Escape  Velocity

Escape Velocity

Rated M

The smells she would never forget – thick, fragrant mud as they fled through the reeds, gunpowder rising from the marsh, the smoking diesel fuel when the helicopter strained to lift their combined weight. Human sweat and fear, hot and filmy, clinging even as they managed to make it over the border into Brazil. They touched down with only the clothes on their backs, money in their pockets, and an 11 year-old boy in their care.

Iggy was doing his best to sound excited as they trudged along the road, looking to hitchhike to the city. "I always want to travel to America. Big houses, many cars. Everyone have lots of money."

McCall and Hunter exchanged a look over the boy's head. Iggy's ultimate fate was still very much undetermined at that point. There was no way they could just waltz back into the country with an undocumented minor. It was fifty-fifty whether the Curguaian Embassy would have alerted officials to be waiting for them as it was.

Iggy fell into step beside her, his thin sneakers scuffing the dirt at the side of the road. "Your house must be very big, si? The police have lots of money."

McCall hid a smile but did not correct him. "It's big enough," she said mildly. Seventeen hundred square feet, a view of the hills and a small rose garden in the back. It had been perfect when she'd bought it.

"You have a pool? All American houses have pools."

"No pool."

He sighed and shook his head, sorry for her. "My house is gonna have a pool."

They trudged along in the sun in silence for a bit. Every so often, Hunter turned around to look for a car, but none was forthcoming. McCall regarded her pint-sized companion. "How did you learn to speak English?" she asked him.

He grinned. "The TV. My mother, before she was sick, she cook and clean for a family on the other side of town – two buses away – and sometimes she bring me with her. This house have two televisions." He held up two fingers to illustrate the opulence. "Mama clean, I watch American TV shows. Mr. Ed. Wally and his Beaver. Oh, and Ed Sullivan. I love the music. Beatles. Jackson Five!" He broke out into an impromptu version of "ABC" while Hunter rolled his eyes.

"We get it," he said, nudging Iggy with his foot.

The boy quit singing, but his smile was still in place. "You see? I ready to be American."

McCall did not have the heart to tell him his cultural references were decades out-of-date. "Yeah, we see," she said dryly. "You'll fit right in."

"Assuming we ever get back there," Hunter muttered as he squinted down the road again. "Hey, look at that. This could be our ticket."

She turned to look too, and sure enough, there was a small truck heading toward them in the distance. Iggy kicked away a small rock. "Senora," he said, and McCall looked down at him. "My house – you think it will have a family?"

She faltered. There was no answer for this. "I hope so," she said finally. He nodded a little, apparently trying to hope along with her, but when she reached to touch his hair, he pulled away.


They reached Bagé and immediately got two hotel rooms, one for them and one for Iggy. His eyes got round as he took in the news. "My room? Just for me?"

"Just for you," Hunter said. "Try to keep it in one piece, okay?" McCall noticed he left out the part where legally neither of them was really supposed to be sharing a bedroom with an unrelated minor.

She wanted nothing more than a long hot shower and an even longer nap, but there was the little issue of their clothing, or lack thereof. There was no way she was going to spend all that energy getting clean just to put on two-day old underwear and mud-crusted jeans. "There was a shop two blocks away that looked like they might sell clothes," she said to Hunter. "I'll take pint size and see if we can find something that won't walk around on its own."

Hunter looked down at his own dirty attire. "That's not a bad idea."

They picked up some clothes, some sodas and a few sandwiches, after which they retired to their separate hotel rooms for a much needed siesta. McCall called dibs on the bathroom, where she stood under the stinging spray for a very long time. She was so tired she almost nodded off right there.

When she emerged she found Hunter was on the phone. He had a pad of paper and was taking notes on what the person on the other end was saying. "Yes, okay," he said finally. "We'll be there."

She gave him a questioning look as he hung up. "American Embassy in Sao Paulo will take Iggy," he said. "But it's up to us to get him there."

"Take him and do what with him?" she asked as she towel-dried her hair.

"They didn't want to commit to anything on that point just yet." He sounded exhausted, so she didn't press any further. "Did you leave any hot water?" he asked as he headed for the bathroom.

"No promises." She was already crawling into bed. The sheets smelled clean and fresh, and the pillow was like a little slice of heaven. Overhead, the ceiling fan created a lovely, cooling breeze while cheery voices floated in the large open windows from the café outside.

She had a passing thought that she was sleeping in an oversized T-shirt and her underwear, and that Hunter would presumably be wearing a similar get-up when he joined her on the other side. But then the thought popped like a soap bubble as her brain went all muzzy with sleep. If he made it to the bed at all, she did not notice.

It was dark when she woke again, and it took her a moment to get her bearings. Brazil. Hotel. She turned with a jerk to see the other side of the bed, but it was empty. The sheets were mussed; he had clearly slept there. Just as she was about to start worrying, the door slid open and he crept inside. "It's okay," she said when she saw his huge frame lit from behind. "I'm awake."

"Sorry about that."

"It wasn't you," she said as she sat up.

He returned to the bed without turning on the lights. "I made it to the pharmacy just before it closed. I've got water and aspirin – any interest?"

"Hit me," she said gratefully, and he handed her some pills and a bottle of water. The water was blessedly cool, and she drank down most of it immediately, still scorched from their ordeal under the hot jungle sun.

Hunter was rubbing his shoulder through his T-shirt, a reminder of what damage a bullet could do if it connected. How they managed not to get shot up during their escape, she could not fathom. "The humidity did me in," he said. "Either that or having to carry that kid piggyback through waist-deep sludge."

She smiled in sympathy. "Let me do that," she said as she moved to sit behind him. She started a firm massage of his shoulders, and he groaned with relief.

"If you're ever looking for a second career," he said, "you could make some serious money doing this."

"As if. You're my only customer and you've never paid a dime."

He rolled his shoulders under her touch. "I'll be your poster boy. Bring in other business."

She laughed. "You? If you were the poster boy for anything it would be...I don't know. Wrecked cars or something."

"I do not wreck that many cars," he protested.

"You wrecked two of them today," she replied.

"Those barely counted as cars." He shifted so that her hands moved a bit lower. "Ah, yes. Right there," he said.

They were quiet for a few minutes as she worked the remaining tension from his shoulders and upper back. When she moved upwards for one last pass, she felt the ridge of the bullet hole through the thin cotton shirt. She hesitated just a fraction of a second, but he felt it. He reached up and stilled her hand, covering it with his.

"Sorry for dragging you into this mess," he said quietly.

She pulled away and cleared her throat. "You didn't drag me into anything," she said. "I came of my own free will."

"Still. I never wanted you involved."

This made her look at him. "I'm involved," she said meaningfully, and it was his turn to look uncomfortable. "Surely you must see that."

"Yeah," he said, bowing his head. "At least now it's over."

She lay back down on the bed and allowed him this little fantasy for a few minutes. The blades of the ceiling fan rotated slowly overhead, stirring the muggy night air. It had been warm that day too, the afternoon Mariano showed up at her house. She had thought so much about that day, replayed it a thousand times in her head, but just like in a horror movie, she always opened the door. "I can remember what it was like before it happened," she said finally. "I can remember sitting there with my book on the couch, like I had a hundred times before, not even appreciating anything like that could ever happen to me. It just never even crossed my mind."

"No," Hunter said in agreement. It obviously never occurred to him either.

She shook her head slightly. "It's's like I can feel that moment before everything changed, but I can never go back there." She knew she wasn't doing the best job of explaining herself, of illuminating the Before and After. Part of the healing had been recognizing the truth of that change; she was okay now but she was never going to be the same person again. "I wonder sometimes how it might have been different."

Hunter shifted to lie next to her, propping himself up on one elbow. "What do you mean?"

"Well, like if I hadn't been home that day. Or if some other pair of detectives caught the case."

He reached for her hand and squeezed it. "I wish there were a way to make that happen."

"Yeah," she said wistfully. "Maybe it would've all turned out for the better. Or, I guess, maybe not. Maybe he just went to some other woman's house. Maybe no one stopped him." She blinked in the darkness. "The alternate reality can't always be a happier one, right?"

He made a noise that might have been agreement but let go of her hand. He retreated to his side of the bed and lay down, his position mirroring hers as they stared at the ceiling. For a long moment, there was only the faint sound the swishing fan above them.

"I felt incredibly helpless," he said at last, and the words sent a strange prickle down the back of her neck. He had never spoken a word about his feelings on the subject.

For a second, she thought that was it, that he might not continue. But at length, he went on.

"I have this book I read way back in the Academy, from when we were studying sex crimes. It's mostly about the psychology of the perpetrators, but there's a chapter in there about what it's like for the…"

He broke off, and she repressed a sigh. Victims, she thought. You can say it.

"About the women," he finished quietly, almost like a confession. "I tried reading it again – you know, after." He paused and looked at her. "I couldn't get past a couple of pages. I mean, knowing that…that it happened to you."

It happened to you. The words made tears spring to her eyes, and she blinked them back. There was no way to erase it or make it not be true.

"I talked to Anita a little bit," he said. "She said the best thing I could do was make sure I was always a safe person for you, and I gotta say, I didn't get it at first. Of course I'm safe - I'd never hurt you. So then I thought maybe it was about making you feel safe again, like I could stand guard or something in case he came back."

It had helped, having him there. His sheer physical presence was some relief in the immediate aftermath.

"But Anita explained to me," he continued, "that it was more about making sure you could talk to me about it, and that I would just listen and try to understand. And hey, that part sounded easy. Talking, listening – we do that all day long anyway, right?" He took a deep breath. "But when I tried it, I realized that meant, like…living the book. Making it real."

"I'm sorry," she said finally.

"No, no," he replied, reaching across to find her hand again. "No apologies. I realized at that point that I had a choice to open that book or not, but you had to live with it no matter what. The least I could do was try to be there with you."

She sniffed and squeezed him. "You were."

"I just hope I haven't wrecked it."

She looked at him as best she could in the darkness. "What do you mean?"

"With all this. I know…" He paused, as if searching for words. "I know this wasn't what you wanted."

She considered carefully. They would lay down their lives for one another, if it came to that, but it didn't mean she'd want to watch it happen. "He's not going to be able to hurt anyone else," she said, rolling to face him. "That is always what I wanted."

He pulled her closer and they hugged each other tightly. She rested her head on his shoulder, just above the bullet wound, and breathed in the warm cotton from his shirt. Beneath it, his skin was radiating heat, as if giving back the rays he'd absorbed from their ordeal in the sun.

She stretched up to kiss his cheek, a silent thank-you, and she felt him smile in the darkness. He turned his face to kiss her, too; a gentle, friendly peck that dissolved into something else as he left his lips resting on her skin. It felt warm and tingly, so she let the moment stretch out, lingering in the feel of being so close to him. Eventually she realized he was waiting her out, that she should move, but instead of shifting away from him and back to her side, she simply turned her face until they brushed noses.

He stiffened at the unexpected contact but did not pull back. She closed her eyes and felt his breath against her lips. One of them closed the distance – she couldn't say who – and they kissed gently for a moment. It wasn't much more than they had done in the past, but usually they weren't lying in bed with their arms around each other. Really, she ought to move now.

But lying there pressed against him, their legs starting to mingle as his mouth settled more firmly over hers – it was the best physical sensation she'd had in months, and she didn't want to give it up just yet. She parted her mouth a bit more as they continued to kiss softly, inviting him further, and he answered with a slight tease of his tongue. She murmured her assent and twisted his T-shirt in her hands so that he couldn't think of going anywhere before he did that again.

He made some growly noise and rolled her back into the pillows. They kissed deeply and openly for long minutes, until her hands started to wander under the back of his T-shirt. He paused, breathing hard, and she froze as the moment broke apart. Holy hell that got out of control in a hurry.

Hunter took a deep breath and then hid a smile against her neck. "So that's what that's like," he murmured into her shoulder, and she relaxed with a laugh. It was still wrong, but he felt so amazing in her arms that she was not going to allow herself to be sorry. "I've wondered," he said.

"Me too," she replied as she ran her fingertips through his hair.

He craned his head up to look up at her. "Yeah?" he said, sounding inordinately pleased.

She rolled her eyes. "From time to time," she clarified, lest he start thinking she fantasized about him on an hourly basis.

"Mmm, reality is way better," he said as he rubbed his face in her hair, and it was her turn to feel pleased.

They snuggled for a few moments. "We should get some sleep," she said eventually, but she made no move to leave. They were so far from home – fugitives, really, with an 11 year-old boy that maybe possibly they had kind of kidnapped. This was definitely the most dangerous thing they'd ever done together. A little kissing on the side barely scratched the surface.

"Sleep. Yes," he agreed, but she noticed he wasn't moving either. Instead he nuzzled his way from her neck to her ear, across her cheek until his mouth settled over hers again. She looped her arms around his shoulders and happily resumed the kissing.

Somehow it turned into a full-on make-out session, complete with heavy breathing, his hands in her hair, and her nightshirt bunched up around her bare thighs. She could feel him, unmistakably aroused, through the thin material of his shorts. Sex was something she hadn't even begun to contemplate after what had happened to her, but there was her body, rocking into him, pretty much insisting she consider it right now.

They kissed some more while she thought about it. She imagined him taking down her underwear and pulling off his shorts, felt what it might be like to open her legs and have him lie between them. The idea was thrilling and terrifying - she wasn't supposed to be doing this, not with him, but suddenly she couldn't imagine doing it with anyone else.

Hunter was stroking her face and making love to her mouth, teasing her gently with his tongue in the same slow rhythm of his thumb against her cheek. She made an incoherent sound of pleasure and he backed off, just a bit. "You, um…I…"

"Yes," she whispered as she traced his features in the semi-darkness. His face was so familiar and dear to her – it warmed her even when she couldn't see him. "Please."

He nodded, understanding her the way he always did. He rested his forehead against hers as his hand trailed up the inside of her thigh. She shivered. "You sure?" he murmured.

She swallowed twice in quick succession and nodded. "I want...I want it to be you," she said at last.

He kissed her tenderly then, and she held him close, trying to bring them even more tightly together. She slipped her hands under his shirt again, and he obliged her by shucking it off. Now she was free to play with all the naked, beautiful skin – the broad expanse of his back, his impossibly strong arms, and the soft, springy hair on his chest. She ran her palms over all of him, again and again, until she was sure she would know him by touch alone.

Hunter's fingertips edged under the hem of her shirt, over her hip to where the ribbon tie was on her underwear. He grinned against her mouth. "You didn't tell me you came gift-wrapped," he said as he toyed with the bow.

"It was all they had at the store."

"I like this store. You should do all your shopping there."

She giggled as he nipped at her. Then they kissed again as his hand moved up over her ribs to her naked breasts. She held her breath – this was always a place where things could go wrong. Too many guys went straight for the nipples and started twisting like they were trying to tune in a radio station or something. But Hunter brushed his knuckles along the outside swell, back and forth, until she thought she might go crazy. Then he cupped her gently as his thumb made slow circles around the nipple, closer and closer, but not quite touching.

Finally, she shifted so he made direct contact, and he ended the tease, stroking and squeezing her until she was clutching his head and gasping into their kiss. He moved to raise the hem of her shirt a few inches. "Off?" he asked, and she hesitated just a second. Then she nodded.

He helped her remove the nightshirt and then took her in his arms again. She quivered a little at the full body contact, and he rubbed her back in smooth strokes as he pressed his lips to her hairline. "You know you can call a halt at any time," he murmured.

"I know." She held him tighter so he didn't get any ideas about stopping. Just lying there mostly naked was a marvelous sensual treat. She ran her palms over his arms and chest, down to the solid wall of muscle at his abdomen. Her partner was huge and semi-dangerous – she could feel up close the enormous strength contained within him – but at that moment, he was smooth and sleek, relaxed under her touch. It was like petting a tiger.

Hunter shared her exploration. He had one arm trapped under her, curved upward so he could use those long fingers to play in her hair and rub the back of her neck. His free hand slid over her body, mapping every curve. He caressed the back of her thigh, urging her leg over him, and she could feel the stiff length of his erection against her belly. He cupped her bottom and pulled her even closer.

Her heart was hammering but she wasn't afraid, not even when his fingers edged between her thighs. He paused their kissing as he began tentatively stroking her through the satin material of her underwear. It felt warm, good. "S'all right?" he murmured against her cheek – half question, half reassurance.

Mmm, she thought. Yes.

Then she realized he couldn't hear that part. "Yes," she told him, and pushed herself more firmly against his hand. So far, so good. She felt like this was going to be able to go okay, and that she wouldn't panic or do something else to completely embarrass herself. She trusted him not to pull any sudden moves. Besides, if she felt scared, she could just tell him she'd changed her mind for some other reason, and— oh!

She broke off her internal assessment with a gasp as he moved her underwear aside and started touching her bare skin. He stilled his hand immediately. "Too much?"

"No, no." She shifted her hips again, trying to get him to move. "Good."

She felt him smile just before he kissed her again. She held his face, stroking his prickly cheek as his hand started sliding between her legs again.

After the rape, her whole body had been decorated with cuts and bruises. He'd pulled out a chunk of her hair in the fight; her cheekbone fractured in two places. Worst of all had been the searing, burning pain between her legs – a constant reminder of what was lost.

She had blocked it out, all of it, determined not to feel any of it. She'd fed her body the minimum amount it needed to survive, kept it clean and clothed, but otherwise ignored it as best she could.Dissociation, Anita had called it, but Dee Dee didn't care what the name was. She'd been in pure survival mode.

In time she'd been able to make eye contact with the mirror again. Tasted her food. Opened her eyes in the shower. She'd accepted that her body wasn't some other separate entity this had happened it to – it was her, and she had to forgive her arms and legs the fact that they had lost the battle.

This pleasure - lying with Hunter with her swollen nipples hard against his chest and his long, talented fingers busy between her thighs - this was her reward. It was exciting and sexy, her body alive and humming, and she let herself feel it all. He touched her up and down and everywhere, until his fingertips were thoroughly wet, and he'd found the spot that made her stop kissing him and start panting against his neck.

She reached down with frantic fingers and plucked at the ribbon tie at her hip. It seemed to take forever to come free, and she sighed with relief when it finally loosened and Hunter could fit his whole hand between her legs. She hitched her thigh higher over his hips in invitation, kissing him openly again as he resumed his intimate exploration.

"Tell me what you like," he muttered against her mouth.

He was rubbing back and forth with several fingers, and she didn't really have words for more direction. "That," she managed, her eyes screwed shut in pleasure. "Oh…that."

He hesitated when his middle finger found the entrance to her body. He touched her gently, a silent question, and she answered by pushing downward on his hand. He slipped in easily, just a bit, and then withdrew again. Slowly, he repeated the gesture, deepening the penetration each time until he had established a natural rhythm. Each pass of his hand felt better and better, and warmth flooded her cheeks. She was practically riding him now, holding on for dear life as the sweet friction took her higher. Orgasm hadn't really been on her radar but it was starting to seem like a distinct possibility, a red light inching closer and closer. She had to decide to dodge it or let it hit her. Oh, almost…almost…

Hunter accidentally made the decision for her with a flutter of his finger, and she muffled her sob against his shoulder as the waves started. She shook so hard she thought she might split in two.

When she became conscious again of her surroundings, she felt Hunter's lips against her hair and his warm hand resting between her legs. She still felt like jelly. "Oh my," she said softly, and heard his low chuckle.

"Good?" he asked with a squeeze.

"Yeah." Shock and pleasure made her overly honest. "That was…um, I didn't think it would be that good."

"Oh, well, thanks for the vote of confidence," he said, but his tone was amused.

"No, I mean…not you. Because of everything."

He laced their fingers together and kissed her forehead. "Yeah, I know." She hugged him close and thanked her lucky stars again that he was her friend. He nosed around in her hair for a moment and trailed his fingers down her back. "We can stop here," he said after a moment. "It's really okay."

It was a little tempting. She was languid and lazy, awash in pleasurable aftershocks, and it would be easy to stay there rather than push forward into the unknown. But she shook her head. He was hard and insistent against her thigh, and she slid her hand down there to trace the rigid curve. Hunter sucked in a sharp breath at her touch.

"I want to," she said, "if you do." She didn't want him to think her owed her anything.

"Oh, I want to," he replied with such gusto that it made her grin.

She set about tugging off his shorts, and he eagerly cooperated. Soon she was able to touch him fully, delighting in the solid length of him in her palm. She rubbed him gently at first but added increasing pressure as he grew slicker against her fingers. This went on for a long few minutes, his breathing quickening with her hand, until he grabbed her and kissed her. She giggled as he flipped her over but immediately reached down to continue her caresses.

Hunter's voice was a murmur near her ear. "Protection, yes?"

Her hand froze. Once the pregnancy test came back negative, she'd immediately started birth control pills again. It was a nonsensical move in some ways – surely she wasn't likely to be raped again – but it was a tiny bit of control she could regain. The rest of the tests were clean too; however, some would need to be repeated just to be sure. Your partners should use condoms for now, the doctor had told her. Just to be safe.

Safe, she thought. Somehow she'd become unsafe. There was a non-zero chance she could make him sick if they weren't careful.

Hunter had moved off of her, leaving her feeling colder and alone. She could hear him rustling around and then he held up a tiny packet in the darkness. Of course he would be prepared for this. He did it all the time.

Hunter seemed to feel the shift in her mood because he rejoined her on the bed without donning the condom. "You okay?"

There was no way to explain the sudden tears in her eyes, so she squeezed them shut to hide. "Yes," she said. "Fine."

His hand was warm and comforting on her shoulder. "I'm not sure I believe that."

She shook her head and was quiet for a long time. She felt him there, waiting, and tried to find some words that weren't totally ridiculous. "You know," she whispered at last. He'd been there in her bedroom right after it had happened. He'd come to the hospital. He'd sat with her through nightmares and crying jags and the utter silence of depression. "You know all of it," she said, looking at the ceiling to keep the tears at bay.

"I, uh…I'm not sure which bit we're talking about now," he said, but his tone was gentle.

She swallowed hard. "You know what he did to me."

He waited a second to answer. "Yes," he murmured at last. He reached out and brushed a lock of hair from her face. "I know."

"I don't know how you could know all of that," she broke off, forcing the rest of the words. "And still want this."

He shifted to take her in his arms, but she was stiff, resistant. He hugged her close anyway. "You think I'm faking it?" He said, his voice low and intimate against her temple. "Because you know what a shitty liar I am."

She laughed, her voice watery. This was true.

"I want this," he assured her. He found her hand and placed a kiss at the center of her palm. "I want you." She shuddered but cuddled closer again.

"I guess, with everything, it's hard to see why."

He was quiet for a long moment. "I could tell you that you're beautiful," he said at length, "and it would be true. Or I could say how much I like you – which is better than anyone on this planet." She sniffed and smiled, hugging him. "But really, I think it's that…" He shifted so he could look into her eyes. "You're my safe person too."

Emotion welled up within her again. "Yeah?"

"Oh, yeah." He smiled and leaned his forehead against hers. "Who else is going to come down here and try to save my sorry ass?"

"It's not so sorry," she said, and reached around him for emphasis.

He chuckled and kissed her with great affection. They held each other for a few minutes. "I am sorry," she said, "that he hurt you."

His hand swept down her back. "And I am sorry he hurt you." Then he rubbed his cheek on hers. "Let's not give him anything else, okay?"

She nodded. They kissed again, sealing the deal, and slowly their hands resumed the earlier touching and stroking. She broke off the kiss. "You said…you said you had something?"

"Just one sec." In a moment, they were back in each other's arms, and he rolled so that she was half on top of him. "I think it should be this way," he said, his palm against her face. "That way I know I'm not pushing too much."

"I—oh." She considered and decided it was okay. "All right."

He shifted so he could sit up some against the pillows and the headboard, and then he pulled her gently into his lap. "You feel so good," he muttered against her neck.

"You too." He lay hot and hard between her thighs, and really, the poor man had waited long enough. She braced herself over him and he used the opportunity to kiss her collarbone. "Hunter?"

"Hmm?" His lips were still against her skin.

"The angle…" She tried to work a hand down between them.

"Wait a minute. I'm not done with this part yet." He held her face in his hands and kissed her gently, over and over, until she forgot what she was supposed to be doing and just kissed him back. The kisses grew hotter and deeper, and one of his hands slipped to her breast. Before long, her tongue was in his mouth while his fingers pinched her nipples, and she was completely, totally aroused again.

She widened her legs so she could bear down on the thick ridge of his cock. "Ah, are you ready yet?" she asked, blowing a breath to get the hair out of her eyes.

"Mmm, yes," he said as he slipped a hand down to help himself along.

As promised, he held perfectly still as she took him inside her body. Despite everything, she had a moment of unease that it could go wrong, that she might ruin it all with flashbacks or something. But he inched in slowly, stretching her with delicious pressure, and she sighed in pure bliss.

Hunter tugged in her in close for a warm hug. "That's my girl," he whispered, and she shivered with pleasure, because at that moment they belonged to one another. She curled her fingers in his hair as she began to move on him. He moaned softly and bent his head to find her breasts with his mouth.

She kept the rhythm as slow as she could, but it was hard when her heart kept pounding faster, faster, more, more, more. They communicated in grunts and cries as the pleasure rose up sharp and fast. He took over, holding her hips and pumping into her with short, quick strokes. She held back a keening cry as she came, shuddering and shaking, and he answered with a deep, satisfied groan. They collapsed together in a tangle of sweaty limbs.

Later, they had cleaned up a bit and climbed back into bed. The night air had cooled considerably. Beneath the sheets, Hunter gathered her into his strong arms, and she relaxed with a sleepy sigh. "I didn't have you pegged as the cuddling type," she said.

"Mmm, there's a lot you don't know about me, McCall. I'm an international man of mystery."

She snorted with amusement but did not argue. "Well, it's nice," she said a few moments later. "I wish it didn't have to end."

She felt him stiffen slightly, at her words. "Look," he began, but she cut him off.

"Don't worry," she said. "I'm not planning anything. I don't expect you to start bringing me flowers."

He relaxed again and rubbed his cheek on her hair. "That's good. Because I'm not the bringing flowers kind of guy."

"Well, somehow my heart will go on," she told him.

He was quiet, and she thought he might have gone to sleep. But then he spoke, his voice a low rumble against her ear. "I was thinking about your alternate realities," he said. "Maybe in one of 'em, we stay here."


"Sure." His voice was rich and expansive in the dark. "Get a house down by the ocean somewhere. Buy an old fishing boat. I bet the fishing is great here, huh?"

"And what would I be doing while you're catching all this fish?" she asked, amused.

"I dunno. Maybe you take up pottery," he said, and she snickered. "Yeah, pottery. And at the end of the day, I'd be sure to get all the mud off you. We'd cook dinner outside in a fire pit and lie on the beach at night to watch the stars."

"You're crazy. You know this, right?" His story was beautiful and impossible. She wanted to wrap herself in it and live there forever.

He hesitated and then squeezed her. "And maybe I'd bring you flowers," he said. "Just so you would smile."


In the morning, they were careful not to touch at breakfast as they shared pastries and fruit with their young charge. Luckily, Iggy filled up any awkwardness with his incessant chatter. Only when his talk turned to the future, did she pay much attention.

"I got the best idea! You don' need me to go to the Embassy. I can just come and live with you," he said to Hunter. "Or you," he added quickly as he looked at her. "You'll see. I make no noise. I clean everything, top to bottom, like you won' believe. My mother taught me real good."

McCall thought of how he'd survived on the streets of Curaguay through wits and charm alone. "I'm sure she did," she told him gently.

"Listen, Iggy, it's not that we don't want you," Hunter began.

"Then it's a deal!" Iggy replied brightly.

"No deal," Hunter said as he put aside his coffee cup. "I'm sorry, but we have to drop you off at the Embassy in Sao Paulo."

Iggy did not cry or protest. He simply bowed his head. McCall looked beyond him at the mountains and held back her own emotions; it was another beautiful reality that would never be.


By the time they reached LAX, they had been traveling for three days, but at least there had been no whisper of trouble as they reentered the country. Hunter lugged her suitcase off the carousel and set it down for her. "Native soil once more," he said.

"Yeah." She took a breath. "Well, I'm beat. I am going to grab a taxi and go sleep for about thirty-six hours."

Hunter shoved his hands in his pockets and squinted at the door. "Yeah, sounds like a plan. You, uh, you want me to come with…?"

"No," she said quickly. "That's okay." Hunter nodded in understanding. They had left a dead man in their wake, and everything else that happened would have to be buried with him.

"Okay then," he said. "See you back at the ranch."

She kept her eyes closed on the ride back to her house, not ready for the too-familiar scenery. The door and surrounding greenery looked just the same as when she'd left. Home, she thought, and tried to make it be true. Mariano was dead now, so maybe she could be free again.

She opened the lock with shaking fingers and stepped inside. The air was stale and quiet. She stood there in the entryway, surveying all her things – the sofa where she had been reading that day, the picture near where she'd cracked her head, and the door to the bedroom where she had lost the fight. Mariano was gone but all these things were still here. It was never going to be home again.

She drew a deep breath and moved deeper into the house. She would list it as soon as possible, maybe even rent somewhere to stay while it was on the market. She hoped Hunter wouldn't be too disappointed in her when she told him. But some ghosts, he could not slay.

On Monday, she was a little nervous as she pulled into the precinct parking lot. She'd barely returned the last time before she'd taken off for South America. There were still many people who hadn't seen her since it happened. It was awful when they looked at her, even if the words were kind. Everybody knew.

And of course now there was Hunter and their recent tumultuous history. She hoped like hell that they caught some quick case, something that would allow them to fall back on their usual easy rhythms.

She peeked in and saw he was already at his desk. This was equal parts reassuring and terrifying. She steeled herself as she approached. "Morning," she said as she set down her purse.

"Hey," he said. "How was your weekend?"

"Restful," she replied, starting to relax. "Yours?"

"About the same." He bent his head over his work again, and she pulled out her chair to sit down.

It was then she noticed the flowers. There was a small crystal bud vase sitting on her desk, with a decorative spray of white freesias sitting in it. "What's this?" she asked him.

"Hmm?" He looked up to see where she was pointing. "Huh," he said. "Search me."

She narrowed her eyes, but he looked guileless. "These weren't here when I left," she said.

"Are you sure?" He scratched the back of his head. "We've been gone a while."

"I'm sure."

He shrugged. "It's a mystery then."

Okay, this was how they were playing it. "A mystery," she agreed, taking her seat. Hunter went back to work, and she watched him for a moment to see if he might give anything away. But he seemed oblivious.

McCall pulled out the top folder so she could try to remember what she'd been working on before she'd left. Around her, the station buzzed with its usual activity. She paused one last time to sneak a look at the flowers, keeping her gaze low so Hunter wouldn't catch her.

And she smiled.



Notes: Happy birthday, Robbie!

Yes, it's theme and variation for me: life after sexual assault. At least it's a hopeful, sexy one! My life is still pretty well wrecked, so I am writing about other people having fun. Hopefully, it was a little bit fun to read as well.

© syntax6 2015