Shadowplay by sidewinder

This story is set not long after the episode "War Without End"

(c) Copyright 1997 by sidewinder. All Rights Reserved. Song lyrics copyright 1991 by DW Dick(Fish), from the song "Shadowplay" on the album "Internal Exile".


If I'd only had the patience, if I'd only had the time
If I'd only known the moment when you'd chosen to decide
If I'd only ever listened, if you'd only ever asked
If I'd known it was important, if I'd known it wouldn't last...

Babylon 5 Security Chief Michael Garibaldi skimmed through the latest reports on criminal activity that had been piling up all day on his desk and in his computer database. He could feel his agitation rising with each new headache he saw he'd have to deal with ASAP, and most of them personally. Keeping a station like Babylon 5 under control--especially the way things had been going since the split from Earth--was nothing short of a nightmare for the understaffed and over-stressed Security Forces he commanded.

He was glad for the new recruits that had come in since so many of his previous staff had been deported in the NightWatch purge, but most were still working their way through training. They were dedicated but still too green to not need close supervision and frequent practice exercises--like the session that had tied up his whole morning and thrown the rest of his day's schedule into a tailspin. It would be another few months before the newcomers were on par with his remaining senior crew. The Narns who had volunteered for service were a blessing, but sometimes their easily-provoked nature caused even more problems for the Security Chief. And the last thing he needed these days was more problems.

As it was, he had one huge problem demanding his immediate attention that he didn't like the sound of at all, involving a growing wave of drug-related violence Down Below. No matter what was going on in the universe, someone was always thinking up new ways to feed off of people's miseries. "Dynax," as it had been dubbed, was the latest creation of some such depraved individuals. It was an inhalable stimulant derived from a Centauri-native plant, and it had incredible effects upon the human nervous system. The high was stronger and longer lasting than just about any stimulant that had hit the underground market to date. It also usually resulted in severe psychosis upon repeated usage, and its addictive qualities were unparalleled. It also had a high record for inducing cardiac arrest unless the user had a particularly strong constitution. It was a real winner.

Dynax had just hit Down Below, and violent incidents related to psychotic victims desperate for another hit were popping up everywhere. So far, none of Garibaldi's contacts Down Below were talking, and he had only the slightest clues as to who might be responsible for the drug's main distribution.

Michael steepled his fingers and thought hard about what he was going to do about the problem. Captain Sheridan was hounding him on other matters, but he couldn't let this one slip by. Down Below was as overflowing as ever, what with all the Narn refugees and humans now, too, who would not or could not return to Earth since Babylon 5's declaration of independence. He had to figure out who he could get on this assignment while he dealt with Sheridan and his problems. Someone who might have his own contacts to check with in Down Below, or who would at least know how to handle himself there and could maybe go undercover . . .

Of course! he thought, the solution coming to his mind immediately. One of his new recruits--one of the few who really was more than amply trained for the mission--was the perfect choice. He called the officer in on his link and asked him to report into the his office right away.

"I'll be there in five minutes, sir," the reply came back. While he waited, Garibaldi put together all the information he had on the problem. He had barely finished loading it all onto clean data crystal when the officer arrived.

"Chief, you wanted to see me?" he asked as he stepped into Michael's office. The man was tall, his build slender but muscular. He had a compelling face, all bright eyes and angular features that gave him the appearance of high intelligence, if dampened by a slightly disturbed edge. He was close to Garibaldi's age, and both men had seen similar experiences in their lives--service as Ground-Pounders in the Earth-Minbari war, time since then floating around through various jobs and troubling times. They had both hit bottom in their own respective ways in the time between the war and now--Garibaldi though the bottle, this other man through mental trauma that had left him as yet another forgotten soul in Down Below. It had taken considerable prodding, counseling and insistent cajoling on Garibaldi's part to get him to give up his meager existence and accept a job in security on Babylon 5.

Now, a few months later, he was barely recognizable as the same man that Garibaldi had first encountered, raving and spouting nonsense about the end of the world and causing havoc in the Zocalo. It was amazing what a clean uniform, a decent haircut, and a new attitude towards life could do.

"Amis, I've got just the job for you," Garibaldi started, tossing the data crystal his way. Amis caught it and glanced at it curiously for a moment, then sat down across from Garibaldi. The Security Chief pulled some video clips to play on the screen bank behind him, and a chemical compound came up on display. It was followed by a series of images and clippings taken from the Babylon 5 central newsfeed. "You've heard about the Dynax influx, haven't you?"

"A bit," Amis said. "Hard not to miss the news about it. We broke up a scene last night in the casino--guy was crashing down and trying to steal some money for another fix. I've seen some whacked-out types in my time, but this guy was seriously deranged. Couldn't get anything that made any sense outta him."

"Yeah, I read the report. The guy is now seriously dead, according to a report from MedLab. We gotta get this under control, but none of my good friends in shady places want to talk to me about it. Someone's got 'em real scared. Scared or paid off a lot better than I can afford. I need to bust the bastard responsible for bringing this junk through here before we lose what little control we have over what goes on Down Below."

". . . And let me guess. You figure, who better to do some undercover work Down Below than someone with an . . . intimate knowledge of the place. Like myself."

Garibaldi turned back to Amis, who was regarding him with a wry smile. "You have any ideas who could be behind this stuff?"

Amis shrugged and leaned back in the chair, eyes searching the ceiling for something. Michael found himself momentarily distracted, noticing how well the uniform fit his friend and his well-proportioned body. It make Michael think about how he really should get back to the gym on a regular basis, as he was starting to feel a little out-of-shape himself anymore. Just hadn't had the drive to keep himself up lately.
"I might . . ." Amis finally answered. "Not that I spent much time dealing with those types myself, but you hear things easy enough. When you want to survive in Down Below, you learn fast who you stay clear of, and who to make friends with. And I've got a few friends who might talk to me . . . but not if they know or even suspect that I'm working with you. They were getting suspicious enough when you were always coming around to visit."

"Think you could go undercover for a few days? Would they buy it, or do they know that . . ."

". . . That I've moved onto a better life? I doubt it. They'd believe it if I mentioned I'd moved around to another sector for a while, or gotten some short term work on a freighter or something." Amis stood, looking down at the data crystal he held in his long fingers. He said to Garibaldi, "I take it all the pertinent details are here."

"Most of them. C'mon, let's get some lunch, I'll fill you in on the rest while we eat. I gotta get out of here for a while before the captain finds me and asks how I'm managing with the emergency refugee housing problem."

"And how are you managing with it?"

"I'm putting it off until after lunch, that's how."

Despite everything, the Zocalo was still a bustling center for activity and business on the station. Prices had gone up on foodstuffs and luxuries since relations with Earth had been restricted, but that had only spurred on competition between vendors to try to outsell and underprice each other. Cut-throat competition was the key to staying afloat.

Garibaldi and Amis pushed their way through the mid-afternoon crowd, stopping at a noodle-shop counter and ordering the house specials. As they worked on their bowls of steaming soup, Garibaldi went through the details of the Dynax situation and his own hunches as to who might be responsible. Amis listened with that quiet intensity he always seemed to have about himself, the look in his eyes that could either be taken as extreme alertness or borderline mania. Which of those two it was depended on who you asked for an opinion on the former GROPO, and a lot of the time not even Garibaldi could make up his mind.

Michael remembered the response he'd gotten from Sheridan when he'd given the captain his roster of new recruits, and he'd seen and recognized Amis's name. "Isn't he that lurker that was involved in the problem with the Shadow creature last year?" Sheridan had asked. "The 'Soldier of Darkness'?"

"Yeah. Yeah, he is."

". . . And you think he's stable enough to be trusted as a security officer?" Sheridan frowned slightly in thought. "If my memory serves me right--"

"--He was a few wires short of a closed circuit, I know. But a lot of that was an act. Defense mechanism. I mean, if you're living in Down Below you either gotta be real tough or real crazy if you want people to leave you alone. But I've been workin' on him ever since that incident last year. Guess I . . . guess I felt sorry for the guy, and thought he deserved a chance to work things out. You could say he reminded me of another old GROPO I once knew that no one would give a second shot--except Commander Sinclair."

The reference to Garibaldi's own questionable background was not lost on the captain. With a slight nod, Sheridan had said, "All right, Michael. I trust your judgment on these matters. You know your staff better than anyone else, I was just curious. We're too short-handed to turn down any offered help right now."

Did Sheridan really trust his judgment? Sometimes Michael wondered about that. But he'd been right about Amis; once the man got back in a uniform, had a decent place to live and steady pay coming in, he'd made quite the remarkable turnaround. He still liked to play a little wild and crazy sometimes, but that occasionally proved to be an asset in catching the criminal element off-guard. Garibaldi was sure he would work his way up to a senior position on the staff in no time. Just like Zack had.

"So what do you think, Amis? Can you handle this one on your own, or do you want back-up with you?"

Amis shook his head. "Nah, I'll handle this one alone, at least until we get ready to make the bust. Like you said, I know the turf better than anyone else on the staff right now. Anyone I'd have to baby-sit on this would just be trouble." He patted the pocket on his vest with the data crystal and said, "I'll go through this and get on it tonight, start looking around and getting some feelers out. This'll probably take a few days to set up--something this hot, whoever the main dealer is he ain't gonna be making himself too well known. And going after the small-timers won't do you any good."

"Understood." Garibaldi was working his way to the bottom of his bowl when his link went off. Typical . . . he thought. I should be glad I almost got a chance to finish a meal in peace. "Yeah, what is it?" he answered the link.

"Garibaldi, it's Ivanova. The captain needs to see you for a quick update in twenty minutes. Can you be in C-and-C in ten? I need to brief you on a few matters first."

"Yeah, I'll see you there." Michael slid off his chair with a sigh. "No rest for the weary. I'll catch you later, Amis. Good luck."

"Sounds like you need some luck as much as I do right now," Amis replied, watching Michael make his way through the crowd and then going back to finish his soup. He decided to order a second serving; it might be the last really good meal he had for a few days.


I sit and wait for the shadowplay
Let me into the world of the shadowplay
I'll follow you to the shadowplay

It was late, he'd worked more than a full day trying to catch up with all the captain's demands on his time, but Garibaldi still couldn't sleep. It wasn't a new condition for him, but it was getting worse all the time these days. And when the stress got worse, the constant craving for one drink, just one drink, got worse as well, the thought and the longing running repeatedly through his mind.

He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to get the thought out of his head but it wasn't working. The worst of it was, he didn't have anyone to turn to for support anymore. Not like when Jeffrey Sinclair had been on Babylon 5.

Jeff . . . he thought, the name bringing first that familiar warm longing, then nothing but bitterness and pain. How could you leave me like this, Jeff? You knew how much I needed you, and you couldn't even say good-bye to my face.

Jeffrey Sinclair had been more than a good friend to Michael. He had been a confidant, a companion, the one person who had seen Garibaldi at his worst on Mars and still trusted him with his life. He had been an understanding officer who had treated Michael with a level of respect that he had never encountered before in all of his years in the military and in the private sector. He had even become Michael's lover.

There had been many late nights where Jeffrey had been there for Michael during the rough times, holding him, kissing him . . . making love to him with that same soft, gentle, yet very masculine way he had about himself. And there had been nights when Jeffrey was the one needing comforting, when he agonized over his command decisions and felt he could barely handle the stresses and difficulties of dealing with EarthForce, his staff, and all the alien ambassadors who always looked to him to solve their problems. There were the recurring doubts and questions he suffered in regard to the Battle of the Line, where he'd had no reason to survive and of which his memory was somehow, to a large extent, completely missing.

And then it had all ended so abruptly. Garibaldi had awakened from a coma after getting shot in the back by his second-in-command, and Jeff was gone. Shipped off to Minbar. One brief message a short while later alerting Michael of a clandestine group called the Rangers he was now helping. Then the second message, the worst one, that Jeff had left instead of seeing Michael face-to-face to deliver. Michael knew it by heart, considering the number of times he'd played it back, hoping, searching . . . trying to find something in it that hinted at more than the utter finality of what Jeff was saying . . .

"By the time you get this I should be long gone," the message had begun. Jeff had looked sad, but not overwrought. Completely calm and in control, as always. "I'm sorry I could not tell you that I was here. Sorry I could not see you, but if I told you what was up you would want to come along, even knowing the price, and I can't allow that. But I had to leave something. I could not leave without saying good bye. You see, Michael, I won't be coming back from Babylon 4, and if you went with me, you would not make it back either."

Sorry, sorry, sorry. Yeah, he was sorry. Then why couldn't he have taken me along with him? Do I really have anything left here, now that you're gone? Michael wondered to himself. It still hurt him worse than anything he'd been through in the past few years--and that covered a lot of territory.

With a disgusted sigh and not even wanting to look at the clock, Michael finally gave up on the pretense of getting any sleep that night. Pulling on some comfortable civvies and topping it off with his favorite hat--the one he always wore when wandering around and going places he didn't to necessarily be recognized--he left his quarters and began walking. He tried the gardens, he tried the Zocalo, but they were all too quiet. He needed to go somewhere he could drown out his thoughts for a while.

Eventually his wanderings led him to Down Below. He stopped in a small dive of a bar, a place he knew reasonably well as he occasionally used it to leave messages for his informants. The bar was tucked away off one of the main corridors in what had probably been meant to serve as a conference room, if the station had ever been finished. Various junk and trash--crates, steel canisters, packing boards--had been converted into bar furniture in an oddly, almost tasteful way. As tasteful as anything got in Down Below, at least.

A few cursory, wary glances greeted him upon his entrance, but if anyone recognized the Security Chief they didn't let it show. Most people there didn't want to draw any undue attention to themselves either, so they minded their own business.

Grabbing a makeshift chair at an empty table, Michael took a seat and surveyed his surroundings. It suited his mood. A small band of humans were playing something vaguely reminiscent of slow blues in the far corner near the bar. Most of their instruments appeared to be makeshift creations, just like the bar, but they were almost in key and the singer had a pleasant voice. Michael let his thoughts drift as the music droned on loudly, the steady rhythm almost hypnotic.

The bartender wandered over to his table after the first song finished. "There's a three credit minimum per set," the bulky human stated. Michael ordered some mineral water and handed the bartender a generous helping of change, enough for him to be left alone for most of the night if he wanted to stay.

He wasn't sure how many minutes had passed while he sat there, doing a reasonable job of "spacing out", when suddenly he realized that there was someone standing right next to him. Garibaldi wasn't one who usually let himself get sneaked up on, so it was with a start that he looked up at the figure, readying for a confrontation if necessary.

His fears eased when he recognized his new companion. "Mister Garibaldi, didn't know you were the type to go slumming on occasion." It was Amis, doing quite a good job of staying undercover. Garibaldi could barely make out his face under the low hood of his ragged, dirty cape, but the gleaming, large eyes shone out from beneath it and were unmistakable, as was the voice.

Amis sat down across from Michael and dropped the hood back, revealing his scruffy features and disheveled hair--he looked hardly different from the day Michael had first seen him. His clothes, from his old tattered scarf to his ill-fitting boots, looked older than most of the people in the bar. He even smelled like someone who'd made Down Below home for at least a few months, even though it was only two days since Garibaldi had seen him last.

The two didn't speak at first; it was hard to carry on much of a conversation over the blaring music. Amis ordered a beer and worked on the bottle slowly, watching the band with great interest until they finished their set and disappeared for a break. The brief quiet disappeared as conversations quickly picked up in volume around them.

"Not bad," Michael commented.

"Been around a long time. Since I can remember. I used to come check 'em out on the rare occasions I had actually had the money to cover for a set." Amis smirked. "That always got me--a bar with pretensions in this place."

"Any luck solving our little dilemma?" Michael asked.

"Not yet," Amis replied, gazing around to gauge the crowd. Leaning in a little closer, he whispered, "I made arrangements to meet a friend of an old friend tomorrow night to find out if he knew anything on Dynax traders or handlers. He doesn't know I'm working with you guys; he thinks I'm just asking 'cause I want to get my own jollies off it. If my friend is right, this guy's pretty well connected, so it shouldn't be too long.

"You know, workin' down here undercover like this, it almost makes me miss my little old corner of this sector--almost," Amis stressed. Changing the subject he asked, "So what're you doing down here, Garibaldi, couldn't sleep? Wanted to spend some time among the dregs of humanity to try to make your own life seem a little less tragic?"

Michael laughed. Dammit, but didn't Amis have a way with stating things. "Maybe. I've had a lot on my mind recently. This place is going to hell, I'm working on half a staff even with the new people, and I feel like I'm gonna lose what little control I have left any minute now, the first time I fuck something up good."

"Control over this station, or control over yourself?"

Strike Two, there he goes again. "Maybe . . . I guess both." Amis nodded, looking to him to go on. He paused for a moment, unsure, then went on. "I feel like I've lost too many people whom I thought I could trust to help me through this whole business."

"The world is out to get you, is that the problem, Mister Garibaldi?" Amis inquired sarcastically. "You know, they have a name for that--persecution complex . . . or is it delusional paranoia? They labeled me with both of those for a while, among about a dozen other things, after the war."

"All right, all right, but how would you feel? First I lose Lise, the woman I was living with on Mars. She wouldn't come with me here, and she got herself married to someone else in real short order after I left. I come out here because my best friend--the one person who stood by me and believed in me when no one else did--insisted that I take the job. Then he goes and gets himself transferred. He comes through here a few weeks back and doesn't . . . couldn't even spare the few minutes to see me to say good-bye for good.

"Then there was someone else, I really liked her," Garibaldi continued, getting on a roll now. "The type that makes you catch your breath every time you see her, but she wouldn't give me the time of day. I thought she was just cold, hard from what she'd gone through in her life--she was a telepath. I thought maybe, just maybe, if I could get through that ice princess sheen of hers we might have a chance for something. Well, turned out she was a spy for Psi Corps--and probably busy doing the horizontal mambo with another friend of mine in her spare time, too."

It started with this first tirade, and soon Michael was revealing all the sordid details of his private life over the past few years to Amis, culminating with Jeff's departure.

"I played that last message he left for me a billion times, how he had to go because 'everything counted on his being there,' and how he knew if I knew where he was going, I would've demanded to go with him. Hell, of course I would have!" Michael exclaimed, slamming his fist on the table. "Him and his damn self-sacrificing attitude. And he thought he was sparing me some terrible fate by not letting me come with him. Boy, I guess he really didn't know me, or know what leaving me behind would do to me."

Amis said little as Garibaldi went on about them all--Talia. Lise. Jeffrey. Poor Dodger, even, the GROPO he'd turned away because he felt he couldn't forget his other loves; he wasn't ready. How betrayed he felt by the spies in his midst from Nightwatch, and how he'd watched so many of the men and women he thought he could trust turn against him. It all came pouring out from some bitter corner of Michael's soul, everything that had been eating at him and driving him crazy for months and that he'd had no one to talk to about in almost as long.

"Tough breaks," Amis said simply, when it seemed that the Security Chief was finally finished with his tirade. By this time the original band had disappeared and been replaced with a solo keyboardist, and much of the original crowd had left as well. They were both on their third drink by then, though as always Garibaldi wouldn't touch anything stronger than mineral water. The temptation for something stronger had died, even in their current surroundings.

"Yeah, tough breaks. One after another. These days I don't know who I can trust, if I can trust anyone. And God, but it sure as hell all makes you feel alone."

"I've been living that feeling for years, Garibaldi, you don't have to describe it to me." The dark eyes fixed on Michael unflinchingly. "Most of the people down here are all living that. The universe is a cold, lonely place most of the time, no matter who you are. In the worst times, all you've got to hold onto is yourself.

"You know, there were nights, more than just a few, when I wondered why I bothered going on at all. I didn't have nothing, didn't care about no one and no one cared about me. It all seemed . . . pointless, but . . . I guess part of me is just too damn stubborn or stupid to give up. Every time I wanted to let go, that part of me held on, told me that one day, life just might be worth living again."

After downing the last of his beer, Amis continued, "You? You got nothing to worry about, Garibaldi. You're a real hard ass when it comes down to it. You can bitch and moan about it all but in the end, you're a survivor. You're in good company, right up there with the rats and cockroaches."

"Yeah, swell," Garibaldi answered with a sigh. "Well, in any case, sometimes I guess it's just good to know that maybe there's someone out there who can lend an ear for a while to us rodents."

Amis spread his hands wide and smiled, one of those infectious grins of his that were too wide and sincere not to return in kind. "Both of my ears are at your extended service, Mister Garibaldi. It's the least I can do in return for all the help you've been to me. I just wonder . . ." his voice trailed off, eyes still holding Michael's gaze curiously.

Michael, puzzled at the pause and stare, asked, "Wonder what?"

"Just . . . after everything you've told me . . . is a willing ear all you really need tonight?"

The implication of the question was obvious. It caught Michael off-guard for a moment--but only a moment. He hadn't really had any thoughts of Amis being anything more than a friend before. Hadn't really thought about anyone along those lines for quite a while. With the exception for Jeff, Michael's tastes generally had run towards the female persuasion. Still, he found the idea of another man wanting--or at least offering--to be with him a touch surprising . . . and stimulating. Even if that man currently looked like all hell. It had only been the other morning that he had been admiring how good Amis looked in his uniform . . . maybe he looked even better completely out of one.

Amis' gaze was unblinking, but not demanding. He was giving Michael an opening if he wanted to pursue it. If not, there would be no hard feelings, no mention of it again. "I may not be a helluva looker, but I can be good company," Amis encouraged, still with that bemused and somewhat detached demeanor, keeping whatever emotions he had on the topic well-hidden from Michael.

Michael swallowed and looked down at his empty glass. What the hell, he thought to himself. It's been a long time . . . too long since I've been with anyone. Since Jeff left, over a year now. He felt his pulse quickening at the thought, the heat of sexual anticipation beginning to rise in his groin. Yeah, he wanted something else tonight. It might do him a lot of good. "Maybe I will take you up on that offer, Amis. I could use a little . . . diversion."

Amis stood up, tossing a few more coins of change on the table. "That leaves the age old question--your place or mine? We goin' top side or staying down here to find a quiet corner somewhere."

Garibaldi wasn't feeling that adventurous. "Come on back to my place--I've got a real shower, remember? You can avail yourself of the facilities--please."

With a laugh in response, the two men disappeared into the darkened corridors of Down Below, sneaking away through a secure passageway out of sight.

The door slid open with a soft hiss in response to Garibaldi's access card. "Lights." he called, and the room was softly lit in response. The quarters were fairly Spartan, but comforting. Daffy Duck loomed large over the headboard of the bed, a few sports banners and flags around it, decorating the walls. Home away from . . . from no other home, actually, considering Michael didn't have anywhere left besides Babylon 5 that felt like a real home to him any more.

He stepped into the small bathroom to check the facilities and announced, "There are clean towels inside, but watch out, the hot water only lasts for about three minutes."

"Wow, an actual running shower, I'll take what I can get," Amis replied lightly, shrugging off his grimy cape and removing his boots before disappearing into the bathroom, the door closing behind him.

Garibaldi heard the water starting to hiss from the shower a few moments later, and the realization of what was going on hit him. What the hell was he doing, anyway? Was this a good idea at all? Amis seemed like an okay if strange guy, and he was sort of attractive, but he did have a reputation that was a little less than stable. Was it safe for Michael to invite him into his apartment like this--or more to the point, to have sex with him?

Maybe he should forget about being safe for a while, he thought to himself. Nothing in his life was really safe anymore, so what the hell did he have to lose? Why not just have a little fun. His body was feeling more than ready to go despite his mind's concerns. Throwing all doubts aside, he began undressing, then went to the bed to wait. Although it was close to 0300 he was wide awake now, anxious and ready for anything.

Amis stepped out of the bedroom wearing one of Michael's towels wrapped low around his waist, his hair slicked back neatly, still damp. Michael took in the sight of his half-exposed body, impressed as he had expected he would be by the solidly-built, slender frame.

"Feel good?" Michael asked, referring to the shower.

"Yeah," Amis replied, dropping the towel now to the floor and going to the bed to join Michael. He reached over to touch Michael's chest and, giving him a truly mischievous grin, he added, "But I got a feeling this is gonna feel a helluva lot better . . ."

They were quickly in each other's arms, kissing tentatively at first, lips just brushing together testing, tasting, but growing more demanding. Michael's tongue tasted Amis' mouth, and for a moment he felt fear as he tasted the remnants of the alcohol the other man had drunk. Fear turned to heightened desire, the forbidden taste drawing him further into the kiss.

Rough fingertips ran along Michael's back as he responded in kind, giving in to the moment's passion, the solid feeling of a man in his arms again. Just like Jeff--but different. Somehow dangerous. He was rock hard already, rubbing himself up against Amis' hot, hairy body and giving in to his primal urges and needs. He wanted to lose himself in the sensations of their touching, kissing, their closeness and forget about everything except this physical pleasure.

The first round went rough and fast, as they were both too hot and ready. Amis licked and sucked at Michael's stiff nipples, playing with them each in turn with his mouth as his hands moved lower down Michael's body. In short time his mouth moved lower, the stubble on his chin tickling Michael's stomach until finally that mouth found Michael's cock. Michael let out a long moan as Amis took him gingerly into his mouth, wrapping his tongue around the hard cock. Wet, warm lips sucked at his shaft, bringing incredible pleasure with each small movement. Amis released him only momentarily, long enough to reposition himself over Michael until they formed a sixty-nine, both sucking each other off in a quickening rhythm. Michael became lost in the moment until the urgency of release grew unstoppable. He shuddered and sucked down harder as the orgasm ripped through his body, Amis not letting go of him until he was coming as well. Michael took in the load eagerly, his hands clasping Amis' tight ass hard and keeping it in place above him until he was satisfied he was really finished.

The swiftness of it all left them both breathless, and Amis collapsed down on the bed with a long sigh. After a few minutes Garibaldi turned around so they could face each other. Catching Amis' very contented grin, he asked, "I guess I don't have to ask, 'was that good for you, too'?"

"It wasn't bad for a start, Mister Security Chief," Amis drawled, tracing a finger down Michael's sweaty chest. "But you should realize we're only just getting started here."

"I was hoping as much," Michael answered, leaning in for another long kiss. They took their time now to explore and arouse each other, though Michael's hands kept working their way back to Amis' backside. It was wonderfully round and firm, just crying out to be fucked. "Don't think I'm gonna let you out of here until I get myself a piece of this tonight," he joked.

"Oh, that's the way you like to play, is it?"

"You got any objections to that?"

"Oh no, none at all . . ." Amis's hand slid down Michael's hairy chest, reaching down low to stroke Michael's stiffening cock. His own was totally erect again. "But I think you'd better be ready for me first."

Amis rolled Michael over onto his stomach and straddled him, and Michael didn't object. He felt the wet tongue against his hole, getting him ready and he wanted it, he wanted to get fucked out of his mind. He flinched only slightly as the strong hands kneaded his ass, spreading him open for the hard, thick shaft that was demanding entry.

"Tell me how you like it, Garibaldi," Amis breathed, his voice rough with desire. "You like it hard, you like it slow, tell me what you want."

Michael's own cock was stiff and aching, pressed into the bed sheets as he was pinned down. "Oh man . . . just . . . just fuck them out of me. Get them all out of my head. I want you to be the only thing left inside me, the only thing I can feel."

He wanted it rough and that was exactly how he got it. He cried out in pain, his mind reeling as cock filled his ass. His whole universe dissolved away to only that exquisite mixture of pain and pleasure that made him want to beg for mercy and scream for more at the same time. Amis worked him hard yet with skill, until each movement and thrust elicited a cry of delight from Michael in response. When Amis finally came inside him with a final deep thrust, Michael could hardly take it anymore, he was mad with needing his own release. He barely gave Amis time to pull out before rolled over and got on top of his friend.

"Now do I get that ass?" he panted, and Amis dimly nodded, too sated at the moment to reply further than that. Garibaldi wanted to see his playmate's expression while he fucked him, watch those deep brown eyes react to having him inside his ass. He pulled Amis' knees up to him chest and dove at his asshole, licking it wet, then wasting no time getting inside. He was no less merciful than Amis had been, thrusting himself in as far as he could while Amis could only lie back and take the treatment. He seemed too satisfied from his own ride to protest more than the occasional whimper.

Michael drew it out as long as his body would let him, not wanting it to end, not wanting to ever have to leave that tight, warm place. Finally feeling the inevitable release upon him, demanding release, he grabbed Amis's legs as tight as he could and screamed out when it came, when he came, when it was all over in a blinding, almost unbearable flash of pleasure.

He collapsed down on the bed, satisfied, spent, though regretting that it had gone so quickly. He snuggled close against Amis' side, fingers tracing against his chest.

"How you doin' now, Chief?" Amis asked, his arm wrapping lazily around Michael.

"Better than I have in . . . hell, I can't even remember." He sighed and closed his eyes, his whole body feeling relaxed and spent. He wanted to conk out and sleep for a good couple of days straight. Well, it would be more like two hours, he realized, knowing the alarm would go off much too soon but feeling too good to care about it. Too good to care about anything. He drifted off to sleep quickly, content at the feeling of having someone close to him again, when he'd needed it the most.

Michael's alarm went off and he jerked awake, disoriented, beat, his body aching in ways it hadn't for quite a while. He lay in bed, staring up at the ceiling and at Daffy's obnoxious face, listening to the list of messages that were already waiting for him from the night shift. "Never lets up for a moment, does it?" he said quietly to himself, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and wondering if he had time to fall back to sleep for another ten minutes or so.

The messages finished with a loud bleep and Garibaldi heard a soft groan next to him in the bed. He turned to see who the groan belonged to, and remembered--he'd woken up so exhausted and out of it that he'd almost forgotten Amis and their night together. Amis was lying there with the sheet pulled up high to his chin, his hair tousled about and his cheeks shaded by the thickening stubble. He was squinting his eyes shut to avoid the lights that had come on in the room as the alarm had sounded.

Michael couldn't help but smile a bit at the sight. "Rise 'n shine, buddy, I ain't the only one that has a job to do today," Michael needled, pushing at Amis' shoulder and attempting to get him to wake up.

"Blow off," Amis grumbled, turning away and yanking most of the bedsheets with him. "I'm still working on Down Below time. Everyone's just going to sleep down there right now, you know."

"Yeah, well, I'm not, so you're not either. You can take a nap once you get back down there." Michael's eyes stayed on the bare back of his companion, and he felt himself growing more than a little randy again. Slipping a hand on the bare shoulder, he said, "Unless you mean that about blowing off . . . I'd be happy to help you out with that."

Amis gave a little snort of a laugh, then finally dragged himself upright. With a stretch and a yawn, he said, "Boy, you're worse than I thought, Garibaldi. Didn't you ever hear about quitting while you're ahead?"

"Yeah, but maybe I think giving head right now would be a little more interesting." Michael slid over within reach of Amis and grabbed him for a kiss. It was not nearly as charged with need as the night before, though if he kept at it he would be at that point again in no time.

Amis pulled back slightly, looking at Michael curiously. "So, what's the scoop, Chief?" he asked. "I suddenly get the impression you believe what happened was more than a one night party break."

"I dunno, what do you think?" Michael asked. "I had a damn good time last night. Maybe I want to see where it could go, when we're both motivated by something beyond extreme loneliness and sexual frustration."

"Is there anything else that motivates a relationship like this?" Amis asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Boy, I thought I was the most cynical man alive."

"Not by a long shot, buddy."

"Okay, so maybe you're right. But maybe I think . . . I think this relationship might have potential to be a little more than that."

Amis looked long and hard into Garibaldi's eyes, running a hand along the other man's cheek. The touch brought a deep longing to Michael's heart--it reminded him so much of the way Jeff would caress him sometimes. Then Amis suddenly stood up and walked away from the bed, crossing his arms across his naked body as he paced, face drawn seriously in thought. He stopped after a few moments and looked back at Garibaldi. "I can't be Jeff for you, Michael," he said seriously. "I like you. You're the best friend I've had in a long time. A good boss, a good lay . . ."

"I'm a good cook, too," Michael cracked. "You should try my Bagna Cauda."

Amis grinned, but it was a smile tinged slightly with sadness. "I don't doubt it. I just . . . hell, Garibaldi, I can see it, I don't know how you can't. You still love Jeff. It's gonna take a long time for you to get over him--and Talia--and everyone else you think has deserted you. You need to build up some confidence in yourself again, instead of letting it all rest on what other people think of you and how they treat you."

"Great, I'm getting psychoanalyzed by a freaking lunatic lurker," Garibaldi muttered.

"Former freaking lunatic lurker," Amis corrected, undaunted. Walking back the bed, he sat down next to Michael and pleaded, "Mike, don't make me the next person you rely on for everything. I ain't in good enough shape yet myself to be that for anybody. And I don't want to put us in any sort of position to screw up our friendship. Not yet. You know?"

Michael sighed. "Yeah, I know. And you're right, and you're also making me late for work." Garibaldi got up from the bed and started fishing out clean clothes for the day. "I'm gonna take a shower. You need to use the facilities, or . . . ?"

"No, s'okay, better if I go down there a little grungy, otherwise my contact's gonna be wondering what's wrong with me." Michael nodded and finished putting together his uniform, not looking at Amis while the former lurker quickly dressed.

Garibaldi was turning to hit the bathroom, calling, "Well, I guess I'll hear from you later," when Amis grabbed him by the arm. Spinning around, he found Amis standing close within his space. Amis pulled him in for a long kiss that left Garibaldi weak in the knees and breathless, when he finally pulled away.

With a twinkle in his eyes, Amis said, "Just consider that a down payment towards some future date. When things are . . . a little less crazy than they are now."

Garibaldi exhaled slowly, and gave his friend a crooked smile. "All right. But you'd better know that I'm gonna make a point of getting paid in full."

Mirroring the grin, Amis broke away and headed to the door. As he left, he called back, "I'm counting on it, Mister Garibaldi. I'm counting on it."


I see my life as a shadowplay
All around is the magic of shadowplay
In the world of the shadowplay is where I belong
Where all that I feared is how it is and will be

News on the dealer came Garibaldi's way late that evening. He wasn't sure when or how exactly Amis had called in the information, but the message was waiting for him when he returned to his quarters.

Amis stood in what looked like a public vidphone booth; his voice was low and flat. "The deal's gonna go down 2:15 tonight, behind Barson's in Brown Nine. You know the area. Told 'em it was gonna be me and one friend; I had to give my contact a 'down payment' on the merchandise before he'd set this all up, to prove I was legit. I wouldn't try getting any remote cams or mikes there ahead of time 'cause I'll bet you they'll scan for it. So, you'd better meet me near there a little early and look the part if you want this thing to work. I'll be seeing you." The message ended abruptly.

Barson's was a small and fairly well-known establishment Down Below, a trading post of sorts where deals could be found and made for just about anything, legal or particularly illegal. Michael was going to have to be real careful going around there if he didn't want to be recognized; he would send someone else along as Amis' backup, but if his hunches were right about who the dealer was, he wanted to deal with this particular loser first hand. And, truthfully, part of him was particularly concerned for Amis' welfare right now and wanted to be there in person to protect him.

He was looking forward to the bust with too much nervous excitement to get any rest beforehand. Around midnight, he began putting his "costume" together--some old, especially ratty clothes, some makeup to try to roughen-up his features. A bandanna around his head and his PPG strapped neatly inside the sleeve of his baggy shirt.

He was ready before one, and took a final look in the mirror before heading out. Was it going to work? He sure hoped so. He couldn't go in with his link active, they might pick up its signature, but he'd keep it on him just in case. No back-up either. Like Amis had said, they would be looking for any traps.

"Here's looking at you kid," he whispered to himself, and headed for Down Below once more.

He found his way to Barson's easy enough and spotted Amis camped out not too far away. In a darkened corner he sat, huddled on the ground, amidst a few graying blankets and rags. People passed by fairly regularly, and it took Amis a few moments to glance up and see Garibaldi. His wild gaze lessened somewhat in intensity upon recognition, and he looked away as Garibaldi settled onto the ground next to him.

"Been here long?"

"Long enough," Amis replied simply. "I ain't seen anyone yet. Glad you got here early."

"Yeah, well, the early bird catches the slimeball."

"I wouldn't even joke around like that. If the walls 'round here had ears it wouldn't surprise me. Here--" Amis turned away, rustled through a bag and pulled out a bottle that contained some form of strong alcoholic beverage. "Have some. You smell too damn clean."

"Clean? These clothes haven't seen a wash cycle in months. 'Sides, I don't touch that stuff anymore."

"Oh yeah, I forgot. Mr. Straightshooter. Well, don't drink it, just splash some on your coat or something."

Garibaldi hesitated--he hated having the stuff anywhere near him. To have to smell it on himself would be too much like the old days. Amis was watching him, waiting, so he finally uncapped the bottle and dribbled a little of the repulsive fluid on him. A little was more than enough, he decided, getting a strong whiff of it. "What the hell is this stuff, anyway?"

"The Drazi equivalent of Tequila, or so I'm told. And you really don't want to know what they stick in the bottom of these bottles."

Michael didn't doubt that. He checked his watch and saw they still had about an hour left. "You really think he'll show?"

Amis shrugged. "I don't see why not. Let's just hope he doesn't bring an army with him."

Michael tried to stay loose for the wait, avoiding eye contact with any of the passers-by while watching out for signs of their quarry. He felt uneasy, out of his element. He looked to Amis on and off and couldn't read his companion's flat expression, his eyes that seemed to be gazing out into nothing. "You do this a little too well, you know."

"What?" Amis asked.

"Slip into step with this place. Last night I couldn't almost recognize you when I first saw you. It seems like a long time since I used to come down here to check on you."

"Only been about six months. It . . . takes longer than that to get this place really out of your system."

Michael had the urge to reach out to him, at least a gentle touch on the arm, something. But Amis seemed too distant to notice him or want his comfort. "Amis . . . ?" he questioned.

"I'm okay. Just looking forward to getting this over with."

They settled back into silence for the rest of the wait. A few minutes after the hour Amis stood up. "It's time. You ready?"

"Yeah, let's do it."

Pushing through the crowds gathered at Barson's, they made their way to the back, slipping behind a curtain that was used to conceal a "Back room." In the room, three men were already waiting--Michael tried not to show it when he recognized the man who was no doubt the ringleader--Zar Nefron. His hunches had been right. Michael couldn't wait to get this guy locked up; he'd been looking for the chance to pin something on him for close to a year now.

"This your friend?" Zar asked Amis. His dark eyes peered out from under a low-brimmed hat, regarding them both with something between amusement and disgust.

"Yeah. He's got the rest of the money. You got the stuff?"

"Check them out," Zar instructed his two associates, not moving from the table where he sat. The two men--large, disreputable types--approached Amis and Michael, running some sort of scanning device over them both quickly.

"He's clean," the man checking out Amis declared after giving him a quick pad-down. Michael had similar luck. The guard seemed too disgusted by the smell to pad him down too well. The PPG up his sleeve went undetected--probably the scanner was only tuned for communications devices, not low BG-emitting high-tech weapons.

"This one stinks like a fuckin' Drazi, but he ain't wired," the other one said, returning to his boss' side.

"Good. But, just in case . . ." Zar hit a button on his wristband, and a security net enveloped the room. The swirl of energy around them was disconcerting, if not so much because of what it did--render all external listening devices useless--but the fact that a scumbag like Zar had access to such technology. It made Michael wonder what else Zar might have handy.

Zar's eyes held fixed on Michael a moment too long for the Security Chief to be comfortable. Squinting, Zar asked, "You look familiar, friend. Do I know you from somewhere?"

Michael shrugged and replied, "Just got one a those faces, I guess. Look, you gonna sell us the shit or what?"

Zar considered for a moment, then beckoned them both towards the table. He reached under the table and then placed two small inhalant devices out in front of him. Amis looked to Michael, indicating he should put the money down on the table as well. Reaching into his jacket pocket, Michael pulled out the two hundred credits--in hard cash, as instructed--and pushed it out towards Zar.

Satisfied, the drug dealer indicated that the men could take the devices. "A pleasure doing business with you. Next time, you know the routine."

"Thanks," Garibaldi replied, glancing towards Amis. The slightest nod. Michael tucked the drug inside his coat, and then announced, "And, oh, by the way. You're under arrest. Hands up, now!"

Amis had his PPG pulled as quick as Michael, keeping Zar's two associates well in his range. The guards both looked in confusion at each other as well as Zar, who remained close to expressionless.

"So my hunch was correct," he said coolly, raising his hands up from under the table slowly. "All these years in business, you'd think I would know better than to ignore a hunch."

"Yeah, well, you'll have plenty of time to think about that while you're rotting away in one of my holding cells. Get up, hands behind your head. Move it!"

Amis caught the one guard's alerted look and responded to it a fraction of a second before Michael did. "Mike!" Amis called out in warning, pushing Garibaldi down just as the PPG blast sounded. Rolling as he hit the ground, Michael saw the man in the doorway responsible for the fire. He quickly dropped him with a dead-on hit that was as much luck as skill. Adrenaline surged as Mike spun back around, seeing one of Zar's guards reaching for his own weapon. Michael fired and took him down as well, surprising the third man as his PPG quickly was turned at him.

"Freeze or join your friends, asshole, I mean it!"

The man complied as Michael staggered to his feet, only taking his eyes off the man quickly to find--to his disgust--that Zar was nowhere to be seen. The set-up was now a bust in more ways than one.

"Shit!" Garibaldi cursed, cuffing the man and then remembering his partner who had just probably saved her life. "Amis?"

Garibaldi glanced down to the ground in front of the desk when there was no response. Amis was still lying there, not moving. "Aw, hell," Mike cursed again, rushing over to his friend, turning him over, feeling the burn-singed clothes on his upper back, the stickiness of blood. "Amis!"

There was no response, except a rise in the noise outside the room, a few other curious-types peering in and trying to see what was going on. The security net had been disrupted by the PPG blasts--Garibaldi quickly pulled out his link and activated it, tapping in as soon as it powered up. "Garibaldi to Security and MedLab. I'm in Brown Nine, I got an officer wounded, two suspects down, one under arrest, and one on the run. I need medical and back-up now."

A brief pause. "We've got you, Chief. Team's on the way," came the response.

The onlookers dissipated quickly after hearing that security was getting involved. Garibaldi kept hold of Amis's limp body in his arms, glad when he could still feel a pulse.

"C'mon, buddy, hold on," he urged. He wasn't about to lose the one person who meant anything to him now. "And you--" Garibaldi turned quick to the one man he had under arrest, "You even blink in the next few minutes and you're gonna regret it for the rest of what will be a very short lived life, understood?"

The security backup arrived a few minutes later, but it felt like hours. Michael gave a quick description of the fugitive and a run-down of what happened, then ran off after the medical team that was quickly making its way back topside to MedLab. Michael wanted to track down that bastard Zar himself, but even more he wanted to make sure Amis would be okay. Amis had taken that hit to protect him, and now Michael had to know he'd live long enough to be thanked.

Once they arrived, Michael hovered nearby, watching Dr. Hobbs work on Amis' wounds. It took about forty minutes; in that time he'd checked in with his staff twice but they'd had no luck so far locating the fugitive.

"We'll get him, sir, just a matter of time. There's only so many places he could've gone."

Michael wasn't so sure of that. People had a way of becoming invisible Down Below, impossible to track and find despite the limited space available to them. He sighed, feeling the weariness of the long night settling on him. He hated this. It felt like the whole thing was for nothing if they didn't get Zar. The other three were just small fry in comparison, although Garibaldi would certainly be more than a little interested in finding out just how and where scum in Down Below were getting access to PPG's. That could be a nightmare all onto itself . . .

The doctor finally finished up and stepped away from the treatment room, and Michael walked over to her quickly. "So, what's the word, Doc. Tell me he's gonna be okay."

"Truth is, he took a pretty nasty hit," Dr. Hobbs replied, "but, he should be okay. The plasma blast he got hit with wasn't full charge, thankfully. He could have suffered a collapsed lung otherwise. The internal damage was still fairly extensive but not critical. Whatever sort of home-rigged PPG that was, it didn't have the power of the official issues. He's out for now and probably will be for a while longer. I can let you know as soon as he comes around."

"Thanks." Garibaldi glanced towards Amis, where a nurse still hovered, taking some notes and adjusting some monitor equipment. "Actually, I'd kind of like to stick around a bit, stay by him for a while."

The woman shrugged, snapping off her gloves and tossing them into a waste unit. "Be my guest." She paused to study Michael for a moment and added, "Is he a close friend of yours, Mr. Garibaldi?"

"He'd a good guy, and it's a bit of a long story. Besides, he took that hit for me tonight; the least I can do is be there to say thanks once he's awake."

"I understand. Just stay out of my way and don't touch anything, all right?" Garibaldi smirked and the Doctor took off, rushing after another patient that had just come in. Lillian Hobbs was almost as driven as Franklin, working this late at night still. He hoped she hadn't fallen into the same trap of relying on stims to keep her going, but she seemed in control. Maybe she simply preferred the night shift, Michael wondered, too tired and preoccupied with other matters to find out anything else about it.

The nurse finished up her work and left, and Michael pulled over a high chair to sit at Amis' side and watch, and think. He thought about how far way last night seemed from now. How good it had been to take an all-too-brief escape from this insanity. Michael could close his eyes and remember all the sensations, the touch of Amis's hands, the feel of his body against him. His scent. That look in his eyes, that goofy smile. He reached out, fingers running through a short curl of Amis' light brown hair. Yeah, he could find himself falling for the guy. But Amis was right in asking--was he ready for that?

"Look at me," he said, mostly to himself. "I get shot in the back by my own first officer, and I still can't watch myself well enough. I was supposed to be backing you up tonight, and look how things turned out." He sighed and contemplated, not for the first time, resigning his post. The assignment had served its purpose for him--the purpose Jeff had intended for him, anyway. Kept him straight and clean, pulled him back from the edge and back into productive society. But without Jeff around, it just felt hollow. He felt out of place, and was beginning to long to move on.

Maybe not now, but soon. Once this damn war is over, if any of us are still here. Zack is coming along now, maybe by then he'll be ready to take this job over from me.

"Guess you really are gonna be out of it for a while, huh?" Michael asked, exhaustion setting in. His hand traced against Amis' cheek, rough with stubble, cold and clammy. "I really should knock off for a while, I guess. Gonna have to figure out some way to write this one up tomorrow."

Leaning close, he placed a gentle kiss on that cheek. "Rest well, buddy. I'll be back soon, I promise. Just don't go anywhere without me."

The world was a blur of noise and light, memories and glimpses of things and people blurred into one large, confusing collage. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, the blur began to focus on one central point. There was a voice at the center of that blur, vaguely familiar. It was louder, clearer than the background wash, and he tried to steer his thoughts towards that voice, tried to focus the image associated with the voice . . .

"Hey, Amis. Hey, buddy. You finally deciding to rejoin us out here in the land of the living?" Amis blinked and squinted under the bright lights of MedLab, the image of Michael Garibaldi's grinning face gelling slowly above him.

Swallowing and finding his throat painfully dry, Amis struggled to speak. "More like your annoying voice is keeping me from getting a decent rest."

Michael grinned. "Laugh it up, wiseguy. You can't be hurt too bad if you're already being obnoxious."

"You're right. It only hurts when I breathe. What the hell happened to me? I don't . . ." Amis tried to think past the numbness in his body and his mind and concentrate. "I don't remember . . ."

"We'd set up a drug bust in Down Below--you and I had just finished the transaction and gone to arrest the three men involved. But turned out they had another guy watching the door and Zar must have triggered him soon as we made our move. You spotted him first and for some stupid reason decided to take the hit that was coming my way."

"Oh." Amis blinked rapidly several times, trying to remember that happening. It seemed vaguely familiar, but he could barely recall anything from the last few days.

"Doc's probably got you doped up on some serious painkillers, that's why everything's a little cloudy. You've been out about, oh, twelve hours."

"And what're you doing hanging around?"

"Well, I figured I owed you something for saving my life. You didn't have to, you know, and a lot of people might've been happier without me around."

"Not everyone," Amis replied, smiling lightly. He spotted Michael's hand on the bed railing and managed to make his own arm work, reaching up to touch that hand, hold it lightly. He almost thought he saw a slight blush come to Michael's cheeks.

"I take it you remember a few things about the past few days."

"Yeah. I . . ."

"I see our patient is doing better," Doctor Hobbs interrupted, startling both men somewhat. She stepped up and ran some scans on Amis, checking his vital signs, removing the dressing on his back to check on the wound. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Fuzzy. Dizzy. Kind of numb everywhere."

"The disorientation will fade, the numbness is from the painkillers; we might be giving you something a bit too strong for your constitution. This should help a bit." She gave him a hypo-injection and then continued, "I'd say you just need to get some bed rest for a few days, take it easy, and you'll be fine."

Whatever the Doctor had given him was beginning to clear his head already. He also started to become aware of the stinging in his back, but decided he'd rather deal with that then feel like his brain had turned to mush. "How long do I have to stay here?"

"Well, I'd like to keep you under observation through tonight, then if everything looks stable you'll be free to go."

Amis nodded and Garibaldi said, "Thanks, Doc."

The doctor shrugged and said, "Just part of the job. Now, if you'll excuse me."

She stepped away quickly, leaving them alone again. They were both quiet for a few minutes. Amis could sense Michael was uncomfortable, that he looked like he wanted to say something . . . but his own energy was beginning to fade away again. The short conversation and movement was more draining than he thought it could have been.

Michael must have noticed because he said, "You fading out on me again, champ?"

"Hmm . . ." He let his eyes close, wishing he had the energy to tell Michael a few of the things that he'd been thinking about since the other night, thoughts that were beginning to come back to him again even as sleep was calling to him. "Mike?"

"I'm here. I'm here, Amis." He felt a warm hand on his cheek, a reassuring touch. Then the soft brush of a familiar mouth against his own in a loving kiss. Michael pulled back, his hand just continuing to brush against Amis' cheek until the world completely faded away again.

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