TITLE: "Morning Glory IV: Never Surrender"
AUTHOR: Isahunter
RATING: PG (Language)
CATEGORY: V, WIP, Krycek/Other (No slash)
SPOILERS: Up to "One Son," S6
TIMELINE: Set in the winter of '99, but in this story the events of the episode "Biogenesis" and
beyond never occurred.
ARCHIVE: Yes, of course.
FEEDBACK: Isahunter@aol.com
DISCLAIMER: Although the other characters are of my own creation, all characters from "The
X-Files" belong to Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen, Fox. No infringement intended.
SUMMARY: Time is running out and reality sets in.
NOTES: This story is a continuation of my series, "Morning Glory." It is necessary to have read
those stories first. They are available at: http://www.angelfire.com/ak3/expositions/index.html

For Diadem, who has been my champion and friend for one whole year now. I'm still amazed I
haven't sent you running for the hills!
~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~
He who has nothing to die for has nothing to live for.
~Moroccan proverb

"Who wrote these directions, anyway?" Sabryn asked, squinting at the page. "It looks like
chicken scratch."

"I did."

"Oh." She glanced at Walter sheepishly. "Sorry. Take a right onto the dirt road."

After stopping for the night and driving six solid hours the next morning, they were almost to
their destination. Desperate for a bathroom and something to eat, Sabryn was practically
bouncing in her seat. Departing ND 1, just north of Lawton, they'd driven for at least eight miles
down the most deserted road she'd ever seen. No houses, no cars to pass, not a thing moving
aside from the sparse snowflakes.

"Are you sure we're even in the right place? There's nothing out here."

"He said it would look deserted."

"Who?"

"Krycek."

Sabryn closed her eyes briefly, but it didn't matter. She could still see his face before her, as clear
as the moment she'd last seen him. Angry, mistrusting, accusing. It was getting harder to
remember him any other way. She'd only been away from him for a couple of days, but it felt like
years.

"Alex told you to come here?"

"It was the best option, so I took it."

"Is it...his cabin we're looking for?"

"No. I never knew the man's real name. He was the Syndicate's London representative." Walter
met her gaze. "If Krycek is to be believed, his name was John Victor Reginald. Reginald brought
him here after rescuing him from the missile silo he was locked in four years ago."

"Are we near the silo now?"

"I believe it's about twenty miles to the North."

There was some morbid fascination that made her want to see the place, to know what Alex had
been through. Maybe if she could see it, she'd understand what made him do the things he did.
Just the very thought of him, weak and dehydrated, frozen with hypothermia, having given up on
ever seeing a human face again, made her shudder. He'd been dumped in a hole in the ground,
left to die, by the very man he once worked for. It was no wonder Alex made no alliances.

Sitting up a little straighter, she pointed to a break in the trees.

"There's the turn. The cabin should be at the end of that road."

As Walter steered the truck around the corner, his cell phone started ringing in his coat pocket.

"Can you answer that?" he asked, nodding towards the back seat.

Sabryn reached for his coat and pulled the phone out. Pressing the talk button, she said, "You've
reached Walter Skinner's phone."

She could hear Walter softly laugh next to her as the caller answered her.

"Sabryn?"

"Yeah."

"This is Mul--Fox."

She couldn't staunch the sudden blossoming of relief in her chest. "Fox, where are you?"

"Still in Washington. I've been trying to call since last night and couldn't get through."

"Maybe we were out of range."

Walter interrupted, "I had the battery recharging. I just turned the phone back on when we
stopped for gas."

"Did you hear that, Fox?"

"Yeah, I did," he answered, sounding distracted. "Look, I need to talk to Skinner."

"I wanted to ask you--"

"Please, Sabryn, this is important."

"All right." Handing the phone to Walter, she impatiently bit her lip. She'd wanted so badly to ask
about Alex, and their plans for him. Not knowing was driving her crazy. "He wants to talk to
you."

It was odd to see the sudden transformation on Walter's face. Suddenly, he was back to being the
Assistant Director again. The difference in expression was startling.

"Skinner." He listened for a moment, his eyes narrowing, before locking his jaw and exhaling
heavily. "How much lead does he have?" More silence, and then a hushed curse. Lowering his
voice, he kept his gaze trained on the road. "Damn it, Mulder, I can't believe you let this happen
again."

Curiosity was killing her as they rounded the curve in the road and the cabin came into sight. And
then the conversation on the phone faded into white noise.

My God. John Victor Reginald must have been one hell of a rich man if this was merely an
occasional residence. The two story log home was larger than the building she lived in. Well,
once lived in anyway.

The sloped metal roof kept the snow at bay, and the warm golden color of the thick pine logs
looked as inviting as a soft blanket. She could see three chimneys, and couldn't wait to heat up in
front of crackling fire. The place wasn't overly fancy, but large, surrounded by acres of trees and
snow-covered fields. If she was going to face Armageddon, at least she was going in style.

"No, damn it," Walter barked into the phone. "Finish your business and get your asses on a plane.
If we're lucky, I know where he'll show up sooner or later."

If that statement couldn't get her attention, nothing could. As Walter hung up the phone and
tossed it on the dashboard with an irritated groan, she pinned him with her gaze.

"What's happening?"

"I think you already know."

"Alex escaped?"

He didn't say a word, just stopped the truck in front of the cabin and turned off the engine.
Judging by the ruddy color of his face, he was one step away from losing his composure.

He silently got out of the truck and closed the door, heading for the cabin. Swallowing heavily,
Sabryn unbuckled her seat belt and hastily followed.

"They don't know where he is?"

"No, but I think I know where he's headed."

She stared at him, before letting out a little laugh. "He could go anywhere. He wouldn't come
here."

"Don't be so sure about that."

"Walter, Alex and I are just friends. No matter what it might seem like, I can assure you he has
no reason to follow me. He's already had the vaccine and any area to the North is as good as
another."

"That may be true, but he didn't give me specific instructions for getting you out of the state for
nothing."

She ignored the slight flutter of her heart. No. Alex didn't want anything to do with her. "He'd be
crazy to come here."

"No one ever said the man was sane."

She was about to reply when her brother pulled the camper to a stop behind the truck and Jolie
hit the ground running. Racing up the front steps and nearly knocking her aunt over, she
squealed.

"This place is so cool!"

"Don't get too excited," Walter warned. "We don't even know if we have power or running
water."

Shaking off their previous conversation, Sabryn ran her hand over her niece's blond hair. "Why
don't we go in and find out?"

Handing her the keys, Walter nodded. "I'll go help John unload the suitcases."

Jolie trotted over to the window and peered into the darkened room beyond, waiting impatiently
as Sabryn unlocked the door and pushed it open. They stepped into cabin, letting their eyes adjust
to the dimness.

"Wow, Bryn, look! It has a loft. Can I have that room?"

"You'll have to ask your Mom." Standing before the open living room, Sabryn shivered. It was no
wonder there were three chimneys; it would take all of the fireplaces just to get this one room
warm. And considering the six doors that led off the area, keeping the bedrooms warm would be
a chore in itself. Reaching for the light switch, she frowned when nothing happened. "I guess we
can forget about power."

"What about water? I gotta pee."

"Me too. Let's find the bathroom."

Opening the door nearest them, they found a closet stacked full of bed linens and towels. Next to
that was a bedroom with one full wall of windows, spilling light onto the bare queen-sized bed.
Just past that door was the first of the fireplaces, the main heat source for the living room.

"Maybe over there," Sabryn said, pointing towards the doors on the opposite wall.

Jolie hurried over to the first door and revealed another bedroom, this one with two bare
twin-sized mattresses. Finally, opening the fourth door, Jolie found the bathroom and hurried
inside. Before she closed the door, she cast a quick glance at her aunt.

"Go ahead, Sweetie. I can wait."

As Jolie closed the door, Sabryn turned around to see Caroline lumbering up the porch stairs with
her sleeping son on her shoulder. Stepping forward, Sabryn gladly relieved the pregnant woman
of her load. Chris stirred for a second before going limp against her and falling back to sleep.

"Thank you," Carly whispered.

"Sure."

"If I'd heard one more 'Are we there yet?' out of Jolie, I was going to spontaneously combust."

Sabryn stifled a smile. "Well, I don't think your troubles are over yet. It doesn't look like we have
power."

"I heard Mr. Skinner saying something about a generator."

"Let's hope he's right."

"What about beds?"

"It looks like there are four bedrooms, as well as the loft. I think Jolie already claimed that for
herself."

"I'm not surprised."

"I'll sleep up there with her, if you don't want her to be alone. I doubt you want Chris climbing
that ladder."

"No, I don't. And that would be nice of you."

John stepped into the cabin and dumped the suitcases on the floor, stepping aside for Walter to do
the same. Taking a look at the sheet-draped couches and table lamps, he shrugged. "This place
isn't too bad."

"We don't have power," Sabryn said. "I don't know about water."

"But it looks like we've got plenty of blankets and fireplaces," Caroline added.

"There's a gas generator out back that we can use for the lights at night. We just need to
remember to shut it off before going to bed." Walter nodded towards the archway at the end of
the room. "And there should be a wood stove in the kitchen. If all else fails, we can heat snow
and make our own water."

Burying her face against Christopher's neck, breathing in his meadow-sweet scent, Sabryn
sighed. The place wasn't so great after all, but it was better than nothing. Still, it was hard to keep
her mind focused on the cabin...instead of Alex Krycek. Praying he wouldn't show his face here.
And hoping like hell that he would.

Meeting Sabryn's gaze, Walter said, "Take care of anything urgent. You and I need to go
shopping."

"Now?"

"If you want to eat tonight and be able to see where you're going."

Passing Chris to John, she nodded. "OK. Just give me five minutes."

~~~~~~~~~~

He'd watched the house all day, expecting an ambush. Several times he'd seen cars slowly
driving past the area, seeming to crawl as they passed the property. If they were looking for him,
they wouldn't recognize him. Driving a boosted pick-up and wearing an old smelly pair of
coveralls he'd found in a Dumpster, he reached into the cargo bed to remove the empty
toolbox...looking every bit as if he were about to repair Mrs. Johnson's plumbing.

The baseball hat on his head did a good job of concealing the fact that his false mustache didn't
match his hair. If not for the nosy neighbors, he would have ripped off the annoying blond bristly
object and stomped it into the ground.

Dropping his toolbox next to the wall, he went back to the truck and grabbed a clipboard full of
papers. Keeping up the pretense of a man checking his work order. But the moment he was out
of the line of sight from the road, standing in the familiar back yard, he reached into his pocket for
the tools he'd found to pick the garage dead bolt.

A few seconds later, the smaller garage door was open, spilling light onto the rusty heap of metal
that Mrs. Johnson called her car. A heavy canvas drop cloth covered the floor, darkened with oil
spots the same ugly brown as the car itself. Decades ago, the 1954 Buick might have been a
beauty. Now it was just a hunk of junk.

Soon to be his hunk of junk.

Stepping away from the doorway, he was about to head around to the front when he heard the
distinct click of a hammer cocking. He froze, a string of obscenities running through his mind.

"Don't move," the deep, husky voice said behind him.

Alex suddenly relaxed rigid stance. "Who do you think you're fooling with that voice, Audrey?"

"Alex?" the woman asked, in a much higher-pitched voice. "Damn you, you scared the shit out of
me!"

He turned around and stared at her, waiting patiently while she flipped the safety back on the gun
he'd given her for protection. Half his size and as soft-spoken as a mouse, his landlady needed all
the safety she could get.

"What the hell are you still doing here? I told you to get out of the state."

"And I told you I'm not leaving until I'm good and ready. My kids are coming for Christmas. It's
going to be special."

He glanced out the door at the lights that decorated the house. Special...like a multicolored
nightmare.

But it was useless arguing with her. She was as stubborn as the fat orange cat that was busily
rubbing itself against his leg.

"Did the Feds search the garage when they were here?"

She nodded, pushing up her glasses. "They searched everything. But they didn't find anything in
here. They didn't bother to lift up the drop cloth."

"Good. I need you to pull out the car so I can get the stuff. While you do that, I'm going to see
what's left of the apartment."

The sad look she gave him spoke volumes. He knew the place was going to be a wreck.

"I didn't touch anything. I was going to clean up, but I didn't know what you had in there you
might not want me to see."

Pausing in the doorway, he glanced back at her. "It wouldn't have mattered. Even if there's the
slightest chance they missed something, all of the secrets will be out soon enough."

He could hear the rattle of the main garage door opening as he crossed the lawn. The few flowers
that had survived the cool winter were either dying from recent frost or had been trampled by
dozens of feet.

When he stepped down the stairs to his apartment, the door wasn't even locked. Pushing it open,
he stared at the space in disgust. What hadn't been torn apart in the search for evidence was
dumped carelessly on the floor. Lamps were broken; the mattress and bedding were torn from
the frame and tossed aside; his bathroom cabinets had been opened, their contents thrown around
like so much garbage. His leather couch had been all but stripped. He stepped over piles of
clothing, pillow stuffing, his shoes crunching broken glass into the carpet.

"Fuck."

He fisted his hand, fighting the urge to hit something. It wouldn't do any good. Anything worth
smashing was already in pieces. Sinking down onto the bare mattress, he ran his fingers through
his short hair. Exhaling heavily, he ripped the false mustache off his face and let it fall to the floor
with the rest of the mess.

Living the kind of life he did, it wasn't smart to get attached to anything. Most of these things
were just possessions, easily replaced. But this had been his home. Not much of one, admittedly,
but it was his own. Private and unspoiled, untouched by the foulness of the outside world. Until
now. Until her.

Part of him wanted to hate Sabryn for that. For bringing the FBI right through his door.

But the rest of him could do nothing more than remember lying here with her between his sheets.
Feeling her smooth skin beneath his, hearing her soft breathing in his ear, tasting the sweetness of
her kiss. The way she touched him, reverently, tender and pure, like nothing he'd ever known
before.

Reaching down to the pillow case by his foot, he shook the broken shards of glass from the fabric
and held it to his face. Breathing in the slightest lingering trace of her. Wondering if she'd known
she was the only other person to ever set foot in his apartment until that awful day.

Until he was betrayed.

Narrowing his eyes, he balled up the fabric in his hand, tossing it away from him, wishing he
could do the same to the memory. He didn't know what to believe anymore. A smart man would
pack up his few remaining belongings and get his ass as far out of town, and away from her, as
he could.

Apparently, he wasn't as smart as he once thought.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Leaning against the handle of the plastic cart, Sabryn stared at the selection of cookies before her
and shook her head. Until now, she hadn't been more depressed in her life. She was standing in
the middle of the Devil's Lake K-Mart, trying to decide what type of cookie she'd like to eat
before she died. If that wasn't pathetic, nothing was.

After two hours spent trailing up and down the aisles of Wally's Supermarket, the back of the
truck was nearly full. And yet they still thought they needed more. There was no telling what was
to come. Panicked by the upcoming Y2K dilemma, citizens were stocking up on anything and
everything they might need in the upcoming days. Little did they know just how desperately
correct they were. And if they didn't buy now, there might not be anything left.

Canned goods, boxed dinners, cereal, anything that might last. Gallon jugs of water, purchased
not only for the water inside but to hold any melted snow they might later use. Pans and cooking
utensils for the kitchen; toilet paper and shampoo for the bathroom; gas cans to fill at the nearest
station and use for the generator. Candles, blankets, snow gear, batteries, toys and games for the
kids. Still, it seemed they were forgetting things. At the rate the snow was falling, they weren't
even sure they'd be able to make it back into town again if necessary. They had to get as much
as they could now.

Glancing from the fluffy marshmallow Twirls to the Fudge Striped Keebler's, she caught
movement out of the corner of her eye. When she looked up she expected to see Walter heading
towards her, but started slightly at the intimate stare of a stranger. At the end of the aisle, wearing
a denim jacket, the red-headed man didn't bother to look away. He didn't even smile. His open
appraisal gave her the chills.

*Maybe he just thinks I'm sexy.*

Oh yeah--dead tired, no make-up, no shower in twenty-four hours, and wearing sweats--she was
Venus come alive.

She offered him a slight smile, hoping to provoke a response. He only continued to stare. She was
about to forget the cookies and get away from him when she heard footsteps behind her. Walter
stepped up next to her, holding a shot gun and a box of shells.

"Just when I was hoping John Wayne would come to my rescue," she said, softly.

"Excuse me?"

She glanced back at the end of the aisle, only to see that the man had disappeared. "I--nothing. I
guess I'm getting paranoid."

Setting the box and the gun in the cart, he glanced at her sideways. "About?"

"Everything. I've avoided thinking about it all this time, but..." She reached for the box of fudge
cookies and tossed it to him. "I realized these may be the last cookies I ever eat."

He blinked, silently nodding his head. "In that case, you better get two packages."

His attempt to make her smile failed. "Yeah, I guess so." She nodded towards the gun. "Worried
about intruders?"

"That's the least of my worries. And I think we're going to need a lot more guns...but it's going to
look suspicious if we check out of here with a cart full. We'll have to find a gun shop tomorrow.
I'll use my credentials to get past the waiting period."

She swallowed heavily. "Ok."

After an awkward silence, he crossed his arms over his chest. "I'm assuming you didn't search
every aisle in the grocery store, looking for teriyaki sauce, for nothing. I don't suppose you're
going to make us something special for dinner?"

"Well, I have been told I make the best teriyaki chicken in the country."

"Is that so?"

The light teasing tone of his voice finally coaxed the smile to her lips. "Yes, that's so...but I don't
have any pine nuts. They really make the dish."

"I think we can suffer through it."

"All right."

"And maybe even a bottle of wine to go with it?"

"To drown my sorrows?"

He cocked his head and smiled. "Something like that."

"If you dish us up some killer ice cream for dessert, you've got yourself a deal."

~~~~~~~~~~

Alex walked back to the garage, disguise forgotten in heap in his apartment, carrying a plastic
garbage bag full of his clothes. Audrey had the car idling in the driveway, the trunk open, parked
in front of the open garage door. She was just pulling the stained drop cloth aside when he neared
the car.

"I figured you'd be asking to borrow the car anyway."

He gave her a slight smirk and it was obvious by her nod that she understood his expression of
thanks. Alex glanced back at the cement floor of the garage, and the now exposed wooden door
flush with the surface. As Audrey pulled on the rope handle and the door opened, light spilled into
the tiny room below...illuminating the stock he'd been accumulating for months.

Crate after crate of weapons, ammunition, and enough explosives to take out half the city.

"You do realize if you get pulled over with this stuff in my car, I'm telling them you stole the
Buick?" Audrey asked.

He couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, I know."

Stepping down the short ladder, he reached for the first crate and began hefting it up to her.
About twenty minutes later, the car was packed. Empty crates littered the lawn, and Alex was
using an old blanket to cover the rifles in the back seat. Picking up her cat, Audrey cuddled the
orange fur ball to her chest, causing it to purr louder than a lawn mower.

Satisfied that everything was well hidden, Alex turned around and met her woeful gaze.

"Are you gonna say good bye, or not?"

She turned up her nose and blinked rapidly. "Of course not. And I'm not giving you this car for
free, either."

He cursed under his breath. He'd known this was coming. Yet another one of her favors. He
could only guess what it would be this time.

"You and I both know I'm not leaving here," she continued. "This is my house and no one--or
thing--is going to drive me out of it. That being said, I'm not entirely cruel..."

"What do you want, Audrey?"

Before he could guess what she was up to, she plopped the cat down in his hands.

"I want you to take Cheeser with you."

"No way." He started to push the cat back towards her, only to have Audrey push back just as
hard. Caught in the middle, Cheeser let out a low growl. "Damn it, I'm not taking your cat."

"She won't bother you. She likes you. And I want her to have a good chance. She's not old, like
me."

"Neither are you, now take--"

Audrey was already walking away. "She's your cat now, Alex. You better remember to stop and
let her out every once in a while, or she'll pee in the car."

"I'm not taking her--Audrey!"

He glared down at the cat, its chubby body hanging from his grip, tempted to drop-kick it back
into yard. Undaunted, Cheeser stared right back at him with big golden eyes and purred.

"Son of a bitch."

~~~~~~~~~~

Taking a sip of wine from her plastic cup, Sabryn watched her brother place his last card on the
coffee table and raise his hands in triumph.

"I'm out!"

"You cheater."

He stuck his tongue out at her as Caroline gathered up the cards from the pile. Grumbling under
her breath, Jolie counted her remaining cards, and promptly got ready to play again.

"I think it's time we went to bed," John announced.

"Aw, Dad..."

"Go, Jolie. It's almost midnight. I think you've played enough Uno for one night."

"I'll be up in a little bit," Sabryn told her as Jolie headed for the ladder.

After returning from the shopping expedition, she'd begun making her way around the kitchen,
getting dinner started, becoming acquainted with the layout. Unlike the rest of the house, the
kitchen was surprisingly modern. Yet, to save gas, she'd chosen to use the wood stove to cook
over instead of the range. It had been an experience she'd sooner forget.

The beds were all made, thanks to Carly and the kids. The sheets had been removed from the
plush couches, revealing an inviting plaid fabric. Sitting on the floor between the couch and the
coffee table, Sabryn leaned back and watched the flickering fire. The stock in the wood shed
would last them quite a while, but there was no telling just how long they'd be here. Or if they'd
ever leave alive.

She blinked away the thought, attempting to smile as John pulled his wife to her feet. Dressed in
his fuzzy blue pajamas, the ones that covered his feet, Chris padded after his parents into their
room.

"Good night," Carly called, from the doorway.

"Night."

Glancing back at Walter, where he sat on the couch behind her, Sabryn gave him an
apprehensive smile. It was easy to forget the situation and pretend everything was fine in the
presence of her family. The kids didn't know what was happening, and their innocent enthusiasm
was contagious. But all alone, with the one man who understood what was to come better than
any of them...she was defenseless.

The wine was creating a warm pool in the pit of her stomach, but even that didn't stop her
shivers.

Licking her lips, she met his steady gaze. "Don't you ever get afraid, knowing what's coming?"

"I've had a lot longer to process this than you have."

She lowered her gaze.

"Yes, Sabryn. I'm afraid of what's coming. Anyone would be a fool not to be."

"I don't know whether to sob like a baby or laugh my ass off. The whole thing is so absurd. I
keep wishing it was all a big hoax."

"I've lost too many nights of sleep worrying about this. All we can do is be prepared."

"You make it sound so simple."

"It is simple. Either we lay down and die or we fight. Either way, we can't predict the future."

Climbing to her feet, she sat down on the couch beside him and pulled the blanket off the arm
rest to drape across her lap. Curling up her feet, she rested her head against the back of the
couch.

"Have you ever made a list of things you wanted to do before you died?"

He was silent for a moment, staring at the flames. "No. Not exactly. But I think I would have
liked to go snorkeling in the Caribbean."

Sabryn smiled. "That sounds nice. I always wanted to go sky diving. And visit Italy. I'd once
dreamed I might go there for my honeymoon...but I guess I can forget that now."

He turned to look at her, obviously noting the change in her tone. His own voice softened in
response. "Did you want children?"

"I didn't used to. But when Jolie and Chris were born, and I got to help take care of them, I fell
in love with them." She tried not to imagine what her own children would have been like. The
very thought made her eyes sting. "What about you?"

"Me? No. I mean, I guess I would have liked to at one time...but Sharon and I were too
immature. We couldn't even take care of a marriage, let alone a child."

They sat in silence for a moment, before he hastily stood up. "Now that everyone is asleep, I
think it's time we break out the good ice cream."

She grinned at him as he walked away, but was suddenly grateful for his departure. Wiping errant
tears from her eyes, she took a deep breath and fought down the sadness. He was right, she
knew. She couldn't surrender to despair. Not now. Not when everyone was depending on her.
They needed each other. They were all they had left.

Sitting up straighter, she moved her feet as he returned and sat down. The two pint-sized cartons
he held made her mouth water.

"Ooh, Ben and Jerry's. You weren't kidding about the good stuff."

"I thought we'd save this for emergencies."

She couldn't help but smirk as she took a spoon from him and pried open the lid. Since the
refrigerator needed electricity to remain cold, it was useless to them. So, instead, they kept the ice
cream and milk in a Styrofoam carton outside. Judging by the ice crystals melting under her
fingers, it was plenty cold out there.

Digging her spoon into the rich chocolate and marshmallow, she took a bite and moaned.
"Mmmmm."

Walter chuckled softly, opening his own container. "Well, I guess I was smart in picking out
Phish Food."

"This is one of my favorites." She stared over at his carton with wide eyes. "I've never seen that
one before. Is that new?"

"A limited edition."

She looked up to meet his gaze and blushed at the way he was staring at her. She could only
imagine what she looked like, coveting his ice cream.

"Would you like a bite?" he asked.

She nodded. As he handed over his carton, she set hers in her lap. Digging her spoon into the
frozen cream, she tugged hard to get her bite out, only to have the chunk go sailing through the
air and land in front of the fire.

And she laughed so suddenly that she snorted.

Covering her mouth with her hand, she closed her eyes and giggled even harder. She could feel
her face turning redder with every passing second. When she finally pulled her hand away and
dared to open her eyes, she was so close to him she gasped.

She didn't know whether she had moved, or if it had been him...or maybe both. Whatever the
case, his smiling face was right next to hers. His light after shave filling her lungs. The warmth of
his brown eyes almost twinkling at her. And when he leaned closer and touched his lips to hers,
she didn't pull away.

Heart pounding, fingers clenching around the ice cream carton, she shyly opened her mouth to
his. Some odd little impulse she was too tired to fight. Softly, he brushed her lips with his own,
the lightest whisper of moist contact, before a gentle tug at her lower lip. And then he pulled
away, after mere seconds, and the carton fell out of her hands to roll across the floor, causing
them both to start.

Walter reached forward to retrieve it, and she flinched. He glanced up at her, his smile suddenly
gone.

"I'm sorry, I shouldn't have done that."

She wanted to agree with him, to say they were both wrong, but the words didn't leave her lips.
Was it really so inappropriate? It wasn't as if she belonged to anyone. She'd likely never see Alex
again, and there was a very good chance that she could be dead within a month. Why not take
what he offered while she could?

Still, as he grabbed the carton and stood, she didn't stop him. She felt awkward enough as it was.

"I should go to bed. I think I've had enough wine and indulgence for one night."

She nodded silently.

"Did you want me to leave this here for you?" he asked, holding up the carton.

Pushing her own lid back into place, she handed him her carton as well. "No, I'm not hungry
anymore."

He turned to go, but paused with his back to her. "Nothing happened, Sabryn. And I won't
mention it again if you don't want me to."

Sinking down against the cushions, she squeezed her eyes shut. "Thank you."

She didn't hear him walk away or return to go to his bedroom, but several long minutes later,
when she was able to open her eyes without cringing, she was alone. The generator no longer
powered the lights, and only the soft glow of the fire remained.

On shaky legs, she made her way to the ladder and climbed up to her bed. Slipping between ice
cold sheets, watching her niece sleep undisturbed.

Once exhausted and dead on her feet, Sabryn could only stare up at the ceiling with alert
eyes...touching her fingertips to her quivering lips.

END (2/2).
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