gone.

While there was open regret on Gerard's face as he looked at the other man's downbent head there was no surprise. He slowly uncurled his legs and gave a soft sigh of what might have been defeat.

"Ah, Richard. What are we doing?" he asked, his quiet voice achingly sad.

"Checking your side," Kimble told him absently. "There's a spot of blood on the dressing but I think it's best left alone for now. But you must be more careful. If - "

Gerard's dark eyes were wistful. "Not that. What are we - " he gestured between them " - doing?"

Kimble drew back, sinking onto his haunches as he stared at the other man, his eyes troubled. "I don't know," he murmured. His voice flat, his confusion was obvious. Getting to his feet, he looked around aimlessly before he retreated to the far side of the room, where he sank onto the window seat. Staring blankly out into the snowy grounds, he finally rested his heated forehead against the cold pane of glass.

"I don't pretend to have any answers," he said at last. "But I know I want to give this a try - if you'll - " Finding the courage to turn around, it was only then that Kimble discovered he was alone in the room.

The sense of loss was so acute it was a physical pain.

Staring at the space Gerard had occupied, Kimble began to shiver. When he realized how cool he had become he slid under the bed covers, but it was a long time before he got warm. It was even longer before he slept; staring out into the darkness, he was haunted by ‘what ifs'.

oOo

Restless and on edge the following morning because he knew they wouldn't be able to rely on the buffer provided by the other deputies, Kimble hid himself down in the gym, where he tried to sweat out some of his doubts and frustrations.

It was only when he was leaning against the punch bag with nothing left to give that he realized he had company. Rather than Poole slumped on the couch, it was Gerard sprawled at his ease. Bare foot, in jeans and a fleecy sweatshirt, he held a large mug of coffee, while he ate a bagel and cream cheese.

"I was wondering how long you could keep up that pace. You sure put everything into your workout this morning," he remarked as Kimble padded over and sank down next to him.

Kimble relieved Gerard of the coffee he was holding and took a large swallow.

"Sugar," he grimaced, handing it back without ceremony.

"My coffee," Gerard pointed out, unmoved. "Yours is on the floor."

"Great. I had a few frustrations to work out," Kimble added without expression. He kept his eyes front as he sipped the aromatic liquid. "Why did you leave my room last night?" He felt rather than saw Sam's head move.

"I thought it was what you wanted," Gerard said after a moment.

"No. You could have asked."

"Right."

Kimble's shrug conceded the point. "I guess not. We'll get it right one day."

"Yeah?"

His eyes fierce, Kimble rounded on him. "Yeah. Damn it, we could try."

Dark eyes searched his face. "I guess we could. Drink your coffee," Gerard added prosaically.

"Where's my bagel?" Kimble demanded, just to demonstrate he wasn't going to be won over that easily.

"I ate it," Gerard told him, without any visible sign of remorse. He gave the half he was holding a look of regret before passing it to his companion.

Kimble snatched it up with a mischievous smile. Taking a large bite, his smile became a grimace.

"Pineapple?" he complained, before he offered the remaining portion of the bagel back to the other man. Gerard snapped it up, his teeth barely missing Kimble's fingers.

Kimble turned on the couch and tucked one leg up to his chest. The change of position gave him the perfect excuse to watch Gerard. Not that he had ever expected to be rivetted by the sight of someone's jaw muscles working overtime.

Gerard licked cream cheese from the corner of his mouth. Acutely aware of the intensity of the gaze on him, he repeated the action, but slowly this time. He raised his eyebrows to give Kimble an enquiring look.

"Anything I can do for you?" A smile hovered.

Kimble gave an audible swallow. "I need a shower."

Gerard surveyed his companion, from the sweat-soaked hair to the grimy bare toes. "You sure do," he confirmed. "I can smell you from here."

Kimble's pulse kicked into a higher gear. Leaning forward, he gently touched the scabbed cut at the side of Gerard's mouth. "This is healing well." Unable to stop himself, his thumb brushed the well-cut lips.

Gerard turned his head so that Kimble's palm covered his mouth. With some deliberation he nipped the fleshy mound at the base of Kimble's thumb before his mouth softened. The suction of his kiss sent a tingle straight to Kimble's cock and made his fingers curl, helpless with pleasure. As he moved, Kimble's baggy sweatshirt slipped on his shoulder to reveal a livid bite mark.

Gerard traced the spot with his index finger. "I do that?"

"Oh yeah."

Gerard stared at it, his breathing visibly disrupted, before his head bent as he sucked the mark, making it smart - making Kimble come alive with every cell in his body as arousal leapt from nerve to nerve. Cupping the back of Gerard's head, holding it in place, Kimble bent his head sideways to improve the other man's access, his other hand rubbing Gerard's swollen cock through the soft denim of his jeans.

Gerard rested his forehead against the curve of Kimble's neck before he slid away and slowly got to his feet; his cock was clearly outlined where it thrust against the worn denim.

"This is crazy. There's no future in this, Richard. It will never work."

"Future?" echoed Kimble. "Who gives a shit about the future? Why don't you just savor the moment?"

Gerard didn't attempt an immediate reply.

The sexual tension between them was so great it was almost an audible hum; a sensory prickle across the skin.

His gaze remaining on the other man, taking his expression for his guide, Kimble slid to his knees with some deliberation and released the stud at the waistband of Gerard's jeans.

Gerard settled a hand over Kimble's. "You sure you want to do this?"

"This time I'll see you through to the finish," Kimble promised him.

Before Gerard could attempt a coherent reply, Kimble nuzzled the just visible navel, before he sucked the spot, his tongue tip learning every whorl and crevice. A shudder of response ran through Gerard, his cock giving a visible twitch of response.

"Remember that promise you said I was showing last night?" Kimble continued, his voice low and deep and roughened with need. "Well, I intend to fulfil it. If that's OK with you, of course." He was already brushing Gerard's hand away as he nimbly dealt with buttons, sighing his appreciation as he bared the other man to his gaze.

"Good, no shorts. Lift your left leg up so I can get these off. I want you naked. Now the right leg. You have a gorgeous cock," breathed Kimble, side-tracked.

Naked except for his wristwatch and sweatshirt, Gerard stared down at the fully dressed man kneeling in front of him.

"Mind your side," Kimble instructed huskily.

His palms sliding up and down Gerard's flanks, revelling in the feel of him, he settled his hands over Sam to hold him steady. Then, leaning forwards, he licked the head of Gerard's cock with a tender care. Sliding his tongue down the great vein, then up again, he swirled it moistly around the head, his tongue tip teasing the tiny slit before he began to suck.

Gerard drew in his breath, one hand curving over the top of Richard's head as Kimble began to swallow him.

"Oh. Oh my. Oh my god. Don't stop. Don't - " His knees buckling as he lost the ability to think, Gerard's free hand went behind him as he leant back to take the arm of the couch in a death-grip. His arm quivering with strain, he slowly lowered himself onto the cushions, desperate not to lose the man shuffling after him.

"Stay with me, Richard," Gerard begged hoarsely. "Stay with me. Oh god. That's - Yeah."

Kimble felt Gerard's hands settle on each side of his head as Sam began to rock in his mouth, each time a little deeper - never so deep that it triggered the gag reflex or blocked his breathing, but more each time. One hand pressing Gerard down into the cushions, with the other he began to knead the tight-drawn balls, first gently rolling them between his fingers, then massaging them in the sac.

Gerard grabbed the arm of the couch again as he fought the imperative to thrust, a long groan of pleasure echoing through him. After a last, excruciatingly slow stroke, Kimble released the swollen cock and dipped his head to mouth the heavy testicles. Long wet licks were followed by a gentle sucking and Gerard unconsciously bucked under the confinement of the hands pressing him into the cushions. Kimble urged him on, until his nose was buried in the luxuriant hair; black threaded with gray.

Sliding his hands up the inside of the lightly muscled thighs, Kimble held his lover's legs apart and continued an assault designed to break down the last of Gerard's reserve. This time he attacked the sensitive area where inner thigh met groin, licking and sucking the spot with a suction so strong he knowingly left his mark. Dragging his tongue over the now tight sac, Kimble could feel how close Gerard was to coming and, changing his tactics, he swallowed the heavy cock again. Using his tongue on the sensitive underside, he let Gerard feel his teeth on the slow, wet upstroke, raking the length of his cock until he gently scraped the head with the edge of his teeth, then sucked hard.

Gerard arched strongly, a shout escaping him. He came close to choking Kimble to death as he grabbed each side of Kimble's head, pushing it down as he thrust and came in long, shuddering spasms of pleasure.

Riding out the storm, giddy with physical satisfaction - and lack of air - it was a while before Kimble was in any state to appreciate the uncomfortable stickiness within his sweatpants. While he couldn't remember doing so, he must have brought himself off by rubbing against the leg trapped between his thighs. He remained slumped in front of Sam, his face buried against Gerard's bare legs. In no hurry to move, he wasn't sure if he could.

"My, my, my," murmured Gerard, sounding lazily indulgent as his fingers sifted through the sweat-clumped brown hair. "What about you, Richard? What do you need?"

Flexing his stiffening jaw, Kimble ran his tongue over his tingling lower lip. "I - uh - "

With some help from his companion, who virtually hoisted him up with his powerful leg muscles, Kimble ended up half on the couch, half over Gerard, who quizzically eyed the damp patch on the front of the pale gray sweatpants.

"You couldn't wait?"

"I came dry-humping your leg," Kimble explained, a wry grin in place.

"That's one hell of a waste. I had plans for you."

"Oh, jesus, Sam," groaned Kimble, as a calloused hand slid into his sweatpants to cradle his softening cock.

"Next time, wait for me," Gerard told him sternly, unpeeling Kimble from his clothing.

Kimble gave a small grin when his face popped back into view after his top had been pulled off. "It's your fault for turning me on," he pointed out.

"I shoulda guessed I was to blame," Gerard allowed, licking Richard's stickiness from his thumb.

Kimble gave him a glassy-eyed look. "Don't," he croaked.

"Can't take it, huh?" teased Gerard.

Kimble shook his head. "No," he said without artifice, before he gave Gerard a look of pure mischief. "Did I live up to my promise?"

"Don't be such a wise-ass. Yeah, you did," Gerard added fairly.

A possessive hand at the nape of Kimble's neck, he nuzzled his jawline, browsing down the strong throat to lick the hollow at the base. The drift of hair on Kimble's chest was a pleasure Gerard doubted he would ever take for granted, like much else about having a male lover, and he rubbed his nose against the softness.

Craning his neck, Kimble peered down at him. "What you doing?"

"Never had a lover with chest hair before," Gerard paused to explain. "It's kind of - " Looking vague, he trailed off into silence before renewing his oral exploration, drawing hairs up between his teeth.

Kimble grinned happily to himself. ‘Lover'. With that one word he knew he had won Gerard. Whether he realized it or not, Sam was agreeing to give this relationship a chance. And it had taken surprisingly little persuasion, suggesting Gerard wanted this as much as he did.

Kimble winced when over-enthusiasm plucked a hair from just beneath his left nipple.

Gerard grimaced and removed it from between his front teeth. "Of course, hair between the teeth is a drawback," he allowed, soothing the small smart he had caused from Kimble's flesh with the tip of his index finger.

Unable to resist this new toy, he bent his head again, nose brushing through the luxuriance of hair growing beneath Kimble's pectoral muscles. Seconds later Gerard sneezed wetly against the other man's skin.

"Gee, thanks." Kimble gave him a quizzical look. "Make sure you don't do that when you're giving me a blow-job."

Gerard began to untangle their bodies. "There's one way to put it to the test."

Kimble looked pained. "I don't know who you think you're kidding, Sam. Though hang onto that thought for later."

"Oh, I will," Gerard assured him, easing back onto the couch and renewing his attentions.

"You really are an optimist," Kimble said when the mouth reached the crease above his navel.

"No, just marking my territory," said Gerard without thinking.

Kimble had far too much sense to pick-up on that betrayal, hiding his smile of satisfaction against Sam’s chest.

Straightening, Gerard's eyes continued to check Kimble out, taking their time, as his hand slowly massaged one bare shoulder, cupping the muscled curve of the ball of the shoulder, palming the developed biceps. Sated and content, he indulged in the simple pleasure of stroking his lover. The skin of Richard's torso, arms and legs was slightly bronzed, suggesting he tanned easily, although at the moment the skin was still flushed from their exertions. The heat of the flesh, the smooth, silken feel of it as it slid over firm muscle and bone would have been a turn-on had Gerard been capable of raising more than an eyelid. Since he wasn't, he revelled in the touch and the sight of Kimble, the scent and the weight of him, veins blue under the paler skin of the inner arm, the pulse beating at the side of the strong throat. Gerard paused to inhale Kimble's scent, then flicked out his tongue to taste the sweat gleaming in the hollow of Richard's throat again.

Kimble made a soft sound, his head going back, offering better access and the simplicity of the gesture roused a melting warmth in Gerard's core rather than the usual fire in his belly and loins.

But then he had accepted that Richard had touched him to the heart a long, long time ago.

Sliding around slightly, Kimble was on the point of kissing the other man when he noticed a certain awkwardness about the way Gerard was sitting. His eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"You pulled your side, didn't you?"

Gerard gave a resigned grin and ruffled Kimble's hair, his thumb flattening the small spiky cowlick before it sprang up again. "The hell with it. You've earned the right to say ‘I told you so'. Yeah, I did. Go ahead, I can take it."

All concern, the smile left Kimble's eyes. "Damn it, Sam, it's not funny. You could - "

"You're the one who held me down," Gerard reminded him gently, openly teasing.

Kimble gave a soft groan of acknowledgement. "I forgot. Let me - "

"Shut up, Richard," Gerard commanded in the same satisfied drawl. "Just for once, keep quiet. A mouth that talented shouldn't be wasted on nagging."

One hand cupping the back of Kimble's neck, he slowly drew Kimble down to him, anticipating the moment. At first the kiss was no more than the brush of lip against barely parted lip.

It was the tenderness which caught at Kimble, and he was lost well before Gerard's hand moved in great possessive swathes over his body.

Slowly, because the need for urgency was gone, the kisses deepened. Their intensity was such it was a wonder that the glass on the mirrored walls didn't begin to melt.

 

Sprawled along the battered couch, his head pillowed on Kimble's bare thigh, Gerard craned his neck to watch the finger and thumb that were toying with his nipples.

"Trust me, Richard. They aren't the buttons to push," he said indulgently.

"I hadn't forgotten. This isn't for your benefit. I'm having a great time." Kimble flattened his hand over the other man's chest, his fingers splayed. "You mind?"

"Hell, I'm no kill-joy."

"That's debatable," said Kimble, sliding his hand down to the flat belly.

Grinning to himself, Gerard idly rubbed his cheek against the smoother skin of Kimble's inner arm. Boneless with contentment, Richard's forearm now wrapped around him, he gave a small, comfortable wriggle.

Kimble gently tugged the black hair tufting at Gerard's armpit, running his fingertips through it without thinking to question the intimacy of the moment. Running his hand back over Sam's torso, he paused.

"You're getting cold."

"And?" said Gerard, undeceived.

"Wise-ass," said Kimble, patting him on the belly. "Though you're right. Of course. I need to take a leak. And I'm hungry."

"That's my man. OK, I'm moving, I'm moving. Ah, shit." Grimacing as his side pulled, Gerard eased up into the sitting position.

"Come on," commanded Kimble. "I'll cook breakfast after we've cleaned up."

Sharing the bathroom with Kimble was both intimate and oddly familiar; the freedom to touch was a pleasure Gerard didn't take for granted. It was only when Kimble propped himself against the wall by the washbasin to watch him shave that Gerard realized he wasn't the only one revelling in this. He found he was shaving with more deliberation, actively enjoying the mundane task, which he had taken for granted since he'd first produced enough whiskers to shave.

"You missed a spot," murmured Kimble, leaning forward to flick foam from high on Gerard's cheek. "I'll change your dressing now."

"Gee, that'll be fun."

"Don't get smart," Kimble advised him dryly. "Doctors have ways of exacting their revenge."

"Some do. I'm safe enough," said Gerard, his voice indistinct as he rinsed his face.

Kimble was crouched over his medical bag. "What are you putting that on for?" he asked, mildly exasperated when he looked up in time to see Gerard pull on a sweatshirt and draw it down over his jeans.

"I can lift it out the way. I feel happier with clothes on, OK?"

"Figures," grumbled Kimble, who had been enjoying the view with no pretence of medical detachment.

It occurred to Gerard that he had never expected to find the sight of latex gloves being snapped on sexy. His next thought was that he had it bad and he gave a soft snort of amusement.

"Are you OK?" asked Kimble, working with his usual deft gentleness.

"Sure."

"Is this hurting? Truth, not bullshit."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence," said Gerard, his mouth twitching.

"Save it and answer the question, Sam. I'm good but I'm not a mind-reader."

Smiling openly by this time, Gerard knew better than to share the joke. "It's fine. A touch sore maybe. It's starting to pull."

"You heal fast. If you keep it dry and don't do anything too energetic you'll carry on that way."

Gerard pursed his lips. "The way I see it, I have a choice between staying dirty and celibate or -"

"Careful, that's all. It's not a lot to ask," said Kimble as he taped a new dressing in place. He cocked his head to admire the neatness of his work. "It's been a while since I've done this kind of basic stuff."

"You thinking of changing direction?" asked Gerard curiously.

Kimble looked up with a grin. "And risk getting more patients as stubborn as you? I don't think so. Besides, I'm good at what I do. And I enjoy that - and the fact you never stop learning. I guess it must be the same for you."

"Pretty much," Gerard admitted vaguely, his concentration elsewhere. He was getting one hell of a kick from seeing Richard kneeling at his feet but optimistically hoped his pleasure wasn't too obvious.

"Take these," said Kimble, handing him two pills.

"What are they?"

"Poison. Swallow them."

"I can tell you're used to your patients being unconscious," murmured Gerard but he did as he'd been told without further argument.

"You must have been sore," noted Kimble as he tidied everything away and washed his hands.

"Where did you go the other day when you walked out of protective custody?" Gerard asked abruptly.

Kimble half-turned. "Is this that interrogation you were threatening me with?"

Gerard tossed him a clean hand-towel. "That's right. I need to know where you went and who you saw - or who might have seen you."

"I suppose you do," Kimble conceded without enthusiasm. "I went straight to the hospital and parked in my old spot. One of the nurses who was going on duty gave me a hand with the boxes - "

Gerard counted silently to four before he trusted his voice. "Name?"

"Sam, are you sure - ?"

"I'll make a pact with you Richard. I won't try and teach you your job if you let me do mine. Deal?"

Kimble gave a reluctant nod and supplied the name. "I had a word with my office when I dropped my things off, then I checked on Sophy, who'd just had her pre-op. I spoke to - "

" - half the damn hospital," noted Gerard sourly, when Kimble had finished listing names. "Is that everyone?"

"I think so."

"Don't think, know. Jeez, you'd try the patience of a saint."

"That lets you off the hook then. Lighten up, Sam. I was never alone with a stranger."

Gerard briefly closed his eyes and began another slow count, during which he harnessed his impatience, swallowed the first retort which came to mind, and resisted the urge to kiss the other man stupid.

"Uh, I suppose that wasn't a good idea," conceded Kimble sheepishly.

"No," agreed Gerard with restraint.

"I'll know better next time."

Gerard let that piece of optimism pass. "Where did you go after you left the hospital?"

"After that?" repeated Kimble, playing for time.

"Quit stalling, Richard."

Kimble gave him a wry look. "It was that obvious?"

"You thought subtlety was your strong-point? No, don't answer that. Just concentrate on telling me where you went next."

Kimble headed onto the landing, pausing at the top of the stairs. "The thing is, you're not going to like it," he confided.

"If you imagine I liked anything about that day, I need to brush up my communication skills," said Gerard dryly. "Tell me."

Kimble headed down the stairs at a fast pace, slowing only as he entered the familiar territory of the kitchen. "When I took the keys for the Ferrari, your spare house keys were in the bowl." He realized he had gained Sam's full attention.

"You came back here," recognized Gerard, his voice devoid of inflection or warmth.

Kimble shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Well, yeah," he admitted nervously.

"Some joke, huh," Gerard said flatly. "Still, it kept you safe."

This not at all the reaction he had been expecting, Kimble stepped into Sam’s path. The last thing he had intended was to hurt him.

"I didn't come back here to rub your nose in it," he protested. "By that time I'd realized what a stupid thing I'd done. I just wasn't going to admit it. I couldn't think of anywhere else that would be safe and wouldn't put anyone else at risk." Gerard's unblinking stare, combined with his muted manner, was making Kimble increasingly nervous. "I knew you'd kill me if I got hurt. Here seemed the obvious place."

"It was a good choice," Gerard allowed, his voice still without color.

Kimble perched on a work-top, his eyes never leaving the other man. "I wasn't thinking too clearly."

"That much was obvious. Where was Lowe when you came back?"

"He'd already gone. I don't want to tell tales but he'd left the back door unsecured and - "

"Don't get righteous," Gerard advised him. "As for Lowe, he wasn't one of my people, although he was a prize ass-hole. What did he say to you?"

"Nothing," denied Kimble too quickly. He twitched under the influence of Gerard's unblinking stare, then came clean. "It wasn't important. Not now," he added.

Gerard continued to watch him, a slightly wistful droop to his mouth.

"He said you looked at me like I made your flesh creep," Kimble mumbled thirty seconds later.

"Which tells you all you need to know about Lowe's powers of observation." There was a visible softening to Gerard's manner. "So what did you do with your afternoon?"

"Not a lot. Thinking." Going slowly crazy with the self-imposed wait, Kimble admitted privately.

"It's a pity you didn't try that earlier. Still, it'll be interesting to see if your period of freedom caught anyone's attention."

"It'll have to do it soon. I can't put my life on hold forever on the possibility that you might be right," Kimble said, and while apologetic, his tone was firm.

Gerard's face tightened. "You don't believe me either."

"It isn't a case of that. Though there must have been times when your instincts have played you false."

Staring at the floor, Gerard made no attempt to reply. He'd been questioning the purity of his own motives for some time now. And he had doubts. But at some visceral level he had learnt not to question he could feel the mounting frustration of Richard's attacker. He just couldn't prove the existence of that person.

"Do you have any leads?" Kimble asked.

"Not at the moment."

"How long is this going to take?"

Gerard's frustration betrayed him. "Look, Richard, I can't do my job without some kind of clue. If we had a decent lead I could get this wrapped up in two weeks."

"I'll hold you to that. But you don't have a lead," added Kimble, trusting he didn't sound as thankful as he felt. While he wanted his life back, the last thing he wanted was to leave here - or not without Sam.

"I don't need reminding of that," said Gerard tightly.

Watching him leave the kitchen, Kimble had the uneasy feeling that his pride could prove to be expensive. He comforted himself with the thought that when - if - Sam got a lead, he would think of a way out of this.

Chapter Text

With a two-week ultimatum and a dead-end investigation, Gerard spent the rest of the day in the office, re-reading the files for anything that he might have missed. Sipping stewed coffee, it occurred to him to wonder why Mr or Ms X hadn't written to Richard while he'd been in protective custody.

While Richard had been attacked, the assaults had never been followed through to their natural conclusion. Whoever it was either didn't want Richard dead or they didn't have the stomach to do it themselves. Unless...

A few members of CPD had been on Richard's tail since they'd had to admit they'd fucked up - some of the old bulls who regretted the pre-Miranda days when it was routine to beat the truth, or a confession, from a suspect. Maybe that talk he'd had with the Captain of the North Western Division hadn't been enough.

Gerard sat still as stone, considering his options.

He didn't want to believe it. But it was a possibility which he hadn't considered before. Narrow-eyed and diabolic looking, his stare burned hotly across the room before he bowed his head. Tension locking his neck, his head supported by his steepled fingers, he tried to concentrate.

A knock on the door made him look up, his expression grimmer than he knew.

"Am I interrupting?" asked Kimble.

"Yeah, and very welcome you are, too," said Gerard. He didn't insult Kimble by covering the files on his desk, but he hoped Richard would stay at the door.

"Good. It's gone eight. I've fixed us a meal. This is your typical vacation?" Kimble gestured to the desk top, which was covered in paper.

Gerard stiffly got to his feet. "Nothing about the last few weeks has been typical," he said dryly.

"I'm glad to hear it," returned Kimble, which won a reluctant smile from his companion.

The scents of garlic, oregano and mixed herbs enfolded Gerard as he entered the kitchen. The table was set, the lamp over it spreading an intimate golden glow out into the shadows.

With his world due to crumble around him the moment he solved this case - which for Richard's sake he had to - Gerard nodded his appreciation.

"This is great. Sit. The least I can do is serve," he murmured, coming to a snap decision. He might not have long, but he could make it count - take Richard's advice and live for the moment. Make the foundations firm enough and who knew what might survive? And if nothing did...

No point deceiving himself. Losing Richard was going to hurt like hell, whenever it happened.

Doing as he had been told, Kimble watched Gerard drain the fettuccine before amalgamating pasta and sauce. Glancing across at Kimble, Gerard deliberately picked a few springs of basil and scattered them over the top.

Smiling at the memory, and warmed because Sam had remembered it too, Kimble watched him deftly carry pasta, salad, dressing and garlic bread to the table in one trip.

"Is it my imagination, or have you waited tables in your time?" he asked, watching the smooth expertise with which the dishes were set down.

"I had a variety of jobs when I was kid." Gerard's tone was vague. Serving them both, the moist, sucking sounds produced by the sauce-coated pasta were an uncomfortable reminder of the sounds of sex, a subject constantly on his mind when he was around Kimble.

"If times get hard we can set up in business together. Me as a short-order cook, you as waiter."

"That'll be something to look forward to," conceded Gerard, careful not to come into contact with any portion of Richard as he handed him his plate because he was too close to grabbing him and taking him across the table. Sinking onto his seat, he took a couple of steadying breaths, then picked up his fork.

Moist, sloppy and delectable, the sounds of pasta slapping against itself was uncomfortably evocative. He dragged his eyes from the lush-lipped temptation of Kimble's mouth and tried to eat without choking - or dragging Kimble onto the damn table.

"This sounds - uh, looks - terrific," said Kimble huskily, his gaze locked on Sam's mouth, unable to think of anything but what he longed for it to do to him. What it was already doing to him, he admitted ruefully, shifting uneasily on his chair.

"Then eat while it's hot," commanded Gerard, avoiding looking at Kimble.

Having been pouring them both water, Kimble spilled a few drops on the table top. "Will you spend the night with me, Sam?"

"Oh yeah." Gerard looked up and grimaced. "That is - "

"'Oh yeah' is fine by me. To a long night," Kimble toasted, raising his glass.

"And the staying power of an eighteen year old," murmured Gerard, betraying how in sync they were at present.

"Jesus, that would be - Would you want to be eighteen again? If you could go back?" asked Kimble, seeking the first diversion from his aching balls that he could find.

"Hell, no. You?"

Kimble shook his head while he swallowed a mouthful of pasta which he had forgotten to chew. "I'm finally starting to come to terms with the past. At least, I'm getting there."

Eyeing him steadily, Gerard nodded. "Good."

Kimble gulped down another mouthful of water, almost choked and searched for another safe conversational diversion. "Where were these jobs you mentioned having, Texas?" he asked, helping himself to salad dressing rather than the man he really wanted.

"No, here in Chicago. I haven't been in Texas since I left hospital after the abduction," Gerard added, deliberately opening the door a few inches.

"I wondered," Kimble admitted.

"I could tell. Take that worried expression off your face and eat your pasta. It was a long time ago."

"You were fourteen!" protested Kimble. "How did a kid from the wide-open spaces of Texas survive the city streets?"

"I got lucky. After a month or so I meet Ginny. Well, kind of. She'd strayed way off her usual territory. A couple of guys moved in on her and I... Afterwards, she took me home with her to clean up."

"How badly were you hurt?"

Gerard grimaced. "I got cut some."

"That scar under your chin?"

Gerard nodded.

"You got more than ‘cut some', Sam."

"Who's telling this, me or you? Her old man was Dave Vidal, the property tycoon. Instead of dumping me in the nearest emergency room with a few bucks, he and Elise, his wife, took me in and refused to let go. Madness," Gerard added, but the affection in his voice betrayed him.

"You and Ginny go back a long way." Kimble wasn't proud of his prickle of resentment.

"Sometimes it seems like forever," Gerard conceded.

Kimble watched Sam decide to tell him more and recognized that their relationship had just taken an important step forward.

"Whatever happens, whoever I'm with, whatever I'm doing, Ginny will always be a part of my life. Like I am in hers. If she needs me, I'll be there for her," Gerard added quietly.

Kimble waited until he could be certain he had control of his voice. "Is she there for you, Sam?"

"Pretty much."

"That's good. Do you love her?" Kimble heard the clink when Gerard set down his fork, finally abandoning the pretence of eating. Kimble didn't look up to check because he was afraid of what he might see on Sam's face.

"Yes, I love her," Gerard said quietly. "She and I have been lovers off and on since we were sixteen. But we're not ‘in love'."

Kimble looked up then, his eyes asking what he would not.

"It's not easy to explain what Ginny and I have," Gerard continued, in the same quiet, warm voice. "I guess it started because as kids we mis-read the signals. Mistook rampaging hormones for love and ran off to marry when we were seventeen. It was a disaster - except when we had sex. Two weeks later we went home to face the music - and see if Dave could find us a way out of it, because we sure as hell didn't want to stay married."

He took a sip of water. "Man, I was so scared. I thought he'd kill me for sure. Hell, Ginny was his only daughter. And he was pissed. Boy." Gerard shook his head, his eyes dark with memories. "But Dave and Elise stuck by me. Ginny and I moved back into our old rooms, went back to school, even started dating other people. And forgot we were married till she fell for some jock. We got round to divorcing when we were twenty. Since then Ginny's married twice more. She has the worst taste in men. You wouldn't believe some of the airheads she's - " he stopped dead when Kimble gave a small cough.

"Ah. I forgot you," admitted Gerard ruefully. He gave a wry grin. "Well, I guess we have one other thing in common."

"Jesus, I was mortified when I realized I'd named Ginny."

"It's OK, Richard. I never assumed you were scoring points."

"Good. Then what pissed you off so much?" Kimble added, because he couldn't help himself.

Gerard gave him a level look, but something in the dark eyes made Kimble's pulse accelerate. "Think about it," he advised dryly.

"You mean you were jealous of her, not me? Oh." Digesting that, Kimble looked unashamedly smug. "So are you and Ginny still an item?"

"Boy, ‘item' takes me back," mused Gerard. "Not for - jeez, it must be almost two years. She's been seeing this FBI guy based in Washington for close on a year now. In fact she moved out there to be closer to him last summer. Walt checked out OK."

"You vet Ginny's partners?"

"You bet. If I hadn't, Dave Vidal would have put some idiot on the case, Ginny would have found out and all hell would break loose. This way she just gets mad at me - and I'm used to it."

"Who was it you took to that party the mayor threw?"

It took Gerard a moment to place it. "Ginny. She's always back and forth from Washington. And she owes me for the hours of boredom I've suffered over the years, taking her to black tie nonsense when there was no one else around."

"Didn't her lover object?"

"Not if he wants to stay with Ginny. I try and give him space if he starts to feel crowded. He's pretty much cool about the situation. Most of the time."

"That's very civilized of him," said Kimble, acid in his voice.

"He tries to be. He can't get it into his head that Ginny and I are family far more than we've ever been lovers. That was just - "

"Great sex?" supplied Kimble, more acid than ever.

"Well, yeah," Gerard admitted cheerfully. "But it's always felt kind of - I don't know. Incestuous, I guess. We usually ended up in bed after we'd both drunk enough to get past that."

"I knew Dave and Elise," exclaimed Kimble, who had been frowning as he attempted to pin down some memory. "Elise and Helen worked together on a couple of committees. Damn it, I remember Dave boasting about his two kids - Sam and Ginny. Though the way he talked I assumed the pair of you were far younger. While he never said what Sam - you - did, he was real proud of what you'd achieved."

It was only the second time Kimble had seen his companion embarrassed. This time, rather than an abashed smile, he got a growled, "He was easily pleased."

"We are talking about Dave Vidal, aren't we?" Kimble took an odd pleasure at this tenuous link with Sam's past.

"He treated me handsomely from the first day Ginny took me home," said Gerard softly, the wonder of it evident in his voice even after all the years that had passed. "He helped heal a lot of wounds. Gave me security, acceptance, respect - and love. Then when I was twenty-five he gave me this house, with four plots of land - which is how come the yard's so big. When he and Elise were killed in that plane crash I found he'd split the estate between Ginny and myself. I'm surprised you remember them. They've been dead almost twelve years."

"Dave was one of those people who made his mark. And Elise was just a sweetheart. You must miss them still," said Kimble quietly.

"I do. They were good people."

"Yes, they were. And Dave didn't play golf."

The non sequitur made Gerard blink. "Is that good?"

"God, yes. Helen lived for it. Used to drag me off with her. And most of her friends were into it. Drove me crazy. You want to go in the other room so we can make out on the couch?" Kimble added, without pausing for breath.

If Gerard was taken aback by the swift move from Helen to himself, he didn't show it.

"Sure. Bed would be even more comfortable."

Abandoning their barely touched meal, they left the table. The first time they kissed was in the kitchen doorway. Discarded clothing marked their path up the stairs and into Kimble's room, because it was the nearest.

"Lubricant," mumbled Kimble.

His eyes dark, the intensity of his need burning from them, Gerard stared at him for a moment before the message sank in. "I haven't brought anyone here for so long - Would oil do?"

"What kind?"

"Baby," muttered Gerard with reluctance. When Kimble snorted, he flicked his lover's left nipple with the side of his thumb and felt the echo of Kimble's pleasure run through his own body.

"That must account for your smooth butt," Kimble murmured, his hands exploring it in some detail, before his breath caught as the other man continued to play with his nipples.

"Save the smart remarks. I've just learnt which button to push. Wow, you do like that, don't you," said Gerard, stopping the moment he had the other man's full attention.

"Bastard," Kimble told him, as he helped to unpeel them both from their remaining clothing.

Gerard padded off to the bathroom and returned with the oil, a couple of towels and an erection which made Kimble's mouth water.

"Uh huh," growled Gerard, mock-nipping Kimble's throat when the other man reached for him. "You had your turn yesterday. It's my turn to play."

The idea of being Sam Gerard's plaything made Kimble swallow hard, but he allowed the other man to ease him onto the mattress, Gerard displaying a controlled power which was a turn-on all of its own.

Pressed back onto the sensuous cotton sheet, Kimble slowly ceded control and was mastered with a single, wine-rich kiss. Sam's skin seemed so hot against him and he heard himself groan the first time the head of Sam's cock brushed his own. The callused hands were everywhere, one moment offering a delicate caress, the next moment, rougher, demanding, and he moved involuntarily.

Gerard's nose brushed the gray-streaked pubic hair as he licked upwards with one long, slow sweep of his tongue: pubis to sternum. When he repeated the action his tongue exerted more pressure. This time, when he reached the sternum he latched onto a nipple. Kimble tried and failed to arch, his breath rasping in his throat as first one, then the other bud was sucked and nipped and pinched until he thrust a fist to his mouth to mask a whimper.

Gerard raised his head. "Yeah?"

All Kimble could do was repeat his lover's name over and over again.

Taking his weight on his knees and flat-palmed hands, Gerard leant up over him, the scent and heat of him filling Kimble's world. His hand travelled blindly over Gerard's face, and the palm and heel were licked and sucked, then nudged away.

"No, don't move. Just - Together. On top of me," begged Kimble incoherent with need. "Please, Sam."

Unsteady with lust, Gerard allowed himself to be tugged down. He fumbled with the oil, pouring a measure onto his palm and spilling most of it because Kimble's hands were everywhere. Shared laughter returned a measure of control.

Rolling and twisting and sliding together, Kimble felt the large hands settle over his butt, the fingers massaging the cushion of firm, muscled flesh, sliding down his cleft, rimming him. His own hands tightened possessively over Gerard's rump

Pre-ejaculate weeping from the glistening head of his cock, Gerard nudged Kimble's face with his own. "What you got in mind, Richard? Whatever you want."

"That's a dangerous thing to say. I can be pretty inventive," Kimble said, his voice tight with emotion, fighting a losing battle for self-control.

"What is it you want? You want to fuck my ass?" Gerard's growly voice was even deeper than usual.

Recognizing that he would be given whatever he wanted, Kimble hooked his forearm around the strong neck. "Yes, and I will, one day. But for now I just want - " Overwhelmed by the intensity of his need, he fell silent.

"It's OK, Richard. Just tell me. What do you want?"

There was a terrible intensity on Kimble's face, and an unmistakeable possessiveness.

"You. I want you," he recognized, his voice harsh and shaking.

And then Gerard was covering him with his own body again, and he held on so tight, swallowing the breath from Gerard's body as he pumped and stroked and delved and kissed his way to climax, held, then holding in his turn.

Finally still on the gutted bed, they stared at each other as if to check they had both survived.

"My, my, my," murmured Kimble in deliberate imitation of his lover. He kept a possessive arm over the other man's sticky torso. "Tomorrow we get in something better than baby oil. This tastes disgusting."

"Sure. Whatever," murmured Gerard. His eyes closed, his mouth relaxed, he looked more at peace than Kimble could remember seeing him.

"You can't go to sleep," he protested.

"Watch me," invited Gerard, before he frowned slightly, looking pained. "You always this talkative afterwards?"

"Always," said Kimble in a firm tone.

"You're either Superman, or a damn liar."

"That's who I always wanted to be when I was a kid. I lied," Kimble admitted.

"No shit. If you're feeling so lively, grab the covers before we cool down."

"Before you do, you mean," said Kimble, undeceived.

Gerard gave a faint grin and turned his head, eyes searching his companion's face. Whatever he saw there seemed to satisfy him because he gave a small nod.

"Yeah, because I do. Jeez, this bed feels disgusting," he realized as he rolled over, the sheet clinging to his oily torso.

"I tried to tell you," Kimble said piously.

Gerard made a long arm for a pillow and held it over Kimble's face.

"Subtle, Sam. Very subtle," mumbled Kimble, as he batted it away. "It's no good. I'm going to shower. Then I'm going to eat. You hungry?"

"Yes, damn it. I know when I'm defeated," sighed Gerard, pushing himself from the bed.

"Wait a minute. I'll get you some plastic and tape."

"Gee whiz, I can hardly wait. What for?"

"To stick over your side. What did you think I intended?"

Gerard gave a slow grin. "You claimed you were inventive," he murmured with deliberate provocation.

"Claimed?" echoed Kimble, a thoughtful expression crossing his face. "We'll have to see if I can't convince you some time. And don't even think of trying to pretend you have the energy right now."

"As if," said Gerard, waggling his eyebrows.

 

Staring at the ruin of Kimble's bed, with its stained and oily sheets, Kimble and Gerard shared a glance and headed for Gerard's room. This was the first time they had slept together and while neither man acknowledged the fact, they both spent a while accustoming themselves to the newcomer beside them.

His arms up behind his head, his linked fingers supporting its weight, Gerard looked relaxed and very pleased with himself as he stared at nothing in particular while soaking up the warmth of the man next to him.

"Do you really prefer to sleep on the left-hand side of the bed?" Kimble asked, as the thought occurred to him.

"Yeah. And as it's my bed, I'm not changing."

"You won't need to," said Kimble smugly. "I prefer the right."

"And if you didn't?"

"Hey, just because we couldn't fix the coffee-maker - "

"Like I need reminding," scoffed Gerard.

"What did you do with it?"

"Left it down there and bought one that didn't need more than the packaging torn off it. You always fidget this much?"

"I can't remember."

Gerard's head turned on the pillow. "I seem to have missed part of this conversation. Can't remember what?"

"The last time I slept with anyone but Helen," said Kimble.

The silence lasted for some time, and during it the contentment disappeared from Gerard's face.

"You've had several lovers since - "

"None that I've actually slept with. Or not for more than an hour or so."

"Oh." Gerard digested that. "Why not?"

Kimble mumbled something incomprehensible.

"It's OK, Richard. It's none of my business."

"Then whose is it? I just couldn't face waking up and finding it wasn't Helen next to me. OK? It passed," Kimble added belligerently. "It was just part of the grieving process. It didn't make me very popular," he admitted, his mouth quirking at some memory.

"I can see that it wouldn't," said Gerard, whatever he felt on the subject well-hidden.

"So can I. With hindsight," added Kimble ruefully. "I must've seemed a real jerk."

"No question about it," Gerard confirmed, before he rolled onto his side. "I have a really tacky question."

Intrigued, Kimble eased closer to the other man's face. "What?"

"Was Ginny as pissed about your rule as I think she would be?"

Caught unawares, Kimble gave a snort of amusement. "That's one way of putting it. She broke the mirror on the dressing table when I made the mistake of explaining."

"She's always been kind of lively," Gerard allowed.

"Exhilarating was my thought."

Gerard began to laugh silently. "Oh, she's that."

"This is a tacky conversation," Kimble said, muffling his amusement against the pillow.

"It's certainly different," Gerard allowed. "If you'd feel more comfortable in one of the spare rooms, say so."

Kimble slung an arm over him. "I wouldn't."

"Good."

While Gerard did not elaborate, Kimble was still smiling when he fell asleep.

 

 

Despite the open drapes, the room was pitch black when the need to urinate woke Kimble. Habit made him slide cautiously from the bed, careful not to wake the sleeper next to him. Using the bathroom down the hall, he was shivering by the time he returned to the bedroom. The sound of a safety catch being released provided an instant burst of panicked heat.

"S-Sam. It's me."

"Shit," groaned Gerard, disgusted by his over-reaction. "I was dreaming. Relax, I'm awake now." The gun back on the nightstand, he switched on the lamp.

Kimble was trying to look casual and failing badly. "That's one way of getting my attention."

"Don't look so worried. I'm not in the habit of pulling a gun on my lovers. I'm still wired, that's all. Just make plenty of noise when you get up and I'll know it's you."

"Oh, I will," Kimble assured him fervently. "And to think I took such care closing the bedroom door softly. You're fast with that thing."

"It helps. I guess the odds of you wanting to come back to bed have plummeted."

Kimble grinned. "Uh huh. Nothing's going to save you from my cold feet."

There was a rustle of bedcovers, during which most of Kimble disappeared from view. Gerard's indulgent look changed to horror when an icy foot brushed his calf.

"Jeez, Richard!"

"I told you I was cold," a muffled voice said, with no trace of apology.

"And now I believe you. Move."

After a moment Kimble did as he'd been told, but not without a wistful sigh.

Gerard held out for a good twenty seconds.

"I just know I'm going to regret this," he muttered. "OK, come back here. But I'm warning you, I won't be making a habit of this," he said as he wrapped himself around his companion.

"You're a prince among men," Kimble told him, returning the compliment.

"Get your hands off my ass, Richard."

"I'm warming them."

"Bullshit."

"So I lied," said Kimble cheerfully, keeping his hands where they were.

"Why didn't you use the john next door?" asked Gerard a few minutes later, as he luxuriated in the heat being generated by their entwined bodies.

Kimble fidgeted and Gerard released him, watching as he retreated across the bed in a seemingly casual roll.

"I must have been reverting to old habits," Kimble told the ceiling with a studied nonchalance. "It used to drive Helen crazy if I disturbed her sleep - she had a problem with insomnia."

Gerard had tensed slightly as he felt Helen Kimble's ghost settle between them.

"I sleep when and where I can," he said after a moment, "so you don't need to worry about anything but getting shot if you wake me suddenly." He turned onto his side, presenting his back.

Kimble grimaced into the darkness.

"Look, I've lost the habit of - I wasn't comparing you to Helen. There is no comparison. That is - Oh, shit." He glared at Gerard's averted back. "Sam? Are you laughing?"

"It's that or bang my head against the wall," said a muffled voice. "Mr Articulate. I'd quit now if I were you. Go back to sleep," Gerard added tolerantly.

Kimble eased behind him, following the muscled contours with his own body. His cock nestled happily at the base of Gerard's rump.

"You on vitamin pills?" Gerard enquired when he felt Kimble stir to life.

Nuzzling Gerard's shoulder, Kimble slid his hand over Sam's flank to check him out. "I might ask you the same thing. You want me to move?"

"Which bit of you are we talking about here? Damn it, that hurt!"

"No it didn't," said Kimble with confidence.

"It's my ass."

"I know, and a splendid thing it is too," murmured Kimble appreciatively.

"How do you want to do this? Bearing in mind I'm not feeling energetic."

Kimble gave a snort of derision. "Right, Sam. Slow and easy gets my vote. How about you?" His voice was a low rumble against the other man's back, his hand pulling gently on his lover's cock.

Gerard couldn't have said which he found more arousing, the touch or the voice. "Sure."

"You got the oil?"

"You know what it'll do to the sheets."

"I'm more interested in what it'll do for us. And don't pretend you aren't."

"OK," said Gerard obligingly.

He was in such a mellow mood that he didn't even say ‘I told you so' when Kimble spilt oil over the last pair of clean sheets; he simply ensured Richard slept on the greasy area.

oOo

Having woken to the pleasure of watching Sam sleep at his side, Kimble virtually bounced out of bed.

Gerard groaned with horror. "You really are an early morning person."

"You bet," said Kimble happily. "Is there anything you want?"

"Peace would be good," said Gerard with a trace of pathos. He revived slightly when he was handed a mug of coffee.

Kimble couldn't help singing in the shower. He jumped when a large hand covered his belly, then slid up to his chest. Turning around in the loose embrace, he watched the water roll down Sam's face.

"You're going the wrong way," he pointed out, just before Gerard began to tease his left nipple between his index finger and thumb. "S-Sam."

"I-am. Who were you expecting, Richard? My, you do enjoy this, don't you," murmured Gerard indulgently, tweaking the nub again as he nuzzled Kimble's neck.

Kimble eased them out of the fall of water until Gerard was leant against the side wall of the shower, his arms outstretched, cheek against the cool tiles. Kimble rubbed himself against Gerard's length before drawing Sam's lower body away from the wall slightly. Spotting the container of lotion, Kimble liberally coated his hands, then started to work Gerard's cock.

"No. You just relax," Kimble instructed.

Gerard snorted. "You sure that's what you want from my cock?"

"Don't get smart with me," commanded Kimble, nuzzling the vulnerable nape of the strong neck. Without further preliminaries he pressed the tip of a slickly-coated finger against his lover's anus. Gerard moved involuntarily, the muscles of his sides and down his spine sliding under his skin as Kimble eased his finger in deeper and deeper, and when it was sheathed began to move it with a slow deliberation.

His hands cramping against the tiny mosaic tiles until he grew more accustomed to this, Gerard was soon thrusting between the twin stimuli assaulting his prostate and cock, just before a stiffened tongue was stuck in his ear. He came with a soft sound that sounded like surprise.

Tucking an arm around Gerard's chest, Kimble held him steady until he was satisfied the other man's legs would support him.

"What is it with you?" groaned Gerard, one hand going behind him to draw Kimble closer. His breathing slowing, he turned his head. "You best finish before your balls explode. You want me back up against the wall?" He moved suggestively, and Kimble's cock gave a pleading twitch where it was pressed into the cleft of the other man's rump.

"No," Kimble lied through gritted teeth, knowing moderation was beyond him right now.

Turning, Gerard was about to speak when he recognized that Richard probably wasn't in any state to hear him. Without ceremony he switched off the shower, sank to his knees and took as much of his lover's cock as he could cope with this first time into his mouth. He was given no time to learn its weight or taste, or how best to tease.

Hands clamped on each side of Gerard's head, Kimble's eyes were fierce and blank with need. He began to thrust so strongly he was in danger of setting off the other man's gag reflex. Gerard gripped Kimble's flanks and, exerting a rough strength, stopped the strong pelvic thrusts. Fingers tightened in his hair, making him squint with discomfort, before the pressure eased. Kimble took several dragging breaths, then eased away, freeing Gerard's mouth.

"Sorry," he said tightly.

"Come here," Gerard commanded, his voice roughened with tenderness. One hand curved around Kimble's flank, he used the other to steady the weeping cock as he took the head back into his mouth. Laving it thoroughly, he began to suck strongly.

Kimble was in no state to last long and practically collapsed on top of him, leaving the pair of them in a sprawl of legs.

"I didn't expect you to swallow - Are you OK?" he asked worriedly.

His jaw feeling as if it had been dislocated, his lips smarting and the taste of Richard coating his tongue and stinging the back of his throat, Gerard slowly shook his head, a soft smile curving his mouth.

"Sorry, Sam." Kimble stroked the shoulder he had been gripping at some point.

"For a bright guy, you can be a real moron at times," Gerard told him affectionately. He flexed his jaw experimentally, probing his smarting lower lip with his tongue. "I just need more practice, that's all."

"If it gets any better I might just die," said Kimble, reeling from the knowledge that Sam had just knelt at his feet and given him head. "God, that was - " He made a helpless gesture. "Your knees must be aching."

"Like hellfire. And I'm getting kind of chilly. I only came in to see what you wanted for breakfast," Gerard added ruefully.

Kimble kissed his temple, cheek and sharp-boned jawline before untangling their legs, getting to his feet and extending his hand.

"Haul ass, Gerard. You got that side wet again. We'll rinse off, then I'll take a look at it. And save the smart remarks. The faster it heals, the faster we can think about - " Suddenly realizing that Gerard might not have given it serious thought - what was wanted and what was offered in the heat of passion could be something quite different - Kimble ground to a halt and looked self-conscious " - you know," he said vaguely.

"‘You know'?" mocked Gerard, highly amused. "And you a doctor. In case you hadn't realized, we could ‘you know' any time we liked. Well, maybe not for an hour or so," he conceded, which piece of modesty melted Kimble's look of worry.

 

"Sophy's doing well," Kimble announced as he put down the telephone receiver. "She could - " He remembered just in time that the direct approach was the only effective one with Gerard. "I'd like to visit her. And I know she'd love to see you again. God knows how many flowers you sent to her but she spent most of the time talking about the stir they created."

"Hey, if you can't create a stir when you're eighty-five, when can you," dismissed Gerard.

Smiling, Kimble made no further comment on that point. "The other reason I know she'd like to see you is that she said something about wanting to find out if you'd taken her advice." He waited expectantly.

"Did she now?" Gerard turned around slowly. "I take it she didn't enlighten you?"

"No she didn't," conceded Kimble with a poor grace when he saw Sam grin. "Though she hasn't stopped telling me that you're a good man who deserves - Well, never mind her exact words. Is there any chance we could visit?"

"If I can find a couple of volunteers to tag along, every chance," Gerard confirmed. "I'll fix something up for tomorrow morning."

"Thanks, that would be great." Kimble case a wistful glance at the vivid blue sky visible through the kitchen window.

"I knew it was too good to be true," sighed Gerard. "Let me get some warmer clothing."

"I could go out and play by myself," Kimble offered dryly.

"When I could play with you? Go get dressed. I could use some air myself," Gerard lied.

Kimble was handed a shovel the moment they were outside the back door. He eyed Gerard's benign smile with grave mistrust.

"You're the one who's hankering after fresh air and exercise," Gerard pointed out. "The drive needs clearing after that fresh fall of snow and I'm out of grit."

"And you'll be?" queried Kimble.

"Guarding you, of course."

"Won't you get cold just standing around?"

"When I do, we go back inside."

"Wouldn't shovelling keep you warmer? I could keep guard."

"I could sing opera if I had the voice for it. You best get digging, it's a long drive." Gerard dodged with ease the swipe aimed in his direction.

"It's an enormous drive. There's no way one man could clear that in a day."

"We have a week," Gerard reminded him.

Kimble's disgruntled look melted into a crooked grin before he began to shovel snow. The air crisp and cold, the sky blue and the sun shining, the conditions were perfect. Because all Gerard's attention was on their surroundings, Kimble felt free to enjoy looking at the other man while he worked, although most of Sam was hidden under several layers of warm clothing.

"You had enough?" asked Gerard some time later, when he realized a pink-cheeked, bright-eyed Richard Kimble was propped against the handle of the shovel while he got his breath back.

"No. Just taking five." Pure mischief in his eyes, Kimble gave the remarkable piece of headgear Gerard was wearing a quizzical look. "No one's ever going to accuse you of being a fashion victim, are they?"

"Not if I can help it," Gerard confirmed. While the tip of his nose was pink, he looked comfortable and relaxed, despite the fact he never stopped scanning the wooded grounds.

"When was the last time you went hiking in the woods?" Kimble asked persuasively.

"For pleasure?"

"Of course for pleasure," said Kimble, mildly exasperated until he caught the glint of humor in his companion's eyes.

"Don't even think snowball, Richard, or I promise I'll make you very, very sorry," Gerard warned pleasantly.

"It could be worth it," mused Kimble, who hadn't considered it until now because he knew how much Sam felt the cold.

"I'll learn not to give you a challenge one day. OK," Gerard held his arms out at his sides. "Get it out your system."

"Now where would be the fun in doing that while you're expecting it? You're safe. I get worried when your lips turn blue. So, when did you last hike in the woods just for the pleasure of it?"

"In this weather, never. And I plan on keeping my virginity."

"Only it would have been so great if we could have gone somewhere together," added Kimble with a trace of wistfulness. "Couldn't we just drive up to the - "

"Sure. When this is over."

"What if we don't catch whoever's after me?" asked Kimble, stabbing at the hard-packed snow at his feet with the edge of the shovel.

"We will. I'm hoping your burst of freedom will have stirred them up. When you left the other day you must have known I'd come after you." It wasn't a question.

"Hoped. I took the Ferrari to make sure of it."

Gerard turned to stare at him, then slowly shook his head in disbelief. "You think I cared about the fucking car?"

"Hey, I was confused."

"Horny, more like," said Gerard tartly.

"That, too," Kimble admitted.

"So you walked out, intending me to come after you. You must have known I'd find you," pursued Gerard.

Looking up, Kimble gave him a faint smile. "Of course. You're Sam Gerard, who always get his man."

"Then you must have known I'd bring you back."

"I was banking on it," Kimble told him frankly.

"I must be missing something here. Then why did you run?" asked Gerard with a faint frown.

"Fear."

Gerard stepped closer, one hand on Kimble's shoulder. "Of what? Me?"

Kimble snorted.

"You could have lied," Gerard said, but the flippancy was obviously false and he looked too relieved for Kimble to want to tease him.

"Not about that," Kimble said quietly, "it's too important."

"Then what? Trust me, Richard. I will find whoever's behind those attacks."

"I wasn't talking about the crank either," snapped Kimble.

"Then what the hell were you afraid of?" demanded Gerard, vitality pouring off him.

Kimble lightly touched the other man's mouth with a gloved finger. "Me. You. Everything," he added in a low voice, avoiding the passionate intensity blazing from the dark eyes.

"This?" Gerard gestured between them.

"Not of the having," said Kimble quickly, wanting there to be no misunderstanding. "But of the never having. You might always get your man, but in my case I wasn't sure you'd want to bother after what I'd put you through."

In the silence which followed, he heard Gerard swallow.

"Ah, Richard," he murmured after a moment, his husky voice soft and deep, as it was in unguarded moments of strong emotion. Leaning forwards, he gave Kimble a brief, fierce kiss, before slapping him on the rump.

"Now get shovelling," he commanded gruffly, turning away to keep guard again.

"My master's voice," said Kimble dryly, although it was uncomfortably close to the truth.

"Just dig, Richard," said Gerard, but his smile was evident in his voice.

Slowly and lovingly, Kimble collected a heaped shovelful of clean, fluffy snow. "Sam," he said casually.

Unsuspecting, Gerard turned and met his personal snowstorm.

The snow found every small gap in his clothing, filling his mouth, nose and eyes and stinging his skin. "You son-of-a - "

Spitting ice crystals, his face alight with laughter, Gerard chased Kimble halfway along the drive before he brought him down with a tackle which sent them both sliding down the incline on the edge, into the drainage ditch which ran along either side of the drive; their fall was cushioned by the snow which had drifted there. They rolled under the cover of the huge rhododendrons which flanked the shallow ditch.

Astride Kimble, who laughing up at him, was making no attempt to resist by this time, Gerard stared into his face with a peculiar intensity before he bent his head. Richard’s lips were cold and tasted of frost, but the interior of his mouth felt as hot as hell. It was some time before Gerard remembered he was supposed to be keeping guard and got to his feet, pulling Kimble up after him.

"We're still well clear of the gates and no one can overlook us," Kimble pointed out. Emerging from the evergreen shrubs on the other side of the bed from which they had entered it, he straightened and began to brush snow off his companion. Gerard, who had snow melting down his neck and who had lost his headgear somewhere, had begun to shiver.

"Just get your ass outta here," he commanded, his teeth chattering.

"I'm going, I'm - " Kimble tripped and measured his length. Picking himself up, he glanced around at the sacks stacked against what looked like storage bins. "I suppose these bins are where you keep the grit," he said conversationally.

"That's right," agreed Gerard. He turned around in time to see Kimble brushing snow from one of the sacks.

Kimble glared up at him, chagrined that he should have been caught out so easily. "You lying son-of-a-bitch. I've got blisters," he accused, holding out his gloved hands.

"But you enjoyed it, didn't you?"

"What's that got to do with anything? I should - " Kimble stopped when he noticed how violently Gerard was shivering. "I wish I thought you were turning blue with cold on purpose," he said moodily. "Come on, move it. You play a mean sick puppy card."

"I try," said Gerard modestly, but his shivering continued for some time after they were inside the house, and so Kimble let it pass.

 

Before Gerard could finish the simple meal Kimble had prepared, he received the first of a series of phonecalls.

It was almost midnight by the time Gerard locked up the house before going upstairs to his bedroom, assuming that Kimble had already gone to bed. Entering his own room, Gerard stopped in his tracks when he found Kimble curled asleep in his bed. It seemed impossible that such a simple action could give him so much pleasure, but he stood there for several minutes, soaking up the rightness of the sight.

Waking with a start, Kimble focused and blinked when he realized he was staring into Gerard's eyes.

"Hi." His voice still slurred, he blinked drowsily. "You want me?"

"Go back to sleep, Richard," murmured Gerard tolerantly, before he brushed back the hair which was tumbling over the other man's eyes.

"I'd've stayed awake if you hadn't worn me out shovelling snow."

"Boy, you hold on to a grievance, don't you," said Gerard, as he stripped, dropping dirty clothing in the laundry basket.

"Only when it suits me." Kimble wiped the side of his face with his hand. "Was I drooling while I was asleep?"

If the change of subject surprised him, Gerard gave no indication of it. "Some."

"Glad I didn't put you off. What were you doing when I woke up?"

"Watching you," called Gerard as he padded into the bathroom.

"Why?" asked Kimble, when the other man emerged a short time later. "Were you watching me?" he prompted, when Gerard looked puzzled. "Pay attention. You're supposed to follow my thought processes."

"Lucky me." Sliding under the covers, Gerard snuggled up close because he had cooled down.

"So why were you?"

Gerard muttered an audible prayer for patience.

Grinning, Kimble tucked an arm over him, thumped his pillow into submission and was asleep in under a minute.

 

Sprawled on his stomach, one arm encircling the pillow, Kimble gave a long, slow stretch when he felt the man next to him stir awake in the half-light.

"Morning."

"Close," Gerard allowed, his fingertips sifting through Kimble's hair. Half-leaning up over him, he kissed a bare shoulder.

His head turning to meet the stroking hand, Kimble sucked the tip of Gerard's index finger into his mouth, probing and nuzzling at it. He gave a smile of satisfaction when he felt the Gerard settle closer, the side of a broad-tipped thumb slipping down the cleft of his rump before it eased in to nudge against his anus, which was still slick from the lubricant he had applied the night before.

"Oh, jeez." Gerard's breathing was suddenly ragged against the back of Kimble's neck. "Were you a boy scout?"

"I prefer to expect the unexpected. Last night I thought I had the energy for this. It's your fault I couldn't stay awake." Kimble gave an encouraging wriggle. "But I'm good and lively now."

"That you are," Gerard agreed huskily.

And then it was so easy and so sweet, Gerard's finger sinking into him, claiming him as it made him arch and writhe and moan. Cheek still against the pillow, Kimble gave a sigh of pure satisfaction when the fingers were replaced by Gerard's cock, which filled him in one sure stroke, before Sam paused.

Mumbling a mixture of obscenities and encouragement, Kimble's fingers closed and relaxed over the crumpled pillowcase in rhythm to the long, slow strokes, which took him over and over again. Every inch of him covered by Sam Gerard, the pace of Kimble's grunts increased as his head was driven closer to the headboard with each strengthening thrust. He was distantly aware that Gerard was repeating his name in a soft, slurred litany of pleasure. Then the hand working his cock tightened and Kimble lost the capacity for thought as he came, his contracting muscles triggering Gerard's climax.

Flattened against the mattress under the other man's weight, Kimble was virtually purring when he felt Gerard massage his spilled semen into his belly. Gerard mouthed the nape of his neck, before rubbing the small of his back, making Kimble moan with pleasure all over again.

Finally easing free of his lover's body, Gerard slid onto his side. His face buried against Kimble's strong back, he continued to stroke him silently until Kimble fell asleep again, a faint smile still on his face.

 

When Kimble awoke, Gerard's arm was a heavy band across his torso, the stern face relaxed in sleep on the adjacent pillow. Putting off the moment when he must move, Kimble lay watching the other man, as if trying to imprint the memory forever. But it seemed very unfair that Gerard didn't dribble in his sleep

Chapter Text

Kimble gave the two beautifully wrapped packages Biggs was handing Gerard a quizzical look. "Is this the U.S. Marshal's Office version of an apple for the teacher?"

"I wish," Gerard growled, before he scowled at his beaming deputy. "You couldn't be more discreet?" Without glancing at Kimble he passed the items to him.

"Buying an old lady presents isn't something to be ashamed of, Sam," Biggs pointed out. His tolerant grin did nothing to reduce Gerard's disapproval.

"Thank you, Doctor Freud. Where's Henry?"

"He's gone ahead. We have done this before."

"So what have we bought Sophy?" interjected Kimble, in the interests of peace.

"All the usual stuff," dismissed Gerard. "Stop humoring me."

"OK, Sam."

Constantly assessing their surroundings and those people they passed as they crossed the vast visitor's car park, that docile tone made Gerard spare Kimble what had obviously been intended as a brief look. Intense and searching, it excluded everyone else before Gerard gave one of his radiant, life-enhancing smiles. But all he said was, "Let's get this over with before we get mobbed by half the hospital again."

As they went in through the main doors a young, extremely ugly doctor strode over to them. Kimble gave a grin of delight and hurried forward to greet the surgeon who had worked on his hand. "Leroy!"

"Hi. I heard you were coming in this morning and hung around to see how you're doing." The two men made a high five, which ended in the younger man making an impromptu examination.

"Damn, but I'm good," he announced with a grin. "It's looking great, I'm delighted to say. When are we getting you back? Jake was telling me that you're still stuck in protective - " Belatedly becoming aware that Kimble was not alone, Peters fell tactfully silent. Unnerved by Gerard's looming presence and stony expression, he left soon afterwards.

"You could blister paint with a glare like that," Kimble told Gerard forthrightly. Nodding to the vaguely familiar faces on the Information desk, he headed towards the elevators. "You don't need to worry about Leroy. He's a terrific guy. And he's an excellent surgeon. He - "

"Richard."

Halted as much by that dangerously soft note in Gerard's voice as by the hand on his forearm, Kimble gave his companion a patient look. "What have I done now?" he asked with resignation. Gerard was virtually quivering with tension.

"I'm glad one of us finds this situation amusing," snapped Gerard. "Robert, Henry, go find something to do. I want a word with Richard in private."

Unnoticed by the men concentrating on each other, heads turned as people caught the authority in Gerard's body language and voice, even if what he said didn't carry beyond them.

"How many people did you tell you were coming here this morning?" Gerard demanded.

Comprehension, then guilt flashed across Kimble's face. "Damn, I never gave it a thought. Only Sophy. And Jake Nathan. He won't have told - "

" - more than half the surgical team," completed Gerard in the same monotone. Stepping in so close that he forced Kimble to give ground without ever touching him, he exuded menace as he began to tell Kimble how he rated his intelligence, common sense, lack of responsibility and inability to remember basic security tenets. He was quietly and completely furious.

It was only then that Kimble realized what motivated Gerard wasn't anger but fear for his safety. The distracting combination of being the sole focus of Gerard's formidable concentration and the close proximity of the muscular body was intensely arousing.

"You're starting to repeat yourself," Kimble murmured provocatively when Gerard had to pause for breath. He leant forward and kissed the other man on the tip of his nose. "That's because - " He wasn't given the chance to complete that sentence.

Gerard grabbed the front of Kimble's shirt in his fist and before Kimble knew what was happening, bundled him into the first empty room he found. The closing swing door hit Kimble in the back before Gerard thrust him against the wall.

"Don't ever do that to me again when I'm working. Is that clear? You might not respect what I do but - "

"You're wrong about that, Sam," interrupted Kimble quietly. "I have the greatest respect for the work you do. I always have. It just never occurred to me to say so. That's the truth," he promised when he saw Gerard's expression change. It had never occurred to him that his opinion might matter so much to his lover. "And I was stupid to kiss you in public like that. I'm sorry."

"Me too," Gerard groaned softly, his weight supported by the arm resting against the wall above Kimble's head as he leant in close.

Kimble slid his hands over the narrow flanks to draw him in closer still.

In the circumstances Gerard's kiss was surprisingly tender. Meeting Kimble's whole-hearted response, it lengthened and deepened until both men were dazed and breathless by the time they drew apart slightly.

His reflexes fogged by sex, Gerard whirled around when he heard the wolf-whistles, cheers and applause. What he had taken for an empty room was the women's locker room; a nursing shift had just changed, staff using the door in the far corner to collect their street clothes. Now half a dozen women of all shapes, sizes and color stood offering amused encouragement of an alarming frankness.

One hand on Gerard's shoulder, as much to bolster his own nerves as for comfort, Kimble saw a familiar face. "Give us a break here, Sonia."

"I'd love to, honey," she beamed. "The marshal there is free to arrest me any time he likes. I'll even supply the handcuffs."

"Down, girl. He's spoken for," Kimble said, realizing that his mortified companion was still beyond speech.

"Pity," she adjudged.

"Not from my point of view," Kimble told her, revelling in the chance to tell the truth. "Come on, Sam. Robert and Henry will be wondering where we've got to. Which reminds me, I dropped Sophy's gifts when you went into alpha mode."

Disbelief warred with a wry amusement on Gerard's face. "You think they missed that little display of mine? Boy, and I called you a moron." He shook his head. "I am definitely losing it. Ladies, thank you for all your handy hints and goodbye." His palm in the center of Kimble's shoulders helped to speed their progress up to Sophy's private room on the ninth floor.

She was in the bathroom when they arrived. Having set down their gifts, which had been retrieved by Biggs, and taken off their topcoats, they stood at the windows, ostensibly to study the view of the sprawling hospital complex below.

"Don't look so worried," said Gerard at last, having been shooting anxious glances at Kimble since they had entered the room. "You can always say I was kissing you for some kind of stupid forfeit. Or just that I was coming on to you and you didn't want to embarrass me in public by turning me down."

"Why the hell would I want to say that?" blurted out Kimble. Gripping Gerard's shoulder, he modified what he wanted to say because a part of him was afraid that Sam might not want more from the relationship than they already had. "I have witnesses to confirm my enthusiasm for every second of that kiss. Once word gets out I'll be the envy of the hospital."

Gerard twitched.

Kimble gently shook the shoulder he still held. "Hey, relax. In case you'd forgotten, I started it."

"No need to sound so pleased with yourself. You didn't do anything clever."

"So you told me. In some detail. Will what happened cause you any problems?" Kimble added, frowning.

"Only in keeping my hands off you in public." Gerard's morose tone was negated by the expression in his eyes.

Kimble didn't bother to camouflage his pleasure and Gerard took a step closer to brush his mouth over Kimble's.

"Now for god's sake behave," he hissed in exasperation.

"Anything you say, Sam."

Giving a soft groan, Gerard kissed him properly this time.

 

Having been unashamedly revelling in every second of the exchange she was watching through the crack in the bathroom door, which she had managed to open without drawing attention to herself, Sophy reluctantly decided that her alibi had been stretched far enough. By the time she emerged the two men stood at opposite ends of the large window. But they still managed to give the impression they were touching. Sophy was so pleased for them that she forgot to tease during their visit.
oOo

A fat cigar clamped between his teeth, his legs slung over the arm of the chair, Gerard was reading a two-day old edition of the Chicago Tribune. As if sensing himself to be under surveillance he looked up, raising his eyebrows enquiringly when he found Kimble watching him.

"It's nothing," denied Kimble. He unconsciously ran his tongue over his lower lip when he saw the other man's cheeks hollow as he drew on the cigar.

"It sure looks like something," returned Gerard lazily. He dropped the paper to the floor.

"Well, OK, it is. Though it's all your fault."

"I had that much right then. Come on, Richard. Give."

Kimble rubbed his jaw. "It's that damned cigar. I can't work out why you'd rather suck on that when you could have something that's more substantial, healthier, good exercise, provides protein, and will make me feel fantastic. And if I'm happy, you're happy."

Wreathed in blue-gray smoke, Gerard gave him a patient look. "Are you telling me you want a blow-job?"

"I was afraid I was being too subtle."

"I've noticed this optimistic streak of yours. When did you have in mind for this activity?"

"You can finish your cigar first."

"Gee, thanks."

"Just don't forget to brush your teeth."

"You don't use your dick to smell with. You're a doctor, you should know that." Gerard tossed his quarter-smoked cigar into the embers of the fire, set the fire-guard in place and padded across the room. He paused in the doorway to give Kimble a considering look.

"Good exercise, huh? Don't worry. I'll give you a work-out you won't forget."

As if he was attached to Gerard by some invisible string Kimble got up and followed him out of the room. "Forget cleaning your teeth, Sam. In fact, we don't have to go upstairs unless you're set on the idea."

"You're babbling."

"That's because I can't think while I've got a hard-on."

"I'd noticed. We're going to bed."

"OK," said Kimble docilely as he followed Gerard up the stairs. His gaze never left his lover.

Gerard paused on the landing to give him a quizzical look. "You sickening for something?"

Kimble gave a crooked grin. "I'm a very accommodating guy - given the right incentive."

"I'll have to remember that. We'll use your room. The bed has a brass head rail - perfect for the cuffs."

Faltering mid-step, for a split second Kimble's anxieties were plain.

While Gerard did his best to hold it in, a snort of amusement escaped him.

"Why you - " Kimble jumped him when they were halfway across his bedroom.

It required little effort to pin Gerard to the bed because he was laughing too much to put up more than a token struggle. Sprawled on his back, his clothing was unceremoniously removed, although his cooperation was required with his jeans and boxers. Taking advantage of the fact Kimble was stripping, Gerard was about to slide away when his companion pounced. The ensuing tussle ended with Kimble straddling his lower rib-cage, while holding Gerard's arms above his head, his grip strong around the other man's wrists. Wearing only his wristwatch and unfastened denim shirt, Kimble's triumphant smile froze, then faded, his grip easing until he released Gerard and slumped next to him on the ruin of the bed.

"Richard?" His expression intent, Gerard pushed himself up on to one elbow.

Kimble avoided that shrewd gaze, which always seemed to see more than it was intended to. Frowning, he touched a sore-looking spot on Gerard's upper arm with his index finger; their rough-and-tumble had left Gerard with several marks which would undoubtedly turn into bruises.

"I didn't intend to hurt you," he said in a low voice. Helen had always instigated any games, and had become extremely nervous if she felt she was losing control of the situation.

"You didn't." Gerard sat up fully.

"Then you're OK with it?"

While the tone had been casual, Gerard tried to ignore the insight into Helen Kimble which the question had just given him. "Let's get one thing clear here and now. I'm OK with it. I can take all of you, Richard. Any time, any day, any way you want. Relax."

"I'm serious," snapped Kimble, trying to look away from those snake-dark eyes.

Gerard wouldn't permit it and he held Kimble's chin steady. "So am I. You don't have to pretty things up for me. You don't have to hold back. Don't put a leash on your emotions for my sake. I'm never going to mistake a teasing rough-and-tumble for violence."

His eyes widening, Kimble's shoulders slumped as he stared at the other man. "You don't feel threatened?"

"Not remotely," said Gerard, mock-punching the side of his jaw.

"It's just that it's been a long time since - "

"I know," cut in Gerard. "It's OK."

Kimble made himself more comfortable. "Did you let me win that tussle just now?"

"Of course."

Kimble looked intrigued. "Could you take me?"

"Sure. But to do that I'd have to hurt you. And that's not an option," Gerard added flatly.

Kimble leant forward a few inches, his mouth brushing the hollow at the base of the other man's throat. "You must have been tempted a couple of times, the way I behaved."

"You'll never know," Gerard told him with feeling. "In my job I can't afford to go taking a pop at anyone. But you press my buttons faster than anyone else I know. I'm not proud of the way I reacted." There was a grim set to his mouth, regret in his eyes.

Kimble thought of the crumpled center of the door of the Ferrari, the damage inflicted in one explosive moment of release.

"I was working flat out to provoke some reaction out of you. Given how it's worked out, I can't apologize."

A smile thawed Gerard's expression, his mouth gentling. "No surprise there."

High on the taste of Sam's skin, Kimble glanced up, his eyes heavy with desire. "Do you have any idea what a turn-on it is for me to know you can handle me in any mood?"

Gerard gave a lazy smile. "I'm getting a few clues."

"Good. I can't figure out why your soap doesn't taste this good on me. Will you let me get the car door fixed?" Kimble added.

Gerard shook his head.

"I just want to make it right."

"The car?" frowned Gerard, puzzled.

"Us."

After a moment Gerard shook his head in wonderment. "Everyone kept telling me you're a bright guy. Like a fool, I believed them."

Kimble was busy easing his unresisting companion onto the mattress. "Does that mean I can fix the car door?"

"No, it means keep quiet and use your mouth for something useful, like kissing me. Whoa, on the mouth, Richard. Well, OK. As you're in the area," Gerard allowed. "Oh yeah. That's just - Jeez. Yeah."

It was some time before he managed to speak in more than one word sentences.

oOo

Listening to the sound of Poole's voice as Gerard let her in, Kimble was only mildly irritated by the arrival of one of Gerard's ‘kids' five days into Gerard's vacation; he'd expected one of them to turn up before this - if only to check he hadn't murdered Sam. Comfortably slouched on a chair at the kitchen table, he had an ankle hooked over his knee. Content just to be, he wasn't thinking of anything in particular. He had forgotten what it felt like to be this happy.

If he had ever known.

Taken aback, Kimble waited for the pang of guilt at the disloyalty to Helen which was implicit in the thought. It never came because he knew it was true. With Sam he could be himself: the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Sam had seen, and accepted, it all.

Oblivious of Poole's greeting, Kimble watched Gerard talking on the telephone - listening to the color and warmth in his voice rather than the content.

As if sensing that regard, Gerard turned and gave him a quick, warm smile before turning back to his call.

An interested bystander to that by-play, Poole maintained a poker face as she helped herself to a couple of chocolate chip cookie's from the jar.

Gerard hung up the phone. "What happened to the diet?" he asked her quizzically.

"You saying I need to diet?" she demanded, eyeing them wistfully.

"Like I'm dumb enough to answer that," he mocked. Taking a cookie from her, he bit into it, chewing with relish.

She gave a reluctant grin. "There's a rotten streak in you, Sam."

"You bet," he agreed cheerfully.

"I'm sorry for interrupting your vacation. But these - uh - papers couldn't wait till you got back."

"That's OK," said Gerard, taking the second cookie from her. "Richard and I were bound to run out of things to do."

"I thought we already had," said Kimble, sounding lazily indulgent. It was obvious Sam had no idea how smug he looked; he was emitting an almost visible glow of well-being.

Meeting Poole's gaze, Kimble realized he was probably emitting a few signals of his own. He raised his eyebrows in query, daring her to embarrass Sam and make any comment.

"Hi, Richard," she said placidly.

"Poole."

Looking amused, Gerard glanced from one to the other.

"Richard, in case you hadn't realized, I don't embarrass easily - and Poole knows better than to try if she was so inclined. Relax."

Poole gave Gerard a look of asperity. "In case you hadn't noticed, if Richard got any more relaxed he'd ooze off the damn chair."

"If you're going to talk about me, have the decency to do it behind my back," remarked Kimble, just remembering that he mustn't touch when Gerard walked past him.

"Your wish is my command," murmured Gerard, picking up his mug of coffee. "Poole, we'll take this in the office."

 

The door closed behind them, the smile faded from Gerard's eyes. "OK, what didn't you want Richard to know?" he enquired, propping his booted feet on the open top drawer of his desk.

While his gaze had sharpened, he still looked relaxed and rested; he was radiating such a strong sense of well-being and contentment that it made Poole feel as if she'd had a couple of days' vacation herself. It occurred to her that this was what Sam looked like when he was happy. A grim set to her mouth, she hoped she wasn't about to destroy his peace of mind.

"Richard had some mail this morning."

"There's a novelty."

"This was. You were right. There's a third crank. It's our man - well, woman."

Gerard punched the air with his fist. "At last! Gimme." His hand outstretched, he snapped his fingers impatiently.

"Boy, is this a letter or a book?" he remarked, flicking through the photostated pages before he began to read. "Wow, when she apologizes she really grovels. You have to admire the way she skates over the tricky stuff - like knifing Richard. But if she's planning on exorcizing Richard's demons - me - so that they can settle down together, she won't be after him." Gerard's satisfaction was obvious.

"Or not until he rejects her - which he could do without ever knowing it. I don't like the way she talks about you, Sam. She's transferred all her negative feelings about Richard, plus a parcel more, onto you."

"We can use that to flush her out."

"You're going to use yourself as bait?"

"Can you think of a better way?" Gerard returned.

"What if Richard gets caught in the cross-fire?"

Gerard waved a hand in dismissal. "I won't be within a mile of him. I'll move out tomorrow. Rent an apartment in a nice, accessible part of town. Let it be known Richard's been moved to another secret location. Meanwhile, we spread word of my move around the CPD - "

"CPD?" Poole frowned.

Gerard explained his suspicions.

"Damn it, Sam. Half the security guards at Chicago Memorial are ex-cops."

"I know it."

"And we've a number in the department."

"Is this leading anywhere?" he demanded irritably, the fingers of one hand moving unconsciously.

"You had a letter, too. It arrived on your desk this morning. Private and confidential, addressed to the right floor and your specific bay. That information isn't in the public domain. And she knows you have a Ferrari. She knows too damn much. We could have a leak within the department."

"Then why hasn't she come knocking on my door?" asked Gerard reasonably. "While I don't broadcast it, it would be easy enough for most people to get my address."

"Your security's tight."

"But not impregnable. Not to a pro."

"This isn't a pro," said Poole firmly.

"Then it can't be CPD or the department."

"Unless it's someone linked to a member of CPD or the department. We all take work home with us. We all talk, to one degree or another. I certainly talk to Roger," Poole added.

"Get outta here. I don't need this kind of shit. The thought that it could be one of my own - " Gerard shook his head, staring at the far wall for a moment. "It doesn't smell right," he said in a dissatisfied tone. "Let me read this."

Poole watched his mouth thin and his expression harden.

"Well, that's my reputation shot," said Gerard, tossing the plastic-covered sheets onto the desk. His eyes were glittering with anger. "‘The devil incarnate'. ‘Eternal damnation for persecuting an obvious innocent and hounding him near to death.' Then I - what was it? Yeah, here it is, ‘...force him into perversities of the flesh.' Where's this shit come from? Have we got ourselves a religious nut? A psycho? What? What do the shrinks make of it? Use little words," he added ironically.

His impatience with jargon for its own sake was well-known within the department, not least because of some of his more colorful responses to those who insisted on over-using it.

"They stress they need to do a lot more work on these letters - "

"One day we'll get a straight answer out of them," he growled.

" - but preliminary indications are - "

Gerard held up his finger and thumb, only an inch of air between them.

"To summarize, you should regard yourself as having a target painted on your back," said Poole, looking disapproving.

"That'll be a novelty."

"Also, it's possible she fixated on Richard as long ago as his first trial. He got a lot of TV exposure. She's certainly hated you since his recapture."

"Then why hasn't she acted before now? I'm hardly inaccessible."

Poole considered what he had said. "I don't know so much, Sam. How many members of the public would know how to find you? The office might be in the book but the public can't just stroll in. They don't come in, period. The basement garage is secured. This house and yard has some of the best security in town."

He held up a hand in defeat. "Point taken. Maybe she's been responsible for the increase in the hate-mail I've been getting," he mused idly, before his eyes widened and he stared at Poole.

She hooked out her cellular phone and put four deputies on checking out the contents of the crank cabinet. While Gerard's inclination was to toss any such mail in the trash, common sense - and experience - dictated that some of it was intended to be acted on when the writer finished their prison sentence.

Gerard was on another phone, calling in his most trusted team of Renfro, Biggs, Ritchie and Newman, who wasted little time in turning up at the house.

Having brought everyone up to speed, Gerard sat back in his chair.

"It definitely isn't a pro. My gut says it's an opportunist, unaccustomed to physical violence. We're not dealing with a Napoleon of crime here."

"One day that would make a nice change," remarked Renfro wistfully. "It's not easy thinking down to the level of some of the morons we get."

"This isn't a moron," said Biggs, tilting back his chair as he worried the end of his pencil. "Where would she have had the opportunity to see Sam and Richard together?"

"When we took Richard into custody," offered Gerard.

"A couple of press conferences after that," Renfro reminded him.

"The shooting at the hospital," supplied Poole.

"This house," said Gerard.

"The day you took Richard into the office," said Biggs, his chair landing on all four legs with an audible thump. "Remember, Sam?

"Yeah, and then we had to take him to hospital to see that old lady," added Ritchie. "You and Richard went back there the other day. The pair of you made quite an impression," he added with an enjoyment that was untainted by malice.

"Yeah? How come?" asked Renfro with bright-eyed interest, his gaze moving between the two men because he was vaguely aware of something going on under the surface of the conversation.

"Sam always makes an impression," replied Ritchie, his nerve failing him under Renfro's innocently enquiring stare.

Gerard gave him a sudden grin, genuine amusement - and happiness - on his face. "I hadn't forgotten. That second visit would have done it for sure. We attracted attention all right. I was pissed with Richard for calling in before we arrived - again. He started goofing around." One glance at his deputies told him that they had heard about the kiss - both kisses, he amended.

"What - exactly - did he say, Sammy?" urged Renfro, sitting forward.

Everyone but Cosmo, Gerard realized with resignation. About to enlighten him, he backed off because Renfro always said exactly what he felt first and thought about it second. "Like I memorize every word. How the hell should I know?"

"I'll go ask him," said Renfro, getting to his feet.

"Whoa there. Sit back down," said Gerard. "You want to let Richard know we've got a lead? I don't think so. I've just got him quietened down. Let's not get him stirred up again."

"He'll go into orbit when he finds you're planning to stake yourself out as a judas goat," said Poole dryly.

"There is that," Gerard allowed.

"Hospitals are hotbeds of gossip and Richard has a high public profile. The story's bound to have improved as it made the rounds," Poole mused.

"Damn," muttered Renfro. "I thought we were on to something."

"It was a circus down there," said Ritchie reminiscently.

"Biggs, Ritchie, Noah, I want you to go to the hospital. Think up some excuse and then find out how many people were actually there - get a feel for them. Poole, Cosmo, you'll be splitting shifts here at the house and catching up on paperwork. Poole, take these blank checks to cover expenses. Find me an apartment I can use from tomorrow. Make it good and accessible. See if there's a link with the extra crank mail I've been getting. Push the shrinks. We need more. Any damn thing."

"Hold on here a minute, Sammy. Who's gonna be covering your ass while you wave it in the breeze?" enquired Renfro with suspicion.

Gerard grimaced. "That's one hell of an image you've got there, Cosmo."

"Save the smart remarks. You need a tail."

"And I'll have one, once something breaks."

"Just so long as it's not your neck," said Poole dryly.

Gerard waved that away. "I need to be visible out on the streets for the next few days. Poole, sort out some stuff for me to do, OK?"

His team avoided each other's eyes as they remembered the hatred of Gerard which had scorched off the pages of the letters. It was Renfro who broke the silence.

"Don't make it too easy for them, Sammy."

"Hey, no," agreed Newman fervently. "I haven't got to drive the Ferrari yet."

"And you think that'll help your cause?" said Gerard, grinning. "OK, you all know what you're doing. Go get on with it. The condemned man is going to enjoy a meal and a good night's sleep."

"I'll cover your journey in tomorrow," said Biggs. "Seven o'clock suit you?"

"There's no need - "

"While Richard's got off relatively lightly, whoever wrote those letters wants you dead," said Ritchie.

"Then they're going to be disappointed," said Gerard grimly, before he met the various stares coming his way. "Make it eight o'clock," he conceded with a sigh.

Closing the front door behind the last figure, a worried-looking Renfro, Gerard leant back against the panelled wood, his flat-palmed hands outspread. He'd wanted a lead. Now he had one, all he could think about was whether Richard would want their relationship to continue once his attacker had been caught.

"You're looking grim," remarked Kimble as he emerged into the hall. "Is everything all right? Only I heard everyone leave quite a while ago."

Gerard refocused and pushed himself away from the door. "Everything's fine. Just fine. I was thinking, that's all."

"Dangerous habit, thinking."

"You bet. It looks like my vacation's over. I have to go away for a few days."

Kimble's smile froze. "When?"

"Tomorrow," said Gerard flatly.

"Oh. You'll be OK?"

Gerard snorted. "Get real. You should never have been allowed to read Superman comics as a kid."

"Who said I stopped reading them?" returned Kimble, relaxing a little.

"I rest my case," murmured Gerard, parting his hands. "There's still an hour or so of light left. You want to shovel snow again?"

"It's tempting, but I'd rather fool around with you," said Kimble frankly.

"Literally?"

"Is there any other way?" queried Kimble, looking faintly amused.

"I guess not," Gerard conceded. "That gets my vote. Back seat of the car? Couch? Bed?"

"Oh yeah."

"That wasn't a multiple choice question, Richard. My energy levels aren't what they used to be."

"We'll have to see about that," said Kimble, drawing Sam to him and meeting with no resistance whatsoever.

 

 

Sprawled face down on the ruin of the bed, Gerard opened a lazy eye and found Kimble's face on the adjacent pillow. They hadn't experimented, tried anything athletic, or entered a speed trial; instead, they'd taken it slow, tasting and testing every inch of each other. When they came they had used their hands and their mouths and the friction of their close entwined bodies.

"I look as goofy as you?" Gerard asked.

"I am never goofy. Dignity at all times, that's me," Kimble told him. "Don't bother fumbling for the covers. They're on the floor."

"Right." Closing his eyes again, Gerard rubbed his cheek on the pillow.

A hand ran down his spine, lingering on the rise of his rump.

"Did I think to tell you that you've got one of the finest asses I've ever seen?" said Kimble.

"You seen many?" Gerard asked, taking the compliment in his stride - metaphorically speaking.

"Yeah. There have been some real nice butts on my definitive list. Of course most of them were back in my misspent youth, when my attitude was ‘So many lovers, so little time.' I was a walking hard-on."

"You haven't changed much."

"Thanks, Sam," said Kimble dryly.

"Hell, don't thank me. I'm the one reaping the benefit."

"You inspire me." Kimble patted the backside in question, his hand lingering because it was impossible to hurry such a delight.

Gerard slowly eased onto his back and tucked an arm around him, his mouth just brushing the crease of Richard’s armpit.

Kimble brushed his palm up and down Gerard's thigh. "I don't mean to keep hassling you, but if I don't start work soon I won't have a job to get back to. I really want to start work again, Sam. I miss it like hell."

Propping himself up, Gerard cupped Kimble's shoulder, rubbing it gently. "I know you do, Richard. I know. Listen, you've given me a lot of slack. Will you hold off until I get back? That way I won't be distracting myself by worrying about you," he added with a disarming honesty.

Kimble exhaled noisily and covered Gerard's hand with his own. "You play dirty pool."

"That doesn't stop it from being the truth," Gerard pointed out steadily.

Kimble gave a grumpy sigh, but it was of defeat and they both knew it. "All right, I'll wait. But you'll let me know the moment you get a lead?"

"Sure," nodded Gerard, finding it unexpectedly difficult to meet the trust in those hazel eyes. He justified the lie by telling himself that what he had right now was a hunch.

"You're not planning to go to sleep, are you?" asked Kimble a few moments later.

Gerard opened his eyes again. "It doesn't look that way," he conceded wryly.

"Only I'm hungry."

"It's early yet."

"Nine-thirty."

"Get out of here."

Kimble thrust the wrist carrying his watch under Gerard’s nose.

"What happened to the time?" Gerard demanded, taking this stealing away of the few hours he had left with Kimble as a personal affront.

"We were fooling around."

"I hadn't forgotten that part," Gerard assured him, dodging the mock-punch aimed in his direction.

 

On the point of sleep, Kimble's eyes opened as he placed what had been bothering him. That last kiss of Sam's had been more valediction than passion.

As if he saw no future for them.

Staring at the dark head on the other pillow, Kimble slid a possessive arm over Gerard and resisted the urge to hug him tight. Sam needed all the sleep he could get.

"Now you've made me love you, you're stuck with me," he growled, his voice low and tense and barely audible. When a hand covered his own, he jumped and tried to get away, hot with embarrassment and the dread that Gerard didn't feel the same way.

"It'll be OK," said Gerard into the prickly silence. "You'll see. It'll be fine."

Kimble tightened his grip. "It better be."

Raising Kimble's hand to his mouth, Gerard kissed it before returning it to his stomach. "Go to sleep, Richard."

Chapter Text

The following morning they woke early.

Flicking on the light, Kimble frowned on his return from the bathroom when he noticed the bags packed and sitting by the bedroom door which led out to the hall. "You're taking a lot of stuff."

"I'm not sure how long I'll be gone," hedged Gerard.

"It's lucky you've finished your course of antibiotics," said Kimble, his voice too bright. "And the dressings came off yesterday. You heal fast. But I'll check your side before you go, OK?"

"OK," said Gerard peaceably.

"I'm going to miss you," Kimble said gruffly as he slid back into bed.

"Me, too."

"I suppose it's lucky you're going," Kimble mused in a lighter tone. "This is the last pair of clean sheets."

"I'll buy more."

"Get red ones," said Kimble, leaning up over the other man.

"Red," repeated Gerard, looking unenthusiastic.

"A rich, dark crimson. Or burgundy. You'd look fine against that background."

Gerard thought about it . "So would you. OK, crimson it is. Richard, I - "

"It's all right. I know," Kimble soothed.

And then they were kissing. There was something almost delicate the first time their lips brushed, the give and the take already as natural to them as breathing itself. When they made love it was sweet and lazy - an exchange of warmth designed to see them through the separation neither man wanted.

oOo

Renfro arrived to relieve Poole, who had been living at the house for the last week.

"I thought you'd be rushing off to Roger the moment I got here," he remarked, rolling up his shirt sleeves before he started to put together the ingredients to make breakfast.

"So did I," said Poole mournfully. "He's on days this week. So whatever you're cooking, make enough for me."

"Like that'll be a change. Where's Richard?"

"Still asleep."

"That's not like him."

Of the opinion Kimble hadn't been himself since Gerard had left seven days ago, it didn't occur to Poole to say so to Renfro. "While he hasn't complained, he isn't sleeping well."

Renfro bit into one of the doughnuts he had brought in, having forgotten that Gerard wouldn't be here to enjoy them. "Is Richard OK? The times I've spoken to him he hasn't had much to say for himself."

"He needs something to do," Poole prevaricated.

"I guess it must have been kind of dull around here for him," Renfro conceded, seasoning the eggs.

"With just me for company?" said Poole in a silky voice.

Renfro grinned and licked sugar from his fingers. "I sometimes wonder if this damn case is ever going to break. Short of streaking across the Federal Plaza, there isn't much more Sam can do to make himself more visible."

"Now there's a happy thought," mused Poole, brightening. "We could make our fortunes by selling tickets of the event. I'd pay good money for that sight."

Renfro gave her a tolerant grin. "Down, girl. I hope you're feeling hungry. I'm making enough for three," he realized as he poured the egg mixture into the pan he had been heating.

"I'm starving. How's Sam doing?"

Renfro grimaced. "Be glad you've been out of the firing line. Sam isn't a happy bunny and he's been only too willing to spread the gloom. Poky was the kindest thing he had to say about the apartment you found for him, he's up to his ass in paperwork and budget meetings, and there haven't been any more letters - to him or to Richard."

"You're keeping Sam staked out though?" Poole checked.

"I wish. He spotted the surveillance team of volunteers I'd put outside his apartment within ten minutes. He kicked our asses from here to St. Louis."

"Why does he have to be so damn stubborn?" sighed Poole.

"I guess he wouldn't be Sam otherwise. He's as pissed as hell."

"He's never been good at waiting." Poole fidgeted with the silverware. "I'm worried, Cosmo. Richard won't be willing to stay in custody for much longer."

Renfro swung around, the omelette almost sliding off the plate he had just served it onto. "Why do you think Sam's in such a bad mood? It seems Richard gave him a two week ultimatum to crack the case before he walks - time expires on Friday. Here, eat your eggs while they're hot. Sam will find a way to break this case. He thinks a lot of Richard."

"Yes," agreed Poole noncommittally. Lost in thought, she toyed with her meal. "What if the attacker has inside information? That way they'd know Sam has set himself up to draw them out into the open."

The expression on Renfro's face as he stared past her made Poole turn to see Kimble standing in the doorway.

"Richard - "

"Save it, Poole. I've heard all I need to know." Kimble's roughened voice sounded very deep, the anger no less strong for being under control.

There was a brief but loaded silence, which Kimble broke.

"Cosmo, I'll need my car in an hour. Have it ready outside the front door. I'm going to pack." Turning, he headed upstairs.

"You could be putting Sam's life in danger," Poole called.

"More than he has already?" Kimble's voice drifted down the stairs.

"Fuck," muttered Renfro despondently as he slumped onto a chair. To give him his due he wasn't thinking about losing the Corvette.

The smell of burning eggs filled the air.

 

Busy ferrying his possessions down to the front door, it was a while before Kimble noticed Renfro and Poole standing in the entrance hall. He paused, hoping they weren't going to make this more difficult than it already was.

"There's something you should know." Lacking his usual bounce, Renfro looked grimly serious.

"Make it good, Cosmo." There was a poorly camouflaged edge to Kimble's voice.

"We haven't been able to locate Sam," blurted out Poole.

"Right," Kimble scoffed. "You might have come up with something more original."

"Damn it, this isn't some prank we're pulling! Sam hasn't turned up for work. He isn't at the apartment he's renting and he isn't answering his cellphone," said Renfro.

"If you're worried Sam's been snatched, why aren't you out looking for him?" Kimble demanded, denying what he was hearing because it was preferable to considering they might be telling him the truth.

"Where in the Chicago area would you suggest we start?" countered Poole. "Besides, we could be over-reacting."

"We're not," insisted Renfro in flat dismissal. "Sam's not some irresponsible kid. It's ten after ten. We would have heard from him before now."

"Sam's been known to ignore his cellphone when it suits him," Poole reminded him.

"If we haven't heard anything by ten-thirty I'm taking action," Renfro said.

When the telephone in the kitchen rang he hurried to answer it, Poole and Kimble at his heels. Renfro flicked on the loudspeaker and the record button of the tape deck before he picked up the receiver.

His back to the others in the room, Kimble listened while Ritchie brought them up to date. Gerard had emerged from a drug store to see a woman being assaulted. When he had gone to her aid eye-witnesses spoke of a dark blue van being deliberately driven at him. While he had tried to jump clear, the wing of the van had sent him flying. The van had stopped, two men emerging from it. When the van was driven off again there was no sign of Gerard - or anyone else. There was an all units bulletin out, but so far there were no sightings of the vehicle. It wasn't surprising; dark blue vans were common, the license plate had been partially obscured by dirt, and the men bundled up in dark jackets and woollen helmets which left only their eyes and mouths free. The woman had been white, and of medium build and height. The witnesses had been too far away to see more. A cigar of the brand Gerard favored had been found at the site, together with spots of blood.

Kimble slumped onto the nearest chair as abruptly as if his legs had been kicked out from under him.

 

Within a short space of time the large house felt too small to contain the three anxious people occupying it.

His frustration mounting at the passive role he was forced to adopt, Renfro managed to be constantly underfoot, while contributing nothing useful. Given the possibility that an attempt might also be made on Kimble's life, it was essential that he be under increased guard. While it had been their decision, Poole and Renfro didn't like the fact they had to stay put and guard Kimble.

When he wasn't making a nuisance of himself on the phone, Renfro paced.

With untypical domesticity Poole kept making hot drinks which no one wanted.

Ignoring both of them as best he could, Kimble moved backwards and forwards through the house at full speed, his long legs eating up the distance. His brooding silence was broken by increasingly edgy demands for information which no one had.

For three hours he listened to the reports which were flooding in. His hopes were raised by two possible sightings, only to be dashed when both proved to be dead ends.

"Damn-it-to-hell!" Kimble snapped. He slammed down the Deputy Dawg mug with force enough to chip the base. "CPD couldn't find their dicks without someone to unzip them. A deputy U.S. marshal can't just vanish."

He wished he believed what he was saying.

He wished he hadn't seen so many road accident victims during his career.

"Why don't you expend some of that excess energy down in the gym?" Poole suggested.

Kimble gave her a blank look and kept pacing.

Thirty-three minutes later they received the report of a burnt-out dark blue van on a back road some miles west.

"Richard, don't look like that!" exclaimed Poole. "It's nothing to find wrecks days after a crash on some of those back roads."

Kimble didn't bother to remind her that they didn't usually contain three bodies. One had been wearing a .40 caliber Glock, model 22, another had the buckled remains of what appeared to be a deputy marshal's badge pinned to his jacket.

"Sam was snatched by three guys, and possibly the woman - though she might not have gone with them," Renfro reminded them. "All three bodies were in the front of the van. The back was empty. It's one thing to snatch Sam Gerard, it's another to hold him. Besides, there should be another gun - the one he wears in an ankle holster when he's off-duty."

"I forgot about that," said Poole, her expression easing.

Kimble's head rose, hope on his face.

Renfro went back on the phone to chivvy people needlessly. Poole busied herself by preparing a meal she knew no one would eat. If she kept herself working she might be able to stop thinking about the flaws in what Renfro had just told Kimble.

 

Feeling like a goldfish circling in a bowl, Kimble escaped the deputies only to stop dead in the entrance hall. Everywhere he looked there were reminders of Gerard and the time he had lived here with Sam. Reminders of the sometimes painful forging of a relationship whose importance was only sinking in now that it seemed it was lost to him.

Circling the area, Kimble absorbed the changes. The coat rack lacked Gerard's padded jacket and topcoat and his black boots were missing. The tab of the keys of his Ferrari poked from the wooden bowl on the table, which also contained a black glove of the softest leather. Without being aware he was doing so, Kimble picked it up, holding it tightly before he tucked it into a pocket. Reminded of his own missing gloves and the night he had goaded Gerard beyond his powers of endurance, Kimble spread the fingers of one hand over the panelled wood of the front door. It was inconceivable that a man as vital as Sam could be dead.

It should have been inconceivable.

Kimble knew how little it took to snuff out a life.

Shivering, he moved away from the door and began to make a list of the bones in the hand, as if that distraction could produce the man he loved, unharmed.

By mid-afternoon seconds were stretching out to impossible lengths. Kimble felt as if he had lived a lifetime in an hour. Despite the number of telephone calls coming in, the ringing phone still made him jump.

Renfro snatched up the receiver. Ritchie's voice echoed slightly over the loudspeaker as he reported that the searchers had found fresh bloodstains in the snow, three miles from the wreck of the van. Several miles from habitation, on a rarely used track, a disorientated, injured man could be walking in circles as he expended precious energy.

Sick with fear, every muscle aching with tension, Kimble glanced out the kitchen window. The temperature outside was thirty-one degrees and already dropping but the windchill factor would make it seem far colder. It was snowing where the searchers were, hampering their efforts and making tracking virtually impossible. If Sam was out in that he risked freezing to death before he was found.

Renfro's mounting frustration spilled out over the luckless Ritchie. "Don't give me the same tired excuses. You fucking find him. Alive. Why haven't you got dogs - ? Oh, well, about time." He slammed the receiver on the handset. "Damn it! I should be coordinating the search! Henry's good, but I'm better."

"So go," snapped Kimble.

Renfro rounded on him. "How can I? I'm baby-sitting you, you ungrateful son-of-a-bitch!" He kicked out at the side of a kitchen cabinet, then yelped and clutched his foot.

"You want me to look at that?" asked Kimble quietly.

Embarrassed by his lack of control, Renfro gave a shame-faced shake of the head. "Sorry, people," he muttered.

Poole patted him on the shoulder but directed her attention to reassuring Kimble. "Henry and Robert are two of the best. And as for Noah - Trust me, Richard. There's no way he'll let anything happen to Sam. We will find him."

Kimble just nodded before he swung away as fear swamped him. To lose Sam...

Staring out at the bleak landscape, the fading light emphasized how long Gerard had been missing. Retreating upstairs, Kimble was unable to settle in his own room. The bathroom was full of reminders, from the faint scent of his soap in the air to the old-fashioned razor he used. As Kimble went into Gerard's room the bathrobe slipped from the hook on the door. Kimble was still holding it in one hand as he sank onto the edge of the mattress.

Only a week ago he and Sam -

He lay back on the bed where he and Sam had made love to stare up at the ceiling, but his vision was blurred, his eyes stinging.

Dear god, not Sam.

Inhaling a familiar scent, he shot up as he smelt Gerard's cologne. It was a moment before he realized it came from the bathrobe he still held rather than the man himself. His fingers cramping over the soft towelling, Kimble's head bowed as grief swamped him.

 

It had been dark for almost two hours by the time Kimble went back downstairs. About to pretend to drink the coffee Poole had poured him, hot liquid slopped over Kimble's hand as the telephone shrilled. His eyes wide, he forgot to breathe for some seconds.

Ritchie was almost incoherent with excitement.

"Sam's alive! He's bruised and grazed and madder than hell because we still don't have any leads, but he's alive! They didn't find his second gun after they tied his hands. The van started sliding over the road just as he made his move, so he ended up winging the driver. The van was heading for the trees as he kicked open the rear doors. He managed to jump for it just before the crash. Lucky for us, he landed in a snowdrift or we wouldn't be having this conversation. We're on our way to the nearest E.R. now."

"You sure Sammy's OK?" checked Renfro. His eyes sparkling with happiness, he wore an ear-to-ear grin.

In the background Poole blew her nose on some paper towelling, her free arm gripping Kimble around the waist.

A familiar growl over-rode Ritchie's pleasant voice.

"Gimme that thing. Cosmo, get your ass back to the office. The woman was never in the van. I want to know where she went. You and Noah talk to the eye-witnesses again. I can't even give you the beginnings of an ID." Self-disgust echoed down the line.

"Take it easy, Sammy. We'll trace her. You sure you're OK?"

"What kind of damn fool question is that? I'll catch you later."

As Renfro replaced the receiver, already joking with Poole, Kimble walked out of the kitchen and across the hall. Stopping at the front door, he rested his forehead against the smooth, cool wood and concentrated on controlling his breathing.

Sam was alive. The stupid, stubborn bastard had survived.

He'd kill him. Then he'd leave. Before Sam died. Because of him.

Wiping his face with the back of his hand, Kimble was surprised to find moisture there.

 

It seemed a long time between Poole announcing that the car had entered the drive and the front door opening. Snow swirled into the house and a light bulb pinged and went out.

Enter the Demon King, thought Kimble, tension curling his hands into fists at his sides.

Flanked by Biggs and Ritchie, with a beaming Newman at his back, Gerard wasn't required - or given a chance - to say much as Poole and Renfro descended on him.

Frozen in the kitchen doorway, Kimble greedily absorbed everything about the other man. A gash on Gerard's temple wore a large gauze dressing, the flesh around his left eye grotesquely swollen and discolored. All visible portions of flesh down the left side of his face were bruised, scratched or grazed. He was dressed in what were obviously other people's clothes; the black trousers were two sizes too large and flapped above his ankles; the white shirt was tightly buttoned across his chest and the shabby jacket he was easing out of was unfamiliar. He was moving like an old man. Recognizing that indication of injuries hidden from sight, Kimble's mouth tightened.

 

His pride throbbing more than his hurts because he'd been taken like some green G5, Gerard hadn't yet shaken off his near-brush with death. He thought he made the right responses to everyone, while wondering where Richard was and how much of what had happened he knew. Then Biggs moved slightly and Gerard saw Kimble staring at him from the kitchen doorway.

An involuntary smile lit Gerard's bruised face.

 

Unblinking and unmoving, Kimble watched Gerard reassure his kids, while wondering why the hospital hadn't kept him in for observation. He looked like hell. Kimble was haunted by the image of what might have been rather than what was. In his mind's eye Gerard lay dead in the gutter.

Because of him.

Impervious to the warmth in Gerard's smile, Kimble's stony expression did not alter.

Gerard's smile faded to be replaced by puzzlement and disappointment before his expression smoothed into a telling blankness.

Too high with relief to notice undercurrents, subtle or otherwise, the male deputies left amidst much banter and back-slapping. Poole, who was remaining on guard-duty, spared Kimble a questioning glance before she tactfully disappeared into the kitchen and closed the door behind her.

Only then did Gerard move slowly from the shadows into the light but he made no attempt to rush into speech.

"What, no more lies?" said Kimble harshly, as if he had spoken. "I understand you're lucky to be alive - if no nearer to solving the case."

"That's right," confirmed Gerard. His voice subdued, his dark eyes were hurt and wary as they scanned Kimble's face, finding no welcome there for him.

"It didn't occur to you to tell me what you had planned?" pursued Kimble in a voice that was so deep that on occasions it was barely comprehensible.

"What good would that have done? There were no guarantees the scheme would work."

"Just as well, given how it turned out. Maybe it's time for the direct approach."

It was then that Gerard noticed the bags sitting at the side of the staircase in a neat pile. His widening eyes rose to Kimble's face, shock in their depths. "Richard?"

"Spare me. I'm doing what I should have done weeks ago."

Gerard was so still he might have been carved from stone; his unblinking gaze never leaving Kimble's face, he didn't seem to be breathing.

"I'm leaving," Kimble continued.

"You gave me two weeks to find the attacker!" In shock, Gerard blurted out the first thing that came into his head.

"Like you, I lied." Kimble walked past the man stranded in the center of the hall to pull on his topcoat and pocket his car keys.

"But what about us?" Staring at Richard’s back, pain bled from Gerard's eyes.

"Us?" Kimble swung around, contempt on his face. "There isn't any ‘us'. There's you, and there's me, but we don't connect. Or not in any way that matters much. You proved that when you made a sacrificial goat of yourself - and lied to me about what you were doing. God knows it's never easy to form a relationship, make one strong enough to endure and develop. Without trust we don't have a chance. You've made it obvious you don't trust me - and you've made it impossible for me to trust you."

Gerard flinched.

Kimble opened the front door, admitting a blast of icy air.

"Richard! Please don't go," Gerard added in a totally different voice.

Wheeling back, Kimble's disdainful gaze ignored the outstretched hand and the vulnerability of Gerard's face. "What is there to stay for? I would have given almost anything to make this work. I would have stuck with you through thick and thin. Would have expected the same commitment from you." His expression hardened. "It was a mistake for us to have sex. Ginny was right, you are a good screw. So good that I started thinking with my balls, not my head. Otherwise I would have recognized that's all you're capable of. Still, I shouldn't complain - the sex was fantastic. So, thanks, and goodbye. It's been an interesting experience."

Mute, Gerard was still staring at Kimble, his expression betraying nothing at all by this time. Loving Richard was a peculiar, bittersweet experience. The intensity of his feelings had made him nervous because he knew how vulnerable it made him; but it hadn't occurred to him that he would be made to pay the price so soon. Nothing seemed to make sense at the moment. He kept stepping into an oddly slanted world, losing the drift of things. He blinked and his mind righted itself, realization of what he was losing sweeping through him.

Satisfied by this time that the other man wouldn't try to come after him, Kimble stepped out into the snow and closed the front door. Going into the large, double garage and flicking on the lights, it didn't occur to him that he had forgotten his bags. All he could see was the expression on Gerard's face before he had thought to control it.

It hurt. More than he had been prepared for.

Better a small hurt now than Sam's death, he reminded himself bleakly as he slumped against the side of the Corvette. He should never have let things get this far - but who could resist Sam Gerard? It was his fault Sam had been made a target. By leaving he might be able to coax the attacker into returning their attentions to him. But he didn't know how he was going to bear the loss. His feelings for Sam ran so deep and felt so right that denying them was like losing a major part of himself. For Sam's sake he'd had to make this a convincing break.

He just hadn't expected it to hurt this much.

"Richard!"

Kimble looked up as Poole hurried into the garage, fury on her face.

"I saw the light go on in here, but I didn't believe - You're still leaving?"

"That's right," he confirmed, trying to look away from her too penetrating stare.

"Sam didn't try and stop you?"

"That's right," Kimble repeated.

"Dear god," she whispered. "What have you done to him?"

His face haggard, the toll the terrors of the day had taken on Kimble were obvious by this time; he seemed to have aged several years. The hazel eyes looked haunted, their brightness dimmed. "Butt out, Poole. This is none of your business."

"Wrong. Sam is my business."

"Then he has my sympathy."

Poole grabbed his arm as he tried to turn away. "What the hell are you trying to do? Do you want to get yourself killed?"

"I don't want to get anyone hurt," he retorted, desperate to be gone.

Her eyes narrowed with comprehension. "Is that what this foolishness is about? You're trying to protect Sam?"

"Let me go, Poole. I don't want to hurt you."

"What's one more?"

Disconcerted, Kimble continued to stare at her. "What are you talking about?"

"You fool. Can't you understand? You've hurt Sam for nothing. He'll never compromise what he sees as his duty - whatever it costs him personally. Sam does what he knows is right, not what he'd like to. Where is he?" she demanded abruptly.

Taken aback by the abrupt change of subject, Kimble said, "I left him in the entrance hall."

"Well he's not there now. I know Sam. He takes off for a few minutes when something's got to him."

"If I go back in there with you I'll never be able to leave again."

Poole's belligerent expression gentled when she recognized his despair - and the love which he no longer knew how to hide. "Help me find Sam. Please, Richard. He needs rest - in the warm. Trust me," she coaxed. "This isn't the right thing to do - on any level. Come back inside."

Taking the line of least resistance, Kimble allowed himself to be steered into the house.

"Sam!" Poole's call echoed across the hall.

Without realizing he was doing so, Kimble checked the rooms leading off the entrance hall while Poole took the cellar and kitchen.

"He's gone out the back!" called Poole.

Kimble ran through to where she was pulling on a jacket. "What?"

"Don't look like that. Sam hasn't been snatched again. There are only one pair of footprints heading out into the woods."

Kimble slumped with relief. "Thank god."

"I don't know why you're looking so pleased. He should be in bed, not out in the snow. I'm going to bring him in."

Kimble put out a restraining hand. "No, that's my job. Let me go to him."

"The grounds - "

"Are safe enough. If the attacker knew where Sam lived they'd have acted before now."

"OK, but when you come back Sam better be smiling."

Kimble gave her a tired look. "You think it's that simple? What if Sam's killed - just because he tried to help me?"

"Don't you think it's his right to make his own choice? Or don't you believe he's man enough? Don't sell him short, Richard. He deserves better."

As Kimble opened his mouth, Poole interrupted him.

"Don't you love Sam?"

"You know - " His voice cracking, it was a moment before Kimble trusted himself to continue. "You know I do," he said, unable to dissemble. "But you've seen how close they came to killing him."

"Bruises heal. You have the power to cut bone deep. If Sam's walked out into a snow storm I'd say you hit your target. The hospital wanted to keep him in for twenty-four hours. They also told him to keep his temperature up. He was still a degree under normal when he came home."

Kimble's eyes flickered, but he said only, "He'll be OK."

"I hope you're right because he must have walked out there in his shirt sleeves."

Kimble's pretence of unconcern dissolved. Hunting up a powerful torch, he issued a slew of orders. Without waiting for her to acknowledge them, he raced out of the back door, following the erratic trail of footprints which, ignoring the paths, headed out into the trees.

The cold was so intense after the warmth of the house that it stole Kimble's breath away and stung his skin and eyes. Sending the powerful beam of light out ahead of him, he searched for a black and white image in a scene of black and white. A couple of times he tripped on concealed snags. An untidy imprint in the snow told him Gerard must have fallen.

Kimble speeded up his pace.

 

Oblivious of anything but the fact Kimble had left him, Gerard wondered at his seeming inability to move beyond that fact. The roughness of bark pressing into his back, he raised his face skywards, staring up through the bare branches. He had to close his eyes against the large flakes which were falling faster and faster around him. Soft and insubstantial, they stung his skin before they melted. After a while he stopped being aware of them.

Because the weight of snow muffled all sounds of life, the roar of a car engine starting up sounded shockingly loud. Richard, identified Gerard bleakly. Richard was leaving and there wasn't anything he could say or do to stop him. He had fallen in love rather than simply in lust - first with the shadow, then with the substance of the man he had come to know - and he'd driven him away in just over a week of their becoming lovers.

Gerard stared into the middle distance so hard that his vision blurred. His arms wrapped across his chest, fists tucked into his armpits, he tried to hold the pain of his loss inside; Richard had slid under every defense he'd ever erected.

The crunch of feet on the icy crust topping the snow brought Gerard's head up. "Let me be for a spell longer, Poole," he requested, speech requiring more effort than he had expected.

"It's me. Come inside, Sam. You've been out here too long."

Not trusting his own senses, Gerard slowly turned in time to see Kimble shrugging out of his topcoat before the coat was slipped round his shoulders. The silk lining was warm from Kimble's body and Gerard flinched. Tired almost beyond endurance he realized it was snowing; he wondered vaguely why he didn't feel particularly cold. Movement requiring more effort to perform than he had anticipated, he touched Kimble's face with numb fingers.

"You're still here." His hand fell back to his side. All desolate eyes, his roughened voice was uncertain. The thin shirt he wore clung soddenly to his torso and the uninjured portions of his face were waxy with the cold. "I heard a car."

"That must have been Poole putting hers away," said Kimble as he buttoned his coat onto Gerard, who gave no sign of noticing. Adrenaline coursed through Kimble at that danger sign. "Sam, you must come back into the house. You're not shivering. You have mild hypothermia."

"Go away Richard," said Gerard, not unkindly. "I just need a spell to myself."

"You can have it. Inside. I'm not going without you." While he made no complaint, Kimble gave an artistic shiver, then found he couldn't stop. His tee shirt and sweatshirt offered little protection against this intensity of cold.

"You should wrap up."

"I will next time," Kimble promised meekly. Sliding an arm around Gerard he exerted only the mildest of pressure but it still made him flinch. He was half-supporting Gerard by the time they reached the house.

Poole swallowed whatever she had been about to say when she saw Gerard was out of it. "I've left everything in the living-room as you asked. The heating's up, the fire's banked, there's warm clothing, towels, drinks, water and your medical bag. Is there anything else I can do?" Turning from securing the back door, she followed the two men as Kimble steered Gerard into the living-room.

"We could use some space," said Kimble. Easing Gerard out of the topcoat, he tackled the buttons on the wet shirt. Passive between Kimble's hands, Gerard gave no sign of noticing.

"I'd worked out that much. Because of Sam's abduction we're doubling security round the house. Henry and Robert are covering the grounds. I'll make myself comfortable down in the gym. OK?"

Kimble spared her a look of gratitude as he unpeeled Gerard from his shirt.

Poole winced when she saw the livid marks on Gerard's torso. She placed a .38 and an ammunition clip on a table. "It's my spare."

"Thanks, Poole."

Kimble barely registered her departure as he stripped and carefully dried Gerard. To his relief the new skin over the bullet wound in the other man's side was undamaged, the majority of the injuries were on the other side of Gerard's body. Kimble brushed his fingers over the spot, felt Gerard ease away from the near caress, and tried to slide back behind professional detachment.

Catching an intimidating look from unblinking dark eyes, Kimble realized that Gerard was returning to life. He handed him the thermometer he had taken out.

"I need to know how low your temperature has dropped, Sam."

Gerard grudgingly stuck it under his tongue. Kimble didn't feel equal to pointing out that wasn't the most efficient place as he checked Sam’s vital signs.

"Ninety-five point two. You have hypothermia. Not critical as yet but if I can't get your temperature up you'll need to go to hospital."

"No hospital." Still swaddled in bath sheets, Gerard drank the luke-warm, heavily-sugared mug of tea handed to him. He gave the envelope-sized space blanket of aluminium a narrow-eyed look of disdain as Kimble threw it open.

"You can forget that," Gerard growled. Letting the towelling drop, he slowly began to dress in the loose layers of clothing provided for him: shorts, socks, tee shirt, sweatshirt, sweater.

"You need to increase your core temperature," Kimble protested, but he didn't push the issue because Gerard was already easing himself onto one of the long, comfortable sofas in the nest of feather pillows, comforters and blankets.

"No shit. Where's Poole?"

"In the gym."

Gerard's eyebrows rose. "What's she doing there?"

"Giving us some space," said Kimble awkwardly.

"Why? We said all there is to say. Well, you did. Tell her to get back up here. Then go change. You're wet."

Recalling Poole from exile, Kimble avoided her gaze as she made a point of telling him she'd make herself a sandwich and take it up to her room while she read.

Showered and changed, Kimble returned to the living-room with fresh drinks. One glance at Gerard's expression told him how completely he had closed himself off. Swathed in softness, Gerard had never looked more unapproachable.

His heart twisting, Kimble wondered how much damage he had caused. It wasn't the unhappiness bleeding from Gerard's face when he forgot to guard his expression which upset him the most, but Sam's acceptance, as if Gerard had expected nothing else.

 

In the hours which followed Gerard's temperature rose steadily and his vital signs remained good. He spoke only when asked a direct question; his replies were brief but had a killing courtesy, his face and voice devoid of life or color. He had yet to meet Kimble's eyes and, while he wasn't obvious about it, he avoided any physical contact.

It was that which Kimble noticed most of all; that and the fact the painkiller administered at the hospital had obviously worn off. Using the land phone in the kitchen, he checked with Ritchie which hospital Gerard had been taken to, then ascertained from the attending physician in the E.R. what medication Gerard had been given. Returning to the living-room, he prepared a shot and explained what he proposed.

Gerard just nodded and eased onto one flank as the other was bared, swabbed, injected and covered again. A short while later Kimble had the satisfaction of seeing some of the tension leave Sam’s weary face. Sprawled his length, Gerard had one leg bent at the knee. There was a dressing around each wrist, where whatever had been used to restrain him must have cut into his flesh.

Feeling hollow with fatigue but unable to sleep until Gerard did, Kimble made up the fire again before sinking onto a cushion by the side of the sofa.

"I need you to understand why I said what I did." Kimble spoke slowly, knowing he was picking his way through an emotional minefield.

"I understood. You made yourself very clear." All emotion pressed from his voice, the pain of that rejection was still in Gerard's eyes before he masked them by placing his forearm over the upper half of his face.

"I said what I knew would stop you from coming after me," continued Kimble.

"Congratulations, it worked."

"Sam, I - " Kimble stayed the hand he had extended at the last moment. "If we stay together you could end up being killed. I'm too dangerous to be with. Helen was murdered for no better reason than that she was married to me." He forced the words out into the silence as he plucked at a quilted cover Gerard had pushed aside as his temperature rose. "I survived her death. Somehow. I don't remember much about that time. Only afterwards. Maybe I thought bringing her murderer to justice would help. Maybe it did. It gave me a cut-off point."

Most of Gerard's face remained masked by his forearm.

"Then I came to live here and fell in love," added Kimble with deliberation. "And you came this close to dying - because of me." His voice was so low it was barely audible. "I can't go through that again, Sam. I can't - won't - put you at risk. I thought if I left it would keep you safe. I didn't realize you felt - I mean, I hoped you did but - I never meant to hurt you like this." Unable to stop himself, he brushed back the wisp of dark hair which had spilled onto Gerard's forehead.

His arm sliding away from his face, Gerard pushed himself up on one elbow the better to stare at Kimble. "Well, now you've decided what's best for us, I'm going to soak in the tub," he said at last.

"Can't that wait until morning?" Kimble asked involuntarily. "You look so tired."

"No." Gerard swayed slightly as he got to his feet before he steadied himself.

Kimble found the wisdom to let him go. Collecting up the bedding stolen from various rooms, he remade Gerard's bed and left before the temptation to slide under the covers should grow too strong.

 

The emotional numbness he longed for yet to arrive, Gerard stood watching water gush into the free-standing tub that he'd had custom-made to allow him to stretch out fully, with room to spare. Richard was still here, but he was here for all the wrong reasons. Show him a potential patient and a Pavlovian reaction took over.

Abruptly he heard the echo of Kimble's voice telling him that sex was the most he had to bring to a relationship. It was always the truth which hurt the most. What else did he have to offer? Stubborn, set in his ways, undemonstrative and gruff, the longest relationship he'd made had survived only a year or so; he was a poor second best to the perfection of the martyred Helen Kimble.

Remembering to turn off the water, steam wreathed around him as he began to strip. At least it was quiet in here. He needed time to regroup his defences. Time to get used to the idea that he was alone. Not that he had ever thought of it that way before Richard entered his life. Sinking into the hot, clear water, Gerard slowly stretched out, grunting as various sore spots protested. Leaning his head back, he closed his eyes as the water lapped around his chest. Little by little, a spurious warmth seeped into him.

 

Pacing up and down his bedroom, Kimble strained to hear sounds of life. It had been quiet in the bathroom too long for his peace of mind. Without giving himself time to regret the impulse he stalked into the other room without ceremony. He met a steamy humidity but there was no sign of Gerard. Intending to check the other man's room, from the corner of his eye Kimble glimpsed the naked body fully submerged under the clear water in the tub. Gerard's eyes were closed, his dark hair floating around his head.

"Christ!"

Galvanized into action, Kimble leant over the tub, grabbed Gerard under the armpits and heaved him to the sitting position. Panting with effort and fear, Kimble half-collapsed over the bath.

Jerked from relaxation to this, water streamed down Gerard's face. "What the hell - ?"

Kimble almost lost his grip on the slippery, wet flesh before he steadied himself. "I thought - " His voice cracking, his face crumpled. Then he was holding Gerard with a strength that bruised, his face pressed to the wet skin. "I thought you were dead! Christ, I thought you were dead!" The emotions of the last eighteen hours roiling in him, he couldn't have released Gerard to save his life.

Physically uncomfortable and emotionally battered, Gerard automatically put an arm around Kimble's back. He squinted down at the head tucked into his neck, then gave Kimble an awkward pat.

"It's OK," he muttered in gruff reassurance. "It's OK."

"How can it be? I hurt you for nothing."

The painful grip on Gerard's upper arms eased, the hands sliding down to his elbows and back up again. Slumped onto his knees by the side of the tub, Kimble brushed wet strands of hair from Gerard's forehead with unsteady fingers. His other hand cradled the uninjured side of Gerard's face in the gentlest of caresses.

"I love you so much," Kimble murmured, helpless to withhold the truth.

"Ah, Richard, what are you doing?" Gerard breathed. But when Kimble stared up at him, naked love on his face, he was lost. "Me, too, OK?"

When Kimble continued to stare at him, he gave a little nod of finality, indicating that his foray into romantic declarations was over. "Get off your knees. It's making me uncomfortable. I need to clean up."

He leant forward to release some of the cooling water and add more hot before slowly flexing his shoulders, prolonged immersion in hot water having worked miracles on his stiffened body. Kimble picked up a large sponge, soaped it and took hold of Gerard's left arm.

"Richard - " Sighing, Gerard fell silent. It was less trouble to let Kimble have his way, although he felt uneasy at being so pampered.

Washing him section by section, Kimble's concentration on the task was total. Without the camouflage of clothes, there were no mysteries, the hurts inflicted by the van and from boots stark on Gerard's body - an ugly patchwork which only time would heal. That his injuries weren't more serious was a miracle.

Having rinsed Gerard clean with a meticulous attention to detail, Kimble fetched the bath sheet he had put to warm on the heated rail and held it out. Because he was allowed to get out of the tub under his own steam, Gerard accepted the attention. Wrapping the huge towel around him, Kimble patted moisture away. He sat Gerard on the lid of the toilet, rough-dried his hair and silently unpeeled the sodden bandages from Gerard's wrists. The flesh around the sutures was puffy: normal at this stage. Applying fresh dressings, Kimble looked up from what he was doing to find Gerard watching him from unblinking eyes.

"Being kidnapped must have taken you back to the time you were abducted as a kid," said Kimble, desperate to re-establish communication but feeling so awkward that he had no sense of how to go about it.

Gerard gave him a look of disdainful surprise. "There was no time for reminiscing. I was too busy trying to escape. They'd made it plain they intended to kill me. Five hundred dollars each, that was their fee."

"I should have known you don't live in the past."

Kimble sounded so subdued that it prodded Gerard into a further confidence. "I was too damn scared to think of anything but what was happening. Jeez, I'm so tired," he added in a low voice. One hand on Kimble's flank, he rested his forehead against his chest where his lover stood above where he sat.

Kimble cradled the back of the bowed head in his cupped palm, fingertips just stirring the dark hair. "I know you are. Come and rest in bed."

Gerard looked up, some of his usual intensity on his face. "Where will you be?"

"Wherever you want me to be," replied Kimble simply.

Exhaling softly, Gerard gave Kimble's flank the lightest of pats, as if conscious that he was touching something of immense value, but all he said was, "Next to me will suit me fine, Richard. Just fine."

Warm, dry and secure in the knowledge he was loved, when Gerard fell asleep he still had one arm tucked over his lover, just to reassure himself that Kimble really was here beside him.

Chapter Text

"Sam, are you OK? I've been calling and calling and - "

Having knocked and opened the door to Gerard's bedroom as he spoke, Renfro's voice petered away when he saw there were two people where he had been expecting only one.

Lying on his back, Kimble was half-covered by Gerard's body. The dark head nestled in the curve of his throat, while his palm rested over the nape of Gerard's neck in a gesture in which protectiveness and tenderness were mixed. His other hand, mercifully hidden from view by the covers, seemed to be settled over Gerard's rump.

"Quiet!" Kimble hissed furiously, but Gerard was already stirring. Turning his head, he muttered an indistinct query, his voice sounding drugged.

"It's only Cosmo. Go back to sleep," Kimble murmured, his fingertips caressing the base of Gerard's skull.

"Problem?" Gerard asked more coherently. Turning onto his back as he moved from Kimble's body, he gave an involuntary grunt of discomfort when various sore spots made themselves known. Heavy-eyed, he was pale beneath a night's growth of stubble. "Cosmo?"

Seemingly kick-started back to life by the sound of his friend's voice, Renfro jumped.

"Shit, the rumors were right! Uh, I'll catch you when you're awake." Aiming for man-of-the-world nonchalance, he tripped over his own feet and almost shut his hand in the door.

"Cosmo," repeated Gerard, before he could complete his escape.

"Yes, Sam?" Attentive and bright-eyed, Renfro remained in the hall, as coy as if he had caught Poole naked.

"Come back in here. I don't bite."

"Too hard," added Kimble from Gerard's side.

Renfro feigned deafness but looked self-conscious, while Gerard pulled the covers up over Richard's face.

"What's the time?" asked Gerard.

"Close on nine."

"Jeez," groaned Gerard in disgust. "I've only been asleep four hours. Take a hike. Come back around lunch time. What rumors?" he thought to add.

Having believed he'd got away with it, Renfro shook his head in reassurance. "Nothing for you to worry about, Sammy."

"I'm not worried, just curious," said Gerard through a jaw-cracking yawn.

"Uh," Renfro shuffled his weight from one foot to the other. "When you took Richard to the office a few people began to speculate about what - whether you and he were - Uh - "

"Lovers," supplied Kimble, emerging into view as he pushed himself up in bed to reveal a naked torso.

"Well, yeah." Renfro felt control of the situation slipping away from him when he realized both men were naked under the covers. "Is Sam OK?"

"At what?" returned Kimble blandly, too happy to be able to resist the temptation.

"Behave," admonished Gerard, but his affectionate grin only widened when he saw Renfro's expression. "Go away, Cosmo. Come back later. What?" he added when he stayed put. "Is this a problem for you?" he added in a gentler tone.

"No!" protested Renfro instinctively, his expression worried, affectionate and earnest all at the same time. "It's just - a surprise, you know? I'll see you guys later." He stepped back, the door clicking to a close behind him.

Gerard turned to give his lover a tolerant look. "You mind telling me why you're lying there laughing like a fool?"

"I think Cosmo was worried you were going to start hugging him or something. Or worse still, me," spluttered Kimble. "If only he knew."

"I hug. Just not very often," Gerard conceded when Kimble began to laugh again. "I'm glad you think this is so comical because if I know Cosmo he'll want to be real supportive."

"Shit," groaned Kimble with horror.

"My sentiments exactly."

The laughter faded from Kimble's eyes as he studied his lover. "You do want this, Sam. Us, I mean." He gestured between them.

Gerard's gaze never wavered. "I've wanted ‘us' for longer than I can remember. Make no mistake, Richard, I want this."

"Thank god for that," said Kimble frankly. "I was afraid I would have to knock you on the head and drag you off to my cave until you saw sense."

"This is sense?"

"It feels as natural as breathing to me, but more fun. The only problems came when I tried to ignore all the clues." Kimble nuzzled Gerard's temple. "This won't cause you any problems? With your job, I mean?" he added hesitantly.

The smile was back in Gerard's eyes, a new serenity about him this morning. "Sexual harassment? I don't think so."

"Telling the kids wouldn't have been your first choice though."

"It wouldn't have been my tenth," Gerard admitted frankly. "They might have free run of the house but that doesn't mean they get to wander through my private life. Not that I had to tell them anything after that scene at the hospital," he added wryly.

"That was my fault."

"I hadn't forgotten," Gerard assured him. "Still, you didn't force me to drag you in that locker room and stick my tongue in your mouth, now did you. I guess I'm OK with it."

Kimble patted him. "They'll still respect you in the morning. How will your superiors react?"

"You mean the jerk who gets paid more than me? I'll let you know when I find out. I don't anticipate any problems I can't handle." There was a wolfish anticipation about Gerard that made Kimble feel vaguely sorry for whoever had the handling of him.

"How do you feel about having come out?" he asked, still worried about his lover.

"Where?" asked Gerard through a jaw-cracking yawn.

"Dumb question," accepted Kimble. "I should have waited until you'd had some coffee. Though you've been making perfect sense so far."

"That's because I've been agreeing with you," Gerard pointed out. But he yawned again a moment later.

"There is that." Leaning over, Kimble kissed him gently on his just parted mouth. "Go back to sleep."

"You?" Gerard's eyes were already closed.

"I'm going to sit here thinking ‘Mine all mine' for a while - "

"Oh, man. You're a sad case, Richard."

"I know it," he said serenely. "Then I'll have a soak in the tub before I go down and reassure Poole. Brag about your prowess," Kimble added wickedly.

"Fine," mumbled Gerard, snuggling closer.

Kimble's grin faded as he felt Sam fall asleep against him. One hand over the curve of a bare shoulder, he sat absently stroking it and tried not to worry what the future might hold for them.

 

Blinking with a drowsy incomprehension, Gerard stared at the man leaning over him. "What?" he managed to articulate.

"Cosmo rang. I told him to bring the kids over for a late lunch. I think they want to check for themselves that you're OK. I thought I'd wake you in the traditional way," added Kimble.

"Can I have a clue here?"

"With a kiss," persevered Kimble.

Gerard thought about it and patted about his person to establish that the covers were completely missing. "Shouldn't that have been on the mouth?"

"I tried that. Nada. So I thought desperate times required - "

Gerard gave a massive yawn, then slid a hand under Richard's polo shirt to sift the tips of his fingers through the gray-brown hair curling on Kimble's chest.

"Here." Leaning down, Kimble picked up the mug of coffee from the floor.

Pushing himself up into the sitting position with a grunt of pain, Gerard yanked the covers after him, wrapped them around himself, then inhaled the coffee with gratitude.

"You look better."

Gerard cast a quizzical look at the fingers taking his pulse. "Is this going to be a regular feature of being woken by you?"

"Only if you insist."

By the time he finished his coffee Gerard was looking alarmingly awake. "Am I your new spectator sport?"

"You've been that since the day I arrived," Kimble admitted ruefully.

"Yeah?" Gerard looked surprised, then pleased.

"You must have picked up on that," said Kimble.

"Too busy not getting into bed with you," admitted Gerard with gloom. Stretching, he desisted with a pained grunt of annoyance.

"Don't complain," Kimble instructed. "I can't believe how lightly you got off, considering what you went through. Here, these pills will take the edge off. If Cosmo sees you limping he's bound to blame me."

"It's tempting," mused Gerard as he swallowed the tablets with the last of his coffee.

"How much do you mind the kids knowing you're gay?" pursued Kimble, having been worrying the issue while his companion slept.

"You mean when I remember that's what I am?" returned Gerard dryly.

Kimble blinked. "You mean - ? No one else?"

Regretting his slip, Gerard's attempt at an intimidating stare was doomed to failure, his lover's face already alight with incredulous delight.

"Well I'll be damned," Kimble said blankly. His mouth was already seriously out of control before the first splutter of laughter escaped him.

"You mind telling me what's so damned funny?" There was more resignation than heat in the question.

"It's just - Oh god, I love it! I'd never thought of you - of all people - as a virgin. Wow, I'm gonna have your cherry," realized Kimble with glee.

Gerard gave a reluctant grin. "Not if you keep on like this you won't," he threatened. "I'm no easy lay."

"No surprise there."

His hand on the back of Gerard's neck, Kimble eased them closer. Their noses brushed, lips barely parting at first. Gerard's mouth tasted of the coffee which had warmed it; Kimble's tongue felt silky and cool. Gerard drew out that deliciously full lower lip between his own when they finally drew apart.

"Were you planning to tell me I was your first at any point?" pursued Kimble, all the implications of what he had learned tumbling in on him.

Gerard shook his head.

"Now that would have been a mistake. I wish I'd known before," Kimble added with a trace of guilt.

"Can we move on from here?" Gerard looked mildly pained.

Kimble brushed aside the thumb which had slipped under his polo shirt to circle his left nipple. "I'm serious, Sam. You should have told me. Christ, the first time you gave me head I damn near choked you. I just assumed it had been a while for you. Maybe even decades."

"Gee, thanks, Richard."

"It was close on nineteen years between male lovers for me," Kimble said quietly.

Gerard was eyeing him shrewdly. "What's the real problem here?"

"It's not really a problem," Kimble prevaricated.

Unblinking, Gerard relied on silence to work for him.

"I swear if you laugh I'll - I would have liked to make your first time special," Kimble confided in a rush.

Gerard's expression softened, a broad finger stroking the corner of Kimble's mouth. "As I recall, at the time I was dry-humping you against the front door."

"That's not what I meant."

"I know that," dismissed Gerard in a roughened murmur. "You really are a moron. It was special, I promise you. Though I have to say, it's got better. Wanna make a man outta me?" he added, serious beneath the flippancy.

"Now?" Kimble's voice ascended the scale in one word.

"You need advance warning?"

"Get real, Sam. Give your bruising a couple of days. If you're horny I'm - "

"Sporting the beginnings of a promising - "

"Uh huh, that will have to wait," said Kimble, although not without regret. "The kids will be here any time." He frowned. "Word that we're a couple is going to get out. And it'll be a two-day wonder in view of our history. Are you ready for that?"

Gerard left the bed, winced, and gave another cautious stretch. "I shouldn't think so. I'll survive. At least when some low-life calls me a cocksucker, he'll be right, if for the wrong reasons." It was obviously a source of satisfaction.

"So I don't get to deflower you just yet," mused Kimble, all large-eyed innocence as he trailed after his lover into the bathroom.

Gerard gave him a tolerant look as he planted himself above the toilet bowl. "You're getting a real kick out of this, aren't you."

"Bet your ass."

"I will be," Gerard reminded him. "With all Chicago Memorial already on our case, word should hit the tabloids any day," he added pensively.

"I never tried to hide my private life away when I was married to Helen or when I was seeing Doug Ross. I'm not about to start now. Don't look so dubious. Whatever the rest of the world makes of us, around the hospital you'll simply be Doctor Kimble's Sam. About all that will be expected of you is that you turn up for the Christmas party looking suitably adoring."

"Adoring?" echoed Gerard with disbelief.

"You mean you aren't?"

"Adoring," Gerard repeated as he depressed the flush. "That should be interesting."

"I'm looking forward to it," Kimble admitted cheerfully.

Opening the cabinet to take out his shaving tackle, Gerard stared at Kimble's reflection in the mirror. "You were right yesterday," he said abruptly, the smile fading from his eyes. "I should have told you what I planned to do. Let you say your piece."

"Before you went ahead and did what you wanted," recognized Kimble, his mouth quirking.

"Well, yeah," admitted Gerard, because he had no choice. "Probably. I shouldn't have lied to you though. I regret that."

"Fair enough." Kimble placed his mouth to a bare shoulder. "Can we carry on living together, Sam? After this case is over, I mean?"

Gerard nodded. "Yeah."

"Here?"

"Sure. You wouldn't rather we found a place together?"

Kimble shook his head. "I love this house."

"Ah. That accounts for your enthusiasm about setting up home together," said Gerard wisely, before he twitched upon recognizing his vulnerable position. "Richard, you bite me, you'll be the one to explain it to Cosmo."

Straightening from where he had dropped into a crouch, a wicked grin crossed the reflection of Kimble's face. "You want to explain to him where I bit you?"

"I hate a wise-ass," murmured Gerard, after a pause for mature consideration.

"That's a pity," said Kimble, tucking his arms loosely around the bruised torso as he eased Gerard against him, "because it's what you've got in me."

Abandoning any immediate thoughts of being able to shave, Gerard relaxed back into the embrace. "I know," he conceded lazily. "I guess I'll survive."

"Who knows, you might even enjoy the experience." The side of his face brushing Gerard's, Kimble swallowed when he saw the slow, luminous smile which lit his lover's mirrored face. But the ugly bruising was a reminder of how close they had come to disaster. Afraid of saying more than Gerard would be comfortable hearing, Kimble hid his expression against the strong throat, while remembering just in time not to tighten his embrace.

"I'd say that was a certainty." His gaze on the reflection of the man holding him, Gerard ran his palm up and down the arm and hand which were curved over his belly. Kimble looked up, a familiar determined jut to his chin.

"I like certainties," he said with conviction. "All this and your house too," he mused dreamily.

"Thank you, Richard."

"Any time, Sam. Not that it's perfect, you understand."

"Are we talking about the house here?"

"Is there any other topic of conversation? Though I can think of a few home improvements I'll be making."

Gerard viewed with the gravest distrust the winsome beam which Kimble directed into the mirror.

"You want me to be happy, don't you?" Kimble continued. His deepening voice had reached the rumbling depths which tended to reduce Gerard to a boneless heap of pleasure.

"I guess," he said weakly, beginning to see the pattern of his future life unfolding. He'd be old before his time, but the odds were that he'd die happy.

"You don't sound very convinced," murmured Kimble. He began to nuzzle the delicate skin behind Gerard's left ear, an action which sent shivers rippling across the other man's skin.

"Richard, will you please stop stroking my belly like that?" requested Gerard in a tight voice, before a soft groan escaped him.

"Like this?" purred Kimble, nibbling a fleshy ear lobe at the same time.

A hiss of discomfort escaped Gerard when he moved too quickly.

"It's OK, I've got you. Damn, I forgot your delicate condition," Kimble added, knowing better than to offer sympathy.

Gerard gave him a considering look in the mirror. "I'll enjoy hearing you repeat that when I've got my strength back."

Far from being cowed into submission, Kimble looked intrigued. "I'll hold you to that."

"I'm sure you will. It'll be interesting to see if you just turn me gray, or if I'll lose all my hair," said Gerard with gloom.

"Probably both. At the same time," Kimble added cheerfully. "Don't worry. I'll be real supportive."

"Oh god," groaned Gerard, before he cocked his head and smiled, creases fanning out across his lean cheeks. "So what home improvements do you have in mind? Miniature golf course out in the yard?"

Kimble dropped to his knees so fast Gerard had no time to protect himself. Kimble's hands on his flanks, holding him in place, he felt the brush of Kimble's mouth. He gave a yelp of surprise when the kiss he had confidently expected did not materialise.

"I can't believe you would bite an injured man," Gerard said reproachfully as he tentatively rubbed the injured area.

"You'll learn," Kimble told him, just before he sucked the pink mark he had left on the curve of Gerard's rump.

oOo

Comfortably propped against banked pillows, there was rueful amusement on Kimble's face as he held his groaning lover in a careful embrace.

"No, don't try and move until you've got your breath back. Just accept it, you're still too sore to make love." The glare he received only broadened his grin.

"There's nothing wrong with my dick," growled Gerard, but he subsided with an unconscious sigh of relief.

Kimble briefly cupped the area in question. "Nothing at all. But look at the state of you. Another day of celibacy won't hurt us."

Warm breath gusted against Kimble's skin as Gerard snorted, before he raised his head to give him a quizzical stare. "You think I'm gonna find that reassuring?"

"You're worth waiting for," Kimble consoled him. Having ascertained that Gerard hadn't suffered any head injuries the day before, he worked his fingers through the thick, dark hair to massage the scalp below.

Gerard made a soft sound deep in his throat. "Damn, that feels good." Like some great cat he pushed back to meet those magical fingers that seemed to know exactly where the pressure was needed most.

Kimble brushed away the hand that was creeping down to his cock. "Uh huh. Don't start what you can't finish. The faster you heal up, the faster Cosmo will stop looking at me as if I'm abusing you. Or worse," he added darkly.

Gerard grinned. "You want me to have a word with him?"

"No point. I'm never going to object to your kids being protective of you."

"Please." Gerard looked nauseated.

"I don't know why you're acting like that. People have been known to like you. Occasionally."

Gerard's look said not if he could help it and Kimble had the sense to leave the subject alone. He tucked an arm around Sam’s chest, mindful of the more colorful areas.

"When can I get back to work, Sam? Now you've narrowed down the field of suspects - "

"Oh yeah, I'm a regular Columbo. After all this time I'm still left with thirty-three suspects. Count them. Thirty-three." Gerard shook his head with self-disgust.

"Can I see the list of names?"

"What? So you can look down it telling me, ‘He wouldn't', ‘Not her'."

"Hey, all I said that time was - OK, scrap that idea. I would never try and interfere with your work," Kimble added piously.

Gerard's sideways look made Kimble grin again.

"Maybe I will go through that list with you," Gerard mused. "It might be interesting to see who out of those thirty-three you worked with before your arrest."

Kimble's eyebrows rose. "Before? You think that's a clue?"

"Damned if I know. But it's information we don't have. It could be useful. I could be wasting both our time. I've gotta go to work," Gerard added with regret. His face against Kimble's skin, he inhaled his lover's scent and warmth.

"You could use another sick-day," pointed out Kimble.

"The only reason I took yesterday was - We both needed it," Gerard conceded. That burst of honesty earned him a kiss on the side of his jaw. "I have to go in. I fired my gun in the line of duty. That's already under investigation. Three people died," he reminded his wide-eyed lover.

"Christ, Sam, they were - "

"Hey, relax. This isn't a witch hunt. But we're not encouraged to go round shooting citizens. Anyway, apart from the Inquiry, I need to get the press off my back."

Kimble gave a faint frown. "I thought news of your abduction was being kept out of the media."

"It was, but once I got back - "Gerard puffed out his cheeks, his hands parting in an expressive gesture. "I despise the damn vultures. They've hindered our investigations more than once. And they always want ‘the human angle'."

"Only you would make that sound like an obscenity," joked Kimble.

"I can't afford to get emotionally involved when I'm working," snapped Gerard. His scowl dared Kimble to contradict him.

Continuing to sift his fingers through the dark hair, Kimble studied the bruised half of Gerard's face, which was all that was visible to him. "Absolutely not," he said peaceably, his smile a private thing.

"I don't know what you're finding so damn funny," Gerard said accusingly.

"I always suspected you had eyes in the back of your head."

Gerard gave a hard-done-by sigh. "Your face is resting against my back. I felt you smile."

Kimble shifted position so that they were opposite one another. "And how do I look now?" he asked huskily.

"Horny," said Gerard after a while, as he investigated Kimble's length with the tip of his finger. "Very horny."

"That's amazing." Kimble's palms slid up the curved muscles of Gerard's upper arms. "I'm wrapped around the man I love, we're both naked, in a comfortable bed, he's stroking my cock, and I'm horny. Astonishing. Why don't you lie back, make yourself comfortable, and reap your reward for turning me on."

"What happened to celibacy?" mocked Gerard. Not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, he made no attempt to resist as he was eased onto the mattress.

"Go ahead, gloat," invited Kimble as he straddled the supine figure, careful to avoid the worst of the bruising. "You won't have the breath for it soon. I don't want you moving."

"Not at all?" Gerard waggled his eyebrows.

"Oh, I'll make sure that bit moves," Kimble promised him, the velvety richness of his voice stroking Gerard's senses. "This one's for you, Sam."

Anticipation pricking his skin, he gently held Gerard's head between his hands, as if he thought the other man might want to escape, and leant in closer and closer.

Gerard gave a soft groan of defeat. "Jeez, Richard. You know what your mouth does to me."

"Rhetorical question, right? I'll have to see if I can't surprise you with something new," he murmured.

Leaning forward the necessary few inches, he touched his mouth to the firm, dry lips. Kimble eased into the kiss, wooing Sam’s mouth to part for him before his tongue flicked between the small, uncapped teeth and into the moist interior, mindful of the bruised face as the kiss deepened.

 

"Wow," croaked Gerard, who still had his eyes closed. He raised his hand to his mouth, licking stickiness from the palm. "Told you I wasn't dead yet. Celibacy!"

His mouth brushing the other man's temple as he held Gerard, Kimble grinned. "OK, I was wrong, you were right."

"And your point is?"

Kimble let Gerard feel the nip of teeth against a fleshy ear lobe, having discovered they worked where nipples failed. "You're a bastard," he said lovingly, before he frowned. "Why are you squinting?"

Gerard had the grace to look abashed. "I was trying to read the time on your watch."

Laughter spluttering from him, Kimble buried his face against the strong neck. "Well, at least you waited until I'd finished," he muttered philosophically.

Gerard stroked the swell of his companion's glorious backside. "I don't deserve you," he said humbly.

Raising his head, Kimble stared at him for a very long time. "Maybe you don't," he conceded at last, his tone determinedly free of sentiment, "but you're stuck with me anyway."

 

Having abandoned all thought of going into the office early, Gerard enjoyed a leisurely breakfast. Pouring them both more coffee, Kimble frowned and forgot to drink from the mug he held.

"As far as my attacker is concerned, I've turned into the misunderstood hero. You're the antichrist who's hounded me down the years, then seduced my saintly ass."

"I'm not about to repent," Gerard told him acerbically. "Trust me, Richard, this way is better."

"Better for you, perhaps. But if I've become the hero, then X - "

"X?"

"Can I finish?" snapped Kimble. There was no trace of the indulgent lover about him now.

His mouth more or less under control, Gerard parted his hands in apology and meekly waited for him to continue.

"You turned into the villain when X saw us at the hospital, with you in alpha mode. That left X with room to convince themselves that the reason I'd ‘rejected' them was because I'd been forced into a relationship with you. That being the case, why don't we go back there and - "

"I'm ahead of you and I don't like it," said Gerard flatly. His expression stony, his eyes were lightless.

"It didn't occur to me that you would. But it might draw them out."

"I know it." His shoulders slumping, Gerard sounded resigned.

Kimble looked chagrined. "You already thought of that?"

"It's my job to think of things like that," Gerard reminded him patiently.

"I thought I'd come up with the perfect solution."

"No surprise there," Gerard muttered.

"What?"

"I said you have. And the idea scares the crap out of me because I think it will work. If ‘X' sees you in charge of the relationship - and me - "

"I like the sound of that," Kimble interrupted.

Despite his anxiety, Gerard grinned. "I just bet you do. Before you get too enthusiastic, reflect on this. Losing their faith in you so fast could push them over the edge. It could tip them into any kind of inappropriate action. We don't want a repeat of the Patterson scenario."

Kimble sat back to survey his lover. "On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the risk?"

Gerard gave him an irritable look. "About one," he admitted in a goaded tone.

When he got up and began to pace up and down the kitchen, Kimble knew he had won; the irritable looks coming his way only confirmed it.

"All right, Richard. We'll give it a try. Will you come to the hospital with me again?"

"I'll go wherever you want me to," Kimble told him without elaboration. He took a gentle pleasure in the embarrassed delight on Gerard's face.

"Yeah, well, the hospital will do just fine for now," muttered Gerard at his gruffest, before he looked up to pin Kimble with an unblinking stare. "On one condition."

"Why did I know you were going to say that," Kimble sighed.

"Maybe you're psychic. Can we move on?"

Undeceived, Kimble grinned lovingly. "We can do anything you want. I adore masterful men," he cooed.

Because he hadn't seen that coming, Gerard swallowed his mouthful of cold coffee the wrong way. It was several minutes before he was in any state to resume the conversation.

"You trying to kill me? I'm serious here. Besides, you'll be the masterful one."

"This could have its up side after all."

"Oh jeez," said Gerard with amused foreboding. "Though after my last performance at the hospital I guess I can't get too righteous. But to demonstrate how much I've mellowed, you have my blessing to ring people at the hospital to broadcast our visit. Make sure you speak to the same people you called the last time."

Kimble looked blank. "I can't remember them all."

"No surprise there," said Gerard dryly. "It was quite a list. I'll give you a copy."

"I suppose we'll need to get there at about the same time too," mused Kimble. "Although with some people on rotating shifts you might want to check - "He tailed into silence when he looked up to see Gerard staring at him; unsmiling, unblinking, he made an intimidating figure.

"You've already thought of that," recognized Kimble. "I should have remembered - That is - "

Making no attempt to help out his flustered companion, a slow smile lit Gerard's face as Kimble stumbled into silence.

"Bastard," grumbled Kimble, chagrined that he should have been caught out so easily.

"I'll leave you to decide exactly what kind of a performance you want us to give," said Gerard, taking pity on him. "It's your work-place."

"I like the idea of being alpha to your - " Kimble broke off as he began to chuckle.

Gerard eyed him patiently. "You mind sharing the joke?"

"I was just wondering if Big Dog is capable of being submissive."

Dark eyes travelled over him. "Then it will be a learning experience for you. I guess it will depend whether Doctor Kimble's capable of mastering Big Dog."

A myriad of possibilities tumbling heatedly through his brain, Kimble lost his nerve. "I could start calling people at the hospital now," he offered, avoiding his companion's gaze.

"Chicken," mocked Gerard with affection.

Kimble looked up and shook his head. "No, just afraid I might enjoy it too much," he admitted wryly.

"Shouldn't I be the one worrying? We'll work out a game plan when I get back tonight."

"You mean for the hospital?"

Gerard gave him a considering look. "Yeah, for now. I've gotta go. I'm late already."

As Gerard crossed the room Kimble assessed the lack of the animal grace which was the other man's physical hallmark. "Can we save this plan - the hospital plan - for a few days?"

"Sure. What's the problem?" Concern on his face, Gerard returned to Kimble's side.

"Right now you couldn't dodge an arthritic snail. Save the glare for your kids, Sam. You know it, I know it. I don't want the distraction of worrying about you as well as me."

Grimacing, Gerard conceded the point with a poor grace. "OK, you're right. I would be a liability right now. I'll get myself mobile, then we go. But when we do, I want your word you'll do as I ask - no, tell you - when I tell you. No smart remarks, arguments or equivocations. Just blind obedience. Can you trust me enough?"

A smile in his eyes, Kimble nodded and patted Sam's chest. "Yes, and I give you my word."

Gerard visibly relaxed. "Good man. You'll be wearing a bullet-proof vest when we go. And you'll be armed."

"Is that normal procedure?"

"I don't give a shit about ‘normal procedure'. I want you safe."

About to demur, Kimble remembered his promise. "OK, Sam."

"Hey, enough with the big eyes. We'll be fine," Gerard promised him. "Now I've gotta go."

"Haven't you forgotten something?"

Gerard paused, thought about it and returned to give him a swift, hard kiss.

"OK?"

"More would have been better but that's not what I meant. Aren't I supposed to have a bodyguard when you're not here?" Kimble asked, tickled that his ever-efficient companion should have forgotten that elementary point.

Chagrin on his face, Gerard stared heavenwards - or in the direction of the kitchen ceiling - and muttered something incomprehensible, just before he reached for the phone.

Primly seated at the table, Kimble made no attempt to control his smug grin.

oOo

 

Their plan to return to Chicago Memorial was delayed for the four days it took for Gerard to recover enough to move with his usual ease. Given that he received official confirmation that he had taken all the appropriate action on the second day, Kimble was free to relax and enjoy the novelty of a lover who didn't leave for work until nine o'clock and who was back before the evening rush hour.

"I could get to like this," Kimble confided, aching to touch Sam but remembering just in time that Poole was still in the house.

"Me, too," she said, having entered the kitchen in time to hear that. "It frightened Roger half to death when he came home and I was already there."

"Once this is over you can have all the downtime you want," Gerard promised her as he took vegetables from the refrigerator.

"Have I complained?" she demanded with spirit.

Gerard snorted. "More than usual, you mean? You staying for dinner?"

Taken aback, she stared at him. "You want company?"

"Hell, no. I was being polite."

"No wonder I didn't recognize what was going on. Have a good evening."

"Oh, he will," Kimble assured her blandly. Leaving Gerard to grin over his preparations for their meal, he saw Poole out.

"You worried I can't find the way?"

"Just making sure you go. About tomorrow. Sam will have people to look out for him, won't he?"

"More than he'll be happy about," Poole confirmed. "Can I help it if those deputies who are off-duty happen to be visiting the hospital at the same time you guys are there?"

There was pure gratitude in the look Kimble gave her. "Thanks. Only Sam's going to be far too busy looking out for me to give his own safety a thought."

"That had occurred to us," Poole assured him dryly. "Night, Richard."

oOo

When Kimble woke up three times in a row to discover himself alone he got up and tracked Sam down to the gym. The tie of his bathrobe trailing across the floor, Gerard was slumped on the battered old couch, his ankle on his knee as he began to eat an ice cream on a stick.

"I knew you must have a secret vice," said Kimble as he sat beside him.

"I guess you were hoping for something more exciting."

"No."

Only when Gerard gave an amused snort did Kimble appreciate the pit which had been dug for him. "Bastard."

"As a matter of fact, I am."

Unimpressed, Kimble gave him a hard stare. "You wouldn't be stooping to play the sick puppy card, would you?"

"No point with you," said Gerard mournfully.

Kimble didn't enlighten him. "Why come down here? What's the attraction? The faint but lingering trace of sweat? The fact you can look at yourself in all those mirrors over there? Or do you just perform unspeakable acts in private, is that it? Or maybe - "

"Enough. I was thinking, OK? Boy."

"And you think better while you eat ice cream?"

"Try it." Gerard handed Kimble the stick.

Kimble absently took a bite of the rich, dark chocolate and through to the vanilla ice cream beneath, before handing it back. "Mmn, that's good. Anything you want to talk about?" he added, his tone ultra-casual.

"Nothing new to say. We've talked the plan through every which way. We know the job we have to do. It's just that I'd feel happier if you weren't coming," Gerard admitted in a burst of rare candor.

Kimble cupped the other man's bare foot where it was propped over Gerard's knee and with his free hand took the ice cream from him and ate the last of it. "I feel the same way about you. I thought it was just me being a wuss."

"Thanks, Richard."

"Any time, Sam." Handing back the empty stick, which he had licked clean, Kimble made himself comfortable in the circle of Gerard's arms.

Chapter Text

By the time they drove off to the hospital Kimble felt sick with a dread he couldn't rationalize or explain. In a perverse way it was a comfort to notice that Gerard was quieter than usual, the nervous energy that was his hallmark contained.

As he parked the department Ford Taurus in the hospital car park, Gerard gave Kimble a brief pat on the knee. "Relax, Richard. We haven't been alone since we left the grounds of the house. Henry and Robert tailed us, Cosmo's already in the hospital."

"What about Noah and Poole?"

Gerard stared through the windscreen. "They've both got people working here. I don't want them distracted if something does go down."

"And it saves them from having to make impossible choices," said Kimble.

Gerard feigned deafness. A hand on his arm made him pause in the act of leaving the car.

"Don't be a hero today, Sam."

Gerard gave him a sharp-eyed look that softened when he recognized Kimble's concern. "You must be thinking of some other guy." Without a thought to the fact they were sitting in a parked car in a public place, he leant across the shift stick and kissed the corner of Kimble's mouth. "I'm not about to risk what we have, OK?" he added gruffly, fiddling with the car keys.

Kimble nodded. "Good enough. Then come and let me show you off."

As they entered through the electronic doors to the lobby, Gerard gave a mousy looking woman a double take. Puzzlement turned to a reluctant amusement when he realized that several deputies who were supposed to be on leave just happened to be wandering through the lobby.

"Richard, don't wave at her," he groaned.

"But Mary gave me the cinnamon roll that time I came to the office. Oh, she's undercover."

"Hey, a bit louder. They might have missed it downtown," said Gerard as they strolled towards the Information desk.

"I forgot," explained Kimble with a sunny unconcern which was only partly assumed now they were in his hospital.

"Well, don't forget again. This is show-time, Richard. Our audience awaits." In a slightly raised voice, Gerard informed Kimble, "We can't stay more than half an hour. I'm a busy man."

Kimble swung around, invading his personal space. As if in reaction, Gerard backed up against the side of the Information desk. While the changes were small, he seemed to shrink slightly, his body language submissive, his expression eager to please.

His voice very silky, Kimble murmured, "You've kept me locked up long enough. We do what I want now. Haven't I taught you that yet? Maybe you need a few more lessons," he purred.

Having given a small but artistic flinch, Gerard lowered his eyes, then looked up through his lashes. "Sorry, Richard. We’ll do it your way."

Kimble reached out as if to bestow a pat of approval to an intimate area, then seemed to remember they were in public and pulled away. "Come with me," he commanded, "I need to explain a few things to you in private." Walking away quickly, he drew Gerard with him into the men's room.

After checking they were alone, Kimble sagged against the door, pulling Sam towards him. His face buried in the curve of Gerard's shoulder, his laughter was muffled. Gerard patted his back tolerantly; his own laughter was silent, but Kimble could feel the echo of it where they stood in this near embrace.

When Kimble finally raised a flushed and tear-streaked face Gerard smoothed flat the small spike of hair which insisted on sticking up; it sprang back the moment he released it. That stubbornness typified Kimble to him and he smiled and placed his mouth to the groove between the other man's eyebrows. Using the side of his thumb, he wiped away the moisture under Richard's eyes. Giving Kimble a speculative look, he voluptuously licked his thumb clean of salt.

"I thought you were dribbling," he explained into the silence broken by his companion's heavy breathing.

"More like drooling. Shit, our performance was a turn-on." Kimble pulled Gerard closer to him, nudging his erection against the other man's in a hopeful manner. "Do you realize I almost came when you did that thing with your eyelashes?"

"You mean this?" Gerard subjected Kimble to a look that was both sultry and submissive.

Kimble gave an audible swallow, his hand sliding between their bodies. Gerard captured him by the wrist before Kimble could unfasten his zip, and with a slow deliberation nipped the tip of the other man's scarred index finger.

"Forget it. We are not going to fuck in the john, Richard."

Undeterred, Kimble nudged closer. "We've got lubricant," he murmured coaxingly, nodding towards the soap dispensers.

Gerard bit him again, but harder this time.

"Ow! OK, no soap."

"No sex."

All mock aggression, Kimble caught Gerard by the scruff of his neck in a gesture in which a caress and threat were closely mixed. Eye to eye, their faces were only inches apart. "What if I tell you we will?"

Gerard licked dry lips and suddenly forgot how to breathe.

Gratified and surprised by that reaction, Kimble leaned close and tugged with his teeth at the other man's lower lip. "Ten minutes, Sam. I can do it in ten little minutes."

Fighting through a lust-induced fog, Gerard gave one of his slow-to-form killer smiles. "You think speed's a selling point?"

Realizing what he had just said, Kimble looked rueful. "My brain moved south."

"No change of address then." With a loving tolerance, Gerard patted Kimble's flank and eased away from temptation, before taking a couple of deep, calming breaths. He looked down at himself to check he wasn't about to go more public than he was prepared for. "We can play games later. We have work to do." He opened the door of the men's room and headed back towards the Information desk.

Kimble mentally thanked fashion for long line jackets before trotting after him.

"Is that a promise, Sam?"

His voice slightly raised for the benefit of their audience, Gerard said, "I'll play any game you want, Richard."

Kimble gulped. A beaming smile blossomed on his face, before it was replaced with a worried frown. "Are you in character now?" he whispered.

Gerard's voice was very soft and husky, as it always was in times of deep emotion. "What do you think?" In a louder voice, he added, "So where do we go next? You call the shots, Richard."

 

It didn't take Gerard long to realize that Kimble had been serious about wanting to show him off. While continuously assessing those to whom he was introduced, Gerard took immense pleasure in the warmth with which Kimble was greeted. Knowing that the good opinion of many of these people mattered to his lover, Gerard set out to do him credit. Aiming to create the illusion of the perfect couple, he exerted himself to please.

Still finding it difficult to credit that someone he worked with could want to kill him, Kimble never allowed himself to forget the role they were playing. He had already promised himself that any further attacks wouldn't touch Gerard, whose face and body still bore bruises faded to a mottled yellow.

Standing at Gerard's side, their shoulders and arms brushing, Kimble's awareness of his lover's physical presence intensified until he was conscious of all the small movements Gerard made as he walked and talked and breathed, his sense of the other man a heady pleasure. Watching the interested expression Gerard was wearing as he listened to the biggest bore on staff, Kimble's face was alight with happiness because he recognized that the effort Gerard was making was for his benefit rather than the role they were playing.

"Damn, but I like that," exclaimed Gerard as he and Kimble headed down the corridor to their next destination, planning to visit every area covered in their last two visits to the hospital.

"Claire's legs? They are superlative," Kimble agreed without anxiety.

"Yeah, they are, but that's not what I meant," said Gerard, pausing by a vending machine and fishing for change. "You were right about the way people here would think of us. When she introduced me to a parcel of nurses I wasn't Deputy U.S. Marshal Gerard, I was Doctor Kimble's Sam. And it feels good."

"‘Doctor Kimble's Sam'," tested Kimble. "It does have a good ring to it," he conceded. "You've done me proud today, Sam. And don't pretend it's all because we're bait," he added with asperity.

"OK," said Gerard docilely before he grinned and nudged his companion's shoulder with his own. "Don't go mushy on me, Richard. They're a decent bunch of people. I can see why you like them."

"Including Henry Loftus?" queried Kimble.

"I won't have to see much of him, will I?"

"Only if you feel the urge."

"No, that won't happen," said Gerard with admirable restraint, before they both grinned, remarkably pleased with themselves and each other.

While Kimble wouldn't relax fully until they were back home in one piece, he was enchanted by the confirmation of something he had begun to suspect some time ago. Gerard liked people; he just didn't see a need for most of them to be made aware of the fact. He steered clear of overt gestures of affection as if they were a communicable disease, even while warmth spilled from him now his emotional guard was temporarily lowered. Kimble realized that if he'd thought about it he would have recognized Gerard's guilty secret before now. A deputy marshal's work involved constant contact with people from every sector of the public.

From the phonecalls, flowers, cards and fruit which had flooded the house after the news of Gerard's abduction had broken, it was obvious that he knew many of the behind-the-scenes power-brokers in the city, some of whom had sent messages which had gone far beyond the standard courtesies; but then Dave Vidal would have ensured Gerard made plenty of contacts during his teenage years. Not that Kimble could ever imagine Sam using them for his own benefit; the odds were that he wasn't aware of just how much influence he had. For a bright guy he had blank spots. Kimble tucked his arm into Gerard's and gave it a squeeze with his own.

"Don't drink that coffee. It acts as a spot remover on clothing."

"You could have told me before I'd drunk half of it," Gerard complained.

"I thought the taste would be warning enough. Where are we due to go next?"

"Sophy was on the ninth floor last time we visited her."

Kimble headed purposefully towards the elevators, only to be yanked back from the half-full one that arrived almost immediately.

"After you, ma'am," said Gerard. One woman became six, filling the elevator. "You wouldn't rather take the stairs?" he said to Kimble.

"I can already feel sweat pooling in places I'd rather it didn't. No."

"OK," said Gerard mildly, one hand going to his collar.

When an empty elevator finally arrived Gerard ushered Kimble inside, then allowed the doors to close in the face of an indignant, if improbable, blond.

"And here we have an example of the courtesy we can expect from members of the U.S. Marshal's Office," intoned Kimble.

Gerard shot him an edgy look but said nothing. They had spent almost two hours at the hospital, and contrived to meet eighteen of the thirty-three suspects. Each encounter had left him more wired than the last. He wasn't used to his imagination getting so much exercise and he resented the affect it was having on him.

In the privacy of the elevator Kimble was tugging at his clothing. "How do you stand wearing a bullet-proof vest?" he complained.

Gerard gave him an unblinking look. "I think of a headstone saying Samuel Gerard, may-he-rest-in-peace," he said with flat-voiced brutality.

Kimble winced. "You've made your point. I'm being careful," he protested.

"I admire your notion of - "

The elevator juddered to a standstill in between floors, making both men stagger before they caught their balance.

"What the - ?" Fully focused on the situation and all its inherent dangers, Gerard had already drawn his Glock and stepped in front of Kimble, who patted him on the shoulder.

"Take it easy, Sam. These elevators on this side of the wing are prone to breaking down. As they're only used by visitors they get a low priority." Kimble picked up the handset and reported their predicament.

"It could be a while before they get to us," he told Gerard after a couple of minutes. "There's another elevator with fourteen passengers stuck in it."

"Convenient. Where better to trap you than an elevator?"

"True. But stopping one requires a degree of technical competence and so far X hasn't shown any."

"I hadn't forgotten," snapped Gerard irritably. Unzipping his black padded jacket, energy virtually poured from him. "It was a mistake to come back here with you. Damn, I've left my cellphone in the car." There was disbelief in his voice, which was hard with impatience and something else which Kimble couldn't immediately identify.

"You wouldn't be allowed to use it within the hospital anyway." Kimble shot his edgy companion a look of concern. Usually, the worse the situation, the cooler Gerard became.

"Figures." Letting his automatic fall to his side, with his free hand Gerard touched the knot of his tie. "Boy, it's warm in here. How long does it usually take to fix an elevator?"

"Longer than you're going to be comfortable with," Kimble recognized. "They said it could be a couple of hours."

"Terrific."

Gerard began to pace from wall to wall and back again. Even in the twenty-four person capacity elevator that was only two and half strides. Kimble moved into the center to give him free rein of the perimeter.

His automatic returned to his concealed holster on the front of his jacket, Gerard was sweating. A muscle in his jaw jumped as he continued to pace, giving off more energy than an electric field.

"Sam, I know you suffer from claustrophobia but pacing is only - "

Kimble was silenced by a murderous look from night-dark eyes.

"I'm having a panic attack, all right? You have heard of them, I suppose? Happy now I'm talking about it?"

"You'd rather fight than talk?"

"Jesus, Richard! I don't need this shit! I'm stuck in this fucking elevator with a moron!" Pulling apart the knot of his tie, Gerard opened the top button of his shirt, which was all that the high-throated vest permitted.

Sighing, Kimble stuck his hands in his jacket pockets in case he gave in to the urge to check Sam's pulse. "Seems like," he said with studied nonchalance. "At least you're not hyperventilating."

Open hostility on his face, Gerard swung around.

"Would it help if I open the roof hatch?" continued Kimble, uncowed.

"Can't you keep quiet for more than three seconds at a time?" Without further ado Gerard removed his jacket and bullet-proof vest, unfastening several shirt buttons. Then he noticed Kimble doing the same thing.

"Don't even think of saying something," Kimble warned him. "I'm too damn hot. Open the hatch in the ceiling. I'll give you a hand." Stooping, his right leg bent, he made a step by linking his fingers and presenting his cupped palms. When nothing happened, he looked up.

"You open it," said Gerard gruffly.

"Afraid I'll drop you?" mocked Kimble.

Gerard shook his head.

"Then what?" frowned Kimble.

Gerard sighed. "I'm not about to stand on the hands of a surgeon, OK. Now get up there and open the damn hatch." His scowl made it obvious he was regretting the confidence.

His expression gentling, Kimble nodded. Working quickly, he returned to the floor, took one of Gerard's hands in his own and deliberately kissed the palm.

"No need to get mushy," Gerard told him astringently, before he gave Kimble's chest a pat in which affection and apology were mingled. Propping himself against a side wall, he began to revive as cooler air eddied into the elevator. "I didn't mean to come on like a jerk," he said abruptly.

"No need to apologize," said Kimble easily. "It's a relief to know there are situations you can't handle. I was starting to worry that I'd taken up with Superman."

"Please," groaned Gerard, glad to discover he didn't need to fend off sympathy. "The guy's a wuss. Batman was my hero." He snatched gratefully at the chance to discuss inanities, his face unconsciously tilted to greet the faint flow of air.

"Figures. Don't tell Kathy. Not only will she drag you to every re-run of the movies but she's got this huge comic collection."

Gerard gave him a patient look. "The real Batman is only in the comics, the rest is just Hollywood. I'd like to see her collection. One day I'll get round to replacing the one I started when I was a kid back in Texas."

Sliding down the back wall to sit on the floor, Kimble gave the legs of Gerard's jeans several tugs before he gained his attention.

"What?"

"You ever had sex in an elevator?"

"Never stayed in one for long enough," dismissed Gerard, missing the point.

Kimble slid his palm as far up Gerard's inner leg as he could comfortably reach given their respective positions. "Then this could be a first."

"You're crazy."

"No, just horny. At least sit down and consider the possibilities," coaxed Kimble. "You're giving me a crick in my neck." Impossibly, his voice deepened, stroking his lover's senses. "I could give you the best blow job of your life."

Looking less fraught already, Gerard slowly sank to sit next to him, so close their shoulders were brushing.

"You mean it gets better?" he mocked.

"Trust me."

"When you look like that? Not a chance. And don't even think of sticking your tongue in my ear." Gerard softened the warning by patting Richard's leg, which had tucked itself over his own.

"Can I suck the lobe?"

Despite himself, Gerard grinned. "Not while I'm wearing these pants." Taking hold of the hand inching up his thigh, he kept hold of it, absently caressing the palm with the side of his thumb.

"You'd make a terrific Batman," Kimble decided.

"The big ears, huh?" The look of surprise he received made Gerard realize love really was blind. He made a mental note to check Richard for imperfections, prepared to be thorough if need be.

"You'd look so hot in black. Not a cloak though. A long black coat. And boots. With heels," added Kimble dreamily.

"Right." Gerard rested his head back against the wall. "You'll be wanting spurs next."

Kimble's eyes brightened. "Theoretically good, painful in practise," he decided after some consideration.

Visibly more relaxed, Gerard shook his head in mock despair.

"I don't know why you're being like this about it," said Kimble with spirit. "I could have picked chaps. Or gold lamé and tit rings."

Laughter lines gouged Gerard's lean face, his eyes sparkling with fun by this time. "You could," he agreed, "but it wouldn't have got you anywhere."

"How would you feel about a long black coat?"

Gerard thought about it. "I suppose it couldn't hurt."

"It definitely won't hurt," Kimble assured him. "So what's your kink, Sam?"

For once Gerard's face was unguarded. "Just you," he replied simply.

A fatuous grin spreading across his face, Kimble sat staring at him before he rallied. "There must be more? Some embellishment."

Gerard thought about it. "You in shorts. Any kind."

"Oh, very kinky, Sam. Is that it?"

Gerard looked apologetic. "I'm a boring kind of guy. But I do love you."

"Oh," said Kimble weakly, pierced to the heart by the expression in the dark eyes.

"No need to look so worried," protested Gerard gruffly, taken aback by that large-eyed vulnerability.

"Who's worried? It's just that you - "

"I've told you that before."

"‘Me, too' doesn't count. Besides, you sounded as if you were having teeth pulled."

Pragmatic and rooted in reality, Gerard allowed his romantic side so little freedom that most of the time he managed to convince himself that it didn't exist. But absorbing what he had just been told, he looked disconcerted. "You yanking my chain?"

"Some," admitted Kimble. "Though I do get a kick out of being told."

"Jeez, you sure take a lot of convincing. I let you into my work, my home - my john for god's sake - my life, my heart."

When Kimble continued to stare at him Gerard added the clincher. "And despite the provocation, I haven't killed you for being so damn perky before I've had my first cup of coffee."

"That bad, huh?" said Kimble, one hand having slid between the open edges of Gerard's shirt some time ago.

"Terrible," confirmed Gerard. "No judge will convict me when I murder you. It'll be a clear case of justifiable homicide."

"You're getting better at early mornings," consoled Kimble.

"You're not." Gerard cocked his head. "What you doing?"

"Counting."

"I got that much right. Why?"

"It's that or kiss you."

Gerard considered the respective merits of the two options for over thirty seconds. "I must be missing the point here. Would that be so terrible?"

"It never has been yet. That's the problem. It's your cock I'm thinking of kissing. I know we're here to attract attention but we could attract more than you're ready for.

Gerard glanced at his watch. "By my reckoning we've got one hour fifty-two minutes before we're rescued. There’s no security camera in here. How long were you planning to take?"

"How long can you last?"

"Let's find out. You sure about this? It's your hospital."

"And you're my lover," said Kimble steadily. "Besides, we're not about to give a floor show."

"That I can vouch for," said Gerard, his gaze on the ripeness of his lover's lower lip. "One condition. I get to kiss your mouth first."

"Like I'm going to complain," scoffed Kimble. "Though how come you - ?"

His mouth abruptly full of Gerard, he gave himself up to the kiss. A jolt ran through him when he felt his zipper being unfastened as his mouth was released.

"I thought - " he began.

"Don't," advised Gerard kindly. "You don't want to confuse yourself."

As the side of his thumb chose that moment to caress the head of Kimble's cock, Richard forgot whatever retort he had intended.

 

By the time they were rescued one hundred and eight minutes later, they were fully dressed and in the middle of a heated debate on the respective merits of the various comic book heroes; subjects on which they were both remarkably well-informed.

 

"I suppose the vest has to stay on," said Kimble with resignation as Gerard drove them home.

"You better believe it. Cosmo's already pissed with me for forgetting my phone."

"No wonder you're worried. It would be like being savaged to death by a gopher."

"Trust me, his bite's worse than his bark."

Having seen the affection between the two men at first hand, Kimble tended to doubt it, but he let it pass. "I was dreading today, but it went better than I expected. You do a fantastic line in submissive. I don't suppose there's any hope of it continuing on a permanent basis?"

"None whatsoever." Frowning, Gerard's attention was obviously elsewhere.

"Sam?" As Kimble watched in puzzlement, Gerard switched on the radio and turned up the volume. The sound of ZZ Top blasted through the interior. Kimble reached for the volume control and Gerard brushed his hand away.

"You made me a promise," he murmured, under the cover of the song. "If you love me, keep it. When I pull over, leave the car fast as you can. Duck down behind that pick-up and stay there till Henry and Robert collect you. They're only four cars behind us. Clear?"

"Clear," said Kimble, swallowing protests, questions and fear as he unfastened his seat belt and released the door catch, while holding the door to a close until the Taurus should have slowed as it drew closer to the kerb.

"Good man. Go!"

The car barely moving by this time, Kimble was out of the door and tumbling into the gutter to scramble behind the pick-up. It was only then that he realized he was shaking with fear.

Biggs and Ritchie arrived in under a minute; it felt far longer as he surreptitiously watched Gerard accelerate away and take a left - away from the route home. Bustled into the car, he leant over the front seats.

"Where's Sam gone? What's happened?"

"We were hoping you could tell us," said Ritchie frankly.

"Nothing," said Biggs, slapping the dash with the flat of his hand. "The stubborn son-of-a-bitch isn't answering."

"Maybe he can't," said Kimble flatly.

"Won't is more likely," Ritchie comforted him. "He called us over the radio to get you out of here, take you home, keep you safe and maintain radio silence. We can vouch for the fact you weren't being tailed."

"Then what set him off?" said Biggs, worrying a hangnail at the side of his thumb.

Pale with shock, Kimble was replaying their conversation in the car. "One moment we were joking, the next he put on the radio, turned up the volume - "

"Blues?" asked Ritchie suddenly.

"ZZ Top. Why?"

"Then it certainly wasn't for pleasure. He could have spotted a bug."

"How would anyone get access?" returned Biggs, playing devil's advocate.

"The car was in a public car park for close on four hours."

"And now Sam's god knows where without backup," said Kimble in a monotone as he sat back to stare blindly out of the window.

 

Driving as fast as traffic conditions permitted, Gerard headed for a derelict furniture warehouse on an industrial site yet to be developed, eleven blocks from his home. Knowing Richard was safe freed him from the terror he had felt when he first recognized the noise he had heard as coming from the trunk of the car.

It had to be X. It had to.

Pulling up, he had moved out of the car and round to the back in seconds. Standing well clear and to one side, his Glock was trained on the trunk, his concentration total.

"Samuel Gerard, U.S. Marshal's Office. Push up the lid of the trunk. Keep your hands above your head. Do it now."

The lid rose inch by inch, the occupant slowly rising from a crouch. The strawberry blonde turned her head, peering around the corner of the lid. "Don't shoot! Oh god, please don't shoot me!"

Gerard's astonished gaze met the terrified face of Newman's ravishingly pretty girlfriend. Unconsciously he began to lower his automatic.

Shaking, Jenny slowly climbed out of the trunk. "I know I shouldn't have done it, it was a stupid idea but I have to see Noah. Since he broke off our - "

The hand obscured by the lid of the trunk rose up with lightning speed, clutching a gun.

Having read her intent in her eyes seconds before she made her move, Gerard was already reacting. With no false sentiment, he had her disabled and in cuffs in under a minute. He was scratched and bleeding from where, screaming obscenities at him, she'd tried to claw at his eyes. Despite the disparity in their size and weight, it had taken a terrifying amount of strength to subdue her.

 

Gerard found the next few hours highly unpleasant. The detective Lieutenant Welsh had allocated to the case had no difficulty in questioning Jenny Turner; she was only too willing to talk, the filth spilling from her. Her obsession with Kimble had ricochetted between a warped love and hate many times. When Gerard's name was mentioned she spat in the face of the detective questioning her. Watching from behind the two-way mirror, Gerard felt no elation that the case was finally over, only a sick lack of comprehension as he listened to her ideas on love, commitment and responsibility.

A warrant having been obtained, her apartment was searched. The walls of every room had been covered with pictures of Kimble; in each picture he had been disfigured in some way. An excellent clerical worker, Jenny had kept copies of all her letters filed in date order. Her letters to Kimble filled two drawers of a filing cabinet; many were over twenty closely-typed pages long. The first had congratulated Kimble on having the sense to kill his wife and then convince everyone of his innocence, before she announced her willingness to redeem him through marriage. There were even copies of her letters to Gerard; the best thing she wished for him was a slow death and eternal damnation.

By her own admission her obsession with Kimble had sprung into fully-fledged life when she had watched the newscast of Gerard and his deputies taking Kimble into ‘custody' prior to his name being officially cleared. The combination of handcuffs, bloodied face and vulnerability seemed to have drawn her; what had motivated her since was something for which Gerard knew the clinical terms but had difficulty in grasping on an emotional level. Jenny had watched the tape of that newscast many times, the faces of everyone concerned indelibly imprinted on her mind's eye. So the day Noah Newman had walked up to the Information desk where she worked and asked her for a date had rekindled her conviction that destiny intended she and Kimble to be together eventually. The gossip sweeping the hospital had confirmed that Kimble was already in protective custody during his sick-leave after the knife attack; like everyone else Jenny had assumed Kimble's safety was in the hands of the U.S. Marshal's Office. It was enough for her that Newman had been one of the deputies walking beside Kimble that fateful night.

Her feelings for Kimble had teetered between love and hate from the first day, no detail from his life too small to fascinate her. In her apartment there had been an entire closet full of bagged plastic beakers taken from Kimble's offic, all dated and tagged. A diary had noted every encounter in the hospital in exhaustive detail - they ranged from a murmured greeting from Kimble to ‘significant eye contact'. Once he had bumped into her when emerging from an elevator. That entry had received thirty pages, and was still being referred to thirteen months after the event.

Having heard more than enough, Gerard left for the night. It was only as he drove home eleven hours after he had left it with Kimble that he realized he could expect a posse to be waiting for him. Having radioed ahead to let them know he was due, he grimaced at the chilly note in Poole's voice.

As he closed the front door figures drifted into the entrance hall: Cosmo, Poole, Robert, Henry - and Richard. While there was no expression on the handsome face there was a tell-tale tension to his stance, his one visible hand clenched at his side.

Kimble turned to the deputies. "I know you have plenty to say to Sam, but we need a few moments alone. Now," he added in the same too-controlled voice.

The deputies glanced at Gerard, received a slight nod and melted away.

When they were alone Kimble continued to stare at Gerard, who had the sense to keep quiet. Slowly crossing the hall, Kimble caught Gerard's face between his hands and kissed him with a ferocity that gave no thought to comfort. His palm cradling the back of Kimble's head, holding him in place, Gerard met urgency with urgency, then slowly gentled them until they stood quiet, their foreheads brushing. Sighing, Kimble retreated slightly, his expression accusing.

"I kept my promise to you. And all the reward I get is you disappearing into the wide blue yonder without backup for the ninety minutes it took you to remember you hadn't called in. You do that to me again and I'll geld you with a blunt scalpel. Those scratches need treatment," Kimble added in a different tone.

"They've had it. Things got kind of hectic."

"No shit. You should have tried it from our side." Kimble's eyes narrowed. "The reason you didn't ring - you forgot me, didn't you? Didn't you?" he repeated, yet to raise his voice.

Exhaling, Gerard studied his feet. "Not for long," he offered.

"Oh, that makes everything fine, I suppose. Just for ninety minutes or so?"

Gerard fidgeted. "About that," he agreed, venturing a look up through his lashes. To his relief Kimble was shaking his head in disbelief, the faintest of smiles on his face.

"Well, that puts me in my place."

"Look." Gerard fell silent, fidgeted again. "When I work, I need to concentrate fully on the job. And I'm not used to having anyone worrying over me. I didn't forget you, just the fact you knew enough of what was going on to worry." He looked up in a hopeful manner.

Kimble shook his head again. "Take that hangdog look off your face. I expect I'll forgive you sometime in the next thirty years."

"That'll give me something to look forward to during our twilight years," Gerard agreed dryly, but he looked genuinely contrite.

Kimble was struck by a sudden doubt. "You're sure Noah's girlfriend is X - my attacker?"

"Beyond doubt." Gerard tossed his car keys into the bowl before he leant back against the door and pulled off his boots. By this time Kimble stood at his side, one hand sliding between the open edges of Gerard's coat.

"From your interesting pallor I take it things got ugly."

Propping his arms over Richard's shoulders, Gerard nuzzled his jaw, gratefully soaking up the reality of him. Richard was safe; the case was over; and they were still together. The wonder of it sweeping over him, his softened voice was husky.

"You could say that. The other face of love isn't a pretty one."

"Whatever she felt for me, it wasn't love," said Kimble with certainty.

"Not to most people," acknowledged Gerard. "Warped love is the most dangerous emotion there is."

"Worse than hate?"

"Hell, yes. At least hate's - I was going to say healthy," Gerard gave an unconscious sigh. "The older I get, the more certain I am that I'm never going to understand people," he added pensively.

Kimble's smile was loving. "Trust me, you do OK, Sam."

"Not that you're biased, of course."

"Who me? Objectivity itself where you're concerned."

Gerard shook his head sadly. "And you have such an honest face. The police want you to go in for some more questioning tomorrow morning," he added, his tone ultra-casual.

Kimble tensed slightly.

"I don't need to tell you this is just a formality. And the detective handling this case isn't anything like Rossetti and Kelly. For one thing, I know him. He can be a pain in the ass but he's a good cop. Does a thorough job. You are not the guilty party here."

"Conditioning," Kimble said wryly, and while he tried to make light of it they both recognized that there was an element of truth to what he said.

"We'll work on it," Gerard promised him. Delivering a parting pat to Kimble's shoulder, he went into the kitchen to give his kids a chance to tell him what they thought of him.

None of it was complimentary.

The fact that all were capable of giving him their unvarnished opinion when they deemed it necessary was one of the reasons the team worked together so well.

"I should have called for backup immediately," Gerard allowed. "My main thought was to get away from anywhere we were likely to run into members of the public. Besides, I knew this was an amateur I was dealing with."

"Who we hadn't been able to track down in almost two months," Cosmo reminded him. "Damn it, Sam. If any one of us had pulled a stunt like that you'd - " Realizing he had lost Gerard's attention, Renfro half-turned to see what he was looking at.

Newman sat perched on a chair in the corner. Huddled in on himself, his shoulders were hunched, arms wrapped around himself; he was all defensive misery. As if sensing himself under surveillance he looked up; his face pinched and pale, the tip of his nose was pink.

"I didn't know, Sam. I never even mentioned Richard to her, I swear it."

Brushing past Renfro and Biggs, Gerard went over to him. "You don't need to. I know it," he said with the quiet certainty which could be so comforting when it wasn't driving people crazy.

Exhaling softly, Newman battled for control. "Thanks," he muttered, his soft voice gruff as he stared at the floor.

Sheltering Newman from the sight of the others with his own body, Gerard studied the picture of dejection in front of him.

"She can't ever have wanted me for myself," Newman continued dully. "I asked her out that day you sent me to the hospital to ask about the knife attack on Richard. She must have assumed we were the ones who had him in protective custody and decided I'd lead her to him. I feel such a fool," he added, without looking up.

Gerard's heart went out to the younger man, although there was no hint of it on his face. "Well, you won't be the first guy to feel that. You'll get over it," he said, patting Newman on the shoulder.

Noah gave an unpleasantly moist sniff, then looked up; while weak, his grin held a ghost of his usual zest for life. "You're not going to let me feel sorry for myself, are you?"

"Damn straight I'm not. There may be calls for an inquiry but I'll take care of that. This case should be wrapped up pretty fast. Ms. Turner has been only too willing to tell the police everything."

Newman winced. "Including hiring those heavies to kill you?"

Gerard nodded.

"Some judge of women I am. There was never - She can't ever have mentioned Richard to me or I would have picked up on it." He raised his head to cast an appealing look at Kimble. "God, Richard, you must be thinking I - "

"No," said Kimble, who was standing by Gerard's shoulder by this time. "I don't. None of what happened was your fault."

"Thanks," said Newman, but he didn't look convinced.

Gerard gave his ponytail a gentle tweak. "Ease up on yourself. OK, people," he turned back into the room, "as of now this investigation is over. You want downtime, you've got it. Just make sure your paperwork is up to date before you go. You listening to me Henry?"

"Always, Sam."

"If only I could believe you. Well, why are you guys standing around making the place look untidy? Thanks for all your hard work and goodbye."

Biggs grinned. "Is it me, or are you saying you've had enough of us?"

"Gee, and I thought I was being subtle."

"That's in character. Come on, Noah. I'll buy you a drink," added Biggs kindly.

Within five minutes Gerard and Kimble had the house to themselves.

"So I'm free to go wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go," said Kimble, his back to the front door.

Unblinking as a lizard, Gerard nodded, tension virtually crackling from him; he seemed to have forgotten how to breathe.

"Typical" sighed Kimble philosophically. "I should be longing to hit the town and all I really want is something hot to eat and to collapse in front of the fire with a beer and you."

When Gerard's face moved, it was in a smile.

 

"I can't believe it's all over," said Kimble as he swallowed a mouthful of beer. "It seems like - an anticlimax, you know?" The tips of his fingers teased the soft, dark hair feathered between Gerard's pectoral muscles, having eased shirt buttons open some time ago.

"Inevitably," said Gerard, his head pillowed on Kimble's thigh.

"I can't remember ever saying more than ‘Good morning' to the woman. I barely knew she existed."

This a variation of a conversation they'd had several times already, Gerard covered Kimble's hand with his own. "None of this is your fault, Richard. You know that. Her fixation had no basis in reality. That's the whole point." Still caressing Kimble's hand, he raised the scarred fingers to his lips. The arm encircling him tightened its grip. He turned his head to give the other man a look of query.

"What did Noah mean when he said you sent him to the hospital to ask about me?" Kimble asked.

Gerard shifted slightly, as if in discomfort. "I'd heard about the knife attack and I knew the local FBI were handling the investigation because of the possible links with Devlin-MacGregor. I've never been that impressed with the abilities of their people in Chicago. I wanted to make sure they were doing a thorough job."

Kimble shook his head. "Only you would think you could do better than the entire FBI."

"And your point, Richard?"

A sudden stillness replaced Kimble's grin. "Is that the only reason you took an interest in my case?"

Gerard's eyes slid away from Kimble's steady gaze. "No."

Opening his mouth, Kimble was silenced by the large palm that covered his lips.

"Enough with the inquisition," growled Gerard.

Looking incredibly smug, Kimble chose to save Sam from any further embarrassment and contented himself with licking the hand sealing his mouth. The fingers twitched before Gerard released him.

"Will you do me a favor, Sam?" Kimble asked immediately.

"Sure."

"What, no equivocation?"

"No."

Kimble gave a shaky sigh. "Every time I think you don't have a romantic bone in your body you go and say something that simple."

"Simple, that's me," said Gerard, unmoved, but there was the faintest of smiles on his face. "What was this favor?"

"Will you make love to me until I can't think of anything else?"

There was silence for all of three seconds.

"Gee, of all the tough breaks. I should be able to come up with something," mused Gerard. "Can I finish my beer first?"

Kimble twitched the bottle out of Gerard's grasp and upended the dregs over him.

Chapter Text

The next thirty-six hours were busy ones while all the formalities were handled. As good as his word, Gerard had seen to it that there was to be no inquiry, although he, Newman and Kimble had all been required to give statements to the police and then meet with the Assistant D.A. Jenny Turner would be facing a formidable list of charges, and given that the only difficulty was in stopping her from talking, conviction was a certainty.

Feeling oddly naked without an armed escort, Kimble had taken a cab to the precinct house because he had forgotten to ask Renfro to return his Corvette. Treated with courtesy and respect when he was questioned by the detective assigned to the case, Kimble was in a state of mild shock by the time he left. Feeling a weight slide from his shoulders as he emerged from the precinct house, his face lit up. A black Ferrari was illegally parked a few yards down the street, Gerard propped against the trunk; his hands punched in his jacket pockets, his head was defensively bent against the assault of the biting March wind.

Kimble hurried down the steps to him. "Sam?"

"Well you got the name right."

"Save the smart remarks. Were you the reason I had such an easy time in there?" Kimble demanded with suspicion.

"Whoa." Gerard held up his hands. "The reason you were treated with respect, consideration and courtesy was because you're the victim, not the guilty party."

"And because you told them you'd have their balls if they didn't wear kid gloves," completed Kimble. "Come on, ‘fess up. You'll feel better."

"I have too much respect for you to do that," Gerard said flatly.

"Sure," scoffed Kimble, before his expression changed. "You mean that, don't you. I'm sorry, Sam. I just wasn't - I got wound up about having to talk to the cops again."

"I know it. You were treated with respect because these are good cops. Rosetti and Kelly are the exception, not the rule these days."

"Right," snorted Kimble derisively.

"I was a cop in Chicago before I joined the Marshal's Office," Gerard added blandly.

The speed with which Kimble's expression changed was almost comical. "I didn't know that. Oh. Well, I never said there weren't a few decent cops. The guy I've just seen was kind of brash, but he has a good heart. I liked him," he admitted. He sounded surprised.

"You'll be donating to the Police Benevolent Fund next," mocked Gerard affectionately.

"If I don't you'll give enough for the pair of us," Kimble recognized, before he gave a pleased beam. "It's just occurred to me. We can start planning for our future. I don't mean the big decisions but the small, everyday stuff."

Gerard peered down at himself. "You calling me small?"

"You," said Kimble with conviction, "are perfectly formed."

"Boy, you're a sad case," remarked Gerard pityingly.

"I know it. As proof, let me add something I'm sure I'll want to retract in the next thirty years or so. For a guy who claims he doesn't bargain, you're pretty damn easy to live with. Though after sharing a bathroom with you for over two months it has to be said that you've lost most of your mystery."

"Least I clean the tub after I've used it," Gerard retorted with a grin.

"Unlike the sink and mirror."

"Where did you get that stuff about me not bargaining?" asked Gerard.

"I never divulge my sources," said Kimble piously.

"It was Noah then," said Gerard. "It was months before he realized I was talking about hostage situations, not life."

"He mentioned something like that. You going to claim there's no truth in the other stories either?" mocked Kimble affectionately.

Gerard gave him a look of suspicion. "Word of advice, Richard. For a bright kid Noah sometimes takes too rosy a view of events, OK?"

"Anything you say, Sam. Damn, it's cold. Let's get inside the car," Kimble urged. He looked askance when Gerard got in on the passenger side but slid in beside him with alacrity.

"What are you sniffing?" asked Gerard, hoping his companion hadn't stepped into any dog shit.

"The interior. Leather, sex and you, that's what this car smells of."

"Thanks. I think. Here, take these, they'll make driving the car easier." Gerard tossed over the keys to the Ferrari. "Your set," he added casually.

Cradling them, Kimble patted the lean thigh next to his own. "Greater love hath no man than that he lays down his Ferrari - "

"It's only a car, Richard. Besides, I promised that once you were out of protective custody you could give the car a road test."

"It still hasn't sunk in that I'm free to go where I want. It felt strange to be out by myself. I've got used to you breathing down my neck."

"That's lucky," said Gerard when he noticed that Kimble was looking uncertain, "because I don't plan to stop." He tossed over a larger bunch of keys. "Your set of keys for the house and the remote for the gates."

"Sam, I - Am I allowed to thank you for everything you've done for me?"

"No. Anyway, it's the kids you should thank, they did most of the work."

"Of course they did. It's over," Kimble said wonderingly, before he visibly shook himself out of his reverie. "Don't take this the wrong way, but what are you doing here?"

"Playing hooky. I thought we could celebrate."

"We could. What you want to do?"

Gerard shrugged. "I hadn't got beyond that," he admitted, amused by his companion's caution as Kimble eased the Ferrari out into the traffic. "You choose."

"I think I've lost the knack of celebrating," Kimble admitted in a low voice.

Gerard twisted slightly in his seat the better to watch him. "It'll come back to you. Take it one step at a time."

"Yeah." His eyes narrowing, Kimble made a left. "We could do anything we wanted, right?"

"Sure. What do you have in mind?"

"There's a terrific deli a couple of blocks from here. We could stock up on a few things - fresh bagels, cream cheese - lox for me - beer. Then go home and spend the afternoon in bed."

"That's all?"

"Like you said, this is only a car. I'm not about to waste your vacation test-driving the Ferrari when I could be playing with you. Besides, this could be my last day off for a while. I called the hospital earlier. I start work tomorrow." Kimble was too busy looking pleased with himself to notice the change in his companion's expression before Gerard thought to control it.

"You're not wasting any time," Gerard said after a moment.

"I can't afford to. I'll be taking it easy tomorrow. Do a couple of observe and assists. Ease back into things until I can be certain I haven't - I mean, I know my hand is OK but - "

"Makes sense," nodded Gerard. "What are you looking for?"

"The deli. I could have sworn it was - "

"We passed it a block back."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"I figured we didn't need to waste our vacation by shopping either. There's food and beer back at the house."

"And a bed."

"Oh, yeah," Gerard confirmed.

The Ferrari shot forward, narrowly missing the rear of the truck which pulled out in front of them. With true heroism Gerard didn't say a word, but in the interests of harmony he closed his eyes, working on the principle that what he didn't see couldn't upset him.

 

Although they elected not to go out that evening for dinner, they both took much needed showers after an afternoon of sex and laughter and moments of peace before they had revived to start over again. Full of heavy-eyed well-being, Kimble ambled back into the bedroom. Gerard was still half-dressed, wearing only a pair of black trousers. Muscles slid under the skin of his spine as he moved hangers along the rail of the walk-in closet.

Kimble propped a shoulder against the doorjamb. "What you doing?"

"Making room for your stuff," said Gerard without turning.

"No point. I may as well leave it in the closet next door. God knows there's room."

Gerard paused in the act of clearing a shelf. "OK," he said after a moment, but he made no attempt to refill the spaces he had created.

Shrugging into a faded denim shirt, Kimble surveyed his new kingdom. From the bed, across the thigh high chest, easy chair and chest of drawers; a simple but comfortable room where he had felt instantly at home. If Sam had ever resented his space being invaded he had given no sign of it and so far he had been ease itself to live with - not that they'd been together for long enough to discover potentially irritating habits.

"Is there any particular reason you're standing there smiling to yourself?" Gerard enquired as he pulled a black polo shirt over his head and drew the soft fabric down.

The severity of the outfit was negated by his relaxed expression, rumpled hair and bare feet but he still looked stunning. Kimble would have been more impressed but for the certainty that Gerard had taken the easy option that avoided the necessity of color coordination.

"What did you just say?" he asked vacantly, his elbow propped on the top of the high chest of drawers he was standing beside.

Looking amused, Gerard repeated the question.

"I'm just happy. ‘Just happy'," repeated Kimble wonderingly. "My god, Sam. I never thought I could feel like this again. Not that I ever have felt quite like this. I swear I'll never take this feeling for granted. And I don't know why you're grinning. You obviously haven't realized how pleased with yourself you've been looking."

"I'm a happy sort of a guy. I can't help it if people don't believe me when I tell them that." Gerard looked thoughtful. "I'm in the mood for pancakes."

Kimble put his hand on his heart. "Spurned in favor of - "

"With maple syrup."

"Sold. You know to add a little cinnamon when you're making up the batter?"

"Get outta here. Of course."

"Great. I love cinnamon." Kimble gestured expansively and his elbow moved, hitting the attractive, vaguely heart-shaped stone which was the only ornament on top of the chest of drawers he was leaning against. The stone cracked open to reveal multi-colored striations of pink and brown.

Horrified, Kimble looked up. "God, Sam. I'm sorry. I've - "

"Hey, relax. It's supposed to break into two." Gerard slid the two halves back together and picked up the smallish stone. "I call it my heart- stone - for obvious reasons. I've had it for years."

Kimble became aware of an unworthy surge of jealousy. "Who gave it to you?"

"No one. I found it one day when I was climbing and kind of took to it." Looking self-conscious, Gerard gave a self-derisive snort. "I guess I always hoped I'd find my one true love to give it to. Here." He thrust it at Kimble.

All Kimble could do was stand and stare at him; later he smiled and found it difficult to stop as with the side of his thumb he caressed the love token given to him by Mister I-Don't-Have-A- Romantic-Bone-In-My-Body Gerard.

"So where are you going to put it?" Determinedly casual, Gerard's gaze unconsciously moved to the door which led to what had been Kimble's room.

Setting the stone back on top of the chest, where the two halves separated slightly, Kimble realigned them and felt the small, satisfying click as they slid back together. "They should stay this way," he said gruffly.

"Yes, they should," agreed Gerard, leaning into the support of the arm which drew him close.

"I don't have anything to give you," Kimble said with a trace of regret.

Gerard brushed his just shaved face against his lover's. "You do. You have," he murmured, before he gave the other man's flank a brisk slap. "Let's eat. Pancakes," he added when he saw Kimble's speculative look. "You don't have the energy for anything else."

"No," agreed Kimble sadly. "But it was one hell of an afternoon, wasn't it? You make the batter, I'll change the bed."

By the time he went down to the kitchen music had been floating up the stairs for a while, one track obviously on repeat play; Kimble hummed along without realizing he was doing so. Pausing in the doorway, he watched the unstudied grace of the man dancing around the room, at the same time he flipped a pancake and sang along to Warron Zevon's ‘Werewolves of London' with more verve than accuracy, complete with an excellent howl.

"And this, I presume," said Kimble, when Gerard noticed he had an audience, "is why you're called ‘Big Dog'?"

"Nothing so heroic. Come and eat." His hips still moving slightly, Gerard was sliding pancakes onto a warmed plate, before he gestured Kimble to the table. "Syrup, extra cinnamon."

"How many people are we expecting?" Kimble enquired quizzically.

"I always make too many. You don't have to eat them."

"I do," Kimble told him, his mouth full. "You make terrific pancakes."

"I know it," said Gerard immodestly as he rolled one and ate it by the stove, syrup trickling down the side of his hand. "Damn, that's hot."

"So where did the name come from? Big Dog," Kimble prompted when Gerard paused in rolling a second pancake to give him a questioning look.

"Poole started it when she came up on me while I was taking a leak against a tree. I didn't know she was around."

Kimble gave a grin of comprehension. "Wet your boots, did you, deputy?"

"No, Cosmo did. He was standing next to me doing the same thing."

"Remind me never to pee next to Cosmo."

"You planning on it?" Gerard asked, as if this mutual silliness had some point.

"It's not high on my list of priorities. You're not going to let the rest of that mixture go to waste, are you?"

"It doesn't look like it." Adding more batter to the pan, Gerard turned when the telephone rang. "Get that, would you?"

"Hi, Richard," said Renfro. "Sam around?"

"Sure. He's making - correction, he's burning - pancakes as we speak." Kimble licked syrup from his fingers.

"And singing that damn werewolf song unless my ears deceive me. Well done."

"Thanks. What for?" Kimble thought to add.

"Pancakes and Warron Zevon. That's a rare combination, and a sure sign Sam's a happy man."

"Oh. Well, yeah," Kimble added weakly, knowing he must be grinning like a fool. "You want him?"

"Only for a couple of minutes," Renfro promised. "And don't worry, it's good news. I'll drop off your Corvette later tonight - if that's convenient?"

"Sure. I forgot to mention it - what with one thing and another," added Kimble, glancing at his lover.

"Call me Sam, it's quicker," Gerard said as he took the telephone receiver from him.

oOo

After his first sixteen hours on duty Kimble almost forgot he had ever been away from the hospital. While there weren't the words to do justice to the relief he felt on discovering he had lost none of his dexterity or skill in the theater, that did not stop him from trying to find them when he got home.

"I'm talking too much, aren't I," he recognized ruefully when he finally paused to notice Gerard’s grin.

"It's your first day, you're entitled. Besides, it's good to know you interact well with the other boys and girls." Dodging the breadstick Kimble threw at him, Gerard picked it up, dusted it off and ate it. "How come you were operating? I thought you only planned to assist," he prompted when he received a blank look.

"I did. Luckily Jake had a septic finger."

"Now that was lucky," Gerard agreed, dead-pan. "Put a hex on him, did you?" Undeceived by the smokescreen Kimble had been creating since he came home, his dark eyes were shrewd. "Was there much talk about Jenny Turner?" The news had broken this morning, receiving extensive coverage on local television stations and in the press because it was a slow news day.

"What do you think?" returned Kimble with a trace of bitterness. "As Henry Loftus said to me, it must be quite like old times."

Busy subduing the wave of rage which swept through him, Gerard neither moved nor spoke.

But Kimble spotted all the signs and patted him in reassurance, his own expression relaxing. "Take it easy Sam, it's fine. I've had far worse in my time. Henry is the sort of guy who talks about shoes to someone with no feet. There was less talk than I expected. People were too busy being shocked because they hadn't spotted anything wrong with Jenny. You never expect someone you see every day or work with to be able to hide that kind of obsession. I gather the pair of us were front page news this morning."

Gerard nodded.

"They've linked us together?"

"Not in the way you mean. Not yet anyway. Don't sweat it, Richard. We'll be old news by tomorrow."

"You really believe that?"

"No. Damn it, you've been through enough shit. I wish I could do something to - " Gerard ground to a halt, hating his impotence to spare Richard further intrusion into the life he had found the courage and strength of character to rebuild. Given what he had suffered, Richard was remarkably free of bitterness, his innate sweetness of nature somehow strengthened rather than merely surviving.

"I know you do," Kimble acknowledged quietly. "But trust me, you're worth it. The last few years have taught me my priorities, Sam."

"Speaking of which, what exactly was this operation you performed?"

Still too high on the pleasures of the day to notice the hint of a smile on Gerard's mouth, Kimble set about telling him.

Sitting back under a deluge of information, very little of which he understood, Gerard enjoyed the sparkle in the hazel eyes, the enthusiasm in his voice and the flourishes made by hands which were back performing their rightful function.

oOo

Kimble awoke to find Gerard had brought him breakfast in bed.

"All this and Sam Gerard too. I must be doing something right. Uh, I might be late tonight," he thought to add.

"That'll be novel."

Midway down his glass of orange juice, Kimble paused to catch his breath. "Have I pissed you off?"

Shaking his head, Gerard helped himself to some scrambled eggs. "No, but if you want to work at it I could give you some pointers. These are good eggs."

"Where are yours?"

"I'll eat later. Oh, I get it. That was your idea of subtlety."

Scooping up eggs with a piece of toast and his forefinger while Gerard used the fork, Kimble paused to frown as a thought occurred to him. "You're not rushing off to the office?"

"No point. Paperwork," Gerard added smoothly.

"Poor Sam. Damn, is that the time? I've gotta go."

Morosely finishing up cold scrambled eggs and leathery toast while Kimble rushed through his morning ablutions, Gerard wondered how he was going to kill time today

oOo

It was late afternoon on his fourth day back at work when Kimble found time to call Gerard's office to see if he was free for dinner and a movie that evening. Jenna seemed to take his calling Sam for granted in a way which suggested she knew, or had made an educated guess, about their relationship. Her surprise came that he should be ringing the office when Sam's vacation still had three days to run. Feeling all kinds of a fool, Kimble managed to cover his lack of knowledge by laughing off his absent-mindedness and asking her not to betray him to Cosmo or Poole.

Heading home as soon as he could, Kimble was guiltily aware of how little attention he had paid Gerard since going back to work. He had no difficulty in understanding why Sam hadn't mentioned his vacation; he wouldn't have wanted to spoil his return to work. Equally, he wouldn't have wanted to cancel his vacation because his kids would have asked too many potentially embarrassing questions - like why he'd been abandoned on what should have been their honeymoon.

Finding no immediate sign of Gerard in the house, a muffled rhythmic thumping sound drew Kimble down to the gym.

Standing in the shadows at the foot of the stairs, unnoticed by the man working out, Kimble gave an unsteady sigh of appreciation. Dressed in pale gray sweats, Gerard was perfectly balanced as he worked at the heavy punch bag, wearing a pair of training gloves. The sleeveless top revealed the curved biceps which were already gleaming with sweat. What could be seen of his profile was totally focused. Everything about his body language screamed tension and Kimble almost interrupted the session to go over to him. But something made this Gerard a stranger to him and he was no longer sure that he would be welcome.

Gerard was pounding the bag with a rhythmic stream of hooks from alternating hands: right-left-right. Breathing through his nose, he was well within himself as he worked the bag, steady as a metronome. Sweat continued to darken the back of the center of the pale gray top, causing the pants to cling to the taut rump and darkening the fabric down the defined cleft.

As he watched, Gerard stopped the rhythmic pounding to stand motionless, centering himself as he changed stance slightly, focus tightening before he began to throw punches at the bag. The power drove up from his bare, balanced feet, through groin, hips, belly and chest in an explosion of force echoed by his soft grunt as he expelled the breath from his lungs. The punches were slow at first, but they gathered pace and power until the weight and speed of the blows made the bag dance. Real venom behind every punch, Gerard was all sliding muscles, sweat and unleashed aggression.

Kimble realized he was breathing in sync with the other man, increasingly aroused with every grunt Gerard made.

Tiring now, every punch cost Gerard; power reduced, his arms were visibly heavy. His rhythm faltered before it petered away to a standstill. Breathless and spent, he held the punchbag between his gloved hands, his forehead resting against it, his back heaving. When he finally stirred it was to remove the gloves and the tape protecting his knuckles. Sweat ran down his face, pooling in the hollows at the base of his throat; his arms glistened with it.

Mouth parted, his eyes glazed, Kimble wanted the other man so much he ached with it. As he watched, Gerard laboriously straightened and headed for the longest of the mirrored walls. Leaning against the glass with a soft groan, he rested his heated face against the cool surface as he crucified himself against the mirror, stretching out his arms slightly above shoulder height.

His eyes never leaving the other man Kimble slowly began to strip off his suit. Grateful that he'd had the foresight to hide lubricant in every room of the house after a lunatic and intensely frustrating ten minute search the other day, he collected the tube concealed under the Nautilus and padded across the room.

Returning to awareness of his surroundings, feeling purged of the demons which had been plaguing him, Gerard used his flat-palmed hands to push himself away from the glass. The mirror was smeared with condensation from his breath and sweat, but not enough to prevent him from seeing the reflection of Kimble in all his naked and priapismic glory advancing on him. Motionless, his eyes wide, he waited until Kimble's hands settled possessively over his flanks, drawing them close; his erection was like a length of pipe pressing into the cleft of his buttocks. Kimble's intent clear, his sultry gaze held Gerard's in the mirror, awaiting consent.

Revitalised by one lingering look, Gerard swallowed, then remembered to nod.

Without further ado the drawstring at his waist was unfastened. The sweats slid down his parted legs and he shook his bare feet clear of them. Kimble's hands felt cool against his heat as they slid up his torso, drawing up the top, pulling it over his head and tossing it away.

The press of the other man's body holding him in place, Gerard realized he was going to be fucked against a myriad of mirrored images of himself. Uncomfortable with that degree of self-knowledge, he moved his head slightly and realized this position gave him the benefit of being able to watch Richard's face while the other man fucked him.

A shiver shuddered through him, his emotions mixed as he was eased away from the glass before his feet were nudged further apart. The heat and scent of Richard enfolded him, the slick, cool glass under his hands proof that this wasn't some fantasy.

Predatory and possessive, Kimble was intent on providing visible proof of ownership. Gerard bent his head to one side to allow the mouth roaming across his shoulders better access.

Letting the other man feel the scrape of teeth, Kimble paused when the dark head bowed, presenting the vulnerable nape of the neck and beautiful straight line of the powerful shoulders and sparsely-fleshed spine. Revelling in the novelty of Gerard quiescent under him, Kimble paused in sudden doubt.

"This is what you want?" he whispered, his voice less than steady as his mouth brushed Gerard's ear.

Slowly raising his head, Gerard's eyes searched out his lover's in the mirror.

Kimble gave a wolfish grin. "Oh yeah," he growled with an atavistic satisfaction that went soul deep, "you want me. Soon, I promise. Soon."

Crooning something unintelligible, he grazed the salt-sweat skin, his voice rumbling richly in Gerard's ear and springing gooseflesh across his skin.

His body slightly angled towards the mirror, his feet firmly planted, Gerard supported his weight by his forearms pressed against the mirrored panel from elbow to palm. A sweating hand squeaked against the glass when a lush application of cool lubricant jetted into his partially prepared body.

Suddenly needing to breathe through his mouth, Gerard's eyes shot open, but rather than the vulnerability of his own face he focused on the naked hunger and driven concentration that was Richard Kimble. The eyes were glazed, a more brilliant green than Gerard had ever seen them, the generous mouth parted as Kimble groaned softly against his neck, the deep throaty sound echoing through Gerard's body. The glass misted from his breath and he cleared it with an impatient swipe of his hand, needing to see his lover.

"Do it," he commanded flatly.

He arched when a second finger joined the first, before they imposed a rhythm he had to follow with blind faith. Kimble's free arm banded his chest with a mixture of possession and reassurance and he was murmuring the entire time, incoherent love words mixed with obscenities.

By this time Gerard didn't have the breath to spare for either.

His fingers cramping uselessly over unresponsive glass, he stared into the mirror as, inch by inch, Kimble sheathed himself almost to the hilt. Fingers pinched his left nipple sharply enough to make him arch with a cry, and in so doing brought his lover hilt deep within him. Suspended between pleasure and pain, Gerard froze, not daring to initiate any movement as his body accustomed itself to the strangeness of the sensations stealing away his ability to think.

Then Kimble murmured a ragged question.

Gerard grunted an assent. His breath caught in his throat as Kimble flexed his hips. Sensation spiked Gerard like an electric current, tightening throat and balls. Caught in the intensity of the moment, he fought to keep his eyes open, mesmerized by the expression on Kimble's mirrored face. It was intoxicating to know he was responsible for making Richard look like that, he thought, before pleasure sparked along his nerve ends, distracting him.

A grunt, almost of surprise, escaped Gerard. Then Kimble was moving strongly, fucking him with long, deliberate thrusts which slammed him into the glass, the only spring provided by his hands and wrists and the arm which tightened around him with every upstroke.

"Yeah. You grunt for me, Sam. Give it all to me. I want it all," Kimble demanded, before he ensured his lover had no choice but to obey when he wrapped his free hand around Gerard's cock, working it in rhythm to his thrusts.

Gerard could hear the sounds he was making without being able to stop them. The mirrored panels offered no escape, their faces naked with lust. Refracted images shimmered across the mirrors set against the walls as they came within seconds of one another.

When Kimble finally eased from his body, Gerard slid to the floor as if all his bones had melted. Stretched out on his back, he kept his forearm over his eyes until this unfamiliar sense of vulnerability should pass.

His legs shaking, Kimble grabbed the throw from the back of the couch and turned to place it over him. Stirring, Gerard saw Kimble's expression and found the energy to sit up.

"What are you doing?" Amused and indulgent, he rubbed his palm along his companion's shoulder when Kimble settled on the floor beside him.

"I thought you might get cold as you cooled down," said Kimble defensively.

"Cool sounds good right now," Gerard allowed.

"Are you OK?" Kimble asked with a trace of worry. Slow and tender had been his game plan for Sam's first time. As he spoke he was touching him lightly with his fingertips, skimming the still damp flesh: mouth; heart; belly; loins; and then Gerard's mouth again.

Gerard shook his head with amused affection. "What the hell am I going to do with you?"

"So you're OK?"

"I'm - " Gerard paused to think about it. "I'm damned if I know what I am right now. But OK is certainly in there somewhere."

Kimble began to look appallingly smug. "That good, huh?"

"Jeez, I hate it when you look like you've done something clever. Particularly when you have. Come here. Yeah, it was that good," Gerard admitted, feeling rewarded when Kimble sat smiling vacuously at nothing in particular.

Their backs propped to the mirrored wall, they sat entwined, in no hurry to do much of anything. After a few minutes Gerard tugged the throw around himself and snuggled closer to Kimble.

Giving an unsteady sigh, Kimble inhaled his lover's scent: all male, the heady essence of Sam Gerard was a dizzying pleasure.

"Sam, I - " Meeting those dark eyes, the impossibility of expressing what he felt made him sigh.

A gentle fist nudged his chin. "You're such a wuss," mocked Gerard tenderly, as if the other man had spoken.

A moment later Gerard was flat on his back, a furious looking Richard Kimble surging over him.

"Maybe I am a wuss," said Kimble in a low voice that shook with the vehemence of his passion, "but I'm not going to change. I love you, you thick-headed son-of-a-bitch. And if I want to tell you I'd like to harness the moon and stars for you, I will. And you'll pretend to like it. If I want to get romantic with the man I love I'm fucking well will. Clear?"

Starry-eyed, his mouth softened, Gerard stared up at the man pinning him to the floor. "That was a joke, Richard," he explained huskily, brushing with the tips of his fingers the shaking forearm that was supporting Kimble's weight.

"Not to me it wasn't. You always hate it when I tell you how I feel about you."

There was honest surprise on Gerard's face. "I've never hated it," he said quietly.

Raising his face from where it was thrust at Gerard, Kimble looked faintly embarrassed as he sat back on his heels. "You haven't?"

"Never. But it's easier to tell you you're a wuss than try to find the words to tell you what you mean to me. I - "

Shaking fingers brushed Gerard's mouth again. "Don't. Don't feel you have to. I know you love me. I know. Though sometimes I wonder why." Kimble rubbed the back of his neck. "You've got this really strange idea about me, Sam. While I wouldn't admit this to anyone else, in some ways the last three and a half years have been the making of me. Until Helen was murdered I'd always had life easy."

"Richard - "

"No, hear me out on this. You would have despised the man I was. Rightly. Looking back on myself, I'm not impressed."

"No surprise there," said Gerard, sliding his palms up and down the other man's sides and relishing the feel of the beautiful, resilient skin. "For such a compassionate guy you're real hard on yourself. It isn't a sin to have had a comfortable life that you enjoyed. But you've always been a healer first and an eminent surgeon second. Can I sit up?" he added with a meekness which banished the look of somber introspection from Kimble's face.

A couple of minutes later they were comfortably stretched out on the old couch.

Having taken one of Gerard's hands in his own, Kimble ran his thumb over the prominent knuckles, which were slightly reddened. "That was some display you were giving at the punchbag when I came in."

Gerard shrugged dismissively. "It doesn't hurt to work up a sweat sometimes."

"I wish you'd told me about your vacation."

Tensing, Gerard gave him a glance from under his astonishing eyelashes. "How did you hear about that?" He had tensed with a defensiveness which made Kimble swallow.

"I rang your office to see if you wanted to go to a movie tonight. I managed to convince your secretary I'd had a fit of absent-mindedness. She laughed and promised not to tell anyone. I got the feeling she knew I was still living here - and why."

"I told her," said Gerard brusquely. "Jenna needs to know she can tell you my whereabouts at any time." The arm encircling his ribcage tightened in an approving hug.

"So how many people at your office know we're lovers and living together?" asked Kimble.

"I'm proud to be your lover, not ashamed." Almost defiantly Gerard added, "I won't be keeping us a secret. There again, I won't be posting an announcement in the Tribune either."

"You should have told me you were on vacation," reiterated Kimble.

"No point by that time. It's OK."

"If it was OK you wouldn't have been wearing yourself into the ground down here. Or is there something else bothering you?" Kimble tightened his hold of the other man's hand to prevent it from sliding away.

Shrugging again, Gerard studied his outstretched legs. While he made no physical movement, his withdrawal was obvious.

Kimble continued to caress Gerard's knuckles with the side of his thumb.

"You'd waited a long while to get back to surgery," Gerard said at last. "There'll be other vacations. God knows I've got plenty owed me."

"You should have told me," Kimble said doggedly, a stubborn tilt to his chin.

"You're right," admitted Gerard out of the blue. "I should. But you know now. I still have three days vacation booked. What shall we do with them? We could go right away if you like."

Kimble only just stopped himself from groaning. "Uh, well - That could be kind of, uh, difficult," he managed, just before he realized his companion was silently laughing at him.

"You are such a bastard," he said lovingly.

"It's been mentioned before," Gerard allowed.

"I can see me saying it at regular intervals from now on," said Kimble.

"Shouldn't that be hear?" mused Gerard after a moment.

Kimble pinched him, then cocked his head to assess the reaction he had elicited. "I'm not convinced your nipples are a dead zone."

"That was the sound of me in agony, Richard," Gerard explained patiently.

"Well that's close to ecstasy." Kimble gave an unimpressed snort of amusement at the side-on glare that comment earned him. "Save that look for anyone gullible enough to believe it. Come on, you could use a soak in the tub. Play your cards right and I might share it with you."

"Gee, lucky me. You play poker?" Gerard enquired, taking him literally as he scooped up his sweatpants and swiped them over the semen-smeared glass.

"Sure. Though I should warn you, I cheat if I get the chance."

"That's OK, you won't get it," Gerard assured him. "Grab some beer. We can play a few hands in the tub."

"For what stakes?"

Gerard's gaze travelled over his naked companion before he rubbed the side of his thumb over the other man's extraordinary lower lip. "I'll think of something."

"Do you cheat?" demanded Kimble with suspicion.

"You'll have to wait and see," Gerard told him.

 

Having taken a quick shower to rinse off the gritty layer he had acquired from the floor of the gym - and Gerard - Kimble checked the bathroom to ensure they had all the creature comforts they were likely to need. Satisfied, he got in the tub, mentally blessing Gerard's foresight in having one made that was so large - and with the faucets set on the side.

Emerging from the shower, Gerard didn't bother to dry himself as he padded around the room, collecting up some clean towels for their use later.

Kimble's gaze lingered on the water-slick perfection that was his lover. From the narrow feet, up the long, well-shaped legs, narrow flanks and flat planes of the muscular belly and chest, the proportions of Sam's body were perfect. A shock of black hair framed the beautiful genitals, the full testicles sited high, as Kimble preferred, the cock - Kimble swallowed hard. Perfection.

But almost more than Gerard still, he loved to watch Gerard moving; unselfconscious, totally confident in his powers, he was all loose-muscled ease. His mouth slightly parted, Kimble watched Gerard approach the bath; a lean man who exuded an animal grace, he was obviously comfortable within his own skin.

As Gerard stepped over the edge of the tub Kimble couldn't help himself. Reaching out, he caressed the underside of the dark-haired testicles with fingers cooled by the bottle of beer they had been holding.

A squeak of anguished surprise escaping him, Gerard almost fell into the tub. A tidal wave slopped over the rim and knocked the pack of playing cards into water fragrant with bubbles.

Kimble gave the wet floor a quizzical look, then leant forward to top up the water; steam swirled up around them.

"Don't worry, you'll be the one to mop up the floor," Gerard told him as he settled himself with a trace of caution. "Jeez, your hand was cold. You sickening for something?"

"I forgot I'd been handling ice," Kimble admitted cheerfully. "It doesn't look like we'll be playing poker," he added, eyeing the soggy cards before he began to collect them up, counting as he went. Failing to locate the last two, he slid up the other end of the tub to investigate all possible hiding places.

"Trust me, Richard. Right now I wouldn't want anything close to my ass," said Gerard, batting the other man's hand away.

Teasing forgotten, Kimble frowned. "Sam? Listen, you want me to check you out?"

His hand on the back of Kimble's neck, Gerard shook him gently. "Relax. I'm fine. Just more conscious of my ass than usual, that's all. I would tell you," he added under the influence of that steady gaze.

Kimble gave him an approving pat. "Good."

Sliding back to the other end of the tub, he parted his raised legs. "Scoot down this end and get comfortable against me," he commanded.

Gerard gave him a look of suspicion. "Why?"

"Because I'd like to have a hug. Any objections?"

More water had slopped onto the floor by the time they were comfortably settled, with Gerard cradled by the living cushion provided by Kimble's torso, arms and legs. He took a swig from the bottle of beer he held before passing it back to Kimble. His head was pillowed against Kimble's shoulder, while fingers circled aimlessly over his belly; boneless with pleasure, he was virtually purring with contentment.

"You OK like this?" he thought to ask.

Kimble kissed the dark head. "Passable," he allowed.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Anything," said Kimble, meaning it.

Gerard nodded, then asked the last thing Kimble had expected. "Where did you get that scar on your chin?"

Kimble snorted. "Oh no. You have to earn that."

Gerard turned his head the better to direct his accusing look. "But you said I could - "

" - ask me anything. I don't remember promising to answer you."

"You should have been a Jesuit," grumbled Gerard.

"Don't sulk," Kimble advised him, giving a soapy nipple a firm pinch.

A small sound escaped Gerard as he felt that clear to his balls.

"Dead zone, huh," scoffed Kimble, smug in the knowledge that he had succeeded where all Gerard's other lovers had failed.

Gerard began to mutter to himself.

"Drink this and stop complaining," said Kimble, reaching over the side of the tub to retrieve the second bottle from the ice-filled cool box.

The arm Gerard extended was covered by tiny bubbles which clung to his skin, sliding down over his hand and wrist as he raised the bottle to his mouth.

Arrested, Kimble ran a gentle finger over the scars on the other man's wrists, fading suture marks on recent wounds covering the silvery scars Gerard had collected during his formative years.

"You told me Hank Dewy kidnapped you and went off to kill your dad. But you didn't say why," Kimble said out of the blue. He grimaced when he felt Gerard tense. "Forget I said that," he added. "It's not a subject for idle gossip."

"You don't gossip. I didn't realize I'd told you that much."

"You had ‘flu at the time."

"That must account for it," said Gerard dryly. "It isn't an original story. Dewy married the pregnant local beauty queen because she told him the baby was his - and after divorcing a woman who kept having miscarriages, he wanted an heir. The marriage was a disaster. I was their only child, and one hell of a disappointment to Dewy."

Wrapped around with all the security it was within Kimble's power to offer, Gerard paused to take a swig of beer.

"The bastard," Kimble growled.

"No, that was me," said Gerard, patting his lover's forearm. "Not that he or I knew that till my mother screamed it at him in a drunken rage one day. My fourteenth birthday as it happens. She liked to play all kinds of mind games. When they stopped working she started drinking. It made her loose-mouthed. She also told Dewy that she and Chino had remained lovers all those years. It was a lie. Chino had a woman in town. And a kid. But that lie was enough to send Dewy off to kill Chino after he dumped me in the cellar of his mistress' house. She was on vacation at the time. I often wondered what he had planned for me," he added reflectively.

Kimble sat rocking Gerard slightly. "What was your real father like?"

"Quiet, unless he had something to say. But he had this way of listening that made people want to confide in him, you know?"

Kimble smiled and nuzzled the back of Gerard's neck. "I know," he confirmed.

Soft and husky, Gerard's voice drifted into the silence again. "Chino was his name. Chino Gerard. Part Texan, part Mexican, he was Dewy's foreman. I thought the world of him from the time I could walk and took to following him around. I spent more time with him than I ever did with Dewy. But then he and I never hit it off. I mean, looking back on it I can see he tried. He just couldn't understand why I liked to read books, listen to music, or needed to ask questions about everything and anything. Jeez, I used to drive him crazy with questions. That's when he'd pack me off to Chino."

"But you thought Dewy was your father until you were fourteen?"

Gerard nodded. "You know the rest of the story."

Kimble massaged the tightening muscles across the back of Gerard's neck. "Was Dewy an easy man to work for?"

"No way. He was the boss and everyone had to acknowledge that."

"Chino must have loved you a lot to stay on."

"I know it. And I thought he was a god. He always found time for me, no matter what he was doing. Taught me everything he knew, encouraged me to move beyond him. I just wish he and I had had a chance to talk as father and son. Though I guess he knew everything that was important."

"I'd say that was a certainty," said Kimble, holding him tighter. "That's a rare kind of love he had. What happened to your mother?"

"She got a lot of mileage out of being the grieving widow." Bitterness scoured Gerard's voice. "They made me see her while I was in hospital. Once I was out I headed north. I never saw her again. She was responsible for the death of two men. Because she was bored." He stopped dead. "Well, maybe it wasn't that simple but - It was a mess. And yes, you're right, even now I do have residual feelings of guilt. And anger. But mainly guilt. I try and disassociate myself by calling Hank by his last name, and I changed my name to Gerard, turned vegetarian, became allergic to horses. Still am, come to that. But recognizing all that doesn't help one hell of a lot, OK?"

"OK," said Kimble quietly.

Gerard exhaled softly but continued to face front. "Look, don't go imagining all kinds. I just didn't like living in a war zone where I was expected to choose between the people I thought were my parents. I swear if it hadn't been for Chino I would have left home years before I did."

"I'm glad you had Dave and Elise," said Kimble thickly.

Gerard patted the hand protectively covering his heart. "They literally put me back together. I was a mess emotionally. Had all kinds of shit going on in my head. Chino loved me, but it was Dave and Elise - and Ginny - who taught me what it meant to be part of a real family. Which is why I'm so damn perfect now."

"I'll second that."

"Let it go. It's old news. What I really want to know is what I have to do to earn the truth about that scar on your chin?" Gerard added in a lighter tone.

"My - Oh, that," said Kimble, recovering. "I'll have to give that some serious consideration. Make sure I maximize my potential."

"Your potential feels just fine to me. Let me move, I want to let some water out and top up with some more hot. That's better," said Gerard a short time later. "You sure you're comfortable like this?"

"Positive."

"About this scar - It must be something real embarrassing," he pursued.

"Very," confirmed Kimble, pulling gently on the dark water-logged hair clustered at Gerard's groin as the other man relaxed back against him again.

"It doesn't look like a fresh scar," mused Gerard.

"It isn't."

"But you can't have been a kid or it wouldn't be that embarrassing. Teenager?"

Kimble nuzzled a fleshy ear lobe. "You gonna interrogate me, deputy?"

"You bet. Do you have to chew my ear? I might want it later."

"You don't like me doing this?"

"I didn't say that. I just don't have the energy to do anything about it."

"I can wait."

"Sex," said Gerard.

"Now?"

"You're sex obsessed."

"And your point is?" said Kimble, straight-faced when Gerard twisted around to look at him.

Tucking his knees up to his chest, Gerard swivelled around fully. "You got that scar when you were a teenager and it involves sex."

"Damn, but you are good," conceded Kimble.

He received a look of pity.

"Richard, every teenager I know is obsessed with sex. What was the problem? Your technique not what it should be?"

"My technique has always been the envy of the civilized world," Kimble informed him, trying to keep his mouth straight; his eyes were sparkling with happiness.

"Yeah?" Gerard's expression made it clear he was too compassionate to disillusion him.

"Thanks, Sam." Kimble conceded defeat with some grace, then grimaced when he noticed his wrinkled finger tips. "I'm turning into a prune," he discovered.

"And I'm hungry."

"Then I'll do a deal. You fix dinner and I'll tell you where I got the scar from."

Gerard rose out of the water and gave him a look of suspicion as he stepped from the tub. "Where's the catch?"

"You don't trust me?" Wrapping a bath sheet around himself, Kimble adopted the big-eyed look which Gerard had never yet managed to resist.

"No but never mind," he sighed. "I'll fix dinner."

"I'll help," Kimble offered, astonished to have conned his lover so easily.

It wasn't until he saw Gerard's grin that he thought to wonder who had been suckered here.

 

Stretched out along the couch, his head pillowed on Gerard's thigh as he digested his meal, Kimble gave a long, leisurely stretch before he subsided.

A thumb rubbed along the scar on his chin.

"All right, all right," sighed Kimble, looking half-asleep. "But you'll probably find it an anticlimax."

"I'm used to that," Gerard assured him, straight-faced.

"If I hadn't eaten too much I'd make you sorry for that remark."

"You can do that later," Gerard consoled. "Now this scar -"

Kimble groaned. "You're a monster. OK, but I expect a lot of sympathy."

"I'm a sympathetic kind of guy."

"In a different universe. Although maybe not," Kimble mused, almost to himself. "Shit," he groaned with disgust. "Now I know I've got it bad. I actually think you're perfect."

There was a short, disconcerted silence.

"Maybe you're not the only fool around here," muttered Gerard, sliding his hand down until it slid between the edges of Kimble's shirt to cover his heart. His fingertips circled the soft body hair.

Kimble lay there, wearing the widest, most fatuous grin in the world. A sharp tweak to his nipple regained his attention.

"You haven't done anything clever," Gerard reminded him. "And it's about time you came clean. How did you get this scar?" He traced it with the side of his thumb again, brushing the lush curve of Kimble's lower lip as he did so.

"When I was sixteen my girlfriend's parents went away for the night," began Kimble.

"Big mistake."

"You want to tell this?" Kimble invited, his mouth parting when his nipple was pinched hard enough to make him squirm. "You play dirty pool."

"You bet. Go on."

"Obviously Crystal and I had to use her parents' bed."

"Obviously," agreed Gerard. "I think I'm ahead of you."

"Probably not," said Kimble. "Even you couldn't be this vicious."

"Should I waste time looking for a compliment in there?" enquired Gerard.

"What do you think? We were sixteen, so we wore ourselves out, then crashed. The next thing I know Crystal's screaming down my ear that her parents' car is pulling up in the drive. My life flashes before my eyes. I leap out of bed, skid on the used condom I'd discarded the night before and go smack into the nightstand. I end up with concussion, naked as a jay-bird on the floor, blood everywhere because the lamp, which had a brass base, fell off the stand and cut my chin to the bone. So I'm writhing in agony but unfortunately still with the hard-on I'd woken up with. And all Crystal can do is try and pull clothes on me. Then her parents run into the room and her old man, naturally enough, assumes I tried to rape his baby. Only he slips on the condom too and lands on top of me. Breaks my nose. Though on reflection, it could have been worse."

"That's right, laugh," said Kimble tolerantly as he felt Gerard shaking beneath him. "I was impotent for close on a month."

"You still check the floor before you leave the bed," Gerard choked, one arm wrapped around his ribs.

There was a small silence.

"You noticed that," said Kimble in chagrin.

"Please."

"I should have known you'd spot it."

"You would have thought," agreed Gerard.

The ringing telephone saved him from retribution.

"That was quick," Kimble noted as he sat up.

"Poole. Making a social call," said Gerard blandly.

Kimble missed the amusement in the narrowed eyes. "I told you they'd miss having you around."

Shaking his head affectionately, Gerard made no attempt to disabuse his lover.

It was with no great surprise that during the next couple of hours he fielded would-be casual phone calls from Ritchie and Biggs - ostensibly to check that he was having a good vacation.

Kimble entered the room with fresh beers just as Newman rang. Gesturing for Kimble to remain silent, Gerard flicked on the speaker.

"Hi, Noah. I take it you drew the short straw."

"Sam?" Newman audibly played for time.

"Gimme a break here. Since when do you guys feel the need to check if I'm having a good vacation?"

"Well, uh, we - "

Gerard put him out of his misery. "Would I be right in assuming Roger told Poole that Richard's been working since I started my vacation?"

"How did you know? That is, yes. I mean, it isn't that we're nosy or anything but we were - That is, Cosmo and Poole were anxious that you might - Damn it, Sam. This is embarrassing enough without you laughing. Anyway, I do have another reason for calling."

"Astonish me."

"Well at least you haven't changed," said Newman philosophically. "We'd like to take you and Richard out for a meal. To celebrate."

Kimble grinned knowingly to himself when he saw that take Gerard aback.

"Celebrate what?" asked Gerard unhelpfully, as he made a typically fast recovery.

Kimble swooped in over his shoulder and slipped a cool bottle of beer under Gerard's tee shirt to rest it on his warm belly. His voice overrode Gerard's yelp of anguish.

"Ignore him. I'd been intending to get in touch with you guys. I'd like to take everyone out as a thanks for everything you did for me - with or without Sam. Your choice. I'll understand if you feel you see enough of him already."

"What was that noise?"asked Newman.

"Interference on the line," said Gerard blandly, having guaranteed he had his lover's complete attention with one simple move. "You're stuck with me. Restaurant of your choice - or you can come here if you'd rather. I'll supply the wine and pasta."

"Your place," said Newman promptly. "We won't have to dress up that way."

"Thanks, but true. So when do you want to come round?"

"How about tomorrow?"

"Boy, you really are checking up on us, aren't you," noted Gerard. He sounded amused rather than offended.

"We miss you."

"Nice try, Noah. Is everything going OK?" added Gerard. His intent expression negated his casual tone.

"Work's fine, Sam."

"I'm talking about you, young man. Are you OK?"

There was a small pause.

"Oh." Newman managed to sound ridiculously pleased in one small word. "Sure."

"Excellent. Then we'll see you tomorrow," Hanging up the phone, Gerard shook his head. "How did I talk myself into that one?"

"It's OK. When I took up with you I knew I was taking on your family."

"With the exception of Ginny I don't have - They're good kids, but I'm not about to adopt them," growled Gerard.

"You already have," Kimble pointed out, his eyes bright with amused affection.

About to deny it, Gerard thought the better of it. He cast a brooding look at his companion. "I blame it on you."

"My shoulders are broad."

"True. And your ass is perfection."

"That's not the point."

"Maybe it isn't, but it's one hell of a bonus," said Gerard cheerfully.

Chapter Text

Arriving home later than he had intended, it wasn't until he hurried downstairs, having showered and changed into jeans and a blue polo shirt of Gerard's that Kimble recognized that Sam was slightly nervous about meeting his kids on what was a purely social occasion. Careful not to tease, Kimble helped with the preparations for the simple meal and went to the front door when the deputies arrived.

Touched to see that even Poole looked faintly apprehensive of the reception they could expect, Kimble kissed her cheek, and was soundly hugged in turn. He gave a broad grin when he caught Newman's eye.

"Only if you insist," Kimble said, as he led them into the kitchen.

"No, Sam might not like it."

"Hi," said Gerard as he lifted down a large serving bowl from a cupboard above his head. "What wouldn't I like? I hope that's Poole's lipstick on your chin," he added to Kimble.

"Me, too," he said cheerfully.

Temporarily forgotten on the sidelines, Kimble watched the others greet Sam, entranced by the way the deputies clustered around him like pack animals greeting the leader who has been away. Big Dog, he thought, amusement bubbling up. He busied himself at the counter until he could be certain he had his laughter under control. He didn't want to make any of them self-conscious. But it amused him to note that Sam took their attentions so for granted that he wasn't even aware of them.

"The hell with it," said Poole.

When Gerard frowned in puzzlement she gave him a fierce hug, then pulled his head down so she could give him a quick kiss. "So I talk too much. Sue me. You look good, Sam."

"I know it," he said, returning her hug. "Now you've satisfied yourselves that Richard's OK, go do something useful like setting the table."

"Who says it's Richard we were worried about?" retorted Poole.

Gerard blinked when he recognized she was serious. "You mind telling me what the hell you're talking about?"

Glancing at Biggs and Ritchie, who failed to meet his gaze, Kimble looked thoughtful. "It looks like it's something I've done. Or not done."

"Is this supposed to help?" asked Gerard. "Will someone please tell me what the problem is?"

When Poole and Newman looked at Biggs and Ritchie expectantly, light dawned for Kimble.

"I think I know," he said a strangled voice. "I'm wasted as a surgeon," he managed to add, just before he gave a gurgle of laughter.

"A lot of help you are," muttered Gerard, glaring at the deputies around him. Biggs and Ritchie failed to meet his eye and he cocked his head, assessing what Kimble had said. "Wait just a minute. You guys saw the performance Richard and I gave at the hospital the last time we were there."

Biggs twitched, Ritchie's expression one of ludicrous dismay.

"Tell me you didn't fall for it," groaned Gerard.

Biggs shuffled his feet. "Well, uh, - " He fell silent when he realized Gerard was already laughing.

"I told you Sam and Richard were quite capable of sorting out their own lives," said Newman, who was sitting on the top of a work counter, munching sesame breadsticks.

"I think it's quite endearing," offered Kimble, who had recovered ahead of his companion. "Believing that I'm - well, never mind what you believed - you came dashing round to rescue Sam from my clutches. I know you don't know me that well, but how the hell did you manage to convince yourselves than anyone could top Sam?"

Newman choked on a breadcrumb when he saw the mortified expression on Biggs and Ritchie's faces. "It was Poole who made us come round here," he said, earning a glare from her that would have seared a lesser soul.

"Not Cosmo?" joked Kimble, before he followed the direction of Gerard's gaze. Renfro stood apart from them all, staring out of the kitchen window, oblivious to what had been going on.

"No," said Poole. "He's been kind of preoccupied since Sam went on leave."

The message was clear and the final traces of amusement faded from Gerard's face. "You guys want to take some wine into the other room?" he asked quietly.

Giving his lover a worried look, because he knew how greatly Gerard valued Renfro's good opinion, Kimble went with them, waving away the chastened apologies of Biggs and Ritchie.

Taking a deep breath, Gerard went over to where Renfro stood.

"Cosmo?"

Visibly jumping, he turned around. "You want me?"

"Do we have a problem here?" Gerard gestured between them.

"About what, Sammy?"

"You've been kind of quiet since you got here. Kind of quiet all week apparently. Is everything OK?"

"Sure, couldn't be better."

"No problems?"

Renfro gave him a puzzled look, then slid into professional mode. "You need to talk about something, Sammy?"

"God knows," said Gerard with gloom. "Caroline and the kids are OK?"

"Having the time of their lives. They left for her mother's down in Florida on Tuesday. I'm going to fly down this weekend to join them. I know it's only for two days but - I miss ‘em, Sam. The house seems so quiet. But since - Why are you looking at me like that? They are OK?"

"Whoa. Relax. They're fine. I just read the signs wrong, that's all."

"I'm not with you, Sam."

"I thought maybe you were having a problem with me being gay," said Gerard. His tone made it plain he wished he'd never started this conversation.

Renfro stared at him in astonishment. "Hey, I know I behaved like a lame brain when I walked in on you guys but I have never had a problem with gays. And I'm certainly not about to complain because you're happy. And it's obvious you're happy. All right?"

"Very," confirmed Gerard, just before he gave that belligerent face a slow, slightly shy smile.

Renfro softened instantly. Giving Gerard a quick hug, he stepped back with an affectionate grin. "Relax, it's over. And I promise never to do it again. Though another couple of years with Richard and who knows, you might turn into a hugger."

"Who, Sam?" said Kimble as he came into the kitchen. "Trust me. This man is never going to be a promiscuous hugger. You guys OK?" Under his casual manner he was very clearly here to defend his lover should it be necessary.

Renfro gave him a look of approval.

"Oh yeah," said Gerard, for once missing subtle undercurrents.

"Good. Then go tell the others they can come back in. They're starving."

 

Constraint forgotten, the deputies automatically made free with Gerard's kitchen. While the others opened wine, found glasses and set the table, Newman sat on a work-top and resumed his assault on the box of breadsticks.

"That sauce smells good," he exclaimed, leaning sideways. "You used plenty of garlic?"

Gerard paused to give one of his patented looks, then held out the spoon. "Blow," he commanded, before he caught Kimble's eye and hastily turned away to busy himself unnecessarily at the sink.

Eyeing Gerard's shaking shoulders with an oddly paternal air for one so young, Newman slid an amused, almost indulgent look at Kimble before he jumped down to take charge of the sauce.

Checking on the pasta and mushrooms, Kimble felt flattered that Newman should so obviously approve of his relationship with Sam.

Having had a private bet with himself, it was with no surprise that Kimble heard the conversation drift into professional channels within five minutes of everyone sitting around the table. It wasn't that they had no other topics of conversation, just that they enjoyed the work they were so good at performing.

Through the various threads of conversation Gerard unerringly picked out Kimble's voice.

" - hinky about the transmission and - "

"Hinky? I knew it," said Gerard with the gloomy satisfaction of a man who has been proved right. "You've been spending too much time around these guys. How many times do I have to say this? There's no such word as hinky."

"There is now, I just said it," offered Kimble provocatively.

"Damn it, this is your fault Robert. I don't like people using made-up words. We have a rich language. Use it."

Biggs parted his hands. "You don't get a rich language without adding to it."

"You have a point," Gerard allowed. "But why did that sound like something Richard might say?"

"I can't imagine," murmured Kimble.

"I think I've just been insulted," mused Biggs.

"I'm sure of it," said Poole.

"I'd be careful if I were you," said Gerard, unsmiling. "After the things you've called Richard, you can't go round insulting Robert, too."

Eyes wide, she looked across the table to where Kimble sat before she recognized she'd been had.

Gerard parted his hands. "Yes?" he invited.

"It'll keep," she promised him darkly.

oOo

While a free weekend prolonged it, today was the last day of Gerard's vacation. Never at his best first thing in the morning, unless an emergency demanded he be alert, it was some time before he noticed how preoccupied Kimble was.

"You operating today?" he asked.

"I operate most days." Seeming to realize how brusque he had been, Kimble looked up a couple of minutes later. "Today's pretty full though. I'll be in the theater all day."

"You don't sound very optimistic."

"I'm not. The last two cases don't have a good prognosis." Kimble shrugged and studied his hands. "I've never worked with one eye on the statistics and I'm not about to start now, but I don't like going in with the odds stacked against me."

"I could drive in with you if you like," Gerard suggested casually.

The look of gratitude on Kimble's face spoke volumes.

The drive to the hospital was quiet, Kimble obviously in a world of his own; Gerard made no attempt to disturb him until he entered the hospital complex.

"Where should I park?"

"We here already? Take a right, then go over to the far side. I have a space marked."

"Wow."

Kimble gave a faint grin. "I knew you'd be impressed."

"Here." Gerard tossed him the car keys and security tab once they had left the car.

"Won't you need these?"

Gerard shook his head. "I can take a cab. I've nothing much planned. I could hang around if I wouldn't be in the way."

Kimble looked over the roof of the Ferrari. "For moral support?"

"I guess. Not that you need it."

"Shows what you know," said Kimble affectionately. "I'd like that, Sam. I should have time to buy you a sandwich sometime around one."

"It will be the highlight of my day."

"I doubt it. The food's terrible. You want to watch me operate? You don't have to scrub up," Kimble added with a grin. "There's a viewing gallery. I'm teaching today, so you'll be sitting with a bunch of students."

Privately wishing he'd had the foresight to skip breakfast, Gerard nodded. "No problem. I'd enjoy seeing you at work."

 

Whistling as he led the way out into the car park, Kimble was as energized as if he had been lounging around all day instead of working for thirteen hours. Kicking a Dr Pepper can into touch, he beamed at Gerard over the bonnet of the Ferrari.

"Who needs a lucky rabbit's foot when they can have Sam Gerard. Jilly was asking if I'd consider renting you out."

"I heard," said Gerard dryly.

"I suppose you would have done," said Kimble, rueful when he remembered his ribald reply.

Gerard grinned.

"Thanks for hanging around today," added Kimble more seriously. "I got one hell of a kick from looking up to see you in the gallery. You weren't bored?"

Gerard thought about his queasy stomach, and balanced it against the pleasure in Kimble's voice, and a couple of the comments he had overheard Richard's students making.

"I wouldn't have missed it," he said with truth.

"My people looked after you?"

"You kidding? Like a prince. Any more coffee and I would have floated away. In you get. I'll buy you dinner. You've earned it."

"I've got a better idea. Let's go home, grab a snack and then I can have you for dinner. OK?"

"OK," confirmed Gerard. "So I'm easy," he added when Kimble raised his eyebrows.

"Given that I'm the one benefitting I'm not going to complain." Kimble began to sort through the CDs in the dash. "Robert Johnson, Etta James, Howlin' Wolf - " He held up one in surprise. "I wouldn't have thought this was your kind of - " he began.

"Poole's," identified Gerard with resignation.

Kimble held up a thrash metal CD.

"Noah, of course."

"Do you ever get to play something you like?"

"I'll let you know after we get home. I enjoyed myself today."

"Good. Just promise me you won't turn into a surgery junkie."

"I can safely do that. Relax. I'm a Kimble junkie."

"You mean the snap of latex gloves doesn't turn you on?"

Grinning, Gerard made a left at the intersection. "Don't even think it."

"Latex isn't a kink of mine."

"No." Gerard spared him a look. "We know I'm a boring kind of guy but what's your kink, Richard?"

There was a thoughtful silence.

"It's depressing to admit it, but I don't think I have one. Except for you in a long black coat, of course," said Kimble fairly. "Or a long black anything. I thought I was more interesting than that."

"It just goes to show," sympathized Gerard.

"Do Texans wear leather chaps?" mused Kimble. Catching Gerard's expression he collapsed with laughter.

"You'll have to make do with a long black coat." Gerard's grin slowly faded. "Did Helen ever watch you operate?" he asked, before he added quietly, "Are you happy?"

Kimble turned on his seat to look at Gerard, but the other man wouldn't meet his eyes. The half-shy, half-abashed expression on his face was one Kimble remembered from a long time ago, in another car.

"Dumb question," Gerard mumbled.

"Damn right," said Kimble, determined to keep it light. "Get real, Sam. You're no substitute. You've never been second-best in your life and you're not about to start now. I mean, we are talking about Deputy Marshal Gerard who Always-Gets-His-Man. I don't know if what Ginny said about you is true because I love you too much to be objective. But it sure feels like she's right. Of course, I taught her all she knows," he added outrageously.

But Gerard had already cracked by then.

Kimble sat watching him. "I thought you knew how happy you made me," he said some time later.

Gerard ducked his head. "Hoped," he muttered, flicking another faintly apologetic look at his passenger.

"Well be certain of it," said Kimble with asperity. "Life's good. Life's very good."

Realizing he had lost Gerard's attention, he glanced through the windshield and looked ahead down the long, straight road to where the cars were parked outside Gerard's high, solid security gates.

"Creditors?"

"Press," said Gerard, his expression grim as he slowed right down. "You want me to take a left here to avoid them?"

"Hell, no. The sooner we deal with them the sooner it's done." For all his bravado, Kimble's body language was defensive. "I'm sorry, Sam," he added miserably. "Thanks to me you're going to have your private life smeared all over Chicago."

His attention remaining on the road, Gerard blindly reached out and took hold of one of Kimble's hands. Drawing it to his mouth, he kissed it, just before he nipped the knuckle of the center finger.

"Don't you ever apologize for loving me again," he growled.

"OK," said Kimble compliantly, before he sighed. "I don't know why I was worried. It's only three lousy hacks. It'll be a cakewalk. I'm used to more interest than this." His thigh received a pat of approval.

"We could ring the TV stations if you want," offered Gerard.

"I'd say ‘yes' except I know you'd do it. Do you want to talk to them or shall I?"

"Be my guest," murmured Gerard as he eased the Ferrari to a halt just before the first press car. "How would you like me to play it - butch or bottom?" All subservience, he looked up at Kimble through his eyelashes, which was why Kimble was laughing when the press reached him.

 

As the security gates closed behind them Kimble exhaled softly. A glance confirmed that Gerard had loathed the experience as much as he had.

"Let's hope that photographer caught your good side," he remarked.

"It's a worry," Gerard agreed.

"Have you told Ginny about us?"

"Shit. I clean forgot. Have you told Kathy Wahlund?"

Kimble's look of superiority faded fast.

"It's lucky we've got more than one phone. Ginny might be in Washington but she keeps in touch with local gossip. And we do not want her descending on us," said Gerard in a definite tone.

"No?" Kimble sounded regretful.

"You haven't met Walter yet, have you," mused Gerard. "He always seems to talk through clenched teeth and he's big enough and fit enough to take on the pair of us without breaking into a sweat."

"You mean there's someone who's got you cowed into submission?" mocked Kimble affectionately.

"I didn't say that. But I'd think twice," Gerard admitted.

"The news will hit just in time for you to go back to work," said Kimble with regret.

Gerard parked outside the front door. "We've both got the weekend off. It'll be old news by Monday."

"You really believe that?"

"No, but if I say if often enough it might come true."

 

His call to Washington having taken longer than he had anticipated, Gerard wandered into the bedroom, wondering what had become of his lover. He paused in the doorway.

The only light came from the plump candles which were set on every surface, a light herbal fragrance masking the greasy scent of hot wax. The bed was bare except for crisp cotton sheets of the richest burgundy. Massage oil sat on the nightstand.

Suitable for internal use, Gerard discovered as he checked the label before he tested a little between his thumb and index finger. Unscented, it was wonderfully silky.

Liqueur chocolates. Champagne on ice - with beer beside it. And perched on the window seat, still fully dressed and looking mildly apprehensive, sat Kimble.

"Richard - "

"Do you hate it?" Looking defensive, Kimble sounded resigned.

Closing the bedroom door, Gerard leant back against it as he unfastened the rest of the buttons of his shirt. "I'll let you know later. That's good champagne," he noted. "We celebrating anything in particular?"

"Not that I know of."

"I expect we'll think of something along the way." His hands at his sides, Gerard surveyed his lover. "Now you've got me, what do you want to do with me?" His white shirt hung open from his shoulders, the edges parted enough to reveal the flat aureole of one small nipple. The curl of his navel was just visible above the waistband of his jeans.

Sighing his appreciation, Kimble padded slowly across the room to him. "Everything," he said huskily. "I want everything."

 

Seemingly boneless, Gerard lay sprawled face down on the still neat bed, his long, strong legs slightly parted. His oiled skin gleamed in the soft candlelight which turned his flesh to amber. Equally naked, Kimble sat watching him; he had stopped the massage some time ago, caresses easing away to the barest touch before he had sat back. One arm curved around the pillow he was hugging to him, Gerard's left leg was slightly crooked, offering a tantalizing glimpse of his testicles. He had been asleep for over ten minutes, the faintest of smiles on his face.

Quietly getting up, Kimble padded around the room, putting out the candles. Drawing the comforter up over Gerard, he slid in beside his lover.

oOo

Waking at dawn, Gerard padded back from the bathroom to find Kimble sitting up in bed with his hands folded behind his head.

"Good night?" Kimble asked wickedly.

"At least you're speaking to me," said Gerard ruefully, bending to kiss him. Not on the mouth, as Kimble had confidently predicted, but on the left nipple, teasing it between his teeth until Kimble moved involuntarily, a soft groan escaping him.

Curled on the edge of the bed, Gerard turned away to rummage through the drawer of the nightstand.

Lightly palming the narrow flanks, Kimble mouthed his way down the sharp-pricked knobs of the other man's spine.

"How am I supposed to concentrate while you do that?" demanded Gerard, who was in danger of falling off the bed when Kimble curled his tongue around his tail-bone, dipping wetly inwards.

"You're not. What are you looking for?" mumbled Kimble, drunk on the heady taste of his lover's skin.

"That new bottle of lubricant. Here you go." Thrusting it at Kimble, Gerard pulled back the covers and settled himself face down on the bed. Parting his legs, he gave a small wriggle to achieve the position of maximum comfort

There was something so erotic in the sight that Kimble's tongue threatened to stick itself to the roof of his mouth. "Uh," he managed.

Gerard turned his head and gave him an encouraging pat on the flank. "Squirt some of that where it will do the most good, then fuck me. I won't fall asleep on you this time. Leastways, I don't think I will."

Like lightning, Kimble swooped to nip the curve of Gerard's left buttock. "Damn right you won't." Fumbling with the lubricant, he held the soft plastic sides so hard that the contents squirted everywhere. Caught between arousal and laughter, he ended up collapsed over his lover, both of them glistening with lubricant by this time.

Gerard wiped a healthy dollop from his eyebrow with the back of his hand. "I admit I don't have much experience here but - "

"You do this to me on purpose, don't you," accused Kimble as he sank back onto his heels, having wiped his slick hands down his thighs.

"Sure. I like to see you laugh. But most of all I like knowing I'm the one who's made you laugh." His gaze on Kimble's mouth, Gerard gave a soft groan and moved to some purpose.

Settling his unresisting lover on the mattress, he leant over Kimble and with a slow deliberation licked his way from the delicate skin just above the pubic curls and up over the muscular belly until it began to twitch. Teasing the curl of the navel, he licked up to the sternum, flattening the soft hair on Kimble's chest. The abrasion of Gerard's stubbled chin raking over his nipples made Kimble give a low cry; he arched when they were soothed by a saliva slick tongue before Gerard began all over again, this time sucking and nipping at them until Kimble was incoherent with pleasure.

Waiting until Kimble had calmed a little, Gerard drew that deliciously full lower lip out between his own. Then, turning around, he knelt, offering himself up.

Kimble made a choked sound. Gentleness itself, he ran his hands over the narrow flanks, kissing the center of each cheek, before his tongue delved inwards, probing and teasing his lover into incoherence.

This morning there was nothing hurried about their loving, Kimble prolonging every stage as long as he was able. Rocking into Gerard, he eased him into a more comfortable position, half on his side. Murmuring and nuzzling, Kimble savored every second of their loving. Gerard's cry, when he came, triggered the inevitable, sensation tearing through Kimble, sweeping away everything but his awareness of his lover for some time.

Finally easing their bodies apart, Kimble rolled onto his back. He kept one hand in the small of Gerard's spine while he stared up at the ceiling. Oblivious to the fact he was under surveillance, he blinked rapidly a few times but had to sniff before he had his errant emotions under control.

"Richard?"

"Dust," he said defiantly, wiping his nose on the back of his hand.

"Anything you say," murmured Gerard, his dark eyes tender as he continued to study Kimble.

"What you thinking about?" he enquired some time later, having been unable to account for the range of expressions which had crossed the other man's face.

"All kinds. About you, of course." Kimble rolled onto his side, palming flat the dark hair he had ruffled earlier. "Mainly feeling - loved, lucky - "

" - smug," interjected Gerard, unsentimentally.

"Oh, that too. I get a real kick out of knowing I see a part of you that no one else does and - "

Becoming aware that the flesh under his hands was quivering, Gerard's face buried in his arms as he gave way to silent, helpless laughter, Kimble gave him a tolerant look.

"Now what have I said?" he asked with a patience which only made Gerard laugh all the more, until Kimble joined in without ever knowing the joke.

 

Making it into the living-room much later that morning, they listened to the messages on the answer machine, then wiped the tape.

"Predictable," said Gerard.

"At least we know we must have reassured the kids. Even Cosmo hasn't called. Are you ticklish?"

"Certainly not."

"Really?"

Kimble ended up sprawled amongst the cushions, his arms held above his head, with Gerard plastered against him, growling in his ear.

"I love it when you talk dirty," Kimble confided, his chest heaving as he tried to catch his breath.

"Then I'll stop." Disentangling them, Gerard slumped from Kimble to the floor, one arm still banding him as he leant into the couch. "What?" he asked under the influence of the other man's stare, before he flicked Kimble's nose with his finger.

"I was just thinking. We must be doing something right, Sam. This is the first time you've let yourself win a scuffle with me."

Gerard's eyes flickered. "I guess it is. It wasn't intentional."

"The winning or the never trying to?"

"Don't get smart. The latter. I hadn't realized I was doing it."

Kimble propped himself up on one elbow. "Nor me. So what are we going to do today? Hide away from the press or - "

"Or?" prompted Gerard when the other man fell silent.

"Or we could stay here anyway, fool around. What's that look for?"

"I was just reflecting how you drove me crazy because you couldn't wait to get out the house."

"So I'm contrary."

"I'll second that."

Kimble ran his palm along Gerard's shoulder, bunching up the soft cotton of the dark green tee shirt. "While we're on the subject of contrary, why haven't you got the door of the Ferrari fixed yet? Is money a problem?"

"Hell, no." Gerard drew his knees up to his chest and propped his chin on them. "I've got a temper. I just try not to lose it too often. That door's a reminder of what could happen if I fail."

"I wondered if that was it. Every time I see it I can hear myself bitching and prodding at you for a reaction. It's not a memory I take a pride in," finished Kimble in a low voice.

Gerard cocked his head. "I'll tell you a secret. I've been half expecting you to go ahead and fix the door anyway."

"I thought about it," Kimble admitted.

"Well I got that much right. What stopped you?"

"I didn't want to risk - " Kimble shrugged and fell silent.

"I'll get it fixed next week," said Gerard. "Meanwhile, what say we get out of the city, give the car a road test? See where we end up."

"I bet you used to like road movies."

"I've got news for you, I still do," said Gerard, getting to his feet and extending his hand.

oOo

After the bliss of a free day spent in each other's company, during which they did little of note but enjoy themselves, both men were in mellow moods by evening. Kimble ambled around the kitchen, making leisurely preparations for their evening meal. Sitting on the work-top Gerard was eating from a tub of ice cream, feeding spoonfuls to Kimble when he walked past.

Licking ice cream from his upper lip, Kimble began to hum under his breath as he chopped. It was a while before he identified the tune as ‘Werewolves of London'. He shouldn't have been surprised; he'd been hearing Sam sing that song a lot over the last few weeks.

"Whoa!" Gerard caught hold of Kimble's forearm. "Are you sure you want to add a second lot of chili?" he asked, straight-faced.

Kimble gave him a lot of suspicion.

"OK, don't believe me. But don't expect me to eat that," Gerard added.

"You being so picky about your food and all," Kimble said as he tipped the chopped chili pepper away. "Is that ice cream melting?"

"No, still good and cold," said Gerard with deliberate obtuseness.

Kimble marched over and twitched the spoon from Gerard's grasp. "Damn, you're right," he mumbled through a mouthful.

Gerard's expression clearly said ‘I told you so', which earned him a dark look before Kimble returned to chopping vegetables. But he was no longer humming, and when he thought Gerard wouldn't notice he cast surreptitious glances at him.

"Is there a problem I should know about?" Gerard asked, tired of pretending he hadn't noticed that something was wrong.

Sighing, Kimble switched down the heat under one of the pans. "No. It's just me," he added.

Setting down the tub of ice cream, Gerard slid from the work-top and padded over to where his lover stood looking vaguely lost. "What's the problem?" he asked in a different tone, his very proximity a comfort should comfort be what was required.

Rubbing the back of his neck, Kimble looked mildly pained before he gave Gerard a sideways look. "There isn't a problem," he sighed. "I'm just being a wuss."

"No novelty there then," said Gerard, remaining where he was.

"None at all," Kimble agreed, tweaking the collar of his companion's polo shirt just for reassurance. "Listen, I know this is a dumb question, and I can already see the expression on your face, but I - Look, I know you are, but I have to ask this, OK?"

Gerard parted his hands, his eyes wide and guileless. "OK," he said soothingly.

"Well, are you?" demanded Kimble with edgy impatience.

"Am I what, Richard?"

Kimble's eyes flickered. "You don't want to tell me?" His shoulders visibly drooped.

"I'm longing to tell you, but first I need to know the question," Gerard told him, his mouth threatening a smile.

"Damn, I'm losing my mind," muttered Kimble as he sank sideways onto the nearest chair.

"That's a certainty," Gerard agreed, wandering back to the ice cream and helping himself to a spoonful.

"Are you happy, Sam?" Kimble blurted out to his lover's back.

Gerard whipped around, his face unmoving as he padded towards Kimble. Looming over him, he waited until Kimble looked up before he sank to his knees in one graceful movement. His gaze never leaving his lover's face, he unzipped Kimble's jeans, knowing the other man was naked beneath them.

Kimble made a small sound as a callused hand eased him free and slowly and lovingly urged him erect.

"Am I happy?" mused Gerard, drawing out every word. "I'll let you know in ten minutes or so," he promised, dead-pan, just before he took the needy heat of his lover's cock into his ice cream chilled mouth.

Chapter Text

Kimble arrived home, tired but happy after a long but successful day at the hospital. The small smile twitching the corner of his mouth had been in evidence for the past hour, a difficult operation having gone particularly well. Parking his Corvette in the garage, he was glad to see the Ferrari there, as it was a sign that Gerard was home.

Kimble's smile grew bigger. He had yet to take this new love for granted; he doubted he ever would. He was in love, he was happy - and Samuel Gerard was somewhere in this house, which made standing alone in the damn garage with a sappy grin on his face the height of idiocy.

The moment he was inside the front door Kimble pulled off his coat and boots, calling for Gerard. Hearing a reply from upstairs he ran up the curving staircase, marvelling at the burst of energy that came just from the thought of seeing his lover.

Entering their bedroom he saw that the bathroom door was open and went in. The tub was filled with frothy hot water and towels were warming on the heated rail. Far more inviting was the sight of Gerard, who was wearing only a calf-length black bathrobe of the softest toweling (purchased for him by his besotted lover) and a welcoming smile.

Two minutes later Kimble was stripped and in the tub, while the daring and dangerous Deputy Marshal Gerard knelt on the floor outside the tub to wash his back.

It was amazing how much time and soap it took to clean certain areas.

Kimble sank back with his eyes blissfully closed and one leg hooked over the edge of the tub. Warm water and Gerard's hands caressed his genitals.

He opened one eye, his expression decidedly indulgent as he watched his lover play because being an experienced explorer of Samuel Gerard, he knew for himself the pleasure such caresses gave to the one bestowing them.

Tonight the stroking was surprisingly non-sexual. The soap was discarded but Gerard continued to tweak and stroke where his fancy took him, Kimble's chest hair providing a particular fascination.

Gerard poured water over the inviting sprinkling of hair, watching it flatten, then slowly unfurl as the water trickled away. He repeated the process several times, his focus absolute, as intense as if he was trying to solve some complex puzzle.

Kimble shifted a little, finding that intensity incredibly arousing.

Gerard leaned in to rub his nose against the damp chest hair.

"Don't sneeze," Kimble said. There was no warning in his voice, just a loving warmth that suggested his lover could do whatever he liked.

Gerard gave a wicked grin and latched onto the chest hair with his teeth, growling softly.

"And now we discover the real reason they call you Big Dog," Kimble said, looking completely at his ease.

Gerard tugged.

Kimble's eyes widened before he made a soft sound deep in his throat.

Gerard tugged again.

Kimble groaned. "You know what will happen," he pointed out, his breathing rate having accelerated.

"We have dental floss," Gerard said, after a moment's pause for thought.

Kimble gave a sigh of supreme patience, then tucked his arms behind his head, lifting his chin to offer better access. "OK, I'm all yours - "

"I know."

" - just help yourself. What d'you mean, ‘I know'? Are you saying I'm easy?"

"You bet, Richard. Any easier and you'd come with a big sign saying ‘Press here'." He demonstrated and Kimble made a small broken sound.

Gerard's eyes drifted from the puckered nipples, up along the tempting vulnerability of the throat, then down again to take in the view further south.

"There is a better place for - " Gerard blinked as he got a face full of water as Kimble surged out of the tub.

Ten seconds later Kimble was spread across their bed, pink, dripping water and covered in bubbles.

Standing in the doorway, gazing at his eager and very wet lover, Gerard reflected that there could be few sights more lovely, then admitted he was beyond hope as he approached bed. Pausing only to unfasten his bathrobe, he knelt over Kimble, the soft folds of the robe settling around them.

Wet footprints on the carpet dried long before the lovers had finished playing.

oOo

 

Over the next few weeks their uncertain schedules meant that they learnt to make the most of the time they did have together. By dint of sacrificing an hour in bed, breakfast had grown into a leisurely affair rather than food snatched on the run.

Having dealt with his own meal, Gerard got up to collect the fresh pot of coffee from the side as Kimble continued to check his mail. He looked up when Kimble made a small sound.

"Problem?" Gerard asked.

"Uh, I hope not." Kimble licked suddenly dry lips, his eyes wide and nervous-looking. "The sale of my apartment has finally gone through," he added in a rush.

Sinking onto his chair, a slow smile blossomed on Gerard's face. "I wondered what you were going to do about that," he conceded, before his smile was replaced by a guarded look. "You intend to move the rest of your stuff in here?" The question was obviously intended to sound casual.

Kimble's face lit up with relief, and something more besides. "You wouldn't mind?"

"Mind? You asked if you could move in here a while back but you haven't said anything since. I've been waiting for you to - " Gerard broke off, looking self-conscious. His voice very gruff he added, "I just didn't want to pressure you into anything. As far as I'm concerned this is our home. Not mine, not yours, but ours."

Leaving his chair, Kimble tucked his arms around the seated man and gave him a quick, fierce hug before he kissed the top of the dark head and resumed his seat as if there had been no interruption.

"I'll contact the storage people. There's not that much left. I gave the furniture and stuff to goodwill."

"You want to think about converting a couple of the spare rooms for an office and - " Gerard shrugged " - whatever?"

"I could use an office, and a place for my journals and medical books. The other books can go in the den with yours. I never got round to replacing most of them. Just as well or we'd have a lot of duplicates. I was thinking of using my old room as an office. If I share your closet space for my clothes and sports stuff it wouldn't take much more than some shelving and cupboards to set it up. And that way I can sleep on the couch on the nights I'm called out."

"Why? Have I complained about being disturbed?" returned Gerard.

"No, but - "

"Does it bother you the times I'm the one getting in late or leaving early?"

"You know it doesn't."

"Then forget sleeping on the couch," instructed Gerard.

"Anything you say, Sam."

"This won't last," Gerard recognized.

"Play your cards right and it might last until tonight."

"I thought the Cubs were playing?"

"You're cheaper entertainment," Kimble explained, just before he beat a hasty retreat.

oOo

Busy editing the paper he was writing, Kimble looked up from his VDU to see Gerard propped in the doorway.

"Hi. You got them," Kimble recognized.

"That we did. And my paperwork's up-to-date."

"So you're not working this weekend?"

"I don't plan on it. You?"

"No way - barring emergencies. I'm in danger of forgetting what you look like." Kimble made a backup of the file and closed down for the evening.

Gerard raised his eyebrows. "Interesting. Who did you think was fucking you yesterday?"

"I did wonder," said Kimble piously. "There I was, fast asleep and no trouble to anyone and the next thing I know - "

"Selective memory, too," mourned Gerard.

"Of course, you could always remind me how it went," murmured Kimble, managing to brush against Gerard with seeming artlessness as he emerged from behind his desk.

"I could," agreed Gerard as they headed down the stairs. "Or you could remind me."

"By my reckoning I'm one down on you," said Kimble, going into the kitchen and beginning to rummage for food.

Gerard's face was alight with amusement. "You keep score?"

"You bet. It's not a huge total."

"I can't believe - " Gerard's voice trailed away when the other man gave him a gotcha grin.

"Slack, deputy, very slack," chided Kimble. "You want a sandwich?"

"That depends what's in it." Unnoticed by his companion, Gerard took a large bite from the sandwich Kimble had made for himself.

"You sure harbor a grudge."

"Richard, if I harbored a grudge you'd be eating worse than peanut butter and relish, trust me."

"This from the man who eats date and blue cheese."

"Only once," remembered Gerard with a grimace.

"So what do you want? There's some - You've just eaten my sandwich," Kimble said accusingly.

"No? Hey, that's too bad. Looks like you'll have to make another. Hold the mustard next time, would you."

Answering the phone beside him, Gerard said "I'll get him," and handed it across. "O.R."

While Kimble listened, then reeled off a list of instructions, Gerard quickly made the other man a sandwich he could eat on the run.

Taking it up, Kimble headed for the front door. "They've got a major bleeder. Don't wait up. I could be a while."

 

It was almost three a.m. by the time Kimble returned home, feeling cautiously optimistic about the outcome of his night's work. Flicking off lights as he went upstairs, a glance into their room confirmed that Gerard was asleep. Still buzzing with adrenaline, and full of noble self-sacrifice, Kimble went back downstairs. Making himself a drink, he wandered down to the gym, rode a couple of miles on the exercise bike while watching part of a black and white weepie. Tiring of self-sacrifice, he headed back upstairs to the lure of Gerard.

Emerging from the bathroom, Kimble paused on the threshold. There was just light enough to watch the man sleeping in their comfortable double bed. Curved on his side, one arm curled around the pillow, Gerard's face was serene in sleep, the dark crescent of his eyelashes shadowing his cheek.

One shoulder propped against the doorjamb, Kimble made himself comfortable. There was a peculiar, intensely satisfying intimacy in keeping watch over his sleeping love - even when, as now, there was no fear of danger. Sometimes he jolted awake, throat tight with fear that this wasn't real; that Sam had died when the van crashed. But those times grew less and less as he became accustomed to the idea that life was sweet. The nightmares had decreased as his life with Sam began to knit together with a seamless alchemy that made a nonsense of those dark early days, when sexual tension had further complicated a difficult and complex situation. Kimble didn't take this happiness for granted; he would never do that, superstitiously afraid that to do so would be to invite disaster. But now he understood, as he had never really done before, why Gerard used to keep a private night-watch in those still, dark hours when the need for comfort was greatest - or how much comfort there was to be gained from the simple joy of watching your lover sleep.

Realizing he had grown uncomfortably cold, Kimble switched off the bathroom light, unerringly crossed the darkened room and eased into bed.

"OK?" asked Gerard in a sleep-slurred voice.

"Very," confirmed Kimble.

His joy in his new life sweeping over him all over again, he tucked himself close enough to feel the warmth emanating from the other man. "I've come home, Sam." The wonder of it was in his voice.

Gerard's eyes opened and in the semi-darkness he saw beyond the obvious. "I know it," he acknowledged, brushing the back of the other man's head. "I know it, Richard. I feel it, too. Do I have to hug you to prove it?" he added plaintively.

Kimble grinned. "Not if it's against your principles. I love you so much," he added, helpless under an onslaught of emotion.

Gerard tucked one leg loosely over Kimble's. "You're turning into a real wuss, Richard. And what's worse, you're turning me into one, too. I love you, too, OK." He patted Kimble's flank, his palm settling there. "Now let me go back to sleep."

"I know what it is, you're getting too fond of those sheep of yours," said Kimble.

Gerard blinked, sniffed, cleared his throat and then succumbed. "What sheep?"

"The ones you were dreaming about."

"You count sheep, you don't dream about them," Gerard explained patiently, before he gave a groan of comprehension. "Jeez, I'm losing my mind. You always do this to me. Go have a work-out down in the gym if you're still feeling perky."

"Perky," Kimble echoed, savouring the word. "Oh, I'm perky right enough. You've been around Robert, haven't you? Perky. Who needs the gym when there's you around?" He gave his lover's right nipple a swift, firm pinch, yet to take for granted the other man's little oomph of surprise.

"Dead zone," scoffed Kimble with scorn, repeating the process until there was a stirring against his thigh.

Gerard began to mutter under his breath. It sounded like a prayer for patience.

Then Kimble nipped his ear lobe at the same time that he assaulted Gerard's left nipple; his other hand slipped down encouragingly between their bodies.

Gerard groaned. "Why is it that you always come back from the O.R. horny?" he asked pathetically, his body unable to resist the lures being cast for it.

"Just lucky, I guess," said Kimble.

As Gerard misheard - or claimed to have done - the next fifteen minutes or so were more active than Kimble had been expecting. But face down in the pillows, moving to a languorous rhythm as Gerard fucked him with his usual attention to detail, he wasn't about to complain.

"Could've sworn you said ‘Fuck me,' said Gerard as he returned from the bathroom with a sponge and warmed towel.

"Me give you commands?" All big eyes and a smile that was so smug it bordered on a smirk, Kimble revelled in the pampering he was given.

Sated, and now pleasantly tired, he eased into sleep without being aware of it.

Sliding back onto his now cool portion of the bed, as wide-awake as if it was morning, Gerard was left to stare up at the ceiling, musing on the unfairness of life.

 

THE END