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07 December 2012 @ 12:01 am
Holding the Light - Chapter Eight  

On the carrier, Phil watched through the window of ICU as John slept. Natasha was in there with him, sitting at his side.

She looked as if she might need a bed herself, with at least a foot of her hair singed off at the bottom, and her usually pale skin reddish with heat burn.

Phil had heard the comm when it all went to hell, and from the van outside and up the street that was catching the upload of the computer data.

Shaw had said, "Calderon says hi."

Then Natasha's voice had yelled a warning, "John!"

Two blasts had interrupted comms with static, and Phil had thought of explosives and poison gas and the rest of the horrors down there. People had started coming out of the estate, too, as the house had shaken from the explosions.

The sound of coughing and Natasha calling, "Clint! Clint, can you read me? John is down, Base, we need evac, we need emergency evac now."

And Phil had answered, "Evac on the way, Widow. Get out of there. Before that place blows up." So he'd called for a helicopter, fearing the worst.

"Here, Nat. I'm downstairs, where are you? Shit, we gotta get out of here."

Both of them coughed, then, and then Natasha had called more hoarsely, "Here, Clint, I see you. Left."

"You're hurt, your hair's on fire, Nat, hold still. Let's go."

"We can't leave him!"

"Is he still alive?"

"Yes! Hurry."

"Okay, okay, here we go, come on, New Guy, help me out here… Okay, I've got him. Where's the other door?"

Burdened with John's body, they panted and coughed. Phil heard the fire crackling, and the occasional command to get to the door. He heard nothing from John at all. It was terribly nerve-wracking and his hands clenched, praying they could get out.

He jumped out of the van to run to the estate, pulling his gun on the security guards who thought about stopping him. "Out of my way. Evacuate the house, right now, it's about to blow up."

He kept running. "Barton, Romanoff, report. Where are you?"

"We found the door, and going up the stairs," Barton said. "Nat is ---" There was a pause and the sound of gunfire as Romanoff cleared the way. "Oh, this is the east wing, makes sense. Screw it, Nat, shoot the window," he called.

There was another crack of a pistol and then glass breaking, and Phil heard that live, too, above the confused and panic-stricken guests who were starting to mill around. Everyone he passed he yelled at them to get away from the building.

Smoke was starting to pour out and flames were visible in the near windows. Finally he saw them. They each had an arm around John, who wasn't unconscious, since his feet were stumbling with them. But his head was hanging and his suit and dress shirt were shredded. The other two didn't look much better, though they were both walking more easily. Natasha's hair was shorter as if it had been singed off, and her fancy dress was ragged and covered in soot and something greenish.

"Come on, John, come on," Natasha urged him, and then cried Phil's name when she lifted her head and saw him.

He hurried up to them. "Helicopter's on the way, we need to get to the back lawn. Here, I'll help."

He tried to take Natasha's place, since she looked the worse of the two, but John clutched her hand where she was grasping it to hold his arm in place over her shoulders, and didn't let go. He groaned something unintelligible that might have been her name, and Phil winced at the pain in his voice.

"I've got him," Natasha declared with such ferocity in her eyes that Phil took a step back.

"Okay. Barton?"

Clint gestured with his bow vaguely, and even though his eyes were streaming and red, and he coughed, he said, "Go."

So Phil led the way, and John passed out about halfway there, legs giving out as he slumped, deadweight. "John!" Natasha exclaimed in alarm and shifted her grip to check the pulse in his wrist. "He's okay."

Phil heard the helicopter as it flew up the sea inlet. "Land on the back lawn, near the water," he shouted instructions on the comm. "We're almost there."

The helicopter landed on the expanse of lawn in the back, and kept the rotors running as the assassins climbed aboard with some help from the medic. Some of the other party guests surged forward to try to get on, but Phil stood in their way. "Medical evacuation, back off." When they didn't get the point, he fired his gun into the dirt at the nearest feet, making a cloud of sod and dirt fly up. "Get back. Now."

Then keeping an eye on the vapid, panicked guests, he moved backward and climbed up into the open hatch. "Okay, you're a go for lift-off."

The chopper lifted off, and Phil pulled the hatch shut, closing off a bit of the noise and most of the wind.

When he turned, the SHIELD medic was helping Natasha and Clint lay John onto the stretcher and examining him. Flat on his back in the brighter light of the cargo area, he didn't look as bad as Phil had feared. There were no open wounds, and although he looked just as singed as the other two with a reddish-pallid skin of a heat burn, only his breathing indicated something more deeply wrong, as he wheezed shallowly, and unsteadily. The medic gently felt along his chest, probing, and reached a spot that drew a flinch, even in unconsciousness. She glanced at Phil, reporting, "I need an x-ray, but at least one rib broken, and smoke inhalation, for certain." She placed an oxygen mask, checked vitals, and set up an i.v. with deft skilled fingers.

"So he'll be okay?" Natasha demanded when that was done.

"Let's get him to a more thorough evaluation on the carrier, Agent," the medic answered, and frowned in concern. Phil got an uneasy tingle down his spine that the medic suspected something was wrong, but didn't want to say until they'd got John to a doctor.

But it all seemed well enough, once they got to the carrier. Evaluation turned out that he'd got off lucky, with a concussion where he'd hit his head against the floor, and cracked ribs from the concussion blast and general pain from the heat flash burn and thrown around.

Yet because he remained unconscious he was still in ICU, and Natasha stayed with him once she'd showered, changed into clean clothes and chopped off the singed bits of her hair so it was now shoulder length. She'd done a hasty job of it, so Phil knew it would have to get even shorter to look decent, but she didn't seem to care, as long as it didn't smell burned anymore.

He went into the small room full of its monitors and shut the door behind him. "Natasha, how is he?"

"Asleep," she answered.

He intended to tell her to go get some rest, but then she kept talking, quietly, "You didn't see it, Phil. Shaw put his hand right into one of the crates, pulled out some kind of grenade I'd never seen before, and threw it at John."

"Into"? That meant Shaw had inherited more than his grandfather's money - he'd inherited his grandfather's mutant gene. No one had seen it or reported it, and it hadn't been in his file. Not that it would have made much of a difference, probably, but at least his team would have been more prepared for something freaky.

Natasha continued, "And the crates caught fire. John got back on his feet, but then something else exploded. Some kind of flash-bang right in his face and he was thrown. I thought he was dead."

"Doctor Farhan says he should be fine. That he's already healing up quicker than normal."

She nodded once. "He should wake soon." She didn't take her eyes from him, and Phil moved up beside her closely.

"Are you all right?" he asked, figuring it would probably be futile, but needing to make the offer.

"Fine." She answered, and he pressed her shoulder in a gesture of commiseration even if she didn't want to share with him, since staying at John's bedside meant she wasn't totally fine.

Whether it was the sound of their voices or not, John stirred, moving his head and letting out a groan behind the oxygen mask, there to help ease his breathing when his lungs were still battered from cracked ribs and smoke.

Natasha tensed, hands fisted in her lap, as she watched.

His eyes flickered, showing glimpses of blue and still very red and irritated whites, and the hand free of his i.v. lifted to try to claw the mask off, gasping at the pain of the movement but persisting anyway. He was a stubborn bastard, but then Phil had known that.

"No, John, you need it," Natasha told him and grabbed his hand to pull it down, letting go. "John, can you hear me?"

He settled at the sound of her voice or touch of her hand and blinked his eyes, frowning deeply. He looked upward, squinting and blinking.

"John, can you hear me?" she asked again and his head turned toward her.

"Nat?" he asked hoarsely. Then he raised a shaking hand back to his face to touch above the mask. "Nat, is it - is it dark?" And his voice trembled as though he knew.

Phil felt cold instantly with shock of realization, as he saw John's gaze wasn't looking at Natasha, only in her general direction.

Natasha's eyes met Phil's, wide with horror.

"I'll get the doctor," Phil told her and hurried toward the door.

* * *

John had woken in pain before; it was nothing new. He was a bit surprised that he was waking up at all, since he remembered seeing the fire in Shaw's basement. But to wake up with his head pounding and his body aching and ribs pinching his breath, was familiar. The haze of drugs wasn't different either, nor how they both muffled the pain and did nothing about it at the same time.

Natasha's voice was new though, drawing his attention and pulling him out of clinging cobwebs of sleep. She sounded far away, echo-y, but after a moment, his hearing cleared.

He blinked, trying to open his eyes. His eyes hurt, too. They felt dry and stung, and when he thought they were open, he saw nothing. At all. It was all blackness.

He lifted a hand to make sure he wasn't wearing something covering his eyes or on his face besides the itchy oxygen mask and touched his eyelids, to prove that they were open and were moving. "Nat, is it - is it dark?" he asked. He could hear the machines of the room, the quiet beeping of the pulse monitor, and feel the distant thrum of the helicarrier's engines. Maybe they'd turned off the lights to spare his vision since his eyes hurt.

But when Natasha's hand curled around his own, he knew. Before she answered, he knew. Even before he heard Coulson's sudden voice announce he was going to get the doctor, he knew.

"No," Natasha murmured, and sounded as if she'd rather be saying any other words than these, "No, John, it's not dark in here. Can you see… nothing at all? No shadows, or lights?"

He turned his head, trying to see, but there was nothing. He shook his head a little, shutting his eyes and clenching his jaw at the jolt in his head.

Natasha's fingers tightened on his. "You… you have a concussion, maybe there's some… swelling or something. Doctor Farhan should be here soon."

But he remembered the flash and he didn't think this had anything to do with a bump on the head. He'd heard of soldiers blinded by proximity to flash-bangs or other explosives.

Blinded. He couldn't be a sniper, couldn't be a soldier, couldn't be an agent, couldn't do any of the things he'd trained to do without seeing.

"Shhh," Natasha whispered, her thumb stroking his hand, and he realized he was making a soft noise in the back of his throat. He tried to swallow it back, but the drugs made the effort weak and sound even more pathetic, before he got it under control.

A sudden touch on his face made him start. "It's me," she whispered. "We're alone in the room." Then in a more matter-of-fact voice, she described the room: its dimensions, the bed, the chair she was sitting on, the machines. It was still darkness but at least he could somewhat imagine it now, it wasn't all a black void around him.

He swallowed and mumbled thanks into the mask.

There was a brief pause and then she said, "You're welcome." Then she added, "Doctor Farhan and Phil are here. When they kick me out, I'll be waiting outside."

He forced himself to let go of her hand. It was hard, and he immediately felt adrift. He kept closing his eyes and rubbing at them, as if that would magically make his eyes work, but it didn't help.

Farhan had a business-like but warm voice, good bedside manner, as he asked John about what he could see, and then examined John's eyes, peeling back his lids and keeping dry fingers on John's face for awhile with his coffee-breath was in John's nose. "We already did a CT scan and we'll do an MRI of your head too so I can send the results to our neurologist. And I need an ophthalmologist consult."

"Anything you need, Doctor, of course." Coulson said from the door.

Farhan left to make arrangements and Coulson came near. "John, to put your mind at ease, I'm sure you're thinking that you can't work for us anymore. But so you know." His hand gripped John's. "You're part of the SHIELD family now, and we'll find a way."

John nodded tiredly but at least the words were somewhat reassuring. "Thanks."

He closed his eyes since that was less uncomfortable, and soon fell asleep, slipping one from one darkness into another.

* ** *

It didn't take long for the results and Phil had to report to Fury.

"What the hell happened?" Fury gestured angrily to the written report. "My new recruit sidelined on his first mission? Blinded?"

"I have a team sifting the mansion ruins now, but it seems Ten Rings was storing weaponry under Shaw's place. I planned to give some of it to Stark to look at and figure out where it comes from."

Fury gestured that away sharply as irrelevant. "You're telling me we stumbled onto this?" Fury demanded. "We didn't even know that basement existed until our agents were on scene?" he scowled. "Worse, let me spell it out for you: we did not know Shinobi Shaw had a mutant talent? That is unacceptable, Agent Coulson. We need to know more before we send our field agents into work."

"Yes, sir. I agree."

Fury glowered at the file then up at Phil, with a heavy sigh. "So. Is it permanent?"

Phil nodded, feeling even worse. "Seems likely, boss. Doctor Farhan said it's a burned retina and optic nerve. There's a remote chance that Reese's improved genetics may heal it, since he's got a bit of an accelerated healing factor, but right now, there's nothing there. I think we got lucky the blast didn't blind Romanoff and Barton, too."

"I don't see anything 'lucky' about this at all, Agent Coulson."

"No, boss. Of course not."

"Any fancy tech solution out there? Cyber-eyes, something like that?" Fury asked impatiently. "Surely our labs have something."

"Nothing I know of, though you could make it a research priority."

"Yes, do that. And talk to Stark about it, too. Maybe Stark Industries has something he can bump up the priority." Fury clenched his fists and hit the top of his desk. "Well, damn. This wasn't how this was supposed to play out."

Phil was tempted to ask how it was supposed to have gone but he didn't. At the very least Fury had wanted John to use his field work talents and that was over, at least for now, unless some technological miracle happened.

"Boss," Phil started and then wasn't quite sure how he wanted to say this, except he wanted to confirm what he'd told John. "Agent Romanoff tells me that the airstrike in Ordos, China, was the Agency trying to assassinate him."

Fury's sole eye fixed on him, and he knew exactly what Phil was trying to ask. "We will not, Phil. He remains on the payroll. We take care of it all, Coulson: his medical, his recovery, a new identity including a fucking job, if necessary. I don't want to hear anyone say that we don't take care of our own, not ever."

Relieved by the declaration, Coulson nodded. "I'll tell him."

"No, I will," Fury said. "I'll go talk to him. Give him a pep talk."

Coulson was pretty sure that only Fury could make 'pep talk' sound quite so much like a threat.

* * *

John checked the wrap of his hospital gown, making sure that he was decently covered. It would be all too easy to let something hang out when he couldn't see it.

Then, sure that he was alone in his room, even though there was probably video monitoring, he swung his bare feet to the floor and groped for the stand of his i.v. He found it was easier to just close his eyes and not strain to try to see something he couldn't anyway. And this way he could pretend that if he opened his eyes, things would change, even though he knew they wouldn't.

Then hand wrapped around the stand he used that to leverage himself to his feet, holding out his other hand. He couldn't find his balance at first, dizzy and achy all over, but he clenched his jaw and waited until he steadied.

Haltingly, he explored the small room, keeping a part of his body touching the bed, he touched all he could, learning where everything was within immediate reach of the bed. Which went well until he tripped over the foot of some table or some damn thing and went flying. "Damn it!"

His hands hit first with thumps on the floor, and then his ribs seemed to stab him inside, and he couldn't breathe through the sudden pain. After a moment, it eased and he tried to catch his breath without jarring his ribs or his head again. God, that had been stupid. He stayed there on the floor for a moment, resting his cheek against the cool linoleum, before he moved his hand around to find the wall and pull himself up to sit against it.

Fucking useless. Couldn't even navigate next to his own bed.

He tried to tell himself that people dealt with this all the time, that he could relearn to get around. But the words sounded hollow and he didn't believe them. It seemed pointless, when he had nothing else he was good at.

There was not much call for blind ex-assassins or sightless spies. Or visually impaired retired Army sergeants for that matter.

"Agent Reese?" a familiar surprising voice of Director Fury questioned from the far side of the room, probably from the door.

John pulled himself to his feet, keeping a hand on the wall. "Yeah. Here. I'm… adjusting."

"On the floor? Interesting choice," Fury said dryly. He shut the door and his shoes made soft clicks on the floor, coming closer, and then a strong hand closed on John's elbow. "I'd let you do it yourself, but there's a stool in the way." Fury sent the stool spinning off toward the wall and pulled John back to the bed. "There, now sit down and we can talk."

John perched on the bed and tugged the sheet across his lap, more for something to hold onto than modesty's sake.

"I'm gonna sit here, across from you," Fury said and dragged the chair closer across the flooring, making a screech that seemed to cut into John's head. He shut his eyes tightly as a flare seemed to pass across his vision along with a renewed ache behind his forehead.

"So. Blind," Fury announced without preamble or softening it. John was at first struck by the blunt words, then relieved not to dance around it with false sympathy. "I remember when I lost my eye. It wasn't the same, I know, but it sucked. Losing both, that sucks more. But it happened in our service, and I am not those assholes who tried to cut you loose when you got inconvenient. They tell me there's a chance you might heal up yourself, and I've made it a priority for R&D to look for some technological fix. Hell, maybe there's magic that can help - at this point in my life, I am way fucking past second-guessing what's out there. But this I promise, I will look for it. And in the meantime, you get what you need. You want a private braille tutor, it's yours. You want a fancy white cane that you can stab people with if they fuck with you, it's yours."

John had to smile a little at that.

"There," Fury said. "Amusement is better than self-pity. Now about the rest of you? You look… better."

"I'm better," John answered. He wasn't one hundred percent, but he didn't need to be, did he? He wasn't going back into the field.

"Good. Now I want to know something - Romanoff said you were targeted in Ordos. Why? Other than general pain-in-the-ass-ness."

John hesitated. It felt like quid-pro-quo - give Fury the answer in return for support now that he was basically helpless as a kitten. But what the hell did it matter anymore? It wasn't as if the Agency had done anything to buy his silence on the topic. "Mostly that, I think," John answered heavily. "I wanted out, and they weren't real good about letting that happen. I know too much. But the mission was fubared from the start - everyone was already dead when we got there. We were supposed to retrieve a prototype computer, but it was gone. It didn't seem like a Chinese government op, but I don't know who was behind it. I was a bit busy not dying afterward to track it down."

"And if you had to guess?" Fury prompted.

John hesitated to think about it, but there was only one thing that had made sense to him. "Someone wanted that thing very badly and were covering their tracks to get it. Some traitor at the Agency with enough power to make it all happen."

Fury made a thoughtful sound. "Seems like that place could use a housecleaning."

Which was true enough. "Secrecy breeds corruption."

"And you mean to point that at me," Fury observed dryly.

"Your bosses could be the same people who tried to kill me. When you work in the shadows, all the faces look the same." He thought about the vision metaphor and gave a little wry grimace. "Well, they did, anyway."

"All right, I'll give this some thought and we'll poke at it, see what I can shake loose. I'd like to find enough to hold over them to leave you alone, at least." His clothes rustled as he stood up. "Where do you want us to set up a place for you? When they let you out of this fucking cave?"

John didn't have to think about it too hard. "New York. Somewhere near where you've got Rogers stashed. I know the area and I can get around without a driver."

Fury sounded like he was smiling - it was kind of unnerving. "Ah, excellent idea. Carry on, Mister Reese, get yourself better."

When Fury had gone and for lack of anything better to do, John felt for his cup of water, drank, and then carefully put it back, feeling with his other hand to make sure he was putting the cup on the tray flat. It took about four times longer doing it by touch, and he was feeling disgruntled as he lay back in the bed and closed his eyes.

* * *

A voice from the doorway stirred him from his bored daze. "You can't possibly be asleep still," Natasha chided, but sounded teasing, too. She closed the door behind her and came up to the bedside. "You look better."

"You look… hell if I know. How are you?" he asked, trying to make a joke but it came out rather bitterly. He hoped she didn't notice or wouldn't comment on it, but since he couldn't see her face, he didn't know. Not that Natasha was easy to read anyway, but it was even harder to decipher from her voice alone.

She ignored the question. "John…" Then she stopped and inhaled a deep breath. "I don't know what to say," she admitted softly. "This should never have happened. I'm so … sorry."

He held out a hand, patiently keeping it out until she took it with hers. "It's not your fault."

"I know, but… If I could go back and do it again. I should have shot him first."

"He was unarmed, or so we thought," he reminded her. "We didn't know he could do that. Whatever the hell that was."

"Mutant power," she said. "I should have shot him the moment he threatened you. I knew he was planning something." Her thumb was lightly sliding across his fingers in a repetitive soothing motion, though he was unsure if she was trying to soothe him or herself. Her voice had a faint tremor she was trying to suppress, but he could hear it anyway.

"I shouldn't have stared at him and moved sooner when he pulled the grenade. So it was my mistake, Nat, not yours."

Her free hand touched his face and her fingers caressed his cheek. "Would you absolve me of everything?" she murmured. "What of my curse that reached out for you? I'm the Black Widow - I let myself get close and you paid for that."

"I'm still alive, Natasha." He thought of Jessica and the thousands in Ordos, and others, reaching back to that boy in the home, who weren't. "And I have my own curse of death following me, wherever I go. Maybe this is my punishment - justice for --"

Her fingers laid across his lips, stopping his voice. "No. It was an accident, a stupid duratskiy sluch--"

He pulled her fingers away. "Natalya." Then he brought them back to his lips to kiss, and held them. "You and I both know - we've done awful things. We wanted to make them right, even though we know the ledgers are awash in blood. But this -- I'm not going to be able to join you now. I can't see, I can't fight - can't help. It's over."

"You don't need your eyes to see, John," Natasha murmured. And he felt breath and warmth an instant before her lips touched his. He froze, shocked.


"What is it you tell me?" she asked in a murmur, fingers caressing his cheek. "You're more, too, John."

He reached out, finding the side of her arm and then he caressed up to her shoulder to her neck and the back of her head to put his fingers in her hair. It was much shorter than he expected. "You cut it."

"It got burned in the fire," she answered.

"It feels so soft," he whispered, combing his fingers through it and the nape of her neck, and coaxed her nearer.

They kissed again, this time hungrily, and she slid a leg across to kneel above him as she leaned down. Her hand was on his chest, slipping beneath the cotton of the hospital gown, feeling him as if she had to learn him with her fingers as much as he had to with her.

Keeping his eyes closed and kissing her, touching her, felt the same, felt perfect, as if he'd fallen into some dream. His hands slid across her shoulders and bare arms, and then her back and sides, learning her lithe muscles and curves that now he could only remember seeing.

She murmured in Russian, pressing against him, and laughed softly when he returned the phrases in Arabic, before returning her mouth to his to silence them both.

His fingers opened the button of her pants and slipped down along her stomach that tightened under his touch, "Oh John."

"I hate not being able to see this," he muttered.

She grabbed his other hand and brought it to her face, letting him touch her lips and feel her breaths, and then down her neck to feel the sweat between her breasts. "You can. It's just as real."

Her hips teased him, moving with slow precision, and rubbing herself on his hand, too, and as his other hand cupped one of her bare breasts, he wished desperately he could see her like this, shirt and bra undone and rising above him in a glory of all that was beautiful.

The feel of her slick leggings against his arousal pounded through him. And he couldn't see her, but he could touch her and he could smell both of them of sweat and the tang that hit the back of his throat. Plus he could hear her voice, hoarse and soft, in time with her short breaths.

But he tried to will himself to see, to know what she looked like at this moment, as the pressure grew and grew, and he could feel his own heart beat thumping and hear it in his ears.

"Natasha…" he groaned.

The springs of the cot were complaining rhythmically with her motions, and seemed to echo.

And then, for one glorious miraculous moment, he saw her.

The image came to him, not like he was seeing as he knew she looked, but like a ghost in the darkness. Light and transparent, but … shining. There was no color, but he could see Natasha and her face and the long line of her throat and his hands on her. Like a sketch of light against the darkness - almost like a night-vision scope…

He gasped in surprise and wonder, and then again, as climax hit and he thrust against her hard, with no self-control at all, only wanton desire.

Then recovering his wits, he realized she hadn't come yet, and he slid his hand deeper and his fingers deeper still inside her, and he didn't need his eyes for this.

Then she shuddered hard, jerking above him, and gasped his name one more time. He caressed her slowly bringing her down, as she gained her breath and then folded herself across him again to kiss him languidly, uncaring of the mess they'd made between them.

"I told you after," she murmured between nips. "After the mission."

Cold reality intruded and he held a sigh. "Nat-"

Her free hand drifted across his shoulder to his neck to press at the carotid pressure point. "If I hear any sort of noble self-sacrificing words out of you, John Reese, I will push this. I'm not better off without you."

"But Clint - "

"Is my partner, and I owe him, but he's not the one I just wanted to fuck into the mattress," she said, and sounded as if she was smiling. She leaned down to feather her breath across his face again, deliberately tracing his features, forehead to chin, ear to ear. "You and I don't know how to do 'normal'. Neither of us ever had it. Maybe we never will. But we know how to fight for what we want, and I want you. I want you to fight for me, too."

His hand crept up her back, beneath her opened blouse to lay his palms on her skin and caress either side of her spine and hold her near, for a moment simply lost in the wonder of her words. "Yes. Yes, always. I just… I don't know where to go from here. What would you do?"

She laid her head on his chest. "I don't know," she admitted after a moment. "We'll figure it out."

He closed his eyes and ran a lock of her hair through his fingers - mostly soft, but he could feel the bit of the curl still in it in the way it sprang free.

"John, in the middle, what happened? I saw your face - like something happened that surprised you."

So he described what happened, and she propped herself up on a pointy elbow into his chest. "John, that sounds like… some sort of… sixth sense. Maybe that grenade did something else to you…"

He'd thought it was just an artifact of lust and that moment's need to see her, manifesting in a hallucination, but she seemed determined to prove that it was something else.

But he was able to persuade her to wait to tell anyone about it, for the selfish reason of wanting her warmth on top of him as long as possible.

Chapter Nine