Author's Notes: Okay the song lyrics are from the Ricky Martin song 'Nobody wants to be lonely'. I like Ricky - deal with it. *g*
As for the story, this was not what I intended to be writing. I started out with a fluff piece in mind, somewhere along the way a plot kinda snuck in. This is pre-slash and it's not quite fluff, it's the best description I can give. Oh yeah, no beta - all mistakes are my own.
"Damn it... all right, already! I give up. You've beaten me, you son of a bitch! You happy?! I'm at your mercy."
Sam Curtis looked over from behind his desk and winced. Chris, when will you learn? Maybe - if you're lucky - Richards will let you keep your dignity.
On the other side of the command room, Chris Keel slouched down in his chair in front of the computer screen and pouted - it was the only description that fit. Fighting their mirth, Backus and Spencer were making soothing noises and saying that 'it's all right' and that 'you'll get him next time'.
Richards aka 'him' just sat back in his chair and grinned. Curtis bit his lip to restrain his own laughter as Richards 'artfully' buffed the nails of one hand on the black shirt he was wearing. CI5's resident computer game champion remained undefeated - Keel was still the only serious challenge to his crown.
He looked at the American and then at Spencer and Backus, saying, "Remember now. You gave me your word. My choice on a night out on the town for the group if Keel didn't beat me this time. You all go - no complaints.
"You part of this, Curtis?" called Richards, knowing damn well that Curtis' green eyes would be directing a mocking glare at his partner.
He grinned as the most level-headed agent in the building sighed and nodded, surprising his partner in the process.
Curtis met Keel's gaze and shrugged. "Somebody's going to have to keep an eye on you three. Make sure that you don't promise Richards *anything* else in a moment of madness."
Spencer's retort was cut off as Malone's office door swung open and he walked briskly out of his office, a faint smile of anticipation on his face as he said, "The operation has been given a go. Ms. Backus, Mr. Curtis, Mr. Keel, get yourselves ready to leave within the hour.
"Mr. Spencer, Mr. Richards... I want the *latest* satellite information available on the compound and its defences. Use whatever methods you deem appropriate."
Malone turned and headed back in to his office - missing the devilish grins that his last command produced on the faces of Spencer and Richards - Backup looked at them and gave a warning glare but was smiling when she said, "Behave!"
Richards turned to Spencer with an innocent expression and said, "I'm going to behave, aren't you, Spencer?"
"Oh, I'm *definitely* going to behave, Richards."
Richards, eyes twinkling, looked at Tina Backus with a masterfully straight expression on his face and said, "*We'll* behave. You just worry about yourself. *You* have to deal with Curtis and Keel. Think you can keep them in line?"
Spencer snorted back on the laughter that was threatening to escape from him as he watched Tina bang her head mournfully on the desk in front of her, saying, "I *knew* I should have called in sick today."
Sighing, she got to her feet and walked off to the armoury... she had some 'toys' to pick up and then she had to go get ready to head out with Curtis and Keel. I should have stayed in bed, thought Tina with a sigh.
Once she had disappeared to catch up with Curtis and Keel, the teasing stopped and the command room of CI5 quickly got serious. Their people were going to be out there depending on the information that they were provided from this room - they would not be let down.
It was ten hours later that the trio returned to CI5 HQ. Richards and Spencer looked on in concern as they trudged wearily into the command room. Backup's face was streaked with grime and sweat and she looked like she wanted nothing better than to curl up and sleep for an hour. As for Curtis and Keel...
Richards watched as they wandered in, Keel with one arm around his partner's waist as he steadied him. Curtis' arm was round his shoulders, for once his impassive mask was absent.
Lines of pain etched his face and there was the hint of remembered terror in his eyes. Keel settled him gently onto a chair, his hand lingering on Curtis' wrist a moment longer than was absolutely necessary - though Richards suspected he was the only person in the room that caught that fact - and that included the two men that were currently engaged in a silent exchange as blue-grey eyes met green and concern and reassurances were passed back and forth - those two seemed to be oblivious to the undercurrents in their own relationship.
Things went 'back to business' quickly as Malone came out of his office, having just had a call from the Prime Minister, to pass along congratulations for a job well done. CI5 had done its part in the international operation, and done it well.
They had 'extradited' the terrorist Kamel from his compound and he was now residing in a secure facility somewhere deep in the heart of Paris. The French authorities and Interpol had handled the rest of the round up. Arms were retrieved, there would be no terror campaign in mainland Europe this spring.
"You three, a job well done. Report to medical for check-up and then you are all on a three day stand-down, subject to recall, of course."
"Yes, sir. Thank you," muttered Tina Backus on behalf of all three.
Richards watched - as once again Curtis let his partner into his personal space without even realising that he was doing it - an action that would have had him biting the head off of anybody else that tried to do it.
He watched as the American supported his partner, matching his pace to Curtis whose left ankle was obviously giving protest about his earlier activities. He waited till the three were almost out the door before calling, "Wait!"
Curtis looked at him with dull green eyes, exhaustion evident in his voice as he said, "Can't whatever it is wait, Richards?"
Summoning a grin, Richards said, "Nope. This is perfect. You three have the time off and Spencer and I will be free by six o'clock tomorrow night."
"What are you talking about?" asked a confused and tired Chris Keel.
"Our agreement. Saving mainland Europe from mad terrorists doesn't get you out of it that easily.
"My girlfriend is going to an 'open mic' night at one of our favourite music clubs and she needs a cheering section - that's us. Bring a date or come alone but be at The Song Club tomorrow night at eight. It's listed on the net, you should have no trouble finding the place."
He smirked at the sight of the four agents doing a great impersonation of gaping goldfish and started his review of the night's activities. Procedures could always be improved.
That night, five different CI5 agents were occupied by various thoughts and emotions.
Tina Backus called one of her old friends - Gail was in town for several months working with a travelling exhibit currently visiting the British Museum - she hadn't seen her for years - Richards hadn't said she couldn't just invite a friend, hang out and chat.
Next order of business was a bubble bath and then lots and lots of sleep.
Spencer called his girlfriend - she was a school teacher and his childhood sweetheart. After laughing heartily at the cause of his new plans for the next night, she'd readily agreed to go. His fellow agents treated her well, she was not a part of their world but still, they went out of their way to make her feel welcome.
Sam Curtis took a long drink from the malt whisky in the glass in his hands and banished the thought of what might have happened if he hadn't knocked Chris out of the way of the shot Kamel had managed to get off before he was subdued.
Okay, so the bullet had missed him by inches instead - but it was far better than the other option - it would have taken Keel point blank in the face. A graze on his elbow and an ice-pack on his ankle was a small price to pay to keep Chris alive.
Chris Keel stared sightlessly out of the window of his apartment, not even registering the many gravestones of the cemetery. His mind kept replaying the fight in Kamel's compound.
Sam had saved his life - again. For that split second before Sam had groaned and got off the floor he had feared the worst. When Curtis had finally moved he had breathed a sigh of relief as he had realised that the bullet had missed Sam too.
He hadn't lost another person he cared about to a violent act perpetrated by a monster.
He hadn't lost Sam.
Heart still tight in his chest from the remembered fear, Chris turned and walked back into the centre of his apartment, bottle of beer dangling half-forgotten from his fingers. Of their own volition, his feet took him towards the picture with him and Teresa - taken scant moments before his life fell apart the first time.
His fingers brushed her image gently as he murmured, "What the hell am I going to do, Teresa? I'm starting to care *too* much. Sam is... I... You know I'll always love you and what we had, but...
"Damn it, Teri... I'm so confused about all this."
The next evening turned out to be a pleasant diversion for everyone. As disparate a group as they were, everyone got along great. Tina's friend Gail hit it off with Tracy, Spencer's girlfriend, and Melissa, Richards' girlfriend - the reason they were all here.
Curtis and Keel had come stag - as Richards had expected they might - and though Keel was not as rowdy as normal and Curtis was a bit quiet compared to his normal standards, everyone did relax and have fun.
Melissa sang - and, with the cheering support of her friends - her rendition of the Beatles classic 'Let it be' went down a storm.
Several other brave souls braved the open microphone, some were as good, some were not. All received rousing applause, after all, they'd had the courage to go on stage with the band and perform.
Smiling, the MC for the evening took to the stage and said, "Anybody else?"
Surprising everyone at their table, Chris looked at Melissa and said, "Do you mind if I go up?"
Smiling her delight, Melissa said, "Go!" Gail and Tracy added their vociferous approval so Chris went, smiling in amusement at the dumbfounded expressions on his co-workers' faces.
When he was out of earshot, Spencer turned to Curtis and said, "Can he sing?!"
Eyes never leaving his partner's back as he discussed something with the band, Curtis said, "I have no idea. I know he went to a couple of karaoke bars with Tom Perry before he died - but Chris only ever said that Tom had a fairly good voice - nothing about himself."
Silence descended as the lights dimmed, and Chris stepped up to the microphone and stood in the glow of a spotlight. There was a quiet hush in the air, except for the few sighs that escaped as Chris flashed his dimples at the audience in the club. When he opened his mouth, the rich, vibrant voice that he produced wound a spell round the crowd, his friends included.
There you are
In a darkened room
And you're all alone
Looking out the window
Your heart is cold
And lost the will to love
Like a broken arrow
Here I stand in the shadows
Come to me
Come to me
Can't you see that
Nobody wants to be lonely
Nobody wants to cry
My body's longing to hold you
So bad it hurts inside
Time is precious and it's slipping away
And I've been waiting for you all of my life
Nobody wants to be lonely
Why don't you let me love you...
By the time Chris had finished the ballad the audience were on their feet, cheering and applauding. Somewhat astonished by their reaction, Chris gave another shy smile, dimples once again to the fore.
He resumed his seat to the enthusiastic greetings of everyone but Curtis. Instead, they looked at each other and engaged in a moment of wordless communication before Curtis broke his gaze away and handed his partner a bottle of beer to soothe his dry throat.
Richards looked at them and smiled quietly, things could be about to change. He looked up and Tina's gaze caught his - okay, so he wasn't alone with his suspicions. She had them too. Were they right? Only time would tell.
Curtis followed Keel into his apartment and stood hesitantly in the living area, staring out of the window. He didn't even look round as he extended his hand for the drink Chris had gone to get, he was too lost in thought.
When he realised it was a wine glass he was holding and not a beer bottle he did look at Chris with an air of mild confusion. Chris grinned and said, "Libation of Dionysus, right?"
Sam couldn't hide the fond smile that appeared on his lips at his partner's flip answer. He took a sip and moved to stare out of the window. On his typically silent feet - he swore Chris was part cat - his partner followed and stood at his side.
Striving for a neutral tone, Sam murmured, "Nice song."
Equally as quiet, Chris replied, "I'm glad you thought so.
"Chris, why did you..." Sam's voice trailed off.
"Why did I sing it, Sam?"
At his partner's nod, Chris sighed and leaned forward till his head was touching the glass of the window pane. "I sang it for me... I sang it for you...
"I sang it because of another close call and the fact that I'm fed up ignoring the way I feel. You don't have to do anything about it, Sam. You don't want to deal with it, that's fine too.
"I'll request a transfer and be back in the States within a week, if that's what you want. I just couldn't *not* say anything. That's all."
For a long moment there was silence, and Chris closed his eyes in resignation. Then he felt a feather-light touch on his cheek. Opening his eyes, he looked into the intense green eyes of his partner.
"You try to leave now and I'll hunt you down and kill you, Christopher Keel."
The tone was light and teasing, but the emotion in Sam's eyes... Chris felt his breath catch in his throat. Daring to act, he raised one hand to pull gently at Sam's neck and bring him closer. Sam willingly took that step.
For a moment that seemed to last an eternity neither moved, and then, as one, their heads drew closer and their lips touched. There was a brief pause as the sensation was savoured and then, their lips met again in a deeper exploration.
The scent of beer and wine was mingled with the familiar scents that they associated with each other and this time, bottles and wine glasses were hastily abandoned on nearby surfaces as the kiss went on.
Chris found himself with his back pressed against the window and his arms round Sam as his partner seemed bound and determined to kiss him till he saw stars - not that he was complaining mind you!
His left hand reached up to cradle Sam's head and hold him closer, his right splayed on the Englishman's back, feeling the heat coursing through Sam's body through the filmy fabric of the green silk shirt that he was wearing.
Eventually though, they had to come up for air... and that's where things stopped. Chris could feel Sam's withdrawal and he looked at his partner, concern in his eyes. Had Sam changed his mind?
He gave a shaky sigh as Sam reached out with the fingers of his right hand to trace a gentle and sensual pattern across his lips. Reading his mind as usual, Sam smiled and said, "No, Chris. I haven't changed my mind and I won't.
"I just think that we should take things slow, that's all. We've both been waiting so long for this that I don't want to risk it by rushing. I need time... I think we both do.
"We have two more days to explore this... Let's use them. I'll be back tomorrow at lunch time. We'll eat what passes for food in your fridge and then... and then, we see where things take us.
"You okay with that?"
Swallowing, Chris nodded. The *promise* in Sam's eyes sent a bolt of sheer sensual pleasure throughout his body. Sighing, he leaned forward to place a chaste, but no less passionate kiss on his partner's lips and said, "Tomorrow can't come soon enough."
Sam's eyes closed briefly as he said, "Amen to that, partner, but we do need the space. This is much too important for us not to go into it with a clear head."
Chris walked him to the door and once again they found themselves in each other's arms. Chin resting on Chris's shoulder, Sam's musings brought forth a genuine peal of laughter from his new lover.
"Do you think we should get Malone a thank you card or something? I mean he's given us three days to have our way with each other - whether he intended to or not.
"Or how about a fruit basket?"
Tightening his embrace, Chris said, "You're absolutely insane, Sam. You know that?
"Maybe that's why I care about you so much..."
Sam's eyes glowed as he looked at Chris and said, "... Love you too, Chris."
He smiled at the stunned look in his partner's eyes, placed a hand on his partner's face and kissed him till they *did* see stars.
He slipped out of the door before Chris had a chance to stop him, and his parting words were, "Think about the fruit basket, Keel... In the next two days I plan on making damn sure that Malone 'earned' it."
Chris shook his head and, after locking the door, turned to make his way to bed... not that he'd sleep for a while yet. He looked at Teresa's picture and smiled softly. "I did what I knew you would have wanted, Teri. I followed my heart.
"Thank you, sweetheart."
Summary: A night of karaoke leads to some admissions and realisations.