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Hold Tight to the Rose

by Mice

     Subject: LGM: Hold Tight to the Rose
     Date: Sunday, November 10, 2002 8:20 PM

     Hold Tight to the Rose
     Author: Mice
     Email: justusmice@yahoo.com
     Category: slash, Jimmy/Byers, angst
     Summary: A devastated Jimmy Bond tries to cope with the
     events of Jump the Shark. 
     Archive: Basement, Lone Slasher, LGM Fanfic Bunker, Glass
     Onion, all others ask.
     Website: Mice's Hole in the Wall --
     http://www.squidge.org/~surrealarts/mice.html
     Spoilers: JTS - I assume you've seen the LGM series and know
     the Gunmen's history
     Disclaimers: I don't own them; CC, Fox, Morgan and Wong, and
     1013 do. Sure as hell wish I did though. They'd get the
     happy endings they deserve.
     Author's note: Every GunFic writer I know seems to have been
     driven to do a post-JTS or a JTS denial story. This is mine.
     Incredible thanks to my betas. You know who you are. Thanks
     to RaeC, for whose zine this was originally written. She
     didn't get enough material to publish, so she gave me leave
     to share it with you fine folks.

     Hold tight to the stem of the rose you've been given.
     Learn what such a friend is worth.
     Write that in the margin and memorize it.
     -- Hafiz

APRIL 21, 2002
LONE GUNMEN HQ
TAKOMA PARK, MARYLAND

John died today.

I was there when the fire doors fell, trapping him and the guys in the hallway with the man carrying the virus. It was the worst moment of my life.

John Byers was my hero, my best friend, my mentor. My lover.

I'd been away from him for the last year, following the men who'd kidnapped Yves, and then tracking Yves herself when she escaped from them. John, Frohike and Langly had tried to talk me out of going, saying that we could find Yves without risking everything, by following up leads online or through our contacts.

I should have listened. If I'd stayed, they might still be alive right now. John might be in my arms, making love with me.

When I left, I was a really naive kid. I'd believe anything anybody told me. I was a pretty simple guy, really. People thought I was stupid. Yeah, I still have trouble with the big words, but in my year on the road following Yves, I grew up more than I ever knew I could; got smarter and faster and tougher, and learned not to trust just anyone anymore. I came home to the guys a wreck, but just seeing John when I came through the secret door to the HQ was enough to bring back my hope that things might turn out okay at the end. When John was here, it was always okay at the end.

Chasing John Gillnitz, the virus-carrier, brought my lover and my friends to their deaths. In the end, they were the heroes I've always known them to be, unquestioningly sacrificing their lives to save thousands of others. But I would have sacrificed anything to get them out of there. I'm not the hero John was. I tried to open the fire door to get to them -- to get to him --but he stopped me, and so did Yves. I didn't care if I died with him, and thousands of others with us, if I could have been with him, holding him when the end came.

He looked me in the eyes through the wire reinforced window, a terrible sadness on his face. We both knew. When I put my hand to the glass, he held his up to it, trying to touch mine, and Frohike and Langly's hands joined his. He told me never to give up. I whispered that I loved him, and then the tears came.

Yves and I stood there, looking in, holding each other and crying as the guys sat against the wall and just waited, dying as we watched. We were rushed out of the area when Agents Doggett and Reyes came storming in only a couple minutes later with a full CDC biohaz crew. We weren't allowed to stay. Everyone said the risk of exposure and consanitation had to be minimized.

Exposure. Consanitation.

I feel like my heart's consanitated.

The HQ is so empty without them. They'd sold everything, given their last dime to searching for Yves. They'd never even learned her real name until I told them. That surprised me. They were such brilliant guys. They always knew how to find anything. It hurts to see this place, once filled with cabinets and racks and equipment, filled with all the things in their lives, stripped to the wiring. There's so little of them here now. It's like even their spirits are gone, and I can't stop myself from going upstairs to the room that John and I shared before I left to look for Yves.

I should never have left. Or I should have died with him. I shouldn't have been left alone to mourn them all. The pain and the grief are too big.

John's room is clean and neat, the way he always kept it. Only a couple of suits are left in his closet. He must have sold them, too. His dresser isn't even here now. Most of his clothes are in a cheap little foot locker by the side of his bed. I open it, for no real reason. I just need to see his things, to touch things that have touched his body, as I couldn't when the doors came down.

Under a white t-shirt, I find a picture of the two of us. Our arms are around each other, and he's smiling, and he's so beautiful that I just can't hold it in any longer. I sink to the floor with the photo in my hand and cry. My body aches for him as much as my heart does. All I want right now is to die so I don't have to feel this alone. I don't want to go on, knowing I'll never touch him again, never hear his voice, never taste his kiss or roll over in the night and find him beside me. I pull the pillow from his bed and hold it like I'd hold him if he were here right now. I bury my face in it, letting the scent of him that I find there offer the memories it holds.

I remember the first time we ever shared this bed, a few months after I'd moved in with the guys.

We'd discovered our feelings for each other late one night, when nightmares woke him up and I was still awake watching sports on the satellite channels. He talked to me about Susanne Modeski, and a Baltimore warehouse where a mysterious man held a gun to his head and pulled the trigger. He was shaking so hard when he talked. I cared so much for him that I had to reach out and give him a hug. Usually he'd pull away if I did that, but that night he just let me hold him, and leaned into me for comfort. It felt so good to hold him, just to be near him. I'd wanted to hold him like that so much, but never could before that night.

As he calmed down, he put his arms around me, and I thought I was in heaven. He didn't move away when I rubbed his back or even when I nuzzled his hair. I didn't expect it when he held me tighter. I tried to be a little sneaky and just kiss him real light in his short, dark hair, but he noticed. I was afraid that he'd get mad at me, or get up and walk away, but he thanked me, then he touched a little kiss to my neck and I was gone. His beard tickled a little, but it felt so good. We looked in each other's eyes, and I'll never forget the look on his face. There was hope, and fear, and more love than I could imagine. I felt like we looked into each other's eyes forever, but then we kissed, and all the feelings we'd been hiding from each other were right there, like attic electricity between us.

I'd joined the guys because they believed in lost causes, just like me, but John was always special. He was the truest believer I'd ever met. His courage and the way he cared about other people always amazed me. The longer I stayed with them, the more I fell in love with him. I was afraid to show it because John always acted so straight. It was wonderful when he took me by the hand and led me to his room.

John was shy and didn't have much experience, but I wanted him so much, and he wanted me, too. Most of the guys I'd been with before were built like me; big and athletic. Other football players, usually. John was small and slender, with a smooth chest and a wiry strength in him. He was always well-dressed, his dark hair and beard just so, and he even managed to look good when he first got up in the morning, in a bathrobe, pajamas, and mussed hair. His eyes were pale, clear blue, like the sky over Malta. He had the most beautiful eyes I'd ever seen.

I'd never seen him naked before. He turned me on more than anyone I'd ever known. Everything about him made my knees weak, from the hot, musky smell of his skin, to the scratch of his rough thighs along mine. His cock was hot and hard in my hand, and felt so good rubbing against mine. We kissed and caressed and crawled into his bed. I loved how his body felt against me as we held each other, touching each other everywhere. He always had good hands, strong and sure.

When we couldn't stand it any more, I spread my legs for him, and let him slide inside me. The way he filled me left me breathless, moaning his name. His beard on my cheek and neck was soft and scratchy and made me so hot for him. He was as careful with his lovemaking as he was with everything in his life, and though he told me he hadn't been with many men before, he knew what he was doing. I wanted to be his, heart, body, and soul. Just having him deep inside me like that with his arms around me and his mouth on mine was good enough to make me come. And he got a lot more practice after that, too. That made both of us happy.

I just want to die.

I'm sitting with his pillow crushed in my arms, still crying, when I hear Yves' voice from the doorway.

"Remember, Jimmy, he told you never to give up." She puts a hand on my shoulder, but I can't look up. I can't do anything but feel how much it hurts to lose him; to lose all three of them.

Her touch just makes me cry more, but I nod because she's right: I can't deny John Byers, the man I loved so much, his dying wish. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I'll pick up where he and the guys left off. I'll put the paper back together. I'll find people to help me run it. Somehow, I'll carry on, and make my work an offering to him, and to Langly and Frohike. Maybe some day I'll be half the man John was.


THREE MONTHS LATER
NEWARK, NEW JERSEY
11:21 PM

It's late when the office phone rings, but I pick it up. The office isn't much, but it's a start, and Yves has been here when she can to help. Kimmy actually signed on to hack for us. He said that a moron like me couldn't possibly do the job himself, but he was always like that with the guys too, so I knew he didn't mean it and just told him he'd be welcome. He can be really annoying, but he knows his stuff better than anyone alive.

"Lone Gunman Newspaper Group, Jimmy speaking."

"I have some information you need." The voice is electronically distorted. I wave to Kimmy to trace the call.

"What kind of information?" I ask. I want to keep whoever it is on the line to see if we can find out where he is.

"About a friend. Meet me tonight at midnight on the docks. Building 1013. Please, Jimmy, come alone."

There's a click as the line goes dead. I look over at Kimmy.

"Nothing, man. Whoever it was got off the line too fast. What did they want, anyway? "

"I'm not sure. They said they had information I would want about a friend, wanted me to come alone. It felt kinda weird, but I think I should do that tonight."

"Right, genius. And get your ass handed to you like you did last week?" He snorts. I did get my butt kicked last week, but it was only because there were three of them, and they knew I was coming. If they'd been surprised, I wouldn't have had much trouble. " You want me to get Yves? She'll go with you if you want. It's not like you'd notice if half a dozen guys leaped out at you with machetes. "

Taking Yves would probably be the smartest thing to do, but I'm way better able to handle myself in a fight these days, after she trained me in all her marital arts stuff. Kimmy just worries too much. There was something about the call that felt... different. I couldn't put my finger on it. Whoever it was sounded nervous but sincere, if that can come through the distortion. I mean, a guy who wants to kick your ass for something doesn't usually say 'please.' The thing is, I have no idea which friend this person could be talking about. I have a lot of them, but nobody that I need any information on. Nobody's in trouble right now. None of them have mysteries in their pasts that Kimmy and Yves haven't been able to solve.

"I don't know, Kimmy. This is weird, but I don't have a bad feeling about it." I don't have much time if I want to get down to the docks and find this building 1013 by midnight. I'm not sure what I'll need to take, but Yves always insists that I wear a wire whenever I can, just in case. That would probably be enough to get Kimmy off my case.

"Look, I'm gonna call Yves anyway. You just wait a minute," he says, reaching for his phone.

I shake my head and start pulling the wire equipment from its box on the shelf. "Nah. Just help me with this, then you can listen in and only call her if we need her. She had a real long week and needs to get some rest tonight. I don't want to call her in if we don't have to."

He looks like he thinks it's not enough -- he never thinks what I do is enough unless I take Yves with me -- but helps me anyway. It only takes a few minutes, and then I put on my jacket and head out the door.


ON THE DOCKS
BUILDING 1013
MIDNIGHT

It's deserted here. There are freight containers and crates stacked everywhere, and building 1013 is a little shack, probably an office. The door's unlocked when I turn the knob.

I talk as quietly as I can and still let Kimmy hear me. "Gigabyte, it's Bit. It's a real tiny office. Probably not much place for anybody to hide. I'm going in."

His voice crackles over the link. "Gotcha. I'm on alert."

I push the door open slowly, watching the dark room carefully as I enter. There's a little light coming in the window, and I see that there's someone sitting at the desk.

"You said you had information for me?" I ask.

The dark figure swivels the chair, and I can make out the shape of his face in the dim light.

I can't believe this. There must be something wrong with my eyes.

He speaks. "Yes." His voice...

"Kimmy, we don't need the link. I'll see you when I see you." I click it off, rip it off my ear, and stuff it in my pocket.

It's only three steps across the room and he's in my arms. "Oh my god, John, oh my god. How... why..." My voice breaks and I start crying, kneeling there in front of him, holding him.

My head is spinning with all the questions I want to ask him, and he holds me tight, saying, "I'm so sorry, Jimmy. I never wanted it to be like this. I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

I don't let him say any more, covering his mouth with mine, kissing him hard and deep like I'm holding my life in my hands and only this kiss will save it. He feels too real for this to be a dream; his body's too thin and he tastes like god's own wine and I love him so much I can't keep it all inside. All the memories of him, of the two of us together, come flooding back from the place where I'd put them so I could keep going. I feel like I'm going to drown, like my heart's about to split in half like a big coconut. I'm stunned and I'm angry that he didn't tell me and I'm too happy to see him to even care. We break our kiss when we're both breathless, gasping and crying and holding each other so tight I'm afraid I'll hurt him.

When we lean back so we can look at each other, I'm shocked. I know the light's bad, but he's so pale now, and thin as a sippy straw. He looks like he's spent months in bed. He probably has. I can't even find words, so I kiss him again, more gently this time, more careful of him, but he holds me hard to his body.

"Let's go somewhere and talk," I say.

He nods, then stands and takes my hand, but he's leaning on a cane to hold himself up. Even with that, he seems shaky and unstable. Still, he leads me to where he's parked. It's a silver Saturn, with New York plates. Dime a dozen and would be completely anomalous on the road.

"I can't leave my car here," I tell him, even though I want to.

"Tell Kimmy where it is and have him come and pick it up."

D'oh. John always was a hell of a lot smarter than me. I get on the link and tell Kimmy. He wants to know what's going on, but I tell him I'll talk to him when I see him again, and not to expect me back, maybe for a long time. John nods and smiles. My heart almost breaks when I see him smile. I never thought I'd see it again, except in that picture I carry with me everywhere.

"You don't look well enough to drive," I tell him. It's true. I'm surprised he managed the walk from the building to the car. "How did you get here?" I look around, to see if someone has been watching over him, but I can't see anything.

"I was driven to Newark from where we're staying. I've been in town for the past two days, trying to get up the energy to arrange our meeting. I drove from a motel less than 15 minutes from here."

He's starting to wobble, so I steady him against me. He leans in and rests a lot of his weight on my body. He's so light. He must be nothing but skin and bones now. It scares me. He shouldn't even be on his feet. "There's no way you're driving tonight. Give me the keys, and you can tell me where we're going."

He nods and hands them to me, and we get in the car. I start it up and we drive away from the docks.

"Which way?" I ask.

"North. We're heading for Vermont." His voice is weak and quiet. I'm gonna smack whoever left him here in Newark by himself in this condition.

I have so much to say, but I can't yet. All I can do is glance at him as the city lights go by. He's still a beautiful man, his beard and hair neat and trimmed, though when his face is lit by passing lights, I can see that there's a lot more grey in them now. His cheekbones stand out more, and his clear blue eyes are set deeper, but it's because he's so thin. He looks exhausted but happy, and he turns to watch me.

After a while, I can't stand not touching him, and slide a hand over to rest on his thigh. He smiles again. "I missed you so much," he whispers, so quiet I can barely hear him.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I ask. He wouldn't have left me like this, not knowing, if there was any way he could have contacted me. I know in my heart it's the truth, but I have to hear him say it. I need to hear his voice.

John sighs and it's like a shadow moves over him. "Until about three weeks ago, I wasn't even able get out of bed. And I wasn't allowed anywhere near a phone. Mulder knew if I could get to one, I'd call you, and that might endanger all of us. He tried to keep me from coming this week. He wanted me to wait another month at least, until I was doing better, but I insisted."

"You were with Mulder?" I guess I shouldn't be surprised. They'd helped him so many times, he'd have to help them, have to save them if he could. "Are... are Langly and Frohike..."

"Yeah. They're alive too, though Frohike's still not out of bed yet. He's older than me and Langly, and it's been harder on his body. Langly actually had the quickest recovery. He's been up for almost six weeks."

I can't help but let a few tears run down my face as I smile. They're all alive. They're really alive. And John is sitting here next to me, taking us to a place where we can be together again. I don't care what happens now, I'm never going to leave him again, never going to be away from him for days at a time, never going to be so far away that I can't get to him before...

I don't know what else to say, so I ask John to tell me what happened.

"I don't remember much, really," he says. "When the CDC finally got there, I was barely conscious. I remember being stripped and put into a containment bubble and that's about it. I don't know how long it was before I remember anything else." He shakes his head and squeezes my hand on his leg. "I asked for you, but you weren't there. It... it took a long time for me to calm down. Eventually Mulder came to get us, in a hazmat suit. I barely recognized him. It's all so blurry. I remember a lot of blood, but I don't remember anyone being hurt..." He looks like remembering it at all just tears him up.

"Why didn't anyone tell us?" I ask. "I... we... someone should have told us. We would have come. I would have done anything --"

"Mulder said... he said if anyone knew, if word got out that we were still alive, Yves' father would try to kill us for stopping his plans." John is leaning back into the seat, and adjusts it back further, trying to get more comfortable. He looks like he's about to collapse, and I start watching for the nearest motel. "And I suspect factions in the shadow government would also be eager to get their hands on us to turn us into lab rats for their experiments." I can hear the fear in his voice. I feel him shiver.

The thought of John being no more than a lab rat to some scientist almost scares me more than the idea of him dying. It chills me all the way inside, like a lump of ice in my guts. I can't let that happen, ever. I spot a motel just up the road and signal for the lane change. "Do you have a bag in the car?" I ask. I assume he does. I came with nothing, but as long as I have him, I couldn't care less.

"In the trunk."

It only takes a second to park. "Wait here. I'll get a room and come for you."

John just nods and slumps back in his seat.

A few minutes later, I pull his bag from the trunk, then open the door for him. "Can you stand by yourself?"

He leans forward and tries, but he's too tired to move. I'll carry him if I have to. I don't care. "Just let me take your arm," he says, reaching out to me.

I lean into the car and help him to get to his feet. He props himself up against the car as I shut the door, and I put my arm around him. We manage the short walk to the ground floor room I got, but he's moving real slow, and collapses on the bed when we finally get into the room. He doesn't even try to lean his cane against the bedside table, just lets it drop to the floor as he lies there. I have to bite back tears.

Now that I see him in the light, I have a better idea of how hard this was on him. There are deep purpley-blue circles around his eyes, like big bruises, and his skin is so pale it's almost paper white. There are lines on his face and around his eyes that weren't there before. I could feel how thin he was when I had my arms around him, but to see it is a real shock. He's wearing a button down shirt and jeans under a light weight duster, and his clothes are just hanging on him, like they're way too big. The only reason I'm sure he's alive is because his breathing is harsh and ragged, like he just finished a long sprint.

I get a glass of water and bring it to him, and by the time I get back, his eyes are half open again. It breaks my heart to see him like this. I have to help him sit up so he can drink.

"When was the last time you ate?"

"Early this evening." I can barely hear him.

"You need something now."

"I need to rest, Jimmy."

I pull back the covers and plump the pillows up for him, then help him lean back and get his legs on the bed so he'll be more comfortable. "You can rest, but I'm calling room service. Is there anything you want?"

"Something light. Soup. Fruit maybe."

He looks like that's about all he could handle. The last thing I want to do is make him sicker by forcing him to eat too much, or something too heavy. I call in an order of chicken soup for him, and two burgers for me. I'm starved. Then I turn my attention back to John.

"Let me help you get ready for bed."

He nods, and I rummage in his bag to find his pajamas, laying them on the bed so I won't have to find them while he's naked and cold. I pull off his shoes and socks while he unbuttons his shirt, then I help him stand so that we can get his duster, shirt, and jeans off. Next are his undershirt and shorts, and he's leaning on me, shivering on this hot July night.

He's so thin I could count his ribs by running my fingers down his chest. It's horrible, and I have to bite my lip to keep myself from crying again. I've been doing an awful lot of that tonight. Once he's got his pajamas on, I help him get into bed, then lie next to him, just holding him while we wait for our food.

I never hoped, or even dreamed that I could ever have this again; lying next to John, holding him in my arms, feeling his breath on my neck. He's closed his eyes, too tired to hold them open, but I can't shut mine. I don't dare look away from him for fear that he'll vanish, that this will be some twisted dream sent to make me relive what I've lost. He feels so fragile under my hand, like he'd shatter if I breathed on him. It feels all wrong to see him this weak and tired, when he's so strong and brave inside.

"Talk to me," he whispers, "...want to hear your voice."

I lose it then, and bury my face in his shoulder, crying and telling him how much I love him, how I've missed him, how awful it's been since he was gone, and how sorry I am for leaving him to look for Yves. It all comes out so fast, all my fear and love and loneliness; it's like I can't stop, like if I stopped, I'd die. I kiss his neck and his face and his hair, frantic, never wanting to let go of him, and he raises a hand and touches my face. I open my eyes and look down to see him looking back up at me, tears in his own eyes.

"Don't be sorry," he says. His voice is so quiet. "You did the right thing. And you found her."

"And we almost killed you! I thought you were dead!"

He smiles that tiny half-smile of his. "But I'm not."

I want him so much, even though I know he's not strong enough for anything but rest right now. I just hold him as close as I can. I'm so afraid that I'll lose him again. His body against mine makes me feel alive again -- everything is tingling where we're touching. I don't have to fight with myself for long, though, because the food arrives.

I go get it for us, and bring it back to him on a tray that will fit over his lap, so he won't have to get up, then I prop him against me so he can sit to eat. He moves slowly, sipping the soup a little at a time. After a while, he's finished about half of it and then slides back into the pillows to rest again.

"Are you sure you had enough?" I ask. I finished both my burgers quite a while ago.

He looks a little better for having eaten, not quite so ashy grey but still really tired. "For now," he says. I take the tray away, and he asks, "Would you come to bed with me?"

"You didn't think I was gonna sleep on the floor, I hope?" I say, smiling. He smiles back. It takes a minute for me to use the bathroom and toss my clothes off, then I'm sliding in next to him.

We hold each other in the dark, my hand moving slowly over his chest through the soft flannel of his pajamas. I've missed this, missed him so much. I don't want him to talk right now. He's too tired, and I just want to touch him, to remind myself what it feels like to be with him, and to offer him some comfort. He must ache everywhere.

"Would you like a back rub?" I ask after a few minutes.

He's barely awake, but murmurs, "Mmm, please."

I help him roll over, then slide my hands under his top. I need to feel his skin, but I don't want him to get cold. He sighs and then just lets go and his entire body relaxes under my hands, like he was one of those Thunderbirds puppets and his strings got cut. At first I'm a little worried, but his breathing is steady, and he mumbles about how good it feels.

It feels good to me, too, and I work on his back and shoulders as easy as I can while John drifts into sleep. Touching him like this hammers home how thin and frail he is. I really am going to hurt somebody for letting him take a road trip like this when he's still so weak.

What I'm really afraid of is that the stress of the trip is going to make him a lot sicker, and make it harder for him to get better. I feel guilty for having him come back to me so soon, for wanting to have him tell me sooner. It was all just selfishness on my part, wanting him back before he was healthy enough to come to me. I'm pissed at myself for being angry with him after finding out he was alive, knowing he hadn't told me. And he's risked his health to find me. How could I be angry with him, knowing that? No wonder Mulder didn't want him to come yet.

It's late, though, and I'm barely able to keep my own eyes open, so I wrap myself around John and slide as close to him as I can. He moans a little in his sleep, and I hope I haven't hurt him. I've missed him so badly, had nightmares about him dying, cried from loneliness because he wasn't with me. Having him back, even like this, is the best present I've ever had. It's not long before I fall asleep, cherishing the warmth of him in my arms.


MOTEL NEW YORK STATE

I get up, but let John sleep as long as I can before we have to get ready to check out. He wants a shower before he gets dressed, so I get in with him, in case he needs me to steady him. After last night, I won't take a chance that he'll get too tired and fall. I can't believe how good it feels to be with him again.

He looks at me, smiling. "I wish I felt better," he says, the water running down him like little tiny rivers. The drops on his face are like glass beads, and his hair is wet and smells so good, and I can't get enough of looking at him. I still feel like if I close my eyes, he'll be gone.

"So do I," I tell him. I'm so hot for him, and so hard while I'm close to him like this. Every time we touch, my cock jumps and throbs. He kisses me and strokes my cock for a minute, and it's so good, but there's no sign of response in his own body. I'm sure it's only because he's still really sick, because the look on his face says he wants me as much as I want him.

"I'm sorry, Jimmy," he says, "I just can't..."

I put my arms around him and hold him, letting him stand with his back under the hot water. He needs the heat more than I do. I'm pressed up against him now, my cock against his groin, and it's almost more than I can bear. I feel like I can hardly breathe, I want him so much. "It's okay. I understand. We can wait until you're better. You shouldn't be wasting your strength on it right now, even if you could."

"It wouldn't be a waste," he says in my ear, and nibbles on it. All that does is drive me crazy with needing him. "And I don't want to wait." He turns and leans his back against the wall and pulls me to him, sliding his hands down my back to cup my ass.

"God, John, you feel so good. But I don't want to get you too tired to travel." I rub my body against him because I just can't stop myself, and he encourages me, moving his hips with mine.

"I don't care, I'll sleep in the car. I need you. I've waited too long for this."

My cock slides along his soft shaft, through his wiry hair, and up his stomach as he pulls my face to his for a kiss, and I just get harder and need him more. We're both breathing hard and he runs his hands over my ass and it feels wonderful. No one's touched me like this since the last time John did, and I thought no one ever would again.

I run my hands all over him, trying not to worry that he's so thin, just letting myself enjoy the sound of him breathing, the way he nibbles on my neck and ear as I thrust against him, how close I am to coming just rubbing against him like this. He's started to get a little bit hard against me, and it just makes everything feel better. "I wish you could fuck me," I tell him as I start nibbling one of his ears. "I want you inside me so bad."

He groans and thrusts against me, and I'm glad it feels good for him. I don't know how much more he'll be able to handle, though.

"Want you, Jimmy," he says, "god, I want to be inside you, want to make you come."

Just hearing the words is enough to push me over the edge after more than a year without him. I jerk and thrust into his belly, the soft, scratchy hair around his cock making everything so intense that I shout his name, and he runs his hands over my body making every little bit of me tremble. It's sweet, and he's panting, but he's still barely hard. I step a little aside to let the water wash my come off him, running my palm over him to help get him clean.

He sighs, and looks up at me. He looks pleased but frustrated, and I can't blame him.

"Are you doing okay, John?"

He nods, but slides down to sit on the edge of the tub with his back against the wall. "Thanks," he says, and runs his hand along my cheek. I feel guilty for feeling so good, while he's exhausted and couldn't even get a decent hard on.

I kneel in front of him, my hands on his waist, and kiss him all soft and gentle. He moans and runs his hands from my shoulders down my arms. "I'm not quite done yet," I say.

"There's really nothing else we can do," he says.

"Sure there is," I tell him, and start kissing my way down his body. My lips follow the line of beard on his jaw, then down his neck to his chest. He leans back with the water splashing off me onto him and holds my shoulders with his hands. I suck his nipples carefully, and there's pleasure in his voice when he moans again.

"Feels so good," he says. "Please, don't stop..."

I'm not going to, believe me. I nibble my way down his ribs to his hip, then across his stomach and down to his cock, where he's barely hard, but twitching a little between his legs. I don't know if I can make him come, but I hope that at least I can make him feel good.

I take him into my mouth, licking and sucking, and he goes, "ohhhhhhhhhh." He tries to thrust a little into my mouth, but I hold his hips still with my hands. I don't want him to make any effort here, I just want us both to enjoy this. The water plays across his chest while I suck his cock and balls, and even though he isn't getting harder, it's real obvious he's enjoying it. His fingers knot in my hair, holding my head down on him, and I give him all my love and attention. When I look up, his head is leaning back against the wall and he's got this blissed out look on his face, mouth open, eyes closed, like what's happening is the first thing that's felt good in ages.

I stay there sucking him until the water starts to cool. I don't want him to get a chill, so I stand and help him up.

"You didn't have to stop," he says, panting.

I smile and shake my head as I dry him off. "Yeah, I did. The water was gonna get cold in a few minutes, and we've gotta check out, get some breakfast, and get on the road."

John sighs and nods. "You're right."

Breakfast is at the little restaurant in the motel. John doesn't order much, but I make sure that he does eat most of what he gets, and that he drinks all his milk. My appetite is fine, even though I'm really worried about him. It's not long before we're on the road again, heading north.

He's too tired to talk much while I drive today, just giving directions for me when he has to. We stop for lunch, but he doesn't eat much there either. In another few hours, we're turning off onto a country road, and he has me stop and swap the New York plates for Vermont plates when we're sure nobody's around to see.

I wish he was feeling well enough to talk to me, but I don't want him to get any more tired than he already is. When he's awake, I hold his hand, or rest mine in his lap unless I need it to drive. I think it helps both of us feel better. Sometimes he looks over at me and smiles. I wish I could just sit with him and watch him, but I have to pay attention to the road. I can see the drive is hard on him, and he's been sleeping on and off along the way. Even that doesn't seem to be helping much. I think the motion of the car is keeping him from really resting, and I'm still gonna kick ass on whoever took him to New Jersey and left him there alone.

I can't imagine why they'd do that to him, even if he insisted. I mean, I have a hard time saying no to John at the best of times, but I would never have let him travel when he was so sick if there was any other way to do it. If nothing else, he should have made Mulder come and get me. All it would have taken was for Mulder to tell me John was still alive, and I'd have crawled to Vermont on my hands and knees to get to him. Well, I mean, driving's way faster, but you know what I mean.

I have a lot of questions for Mulder when I get there, too. I want to know what really happened, how he got the guys away from the CDC if they were consanitated and sick from the virus, and how they got better again. I know Mulder got kidnapped and probed by aliens, so maybe he's got weird alien healing powers now or something. That would be cool. Just think of how he could help everyone if he can heal people. But if he could heal people, then why would John have been in bed most of the last three months, and why would he still feel so bad? And why would Frohike still be in bed and not able to get up? I don't think Mulder would only heal them part way if he could really heal them. I know I'd never leave somebody half sick like that, especially not the guys.

I ask John about it, but all he says is, "Mulder can explain things when we get there. I'm still too tired to talk much right now, Jimmy."

A few hours later we pull up in front of a white house off a dirt road near Burlington, Vermont. Langly's sitting on the porch, and when he sees the car, he stands up and waves, then runs to meet us. He's wearing a Ramones shirt, just like always, and it makes me smile. I can hear him shouting for Mulder as he hurries to the car in the hot evening sun. He goes to open the door for John, and looks worried when he sees him.

"Oh, man, Byers, I told you this would just set you back." He leans in and helps John out of the car, and they hug each other while I'm getting out. "I'm real glad you're home, though." He's quieter when he says that.

"Yeah, me too," John says, smiling at Langly.

Langly turns to me, with John still leaning against him. "Hey, Jimmy," he says. He grins at me with that lopsided grin he's always had. I'm so glad to see him. His light blue eyes are tired under his black horn-rimmed glasses, and he's thinner than last time I saw him, though not as much as John. I don't think he's cut his hair at all since I saw him last, and it's down near the middle of his back, bleached even blonder than usual by the sun. I go over and give him a hug and he doesn't even yell at me about it. "Byers hasn't shut up about wanting you here since he was strong enough to start talking," he says in my ear.

He looks really good compared to John, but still doesn't look his old self. At least he's not wobbling when he stands up. The three of us are standing there, holding each other when I see Mulder come out of the house, and a pretty woman with short blonde hair follows him.

"Susanne," John says, smiling at her as she approaches.

My stomach twists, and suddenly I don't know what to do or think. I feel myself tense up as she hurries over to him. I know how important Dr. Modeski's always been to him, and I'm scared that since she's here, he won't want me anymore. I know he loves her. He's never even tried to pretend he doesn't. She kisses him when she gets to him, and me and John and Langly all step back from each other a little. I keep an arm around John in case he needs the support.

Mulder gets over to us, and says, "Hey Byers, you look like shit. Go to bed."

"Thanks, Mulder," John says, "I always knew I could count on you for sympathy." Then he smiles up at me and says, "Jimmy, this is Susanne Modeski. Susanne, this is Jimmy Bond." He slides his arm around my waist and holds me closer.

She looks up at me for a minute, sizing me up, then smiles a little and says, "I'm glad you came, Jimmy. John's told me a lot about you." She gives me a hug, runs a hand through his hair, then looks back up at me. "I was terribly worried about him when he insisted that I leave him in Newark alone to find you. Thank you for bringing him home again." She shoots a look over to Mulder.

"I told you I'd be back as soon as I could," John says. He sounds frustrated, like maybe he thinks nobody believed him. She just kisses him again and looks back at me.

I'm really not sure what to think about Susanne now. She seems like she's pretty nice, even though Langly and Frohike always talked like she was a bad person. They said she made biochimerical warfare drugs for controlling people's minds. And she took John to Newark and left him there alone, when he shouldn't have left here at all. John always just said she didn't have any choice about the biochimerical stuff, and that the people she worked for made her do those things. I'm going to need to talk to her, and think about this a lot.

She looks back at John and sighs. There's a worried frown on her face. "I know you promised, but when we didn't hear from you, we were all very concerned. And Mulder's right, you should be in bed," she tells him. "Has he eaten or slept during the trip?" she asks me. She's upset.

"Yeah, I made sure he did."

"I'm fine, Susanne," John says. "I just need some rest and I'll be fine."

Susanne shakes her head. "You should have let someone else go, or waited another month or so." John doesn't say anything back to her. He just looks at me and tightens his arm around my waist.

Langly tugs on my sleeve. "I'll get the bags," he says, "you get Byers inside and make sure he lies down."

"I'm going, I'm going," John says. He would sound annoyed if he didn't sound so tired.

I give Langly the keys. "I will, but there's only John's stuff in the car. I didn't have time to pack anything. I brought him straight here."

Langly nods, then Susanne puts an arm around John and we both help him into the house. He's so tired he's shaking. I'm really worried about how pale he is. He looks worse than he did last night, when he was so exhausted. I think the trip was really bad for him. I get the feeling everybody else here feels the same way. By the time we get in the front door into the living room, he's stumbling, and so I pick him up and carry him.

"Jimmy, I don't --" His voice is weak and he's panting from the effort it took to walk this far. I don't care if he thinks he can still walk the rest of the way. He's wrong.

"Don't argue with him, John," Susanne says, leading me down a hallway and into a small bedroom on the first floor. "This is John's room," she says. "I'll leave you here for a few minutes until you get him settled, Jimmy." She turns to look at John. "Then I want to come in and examine you."

She looks like she's about to cry, but isn't going to let him see it. I can see she's really worried about him. So am I. I put John down on the bed, and he moans as he lies down. He closes his eyes and doesn't move, except for the rise and fall of his chest as he tries to catch his breath. He's started sweating, and I don't know if it's from the summer heat or from a fever. I start to get him undressed for bed.

Langly comes in a minute later, carrying John's bag and cane. He leans the cane against the wall near the bed and sets the bag down on the dresser, then pulls a pair of pajamas out of one of the top drawers.

"Here, dude," he says to John, setting the pajamas next to him. "I know how much you bitch about getting cold." John doesn't respond, and Langly reaches out and runs a hand along his damp forehead, then turns to me. He looks angry and sad. "While Susanne's checking him out, come over to Frohike's room. He's really looking forward to seeing you." Langly points down the hall, then leaves and closes the door behind him.

John's barely with me when I help him get his pajamas on. I think the travel's made him sick again, and he feels feverish to me. As I'm tucking him under the covers, Dr. Modeski comes in. "I think he has a fever," I tell her.

She doesn't say anything, but comes over to sit next to John on the bed, and puts a hand on his forehead. She frowns, then listens to him breathing with her stenoscope, and she frowns some more.

"Will he be all right?"

She finally looks up at me, real upset. "He should never have left. Not yet. He's probably going to be in bed for at least a week because of this." Her eyes are all red and puffy, and her lower lip starts trembling. Looking back down at him, she takes his hand and holds it up to her cheek. She kisses his palm and closes her eyes. I can hear her sniffle. He doesn't even stir.

It's my fault that John's so sick and worn out. He'd been getting better, and then he had to come and find me, and now he's too weak and exhausted to move. I leave before I start to cry too. I don't want her to see it.

I'm angry at her for letting him travel, her being a doctor and knowing better. I'm afraid that John won't want me now, won't love me since she's here with him. I'm pretty sure she had a lot to do with why the guys are still alive, and John never forgets when somebody does something for him. I can't help but wonder if she's been sleeping here with him while he's been recovering. I mean, not like... not like having sex or anything, but just being in bed with him, holding him close all those nights when I was so alone, thinking he was dead, wanting to die because losing him hurt so much.

I hear Langly's voice and when I turn to look for him, I see an open door. It's Frohike's room, and he's lying in bed, grumbling about something. Langly's giving him a hassle, as usual. I poke my head in, and they both look up.

"Well," Frohike says, "if it isn't our world traveler." He looks older than he did before. Like John, he has more lines on his face now, and his hair is grayer. He's thin and drawn, and his voice is more gravelly than it was. He's lost some more hair on top, and his hands shake when he moves them. Langly's the only one who doesn't seem to have really aged from being so sick. I'm glad to see them all, but I'm so scared for John that it's hard for me to feel anything but that.

I smile anyway, because I really am glad to see him. "Hey, Frohike." I go over to the bed, and he even lets me hug him, which is really unusual. "How are you doing?"

"Better than Byers, from the sounds of it," he says, and sighs. "How's he doing?"

"I think he passed out. Dr. Modeski is with him. She's real upset. She was crying."

They look at each other. Langly gets up. "I'm gonna have some words with her. Stupid bitch should never have let him leave. No offense, Jimmy, but this really could have waited until he was doing better." He stalks out of the room.

I get up to follow him, but Frohike grabs my wrist. "Stay here for a while," he says. "Langly's not upset with you, believe me. We're all pretty pissed at Mata Hari, though. She took off with Byers in the middle of the night. None of us knew they'd gone until the next morning. We read her the riot act when she got back the next day and he wasn't with her. He didn't call while he was gone, and we had no idea if he was all right, or if he'd been able to contact you."

"John said it took him a couple of days to feel well enough to call me and arrange for us to meet." I sit down on the bed next to Frohike. It's good to be here with him, to see that he really is getting better. Right now, he looks healthier than John does. "He's not doing very good, Frohike. I'm really worried about him."

Frohike snorts. "Join the club."

I look over at him, wanting to ask him about Susanne, but I can't make myself say anything, so I just look down at my hands.

"What's bothering you, kid?"

"It's... well... it's Dr. Modeski. I know... he... are they..."

Frohike gives a little chuckle. "Like that's a surprise," he says. He sighs and pats my shoulder, and I look up at him. "I'm not sure what's going on between them, but all Byers did was rattle on about you. It drove us up a wall. This has been rough on all of us, but I think he's been so upset you weren't here that it took him a lot longer to recover than it should. He and Langly should have been up around the same time, given their age and their health before..."

I nod. I know John loves her, and she seems to love him a lot too, even though everyone's mad at her. "I don't know what to do."

"Just be here. Seems like he needs you."

"I need him, too," I whisper.

Frohike nods. "Uh huh."

"I'm scared, Frohike."

"I know."

I look up at him. "What would you do, if you were me?"

He laughs, but it's a short, upset laugh, not a funny one. "I wouldn't be you, Jimmy, god forbid."

"Come on. What would you do if this happened to you?"

He closes his eyes for a minute and takes a deep breath, then lets it out. "If she hadn't saved our lives, I'd kick her ass from here to next year. I'm... grateful to her, but I can't bring myself to trust her. Every time she's around us, we almost get killed. It gets kinda nervy sometimes, a thing like that. And she makes Byers all squirrelly. It's like his brain disappears. I don't like what she does to him, how she makes him act. It's like somebody else is running the show, like it's not really him in there anymore."

"Is that how he's been acting?" The idea of John not being anything like the man I love worries me a lot. I can't imagine him that out of control, but he's always kept a lot of himself hidden from other people, even from me. It's like he's afraid of himself sometimes, afraid of what he might do if he ever just let go. "He seemed pretty normal to me since he found me again. I mean, normal for somebody who almost died."

I look down at Frohike's hand on my wrist. The hairs on his arm are almost all grey now, not dark like they used to be. He's not wearing his fingerless gloves, either. Maybe she won't let him or something. His hands look... naked. It's kinda creepy.

"How did he act before, with her around?" I ask.

He looks at me for a few minutes. "Mostly insane. When she's around he mouths off at guys with guns, forgets there's anybody else on the planet but her, and generally does stuff that practically guarantees he'll get killed." His eyes are haunted. "Scares the crap out of me, Jimmy. I swear he has a death wish, and she brings it out."

That's the scariest thing anybody's ever said to me about Dr. Modeski. Or about John.

"Hey," Frohike says, "he's been too sick to do anything monumentally stupid this time, except going to get you."

"You said he forgot there was anybody else on the planet but her when she's around him."

"Yeah, this is a first, but it was still just short of suicidal. Like I said, she brings it out in him."

"Frohike..." I start, but it's hard to continue. I'm afraid of the answers.

"What?"

"If he loves her so much, why... why did he come looking for me? Wouldn't he... doesn't he really want to be with her, not me?" There. I said it. My doubts are drowning me. I want to be with him. I'd go anywhere, do anything to be with him.

He snorts. "If he didn't want you here, he wouldn't have gone to get you, Einstein. God, you can chase Yves all over the globe, find out her real name long before we do, and you still can't see that?" He shakes his head and sighs. "You're a piece of work, Jimmy."

Maybe I am. John hasn't actually said anything to make me think he doesn't want me anymore, or that he doesn't love me. He acts like he wants me with him. He said he needs me. I just don't know what to do with Dr. Modeski here. I don't know how to act around her. I don't know how things are going to work out between them, or between John and me. I always used to be sure of how John felt about me, but now I'm not.

He's never said that he loves me, but it's always been there, under the surface. I could see it in his eyes, in the way he looked at me, or the way he would touch me. He's not the kind of person who would have a lover he didn't really love. I've been so shaken by thinking he was dead that it's like I'm standing in a huge bowl of wobbly jello. The only thing I'm sure of now is that I love him.

I can hear Langly snapping at Dr. Modeski in the hallway, then hear him stomp off for somewhere else. "I think I need to go for a while, Frohike," I tell him, then get up to ask Dr. Modeski if John is going to be okay.

She's crying when I get to her. I'm not sure whether I should give her a hug or just leave her alone. "You gonna be okay?" I ask.

Susanne sniffles and wipes her eyes with a tissue, then looks up at me. "I'll be fine," she says. "Langly's just... very angry right now."

"I know. Doesn't seem like it's fair, really."

She shakes her head. "I know I've caused them a lot of trouble in the past. I'm sorry for some of what happened, but I don't regret meeting them. They've saved my life more than once. I've never deliberately done anything to hurt any of them. John understands, but Frohike and Ringo still don't trust me. Maybe they never will. I don't think they understand my situation, my intentions, or how much I love John."

"The guys are still pretty sick and stressed out," I tell her. "Maybe things'll change when they're feeling better."

"I hope so," she says, but she sounds like she doesn't believe it.

"How's John?" I point toward his room. I want to see him healthy again, back to his old self, but I know that's not gonna happen anytime soon.

She sighs, looking down at the floor. "Not well. He has a fever, and he's so exhausted that he may be out of it for the next couple of days before he's rested enough to talk to us again."

My heart freezes. "That sounds real bad."

"It's not what I hoped for when he got back, but it's unsurprising. I... I didn't want to let him go either, but Ringo won't hear that. I think if I hadn't taken him, John would have found the keys and tried to go alone, and who knows where he would be right now if he'd done that."

The thought of John driving by himself in the shape he's been in makes me shudder. "You two took off in the middle of the night, from what the guys said."

She nods. "We had to. There's no way any of them would have let us leave if they knew we were on our way out the door. He was adamant about finding you, and I wanted to get it over as fast as we could, so that he'd be back here as soon as possible, where he's safe and can rest. John is a very stubborn man." She frowns and sniffles again. "He won't stop if he thinks he's right."

I'm too familiar with that. "Is it okay if I go see him?"

She looks up at me. Her eyes are tired and bloodshot. "He won't be awake, but it certainly won't hurt. "

"Thanks." I put my arm around her shoulder and give her a gentle squeeze. I don't care what she did before, and though taking him to Newark was wrong, she saved the guys' lives. She saved John's life. Nothing else matters. We can talk about him and other stuff later. Because of her, there's time for that. "Thank you for saving them. He... they all mean a lot to me."

"And to me," she says softly.

"I know."

She looks up at me and slides her arm around my waist, giving me a little hug. "Thank you, Jimmy."

"For what?"

"For not hating me because of my past. For being willing to listen. For being patient."

She really isn't as bad a person as Frohike and Langly say. She's hurting about all this just like we are. It's hard for me to be angry, knowing how tough her life has been. I couldn't hate her, even if John decides he'd rather be with her. "It's okay, Dr. Modeski. We'll talk more later."

She gives me a little smile. "It's just Susanne, Jimmy."

I nod. "Okay, Susanne."

She walks off to the living room, and I go back into John's room. It's mostly dark in there, with the window open for some air, and the shades drawn to keep the light out. He's lying on his side, curled up. He looks so vulnerable like this; it makes my heart get all tight in my chest.

I sit on the bed for a few minutes, just looking at him. There's an ivy line stuck into one of his hands, the little plastic baggie hanging up near the wall. It makes me nervous, but he must need it for something. Even asleep, he looks worn and exhausted. It's so different than when we were together. When he slept, he used to look peaceful most of the time. The sound of his breathing is rough and ragged. I need to be with him, but this feels so wrong. He should be healthy and his breath should be soft and quiet, like it used to be.

His hair is damp from sweating, and Susanne left a bowl of water and a cloth to help cool him down. I reach over for the cloth, get it wet and wring it out so it's not all drippy, then run it carefully over his skin.

He doesn't move as I touch him with the cool cloth, running it over his forehead, along his exposed cheek, then down along his neck and part of his chest. I run it soft over his lips, thinking about how we used to kiss, and the tip of his tongue comes out and touches the coolness of the cloth, like a sleepy puppy. I wonder if he needs some water, so I set the cloth back in the bowl, then touch a dripping finger to his lips, and let the little drops slip between them. The tip of his tongue runs along my fingertip, hot and almost dry.

There's a cup of water next to the bowl, and since he seems to be thirsty, I take the cup and sit him up a little against me. He doesn't open his eyes, or even seem to notice, but when I hold the cup to his lips, he does take a sip or two.

"Do you want more?" I ask, not sure if he can even hear me. He doesn't respond or take another sip, so I set the cup down and ease him back into the pillows. I don't want to leave him alone like this, so I kick off my sneakers and lie next to him. He feels too hot when I curl up with him, running the tips of my fingers along his arm. I slide them down the back of his hand, then twine our fingers together and just hold him.

"I love you so much, Johnny," I whisper to him. "Please get well. I need you." My eyes sting and get teary. I don't think it'll be the last time. I shift and lean over him, kissing his cheek, then settle back behind him and hold him close for a long time.


"Hey, Jimmy."

I startle awake, not recognizing the voice at first, but when I look over my shoulder, it's Mulder.

"How's Byers doing?" He's leaning in the doorway with his arms crossed, looking concerned.

John's still sweaty but not as hot as he was before, and his breathing is quieter. "I think he's doing a little better." I reach out and get the cloth again, squeezing the water out, then use it to wipe the sweat from John's skin. "I think his fever is down some."

"Good." Mulder relaxes a bit. "How are you?"

I put the cloth back in the bowl. "I'm... not sure. I want him to be like he was before, not like this."

Mulder nods. He looks me in the eyes. "Susanne doesn't know about the two of you, as far as I know. Byers thought it might freak her out."

I look down at John. There's still pain and exhaustion in the lines of his face. I don't think he would want to upset her when he was so sick and not able to deal with how she might react, especially if it was bad. "You're probably right. She doesn't act like she knows."

"Well, this isn't exactly the best time to tell her. Let Byers talk to her first. They're the ones with the history."

That sorta makes sense, but I love John so much, she'll probably notice that something is different about the way I treat him. I'm not going to act like I don't love him. "I'm not sure I can hide it from her. I mean, like, when I'm with him. Langly says I'm a lousy actor."

Mulder chuckles. "And you believe him?"

"I think he's right." I remember when I was traveling through Egypt trying to find Yves. I tried to act local, but nobody believed it at all. I think it was falling off the camel that tipped everybody off. Camels are a lot harder to ride than horses, and way meaner. I got shot at. Then the camel bit me. It was pretty scary.

"It's getting near dinner time. You need a break?"

I look down at John and run a hand along his side. "No. I want to be here with him."

He nods. "Mind some company?"

"Have a seat."

"Frohike and Langly were arguing about the performance speed ratios on T-3 lines again. I can only handle so much of that before I want to strangle them." He walks over and sits in the chair next to the bed.

"I'm real worried about John."

He nods. "I remember when Scully had cancer." He looks up at me and sighs. "I couldn't do a damned thing for her. I think that was the worst part."

"Yeah. It's hard to just sit here and wait. But it was awful when I thought they were dead. It was like the world ended. The guys said that's how it was for you when Agent Scully got kidnapped by aliens."

Mulder looks over at the wall. There's nothing there to see. "Yeah. It was."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I'll be with her again as soon as it's safe." He looks back at me again. "You're here with him now. Whatever happens, hang on to that. Hang on to him. Don't leave him, and don't make the same mistakes I did. I've got a lifetime of shit to make up for when I see Scully again; all the pain and loss I've caused her. You've never done that to him."

"I almost got him killed. Isn't that bad enough?" My guts knot, and I remember the look on John's face when the door closed between us, locking him and the guys in with Gillnitz. I'll never be able to forget that look. I see it every night in my nightmares. "How... how did you and Susanne save him? How did you get them out of the CDC when they were so sick? I mean, I thought they didn't even let anybody into places like that."

He smiles a little, but still looks sad. "Susanne arranged it," he says, "and if the guys hadn't done something, thousands of people, including all three of them, you, and Lois Runtz would have died. It wasn't your fault. They did what they always do --what they felt they had to. Do you really think you could have stopped them if you'd been there?"

I shake my head no. He's right. I could never change the guys' minds when they had them made up about something important. "So, like, did you just walk in and take the guys away in a car or something?"

He laughs. "It was a lot more complicated than that, but we managed to pull it off. Susanne called me from the CDC one night about a week after they were exposed. She couldn't say anything on the phone, but we met and she explained the situation. The guys were too out of it to recognize her. If they had, it would have been a disaster, and all four of them probably would have been killed."

I shudder, moving closer to John on the bed, then run my fingers slowly through his hair while Mulder talks. He doesn't seem to be any more awake than he was when I first came in, but at least he seems a little more comfortable, less overheated. Touching him, knowing he's alive and here next to me, helps as I listen to Mulder's story.

"We got the guys out late one night, when there weren't many people on shift. I got in on a fake ID, though it wasn't as good as what the guys would have been able to do. I made sure I screwed the cameras as much as possible before I went in. Susanne had me in a containment suit. We got them out to a waiting truck, in containment bubbles to keep the contagion from spreading. We spilled a lot of blood around the place that she'd drawn from herself and the guys. Made it look like all four of them were killed and the corpses hauled away."

He paused and thought for a while. "We had another week before they were past the contagious phase, but we had to move fast. Apparently somebody was interested in our allegedly dead 'experimental subjects' and was trying to trace them. Susanne had to work hard just to keep them alive, and I was doing my best to cover our tracks. It's been rough." He sighs. "Just like working on the X Files."

"That was probably Yves' father, Mr. Runtz, that was looking for them."

He nods. "Good guess. If he'd found them at the CDC, he would have bombed the place into a smoking crater. The government would chalk it up to yet another terrorist attack. Nobody would miss the guys, because they were supposed to be dead already. There's been no sign that anyone knows we're here, though, and it's a damned good thing, because there's no way these guys could run right now, the shape they're in. We have to stay low and wait here until they're well enough to travel, and not like Byers did. God, what a stupid thing to do." Mulder shakes his head. "Those two could have blown everything, gotten all of us killed."

"But they didn't. And I brought him back. Nobody followed us; I was real careful."

"Well, we can't know for sure just yet. If nobody starts poking around within a week or so, we're probably safe for a while yet. Did you tell anyone at all that Byers is alive, or say anything about where you were going?"

I use the damp cloth on John's skin. He shifts a little, and I offer him some water. He mumbles and takes a sip, then settles down again without ever waking up. "No. I just told Kimmy that I wasn't going to be around, probably for a long time. He didn't know who I was with or where I went. He never saw the car or John. We were long gone before he got to the dock to pick up my car."

Mulder looks worried. "God, Kimmy Belmont? That arrogant little twat?"

"He's not so bad. He's helped me and Yves out a lot since the guys have been... gone."

"Yeah. I've been keeping an eye on your website and checking out the newspaper. He's still a twat. And your friend Lois is an extremely dangerous woman."

"She doesn't like to be called Lois. She wants to be called Yves. She doesn't want anything to do with her dad; she's been trying to stop him for years."

"Lois, Yves. Doesn't matter what you call her, she's still dangerous."

"She'd never hurt the guys. She cares about them. They're her friends."

He shakes his head. "I never said she'd try to hurt them. That doesn't change the fact that she's dangerous. If she ends up involved in this, we'll be in deep shit."

"Why?" I just don't get why Mulder would be so upset about Yves. She never did anything that she didn't have to do, and there's no way she'd give the guys to her dad. Last year, she let Morris Fletcher take her away to save their lives.

He looks annoyed. "Did it ever occur to you that somebody might still be looking for her? If she finds out the guys are alive, she could lead her father to us without even realizing it."

Oh, man. I never thought of that. My breath catches, and I can feel my heart slam inside my chest like a fish on a hook. "She doesn't know where we are. She wasn't at the office when I left."

I take John's hand and wrap my fingers in his, but he still doesn't stir. The idea that somebody might find us here, that they might put John or the guys in danger or even try to kill them, terrifies me.

"Well, let's hope she doesn't find out." He gets up. "I need to go see what's up with dinner." He moves to the bed, looking down at John. His voice gets quieter and more gentle, and he reaches out and touches John's shoulder with his fingertips. "I hope this is worth it to him."

So do I.

Mulder leaves, and I settle back down with John, wrapping him in my arms to hold him. He sighs and curls himself around me, resting his head on my chest. It feels good. I've missed him so much. He's starting to seem more comfortable, and some of the pain on his face is fading, though he still looks really sick. I think his fever is still going down. I'm worried about him, and it's hard to shut that out to think about anything else.

I want to think about our future, about what we'll do once he and the guys are better again, but with Susanne here, I don't even know what to think about tonight or tomorrow, much less a year from now, or longer. I need John. More than that, I love him. I've lived without him, and it's not something I ever want to do again. If he and Susanne... The thought hurts too much and I push it away. I don't want to lose him when I just got him back.

John moans and moves a little, tightening his arm around me. "Jimmy?" he whispers. His voice is thick and sleepy, worried. He sounds like he's eight, and scared of being alone. It sends a shiver down my back. It's probably not right for me to think this way, but if he's asking for me like this, maybe... maybe he'll want to be with me instead of Susanne. I sure hope he does.

"It's okay, Johnny, I'm here." I run my hand through his hair, tracing the shape of his ear with my thumb. "I love you. I'm not going anywhere." I kiss the top of his head, burying my face in his hair, and just breath him in.

He gives a little sigh, but doesn't settle. His body is wasted and light, but he's real and solid in my arms. I keep thinking that I'm suddenly going to wake up and be in bed alone, back at the office, with nothing but his picture to hold for the rest of my life, and I hug him tight, my body shaking. His arm slides further around me and his fingers clutch my shirt, taking it tight in his fist. I loosen my arms a little, and he relaxes again, but keeps a tight grip on the cloth. It's almost like he knows I'm here, even though he's asleep, and he doesn't want me to leave.

"Please..." He's so quiet, but he sounds like he's about to cry.

"I'm here, Johnny, I'm here; I'm not leaving," I tell him again. "Everything will be okay." It has to be. They have to beat this thing. They have to get better, no matter what it takes.

I rub his back for a long time as I keep telling him I'm here and I love him, and that finally seems to calm him down again.

"It's time for dinner, Jimmy," Susanne says. It startles me and I jump at the sound of her voice.

I look over at her and blink for a minute, trying to get my head together. "I... uh, thanks. I'll be there in a minute."

She looks kind of upset, but nods and leaves without another word. I wonder how long she was standing there before she said anything? I hope I haven't messed things up again. I seem to be really good at that.

I don't want to leave John, but I'm hungry, and I'd like to see the guys again. I sit with him for a few more minutes, just holding him. He's still got my shirt in his hand. I tell myself I don't want to disturb him, but the truth is, I don't want to leave this feeling. I don't want to leave the warmth of him or the sound of his breathing or how his hair feels under my fingers. I don't want to be away from his arms around me, or mine around him. I keep reminding myself that he's going to be okay, and that he'll still be here after dinner.

John shifts and opens his eyes a little. "Go eat, Jimmy." He sounds so tired.

"How do you feel?"

He sighs and snuggles close. "Miserable. Go eat."

I run a hand through his hair and kiss him again. "If you're sure you'll be okay alone."

"Mmhm."

I slide gently out of his arms and get up. He's restless for a minute, but rolls onto his side and settles down. I feel so lost right now, not touching him.

"I'll be back after dinner," I tell him. I think he's asleep again.

Everybody else is at the table already. Even Frohike is there. He and Langly and Mulder are talking, and Susanne just stares at me when I walk in.

"Frohike?" I wasn't sure if he was getting up to eat or not. They'd all been saying he was still in bed all the time.

"Who did you think it was?" he says with a grin. I grin back.

"Gotta be him," Langly says. "Nobody else that ugly around here."

"Shut up, punk," Frohike tells him. Langly laughs. "My first time up, aside from trips to the bathroom." Frohike sounds pretty happy with that. I can't blame him.

"You feeling better?" I ask.

"I'm here, aren't I?" His hand is shaking as he picks up his fork, but he seems to be doing okay.

I just grin at him. "That's great!"

"Yeah," Langly says, and snorts. "Now we won't be able to keep him away from the TV. Next thing you know it's gonna be porn marathons."

Frohike looks at him. "You wouldn't know good porn if it bit you in the ass, blondie."

"Boys, boys," Mulder says. "I think we can come to a reasonable compromise here. I'll pick the tapes."

"Oh, yeah," Langly says. "We know all about your version of 'compromise.' 'Hookers From Mars' just doesn't trip my trigger, dude."

Frohike laughs. "Like anything does. 33 and still a virgin. How do you do it, Langly?"

Langly glares at him.

Susanne still doesn't say anything. She just looks exhausted and upset.

"Dinner's in the kitchen," Langly says to me, pointing over his shoulder through the doorway. "How's Byers?"

I start for the kitchen. "His fever's down some. He's not sweating as much as he was. He was awake for a minute or two, but I hope he'll wake up for longer soon."

"That's better than I was expecting," Frohike says.

As I enter the kitchen, I hear Susanne say, "It's better than I was expecting, too." She sounds relieved, but there's tension in her voice.

On the counter, there's some chicken, a little salad, and a bowl of potatoes. I take some of everything, and put some butter on the potatoes, then go back to the table and sit with everyone. "He was pretty restless for a while. I think maybe he was having bad dreams or something. I got him to calm down, though."

"That's good," Langly says. "For a long time, it would take hours to do that. I'd sit with him before he could get up -- we were all three sharing a room for a couple months -- and he wasn't sleeping too well. He'd wake me up. Pissed me off, but it's not like he could help it." He turns to Frohike. "At least you were quiet at night once in a while."

Frohike pokes Langly's ribs with a finger. "You were no sterling example of quiet nights yourself, you hippie. I could hardly hear myself think when you were snoring."

Langly gets all huffy. "For your information, Doohickey, that was my asthma acting up. I never snore unless it's my asthma."

"Yeah, right. I think you're allergic to your hair. You should get it cut." Frohike reaches up and grabs a lock of it, and Langly slaps his hand away.

"No way, man. Nobody's touching my hair!"

Mulder smirks, but there's a little sadness in his eyes. "You three were all louder than the 1812 Overture until just recently. It's been a hell of a lot more peaceful since you've all learned to breathe on your own again."

Frohike glares at Langly. Langly sticks his tongue out at Frohike. Man, I almost feel like things are normal again. I chuckle at both of them, and they both turn and glare at me. I love these guys so much.

Susanne just sits there silently, eating.

I dig into my dinner. The chicken is really awesome, and the potatoes are done just right. "This is real good." I'm not sure who cooked it, except it wasn't Langly because he burns stuff.

"Thank you," Susanne mumbles. She doesn't look up at me. She seems all cold and prickly now, not like she was earlier. I think she must have figured out about me and John, or at least suspects. I didn't think I'd be able to hide it, but I never had a chance, because I didn't even know she was watching us. I hope she won't try to make me leave, or not be near him. If she tries, I won't. I can't. Nothing could make me leave John again.

Nothing but John telling me to go.

I finish my dinner as fast as I can, then take my stuff to the kitchen and wash it. It only takes a minute. I have to go and be with John again. I feel like I've already been away too long. I don't know where anybody is expecting me to sleep tonight, but I think Susanne's going to put me in another room, or on the couch or something. I bet she'll say that my being there with him would keep him from resting.

If she says it's better for him, I won't argue, but I don't have to like it, either. I think she's mad enough at me already. I'm glad Frohike and Langly are doing better though. I don't know what I'd do without them. All the guys mean so much to me. It's so good to have them back again.

John has shifted since I left him, and he's hot and sweating again. His breathing has gotten rougher again too. I use the cool cloth on him, but this can't be good. I need to tell Susanne.

I find her in Frohike's room, giving him some pills.

"Susanne..."

She looks up. "Yes?"

"John's fever is back."

"Oh, shit," Frohike moans.

She looks a little scared. "Are you sure?"

"He's sweating again and felt hotter than when I left him to go eat."

"This isn't good." She picks up some stuff and we go into John's room. She looks at him and feels his forehead. "You're right. He does feel warmer than he was earlier."

She takes a thermometer and slides it between his lips. He doesn't move. We both stand there waiting, all anxious. A few minutes later she pulls it out again. "This isn't good at all," she says, and looks up at me. "He shouldn't be doing this. He should be past this already." She listens to his chest, then takes his pulse.

"Was it happening when... when they were all real sick?" I feel my stomach knotting up.

Susanne nods. "We're going to have to monitor him constantly," she says. "I need to go get some medications for him. Stay with him."

I sit on the bed next to him and nod. "I won't leave him," I promise her. If she was upset with me earlier, she's a lot more upset about how John is doing, and it doesn't look like she's going to let whatever she thinks of me interfere with how she takes care of him. I'm glad for that. At least we can both agree that he's more important than either of us right now. I can breathe a little easier because of that. I just wish John could.

Langly and Mulder come in while Susanne's away.

"Frohike said his fever's up again," Mulder says. Langly just comes over and puts a hand on John's forehead, then sits down at his other side and starts to rub his back.

"Feels that way," Langly says.

"Susanne went for some medicine," I tell them.

Langly picks up the cup of water on the side table. "Get him up a little, Jimmy. He's gotta drink enough water to help get his fever down."

I shift John and Langly puts the cup to his lips. John sips a little then stills again. His eyes open into tiny slits.

"Where?" he mumbles. He sounds afraid.

"You're safe," Langly says. "We're in Vermont. Jimmy's here, like you wanted. You need some more water." He offers John the cup again.

John sips some more, then turns his head a little to look at me and slides one hand onto my arm. It's like he can barely move. "Jimmy." He sighs and closes his eyes again. Langly puts his hand over John's on my arm.

"I'm glad you're here, dude," he says to me. "Looks like you've got a handle on him."

"You shouldn't have told her," Mulder says.

I look up at him. "I didn't. She was standing in the doorway watching me with him before she told me dinner was ready. I didn't know she was there."

He sighs. "Shit."

Langly looks over to Mulder. "Lay off him, Mulder. It's not like Lassie here was gonna be able to hide it. You knew as well as I did that this was gonna be trouble. She's always trouble."

"She saved your lives," I remind him.

"That doesn't make this any easier," he says. "And we have to make sure she's not planning on bailing on us while he and Frohike are still this sick."

I look down at John. "She won't." I know it. I can feel it. She loves him too much to leave him like this. I think she loves him as much as I do.

Susanne comes back with a baggie in her hand, and puts it up with the half-empty one on the wall. She hooks it into the ivy line in John's hand. "I'm guessing we'll need to keep him on this for about a week. I don't want to take any chances of the fever and chills coming back again after they end this time. It's too hard on his body."

The guys look at her and nod. She looks at me. Her voice is all cold and hard. "At least two of you need to be here at all times, one to monitor him and one to get me if necessary. You and I will talk later." She turns and walks out of the room.

"Her Highness has spoken," Langly says. He sounds angry.

Mulder just watches her walk down the hall, then he looks back at me. "Looks like Byers has a roomie."

I feel a huge weight come off my heart, like somebody pulled a giant anvil off me. Susanne might be upset, but I was right. She's not going to let it keep her from getting John and Frohike better. That's all I care about right now. Maybe she can wait for that 'talk' until John's back with us and can speak for himself. I sure hope so. He's way better at explaining things than me, and he's the one who has to decide what, or who, he wants. I just want him to be happy. I know it's selfish, but whatever happens, I hope he'll want me around.


A few minutes later, Susanne brings in one of those beeping monitors and hooks John up to it. It beeps in time to his heartbeat, and Mulder says it gives her other information too, like his temperature and blood pressure. That's sort of like tire pressure for people, but with no air. She's in and out checking his temperature and stuff as the night goes on, while Mulder and Langly trade off with each other in here with me. When Susanne comes in, she doesn't talk to me or look at me. She always talks to Mulder or Langly. It's like if she pretends I'm not here, it's easier for her. I don't like it, but I don't want to make it harder for either of us than it already is.

After a while, it's just me and Mulder, because even though Langly's a lot better than John or Frohike, he's still got to rest and get his sleep. Susanne doesn't let him stay up past 2 am. When she tells him to go to bed, he's all in her face about it, but he goes anyway. I don't say very much while we sit with John. All this stuff with Susanne feels real awkward, and I wish I knew what to do. I don't want her to be unhappy, but there doesn't seem to be anything I can do to make her feel better.

All night long, John has fevers and then chills. First he's all hot and sweaty, and then he's cold and clammy and can't stop shivering. All I can think about is how much I want him to get well, and what Susanne is going to do when he does. Finally, I can't keep it in anymore.

"Has she said anything about me and John?" I ask Mulder.

He looks up from the book he's been reading. "I think she got freaked out by you and Byers. She claimed the way you were acting 'wasn't right.' Langly and Frohike about bit her face off."

I hold John close and pull some blankets up around his shoulders. He's shivering again. "I wish she wasn't so angry."

"She's probably feeling threatened," he says.

I guess she would be. "I wish things weren't so complicated."

Mulder just grins and shakes his head. "Everything's complicated, especially where the Gunmen are concerned. This is just a complication that most people wouldn't expect. The guys have always been a lot more likely to get into trouble with their work, not their personal lives. Then again, they haven't had personal lives the entire time I've known them."

That pisses me off. "Of course they have personal lives. You've just never been around to see them. The guys are just like everybody else."

"Shit, Jimmy, I'm not dissing them. I'm just saying they don't get out much. At least, not unless it's about a story."

Well, that's true. They have -- they had friends and contacts and people they helped, but they didn't have people who were close to them and really cared about them, except me and Yves. Langly's gaming buddies don't really count; mostly it was just about gaming, not about people. The guys always worked really hard, and they were working on their investigations all the time. "Maybe you're right."

"Of course I'm right." He leans back in his chair.

"Would you plug in another heating pad?" John's shivering is getting bad again. Susanne said that if he got too cold, we should call her, but I want to try to get him warm again like this first. It's what she did the last time we called her in because he was shivering.

Mulder pulls one off the top of the dresser and plugs it in, then hands it to me. I turn it on to medium, because she said we shouldn't have them on hot for very long if we used them. She says medium is better and less likely to overheat him and push him back into a fever. I don't want that. I tuck this one around the back of his neck. There's already one at his feet and another on his back, and they seem to help some, but not enough.

When I lean back against the head of the bed, Mulder says, "You need some sleep."

I start to say I'm okay, but when I open my mouth, all that comes out is a big yawn. "I can't. I need to watch John."

"You're talking to the King of Insomnia. I'll keep an eye on Byers. I won't tell mom if you won't." He grins and winks at me.

The idea's real tempting. "I don't want to leave him."

"I didn't say leave. I just said get some sleep."

I look over at Mulder, then down at John. Maybe if I got under the covers with him, I could help warm him up more. Then again, if Susanne came in while I was asleep and found me under the covers with him, I'm pretty sure it would just make things worse. The night is pretty warm, so I don't need a blanket. Even if I did, with all these heating pads John has wrapped around him, that would have been more than enough for me.

"You'll make sure that you take the heating pads away when he warms up enough?"

"I've had a lot of practice in the last few months. I know what to do."

"Okay. Thanks."

"No problem," he says. Mulder goes back to reading his book while I settle in.

I slide down on the bed from where I've been sitting and curl up with John. He shifts along with me, and his head slides onto my shoulder. It feels good. I'm a little embarrassed to be like this with John in front of Mulder, but he knew about us not long after we got together. It never bothered Mulder at all, but John was never very physical when we were around other people. Even when it was just us and the guys, he usually wanted to wait until we were alone before he would do more than just let me hug him a little. He's always been way shy, and asked me not to do that too often in public, especially when we weren't at the office. Well, that at least I could understand.

I close my eyes and let the feeling of being next to him fill me up. His breathing is still rough, but it's steady. His hair is soft under my chin, and soon I fall asleep.


When I wake up, Susanne is here with me. She's looking at the monitor though, not me. Mulder's gone, and Langly isn't here. It's still dark and I can hear the crickets through the open bedroom window. It reminds me of when I was a kid.

John is still curled around me, his head on my chest. He feels like he's not fevering or chilling right now, so maybe he's going to be up again tomorrow. I sure hope so. I run a hand through his hair, and try to stretch my other arm without waking him up. It's all pins and needles, and my whole arm and hand has that tingly hurting feeling.

She looks up when I move, and suddenly we're staring at each other. This is... bad. Neither of us says anything for a while. I don't dare, and I don't think it's that great an idea if she starts either. John's not awake to talk to her, and I don't think she's going to listen to anything I say. Maybe if I just don't say anything, she'll forget she wants to --

"How long?" she asks. Her voice is quiet but it cuts.

"I don't know, I think maybe I've been asleep for a couple hours. Mulder was going to keep an eye --"

She snorts and crosses her arms, interrupting me. "No, how long have you and John been... involved?"

Oh god, I so don't want to answer that question without John to tell her this stuff himself. "I... we..." I take a deep breath. I'm not ashamed of what he is to me, or what I've been to him, but she's angry and sounds suspicious, and I have to say something. I'm just not sure what.

She's standing there tapping one foot on the floor with those crossed arms, wound up like my English teacher in third grade. Her face and body are all tight. She looks like I just handed in my spelling test and she's gonna make me go to the principal's office.

I swallow the lump in my throat that won't let me breathe. It's about the size of a chipmunk. A wiggly, really furry chipmunk. "Most of a year, before I had to leave to find Yves."

Leaving him was the worst mistake I ever made. It was worse than the time I blew out all the electrical stuff in the HQ when I plugged the dryer into the wrong outlet, and the guys all yelled at me for like a whole week afterwards. It was worse than having to let John get beat up in prison when we were trying to find out if Douglas Pfeiffer was innocent or guilty. It took weeks for the bruises to go away, and every time I looked at him I knew we should have done it differently. It was even worse than the time I thought the guys died in that missile silo where we thought the water-powered car was hidden -- at least then I knew they were still alive after just a few hours.

"So this started two years ago?" she asks. The look on her face is like she just swallowed a bug. I nod.

"And you'd been gone a year of that time."

I nod again. I think it's better to answer like this. At least I won't say anything stupid.

"Why John?"

That's an easy question to answer, but at the same time, it's so hard to say all the reasons so that she would understand. "Because I love him." It's the closest thing I can say to the whole truth without talking about it for the rest of the week.

"So do I," she says.

"I know. He told me about you."

"What did he say?"

I look down at John's face. I wish he could talk to her. "He ... knew what you did was dangerous. He thought he'd never see you again."

She's getting even more upset. Her voice is all wobbly and she sounds like she's about to cry. "So how did all of this happen?"

"I'm not real sure. It just sorta happened. I thought he was straight. He thought I was straight. But you know, sometimes things happen. Things you can't even explain."

"I'm having a hard time getting used to this." She's upset.

All this just makes me think of how shy he was after that first night we were together, how hard it was for him to talk to me, even though we both wanted more. The next day when we woke up in his bed, he could hardly look at me at first. I was afraid he thought it was a mistake and would throw me out, make me leave him and the guys, but he let his body say what he couldn't with words. I never thought there could be anything that would take his words away.

"Susanne, maybe you should talk to John about this when he's awake."

"I think you're avoiding this."

Well yeah, I am. I'm trying to, anyway. "I can't speak for John. I don't know what he wants. All I know is that I love him, and that he wanted me here enough to come and get me, so I'm going to be here for him." I want to cry, but I won't. Not with her here. I hold John closer to keep myself from falling apart. He mumbles and wraps himself around me tight, then settles down again.

Her face gets colder. "You're the reason this happened to them -- happened to him -- in the first place. If you hadn't gone off on that little globe-trotting expedition of yours, their lives would never have been in danger. If it weren't for you, they would never have been exposed to this virus, would never have come so close to dying, would never..." Susanne chokes. She closes her eyes tight and hard, and turns away from me, her hand over her mouth.

"I know it's my fault," I say quietly. I can only hold him, my face in his hair, trying to hide the tears that are burning me as they fall. "I think about it all the time. But only John can tell us what he wants or needs."

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. I'm having a very hard time seeing John as... what he is," she says.

"I'm sorry." I'm sorry that it hurts her, but not that I'm here with him.

"It's hard to ignore this, to act like it's not happening. It's not easy for me to deal with."

My voice is starting to shake. "Yeah, but I care about him. It's hard for me to pretend I don't."

She's still facing the window, not me and John. "I can't pretend either, Jimmy. I've loved him for a very long time. I've wanted to be with him for years. It almost feels like you're trying to steal him from me."

"I'm not trying to steal anything. I know you love him too," I tell her.

She turns around and looks me in the eyes. "I still love him very much. I want him in my life," she says.

"I know, believe me. I can understand that real well."

Suddenly there's something fierce in her. "If I have to fight for him, I will."

I shudder. "I don't want to fight about anything. John has to make the decision about what he wants."

He shifts in my arms, and Susanne and I both stop talking. She looks at those monitor things again. I guess they're okay, because she sits down on the bed at John's other side and puts a hand on his back.

"I wish I had what you've had with him," she whispers. She looks up at me all sad, then down at John again, and starts rubbing his back real soft and gentle.

He makes a little contented hummy noise in his chest, just like he used to when he was asleep and felt safe in our bed with me. I haven't heard that sound in so long. It sends that attic electric jolt through my body, and I'm glad he's covering me, because I'd be totally embarrassed if Susanne saw how hard I just got.

"I never met anybody I wanted to spend my life with before I met him," I tell her. I mean, I wanted someone to love and to be with, but John is the first person that ever made me feel like I'd found somebody right for that. It's been the most incredible feeling. I always hoped he felt that way about me, even knowing that he loves her too. I don't know how we're going to work this out. "He's... he's the best person I've ever known, Susanne. After all this, I don't know if I could live without him again."

She keeps looking down at John, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I don't know if I could, either."

I hand her some tissue, and she wipes her eyes and blows her nose.

"I'm not here to hurt you. I don't want any of us to hurt like this. He needs you to get well. You're the only person who knows how to make him better. You have to do that for him and Frohike."

She nods. "I don't plan on leaving them. Despite Frohike and Langly's suspicions, they're my friends. They've helped me so much, and I can't leave them like this. I certainly can't leave John, and I don't plan on it."

"I would never ask you to do that."

She finally looks up at me. "I didn't understand why John asked for you so much. There was... there was a desperation in it that I should have been able to figure out, if I'd been thinking clearly. I don't like it. I don't like what's happened between the two of you, but I can't force John into a decision that he doesn't want to make."

"Neither can I. We both know he has to decide what he wants."

"How can you be so calm about this? Why aren't you angry with me, like Frohike and Ringo? It certainly seems like you'd have just as much reason as they do. Maybe even more."

"You saved their lives. How could I be mad at you just because you love him too? John... he loves you. He wouldn't love somebody who was a bad person. But I don't understand about why you made all those bad chimeracles to control people's minds. That's not a good thing to do at all."

"Chimer... chemicals, Jimmy, chemicals." She shivers a little. It's just a tiny bit, but I can see it. "I had no choice. If I didn't do it, the people I worked for were going to kill me. And I tried to stop them from using the drugs. The first time, I managed to stop them from performing their EBO -- their test --because John and his friends helped me. But John couldn't stop the men I worked for from taking me back." She shudders all of a sudden.

Susanne reaches up and runs her hand through John's hair, then her fingers trace his cheek and down his neck to his shoulder. She watches him as she touches him. "They did horrible things to me, Jimmy. I thought I would die, and I wanted to die. I hoped for years that John might find me again, and help pull me out of that deep, dark pit I lived in. I wanted him to find me. For years, I wanted to be with him. I thought he could make everything right for me. But then I met Grant. He convinced me that he was the same kind of man John was, but he lied to me about everything. He persuaded me to create the Anoetic-Histamine drug, along with an antidote, so that we could expose the government's plans for political assassination through mind control. But John and the guys saved my life again, despite my misplaced trust in Grant."

She looks up at me again. "I asked John to come with me then, to leave Las Vegas with me and start a new life, just the two of us. Walking away when he said no was the hardest thing I've ever done. I know he thought it was for my protection, but I wished every day that he had come with me. I don't know if we would have been safe, but at least we would have been together. And so I did my best to make a life without him, and that's another of the hardest things I've had to do. Maybe you can understand that."

"Yeah," I whisper. I want to hold John tighter, to keep him to myself, but her story breaks my heart. I know she needs him just like I do, but she's never had the chance to be with him. I know how much he loves her too. I just ache for both of them. I wish I knew what to do, what to say. I feel like there's no good answer for this. Love stories are supposed to be simple. People are supposed to be happy at the end. Why isn't this one working out?

"Seeing him when they brought him and the guys into my department at the CDC..." She just breaks down and sobs.

That must have been so awful for her to see him like that, not even knowing how he'd been, with that glowing goo oozing from him -- to see them all and believe they were dying. I know how horrible it was for me to watch them collapse in that room with Gillnitz. I reach over and take her hand. She just cries harder.

I don't want her to hurt like this. I can't help it; I'm crying with her. The next thing I know, we're lying on either side of John, holding each other, both of us holding him. He's still here, alive. It's the only comfort we have.

John's too sick to be carrying that right now. We should be the ones being strong for him. Maybe, if we're lucky, both of us loving him this much can be his strength. Maybe she'll think about that, and won't be angry with me for a while. Or maybe it will just make her more mad at me, knowing I've been so close to him when she never could be. I wish I knew what to do.

Susanne's crying quiets down after a while. She runs a hand along John's side as he lies curled around me, with her body spooned up against his back. He sighs and shifts his weight a little. I'm glad we didn't wake him up.

She looks up at me. "I can't give him up." She's gone back to looking kind of angry and frightened. I wonder how I look to her. I'm pretty scared myself.

"He needs all of us. We have to be here for him. Everything else can wait. It has to wait." Better that we all let it wait instead being enemies when he needs us to work together. You can't have a good team if everybody on it is fighting with each other. Teams like that lose, and we can't afford to lose this one. John is too important. We need to pull together to make sure he gets better.

Langly needs to get off her case. She needs to get off mine. I need to keep from getting into a fight with her as best I can and just be here for John. He'd always tell me I could do anything I really wanted to if I'd just stay focused. This is the most important thing I've ever had to do. I have to do it for him. I don't know if she's more pissed because I'm a guy, or because anybody's in love with him but her.

I don't have much time to think about that, because Frohike walks in, dressed in pajamas and a bathrobe.

"Since when did this become a menage a trois?" he asks.

"It hasn't," Susanne says. She blushes really red. "Why aren't you in bed, asleep?"

"I might ask you the same question, but, ah..." He motions to the three of us lying on the bed.

She's getting upset, though I'm not sure what this menah zhitwah thing is that Frohike's talking about. I may not understand, but I know I don't want her any more upset than she's already been. "Leave her alone, Frohike. It's not like she doesn't have Langly bothering her all the time already."

He just looks at me and huffs. "I couldn't sleep anymore, and I've already spent three months in bed. It's time I got up for a change. I just wanted to come check on Byers."

"He's doing better," I tell him. He comes and sits on the edge of the bed.

Susanne gets up. "I'm going to bed. Make sure to wake me if John's condition changes." She looks at me as she leaves, and I think maybe she'll try to be a little more patient next time. I know Mulder hasn't been standing up for her when the guys have been giving her a hard time. I know they don't like her much and she's been kind of hard to get along with, but they should at least be grateful that she kept them alive.

"Yeah, yeah," Frohike says.

"What's that menah... menah... whatever that thing is you asked Susanne about?"

Frohike snorts. "Three people in a ... an intimate relationship."

Oh. Well, that's really not happening here. Then again, if that happened, maybe John wouldn't have to make a decision for one of us to leave. But, I mean, I don't think Susanne likes me enough for something like that to happen. And I really don't think she'd let me... well, you know. I know John loves her, but I'm not interested in her at all. Not like that anyway.

"That sounds pretty complicated," I tell him.

"Usually is," he says.

"She's scared, Frohike. You and Langly giving her a hard time is only making things worse."

"And your point is?"

"She really wants me to leave."

He looks at me. "So she wants you to leave. So what? Byers doesn't, and Langly and I aren't ready to throw you out yet. A live volcano would be a hell of a lot better for him than she ever was." He looks down at John and puts a hand on his forehead. "No fever," he says. "This is good."

"I think maybe he's gonna be okay now. He hasn't had a chill in a while either."

"It'll take more than a day or two to be sure about that."

"She saved his life, Frohike. And yours and Langly's. I could never have done that. This wouldn't have happened in the first place if I hadn't gone looking for Yves."

Frohike looks up at me, all angry. "Don't even start on that shit with me, Jimmy. It had nothing to do with you. Even if we'd never met you, we would still have been dealing with Yves, and this would have happened anyway. At least this way, we stopped the virus before it spread."

"But I should have been able to get there before you guys locked yourselves in with him!"

He shakes his head. "And done what? Cut the cartilage container out of him? Nobody could have done that by then."

"I don't know." He's right, and I'm not sure I could have cut somebody up like that anyway. "But I'd have tried to do something! I wouldn't have let you guys lock yourselves in there with him."

"We did what we had to do, Jimmy. We couldn't very well let thousands of people die, if we could contain the virus. We figured that our three lives would be a small price to pay for several thousand others. If we hadn't done it, we would have died anyway, right along with all those other people. And you. And Yves. It was... we were just doing what we believed in. What we had to."

It's hard for me to look at him, hearing him say that, but I know he's right. They were doing what they believed in, the kind of thing they've always done. I look down at John, and seeing him like this hurts so much. "I can't help feeling that I should have been there. There should have been something I could have done."

Frohike looks down at John too. "There wasn't. But the fact is, we're still alive, which is a lot more than any of us hoped for when we did it."

"It should have been me. You guys should never have had to go through this."

"Get off it, Jimmy. What happened, happened. You can't change the past. The only thing you can do is live while you're alive. Quit beating yourself up over it."

Frohike brushes John's hair back from his face. "Get better, damn it." he says, real soft. "If you die, I'll kill you."

"He won't die. Susanne won't let him. Neither will I."

He looks back up at me. "You, I might actually trust on that."

"She's the doctor."

"You're the one he loves. God knows why."

My heart skips a beat when he says that. "He loves her, too."

Frohike frowns. "Yeah, I know. More's the pity. I just don't get what he sees in her. I mean, sure, she's hot and she's brilliant, but she's trouble. She's not worth it."

"She saved your lives. Isn't that worth it?" I can't believe how he and Langly are about her. They're usually really smart guys, but they're not getting this at all. Maybe they just don't want to.

"Didn't I already tell you that every time she's been around us, we've almost gotten killed?" He's angry.

"Well, yeah. But she didn't do this to you guys. She saved you, and she really cares about all of you."

"Coulda fooled me."

This is so frustrating. "Only because you're not looking. You've got lots of brains, Frohike. Why can't you see this?"

"Why can't you see what a snake she is?"

"I can see what she's done for John, and how much she loves him."

John shifts and turns over in my arms to lie on his other side facing Frohike. "Tired..." he mutters. His voice is hoarse, and he sounds exhausted.

"Byers?" Frohike asks. All his anger is gone now. He's totally focused on John.

"Hmm?" John shifts again, and snuggles down to get his head comfortable on my shoulder.

Frohike takes John's hand. "It's me, Frohike. You might know me from the mug shots."

"Frohike?" His eyes open a tiny crack. John recognizes him, and gets a little bit of a smile on his face. "You're up."

Frohike grins. "Wish I could say the same for you, buddy." He cups John's face in one hand and runs his thumb along his cheek. "You look like shit."

John groans. "You and Mulder... you're always so encouraging."

"We should tell Susanne that he's awake," I tell Frohike.

"Why?" He looks at me and John lying together. "You'd have to get up, and then Byers would have to move."

"You could tell her."

He gives me this glum look. "Then I'd have to move."

John sighs and looks up at Frohike. "Please," he asks.

"The things I do for my friends," he says.

"Don't be that way," I tell him.

He snorts as he leaves the room. "She's trouble," he mutters.

"The guys aren't being very kind to her," I tell John. "Frohike's really angry."

He just lies there and whimpers a little. I give him some water.

"Do you hurt? Do you need anything?"

"My head aches," he whispers.

I hear Susanne and Frohike in the hallway. "I'm sure she'll have something she can give you for it."

John nods. He takes my hand and looks at me. "Jimmy, I... I love you," he says, all quiet. "I'm sorry I never told you before."

"I know, John," I whisper back. I feel like my heart's about to explode, and my eyes start leaking. "I love you too. It's okay."

He shakes his head. "No. I should have told you." He shifts and turns again, rolling to face me. "It's always been hard for me, talking about those things."

I wrap him in my arms and he kisses me, soft and gentle, just as Frohike and Susanne walk in.

She coughs, and we look up at her. John smiles.

"Susanne," he says. He reaches out one hand to her. It's shaking, but he's holding it up.

She takes his hand and sits next to us. I sort of expected her to glare at me, but she's only looking at him. There's a trembling smile on her face, and she leans down to kiss him. It's a warm kiss on his mouth like the one he just gave me, and he sighs and smiles again when she's done.

"How are you feeling?" she asks.

"I have a headache," he says, "and I feel awful." He's more awake than he was when he first opened his eyes, but he's barely holding on to it.

She runs her thumb softly over his lips. "I'll give you something for it in a minute. I... I wasn't expecting you to wake for another day or two. I'm glad you're with us again."

"I could still sleep for a week." His voice is quiet and still hoarse. He lifts her hand to his lips and kisses it. "I love you, Susanne," he tells her. "You don't know how much what you've done means to us, how much it means to me."

All this makes me nervous, but I've known for a long time that he loves her, and he just told me he loves me a minute ago --something he's never done before. He wouldn't say it if he didn't mean it. He may be weak and tired and sick, but his head's clear, and he knows what he's saying.

She looks down at him, then up at me, really confused. "John, I..."

"Byers," Frohike says. It's that warning voice he has; the same one he uses on me when he thinks I've done something stupid.

I shoot him a look. "Don't even start."

Susanne looks at me, and her eyes are all soft and teary. "Thank you," she says.

"I know you're angry at me," I tell her, "but I still think the guys don't treat you right."

"Frohike," John says, "I'm exhausted and I don't know how long I can stay awake. I need to talk with both of them now. Alone."

Frohike grunts and shakes his head. As he leaves, he mutters, "Byers, do me a favor. Don't do anything stupid." He closes the door behind him.

John looks at Susanne. "I heard some of what you two were saying earlier. I don't want you to fight with each other."

She and I look at each other and then at him. I didn't have any idea he could hear us, and I think she didn't either. There's shock on her face. There's probably some on mine, too.

"What do you want, John?" she asks. She's really asking him who he wants.

"A chance to start over," he says. He moves, and tries to sit up. I sit and help him so that he can. I hope it doesn't make him too dizzy or anything.

Susanne gives him some more water, and he sips it for a while then gives it back to her.

"What do you mean by that?" she asks.

He looks at her, then wraps an arm around each of us. We both share the hug with him. Both of us are waiting for him to say something else, but he's silent for a while.

"Are you doing okay?" I ask.

He nods. "Yeah, I think so." His voice isn't so rough now, but it's still very quiet. The water must have helped some this time. He looks at each of us, and closes his eyes. It's like he's struggling with what he wants to say.

"Whatever it is, it's okay," I tell him. He squeezes us both just a little. I think it's all he can manage.

He doesn't open his eyes when he speaks. "I've wasted so much time," he says. "All my life, I've never been able to tell the people I care for most how I feel. I need to change that."

I nod. I've seen how hard that's been for him.

His voice is shaking as he speaks again. "I need both of you. I... I love both of you. I don't know what to do." He takes a deep breath while Susanne and I just sit and listen. "I don't want to lose either of you."

The next thing I know, he's crying, and if talking about this stuff is hard for him, crying is even worse. I've only seen him do it a couple of times.

I start rubbing his back, and I kiss his neck. "I'll do anything you want, John. I want to be with you. I'd do anything to stay with you -- anything at all. I don't care what you ask for, I'll do it, if it means I can be with you."

Susanne isn't able to say anything at all. Her mouth moves, but nothing comes out. John's holding both of us with all the strength he has -- it's not much -- and I'm not sure how long he can keep this up. It must be exhausting him.

"Lie down, John," I tell him. "You need to rest."

"No," he says, "not yet. I just..." His voice crumbles.

"Please," I ask him, "don't do this to yourself. You don't have to do this right now. You need to get better first. This can wait." Now I'm about to cry too. The last thing I want is for him to make himself sick again from stressing out about this.

Susanne takes a tissue off the side table next to the bed and blows her nose. She gives him one and he wipes his eyes and nose.

"I don't know what to say," she finally says. "I have... I've got so many questions. John, I love you. I've loved you for years, and when we parted last time, I knew I would find you again someday. But I don't want to have to... to share you with someone, either. It's not normal. It's not... it's not right. You know this could never work. I mean, maybe I could understand if it was another woman, but --"

John takes a deep breath. "I need both of you in my life," he says through his tears.

I can see how hard talking about this is for him. And I can see how hard the whole idea is on her. At first I thought maybe she just couldn't take the idea of John being with anybody else. Now I know that it's about me being a guy, and that really hurts. It's like the love John and I have for each other isn't real because I'm not a girl. That's so wrong.

"Jimmy's given me so much since I met him," he says. "He's loved me with no reservations, without holding anything back. I've never had that before. I won't let go of that, or him."

"I've been waiting for the day I could give you that, John," she says. "Give me a chance." They're both still crying.

"I want to," he says to her. "There's so much you haven't had the chance to know about me. So much has happened in my life that you were never there to see. I know that wasn't your choice, or your fault. The choices I've made, the things that have happened to me -- we never had a chance to share that. We've never had the chance to learn about each other the way we should have over the years, Susanne."

He takes a deep breath. "I've gone through a lot of changes in the thirteen years since we first met. My life changed so much. I wish you could have been with me, but you weren't. I know that was because you couldn't be -- because of circumstances beyond our control. In Las Vegas, I couldn't go with you, much as I wanted to, because the risk to your life was too great. I couldn't bring their attention to you like that after we'd worked so hard to hide you. And when I met Jimmy, he... stirred things in me that I hadn't been able to deal with before. He wasn't the first man in my life, but he's the only person I've ever had the chance to be with, to really share my life with. I'd like to have that chance with you as well."

"I'm just asking you to take me as I am, to try to trust me. I know this is hard to understand, but... I came too close to dying, Susanne. It's changed the way I think about a lot of things, the way I feel about a lot of things." His voice is getting quieter. He's getting so tired. He needs to stop this and lie down again. "Please," he says, "just consider it for a while."

She nods and kisses him again. "I'll consider it," she says. She sounds like she's not sure about the whole idea, and it's obvious she still doesn't like it. I'm not sure I like it either, but I'll do anything if it means I can still be a part of his life.

He moans, soft, and starts to slump over against me. "John? Are you okay?" I tilt his head so I can see his face. His eyes are only half open now.

"John?" Susanne says.

"I need to lie down," he says. Thank god he finally realized it. His eyes close tight. The pain is back in his face.

"I'll get him something for the headache," she says, then hurries out of the room.

I help John lie down again. He's panting. This took way too much out of him.

"Easy," I tell him. "Just rest, okay? Susanne will be back in a second with some medicine for you."

He nods. "I'll be okay," he whispers. His eyes open again and he looks in my eyes. They're so blue I could fall into them forever. "Don't leave me."

I bite my lip to keep myself from crying. I can't let myself do that in front of him right now. "I won't," I promise him. "I'll never leave you again. They'd have to drag me away with wild elephants."

He smiles and closes his eyes again as Susanne comes back. She puts a little needle full of something into John's ivy line, then sets the needle down and comes to sit next to him again.

"That should start working in just a few minutes, John. It'll help you sleep as well as helping with the pain."

He takes her hand and squeezes it. "Thank you." I can barely hear him say it.

"Rest, John," I tell him. "I'll be here for as long as you want me."

"Always," he whispers. "Is Frohike okay?"

"He's been up a couple times. He was worried about you." I rub his chest gently. He sighs.

Susanne looks over at me. "Frohike will be fine," she says to him, squeezing his hand back. "He's been doing much better the past day or two. He's as grumpy as ever."

He nods, but he's too tired to talk now. Susanne strokes his face with the back of her fingers and John starts to relax. His breathing slows back down to normal after a couple of minutes.

"I need to go use the bathroom," I whisper to her. I don't want to wake John up. She just nods.

When I come out of the bathroom, Frohike's waiting there, leaning on the wall.

"Are you okay, Frohike? Do you need some help in there or something?"

He shakes his head. "No, I want to talk to you." He grabs my wrist and leads me toward the living room. "Mata Hari'll be busy with Byers for a while now that you're out of there."

I look back at the door to John's room as Frohike drags me away, and stumble over him when he stops in front of the couch.

"You big oaf," he grumbles. "Sit here."

I sit and he sits down next to me. "There are a few things you need to understand."

"Well, like what?" I look down at him.

"These two, they've never actually had a chance to talk to each other."

"They were just talking now."

He snorts. "Yeah, maybe, but I'll bet she wasn't happy with what she was hearing, was she?"

"Not really, I guess." She was pretty upset about me and John, and I really think she was unhappy when John said he wanted both of us. I could just feel it coming off her in waves.

He looks up at me and grabs my sleeve. "That's just the beginning of it, kid. Byers has no clue about what kind of a person Susanne is, and she's got even less of a clue about him. They both have this fantasy world built up around each other, and that probably doesn't even match either. I doubt she's gonna be able to handle the fact that Byers is in love with another guy -- she's been freaking since she figured it out."

I've certainly seen that so far. "She was pretty upset in there."

"What the hell did Byers say? I'm not sure I really want to know, but I probably should so I can dodge the fallout."

"He said he loves both of us, and wants both of us."

Frohike's eyes get wide. "He said what?"

I shrug. I know he heard me.

"Oh, man. I can't believe he actually said that."

"She said that she could almost understand it if he was seeing another woman, but..." I choke up. I want John to be happy, but I don't think any of us would be if she has that attitude about him being with another man.

"For what it's worth, I think that's why she won't stay."

"I think she's gonna keep trying to get me to leave," I tell him.

He looks up at me. "You were expecting anything else?"

I take a deep breath. "If John asked me to leave, if that would make him happy, I'd do it." I can't help but shudder when I say it. He just asked me not to leave him. Why would he ask me to leave now?

Unless he loves her enough to send me away if she wants to be alone with him.

I close my eyes and bury my face in my hands.

" I don't think you're gonna have worry to about it. Trust me, she's not sticking around."

I look back up at Frohike. "How do you know that?"

"Their whole relationship is about their fantasy. Right now, reality's giving them a serious kick in the ass. It's just not gonna happen."

"You don't think so? I mean, he's changed a lot since you guys got so sick. He even told me he loves me. He never did that before. You know he doesn't talk about that kind of stuff."

Frohike huffs again and shakes his head. "I know, but at least that was in him to start with. Weird as it sounds, even the idea of wanting to be with a guy and a woman at the same time was probably in there somewhere all along, but I never thought he'd admit it to himself, much less out loud to somebody else." He plays with the TV remote. "Suddenly going straight isn't in him. He tried for years. It never worked. The best he could manage was celibate and obsessing about Mata Hari, trying to fool himself into thinking it meant he wasn't interested in guys anymore."

"How do you know?" I'm pretty sure John's never talked about any of this with Frohike before. "If he's never said anything, why would you even think that?"

"You think we don't check up on each other? We knew about some of the trysts he's had. He's never been quite as good as Langly at covering his tracks. He was seeing a guy for a few months about a year after we all got together. He tried to keep it totally under the radar, but ... well..."

I'm shocked. "You... you followed him?"

"Yeah."

I glare at him.

"Hey, somebody had to! Langly and I didn't know what was happening. For all we knew, this guy could have been trying to pump him for information, or blackmail him about Baltimore and the FCC, or ... or anything!" He's angry that I'm upset with him. "We were covering all our asses."

I guess if they thought this guy might hurt John, I can understand why they'd follow him. Frohike always says they don't hug, but I know they all care about each other a lot. The guys would just be broken if one of them got hurt and the others weren't able to help. And me... I don't even want to think about what it was like while I thought they were all dead. I wish I could rip that out of my brain and burn it.

"She's... she's not trustworthy, Jimmy. She worked for Them for too long. We haven't got any idea what They might have done to her. She might have been... programmed or something to find us and expose us to the shadow government. She might believe she loves Byers, but that could just be some chemical creation, something to delude her, just like that mind control shit she was mixing up for the black ops poobahs. With her, nothing is as it seems. Langly and I can't trust her, and Byers is totally blind here because he's thinking with his dick."

This pisses me off. "So why would she save your lives if she's supposed to... do evil stuff? Why would she stay with you guys and work so hard to keep you alive? Why would she have Mulder come and get you out of that CDC place? Don't you even appreciate what she did for you when she saved your lives?"

Frohike's forehead is all wrinkled up, and his mouth is crooked, like he's not sure what to think. "How do we know she isn't trying to give us to the government and find Mulder for them at the same time? How do we know she's not trying to 'save' us to make us government guinea pigs for medical experiments? How can we be sure that she's telling us the truth about anything?"

"Why can't you just even try to trust her?"

He makes a huge sigh. "I can't. Langly can't. If Byers wasn't thinking with his dick, he wouldn't either. Why the hell do you keep defending her, anyway? She's trying to shove you out of his life."

I'm losing it here. My eyes are getting all watery and I can't help it anymore. "Because she saved your lives. Because she saved John! Do you have any idea how hard it was for me when I thought you guys were dead?"

He just looks at me. I can't stop.

"I wanted to die! I didn't care about anything anymore. The only reason I'm still alive right now is because Yves kept reminding me that I'd promised John I wouldn't give up, that I'd keep fighting the fights you guys would have fought. I couldn't break that promise for anything." My voice breaks and I just let the sobs come. I've been holding it all in, trying not to get anybody upset, trying to do everything I could to help John while I've been here.

"I've never been as good as you guys, and I know it. I never will be. I know I'm not as smart as you. I don't need you to remind me about it, either. But while I was working with you, I felt like I could make a difference. I felt like somebody cared about me, and John did. After you guys d..." I can hardly keep going, but I have to, "... after...Yves and Kimmy are the ones who were really doing the work. I was just walking around doing what they told me. I was hollow, Frohike. There wasn't anything left inside me. When I thought you were all dead, I was dead too."

I'm getting really freaked out. This is just way too much to handle. "When I found out that he... all of you... oh god, I can't lose you guys again. I can't lose John again. No matter what anybody says about Susanne, she gave you guys back to me, and I have to believe in her. I have to believe that she's a good person."

Frohike says, "Hey, hey. Chill out, dude. We're okay. Nobody's going anywhere."

The next thing I know, Langly and Mulder are here too.

"What the hell is going on?" Langly asks.

"Can't a guy get his beauty sleep around here?" Mulder says.

"He's freaking out," Frohike tells them.

"And this is a surprise because...?" Mulder asks. He sits down next to me on the other side. "Take it easy, Jimmy."

Langly sits on the coffee table in front of me. "Hey dude, everything's gonna be okay. We're all fine. Byers is gonna get better, you know that."

The three of them talk to me for a long time, and finally I start to calm down. Frohike tells them about what John said, and what I told him, and they're all talking real quiet and soft around me.

Langly finally says, "I guess I can see where you're coming from about Susanne. I mean, it's not like I'm ungrateful that she saved our lives or anything, but ... well, we're all kinda scared here. We don't know how long it'll take before we're back to our old selves again -- if we ever get there. We don't know what we're going to do, or how we're gonna keep a roof over our heads and have anything to eat once we're functional again. We don't know if this is gonna come back and kill us later, dude. Or whether Yves' dad is gonna find us and have us shot or turn us into science experiments. We don't know if other people can catch it from us, or if so, how."

He looks me in the eyes. "I mean, what if you and Byers get all hot and heavy together, and he gives this to you? It's a virus, right? What if it's sexually transmitted and you become a carrier if you survive it?"

I never thought of that.

"It was originally airborne," Mulder says. "Why would that change?"

"Ever heard of mutation, dude?" Langly asks him.

We're all silent for a long time.

"It hasn't mutated," Susanne says.

We all jump and look up at her.

"I've been keeping a close eye on it for precisely those kinds of changes. It's still an airborne virus, and only viable for about three weeks during the contagious phase."

"You're sure?" Mulder says.

"I wouldn't have let them out of level 5 containment if they were still contagious. I don't have a death wish."

"Is John okay?" I ask her.

She sighs. "He's sleeping. He needs a lot of rest, but I think he's going to be all right. He seems to be through the fever and chills. I think the virus may finally have burned itself out of his system." She holds up a tube with some blood in it. "I have to run a few tests, but if John is finally clear like Langly and Frohike are, then he should recover without any more complications as long as he doesn't stress or exhaust himself enough to further damage his immune system."

She turns to go down to the lab in the basement.

"Susanne, wait." I need to ask her.

She turns back and looks at me. She takes a deep breath. "When he's well enough that he no longer needs my medical care, I'll be leaving." Her eyes fill with tears and she walks away.

I get up and follow her. The guys don't try to stop me, or to follow us. When we get into the basement, she stops and looks at me. "What? Isn't that what you want?"

"I want John to be happy."

Her face tightens. "I know. So do I. But I want to be happy too, and I don't think that can happen for me now. Not with John and the situation as it is."

"Are... are you going to be okay?"

"Eventually."

"Talk to me," I ask.

"I don't think bisexuality is a pathology," she says.

"What does that mean?" I ask.

"It means I don't think being bisexual is sick. I think it's confused, but I don't think it's sick."

"Oh." I guess she doesn't think John and I are perverts, then.

"Being in love with a bisexual isn't going to work for me. And I can't take the idea that he's in love with ... with both of us. There's just too much old fashioned conservatism in me for that. I can't do it. I can't live a life like that, and if I tried, it wouldn't be fair to me, or to John. I need the stability of a man who can love just me, a man who wants a normal family and a normal life."

I think her attitude is weird, thinking that me and John are confused or something, and I'm not even sure what 'normal' is supposed to mean anymore. John is John, no matter who he loves. It shouldn't matter who he's attracted to, though I do understand her wanting him for herself. If he loves her, and she says she loves him, why would it matter that he's able to love a guy too? I mean, it doesn't make him a bad person, or unfaithful, or more risky to be with. It sure doesn't make him confused. John's the most faithful, honorable man I've ever met, and one of the most loving people I've ever known, even if he isn't able to talk about it much. He's always been real careful about all the safe sex stuff, and he always insisted that both of us keep up with screening for diseases, just in case. But you can't control somebody else's attitude, even if it's a hurtful one. Maybe especially if it's a hurtful one.

"He's loved you for a long time, Susanne; way longer than he's known me. It's not like he never noticed you were a girl. And I've always been scared that he wouldn't want to stay with me if he ever found you again. I felt like I couldn't give him what he really wanted because I'm not a woman." I think this is what John calls 'ironing.'

"And I've loved him, Jimmy. But there's obviously a lot about John that I never knew." She takes the blood tube over to some lab equipment and starts doing stuff with it. "I love him dearly and would never want to hurt him, but let's face it: I've been in love with someone that never existed. Maybe... maybe if we'd been able to be together during all these years, if I'd known from the beginning, I could have come to accept this about him, but I've spent far too much time seeing him as something he never was. I can't change him. I wouldn't even try."


SIX WEEKS LATER

Susanne finally left about a week ago. She and John had some really long talks, and he seems okay with the situation. He acts relieved that he didn't have to choose between us or ask one of us to leave him, and that she decided to go on her own, without some kind of fight. He's sad, but he said it was for the best in the end.

"I could never have been the man she wanted," he said. "I would have tried, but ultimately we would have failed. It would have left both of us feeling angry and inadequate."

Frohike and Langly and Mulder were all really happy to see her go. That didn't surprise me.

All the guys are much healthier now. Langly's pretty much back to normal, though it's taking longer for John and Frohike. They're both looking way better; a little tired still but able to do most of the things they could before. It won't be too much longer before they're ready to think about how to get their lives back. We're all talking about what we want to do and where we want to go next.

The guys are all sniping at each other again, and it makes me happy to watch them argue about stuff like they used to. It's almost like being home again.

This morning, we found a note on the kitchen table. It was from Yves. It said, "Pleased to finally observe your recovery. Am looking forward to your return, no matter how annoying or mismanaged. Will strangle Kimmy in honor of your arrival."

Mulder was a little upset, but did agree with Frohike that if Yves' father hadn't found us yet, we were probably still safe, despite the fact that she knew where we were. When John read the note, he laughed so hard that tears were running down his face.

John's been doing and talking about a lot of things he never has before. He really has changed. I mean, he's not a different person, he's just able to let himself be more himself now. He's not afraid to let himself feel things and do things that he was nervous about or would try to keep hidden before. He's not afraid to kiss me or give me a hug in front of the guys or Mulder anymore, and that makes me feel so good. He laughs and smiles a lot more. It's still hard for him to talk about how he feels, but he's been working on it.

Mulder and the guys are inside watching Barbarella. John and I are sitting out in the yard under a tree in the sun. The weather's warm with afternoon Indian Summer heat, and the leaves are turning colors and starting to fall. It's really beautiful here in Vermont in mid-September. More so with John next to me. He's wearing faded jeans and a blue t-shirt almost the same color as his eyes. He looks so good; his weight is back to normal, and his clothes finally fit him right again. He's eating an apple from one of the trees nearby, and offers me a bite. It's sweet and juicy, and when some of the juice runs down my chin, he leans over and licks it off. We kiss, sweet as the apple we're eating.

We were able to make love again for the first time a few days ago. I can still feel it, still see it in my mind as though we're in bed together. His kiss brings it all back, like it's still happening.

John woke me in the middle of the night, touching me everywhere, kissing my neck and shoulders. I was already hard by the time I realized what was going on. His hands were soft and strong on my skin, and he was naked and beautiful in the moonlight, the covers down around his hips. I knew what he wanted. I wanted it too. I'd been waiting so long for it. I could hardly wait to feel him inside me again. I needed him to fill me and fuck me hard and deep.

"Are you sure you're ready for this?" I asked. He just kissed me hard, and I wrapped my arms around him. We were panting when we broke the kiss.

"More than you can imagine," he said. He pressed his body against me, weighing me down, and I could feel how hard he was. I was so excited and turned on. I let my hands move over his body and he kissed me again, deep and wild. It had been so long since we'd done this, and I don't think he'd ever kissed me quite that way before. There was so much passion in it I thought he might burn me to ashes, but I needed it so bad. I took his cock in my hand and stroked him, and he moaned in my mouth. I could feel his beard on my lips, the soft hair tickling as his tongue moved against mine. I squeezed and pulled on his nipples with my other hand, and it made him moan again, deeper this time.

I shifted my weight so that I could turn to suck him. I wanted his hardness in my mouth, the salt taste of him on my tongue. As I took him in, he began to suck me as well. It wasn't like he'd never done it before, but he hadn't done it often. I almost came right then. His tongue was so hot and he sucked me hard and took me in deep. We were both moaning. Neither of us said anything. I think words would have made everything more complicated.

He circled the head of my cock with his tongue, then started nibbling on it, stroking me hard and playing with my balls while he nipped. It was so intense that I had to stop sucking him. I was afraid I'd bite him and hurt him if I kept him in my mouth. After a couple of minutes, he stopped, which was good, because I didn't want to come that fast. Then he started kissing and nibbling and licking his way up my stomach while his hands stroked the insides of my thighs and played with my ass. It was delicious. I could hardly breathe, it felt so wonderful. Sleeping curled up with him for the past six weeks had been a miracle, but this was a million times better. By the time he started sucking my nipples, I figured god probably never felt so good.

As he lay on top of me, face to face, he kissed me again, then said, "Jimmy, I want... I want to have you in me tonight. I want you to fuck me."

I just looked at him for a minute. My chest was heaving from what he'd been doing to me, but I was really surprised about that. He'd always been the one who did that to me. But he'd asked me to be inside him -- a thing we'd never done before. I couldn't believe he asked me.

"I... Johnny, are you sure? Have you ever done that with anyone before?"

He kissed me again. It totally scrambled my brain, and the idea of being inside him was making me hotter than I think I'd ever felt before in my life. "No," he said, "but I want it. I want it to be you. I need it so much right now."

I could hardly talk, but I had to make sure he was going to be okay with it. "Why?" I asked. "I mean, why now? If you've never done it before, why do you want it?" My cock was throbbing. I was surprised he couldn't feel it pounding against his hip with the force of how much I wanted him.

He blushed. "I've wanted it before," he said, "but... but I was always afraid to try it. I was afraid of the pain. I was ... I didn't want to feel that vulnerable, didn't want anyone to have that much control over my body."

I kissed him soft and gentle, stroking his body slowly, caressing the cheeks of his ass. I wanted that. I wanted him. "I don't want to hurt you," I told him. I let my fingers slide down the crack of his ass and brush over his opening like feathers. Just touching him like that, I could almost imagine how it would feel to slide my cock into him. He'd be so tight... I had to bite my lip to keep from coming just from the thought.

He shuddered and hissed, and whispered, "Yes, god Jimmy, like that."

"You're sure you want me to do this?" I rubbed his opening with my fingers, pressing just a tiny bit harder than I was before. His skin there was so soft. He wrapped his arms and legs around me and clung to me, shuddering and moaning.

"Yes! Please, Jimmy." His voice was pleading and needy. I'd never heard him like that when we made love before.

I loved how he felt, his body so close to me, but we'd to have to change positions if this was going to work. And he needed time to get ready for it. I'd have to take it real slow with him, and I wasn't sure I could manage it. I knew he needed me to be gentle, but I was so excited I wanted to take him right then, wanted to thrust into him so deep that I could feel his balls rubbing against mine. I couldn't, though. I knew it would hurt him. That would have to wait for another time, after he was used to the feeling and wanted more.

"I need to have this," he said, panting. "I've felt... dead for so long. I need to know I'm alive. I need to know you're really here. I need... god, I don't care if it hurts, I need you."

"Okay." I kissed him hard. "We'll need to move."

He rolled onto his back, eager and excited. His cock was dark and hot as I stroked him, running my hand over his balls and down between his legs to touch his hole. He wasn't where I would want him when he was ready for me to enter him, but I had other ideas to help him relax first. I leaned down and nibbled on his ear, and he giggled. John doesn't giggle much, but it was so good to hear it coming from him. When I blew in his ear, he gasped and shuddered, his cock leaping in my hand.

I slid down his body, taking my time as I kissed and nipped at his skin. Since I knew I couldn't do this fast, it was best to go as slow as I could. I hoped it would help me last long enough to give John what he wanted. He was moaning and panting, eyes closed. His mouth was open and he looked so hot and so beautiful. I kept circling his opening with my fingers as I moved, sometimes passing my fingers over it and pressing a little. He moaned and whimpered and begged me for more, but he was nowhere near ready for me to even slide a finger in yet.

I licked the shaft of his cock as I slid down further. I could feel the heat coming off him like he was on fire. There was a fine thread of pre-come leaking from the tip of his cock down into his hair. He smelled like musk and heat and sex, and it made my heart pound. I played with his balls with my lips and tongue as I kept caressing his opening with my fingers.

"Please, Jimmy," he begged, "please. I want you... god, take me please!"

"You're not ready yet," I told him. "You need to relax. You need to breathe, Johnny."

His breath shuddered and he tried to breathe slower, but it was hard for him. "Don't tease me, Jimmy," he gasped. He pressed his ass up against my fingers, but they weren't lubed yet. There was no way anything was going in him dry. I let him feel the pressure, but wouldn't let him take my fingers into him. Even if he said he didn't care if it hurt, I knew he would when it came right down to it. I wasn't going to let him hurt any more than he had to for his first time.

I slid my tongue down the back of his balls and moved my fingers out of the way, letting the tip of my tongue circle his opening. He moaned and shivered as I kissed him there. His cock twitched in my hand as I licked him soft and slow, getting him wet, and he made the most incredible sound. It was a sob, but I knew it was from pleasure. It send a wild shiver down my spine into my cock. John laced his fingers into my hair and grabbed it tight. He was pulling too much.

"Easy," I told him. "Let go of my hair and just try to breathe and relax." He loosened his grip and kept trying to slow his breathing. I went back to licking the soft pucker of his ass and listening to him cry out. I let my tongue caress him and press into him soft and gentle as I stroked his cock.

After a few minutes, he finally started to relax, and I got some lube out. John was nearly in a trance by then, whispering and begging me to fuck him. Usually, I was the one begging him. It felt strange to me, hearing him say those things, but knowing that he trusted me enough to give himself to me like that was an amazing feeling. I wanted to make sure things stayed gentle while I stretched him slowly. He was still hard and throbbing, and so was I.

I let the lube warm up on my hands before I started rubbing it over his opening. As I spread it on him, I licked and sucked his cock.

"Oh god oh god oh god..." he whimpered. "Fuck me, damn it!"

I slid my smallest finger into him, slow and careful. He groaned, deep and throaty. He was really tight at first, but he let it in. "More," he begged, though his teeth were gritted together.

"Am I hurting you?"

"Tight... it's tight," he said. It was a strain for him to talk. "I'm okay. Please, I want more."

I added more lube and moved my finger slowly in and out. He started to relax more with the slow penetration, and his breathing got easier. He pressed his ass against my hand, trying to take me in deeper. He was so gorgeous lying there in front of me, his legs spread for me, cock standing up hard and twitching. I bent to suck him and he shouted as I took his cock in my mouth and slid my finger into him further. I figured by then the other guys were awake, but I sure didn't care, and it didn't look like John did either. I wasn't about to stop for anything.

I pulled my finger out of him carefully. Sometimes something coming out suddenly can hurt almost as much as something going in, if you're not ready for it. John's eyes snapped open and he looked at me.

"Don't stop!" His voice was desperate.

I slid my middle finger up to his opening. "I'm not stopping, Johnny, believe me. Relax now. This is gonna be a little bigger." I slid up his body and kissed him deep as I slid my finger inside him. He moaned into my mouth and wrapped his body around me. My cock was pressed between my body and his hip, and I thrust against him in time with my finger in his ass. I wanted him so bad. Waiting was driving me totally nuts. I wanted to give him everything he asked for. I wanted to fuck him hard and deep and make him come screaming my name. I slowly slid a second finger in with the first, and he gasped.

"Hurts," he said.

I stopped moving. "Do you want me to stop? Do you want me to pull out of you?"

He whimpered. "No, no, don't stop. Stay in me. I don't care if it hurts. I want you."

"Slow breaths," I told him. "Try to let go of the tightness and just breathe. It'll feel better if you can relax." I could imagine the tightness of his ass gripping my cock as it gripped my fingers, and thrust against him harder. I didn't know if I would last until I could get inside him. I caressed his cock with my thumb while I slowly stretched him out with my fingers and he began to loosen up again. I stopped rubbing my cock against him, not wanting to come yet. I had to be inside him first, and it was going to be a few more minutes before I could do that.

"Don't stop touching me," he whispered. "I can't get enough of you. I want you so much."

The sound of his voice was just too much for me, as he writhed against me. He sounded like not having me in him was more painful than anything I might do if I entered him. I had to have him then, just as he was. I wanted him to be more ready for it, but I couldn't stand not being in him. "Roll on your side," I gasped, easing my fingers out of him.

As he rolled over, I lubed my cock and used my fingers to get more lube inside his body. He would need it, even though this was the gentlest position I knew for this kind of sex. It would take any stress off his hips and would keep from putting any strain on his opening from having his legs spread and his muscles tight. I rubbed more lube on my cock until it was dripping, then slid down behind him.

"God, fuck me," he begged again. I'd never seen him so needy and desperate. My cock was throbbing so hard I thought it would burst open.

I pulled him to me and slid my cock up to his hole, just letting the head of it rest there, touching him for a minute. "I'm not sure you're ready yet, John." I was hardly able to breathe from the sensation. "Take a deep breath in, then let it out real slow."

As he let out the breath, I entered him, slow and gentle. He reached up and grabbed the headboard of the bed and howled. "Oh, god, Jimmy! God! More... please, more!"

His knuckles were white, he was holding the bed so hard, but his pleading pushed me over the edge. I couldn't control myself any longer, and I thrust into him hard and deep. John started screaming and bucking against me, taking me in deeper even as he was crying out in pain. I started fucking him fast, my arms around his chest and hips to hold us close so I could get deeper into him.

"Yes!" he was screaming. "Fuck me! Oh, god! God, Jimmy, I love you..."

I could feel his need in the way he moved, in the sound of his voice. I was shouting too, but none of it was words. I felt him come as I buried myself in him, our balls slapping together as we struggled. Sweat was pouring off his body, and he was slick and hot. I'd never felt him come that hard before. He was so tight around my cock as his body slumped, exhausted. I shifted and rolled us over, putting my weight on my elbows as I lay on his back, fucking him harder. He moaned in time with my thrusts as I pounded into him. God, he felt so good, and I knew I was about to come too.

I buried my face in his shoulder and screamed when I came. I'd been wanting to have him like that for so long, and never thought it would happen. Coming inside him was so intense, I wished it never had to stop, but no matter how good it is, it always does. After I took a minute to catch my breath, I pulled out of him as gently as I could. I helped him roll onto his back. There were tears running down his face as he gasped for breath.

"Johnny, are you okay?" I held him carefully.

He shook his head, still panting for breath.

"Oh, god, I hurt you."

"Hurt, but... but..."

He still couldn't catch his breath. I wanted to check and see if I'd done any damage to him, see if he was bleeding, but I didn't dare move him yet. He was shuddering, and held me close, his whole body shaking.

"John..."

"I'm okay," he said. "God, oh god, I needed that."

"You're hurt."

"Burns," he said, "but it'll stop... it'll stop..." He pulled me to him and kissed me. "Hold me," he asked.

I wrapped his body in my arms, worried. "Let me see if you're hurt, John."

"Not yet," he said. "Still hurts too much to touch. I'll be okay."

It was about fifteen minutes before he'd let me touch him to see if he'd been hurt, but there was no sign of any damage or bleeding. We'd used enough lube to keep everything slippery. As we lay together, slowly falling back to sleep, I told him, "You're probably gonna have some trouble walking tomorrow morning. Remember to take it easy when we get up."

He nodded. "I will, don't worry." He turned to me and looked into my eyes. "I love you, Jimmy. I... thank you. I needed that so much."

"We both did, believe me. John, I love you so much. I'm so lucky to have you back." We held each other tight. I could feel my tears coming, but they were happy tears this time.

When we got up the next morning, I expected the guys to give us a huge hassle, but Mulder was the only one who said anything.

"Next time, try a ball gag," Mulder said. He patted John on the back, then grinned and walked away.

The sound of John's voice pulls me back to the present, and I feel so much love for him when I look at him.

"Do you remember the look on her face when she saw you wearing that Elvis wig?" he asks, a huge grin on his face. We've been talking about Yves.

"I don't think she liked it much. Then again, neither did Langly."

He laughs. "I think it reminded Langly too much of the sting of defeat, but Yves was just... appalled. I thought her eyes were going to roll out of their sockets."

I laugh too. She really did look shocked. "She never got to hear me sing 'Hound Dog.'"

"Oh, let's not even go there!"

I grin at him and start singing in my best Elvis voice. "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog..."

"Noooooo!" he howls.

We both laugh and he tosses the apple core away.

"Hey, I thought I was pretty good."

He looks over his shoulder at the house, where we can hear the guys laughing at the movie, then back at me. He whispers, "Don't tell anybody I said so, but yeah, you were." He turns and gives me a hug.

"God, I love you," he says.

My heart swells up in my chest like a basketball. I'm so lucky to have him. "I love you too."

We kiss again, and roll together on the grass in the falling leaves.

~end~

It's Just Us Mice!


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