TITLE: Turning Tide

AUTHOR: Em Meredith (emily@healthyinterest.net)

RATING: PG-13

SUMMARY: Sequel to Steamy Conversation (which can be found at my archive: ). A view from Syd's side of the shower curtain. (S/W)

SPOILERS: General season 3, through Reunion.

DISCLAIMER: The characters belong to JJ, ABC, Touchstone, and many people who aren't me.

DISTRIBUTION: My website (). Cover Me is welcome to it. All others please ask first.

AUTHOR'S NOTES: Many thanks to Lu for the comments and to poor Macha, who had to read this about a hundred times.

Turning Tide

By Em Meredith

Sydney's not sure when things changed, when it became a habit. It all started out innocently enough, after all.

Or as innocently as it can when you invite a man into the bathroom while you're lying naked in the bathtub.

But now she's started taking baths with the curtain drawn, even when she's not expecting Weiss to drop by. More often than not, he ends up joining her in the bathroom, perched on the toilet while she sinks down in the hot water. It's become their own form of post-mission debrief, generally followed by food and a bottle of wine. And lately accompanied by a generous helping of sexual tension.

At some point, their tradition stopped being about analyzing the missions or talking about her missing two years. They talk about the everyday things now: about how Weiss's dog destroyed his couch or about the new novel Sydney's been reading. She takes baths with an alarming frequency and her water bill shows it.

Then there's the investment she's made in a bench-like laundry hamper with a padded seat, but that hasn't been as successful as she'd planned. Although Weiss won't say anything, she can tell from the look on his face that it's the not the most comfortable seat in the world. She suspects that his uncharacteristic silence on the subject isn't because he's trying to be polite, but because he doesn't want to give her a reason to kick him out. But she does her part to keep the baths enjoyable for him; there's the wide variety of scented bubblebaths that line her tub while her lavender bath salts go unused because Weiss can't stand the smell.

Tonight she chooses the vanilla bubbles and lets the water run while she pours two glasses of wine. The water's a little too hot as she eases into it, so she runs some cold water to cool it down. She's turning off the faucet when she hears click of her front door opening.

"Syd?"

"In here," she calls.

She leans back against the edge of the tub, closing her eyes and thinking that she should probably buy one of those bath pillows. Her neck gets stiff enough from sleeping on so many airplanes -- the hard ceramic bathtub isn't helping things any.

She hears Weiss's footsteps approach the bathroom, followed by his sharp intake of breath when he reaches the doorway. She wonders if it's because she hasn't drawn the curtain, and if that's making him as nervous as she is. She's covered well enough by bubbles and she's used far fewer candles to light the room, but it's a big departure from their usual routine.

He doesn't come in and sit down, instead he stands at the door and it feels like it's a full minute before he speaks.

"Sydney," he says, and it sounds like he's choking. "I think we need to have a talk about boundaries."

She laughs softly, his nerves somehow setting her at ease. "The water was too hot. I'd suffocate with the curtain drawn."

"Right. Because people in saunas don't tough it out all the time," he sighs, but he finally walks into the bathroom and takes his usual seat, frowning slightly as he tries to make himself comfortable. "Is this about Vaughn?"

"Vaughn has very little to do with the temperature of my bath water these days."

"I saw you looking at them."

She should be grateful that his voice is gentle, but instead she's just defiant.

"I have to look at them -- we all work together." When she opens her eyes, she notices that his wine glass is sitting on the floor at his feet, empty.

"Syd, they were all over each other today."

Her laughter is sharp. "Yeah. You know, at least he and I used to go into one of those dark corners. They just make out in the middle of the Ops Center. Maybe we can get Dixon to have a talk with them about professionalism."

The corner of his mouth twitches, but when he speaks he's solemn. "Seriously. I'm sure it's hard to see, but --"

"It's not," she insists, cutting him off. "I was watching them and thinking that it doesn't bother me anymore." Maybe if she says it enough she'll believe it.

Now it's Weiss's turn to laugh, and it's a frustrated sound. To her surprise, he stands up and leaves the room. She lies there for a moment, wondering if she should follow him. She's just about to grab a towel off the rack and go find him when he returns with the bottle of wine. Rather than sitting across the room on the hamper, sits down on the floor next to her. He leans up against the wall and pours himself a glass of wine, draining half the glass in one swallow, all the while staring at the floor.

Finally, he looks up at her.

"I'm trying to decide which is worse: lying to yourself or lying to me. I know you want to get over this, Syd," he says, talking over her protests, "but it's going to take time. It can't be easy, seeing them together at work every day. If you want to talk about it, we can dissect the whole thing so much that we'll make Dr. Phil jealous. But don't lie to me, okay? I'm your friend here. You know that."

"I just --" she clears her throat, hoping that it will make her voice sound less watery. "I want it to be true." She turns and leans over the edge of the tub, reaching out to him with one hand. He holds her hand in his, rubbing his thumb gently along her wrist. She cushions her head on her other arm, the fiberglass cool under her skin.

"Weiss?" she whispers.

"Yeah."

"It bothered me to see them together."

"I know."

"It bothered me because they were so happy. I miss having someone in my life like that."

"Yeah."

They're quiet for a while then. Weiss doesn't even comment on the water and bubbles that have slid down her arm and are getting his shoe wet. He finishes his glass of wine and pours another one-handed. She can't stop looking at him, but he seems to be trying to look at everything but her. The wine bottle, the floor -- even the sink all seem to fascinate him tonight.

She takes the opportunity to study him. Sydney's got years of training in reading body language, but what works out in the field never seems to work on the people she knows well. The way that Weiss is avoiding her gaze would suggest that he's feeling guilty about something, but she knows that can't be the case. After all, she's the one who's changed the status quo tonight -- what would *he* have to feel guilty about? So instead she relies on the experience she's gotten from months of watching him across pizza boxes and conference tables. She knows that the set of his jaw means that something's bothering him -- it's the face that he makes when he trying not to be pissed that he burned dinner or slammed his finger in the door.

Usually, though, Sydney only has to flash her dimples and his aggravated expression turns into a grin. She doesn't know how to react to him when he won't even look in her direction.

"Weiss?"

"Yeah," he says again, staring intently at her bathrobe, which is lying on the floor.

"You're quiet tonight."

Weiss drops her hand and pours himself another glass of wine. He takes a long sip before answering. "I'm not sure where this is leading, Syd."

She suddenly feels very naked. She's been nude in the same room as Weiss a million times now, but she's never been so aware that only a few small bubbles are concealing her body from him. She's hyperaware of every inch of skin that peeks above the water and every inch that's hidden just below. They've been in this situation more times than she can count, but she's never felt vulnerable before.

"I don't --" she starts, but he cuts her off before she has a chance to feign ignorance.

"The way I see it, there are two reasons why you're doing this. Either you're pissed about Vaughn and you think that seducing good old Eric will make you feel better, or you've forgotten entirely that I am, in fact, a man. I hope it goes without saying that neither of those options is very appealing to me."

"Weiss, it's not like that." But the criticism stings, because she knows that it *is* like that. She's been taking him for granted for a while now and it's almost a surprise that he's taken this long to call her on it.

"Okay, then," he starts, finally tearing his gaze away from Sydney's robe and looking her in the eye. "What *is* it like?"

"When I saw them today --" she begins, but gets no further because Weiss is standing up, headed for the door. She sits up and grabs for his arm, jerking him backwards before he can escape.

He turns to face her and his eyes immediately drop to her chest. She feels the bubbles sliding down her skin and her nipples harden in the cool air.

Weiss swallows hard and the hunger in his eyes is so strong that for a second she considers pulling him into the tub with her. But first she has to make him understand.

"Will you -- I need to explain. It's not like you think. Really, it's not. Will you hear me out?"

His gaze moves back up to her face and he nods. "Yes." She smiles in relief until he pulls his hand out of her grasp to gesture in her general direction. "But, uh, you might want to hide those if you expect me to actually give what you're saying my full attention."

She blushes and nods, sinking back down into the tub. She turns to face him again, holding onto the tub's edge and resting her chin on her arms so that she's covered from the shoulders down.

Weiss sits down on the floor again, but rather than leaning back against the wall he scoots forward so their faces are only a few inches apart.

She loves that he's giving her a chance to explain. In spite of the desire she sees in his eyes, she knows that he'd be running out the door if he thought she was just using him as Vaughn's replacement. She shudders, realizing that she's come precariously close to screwing this up completely. For someone who makes her living seducing spies, she isn't doing very well with this one.

"Like I said before, I saw them together and I thought how much I wanted that. I wanted a lover and I wanted someone to eat dinners with and talk about my day with, and I thought --"

"That since we already did all of those things we might as well sleep together too?" he asks, frustration lacing his words.

"No," she cries, annoyed that she keeps making things worse. "I thought -- I don't want to share all the little things -- or even the big things -- with Vaughn anymore. I want to share them with you. When Dixon does something that pisses me off, I don't want to run to Vaughn anymore, I want to tell *you.*"

"Syd," he sighs, "we're friends. That's understandable. That doesn't mean -- "

"Dammit, Weiss," she cuts him off, "I don't want to sleep with you because you happen to be over for dinner; I want to sleep with you because I like how you make me feel. You make me laugh and you've listened to me cry about Vaughn and everything I've lost. I already trust you with my life, Weiss, but I want to know what your lips feel like when you kiss me. The only thing I want to change about our relationship is for you to start taking baths *with* me."

He doesn't reply, he just stares at her, his expression pensive. She starts to panic, thinking that she's just laid it all out on the line and now he's just trying to figure out a way to let her down easy. She's about to start backtracking in order to avoid total humiliation, when he speaks.

"Okay," he nods.

"What?" she asks, thinking she must have missed something.

"Okay," he says again, toeing off his shoes. He steps into the tub fully clothed, and then carefully sits down across from her, his long legs stretching out until the rough fabric of his jeans brushes her bare skin. She scoots back in the tub, trying to make room so that they can sit facing each other, but they're both too tall and end up tangling arms and legs as he tries to avoid leaning into the faucet and she tries to keep the candles from falling in the tub. She's laughing so hard she can barely catch her breath, even as water splashes everywhere and drenches her floor. He grins and reaches for Sydney, pulling her to him. She stops giggling then and his lips are on hers. His kiss is gentle, and just a little bit playful, and she can't remember the last time she was quite so completely happy.

Sydney pulls back, dimpling at him. "See? Isn't this better?"

"Oh yes," he nods, leaning forward and pressing soft kisses along her jaw. "I'm not really sure what you're talking about, but this is better than pretty much everything."

"No," she laughs, "isn't this better than just being friends?"

"Definitely," he agrees, pulling her even closer. "But the best thing?"

"The vanilla bubblebath?"

"No," he laughs, nipping her earlobe. "This is *much* more comfortable than that damn bench."

- END - Feedback merrily received at emily@healthyinterest.net.