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Chapter 15 - Can't Trace Time by A.J. Hall

Bel was leaning over him when he woke. Owen couldn’t feel his limbs properly; his body was encased in a kind of tingling numbness. And as for his head - oh God! There were showers of whirling sparks behind his eyes. The pounding drive of massive headache filled every scrap of his consciousness.

There was a pressure at the base of his neck and a gentle hissing sound, followed by the cold feeling of liquid evaporating off his skin.

Bel picked up his hand, turned it over, stroked two fingers lightly over the complex network of fine bones and veins in the wrist, feeling for the pulse point.

Snarky, automatic responses sprang to mind. Yes, I’ve still got one. Any other questions? But it was too difficult to formulate them: his tongue felt the size of an aubergine and about as easy to manipulate. And in any event the light touch wandering across his skin was curiously soothing, more so when Bel turned to bathing and bandaging the knuckles of his right hand, which were, frankly, in an unholy mess. He’d seen much less competent jobs, too. Presumably mercenaries got good at first aid very fast.

A fugitive thought floated across his mind. This isn’t the way round it’s supposed to be. But even though the headache was easing and the fireworks behind his eyes were subsiding into damp squibs he felt wrung out, utterly. And if there’s someone volunteering to take charge, who am I to stop them?

There were questions that needed answering, though.

“Wha-” On the second or third attempt he managed something which came out as “Wha’ ‘appened?”

“Relax. Just lie back. The synergine will cut in soon. I stunned you. Both of you. Since it seemed like the only way we were going to end up with a live witness after all.”

Bel coughed, moving its hand to its lips as though trying to conceal a grin.

“A word of advice, Owen. If you’re going to launch a murderous attack on someone who’s still under fast penta, don’t go in yelling, ‘And were you creaming yourself at the thought, then? What mucky little fantasies were going through your mind when you came up with that one, eh?’ Distressingly literal, fast penta subjects. Answer any question put to them. In alarming detail, unless you stop them. If I hadn’t stunned him to save his life, I’d have had to stun him to save Dr Comienski’s blushes.” It put its head on one side. “How do you suppose she got through med-school?”

Owen ignored the question. With enormous effort he started to struggle to a sitting position.

“Where is she?” At least speech was getting easier, even if his limbs still refused to obey him. Whatever Bel had used on him had certainly had “attitude”. Just like it said on the tin.

“Let me.” Bel’s arm was round his shoulders, supporting him; he caught a breath of some warm, complex, spicy scent while it arranged pillows behind his back, propping him up. Only when they’d been arranged to its satisfaction did it let him flop back.

“Comienski? She’s taken Hasek off on a float pallet disguised as a corpse. She’s going to dump him in the most remote part of the parking lot she can find, wait for security to pick him up. It’s not such a good area, this; they’ll no doubt figure some of the local criminals jumped him for his credit chits. He’ll not remember any different.”

Bel coughed. “I only hope she’s got the self-restraint not to add a bit of additional damage on her own account. Judging from her expression, if it had been her holding the stunner I doubt she’d have shot as early as I did. Though I have to say even for me it went against the grain. In the circumstances.”

Under the determined lightness of the herm’s tone there was an unmistakable note of strain. Presumably even a career as a soldier of fortune didn’t really prepare one for having been a random twist of galactic irony away from ending one’s days as the sex-pet of a frothing sadist. That was the sort of thing that could land you with a really nasty case of PTSD. Someone ought to be doing something about it.

Is there a doctor in the house?

Bel shook its head determinedly, as if trying to disperse memories. “Well, like I was saying. She certainly seemed most impressed by your efforts to smash that sleazeball’s face in.” It hesitated for a moment. “Reasonable enough. I suppose. ‘Specially given a few of the extra things she let slip about him while we were improving the crime scenario a bit. You know, stealing his wallet, tearing his clothes around a bit, smearing muck artistically on his face: that sort of thing.”

The idea of Bel and Petrova Comienski having a cosy girly chat as they turned Hasek’s unconscious body in a stage prop for a faked mugging was, if anything, rather more nauseating than the stunner hangover. Owen suppressed a groan. If Bel’s wicked grin was anything to go by he might as well not have bothered.

“Way to impress a girl, that, Owen. If you were interested, as far as she’s concerned I’d say your chances were never better.”

“She’s not my type,” Owen snapped. Bel raised its eyebrows.

“You have types?”

The opening was, literally, irresistible. In his best Nick Charles voice Owen looked up from the bed into Bel’s startlingly blue eyes and drawled, “Only one, darlin’. Lanky brunettes with wicked jaws.”

There was dead silence for a second. Then, lightly, Bel leaned over the bed, caught his chin in one firm hand, and tipped his face up to its mouth. They were millimetres apart. Bel’s warm cinnamon-scented breath breathed over him.

“You’d better,” it purred, “be prepared to follow through on that.”

“You think I’m not?”

He reached up, caught the back of Bel’s neck to pull Bel’s lips down against his. Stunner aftermath was a bitch, it seemed. Under his clumsy, over-forceful grasp Bel overbalanced, falling any which way on the bed. And then there was a frantic confusion of limbs and lips and aching want; breath coming in snatched gasps, thundering blood in his ears, and the feel of Bel uncompromisingly hard against him, which he should have anticipated but hadn’t, and which felt hotter than anything had any right to do, as the herm straddled his thighs and used all its body weight to press him back into the bed; lips pressed bruisingly to lips, tongues fighting each other for dominance and he was in no shape to resist and no mind to, neither -

Owen broke out of the kiss, his voice ragged, rough and urgent.

“You got a point to prove, darlin’?” His hand slipped up inside Bel’s tunic top to cup that perfectly formed right breast; his thumb brushed the erect nipple. “Didn’t you hear me earlier? Not from round here. I’m prepared to follow this - anywhere you want to take it. Want a practical demonstration of how monosexual I am? Well, I’m happy to oblige. Got me?”

Remotely, on the edge of hearing, there was a short sharp gasp of horror. Bel rolled away, off the bed, giving Owen a clear field of view. The door to the room was open and Petrova Comienski, her eyes wide with shock, was standing in the entrance.