Nick looked out the window at the small town the bus was passing through. "Kansas," he said to himself. "Not a bad place, nice country." He stretched out some in his seat and looked at the people around him. Not too many odd ones. He laughed at himself, internally. Like I'm so normal. I'm carrying around a lethal dose of poison in me just waiting to act. He closed his eyes and listened to the beating of his heart getting just a little bit more erratic. Any day now. He looked up at the person who was standing at the end of his seats. Shit. I'll kill Deke for tracking me.
He made room for Matt Sheppard to sit down.
The quiet was dangerous enough to send the nearest people looking for other seats.
They made it all the way to the state's border before saying another word.
"Nick, we have to talk."
"S'cuse me, gotta go." He stood up and headed back to the bathroom. He locked himself in, leaning his back against the door. Damn that man. Oh, well, let's make the best of this. I can't crawl out the window, it's too small and the bus is on the interstate. Nowhere to run. Next stop is in an hour, but it's in a small town. Next city is in three hours, I could get lost there, but he's a trained tracker and where ever the Major is, his bloodhound isn't far behind. And I so do not want to see Benny Ray Riddle right now. Nick quickly relieved himself, using one of the moist towelettes to clean up. He went back to his seat, the man standing in the aisle giving him no other choice. He sat down, catching a glimpse of Matt's gun. "So, you gonna drag me back or shoot me?" he asked quietly once the other man had sat.
"Neither. Just some friendly persuasion." He smiled, slightly. "But then, that's always been your game, hasn't it." He shifted closer. "I can't go back and tell Margo that I couldn't get you to come, she'll kill me."
Nick laughed. "Yeah, I know she would. Better try hard then, she'll go easier on you." He leaned back, letting his head fall against the window. "Won't work, but you can try. I hate to travel alone anyway."
Matt shook his head and pulled out his wallet, handing it over. "Pictures?"
Nick nodded and took them, remembering all the good times they had had as a team. Even though he knew exactly what Matt was trying to do.
Matt looked around the diner he had ëpersuaded' Nick to join him in. The grease on the walls was at least an inch thick and the tables were almost clean. He couldn't see the cook, but he was sure he wasn't any better kept than the building. He ordered coffee and stared in amazement as Nick ordered food. "You're kidding," he hissed as the waitress left. "You're going to eat food from a place that looks like this?"
"Yeah, well, if it kills me, oh well." He shrugged and sat back, curling up in the seat. He felt the poison working now, he was starting to get cold in seventy degree weather in jeans and a sweatshirt.
"You don't look so good," Matt said, sitting back so the waitress could pour coffee. "Feeling okay?"
"Yup, peachy." He looked up and smiled, watching as the waitress batted her overly made up lashes.
Matt sat back, watching the youngest member of his team flirt with a woman he didn't know. When she finally left, after a long pout when she found out he was leaving in a few hours, he just shook his head. "I didn't think your... attentions ran that way."
Nick paled some, but didn't say anything.
"Before you ask, no one told me. I was actually smart enough to figure it out a long time ago." He took a sip of his coffee and grimaced at the bitter taste. He picked up the sugar shaker and poured a good amount in. "I also know it wasn't me, so that leaves only one person."
"Drop it, Major. I'm not a member of the team anymore so it's not your concern."
Matt almost laughed. He came very close to opening his mouth and letting it out, but held it back just enough. When he finally got calmed down, he was shaking in relief. "I never saw a letter of resignation."
Nick reached over, grabbing the pen off the returning waitress. He took one of the paper napkins and wrote, "I quit, Nick," on it. He handed back the pen with a smile as he handed over the napkin. He took a big bite of his greasy cheeseburger and hmmed for her so she would go away. Tastes like shit, but I want her to go. Innocents should be far away right now. Besides I wouldn't give him the pleasure of knowing he was right; I've eaten worse.
Matt sat staring at the napkin. He didn't look up, not to the side, not even at the person who suddenly joined them. He didn't look up when that someone slipped a few knockout drops into Nick's coffee or when he fell over. He didn't really look up until they were all in the van together. Then he just looked at CJ and Chance, the two men who he could count on to get his team back together.
Nick awoke, again, in his own bed. He looked around, noticing the handcuffs and the velcro strap running around his chest. He looked around the room, looking for his former teammates. Nobody.
I'm really getting tired of this. He stopped and listened to his heart, hearing the beat get more erratic. Gotta get out of here. He managed to undo the strap and wiggle around enough to grab the emergency keys out of the hiding place on one of the bedposts. Thank god for paranoid grandmothers. He undid his cuffs, wincing at the scratches they had caused in the antique wood. Oh, well, not my problem anymore.
Nick got dressed and left his apartment, stopping only long enough to raid his emergency stash of money. He was standing in the alley beside his house, wondering where he could go.
Back to where all this started.
He opened the door, sliding through it so no one would see him. He set the chain in place, throwing the cheap lock too, and sat down on the round bed. Just like the first time.
Nick laid back, his mind riddled with the poison, his memories becoming reality.
Margo pushing him onto the bed, Benny Ray scowling at him in that ëhulking caveman' way of his. Matt figuring it all out, having Margo confront him. Benny Ray getting mad enough to put his fist through something, preferably him. He laughed, remembering that expression, knowing he had earned it then and quite a few times since. Maybe I should have been straight with them from the beginning. "There's an expression to note: straight with them. Like that would happen." He laughed again, passing out this time into his dreams.
Benny Ray Riddle knocked on the door. He had known what was going
on, even though all his friends had tried to shield him from it.
They probably thought he would have gone ballistic and shot someone, but
he wasn't going to do that. He was going to save Nick's life though.
Nothing else mattered right now, only the precious life that was dripping
away inside that room.
When he hadn't gotten an answer, but a few glares from other rooms, he squatted down, pulling out the lock gun. He quickly undid the lock, opening the door slowly, prepared for anything. Except the chain.
He stood up and lifted up a foot, kicking in the last obstacle to his friend. He caught the door before it could bounce back and hit him, walking in and closing the injured wood as tightly as possible. Benny Ray flipped on the light and looked around, seeing the man on the bed. He hurried over, sitting beside Nick and trying to wake him up. Nothing, not even a grunt. He took out the syringe full of antidote and injected it slowly, just like he had been shown earlier. Thank god for Margo's ex's. He watched as Nick laughed and giggled at something only he could see, his eyes partially open, and got mad.
He began to shake the younger man, brutally administering a wake up call even he couldn't ignore. "How could you do this to me, to us! You didn't even give me a chance! How could you! You judged me as some bigoted red-neck without giving me a chance to show you I wasn't! Why are you doing this to us!" He tried to hold back the anger, but it came crashing down around him, blinding him to the outside world. "How? Answer me Nick, how could you do this to me? Huh? Answer! Me!" He gave one last brutal shake and let him go. Then Benny Ray did something he had sworn he would never do again as a ten year old.
Deke and Margo watched as Benny Ray and Matt loaded Nick into the van. They got in the car and followed it back to the bunker under the bar, each praying in their own way that the young man they considered a brother would be all right. They made it back in record time, carrying him in the back way so no one upstairs would know.
Benny Ray sat beside the bunk, on the floor, not moving. No matter what anyone did or said, he refused to move. He would wait here for Nick to wake up, because he had to.
Nick moaned and Benny Ray spit out the water Margo had forced him to start drinking. He sat up straighter, looking around to see if anyone else was around. Matt came in at the sound and went for the doctor who was helping them. They came back, Matt holding Benny Ray forcefully away while the doctor checked over Nick.
Matt let him go, watching as he sat down on the bedside, wiping away the last traces of sweat from where Nick's fever had broken. "Is he going to be all right?" Benny Ray asked quietly.
"His fever's broken and he's returning to consciousness. He should be fine unless he's got some sort of injury we don't know about, or some other effect that the poison had." He patted Benny Ray's shoulder. "He should be fine, that's what's important. Take good care of him young man." The doctor turned back to Matt. "I think you can handle it from here, but you have my numbers if you need me?"
Matt nodded and showed him out. He knew he could leave them alone now.
Benny Ray waited patiently for some sign that Nick was almost awake. When he heard another groan and saw the younger man's body shift away from him, he leaned down. "I don't know if I should hug you or beat your ass for this," he whispered.
Nick opened an eye. "Ah, hell. Went the wrong way."
Benny Ray cuffed him, then leaned down and decided a hug was better incentive to heal.
It had been a hard few months, but they had gotten through it together. All the healing, the learning about who Nick really was. The team had gone through a lot over this, and they had gone through even more. Benny Ray had learned many new reasons to love Nick, including his mind that he had kept carefully hidden behind his humor. Nick had learned to trust them all, especially his new partner. Matt had given them each other as a one month anniversary present for a mission and it had stuck ever since. It had been the most special day of their lives, culminating in their first kiss.
Now, Benny Ray was moving some of his stuff in so he could spend some weekends over. They were going to take it slow, but he kept forgetting to bring his gear. So, Nick had gifted him with a key on their four month anniversary.
Benny Ray was moving aside the socks in Nick's drawer to make room for his. He came across a filo-fax and frowned. "I thought you got rid of this," he yelled.
Nick walked into the room and handed over the bottle of cold water. "Well I was gonna, but you never know when something's gonna happen." He winked and went down to Benny Ray's truck to carry up the next box.
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