Is...is this real? Am I dreaming this?

"Nyah...how? How'd you get in here?" Ethan took several halting steps across the room reaching for the slim bronze beauty. Real stupid genius. Locks don't faze her. Hello. She's a thief. The young woman cracked a tremulous smile, drawing strength from his presence.

"I used the emergency cell ya left me." It held only two numbers. Luther Stickell's and his own. He knew because he programmed the device himself. "Look I know I'm not supposed to be here," she said as he moved to stand by her in the window. "But I don't have anywhere else to go. And if you were in the field, I didn't want to put your life in jeopardy." Like I did in Australia.

"Shh," he soothed, pressing a butterfly kiss tenderly to the side of her bruised jaw feeling his heart swell with love. Here she was, beaten almost beyond recognition and she'd been worried about protecting him. "You're safe now." I won't let anything else happen to you.

As he spoke Ethan's blue eyes darted back and forth across her battered flesh. He bent over, fingers barely grasping the hem of her silk shirt.

May I? His wordless gesture spoke to Nyah louder than any words could. She nodded lightly.

Careful not to cause any discomfort Ethan slowly lifted the soft material partway. Layers of gauze and bandages hid most of the angry ridges left from the clinical knife cuts and corded whip from assaulting his vision. Ever so gently, he ran his fingers over the bindings. They smelled several days old and needed to be changed. Badly. Or infection could set in. Bile and fury rose in his throat but he forced it back. I can't face this now. But she needs me and I'm not gonna let her down, or out of my sight for that matter.

"Ethan-love it's ok."

He couldn't tear his face away from her waist. "No it's not."

She slowly tipped his chin up with a slim finger. "Don't. I know that look. You didn't know, so don't blame yourself. Besides, whoever did it won't be back to finish the job."

Sickened, Ethan gently splayed his hand over her navel. Dread and rage tightened his muscles.

"Did...did he go any further than this?"

She placed a slender finger over his lips shaking her head no. "Darling, trust me. The bloke who worked me over made bloody sure he wouldn't have to worry about a rape kit."

Ethan released his grip on her body and surged to his feet. He took several staggering steps to the center of the room, hip bumping the couch as he passed it. Ran trembling fingers through his short hair. Of course! Semen can be traced! Couldn't track if there wasn't a trail.

"This can't be happening...oh God..." The graphic hospital images of her stampeded through his mind like a horde of elephants. "Oh God. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm sorry, I'm so sorry-"

Slim arms wrapped themselves around his bunched shoulders. Nyah pressed her bruised, cut cheek into the middle of his back, making soft shushing sounds as she tried her hardest to comfort her long time lover.

"It's not your fault," she whispered over and over into the fabric of his t-shirt. Nyah hated it when Ethan shouldered crap he had zero control over.

Ocean blue eyes slid closed, trying to stem the hot tears building behind his lids. He couldn't afford to have a meltdown.

Suddenly the reason why he was Prague in the first place hit the spy like a sniper bullet between the eyes.

"Dammit!"

"What?"

He jumped to his feet and started pacing the floor, running his hand through his hair.

"My team's due any minute! They don't know who you are and I've got no clue how I'm gonna explain-"

Nyah staggered over to the couch little daggers of pain shooting through her body. Alarmed Ethan caught her elbow eliciting a tiny hiss of pain.

"Easy, easy," he whispered. A lance of anguish pierced his heart. I caused this pain. She's hurt because of me.

She leaned into his hand and braced against the corner of it.

"It's fine. I checked into the room across the way."

"Oh good." Smart girl. "When I'm done briefing my people, I'll slip into your room and change your bandages."

A sharp perfunctory knock caused both to tense.

"Ethan you here?"

It's Brandt. Wait here. He mouthed, then held a long finger to his lips for quiet. He glided to the door and opened it. His three-man squad stood there with all matter of bags and equipment. Bold, beautiful, by-the-book Jane Carter. Strong and empathetic William Brandt better known by his last name to everyone. And smart, funnyman Benji Dunn who brought much-needed levity to the mix.

"Sorry we're late. The plane was delayed at the runway," Jane said crisply as they filed into the room, not seeing the extra occupant staring at them annoyed at the untimely interruption. "Cabs got stuck in traffic so we-hey! Who're you?"

Nyah cocked her head. "Oh you noticed. I thought you were blind for a second."

Jane blinked mouth agape. She dropped her bags on the floor with a loud thunk.

The two men were no less astonished. "Miss, what happened to you? Who did this?" Brandt demanded gaping at her injuries, but intrigued at the strange female. "I mean, how did you uh, find this place?" More to the point who are you and why didn't Ethan tell us he had company?

"You know who that is mate," Benji said giving his friend a huge duh look. "Her face was all over the news a few weeks back." He smiled at the rigid woman hoping to put her at ease. "How do you do Miss Hall? You've sent the bluebells on quite a merry chase I hear. Oh and I'm Benji by the way."

"Hall?" Jane spun around a tinge of respect in her eyes. "As in Nyah? Holy crap why didn't you say so?"

"That's cause you didn't let her," Ethan interjected. "And she needs rest. She's traveled a long way so cut her some slack." He'd moved back to the couch and extended his hand, a silent escape, but stopped when he caught the stunned look on Brandt's face. Eyes clouded with horror and anguish.

"Brandt."

The rugged agent's feet were glued to the carpet, face chalky pale. Unable to tear his horrified gaze from Nyah's abused body.

Dammit. He's flashing back to...that. Ethan hurried over and grabbed his friend by the shoulders, giving them a rough shake.

"Brandt. Don't you dare. Hey! Wake up!"

Relief made his shoulders sag when awareness swam back into his friend's unfocused blue eyes.

"Hey. It's alright." Ethan soothed as he tried to keep the analyst from collapsing in a heap. "She's alive. See? You didn't fail her."

Nyah sat wide-eyed, rear firmly glued to the couch cushion, as Ethan coached his friend back from his trance state. Wondering what on earth this man witnessed to make him go catatonic at the sight of her mutilated body: battered, bruised and cut almost beyond recognition. Questions bubbled on her tongue but she swallowed them back. She'd get answers later.

"Hey. Ya with me man?"

Several seconds elapsed before the younger man recovered the ability to speak.

"Yeah." Wetting his parched throat Brandt tried again. "Yeah. I'm back. Sorry."

Jane crossed the room and laid a comforting hand on his back.

"Don't ever apologize. Not for that."

Ethan pushed away the brutal, gory images of his wife's body double's gruesome demise at the hands of feral wolves dressed in human skin. Right now, he needed to focus on getting Nyah cleaned up and re-dressing her wounds. But not here.

He disappeared into the bathroom and reemerged with the first aid kit. Not a standard issue one found on a Walmart shelf but stocked with combat bandages and medicines an Army doctor would treat wounded soldiers on the battlefield. Medical kit in hand he stood in front of his first love and extended his hand for her to grab.

"If you'll excuse us," Nyah said shooting a quick glare at Jane. Ethan escorted her to the door but not before noting the unspoken gauntlet thrown between the two women.

Great. Now what am I gonna do?

"Am I gonna cause problems?" Nyah whispered for his ears alone. They stood very close together and she shifted slightly to make it less intimate. "I don't like this Jane. Seriously, what's with you and bossy women anyway?"

Ethan stopped. Because you started the trend Nyah. "You'll be fine. Let me handle her. But those-" he pointed to the dirty bandages where a steady, festering smell wafted from. "-come off."

"But they-"

He slid her room key through the slot and ushered her into the single bed suite. Shutting the door gently behind them he let out a shaky breath. That was too close. HOW am I gonna do this?

"Don't worry about them." He gestured for her to sit down on the queen size bed. "You come first."

Nyah gripped the nightstand beside the bed for support, trying not to recoil as Ethan gently began removing her travel-stained clothes. She couldn't help emitting a small gasp of pain as he went to slide her jeggings down her bruised legs.

"Sorry," he whispered, gazing forlornly at her battered lower body but she threaded slim fingers through his hair. Gave it a reasuring squeeze.

"Not your fault," she soothed. "Keep going love."

His lips thinned into a severe line. Memories flashed through his mind at high-speed. Nyah injecting herself with the Chimera virus, a resigned yet truimphant look in her dark chocolate orbs at the knowledge that she was willing to die for him. Nyah staring at him bundled in that helicopter, her warm toffee skin deathly pale from the virus devouring her red blood cells. The surge of relief when Luther injected her with the antidote chasing away the chilling dread that he'd lose another person dear to his heart had been immense.

"But...I keep hurting you."

She stilled at the echo of regret in that response but quickly recovered.

"Not on purpose. Now please finish," she said, voice shaking slightly from the strain of sitting upright. "I smell like a damn corpse."

Ethan's back tensed but somehow he managed to divest Nyah of the rest of her stained clothes on the floor. He'd get them washed later but now came the hard part.

Cleaning the myriad types of wounds littering her slender frame.

Slowly he managed to get Nyah to the small tiled bathroom where he bent over the glistening white tub and turned the shower on, testing the water with his hand to make sure it wasn't too hot or cold.

Pulling out his field knife, he made to cut the soiled bandages off but stopped when Nyah stiffened and tried to pull away.

"I'm sorry," he apologized, inwardly cursing his instinctual action. "I'll leave them on-"

"No." Pain...knife...burning ruthless trails through her soft flesh...like slicing a sausage-Nyah forced herself not to look at the tool, choosing instead to focus on the shower stream. "Just...do it quickly."

Troubled at her reaction, Ethan inhaled deeply then blew out a heavy breath. Don't think. Just cut.

He placed the edge against where he judged to be the tucked in flap then slit down the middle of her back, taking great care the sharpened blade didn't touch her abused skin.

With each layer he stripped away from her body the cuts and contusions jumped out at him, stirring the cold rage building in his gut.

Who the hell did this?

"I don't remember."

Startled his head snapped up to meet troubled brown eyes, not realizing he'd spoken the sentence out loud. Nyah turned to step into the shower, letting the lukewarm water sluice off the sweat and clean out the slightly festering wounds.

Ethan moved jerkily towards the door leading back to the main suite. He needed to get out before he snapped and lost it right there in the bathroom.

"I'll be out there." His voice was calm, but Nyah could hear the building crescendo of anger boiling to the surface. "Call me when you're done."

He was so pissed off, the man barely caught her nod of consent. Closing the bathroom door he staggered over to the queen-size bed and braced his palms on the soft white comforter, Ethan heard a deep growling noise. He glanced around the room for a split second before realizing the sound had clawed its way out of his throat.

Suddenly he swept the pillows off the bed, scattering them all over the floor. But that wasn't enough. Kicking the mahogany post he let out a hoarse shout as images of his first love's battered form flooded his mind without mercy. He shook with pent up rage and the desire to rush out of the hotel and start the manhunt right then and there. Ethan hadn't felt the blood thirst this bad since Lindsey died in his arms in that chopper.

Then a tiny voice intruded on his murderous thoughts.

What about your team? They're gonna ask questions.

Ethan shook his head to shut it out. He could figure that out as he went. All that mattered, all his attention was to ascertain the identity of the monster responsible for putting those horrific marks on Nyah's body and mind.

I'm gonna kill this bastard. So help me God, I'll rip his ass apart. With my bare hands if I have to.

TBC...

A/N: Alright guys, here's the deal. Starting now, this fic goes on HIATUS and won't come back until sometime in 2016. Sorry for the long wait and update, but I've got too many fics in progress at the moment and I need to focus on the priority ones and get those near COMPLETE before I pick this one up again. I'll be sure to announce in my profile when I turn my attention back to this lil' guy so keep ur eyes peeled. I've got a lot of pre-written material already, so all I need to do is streamline the content and I'll be set.

Until then, have a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year! :)