Disclaimer: Not my characters, but Christmas is coming, and I'm hopeful ;-)


Yet each man kills the thing he loves,

By each let this be heard,

Some do it with a bitter look,

Some with a flattering word.

The coward does it with a kiss,

The brave man with a sword!

-- Oscar Wilde


chapter one: second time around

Frankie hadn't seen her apartment since the kidnapping. She unlocked the door, grateful for Kilmer's presence behind her, and stepped inside. She walked into the living room and stood still for a moment, her eyes closed.

Strong arms. A hand over her mouth. Chloroform. No! Let go!

"Frankie?" Kilmer touched her arm, drawing her back to the present.

She smiled. "I'm fine."

There were fresh roses in the vase on the coffee table. Frankie looked at Kilmer. "Red, huh?"

"I thought they were appropriate."

Frankie nodded. Red roses symbolized love, but also courage. She walked around the apartment. It was strange to be back after so long. Not that six weeks was that long, she thought, but it was still going to be quite an adjustment from her hospital stay.

Someone had gone grocery shopping. She had a fairly good suspicion it was Kilmer, but didn't say anything. He was enjoying taking care of her, and she was enjoying being looked after.

She returned to the living room to find Kilmer sprawled on the couch. She sat next to him and leaned her head on his shoulder. He pulled her closer. At Christmas, they'd decided to put the past behind them and make a fresh start. Since then, they'd become increasingly more affectionate with one another and there was no longer any awkwardness when it came to physical contact.

Frankie tilted her head back to let Kilmer kiss her. In the hospital, there had been no real privacy. At any given moment, someone could have walked into the room. Now, though, Frankie and Kilmer were alone.

Kilmer let his hands wander, sliding them under the hem of Frankie's shirt. When she made no move to stop him, he moved them higher. Frankie arched into his touch. They went from sitting to lying down.

There was a knock at the door. "Frankie?"

Kilmer swore. Frankie laughed. She slipped out from under him and fixed her shirt before she went to answer the door.

"I'd heard you were coming home today," the intruder said. "Oh, hey, John."

"Ally." Kilmer forced a smile. Ally Jackson lived in the apartment directly above Frankie's. She'd been the one to positively identify Ali Hassan as Frankie's kidnapper, which he'd been grateful for at the time. Now, he just wanted her gone so he could go back to kissing Frankie.

Frankie hugged Ally. "Come in."

"Uh, I'm actually on my way out." She smiled. "I just wanted to welcome you back. So, yeah, I'll see you some other time. Cheers, guys."

Frankie closed the door and turned back to Kilmer. "How do you know Ally?"

"We met when you were missing." He didn't elaborate.

Frankie nodded. Instead of returning to the couch, she headed for the kitchen. "Come on, Kilmer. Let's see if you can cook as well as I remember."

Kilmer cursed below his breath, then got up and went to the kitchen.


It was too dark. Frankie rolled over and turned on her lamp. She sat up in bed, knowing there was no way she'd be able to sleep just yet. When Kilmer had offered to spend the night, she had told him she'd be fine.

Now, she wished he were here.

She could always call him and ask him to come over, she supposed. Her clock radio told her it was just after three. She decided not to call, and switched the radio on. Maybe having noise would help.

Frankie got out of bed, crossing to the dresser. She opened the top drawer, rummaging in it until she found the velvet box she was looking for. Inside were her engagement and wedding rings. She held them in her palm, lost in memories.

"Frankie, umm, will you marry me?"

"With this ring, I thee wed."

"The unbroken circle is for eternity."

Kilmer had started wearing his wedding ring when Frankie was missing. If they were starting over, it made sense for her to wear hers too, Frankie thought.

Kilmer had promised to take things as slowly as Frankie needed. She wasn't ready to wear the rings yet.

Still, she thought, that didn't mean she had to put them back in the drawer.

She unclasped the chain around her neck, slipping the rings onto it. They came to rest next to the gold cross she'd been given by Bella.

Frankie smiled at the thought of the child. When they'd first met, Bella had been so close to dying that Frankie had considered having her blood tested to see if she was a match for the necessary bone marrow transplant. She'd still been suffering from pneumonia though, and it broke her heart to think that there was nothing she could do to help the little girl. Fortunately, Bella's aunt had been a match, and Bella was now recovering from the operation.

Bella had even managed to get Kilmer wrapped around her little finger. Frankie thought of how he'd sat by Bella's bed and read to her about Odysseus and the Cyclops and Medusa. Frankie, standing in the doorway, had found herself imagining Kilmer reading bedtime stories to their children. She'd known then that she wanted things to work this time.


Lieutenant Colonel Angeline O'Reilly was the only member of Kilmer's team at the Vault this late at night. She was staring at the computer screen, sipping her umpteenth cup of coffee, looking for information linking Sadiq Fasil to the terrorist organization, Black Sun. With each day that passed, the need for the link became even more important. Kilmer's career – his life, even – was on the line.

Angel's role on the team was to prove that Kilmer was a traitor. No one, not even Atkins, knew that. Having worked alongside Kilmer for almost two months, she found it hard to believe that he would ever betray his country. She'd told the White House Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry, that much in her meeting with him. The problem was that she didn't have enough hard evidence to back that argument.

Hacking into the Vault's mainframe, Angel came across encrypted files. Intrigued, she managed to break the code, then leaned back in her chair and sighed. The files contained copies of emails sent from Kilmer to Fasil.

Angel needed more coffee. She used one crutch to hobble over to the coffee machine – a car accident in Marrakech had left her with a broken ankle – then searched the cupboards for something to eat. All she found were a couple of crackers, but they were better than nothing.

She didn't believe for one second that Kilmer had ever emailed Fasil. She'd been there when they caught Fasil. Kilmer would have killed him if she hadn't intervened; he hated him that much.

No, this just confirmed her initial suspicions. Someone was out to get Kilmer, and they had no qualms about using Frankie to do it. Though the women weren't friends – Angel knew Frankie had picked up on her feelings for Kilmer – she worried for Frankie's safety. Now that she was out of hospital, it was going to be harder to protect her.