"I don't like thunder," Parker announced quietly, her head crooked slightly to one side.
All Alec could do was stare, his artificial heart working feverishly in his chest.
"Parker," he mouthed softly, and then he clutched his chest as a sudden, powerful pain ripped through him.
"HARDISON…" Parker yelled as she watched his eyes grow wide and his knees go weak. She tossed the bag of Pretzels into the apartment and grabbed hold of Alec's arm to help guide him inside, closing the door behind them.
"Alec," she called to him anxiously.
"I'm…I'm…good," he answered breathlessly. She guided him to the couch.
"You… just…caught me…by surprise…that's all," he explained as he squeezed his eyes against the pain and tried to make light of her return.
"I'm sorry," she whispered and gently eased him back into a lying position, "Can I get you anything? Would anything help?"
Alec opened his eyes and focused on her against the pain. He looked at her intently.
"Parker?" he called her name surveying her face for every flicker of emotion, searching for something he thought he heard in her voice.
"Yes," she answered questioningly.
"Are you back…" he began but stopped himself thinking the question sounded strange, "I mean…"
She touched his chest and his breath held. He stopped talking and simply stared.
"I know what you mean, Alec," she offered quietly and paused to look away from his gaze, "I remember."
He reached up to touch the hand that she'd rested on his chest.
"How much do you remember?" his voice tight with concern.
Parker looked to the carpeted ground, "Everything," she answered finally. Her voice was whisper soft.
"Oh, Park," he reached over and lifted her chin to bring her eyes back to his.
Tear filled eyes greeted him, and he was undone.
The pain in his chest had faded to a dull ache but the physical pain paled to the brokenness he felt as he looked at her slumped shoulders and lowered head.
There was a lot to remember. He knew he was only aware of a small portion of it- and that small portion was burden enough.
Their gazed held as he tenderly pulled her to him, to ease her against his side so they could lay on the couch side by side.
She silently complied, lost in the warm, dark depths of his eyes, as the tears began rolling leisurely from her eyes.
The couch held them almost exactly. She fit against the curves and angles of his body as if they'd been designed as a pair. He touched her face and she relaxed beneath his palm and closed her eyes.
"I see their faces," she told him softly.
"What" he asked, unsure of what he'd heard.
"I see their faces," she repeated a little louder, "every one of my…objectives. I see their faces and I see their eyes. I see their deaths. I see everything. I can't stop seeing it." Her voice and the speed of her words kept raising but her eyes remained closed. "I've done really bad things..."
"Shhhh…." He stroked her face and kissed her forehead.
"Parker," he called to her quietly, "look at me."
Her eyes opened slowly.
"I need you to listen to my very carefully," he urged slowly and she nodded, looking up at him with water-logged eyes.
"That was not you," he continued slower still, "none of what you did, none of it, was you. Do you hear me?"
Parker swallowed again and blinked fresh tears loose.
"None of it. Do you understand?" Alec repeated firmly and she finally nodded before closing her eyes and wrapping her arms around him, settling her head into the crook of his neck, so his head rested on hers.
They held each other tightly for a few minutes in the dark until she began to shiver slightly and he remembered that she'd been drenched.
"Oh man, we have to get you out of these wet clothes," he urged and she pulled her face out of its cozy harbor.
"That would be nice," she responded with a small, watery smile and slowly pulled fully out of his embrace.
She sat at the edge of the couch as he gradually stood and went into his bedroom closet to retrieve warm dry clothes for them both. He chose another comfortable sweat suit that they'd share and he changed into the dry bottoms before reaching for a tee shirt to finish dressing.
"Wait…" he heard her call from the doorway and turned to see her standing there leaning against the frame.
Their eyes met and held and he lowered the shirt he was about to put on as she walked toward him, her gaze leaving his eyes and scanning the crescent-shaped scar that cupped the left half of his chest.
He took a shallow breath and swallowed the rush of saliva that filled his mouth as she stood before him and reached out to trace her fingers along the still-healing scar.
"Are you okay?" she asked without looking at him. He could hear the emotion in her voice.
He swallowed again, suddenly finding it hard to speak. He reached to hold the hand at his chest and Parker's eyes found his again.
"I'm okay... now," he assured her and touched her face.
Without another word, he unzipped her thin leather jacket and eased it off of her shoulders, his eyes never leaving hers but when he grimaced as he tried to stretch his arm too far down her side, she stopped him and shepherded him to the bed to sit.
Then, as he watched, she slowly reached for the hem of her shirt and lifted it over her head and let it fall behind her.
Alec couldn't tear his gaze away from hers, even as she unhooked the back-clasps of her brassiere and let it fall away as well.
He swallowed again.
Parker reached for the button of her jeans and unfastened it and pulled the zipper down with one fluid motion. Then she inched the tight, dark-colored pants down her legs, slowly and let them pool around her feet before she stepped gingerly away from them.
She stood before him for a moment, perfectly still, gazing earnestly into his eyes. He itched to reach out and pull her to him but he knew he couldn't, that she would go to him when she was ready.
Then she reached for the waist of her final piece of clothing, her panty. She hooked her thumbs at the top and slowly rolled them off, bending to remove them one foot after the other and dropped the thin, cotton garment beside her jeans.
Parker straightened up and looked at Alec and held his stare as the lightning storm outside dropped periodic splashes of light on her skin.
"No one has ever known me like you do, or cared for me, or fought for me like you have," she spoke against the tightness in her throat, "This is all of me."
His own throat grew tight and the rims of his eyes stung slightly.
"You… have all of me," she finished and expelled a quick breath, releasing some of the tension in her shoulders.
He stood then, compelled by some invisible force, and reached for her. With one hand at her waist and another at her cheek, he lowered his lips to hers and kissed her softly. He couldn't find the words to tell her how much he loved her in that moment so he put all of the tenderness and emotion he felt into the weight of his kiss. Parker wrapped her arms around his neck and Alec pulled her closer with both of his arms around her waist.
Nothing else mattered. If the world would stop spinning right then and there, Alec knew he wouldn't have wanted more than that one moment with Parker in his arms. The woman he fell in love with, not once, but two separate times.
Her skin was exquisitely soft and she warmed right there in his arms. As the kiss deepened and he felt his body responding and hungrily wanting to fully express the depth of his feelings for her, Alec pulled himself away. He didn't want to confuse her admission and his response with anything else. There would be time. When he was a little more healed, and she was less shell shocked, less vulnerable, they would make love to each other and it would be as intense and explosive as it always promised to be, but in that moment…
He pulled out of her embrace but she didn't object. He pulled out a pair of shorts and took her hand to lead her to the bed. He reached for the sweatshirt and slid it over her arms and head until it swallowed her up. Then he sat at the edge of the bed and helped her into the shorts one leg at a time as she held his face between her hands.
"And you, have all of me," he finally managed softly.
Alec moved backward on the bed then and Parker followed, easing next to him as he lay down.
He lay on his back as he found the position the most comfortable with his scars and Parker tucked herself into his side. They fell into an easy silence for a little while as they listened to the storm rage outside.
"Parker," Alec began tentatively, "did the doctors get a chance to check you out?"
He felt her shrug against his side.
"When I first woke up," she started, "I didn't know where I was. Nothing felt real. I thought…I thought maybe I was dead. Then I started getting flashes of…everything…."
She paused and he reached around her to hold her, to remind her that he was there.
"Things started to become clear, to line up," she continued, "I couldn't stay there. I didn't let anyone start asking me questions or start digging around in my head….I didn't know who I could trust…So I left."
She paused again and reached for his hand at her side.
"I think I was looking for you," she added.
Alec perked at the confession, "Me? Why?"
Parker shrugged again, "Honestly, I'm not sure," she answered evenly, "but as things got clearer, I had this unexplainable feeling that you were the only person I could totally trust…with my life."
He turned to her, lost for words again.
"You can, you know," he whispered, "you can trust me…with your life."
She smiled a small, shy smile at him, just as a storm burst bathed her face in brief light, "I know."
They fell again into an easy, contented silence until the rhythm of the wind and rain beyond their window lulled them nearly to sleep. He wanted to ask her where she'd gone when she left the hospital, what she'd done, if she'd had any pain at all but somehow none of that seemed important. She was there, with him, and it was enough.
"Alec," Parker called to him from behind closed eyes, "I don't think this thing with Sonia is finished."
Alec opened his eyes and looked at her, "why do you say that?" he asked her quietly.
"It's a feeling," she replied, "and I remember some things."
He watched how her breathing evened, she was very near to sleep.
"Okay," he answered softly, coaxingly, "We'll slay dragons tomorrow; tonight we're going to sleep."
Parker nodded once, heavily, and promptly fell into the first deep sleep she'd had in over three years.
Alec watched her sleeping until the first light of the soggy morning spilled into his window.
Sleep left him as soon as Parker had mentioned Sonia. He didn't know if it was his paranoia that Parker would disappear again if he closed his eyes, or that he wasn't sure himself if she was really there. He didn't know if it was the uneasy chill that rode his spine at her foreshadowing, or the immensity of everything all at once settling upon him.
He knew one thing for certain, he'd never again let anything or anyone harm the woman in his arms. And he'd go to any lengths to ensure that promise.