A/N As you all know by now, I own nothing except my heart's desire to see Adrian and Natalie have a happy ending.


The news was pretty dull on that overcast April 2011 morning as Adrian Monk and his assistant—"slash"—friend, Natalie, ate breakfast and shared the newspaper while simultaneously listening to music from the radio. The satellite radio he'd purchased to please her. Natalie handed him the movie section so he could read Molly's latest review. It was a good one for a new thriller film, which of course they would see that weekend. They never let a "Molly approved" movie go without a weekend movie "date." This was a relatively new phenomenon, but they were making it work. They arrived early to each film so he could sit in the tenth seat in the tenth row, so everything was fine—even if the movie was playing in an odd-numbered theater at the multiplex.

Adrian sighed in contentment this morning. They often did this "breakfasting." Almost daily now. His home, her home. The location didn't really matter. It had become their quiet little ritual, one Adrian enjoyed immensely. Possibly slightly too much. No talking. Just the companionship of a trusted other, each involved in their own "thing." But together. Not alone. Never alone anymore. He was hardly ever alone since The Teegers had happened into his world, sort of like a lifeboat in the stormy sea of his life. Just in time to save him from himself.

Suddenly, Natalie touched his forearm. Pulled out of that good memory of meeting the Teegers, warmth ran through him as it usually did when she touched him. Although lately, the heat ran straight to his heart… and sometimes, other unmentionable places. He stopped ruminating, blushed slightly, and started listening carefully to the special news bulletin.

"There has been a shooting at the San Francisco Zoo. All civilians are asked to avoid this area until further notice. Herbst Road, Sloat Boulevard, Armory Drive, Great Highway Extension are all closed to public traffic for the time being. Please take alternate routes to your destinations. Local schools are in lockdown as the suspect is still on the loose. More news as it becomes available."

Natalie looked at Adrian with wide eyes filled with worry just as her phone began to ring. "Hello?" she answered, almost wishing she had left it home that morning. Their pleasant, quiet morning together was about to be ruined, she knew.

"Natalie, it's Randy. The captain and I are on our way to the zoo. Have you heard?"

"Yes, we heard there was a shooting, no details." Adrian looked on with concern, listening to her side of the conversation. Natalie realized this and turned on the speakerphone, so she didn't have to repeat the conversation to Adrian.

"Natalie, it's awful. One of the large animal keepers was shot by one of those activist people from the Animal Awareness Group. The guy then shot several others, and get this… the shooter short-circuited some of the electronic locks. One Siberian tiger, one Western Lowland gorilla, several of the flightless birds...uh emus? And one African elephant escaped. They were able to wrangle the elephant, Lulu. She is thirty-eight years old and has some chronic health issues. Apparently, they used baby elephant sounds to lure her. Isn't that sweet? Elephants are apparently good mothers…."

Natalie and Adrian both winced when they heard Leland yell, "Randy!" as Disher's explanation went off the rails. Natalie rolled her eyes at Adrian; he smirked a little at her expression. He loved when they were able to share something funny. Adrian was finally starting to "get" a variety of humorous situations, even ones that used to escape or exasperate him. With Natalie's patient tutelage through many movies and cable television comedies, he was, if not developing a complete sense of humor, at least learning to laugh a little more appropriately. He was rarely the butt of anyone's jokes anymore. Those times had upset Natalie more than they did him.

Randy continued, chastised. "So this group the shooter was with, AAG, petitioned for Lulu to be moved to a sanctuary, and that is happening. But until the zoo can provide a new elephant enclosure of at least 15 acres, city supervisors decided it can't have any more elephants in an ordinance approved just last month. And are you ready for this? The supervisors also ordered zoo officials to refurbish the enclosures for polar bears, rhinos, hippos, seals, and sea lions before seeking approval for a new elephant exhibit."

"So if they won, and they won more than they even asked for, why the shooting?" Adrian wondered aloud.

"No idea. We're on our way there, but we wanted to let you know to be on standby."

"Okay, we only had a trip to the grocery store planned for today," Natalie replied, "Then, later, possibly a trip to Berkeley to have dinner with Julie." Adrian nodded along, happy at the prospect of dinner with the women he secretly thought of as "his girls."

Natalie ended the call and turned to Adrian. "You know you're going to get called in on this, right?"

He sighed, "Probably."

"That means animals. Big animals, Mr. Monk."

"Yes," he replied bravely as a strong tremor of terror crawled up his spine, thinking of rhinoceros horns, bear claws, antelope antlers, and so on. He couldn't even picture confronting the 400-pound Western Lowland gorilla with their height - the same as his six feet plus their eight-foot arm span. He thought of a tiger on the loose at the zoo. He remembered a few years ago, in 2007, a Siberian tiger had been euthanized for escaping and mauling a few teens who had been taunting it. That had been sad all around. The teens, who had broken into the zoo, were high on drugs at the time, and the tiger was only doing what was natural but paid the ultimate price for her instincts.

After clearing and cleaning up the breakfast dishes and reorganizing the newspaper, Adrian and Natalie donned their jackets. Natalie admired the quietly checked sport coat that Adrian wore over a black long-sleeved Henley with a pair of J. Crew jeans in a dark, worn wash. His style had loosened and evolved over the last eighteen months. Julie forced him into stores he'd never patronized before. He'd do anything for Julie. She had him wrapped expertly around her finger, just like any loving daddy on Earth became with their daughters. Except he wasn't really her father, despite how they acted together, no matter how Natalie wished it to be true. Now, Natalie tried not to check out his rear end as he walked to the door in front of her but failed miserably. The jeans looked extraordinarily good on him, front and back. Hugging him in all the right places. She tried not to bite her lip in frustration, and she was glad he opened the door for her, and she was able to slip past him without him being able to see her flaming cheeks. She hurried down the hall and down the steps out of the building. The cool spring air hit her and cooled her reddened face. She had to stop fantasizing about him, and wishing, and daydreaming, and wanting. So. Much. Wanting. It was somewhat painful, both mentally and physically.

They got to her car and slipped inside. Thankfully, Adrian hadn't noticed her cheeks. Neither said anything but went about their ordinary snapping of seat belts. Adrian tuned to his preferred radio station to see if there was more news on the zoo incident. Natalie started the car. There was no news from the zoo or Leland and Randy, so all was well in the Teeger-Monk world as they drove to the Safeway on Bay Street. They each had a list and a cart, and they shopped in tandem as they so often did now, filling their carts with things they needed for themselves but also now adding things that the other liked as well. Raspberry jam in Adrian's cart for Natalie's toast while he preferred marmalade. Smooth peanut butter in Natalie's cart for Adrian, while she preferred crunchy. Making little compromises on other things without even realizing they were doing it. Adrian kept milk in his fridge for Natalie's coffee; Natalie reorganized her entire kitchen to echo Adrian's to make him comfortable. Their friends realized what was happening but stayed silent. Afraid to disrupt the beautiful love story that was slowly unfolding right in front of them like a delicate flower. Leland, TK, Sharona, Randy, even Julie, and Benji had noticed all of the little changes in Natalie and Adrian and in their relationship over the last couple of years. Still, no one said a word, knowing, hoping they would manage to take the next step on their own.

Shopping accomplished, they loaded the bags into the car and decided to stop at Natalie's house first since she had more frozen and refrigerated items to put away and then go back to Adrian's apartment. They hefted the bags from the trunk and walked up to Natalie's porch. She opened the door and was immediately struck that something was different than when she'd left that morning. Adrian noticed her hesitancy, "Natalie?"

"Something's wrong. Something's not right."

"You sound like me now."

They placed the bags of groceries on the kitchen counter and began to look around. Adrian trusted Natalie's instinct nearly as much as his own. She had, after all, solved more than one case on her own, just using her instincts. He was always proud of her, to stand beside her no matter what, but those moments when she used her intellect and her intuition… he felt not only pride but extremely aroused. That had been happening for years, but so much more often lately, it was getting more difficult to control, and he was going to have to tell her how he was feeling. He knew it, he feared it, but it was on his mind constantly. For now, he looked around and felt something was off as well.

He had a growing sense of dread as he sniffed the air. While not quite as determinedly bleached as his, Natalie's home was immaculate and neat and usually smelled of lemon Pledge, other cleaners, occasionally scented candles, and of her. Her perfume, her shampoo, her lotions. He knew those well and would like to know them more intimately. Today there was a distinctly different scent in the air. One he knew but wished he did not. The metallic tang of blood. It was so strong he could practically taste it. Finally, after several moments of his usual Monk-like indecision, his police training kicked in, and he put Natalie behind him as he grabbed the broom from its place next to the washer and dryer. He didn't want her to follow him, but he didn't want to leave her alone, either. The scent of blood grew stronger as they crept towards the living room. Adrian knew when Natalie caught the smell, a short intake of air, and she clutched his arm. He nodded without turning and kept moving.

He stopped short when he reached the couch and saw a foot protruding from beyond the side edge of the sofa. He swallowed and took a hesitant step forward. What he saw bewildered him. Just a leg in a pool of fresh blood. He pulled Natalie closer to his back. What the hell was going on here? A moment later, he heard a low rumble, then some chuffing sounds. Puzzled again, he didn't move; he just craned his neck and spotted an orange paw, the size of both of his feet put together, plus maybe at least one of his hands, holding down what looked like a human body. Oh my God. They were over ten miles from the zoo. But here they were in Natalie's living room with a dead animal activist. No, make that mauled animal activist from AAG and the Bengal tiger who perpetrated the crime. Slowly he reached back and grabbed Natalie. Unfortunately, she was so close to him by this point, he grabbed her ass and pulled her even closer to him, so her front was crushed to his back. And although they were both shocked at his action and the feeling it evoked, it paled in comparison to the sight in front of them. Then, in complete synchronicity, they began walking backward from the direction they'd come. Adrian then reached for her hand and pushed her towards the stairs. He said three words. For once, she didn't argue or give him any reason to say more.

"Your room, now." Natalie took off like lightning, and he was right behind her.

As they hit the landing, both stumbling over the last step, they heard heavy steps headed their way and more of the chuffing, followed by a growl that was unlike any either had ever heard. Quickly they leaped for Natalie's bedroom, and she slammed the door, locking it behind them. Natalie frantically thought, Could tigers work door handles? As she performed the meaningless action. Adrian, also meaninglessly, put the broom handle under the knob as if that would prevent an approximately 700-pound animal from knocking the door down. Natalie got on the phone next to her bed and was connected to the captain in seconds which felt like hours. She looked fearfully at Adrian; they could hear the tiger sniffing under the door.

"Natalie? What's the emergency?"

"Tiger. House. Here."

"Natalie?"

With a calm that was almost as unnatural as Natalie's panic, Adrian took the phone from her shaking hands and said, "Leland. Remember your zoo shooter and the escaped tiger? Well, somehow, they're both here in Natalie's house. We're trapped in her bedroom. The AAG guy is dead. The tiger is trying to get through the door to us."

"What in the holy hell? Of all the houses in San Francisco?"

"Yeah, well, we can worry about the how later… send help now!"

"On it." Before the call even disconnected, Adrian heard Leland yelling for Randy.

Adrian forced Natalie to sit on the bed, and he went into her bathroom and got a cup of water for her. He put an arm around her and said, "Help will be here soon, don't worry." She leaned into him and placed her head on his shoulder. He liked being the one who could comfort her, even if he was terrified himself. Suddenly, a loud roar of frustration emanated from the hall outside the bedroom door, and Natalie jumped and dropped the paper cup. The water splashed on the floor as she buried her face in Adrian's chest. Before he could say anything to soothe her, a large orange and black paw slammed through one of the upper panels of the door. They needed to do something. The glimpse he got of the claws on that paw made his blood run cold.

He walked to the window on the side of the bedroom. He pushed the curtains aside and opened it. There was the trellis he remembered, plus the shed wasn't too far. If they could get down the trellis, they could get to the roof of the shed. It was flat and sturdy. What was he thinking, heights? Jumping? Neither of these things was in his preferred wheelhouse of activities to do in life… but when push came to shove, mauling, watching Natalie die, or being afraid of some of his phobias… He'd choose to face phobias. Although mauling wasn't on the official list, he had to be more fearful of being mauled to death than heights. The one thing he knew was he couldn't let Natalie die or be hurt, and he didn't want to die before he told her what was in his heart.

Briefly, he glanced over his shoulder at the tiger's gleaming yellow eye through the hole the tiger had created in the bedroom door and made the quickest decision he'd ever made. "Natalie, follow me. Now!" He hesitated for a millisecond but swung a leg over the windowsill and onto the trellis. Thank goodness rose season was a while off. The dormant canes were there, but the flowers, the thorns, and the bees were a month or so away. He pulled himself away from the trellis, so she could climb down and be safely between him and the lattice. He heard her scream and then saw her denim-clad legs swing out the window and onto the trellis. He watched as she made her way towards him. Then, he heard a crack and watched helplessly as Natalie lost her footing.

She slid down the rose trellis, her body sliding against his in an intoxicating and erotic way, despite their surreal predicament. He dauntlessly reached out and caught her before she could pass him. Now they were pressed together intimately. Adrian clinging to the trellis, Natalie clinging to Adrian. Their eyes met. His were filled with a combination of terror and desire. Hers contained relief, desire, and a healthy amount of terror as well. The terror Adrian was experiencing was partially from the residual fear of heights that he'd sort of overcome, partially from the tiger that was roaming the house above them, and partially from the incredible state of arousal he was experiencing from Natalie's body wrapped around his like a blanket. Natalie's terror was sheerly about the tiger. The rest of her felt aglow with the need and desire that were always low-level present when she was close to Adrian, but since she could, feel he had the same desires despite their plight, the relief was from almost knowing for sure he wanted her too. If they could get away from the damn tiger, she resolved she would finally speak her mind and her heart.

"I guess we're okay for a minute," he whispered in her ear. His lips practically caressed the shell-like appendage.

"Yes. The tiger was in my room. It was able to break through the door just as I got out the window." She was trembling.

"Do you think you can make it to the roof of the shed?"

She pulled back to look at him and found he was serious. "I guess so."

"Tigers are fast. I don't think it's smart to get on the ground just yet. But, if we get to the shed, we can get into your neighbor's yard, which has a nice tall fence."

"Okay." She was scared, but years at the gym made her lean, limber, and her natural athleticism allowed her to jump and land almost as catlike as the tiger itself would have. Adrian nodded and smiled as he watched her land. "Come on, Adrian, it's sturdy enough for both of us."

He stared at her beautiful face for a moment and gathered himself. He could not think of his fear but wanting to be closer to her, next to her. If he were honest and thought beyond the fear and the germs... inside of her. The bizarreness of these thoughts contrasted with their current situation was so far outside of his comfort zone he wasn't even sure who he was at the moment. Maybe it was the heightened emotions making him think this way? His usual thoughts were less graphic, more chaste. But as usual, with Natalie, everything he'd known and felt before was just out the window, no pun on their current situation intended. Almost everything he'd believed about himself and how he thought about things had changed over the years he'd known her. He decided in that moment to be the man she'd want, the man she needed. He jumped, not nearly as gracefully or accurately as she had, and she grabbed at him to pull him closer to her. Just when he'd recovered from that leap, they held hands and jumped into her neighbor's yard, where they landed in his newly turned garden patch. Thankfully the soil was soft from being cultivated, and although dirty, the pair were unharmed.

A roar from above them said the tiger had figured out the window escape route. The next sound they heard was the screaming of sirens approaching.

"Thank God," Adrian said as he stood and brushed off the loose dirt from his clothes. He helped Natalie to her feet and began brushing her off as well. When he got to her arms and worked his way down to her hands, she took them into her own. She looked up into his soulful brown eyes, and he looked down into her green eyes that were sparkling up at him.

They spoke at once.

"Adrian…I have to tell…."

"Natalie…I need to say..."

Their beautiful moment was interrupted when they heard the noise of four enormous paws hitting the roof of the shed. They turned to look and came face to face with a Siberian tiger. All Natalie could think of at that moment were the words Shere Khan, the Bengal tiger's name from Kipling's Jungle Book. She'd read it over and over to Julie when she was a little girl. While she fleetingly wondered about the differences between the Bengal and Siberian tigers, the real tiger began to pace the length of the shed roof. Adrian looked over her shoulder to the gate and assessed the chances of reaching it before the tiger reached them. He looked at the locking mechanism… a simple latch system… it had no other lock that he could see. He took Natalie's hand in his and said one word, "Run!" and tugged her towards the gate. They made it though as the tiger leaped from the perch of the shed roof, and they heard a shot ring out as they slammed the gate behind them. Adrian made sure the latch took hold. And then he slid to the ground, Natalie wound up in his lap in a heap, crying with relief. After that, he just stroked her hair silently and gratefully.

Leland came running. He'd seen them jump from the shed. Breathlessly he shouted over the noise of the ambulances and cop cars, "Are you guys alright?"

Adrian simply nodded and continued stroking Natalie's hair.

"Let's get you two checked out."

They stood and followed him to the nearest ambulance. The tiger let out another roar, and Natalie shuddered. Adrian's arm went around her shoulders and pulled her close. Stottlemeyer didn't miss the gesture. He said, "They shot the tiger with a tranquilizer. It may be a while before it takes effect completely."

"What will happen to the tiger?" Natalie, no matter how terrified she was, was still soft-hearted and kind. Adrian could hear the concern in her voice. She didn't want the beautiful creature put down. And, as he always did, Adrian marveled at the compassion that lived inside of her. It was that compassion that allowed her to stay with him all these years.

"I guess there will be an inquest. According to the Director of Mammals at the zoo, with whom I spoke earlier, the tiger has tasted human blood. That's a problem, but none of this was the tiger's fault. So they will weigh all the facts, and the outcome will be based on that. I don't know any more than that, Natalie."

At the ambulance, they were each treated for some cuts and scrapes on their hands and arms, thankfully nothing major.

Randy came up right behind Leland and said, "The house is going to be considered a crime scene for a while, Nat." This made her cry again, although, through experience, she'd known this. "It looks like he chose your house because he saw an open window on the first floor and snuck inside, the tiger on his trail. We found the stolen zoo van a block away; the cargo door had been smashed outward. I guess they only usually transport tranquilized big cats." They all nodded with a clear understanding now as to why that would be the case.

Adrian asked, "Can we go in and get some clothes for her?"

"As long as you put on CSU coveralls and booties. I don't want you to transfer dirt from the secondary locations." The captain replied. Adrian agreed readily.

"Come on, Natalie, let's get some stuff for you and grab the groceries we can salvage, then we can go to my place. You'll stay will me." He said the last in a way that brooked no argument. She looked at him carefully, but his face showed no sign of their earlier electric connection, just concern for her well-being. She had no way of knowing how fast his heart was beating or how difficult it was to school his face into a somber smile.

"Alright," she agreed. Her heart had leaped as she had leaped onto the shed before when he suggested staying with him. What on Earth would happen?

He gathered the groceries while she got permission from CSU to shower and change. Then she packed some clothes and toiletries. She packed enough for well over a week, not knowing when she would come back.

As the men stood outside waiting for Natalie, Randy made calls to the mayor's and governor's offices and explained the details of the morning's events to their press secretaries. Leland said to Monk, "So whatcha thinking about?"

"The fact that Natalie nearly died again because of me."

"Anything else on your mind?"

"Like what?"

"How you feel about her almost dying? And by the way, this was bad luck, nothing to do with you."

Adrian shot him a look through narrowed eyes. How did he feel about her almost dying? Again. Okay, it wasn't because of him, per se. And he'd protected her the best he could, given the circumstances. If she'd been hurt or died, he might have lain down and died next to her, understanding that he couldn't live without her. Not just not function, but live. He realized he wasn't just physically attracted to her, which of course, he was. He loved her. Was in love with her. Desperately, hopelessly, forever and a day, in love with her.

"Leeeeelaand…"

"Yes?"

"You know I can't talk about this kind of stuff."

"Well, you'd better figure out a way. And not with me, with her." With that, he tilted his chin toward Natalie, hurrying down the steps, clearly hoping to put the morning behind her. Adrian nodded stiffly. She'd showered and changed her clothes, he noticed. Her hair was damp, and she was now wearing a pink sweat suit with a white t-shirt and sneakers. Definitely more practical for outrunning tigers. And randy bosses, he thought with an inward self-reprimand. He held his hand out for the bags that Natalie carried and put them in the back seat of her car. Then, as she turned to walk around the car, he gently grabbed her upper arm. She stopped and turned her face up to him.

"Let me drive."

"Mr. Monk…"

"I've been practicing. You know it will be okay." It was true; he had been practicing his rusty driving skills. In deserted parking lots and on quiet side streets. With her when she was in the right frame of mind to be his instructor. This, however, was in the middle of the day, directly from Sea Cliff to Russian Hill. There would be traffic and noise, and pedestrians. "Let me take care of you for once, Natalie." She was more shaken than she cared to admit aloud. Another man died in her home. Most people never had one. She now had two in eight years. One by her hand and one in a bizarre situation with a wild animal. She was already thinking of how she would explain this to the insurance company. How it had nothing to do with her line of work. She shook those thoughts from her head.

"Of course, thank you." She was surprised that he was less out of sorts than she was, but Natalie knew he was extending himself for her, so she accepted gratefully.

He exhaled with relief when she agreed. Leland smiled and winked at him as Adrian took the keys from her and took charge. He drove as if they had a newborn in the car with them on the way to his place, it took longer than usual, but they made it there just fine. Monk double-parked, put the police placard Leland had provided for them years ago in the window, and once he'd settled Natalie on his couch, made several trips with her bags and the groceries. Then he parked the car all on his own. It was a good thing he'd always renewed his license, although he'd hardly used it since even before Trudy died.

By the time all that was done, it was the early afternoon, and he walked back into his apartment feeling both grimy and exhausted. He sorted the salvageable groceries and dumped the rest. He didn't trust the refrigerated stuff and frozen stuff to be out so long. He went to check on Natalie and found her fast asleep on the couch. She looked like a painting lying there in the beams of light filtering through the drapes. The sun had finally decided to grace them with her presence that day. There were tear marks on her face, although she'd showered at her house when she'd changed. She must have cried again before she fell asleep. Her breathing was steady, like the rhythm of a love song meant for his ears only. She didn't seem to be dreaming. That she was safe was all that mattered to him at the moment.

He realized Natalie hadn't phoned Julie to tell her what had happened. He decided he would do it just so Julie didn't hear about the incident on the news. Adrian picked up the phone from beside the couch and dialed Julie's number as he walked to his bedroom. As the call connected and her phone rang, he shed his jacket and put it in the dry cleaning hamper, hoping Mrs. Ling could work her magic on it. Once he assured Julie her mother was fine, just resting on his couch and that the Teeger home would be inaccessible for a few days, and, yes, he was fine too, and that he'd have Natalie call her as soon as she woke, he stripped off the rest of his clothes and headed for the shower.

Adrian showered away the morning's garden dirt, tiger fear, and the accumulation of worries he'd faced all day. The one thing he couldn't shower away was his feelings for Natalie. In fact, he was thinking of turning down the temperature of the water to get himself under some type of control. He was behaving like a teenager with a crush. Or at least how he thought a typical teenager might behave. He couldn't believe how powerful his desire had grown since their lives had once again been in peril. Was that how it worked? To affirm your status amongst the living, you had the urge to make love? He'd heard it before, but now he thought he understood it. Now, he just wanted to march out to the living room and take her in his arms and take her to bed.

When he came out of the shower, he found Natalie at his bedroom door. He wasn't exactly dressed. He was wearing a robe and had a towel around his neck. He hadn't expected her to be awake, and even if she was awake, he wouldn't have expected to find her at the doorway of his bedroom.

"Hi," she said shyly.

"Hello," he offered back, still unsure what was happening.

"I woke up and missed you," she whispered.

He smiled and reached for her then, without thinking. He took her into his arms and held her tightly. "It was definitely a difficult morning," he said into her still slightly damp hair.

From under his chin, she said, "I want to tell you something."

And as they did earlier, they spoke simultaneously. Adrian said, "I have to tell you something."

They separated as they both laughed nervously. Then, as they stood there in the doorway to his bedroom, Natalie and Adrian realized precisely what the other wanted to say, and instead of words, Adrian reached for Natalie's face. He pulled her towards him and kissed her, almost desperate to put everything he was thinking and feeling into the moment their lips met for the first time. "I love you, Natalie," he whispered against her lips as their kiss ended.

He felt her smile against his mouth, and she pulled back to look at him. "I love you, Adrian." She moved against him and wound her arms around his neck, and kissed him again. Her heart was beating harder than when they'd run up the stairs away from the tiger.

"Natalie," he growled quite like the big cat had earlier that morning. "I can't live the way we've been living anymore. I want you. I want you to be mine. I want you now. I want you forever."

Overjoyed, she wasn't sure whether she should laugh or cry with happiness. Instead, she grabbed the towel around Adrian's neck and drew him to her again. "Oh, I am so happy that you said those words. I want you. I want you so much, and I want you for always. But it's more than want. It's need. I need you, Adrian, more than I've ever needed anything or anyone before."

For his independent Natalie to say she needed him was definitely more than he could take without kissing her again, and then picking her up in his arms, he twirled her around and said, "Is this really real?"

"I think so."

"Say it again…."

"Which part?"

"That you love me."

"I love you more than I have ever loved anyone in my life, Adrian." He grinned when she said his name. "What?"

"You said my name."

"Well, yes, it's your name."

"You don't usually do that," he grinned again.

"Well, if we've just declared our feelings, and you aren't dressed, and we are standing here in your bedroom doorway… do you think I should continue addressing you formally?"

"No! No, of course not… I'm just so damn happy right now… I feel… I'm not sure what this feeling is actually."

"Joy?"

"It could be. You're so smart. So beautiful. So perfect."

"Don't do that!" She shook her head ferociously.

"What?"

"Make me out to be more than I am; you'll end up disappointed."

"Natalie, you never disappoint me. You never will." He held her in an embrace that was tight and warm. Then he kissed her to show her he was earnest. The kiss deepened, and he maneuvered them out of the doorway and to the bed. "I want you, Natalie… is that okay to say?"

"More than okay," she smiled and pulled him down onto the bed with her. Her mouth found his again. For the rest of the day, there was nothing in the world but the two of them, together at long last.

#FINIS#