A Time To Talk

By Pebbs



DISCLAIMER: Whatever recognizable characters found within belong to Marvel. If you find a plot--it's mine! Don't touch! This isn't really an *adult* fic. PG rating here with mild language.

DESCRIPTION: My first Dom and Nate fic. Be gentle, please.

DEDICATIONS: First of all, this wouldn't have even happened if Alicia McKenzie hadn't suggested that *I* actually write a Domino and Nate fic. Even, still, the blame should be on me for listening to her if this meets bad reviews. Much, *much* thanks to her for even getting me to consider it, seeing as I didn't think I had what it took to pull such a thing off. She was not only an inspiration--she's so damned supportive!--but study material. "Tango in Volgograd" was a key reference for me. Thanks!

I also have to thank Kaylee, too. Her "In the Bushes" also gave me the incentive--dare I say it--*enlightenment* to keep this going and keep it all in perspective. She probably has no idea as of yet that's she's had any part in this, so let's make it a surprise, shall we, hmm? :)

Last but certainly not least, I have to give much props--that's a good thing, DuAnn:)--to DuAnn Cowart. As I hear it, she was the first to write about Dom and Nate, and for her to actually *like* this amazes me to no end. Her insight and knowledge of the characters helped me to get this fic to a place where I could look at it and say, 'Ya know, it's not too bad at all.' Thank you, DuAnn! *mwah!* I can't think of any way to repay you...short of offering up myself as payment. <wink> Wait. But, if I give myself to you...what'll I give Ali..? Or Kaylee? Dang...

I'll figure that all out later. On with the ficcage.

--Oh, and no flames! I get flames and I feed you to my Pacus. Cousin to the Piranha... I have half a dozen. They're big. They aren't all cute and bright-colored. They have *teeth*. And a 300 hundred-gallon tank with room enough to play, dig?

He was looking at me again.

It wasn't as if I couldn't tell *every* time he did it--it was how he kept on doing it as if I *didn't* know that bugged me most. What the hell was I supposed to think if he didn't cut it out..?

I doubt he was even thinking about that.

But *I* am. And he was getting on my Goddamned nerves.

I turned to glance at him, knowing that would be enough for him to look away and pretend to be doing something else. Arching an eyebrow, I added a bit of query to the look--


He turned away. And pretended to be doing something else.

As if I couldn't tell *every* time he did that.


It was time.

Just another in a long line of ops, jobs, and other assignments--

He was behaving like it was a fucking special occasion or something.

In the years that we've known each other, I've never seen him what anyone could call 'nervous', but right then, he was more than just a bit antsy--or what passes for antsy in his case. And it wasn't the first time, either. I wish he would just pull it the hell together. I mean, look at me; I'm doing it.

I'm dealing.

You'd think that with all the crap he'd been through, he'd be better at it.

Guess I was wrong.

I was made even more aware of that when he brushed by me--paused...tried for a moment to formulate an apology, cleared his throat, muttered something I barely caught, then continued on.

I just wanted to yell at him.

Inside and out.

But that was not the time for shouting, and if I were to do it in my head, he'd probably hear that, too, which would be just about the same as doing it aloud.

I sighed and shook my head as I went about my way--something to help to clear my mind. The part I always liked.

Weapons choice.

A small smile nearly broke out on my lips as I gazed upon all the precious and powerful hardware in front of me. I almost wanted to rub my hands together--but of course, I didn't do that.

Not physically, anyway. But inside, I might as well have been.

I started small, then worked my way up, a slow torture *and* a nearly pleasurable proceeding. When I got to the largest piece of weaponry I wanted, a nice, big, and shiny model that caught my eye some time ago as being on the 'new' rack, I went to pick it up.

Smiling a bit, hands reaching, free now that everything else had been strapped on and secured where it needed to be, I was interrupted.

Intercepted, more like.

No sooner do I lay hands upon that magnificent piece of GUN do I see an even shinier thing, Nate's left hand, reaching for the same weapon--and getting to it before I did.

I glanced up, already glaring, to find him looking directly at me.

He wasn't just grabbing for another piece of something or other to tack onto his large body, and he apparently hadn't been trying to beat me to the punch.

He'd been...helping me?

"It's, um...heavy," he told me quietly.

I blinked at him. That was one of his lamer comments, that. And it was the first time I remember him helping me to do *anything*--not with *that* look in those eyes of his.

"I know. I like it that way," I tell him, my glare gone, replaced by a look of another sort, a weighing one as I took hold of the gun and picked it up--without his help.

I felt my brow dipping as if in reaction to bright light, the corner of my mouth developing an urge to curl up slightly in mild exasperation. He *knows* how I like my firearms--after all the time we've spent together, it shouldn't have been a surprise or call to aid me in any way. If it were too damned heavy to carry, I wouldn't have chosen it--which he should also have been aware of.

>Would you snap OUT of it?!< I hissed in my head.

By the look that passed through his eyes, that flickering of that glowing eye and the lines that developed--and were then gone--from his forehead in half a second, I could tell he'd heard that.


And, then, whatever reaction he'd had to what I'd 'said' was gone as if it'd never been. He pulled his hand back. He turned away from me, his back almost to me. Picked up the last piece of gear he wanted.

He said nothing else.

He left me in the locker alone.


Everything went pretty smoothly after we left, I suppose. It was as quiet as a damned tomb in the transport unit we took. Both ways. The op itself went fine and dandy--no snags; and he didn't make the mistake of 'helping me' or doing anything whatsoever similar to that again. Smooth, methodical, professional.

It was like it had always been.

And it also *hadn't* been. It felt...forced.

It was driving me nuts.

It wasn't as if anything truly monumental had happened--I wish he'd just get the hell over it already.


Like *I* am.

But, no. He only made the *impression* that he was alright--but I could still see it. He was...stiffer now--quieter. Only a few words passed between us in the short span since the incident; none of the usual little jokes we'd started to pass between us, the mockingly snide comments on chosen defense patterns--how many cuts and bruises we'd gotten due to a split-second's hesitation or minute miscalculations.

None of that.

I almost wished something *had* happened out there, something to give us an excuse...to say the things we wouldn't usually just come out and say--would try not to even *think* about...

But who really needs *that*, anyway? A tragic death scene, drama, regret right out there where you could see it, feel it--maybe even *taste* it?

Nah. Not me. I'd rather wait, thank you very much. It could very well wind up being *my* ass on the bed.

Or his.

Either way, we'd both lose. Scratch that, then. I shook my head as we disembarked in a gesture in accordance with that.

Nate walked right by me. I didn't think he'd appreciate a scene, either. I doubted he was even paying much attention to me right now--or rather, *pretending* that he wasn't, which should have been a nonexistent task.



I'd just gotten out of the shower and changed when he deigned to inform me that he was going out. He'd be back later, he said. No, it was nothing I needed to accompany him on.

He was just going out for a drink.

With G.W.

And he wasn't inviting me, either.


"Fine," I told him casually, as if I didn't really care that this was just another in the getting-to-be-quite-long line of his annoying behavior changes as a direct result of the Incident. "Go ahead." See if *I* cared. "Give G.W. a friendly pat on the ass for me, would you? Thanks." I slipped past him out the door his tall and quite thick body had been all but blocking.

A bit of the familiar bantering... "I'll be sure to--"

The sudden close contact made him freeze for the short second that we actually touched.

"--do...that." Bantering gone.

>Jesus! I wish he'd stop that!<


I didn't need to turn to know that, in his own way--however that might've been at that particular time--he'd flinched. Just as he'd been doing a lot more lately than I'd have liked. I mean, it wasn't as if I were particularly enjoying how *sensitive* he'd been getting.

It wasn't something I could jab and prod at without really getting to him...and not hurt him. No fun. I couldn't goad him about much of anything without that look coming back to his eyes--he was throwing up walls and leaving me on the outside with hardly a way to get in when we were together, all the while finding any excuse to be *out* of my company. Evading me whether I was in plain sight or not.

>And get out of my Goddamned head! The least you could do is give me my *entire* privacy if you're going to be avoiding me!<, I growled inwardly as I stalked off towards the tiny square space that served as our kitchen.


"No." I lifted a hand without turning around or slowing. "Just save it, Cable, alright?"


"Just go, okay?" I asked, some of the ire draining from my voice, replaced by weariness. I didn't want to argue with him as much as I previously thought. Hell, it wasn't as if even knew what to say, exactly. And from the look of him, Nate wasn't any closer to it than I was. "You wouldn't want to keep Bridge waiting, now would you?" *I'm* the one that had all the fucking time in the world, right?


He didn't follow me as a part of me, that part that just lay in wait for conflict and confrontation--along with another part that I would refrain from defining just then--would have liked him to.

"Fine," he muttered. I could hear him moving in the other direction. "I'll be back later." He pulled the door open.

I don't think he saw me pause in mid-stride.

He pulled the door open.

I don't think he noticed me turn to face him.

He stepped out and closed the door behind himself.

I don't think he saw me take a step towards him. >Fuck.< And if he 'heard' that...he didn't 'say' a word.


It was after three in the morning when he decided to get back in. Not that I was worried... You'd just think that the few days straight of work and no sleep might've made him inclined to get back in time to catch a few winks before we stepped out again and had to catch back up with the Pack for whatever other mission we were set to take on. But, no... Not *him*.

And not me, either.

I, the paragon of wisdom that I am, sat up the entire night, nursing a single beer, when I could have been getting some much needed rest. It was warm in my hand, the beer, by the time I heard the door open, almost mocking me in its lack of frigidity. I resisted the urge to chuck it against the wall for pestering me as I instead turned my head to the side just a bit, almost an acknowledgment of Nate's return. Just listening, I guess.

That was more of a courtesy that he gave *me*--he didn't even come into the kitchen. I wouldn't believe for a second that he didn't know I was up or where I was--or couldn't have taken the instant to check. Instead, I heard footsteps moving away from the door and me both, towards another tiny square space that we had set aside, an office of sorts where he liked to lock himself in and say he was 'working'. When the door closed, it was confirmed--the door to the bathroom, which was also stationed down that way, had a slight creak to it. The office door was probably perfectly oiled. Go fig'.

He was shutting himself up again, and this time, it was for a reason more directly related to The Incident than anything else.

I was having just about *enough* of this shit. Why he wouldn't just get over it?! It wasn't as if it was the *first* time it had happened in recorded history--the world hadn't changed, time hadn't stopped. Was anything of true importance *really* different?


Not really...

Okay, okay. I would admit that a few tiny things might've been slightly altered--but those were things one should easily be able to work through, especially in our field of work. Things just...happened...and you simply didn't allow them to interfere. Easy as that.

Look at *me*. I'm fine! It was over and done with--not to be repeated. Nothing to worry about--or make uncalled-for assumptions about. We could just forget it ever happened for all I cared--

...Or not...


This...this wasn't working, was it? As much as I'd like to believe it, he was not the only one still reacting to what happened. I know that I am, too--just didn't care to acknowledge *that*--would rather believe that I'm the one that's got the level head and *he's* being the idiot, when all this time, I've been reacting to *him* reacting. If everything were as fine as I'd like to think, I'd probably just chalk off his changes in behavior to something *other* than what it really was--The Incident--instead of knowing from the first instance of deviation exactly where it stemmed from.

And if this tension kept up, what was going to happen? I could already see a wall being built, anxious and uncertain brick by anxious and uncertain brick. It most likely wouldn't stop until there was enough so that only our eyes could be seen through it and nothing else, other than a little slot where messages could be sent through when necessary--but other than *that*, virtual isolation.

It had been a long damned time since the last time I hadn't been invited out to a drink with him and G.W. I suspected this last time wouldn't be the last, but the *first* in what would seem to me to be a hell of a long line of lost invites.

That brick wall had to be about waist-level--on *him*-- at least.


It wasn't fair--we both *agreed* dammit! We would just drop it--it was _no_big_deal_. We would learn from the mistake and file it away for future reference, should it be needed--but other than that? It was in the attic, left to dust over and to be ignored and in possession of no effect on our lives.

The fact that I'd begun to like having him around was a big factor in why I was feeling so...annoyed. No, we weren't all buddy-buddy or anything, but there was something there... He was like...a friend or something. Having him at my back increased my chances of coming out alive exponentially in my opinion--one of the smarter moves I'd made as a partner choice. He wasn't much of a talker--hell, neither am I--but there was enough communication to satisfy...up until recently, anyway...

The new distance was getting to be...unsettling. Invariably, it might just kick off a succession of events that might subsequently lead up to that tragic death scene. At the moment, it was only a matter of time. I could practically hear a countdown ticking the seconds away.

I didn't want that--I could do without it and so could he, I was sure.

So. What to do? Face him and get it out of the open--tell him to get his damned act together and quit acting weird on me...

Or keep on doing what I was doing right then? Nothing. Thinking about it, yeah, but really actually nothing in reality. Just sitting there...holding a warm beer and doing squat when I could be stalking my way down the halls and into that room and giving him a sizeable chunk of my mind.

After all, I *was* pretty pissed about being left out of a bar trip. And before *that*, I was already pissed about Cable's 'moodiness' and the wedge being driven between us because of it. If it kept up, we might as well just split up while 'fond' memories still floated near the surface and be done with it.

But...I didn't want that.

I *liked*...being with him, such that it was. He was a good partner; we worked well together. We'd found that certain chemistry--that mix--that made up said good partnership. And how would it look to Bridge if we suddenly parted company? Not...that I cared what he though, really, it just wouldn't look all that good for me beyond his opinion.

>Yeah. Keep telling yourself that.<

I snorted at myself, eyes rolling, and in doing so, did a partial roving over the room-- Crappy place we were in, if I didn't mind saying...and it didn't particularly bother me. Why?

My head turned to one side, eyes following its train of thought before I could consciously stop them--both turned in Nate's direction.

That stubborn bastard.

>The pot and the kettle, missy.<

Whose side am I on, anyway?

>The hell if *I* know.<

This was getting me *nowhere*. This had to be faced. And soon. Nate wasn't budging. That meant, *I* had to do it.

Just great.

This was supposed to be *his* job, wasn't it? I mean, we *both* know who's more stubborn, even if either of us doesn't often want to admit it.

I am.

And surely he's been through this before--has more experience, right? He *should* take the point when it comes to matters like these, right?

>Yeah, let's just check that one off onto the excuse list... Getting kinda long, ain't it..? Revision anyone?<

I'm struck with the urge to tell myself to shut up, and loudly, too, but Nate might hear that--even *with* my luck--and I didn't want to deal with the mental repercussions of such an action right now, either.

"Fuck," I whispered as I ran my fingers through my hair. I really didn't want to do this--

But if I didn't, who would? And I did want this to work--I think I'd stated as much. Things didn't have to end because Nate had decided to be an ass who was suddenly unable to cope.

I stood up from the small table I'd been sitting on, warm beer still in hand. The impulse to pitch it against the wall was still there, but that would only alert Nate, so instead, I tossed it back--

And tried not to grimace or choke on it.

It wasn't such a good brand to begin with--drinking it warm was almost like downing piss. But it was good motivation. Nothing like a bad taste in your mouth to increase irritability.

Lightly smacking to rid myself of that offensive tang, I sat the bottle down--not too gently, though--and resolutely turned towards the door leading to the hallway.

I was gonna do this. Yeah. I was. No stopping me now...

My feet weren't moving. Yeah, I was goin' places...

>C'mon, Dom. Just do it. No time like the present. Seize the day--if that even applies... No, don't get distracted. Just *go*... Walk. Nothing to be afraid of, you know. *You're* the one in the right, after all. He's was the one that's being the idiot, not you,< I told myself.

And it was true.

And I wasn't about to stand for being afraid or worried about anything--not something I could do something about, anyway.

I took a step forward, fingers wriggling at my sides--stopped when I clenched my hands into fists. >None of that--no *need* for that. Just *do* it.<

And I did it.

Another step and another still. And, with each step, I could feel my nerve riling up. He went back on his side of the deal--he had me in there brooding when I had plenty of *other* things I could be spending my brooding time on, and that deserved a full dose at the attitude. Oh, yeah.

By the time I reached the hallway, I was reaching up to push up sleeves that weren't even there, quickening my pace. >The hell I'm gonna let this drama go on.< I turned one short corner, then the last, the door to the office at the very end of the hall. >I've got better things to occupy my damned time.<

I wondered vaguely if he knew that I was approaching, that I was pissed and ready to tell him off and *why* I was, and whether or not he would be prepared to handle it when I got there. I hoped that he was.

It would be so much more interesting if he was.

When I rested a hand on the knob, I think I was expecting him to be standing just on the other side with one of those looks he got, those stone-faced, 'what do you want? I'm busy and you're in my way' looks of his when he thought I was being 'uppity'.

That made me push the door in all the more harder, finger already lifting into the air, glowering-- "Listen, Nate, we need to--"

My breath caught when my heart decided to skip a beat--and then another, as if some ephemeral hand had closed over it to silence it, lifting a finger to equally ephemeral lips to shush its beating before pointing and whispering, 'Shh... Just look. *Look* at that,' in a soft, unrecognizable voice to match the evanescence of its immaterial body.


Look at that look in his eyes...

It hadn't been what I'd been expecting. Far, *far* from it, in fact--far from indignant or irritable. Like I'd caught him off guard, or something. He looked so vulnerable--so *young*, unprepared for my entrance, after all. I'd *never* seen him so taken aback--didn't know he could *be* that taken aback.

That dull, yet pulsing light of his left eye, contrasted with the cool crispness of gray of the other. Such beautiful and vibrant eyes when they let you see it, expressing so much when you're allowed the privilege to do so. Almost...innocent. Pain so clear, it could've been my own.

I couldn't speak. I knew my mouth was hanging open, and it was all I could do to keep from muttering, "I, uh, uh..." so I shut it. Blinked. Couldn't remember what had sent me in there in the first place, into this...unintentional trap. Sure *felt* like a trap, anyway--there I was, caught, nearly lured in even if he hadn't baited me--to my knowledge, anyway--and I couldn't seem to free myself.

"Did you...want something, Dom?" he asked me quietly after clearing his throat, voice not quite steady.

"I, uh... I..?" >Shit! Speak, woman, dammit!< I pulled that raised finger back and hid it by scratching at my head. Why wouldn't he stop looking at me that way?! I'd caught *him*--he should be trying to hide that expression, to pretend I hadn't seen it, make it disappear just as he'd been doing for days now.


I dropped my hands to my hips as I struggled to pull things together. I couldn't do this the way I'd planned--yelling at him wouldn't work. I didn't know if I had it in me--not with the way he was *still* looking at me. I'd have to take this from another angle--one that I wasn't all that practiced in.

I sighed and took another step towards him, forcing myself to speak--and the expression of bewilderment I could feel on my face to kindly remove itself from my visage. "Nate. Look. Um..." I scratched my temple. "We...need to talk."

"Talk? About..?"

He looked as if he had no idea what the topic of conversation would be. Guess he'd fulfilled my request and gave me my privacy in its entirety as I'd asked. Feeling empowered by that, that my thoughts and emotions were entirely my own again, and oddly fueled by the expression that wasn't just in his eyes, but all over his face, in the way he sat in his chair, in the set of his shoulders, and in his hands that were clasped together in front of him on his desk that was curiously free of things to work on, I took yet another step towards him to come to stand next to that desk.

"About...what happened--"

He blinked. "Oh."

"Last week."

He lowered his eyes and a part of me ached at the disconnection. I found myself wanting to look at him eye to eye again--into those fire and ice eyes of his, no longer as discomfited by them as I'd been a few seconds ago.

I sat down on the edge of the desk, hoping that that would get him to look up at me. His eyes only lifted halfway to mine, then fell again as he turned away.

And that...hurt.

I reached over and touched his hand, the left one--the one hidden beneath the glove that lie over his right one. He flinched, nearly recoiled from the touch. I winced.

"Nate? Nate, look at me."

He slowly turned back towards me--hesitated once, twice...lifted his eyes. I could see them beginning to shield up, the defenses rising--

"We have to talk about this, Nate. It's beginning to get out of hand."

He just stared at me, looking almost pained.

"We both agreed we wouldn't let it interfere--"

"I know that," he told me quietly.

"Then what's the matter, then?"

He didn't answer, only watched me for a moment before looking away again, acquiring a stubborn set to his jaw.

"Well? You gonna say something or are you expecting me to fill in the blanks?" I asked, resisting the urge to cross my arms, because then, I'd have to take my hand from atop his...and I wasn't so sure I could get it back there again if I moved it.

"What do you want me to say?" he sighed.

That...wasn't a good sign. Narrowing my eyes just a bit in my effort to figure this out, I said, "I want you to tell me what's on your mind. We don't all have the luxury of telepathy." Even if I *do* share this damnable link with you.

He snorted, a nod to said psi-link.

"As if that's enough--like I could read your mind if I wanted to without you letting me--which would *never* happen," I added rather bitchily if I didn't say so myself. I suddenly felt like snatching my hand away--why the hell should I be so damned considerate? "I mean, if I could, I'd know why the hell you're acting like such a jerk and I wouldn't need to be in here right now--"

"Would you just drop it, Dom? Okay? I know you don't like the link--I've heard you *mention* it enough times, but you've yet to ask me to break it."

Dammit. That was true.

Though I did often complain and gripe, I had never actually *asked* him to remove it. He was my partner and a damned good one, and out of a lot of people I'd had the 'pleasure' of coming across, I'd have picked only him to make a head-roomie--if you could call what had led up to the link's inception four years ago a 'choice'.

I wasn't so sure of that anymore.

"And now?" I wondered. "It's causing more harm than good, and with your current mood--"

"Would you just lay off? I'm fine, Dom. Peachy. You can go now."

Dismissed?! Me?! Oh, uh-uh... "I can *go* now?" I didn't just pull my hand away from his--I stood up from the desk, glaring down at him--one of the few times I've ever towered over *him*--and enjoyed every second of the advantage. "I'll go when I'm good and *ready* to go and *that's* when we get this thing settled."

"You might be in here a while, then," he retorted, eyes flashing back up to mine, buffeting the harsh look I was sending his way.

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Exactly how it sounds, Dom. I don't have anything to say to you, understand? If you want to stand there, fine. Just don't get in my way." He stood up, plucking the height advantage away in a single swift movement, and made to pretend that he was doing something, when he was really just retreating in plain sight again. Whatever anger he had at me didn't translate into his movements, though; he looked weary, tired--almost lethargic.

"You stubborn ASS," I hissed, hands clenching again, and this time, it was *not* because of nervousness. "How long are we going to keep this up, Nate? Huh? How long until we just can't stand it anymore and we decide to split up?" >And we throw eight years of history away?!<

He rested his hands on a filing cabinet, leaning against it as he shifted his weight from one leg to the other. He remained quiet--he didn't appear to be formulating an answer.

"Dammit, Cable! We had an agreement! You don't just back down from that--you don't say you'll do one thing and then do something else! It's not good for *relations*," I said sarcastically as I folded my arms.

"And what would *you* know about relations?" he asked, glancing over my shoulder with something like mockery in his eyes.

Oh, that--that--! "What--" He cut me off.

"I know what I said, and well... Well, maybe I lied," he said flatly.

I blinked. "What?" We were getting somewhere--or so it seemed. I could get back to his little comment later... As if *he* could talk...

He sighed, and suddenly, that weariness was back and more pronounced, like he was tired of fighting--and when it was just getting good, too. "I was hasty at the least--I never should've agreed."

"But, why *not*? I mean, it didn't mean anything--"

"Yes. Yes, it *did*," he disputed quietly.

He whirled to face me suddenly, angry. A quick enough transition to send me on a brief blinking fit. "But, we said--"

"Would you forget what we said?!" he snapped.

"Don't yell at me," I told him quietly, some of his lassitude traveling my way--probably over the link, even though I wasn't detecting anything past the wall he'd thrown up. "It's not getting us anywhere--we should know *that* if nothing else."

He sighed and looked away from me again, leaning back against the cabinet, which was sturdy enough not to creak under his weight. There was so much in his face, then--more than just exasperation--more than frustration...more than I could rightly define, but still sent a tremor through my stomach that I wasn't very fond of...and all but leeched me of my own ire.

"Tell me."

"Just forget it."

"No. I want to hear it." I watched him intently, almost to the point of cocking my head forward so that the sound of his words would reach my ears that much sooner. "C'mon, Nate," I prodded when he didn't answer.

His eyes flashed up to mine. "It wasn't just some accident I can push aside--I don't know about you, but *I* can't."

That was some sort of aspersion--it had to be. He was no longer the only one that was angry at the moment--my own displeasure was back in no time flat. "And just *what* was *that* supposed to mean?"

"I'm sure you can guess."

"Apparently, I *can't*, so why don't you just help the idiot out and quit being an *ass* already?"

Jaw clenching, he stood up suddenly from the cabinet, which creaked this time, causing *me* flinch this time. "It's so easy for you, isn't it? You can just wipe it out of your mind as if nothing's changed--"

"Nothing's changed but *you*."

"*Everything's* changed!"

"For *you*--*not* me!"

"And that's exactly what I mean!"

"What, because I'm not tap-dancing on glass like you are, there MUST be something wrong with me? You thinking I might be *easy* or somethin', Nate, that I do this often, 'cause you sure as hell ain't no warrior nun--" I shook my head, "--uh, *priest* yourself."

"I didn't say that--"

"Then, what *are* you saying? All I'm getting from you are mixed signals when there aren't any need for them. It was a *mistake*, Nate, plain and simple. Get OVER it already!"

"I CAN'T!" he yelled, eyes ablaze, especially the left one that seemed as if it could set his hair aflame if it were a little longer. "Aren't you listening to a THING I say?! I can't just forget or pretend it was nothing--that *wasn't* a mistake, Dom. Not for *me*," he added quietly.

I blinked again, speechless. >What did he mean by that..?<

"It's all I can think about...and I was hoping I wasn't alone in that. I guess I was wrong," he added a second later, straightening further.

"What do you want from me?" I asked softly.

"I want you to act like you feel *something*, that you aren't some cold, heartless bitch, that--"

"Now, you just hold the hell on! You have NO right to judge ME. You obviously didn't have a problem with my morality when you fu--"

"Don't," he said coldly, silencing me with both his tone and the ice in *both* his eyes. *He* raised the finger this time and *kept* it up in the air when I could not when I'd had the chance. "*Don't* say that. It *wasn't* like that. _Not _at _all_."

Scolded? Me?! I'd gone from the one in the right to the one drowning in 'wrong'. How the hell did this happen?! "Then why don't you tell me how it was?" I could sound just as glacial as he could if I wanted to.

Heat--not warmth--but a raging *heat* pulsed and beat in his eyes and might've caused a resulting mist to rise up if the breath expelled from his lips were as chilled as his tone of voice was and found way to levitate up to that heat and mingle with it. "How it was?! You were there!"

"I guess I must have *missed* something! It was a simple roll in the sheets!"

"It was NOT! A simple roll in the sheets does NOT last _all_night_--not like *that*--and not past dawn! We... It wasn't a--" he stopped himself from saying it, reddening in frustration, "--it wasn't _like_that_," he finished. I didn't get the impression that had come out like he'd wanted it to.

I said it had been a mistake--I never said it had been a *small* one.

I started, glaring at him as if he'd said something totally inappropriate--something worse than what he thought I was going to say that started with 'f'. I took a step back from him, almost as if in retreat. "Now, I think you're making a bit more out of this than--"

"Am I?" he wondered, suddenly a lot less pissed than he was an instant ago. He eyes...I couldn't look away from them, couldn't hide-- "I don't think that I am."

"But," I stammered, "we...we agreed, that--"

"We did--we *tried*," he corrected, "but did we *really* agree that it was just some one-time thing...or that we'd just try to believe that it was?"

I was almost confused by the question--my higher faculties were playing tricks on me. "Well...I..." That couldn't be right--it wasn't supposed to mean this much! We agreed to that--that's what I'd told myself--he couldn't just *change* that, not without asking me first! It...it would definitely be complicated around here if we started admitting that there were actual deep *feelings* drifting between us. Were either of us even *equipped* for what that might mean?

//I'd give it a try if you were willing,// I heard in my head, a soft-soft whisper that didn't feel half as intrusive as I remember his psi-speak to be. But even still, I jumped, stared up at him as if he'd done something else completely improper.

He reached out a hand to me, apologizing physically, rather than with words that might've made me rabbit--I must've looked like I was gonna head for the hills.


I turned away from him. I didn't know what to do or what to say--two situations I'd been training myself to avoid or overcome in one way or another most of my life. A third would be trying to erase this dumb-ass look that'd developed on my face. If there'd been a mirror hanging in the doorway, I might've been able to see if that expression was anything like the one that had stopped me dead in my tracks when I'd first come in.

//Dom..?// Somehow even softer than before. //If you...*can't*...I'll understand.// Such disappointment and hope in that 'voice'. //If you *won't*...I...I can't do this anymore--being your partner. I--//

"It's not *won't*," I told him before I knew what I was saying, my voice sounding odder to my ears than I can remember hearing it before.

"Then, what?" he asked quietly, wondering into verbal speech. I heard him take a step towards me. "Can't?"

I folded my arms, straightening. "I...I don't know," I answered honestly. "I--I wasn't looking to get into this with you, Nate. It--it wasn't supposed to be this way, you know? Just...business. Risk our lives for the job--not...our hearts," I whispered, eyes becoming distant.

"I understand--believe me," he told me as he came closer. "I do. I've spent a long time being alone--most time preferring it...other times, admitting I didn't like it as much as I'd tell myself--"

I had *never* heard him divulging something like that in my presence. Of course, it was something of a shock, even with what had just gone on before.

"--It's been...a long time since I've felt this way about *anyone*--"

I snorted.

"I'm serious."

I think I heard...what--that couldn't have been...precluded laughter, could it..?

Closer still, closing with that long, confident stride of his--could feel him right behind me, reaching for me with those strong hands--still trembled as if surprised when he touched me to take me by the shoulders.

"I.." He sighed heavily and I glanced over my shoulder, catching him tilt his head back for a moment, eyes rolling up the ceiling in what could've been frustration, "I...*care* about you."

'Now, was *that* so hard?', rang out in my head, a stupid saying if there ever was one that could've been used to inspire humor, but would've made me groan if anyone had actually dared to say it aloud--just before I ripped their throat out, that is.

"Do you...*care*...about me?" he asked softly.

'Check yes if you do, check no if you don't' like in grade school-- >Focus, dammit!< I shook my head to remove that thought from my head--

He lifted his hands from my shoulders and stepped away. "I--I understand," he told me hoarsely.

I whirled around, lifting a hand into the air while shaking my head, looking up at him in slight alarm. "That's not what I meant, Nate." I closed the space between us caused when he'd moved away. "I-- Forget what I just did. That wasn't my answer. I--"

I realized I didn't know *what* my answer would be. I wasn't even really sure of what he was asking me. Did he mean an actual relationship? Some sort of understanding? What?

"I...hadn't really defined it yet, myself," he told me, shrugging lightly. "Acknowledgement for now, at the least. Deal?" he ventured.

"The last time we made a deal, we wound up...*here*."

"Point." He stared down into my eyes--I didn't know his hand had been moving until I caught it out of the corner of my eye and was nearly to its destination. My hair. If nothing else, I couldn't deny how much I'd loved the feel of his fingers through my hair--

The touch of his lips brushing against mine, his warmth, that intensity in those eyes of his, those *powerful* eyes that had opened up so much to me, had all but lured me into his arms and a night of passion that had outshone any and all acts I'd committed up until then--and who knew? Might outdo any experience that would come after it--which, when I thought about it, was kinda sad for all the wonder it gave me... He'd held me tightly against him after I'd woken up shuddering and gasping from yet another nightmare. That was much more than anyone else had ever done--or been allowed to do, I should say. He didn't ask me to tell him about it--just smoothed my hair down...made me feel *safe*.

And I didn't want to lose that--didn't want to lose *him*. Hell, I'd already admitted that--that I didn't want this to end--and even if it wasn't in exactly the same context--who really cared right now..? Me?

Hell, no.

"What're you thinking?" he asked me.

Again, I blinked. "You...don't know?"

He shook his head as he continued to trail his fingers through my hair. "No," he said simply. "You've got your privacy in its entirety for the time being." He smiled--it was small, but it was a vast change over the grim expression he'd worn just a moment ago.

I smiled back. "Thanks." I let my eyes fall. "I think...that we should talk--no yelling. Let's avoid yelling, and just...talk. No mind play, just good old-fashioned words. Let those feel things out for us. That...okay?"


I looked up to see the distraction fading from his eyes. "You...weren't paying attention?"

"I'm sorry, I..." He looked as if he were looking *into* me--not with the telepathy, but just with his eyes, which didn't make it that much less intense. "I got a little lost there...in your eyes."

I couldn't believe he'd said that. I blinked this time--as if it were my turn--eyes fluttering open and shut three times. I know I blushed--I couldn't have done anything *but* that, and with this pale skin...? I had to be aglow. >Oh, shit.< I pressed a hand to the center of his broad chest, rubbed lightly up and down. Smiled softly. "I know the feeling," I said, just as softly.

He chuckled and I felt the reverberation rumbling under my palm. I remembered very well how that had felt under my cheek that night--how much I'd liked it...so I hugged him and managed to relive the memory.

"Yeah," I murmured as I closed my eyes, letting myself lean against him. I realized *then* that I *could* do that--what he'd asked of me. "Acknowledgement for now, at the least."


Hey, hey, hey! Don't you leave without sending feedback! Were you taught to read fics in a barn?! <blink> You were..? Oh, I'm SO sorry... Didn't mean to offend... <blush>

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