Notes: written for thisissirius. Thanks to my betas girly_curl_3 and lavvyan - this story is so much better because of their input and they both took time from their busy schedules to work quickly for me. Any remaining errors are mine.
Summary: Emmett didn't mind much working with government people. They usually had a good idea of what they wanted to know or had a specific problem they needed help with. But the guy was late...
Meeting Betty... an informal introduction
Emmett hated consulting jobs generally – sitting, wasting valuable research time, his mind going numb while people asked the most asinine questions. It was true, what most people didn't know about snakes could fill volumes, and there was always the obligatory what's a nice guy like you doing in a place like this? Still, it helped pay the bills and offered needed income and research possibilities – and it was infinitely better than public tours. Of course, if things didn't start happening with the research, if more grant money didn't start flowing his way, Emmett might have to stop turning his nose up at the prospect of groups of loud, obnoxious, sticky-fingered kids and their inattentive parents traipsing through his beloved Reserve.
The job today was a consultation with the National Security Agency. Emmett paced and checked his watch – the guy was late. Emmett didn't mind much working with government people. They usually had a good idea of what they wanted to know or had a specific problem they needed help with. But the guy was late, and he had a good bit of work to do, data to catalog. Not being one to waste time, he settled down in one of the conference rooms with his laptop and research and began working.
Truth be told, he was kind of looking forward to the consultation. Emmett did love his snakes, but Monica's extended visit had shown him his need to commune with other humans on a more regular basis. This meeting would be his first in three months. Three months without seeing anyone except for locals on trips into town for groceries and whatnot and the occasional beer with old man Darnell and a few of the guys at The Hunt Club and, of course, Spencer. Spencer was the only person he saw on a regular basis. A local kid hired to help out, he fed the reptiles and did general cleaning around the Reserve.
After that unpleasantness in Pennsylvania with Broddick, Monica Bonds had graciously agreed to leave her dolphins for a while to work with Emmett on some land-based research involving the civilian and military application of a search and rescue operation utilizing her tracking system. The program would employ reticulated robotic snakes sent into collapsed buildings and other venues where it was too dangerous to deploy human rescue workers. Monica had assured him the project was a promising one, but in the end, she missed her dolphins, her own lab, her own research and, Emmett guessed, other people. She had returned to Miami six months ago.
When the door buzzer finally sounded, Emmett realized he'd been at it for over an hour. He saved his work, closed the laptop and headed for the front door. Damn, if the consultation turned out to be something major, he was going to be at it all night. Wishing he hadn't let Spencer leave early, Emmett resigned himself to the possibility of having to excuse himself in the middle of the meeting to do the feedings. He crossed the foyer of the Longreen Snake Reserve prepared to meet a middle-aged man, a smoker probably, wearing an out-of-date suit, and one that was a size or two too small at that. All those government agents seemed to be pressed from the same mold.
Now, on crisp, sunny Spring days in Elkins, no one anticipated life-changing events to appear on the other side of innocuous doors, but what Emmett found when he opened his would literally do just that. He found himself face to face with a young, attractive woman with wide, dark eyes and a man so far from what he'd expected, Emmett forgot his manners altogether. The man was young, tall, dark hair, and—
"Doctor Emmett? Agent Brendan Dean, National Security Agency." The man stuck out his hand and Emmett shook it absently.
—a very nice suit, navy blue, and it fit – oh God, did it fit—
Emmett finally found his voice. "Agent Dean. Nice to meet you."
—and the most amazing eyes.
The man turned to the young woman. "Doctor Emmett, this is my partner, Freya McCallister." She extended her hand and Emmett shook it as well. She had a very lovely smile.
"Ms. McCallister." He smiled back and stood aside. "Please. Come in—you're, uh, late."
Dean ran his hand over the back of his neck. "Yeah, sorry about that, but we had to actually find nowhere before we could get to the middle of it."
Emmett snorted. "Yes, you probably didn't know this much green space existed. We are fairly isolated out here. Actually, Elkins is the Randolph County Seat."
"Really?" Brendan asked and Emmett noted a light sarcastic edge to his voice and the barest curl of his lip.
"Oh yeah. The population of Elkins is up to 7,500 now." Emmett grinned. "Admittedly, not very convenient for humans, but a great place for snakes." He grinned again as the young woman's eyes darted around and she moved a little closer to Dean. "Well, I'm sure you want to get started. We can go to one of the conference rooms," Emmett gestured to a nearby hallway. "Right this way."
Emmett led them down the hall and into a smaller, more private conference room across from the one he'd been working in. The visitors took seats and Emmett retrieved three bottled waters from a mini fridge in the corner. He placed two bottles on the table, and kept one, twisting the cap as he sat down. "Agent Dean, Agent McCallister, how can I help you?"
Dean immediately took a sheaf of photos from his briefcase and handed them to Emmett. Emmett's face was impassive as he flipped through the pictures. "Wow, that's nasty."
Brendan arranged another group of photos on the table. They showed four more individuals. "My God," Emmett breathed, looking up at Dean. "What—"
"Government witnesses," he answered.
"All killed by snake bites? Isn't that an odd—"
"It's an odd case, doc." He glanced at Freya. "I can't go into detail, but what we're looking at here is the possible elimination of a case the NSA has worked for over two years to put together.
"All these witnesses for the same case?"
"Yes, the remaining ones are now under government protection."
Emmett looked up from the photographs, first to Brendan then to Freya. "So, you want the species identified?" Emmett asked.
"Well, we'd like to know what we're dealing with, but it's not going to help these people," Brendan stated matter-of-factly. "It's the venom we're most interested in—produces almost instant death. Even our experts say that each of these people should have survived long enough to get help. Notice the amount of necrosis around the bites."
"Yes, well, that's somewhat normal. You don't get it with all bites, of course, but this does seem excessive—you say death almost instantly—how long are we talking?"
"What would you guess?" Emmett noticed a little smirk. Was Dean testing him?
"That's why the identity of the species is important, Agent Dean." Emmett leaned back in his chair, settling in to his element. "You see, there's a vast misconception as to the most deadly snakes and the most dangerous snakes. In reality, those two designations are entirely different. The most deadly—the ones with the most toxic bites—stay mostly hidden, they avoid humans and rarely bite. The most dangerous snakes are the more aggressive ones—mistakenly considered—
"I'm not here to argue semantics with you, doc," Brendan cut him off, his expression tight. "I'm here to try and make sure this doesn't happen again." He placed his finger in the center of a photograph of what once was, Emmett thought, a lovely young woman.
Emmett glanced at Agent McCallister, who lowered her eyes, then back at Dean. What an ass – okay, a goddamn gorgeous ass – but Jesus! What had he said to turn the meeting confrontational? Emmett looked at the photograph again and decided it didn't matter, Dean was right, of course. "Okay, the cobra family of venoms produce a neurotoxic effect, which basically paralyzes the victim who eventually dies of suffocation if not given antivenom treatment, but even then we're talking hours for the paralysis to finally shut down organ function and respiration. On the other hand, the venom of vipers has a haemotoxic effect, causing internal bleeding and blood loss from bodily orifices. But again, in a populated area where help is readily available, the victim has time to get treatment." He picked up one of the photos. "Judging from the amount of damage shown here and considering a highly toxic venom, I would still have to say hours, and that's if the victims were alone with absolutely no help."
"According to witnesses and our officers, this damage and death occurred within a fifteen to twenty minute window."
Emmett looked up from the photographs. "That's not possible. Even the bite of the Oxyuranus microlepidodtus, the uhm... Inland Taipan takes longer than that. The amount of venom in one bite from this snake is sufficient to kill one hundred human adults—but they're an extremely reclusive species, not to mention virtually unknown outside of Australia. How were these people—"
Brendan glanced at Freya. "Is it possible to bring one of these Taipan snakes into the United States?"
It was Emmett's turn to smirk. "Agent Dean. I've seen an eighty-foot python smuggled into the country for sport—anything's possible, especially if we're talking about criminals."
"Is it possible then," Dean asked, "This could be some sort of a super snake, genetically engineered somehow, to create a more deadly venom?"
Emmett's nose wrinkled. "Again, I suppose it's possible, but—I assume the bodies were checked thoroughly during autopsy?"
"What are you suggesting?" Dean asked.
"Injection sites." Emmett waved his hand in the air. "I'm just thinking out loud here... obviously, the killer or killers are using actual snakes, but it's also possible they're injecting the victim with venom or a combination of venoms. That might account for the almost-instant death. For example, any of the neurotoxic venoms will affect neuromuscular function—if you gave a person three or four times the amount of one bite in a single go, they'd be incapacitated almost immediately, unable to call for help."
"The bodies were clean other than the bites, doc." Dean regarded him coolly.
"I see." Emmett studied the photographs. "Hmm, I keep going back to the wounds," he leaned forward and looked up at Dean. "That could be your injection site—the damage to the tissue would obliterate any needle marks." Dean's eyes widened a bit. "Have you got the tox and autopsy reports there? I realize your experts have been over them, but if you wouldn't mind—"
"No, not at all." Dean fished through the briefcase and handed Emmett a thick file.
"Okay, this is going to take some time. What exactly is it the NSA wants from me, Agent Dean?"
"Like I said, we need something to combat this. If by some chance the perpetrators are able to get to any of the remaining witnesses, we need a fighting chance. The polyvalent antivenin used on the last victim didn't make a dent." Emmett's ears pricked up and he regarded Dean with a bit more interest, if that were possible. "We know you're working on some sort of universal antivenom, is it—"
"I've made decent strides, yes, but I'm not there yet," he looked over to Freya. "Nobody is."
"At this point, Doctor Emmett, we'll take any help we can get," she said.
"And your name was given to us as the most likely person to make that happen," Dean added.
"Yes, well, this is obviously going to take a little longer than I expected," he mused, flipping through the reports.
Dean closed the briefcase and stood up. "All right then, we'll head back to town, find a place to stay and come back tomorrow. How's that?" he asked.
Emmett looked at his watch. "Oh, if you're looking for a place to stay, the Tunnel Mountain Bed and Breakfast is a little nicer than the local Holiday Inn. It's off old Route 33." The agents turned to leave. Suddenly, that need for human connection squirmed inside him, and as bristly as the man was, Emmett didn't think he'd mind spending a little more time in Agent Dean's company. "Listen, why don't you stay for dinner before going back into town? I can cook and then go over those—"
"You live here?" Freya asked.
"Yes. Out back of the Reserve," Emmett replied, walking them to the door. "It used to be an old tobacco barn. I've been working on it over the years, making it livable and if I do say so, I'm a pretty fair cook, not to mention a scintillating conversationalist." His grin was wide. "Believe it or not, I can talk about other things besides snakes."
Brendan looked at Freya, who smiled. Dean shrugged. "Sure, we'd like that."
Walking into the house was like stepping through a time portal – into the future. In contrast to the rustic exterior, the furnishings were modern, lots of leather and metal, with a stainless steel circular stairway leading to the floor above. What should have seemed cold and hard was mellowed by the honey-colored pine floors that shone like glass – the lazy late-afternoon sun ricocheting off them in all different directions around the enormous open space, planting warm points of light everywhere they came to rest. Emmett's definition of "working on" was modest, at best.
Freya cast a nervous glance at Emmett. He stepped up and put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry, I don't keep snakes in the house," he said, walking on ahead of them. "You two can make yourselves comfortable and I'll start dinner. I've, uhm, got beer and possibly iced tea in the fridge," Emmett called over his shoulder. Freya followed him and staked out a place at the oversized work island/bar that separated the kitchen from the formal dining area.
Brendan plucked a beer from the refrigerator and waved it at Freya. She shook her head. "Oh, there's bottled water, too, if you prefer," Emmett said, lifting a huge grill pan from the pot rack above their heads.
"Would you like some help Doctor Emmett?" Freya asked.
"Please, just Emmett," he said, smiling. "And yes, I'd love some help."
Dean twisted the cap off his beer. "Just watch your thoughts, there doc," he said before taking a long pull from the bottle.
Emmett looked puzzled. "Don't mind him." Freya shot a look at Dean. "He thinks I'm telepathic, thinks I can hear his thoughts."
Emmett considered that for a moment, trying to decide if it was an inside joke or the real thing. "Oh?" he said, "did you know that snakes are believed to communicate telepathically?
"Really?" Freya asked. She took the bunch of asparagus and the colander Emmett handed her to the sink.
"Hmm, yes, especially the larger constrictors like Betty."
"His Scarlet Queen Boa," Dean answered. He had walked to the living area and was looking out a virtual wall of glass at the verdant expanse surrounding the Reserve. "Jeez, doc, you've got one hell of a view here."
"Yeah, I guess so," Emmett said. "As I said, we're pretty well isolated. It's very quiet—at least until the tree frogs and other critters start their nightly serenade."
Brendan stretched. "Well, I'd gladly trade crappy air, noise and rush hour for a little of this isolation now and then."
Emmett watched him take another long pull on his beer. Dean had taken his jacket off and draped it over the back of the leather couch. His body was a silhouette against the sunlight pouring in from the windows and his words rang true – that was one hell of a view – one Emmett could easily get used to.
Over dinner - grilled pork medallions, garlic mashed potatoes and asparagus Almandine - the talk eventually turned back to Betty and Emmett wanted to know how Dean knew about her and his research – thinking it odd that a government agent from New York would have any interest in that.
"Friend of mine at the FBI mentioned that incident in Philadelphia what, about a year ago?" Dean said casually.
How could he forget? He'd almost lost Betty. Emmett supposed that kind of news would travel around in law enforcement circles. "Well, really Betty is what the Reserve is all about. I raised her here specifically for my research in finding a universal antivenom to make the identification of poisonous snakes obsolete—one antidote for any bite from any snake. That and the development of a distribution system that would make it readily available to the areas where it's needed the most—not just the areas that can afford it. Betty's the most promising research out there."
"Didn't I hear something about her having babies?" Dean asked. He sipped his red wine and made a face.
Emmett was surprised at how much Dean seemed to know. Of course, a good agent would do his homework. He got up to get Brendan another beer. "Yes, the Scarlet Queen is the only known species of boa to lay eggs, and Betty is the largest known constrictor to have done so."
"I'd say she was the largest known constrictor, period, doc." Dean was ginning at him as he walked back to the table.
"Right. We were able to save four from her nest. The young were shipped to various parts of the world. There are others mirroring my research," he explained. He set the beer down in front of Brendan with a little wink. Taking his wine glass away, he set it on the bar before continuing. "One of the specimens went to Russia to revive a defunct research program there."
Freya had been mostly quiet during their conversation. Emmett had noticed her watching them and he again considered Dean's warning about schooling his thoughts. Curiosity getting the better of him, he turned to look at her and concentrated. "Telepathy, huh? So you can tell what I'm thinking?"
Freya's eyes widened and shot to Emmett's.
"Oh yeah," Brendan said, "the Larsen Project. My buddy told me a little—"
She nodded slowly, trying not to make it look like a nod, Emmett thought. "How—how long have you been able—you can really hear me?"
Emmett gave her a nod of his own, barely perceptible as he picked up his wine glass. "Since I was a teenager."
She curled her hair behind her ear and found the table very interesting. "Do you—did you have a hard time, you know hearing—so much?"
"I was a little freaked out at first, but I never really tried to develop it or hone it. Later on, my studies and research helped me to focus. It got to where I could tune it out if I wanted. Spending most of my adult life in laboratories and being out here—well, there's not a lot to hear. I have to concentrate now to be able to do it."
"You're lucky." She raised her head and looked at him again.
Emmett sipped his wine and nodded.
"What you said before, about snakes—do you communicate with your snakes?"
He looked down at his plate and speared a piece of asparagus with his fork. "Yes, Betty mostly. I don't advertise that, by the way. The US government pays pretty well and I'd like to stay on their payroll if possible."
She smiled. "Well, they recruited me."
"So you use your 'talents' in your work for the NSA?"
Freya nodded, which caused Brendan to continue his monologue. "—CIA project all about—"
Emmett cut his eyes at Brendan. "How long have you worked with Dean?"
"Almost two years, now."
It was Emmett's turn to smile. "Just friends, or is there anything…"
"No, just friends and colleagues. You like him." It wasn't a question.
Emmett smiled and felt his face flush a little. "Is he straight, or—"
Freya glanced quickly at Brendan. "Let's just say I don't think he's had much luck with women. He may look like he has it all together—and he does as far as his job is concerned. He's very good at what he does, but his personal life's a bit of a mess."
"Is he seeing anyone now?"
"Not that I know of." Her eyes sparkled. "He's quite impressed with you—"
"Oh, right, I could tell that during our consultation."
"No, really. That's just the way Brendan is sometimes. He always likes to have the upper hand, his own little way of psyching people out. I think—you just might be good for him."
"A little help then?"
Freya's smile was warm and genuine.
"—and, you know, not that he told me a whole lot about it, but it sounded like a damn good project and it's great they were able to get some new blood to continue it, right?" Brendan finished. Emmett and Freya just nodded politely
Emmett stood up. "If you'll both excuse me—I hate to be so rude, but I need to do the feedings. Make yourselves at home. I won't be long. Of course, you're welcome to join me—meet Betty?"
"No way," Freya said quickly. "No offense Emmett, just—no."
"None taken. Agent Dean?"
Emmett led Brendan through one of the labs to Betty's enclosure. After inserting the code, Emmett turned to him. "You're sure about this?"
"Are you kidding?" Dean replied. His eyes were wide, darting around the lab. It was such a boyish, awestruck look and it pulled at Emmett a little.
"Well, most people don't like snakes, especially eighty-foot ones."
"I've been fascinated by them since I was a kid. Spent a lot of summers on my grandparents' ranch. My grandfather taught me a lot about them—used to drive my Gran crazy bringing snakes in the house."
Emmett ginned at him. Cute and he liked snakes. What were the odds? Once the infrared was deactivated, Brendan walked right in. "She's hiding," Emmett said after they'd waited a bit. "Probably the strange smell, the different vibration of your voice. She'll come out when she's ready." He stood by the door and noted the hint of disappointment in Dean's face as he walked past, his little hesitation and the final look around before heading back out into the lab.
Emmett followed him out and busied himself with the feeding - placing mice in individual enclosures containing tan colored snakes with black and white scales. He could feel Dean watching him.
"How'd you get started in all this?" Dean asked.
"You know—good-looking guy like yourself—just wondering how you got interested in—snakes."
Emmett turned toward him and flashed a smile that drove Dean's gaze to the floor. "Well, I developed a love of science when I was very young, but actually, I lost someone very close to me to a snake bite. My younger sister. It happened when I was six years old. We were with our parents on a trip to South America. She was bitten in the night and before we could get her to someone who could help her—she died."
"Hey, listen, I'm—"
"No, no—just—that's what sparked my interest in snakes. I learned later if there'd been a universal antivenom available—we might not have lost her. Even though we could identify the species, the small village where we were staying didn't have the resources. We had to travel to another city that had a larger medical facility. All through my childhood, I swore I'd change that. So, when it came time to ponder the question 'what do I want to be when I grow up,' it just seemed kind of natural to put the two together." Emmett finished feeding the Hognose snakes and started on another row of enclosures. "So, if I may be so bold—I might ask why a handsome guy like you wanted to be a cop, not to mention work for the government."
Brendan snorted. "In hindsight, that's a damn good question. I come from a long line of public servants. My father and one of my uncles were cops—another two uncles were firemen. My grandfather on my mom's side was a politician, but I never had the stomach for that. Actually, I applied to the FBI first, but I—didn't pass one part of the entrance requirements. Never mind which one," he said, answering Emmett's questioning look. He walked over to a row of small glass enclosures. "A friend of mine mentioned the NSA and I went for it." He shrugged. He did that a lot Emmett noted, trying to ignore how endearing it was. "So why a Scarlet Queen Boa for your research?" he asked, tapping on the glass of one of the aquariums. He jumped when Emmett caught his wrist before he could do it again.
Dean whirled around, but Emmett didn't flinch. "They don't like that," Emmett said, his voice low, nodding toward the small glass enclosure, his eyes still locked with Dean's. "When you knock on the glass," he added, grazing his thumb over Brendan's wrist. An unbidden surge of desire shot through him to discover Brendan's pulse pounding. Of course, it could have just been the adrenaline from being startled. Emmett hoped not.
"Sorry," Brendan muttered, but he made no effort to move away. They stood that way until Emmett slid his hand into Dean's and gently tugged him closer – Brendan didn't resist. Emmett leaned forward, just a fraction, and halted – waiting for a signal from the man standing in front of him. A signal to continue or fuck the hell off.
Brendan squeezed his hand and cocked his head. It was all Emmett needed.
The sound of breaking glass and metal pinging shattered the silence. Emmett let go of Brendan and spun around. One of the Hognose snakes had gotten out of its enclosure and was slithering across the table, knocking beakers and other instruments onto the floor in its wake.
The almost-kiss forgotten, Emmett gently corralled the truant and lifted it back into its case, making sure to fasten the lid properly. "You can't give these guys an inch," he was saying. "They're almost like children—test you, see how much they can get away—" Emmett heard the movement, the dry slide of massive scales on the floor, caught just a glint of scarlet and black an instant before another loud crash—
He turned just in time to see Betty's tail and Brendan sliding down the back wall, shelving and glassware falling in on top of him. "Oh my God! Dean? Hang on—just stay calm and for Christ's sake, be still," he yelled, trying to stay calm himself as he rushed over to the crumpled body. "Whoa, whoa," he said grasping Dean's arm, "there's no need for that." Brendan had drawn his weapon. Emmett's hand was firm and he took the gun when he felt Dean's muscles slacken. "That's it—good." Brendan's face and hands were bleeding. "Uh, don't move, you're cut pretty bad. Stay right there," he said getting to his feet.
The first thing he had to do was placate Betty. Emmett stared at her. "That wasn't very nice at all. He's one of the good guys—he's not here to hurt us. Betty tilted her head and hissed, her tongue darted out to feel Emmett – an almost affectionate gesture. "Come on, back inside." He nodded and stepped forward to stroke her underbelly. She turned and slithered back to her enclosure. He double checked the locking mechanism, grabbed his first aid kit and hurried back to Dean, who'd managed to sit up.
Emmett bent down beside him and tore open the kit. "Didn't I tell you not to move? You want an ass full of shards—'cause I'm pretty sure I'm not up to picking glass out of your backside."
Dean barked out a laugh, then groaned and clutched his side.
"Hmm, I wouldn't be surprised at a few cracked ribs, there. Anything else hurt?"
"Yep," Dean replied, his face twisting. "My leg hurts like a sonuvabitch." Emmett looked down and noted the odd position.
"Yeah, may be broken," he told Dean.
"Jesus, Emmett, do all your guests get the same treatment? You seem pretty glib about all this."
He ripped open a sterile pad and took a large pair of tweezers from the kit. "Christ, Dean, I'm sorry. I'm just used to—I wish I could say it's never happened before," he said with some embarrassment, "I mean not with Betty, but—"
"You should keep a better lock on that thing," Dean said, still clearly agitated.
Emmett frowned a little — he hoped that thing referred to the enclosure. He cupped Brendan's chin. "Let's see about getting this glass out," Emmett said softly as he set about pulling the tiny shards from Dean's face and hair. "And yes, you're right—I really should be more careful. I suppose I expect Betty to behave when I'm around, even though she can be a teeny bit possessive."
"A teeny bit?"
Emmett grinned and shrugged. "Well, okay, very possessive—maybe even a little jealous. She didn't mean you any real harm, you know?" He'd extracted all the glass from Dean's face and began to clean the wounds, wiping the sterile pad gently over the pierced skin. He winced a little as Brendan hissed. Emmett took hold of his hands to check them for glass and wiped them as well. "If she'd wanted to harm you—well, you probably wouldn't be sitting here." He stared at Dean. God, that man had beautiful eyes.
"Well," Emmett said at last, "let's see if we can get you up." He noticed Dean grinning madly. "Off the floor," Emmett added, his face reddening and okay, Brendan had succeeded in flustering him – bastard. He reached around Dean's back, mindful of his ribs, and gently lifted him. Brendan tried to bite back a groan as his leg crumpled beneath him, but failed.
"Shit, I can't put any weight on it at—"
They both turned to the door as Freya burst in. "Emmett? Brendan, oh my God! I heard Emm—I heard—" she looked at Emmett.
"Call 911, Freya. There's a phone on that wall there." He gingerly lowered Dean into a chair. "I need to find something to make a splint—keep that leg stable".
"That's not necessary, doc," Dean said, "I'll wait." But Emmett saw that his face was crimped.
"Oh, tough guy, huh? Suit yourself, but even if Freya had called ten minutes ago, you know how long—"
"Then drive me yourself. I'll be okay, really. Just—just hurry the fuck up."
Emmett turned to Freya. "Help me?"
It was a slow rise to consciousness, like an underwater ascension, only with the surface slipping further and further away rather than coming closer, and when Brendan finally got there, he blinked. The bright, stark light stung his eyes, his head was stuffed with cotton and – cold. Wherever he was, it was very cold and very bright. He squinted at his right leg that lay there on the bed, an autonomous entity encased in plaster – green plaster. He looked around – oh yeah, hospital.
Movement to his left drew his attention. It was Emmett. Jesus, he looked like he'd been up all night, but he was still one damn handsome man. "Doc?"
"Hey," Emmett said. "I was almost off—thought you were going to sleep all day."
"How long have I—"
Emmett glanced at his watch. "It's almost 10:00." Dean noticed that Emmett wore the same clothes from the night before, could see the bloodstains on Emmett's shirt—his blood.
"No, no. I mean, I did for a while—to make sure you were okay. I felt responsible, you know?
Brendan waved him off, but couldn't help noticing the color rising in Emmett's cheeks, not to mention the funny feeling in the pit of his own stomach.
"Then Freya and I went back to the Reserve." He pulled at his tee shirt. "I just haven't changed—I worked all night on those tox reports."
God, the evening had gone so well – to a point. Brendan had almost forgotten why they were there.
"I think I've come up with something that might be of help," Emmett added. He was pushing the tray table over to the bed.
"Good, that's good," Brendan said, "And Freya?"
"She stayed at the house—I didn't want her going back to town so late alone. She's gone now to meet someone at the airport. An Agent Harper—I think."
Brendan eyed the table and the plastic basin sitting on it. "Yeah, he's our boss. What are—what's that for?"
"Oh, the nurse stopped by earlier. You were asleep, so I offered to give you your bath later." One corner of Emmett's mouth curved upward, tickling Brendan's funny feeling. "Told her I was a relative," he said in answer to Brendan's raised eyebrows. "Unless—you'd rather—"
"No, no," Brendan heard himself say. "That—that's fine." Fine? What was he saying? Why was he sweating? Two minutes ago he'd been freezing.
Emmett picked up the small basin. "I'll just get some more hot water, then."
He watched Emmett walk into the bathroom, heard the water running. Emmett was attractive, no question about that, and smart. Brendan liked smart. So what was up with the creepy-crawly action in his stomach? Last night he was going to let Emmett kiss him – hell, he'd wanted it. Not sure he could explain it, but he wanted Emmett – wanted him like he hadn't wanted anything in a long time. He was suddenly very aware of his body and that he hadn't brushed his teeth and that, Jesus, another man was about to give him a sponge bath!
Brendan cleared his throat. "So, is there a first name, or are you okay with doc?" he asked, pushing himself up.
Emmett smiled as he set the basin and a face cloth down on the tray table. "Emmett," he said.
Dean cocked a brow.
Emmett shrugged. "My parents—what a sense of humor, eh?" The warm cloth was like a caress as Emmett smoothed it over Brendan's face. Some of the cuts still stung a little.
"Trust me, you don't want to know. Emmett's fine." He leaned over and unsnapped the not-so-modest hospital gown to get at Brendan's back and shoulders. Brendan was sure Emmett could hear his heart pounding. He shivered. The air cooled the skin left behind in the cloth's wake as it passed over his right shoulder and down his arm. Emmett leaned in further to get to Dean's back. Brendan closed his eyes—the rough slide of the cloth and the warmth was really nice. Being close to Emmett was nice. He opened his eyes to Emmett's face inches from his own. If only he'd—
Emmett turned to him. He wore a lazy, crooked grin, and those eyes - they were very, very blue, almost hypnotic – accentuated now by the contrasting dark shadow of stubble covering Emmett's face. Dean realized he was staring, but he couldn't help it. He swallowed. Hard.
"Is this okay?" Emmett asked, his voice a raspy whisper.
He nodded, still staring.
"I don't want to do anything to make you feel uncomfortable." Emmett's eyes swept over Brendan's face just as he had done with the cloth, coming to rest in Brendan's. "I'm not reading anything wrong here—am I?"
Brendan wet his suddenly-dry lips. "No." He shivered again, but it didn't have anything to do with the air.
He was staring still when Emmett brushed their lips together – lightly, like trying them on. Emmett pulled back, his mouth wide and inviting, waiting. Brendan leaned into him and captured that mouth—warm and wet, and just like when he knew a hunch was dead-on, something clicked in Brendan's brain, like a missing piece falling into place. Their kisses gained heat as the scrub of Emmett's stubble set his cheeks on fire and that wasn't all. He slid his hand through the silken curls at Emmett's neck, pulling him as he eased back onto his pillow.
In that moment, his entire world was Emmett's mouth and the hand gliding over his knee, across his thigh, lifting the thin cotton gown, uncovering his not-so-discrete hard-on. He sensed the shift of weight as Emmett sat down on the edge of the bed, heard the splash of the water, the hollow clatter of the hard plastic as the basin fell to the floor, and Brendan gave in, falling too, falling into Emmett's kiss, falling into the feeling of someone else's hand on him – a strong, firm hand – Emmett's hand – in a slow, exquisite extraction, pulling his orgasm from him, a real, honest-to-God orgasm, with moaning and toe curling and complete surrender – something Brendan hadn't felt in what seemed like for-fucking-ever.
The knock startled them both, but Emmett calmly pulled away and stepped into the bathroom for a towel. Brendan pulled the light blanket up over his lap, plastering the sticky gown to his stomach. Jesus.
It was Freya and Harper.
"Hi Emmett." Freya looked back and forth from Brendan to Emmett, who had come back into the room and was bending down to wipe up the spilled water. Amusement lightened her face and Brendan felt his color rising. "Um, Doctor Emmett, this is our boss, John Harper," she introduced them.
Emmett wiped his hand on the towel and shook hands. "Very pleased to meet you, Agent Harper. Sorry, little accident here." Freya tittered behind them. "And I'm terribly sorry about Agent Dean—"
Harper raised his hand. "No problem, Doctor Emmett. I just hope Agent Dean here was able to procure the assistance he came for."
"Well, sir," Brendan began.
"Ah, yes…about that," Emmett interrupted. He reached for a leather bag sitting on the wide windowsill. "I've run a battery of tests using the toxicology reports Agents Dean and McCallister provided, and I think I've come up with something useful." He pulled a small metal container from the bag. "This antivenom should be effective if given right away. It must be kept cold, so I've put the ampoules in this for transport." He stuffed the canister back into the bag. "There's also several individual snakebite kits inside with complete instructions for use. Freya, there's one in here for you as well. Keep it with you at all times. If these people are as serious as they seem to be, they may not stop at just getting rid of witnesses."
Her face clouded. "Thanks, Emmett. I was in a good mood."
He smiled at her and handed the bag to Harper. "Listen, better to be safe than sorry, yes?"
Harper looked pleased. "Thank you, Doctor Emmett. I think it's fair to say if anyone gets to the remaining witnesses, it'll be a miracle—but I've seen stranger things happen." He shot a glance at Dean. "And the other information?"
Brendan's eyes went wide. "I see," Harper said.
"Sir, I've, uh, got a few days coming—vacation days, and well, with this leg—I could stay, recuperate and finish interviewing Emmett, uh, Doctor Emmett."
Harper turned to the doctor. "He's more than welcome to stay with me," Emmett said. "I promise to keep him away from Betty. Although, I secretly think Dean wants another chance to get to know her."
Harper glanced between them. "All right. McCallister? You come back with me." Nodding at Dean, he added, "Unless you think you'll need her?"
"No, no, sir. I'll be fine."
"I'll take good care of him." Emmett said.
Freya laughed out loud and everyone turned to her. Her face flushed and she grinned fondly at Emmett. Returning it, he went over and kissed her cheek.
Shortly after Freya and Harper left, the orderly came by and left the lunch tray. Emmett came out of the bathroom with a clean washcloth in hand and a fresh hospital gown over his shoulder. He put the gown on the bed and peeled off the one Brendan was wearing. Brendan watched as Emmett slowly ran the warm cloth over his thighs and stomach, keenly aware that he was extremely naked.
"I could have done that," he told Emmett.
Emmett tossed him the gown. "I know."
"And that was nice of you—the kit for Freya."
"I'm a nice guy. Sending you back with one, too." They stared at one another for a moment. "Anyway, at least the leg's a clean break. You should be able to get out of here today." He checked his watch. "Speaking of, I'm going back to the house and get cleaned up—I'm afraid I reek. And, I suppose I'll need to get the sofa fixed up. You aren't going to be climbing stairs anytime soon." He smiled at Brendan. "But first—"
The sofa? Emmett's house – with Emmett? Brendan had to think about that, wrap his mind around it. Yesterday morning it had been business as usual. He'd only come down to godforsaken Elkins, West Virginia to consult with an expert. Now everything was different. He never expected…but Emmett was kissing him again, his warm lips tugging at something deep inside and Brendan stopped thinking altogether.