Thanks go to the three people who reviewed this. Kendra Chetnova inspired this, so thank you.

Disclaimer: See chapter One. The song Vulnerable belongs to Roxette and not me.

The dream is here again.

I'm chasing her through swirling billows of mist; she's always just out of my reach, just one step ahead. She melts into the mists, leaving me standing there the way it always happens. I try to peer through the fog, but I can't see anything and my neck hairs are prickling. Forcing down alarm, I call, "Lia?"

A hand touches mine, and she is suddenly beside me. "I'm here, John. I'm not going anywhere."

Trying hard not to sound accusing or plaintive, I say, "You disappeared and I couldn't find you,"

She smiles—a heartbreaking expression—at me, green eyes bright, their gold flecks like stars. "You'll always be able to find me. I'm always right here beside you—" she presses her palm to mine, and I feel old scar tissue across the soft skin, then she brushes her sensitive fingertips over my chest, where my heart is. "—and within you."

I awaken to a darkened room and a warm body curled around me. Instantly, I know Lia is finally asleep. Most likely, I snuggled into her, and she just let me stay there. Moving slowly so I don't wake her up, I turn my head to look at her. She is curled around me like a cat, head pillowed on an outstretched arm, black hair loose around her face, a tiny, content smile on her lips. Even sleeping, she is a beautiful sight.

Everywhere I look I see her smile, her absent-minded eyes

I sometimes wonder if our partnership will ever develop into anything else. Wonder—and hope.

She has kept me wondering for so long, how this thing could go wrong

Even when we first met, we were much the same. Both hurt, scarred, and hiding.

It seems to me that we are both the same, playing the same game

When we were younger, I discovered that Lia always opened up more at night, when it was just us and nobody around to mock or hurt her. After that breakthrough, I found ways to ensure we could talk alone at night. She did open up more, true, but she also became more morose, melancholy, and philosophic. During those nighttime sessions, I prompted and listened—she always spoke in riddles, and I tried to unravel those thoughts on a daily basis, without much luck.

But as darkness falls the true love falls apart, into a riddle of her heart

A few years ago, we had a free day, so we headed for Santa Monica for some downtime. We had a lot of fun—one of the best days we ever spent together as friends—just talking and enjoying each other's company and the weather.

Days like these, no one should be alone

I had to go pick up something from a contact I had in that area, and Lia said she'd wait for me, since it wouldn't take too long. It didn't take as long as I thought it would—when I got back, she was staring out over the sea, and I could see the armor around her heart, if only for an instant. Once she realized I was there, her external layers of masks came up, hiding the scars, her heart, and the armor again.

No heart should hide away

Lia stirs faintly in sleep, the soft, battered fabric of her loose shirt brushing against my bare back, sending shivers of pleasure rippling down my spine. Thankfully, she is asleep and unaware of the effect her light touch is having on me. My nerves are fizzing with a searing but pleasant heat—I dare not think about what a kiss would do to me—and Lia would be laughing at my goofy grin if she was awake.

Her touch is gently conquering my mind

We sit together like this a lot, one wrapped around the other. Some people might call it indecent, but who said either of us ever gave a damn about what other people think? We can just sit together in complete silence—words aren't needed, since we know what the other person will say.

There's nothing words can say

Over the years, I've discovered Lia's talent for coaxing me out of my armor. In the almost-ten years of our friendship, I think I've told her all my secrets, shared every dream—

She's colored all the secrets of my soul, I've whispered all my dreams

Well, all my secrets and dreams except one. I never told her I love her.

In the darkness, it's easy to hide. All you have to do is control your voice and body, and try not to be maneuvered into a lighted area. She's better at it than I am, and is skilled at wrapping the real meaning of her words in layer upon layer of innocently deceiving meanings. She's hard to understand at best, but I'm getting better at reading between the riddle's lines. Or so I'd like to think.

But just as nighttime falls this vision falls apart, into a riddle of her heart

Her eyes pop open with a gasp, and for an instant, I see the fear, the vulnerability in those emerald eyes I love. Suddenly, I am reminded that relative to some of our friends and enemies, we are both very young—but you can only see it in unguarded moments like this, before the shields can be slammed into place.

She's so vulnerable

The armor slides down over her heart—I can see it in her eyes—and I know it is safe to approach. I take her hand gently, rubbing it in mine. Her fingertips are cold, but her palm is warm. Lia has unusual and beautiful hands—her gold-bronze skin covers delicate but strong long-fingered hands. Every time I hold one, it feels so fragile—and yet so strong—just likes its owner.

Like china in my hands

Realizing I'm awake, she turns her head to smile slightly at me. "Hey John." she murmurs.

"Bad dreams, Lia?" I whisper, smiling back at her.

She chuckles, a low thrumming sound, but her amusement doesn't touch her eyes. "Nothing I couldn't handle. You know me."

I try not to show any emotion as I meet her eyes. Oh, Lia, I do know you…I know you too well.

She's so vulnerable

I know why she refuses to trust anyone—but I still don't understand why.

She knows I would never hurt her, but she still hides. After Chas died and Angela left, she really was—and is—the only friend I have and had left. She knew, so she stayed without a word and built our lives back up to what they used to be. But she still doesn't let her guard down around anyone, even me, although she knows I would never do anything to hurt her.

And I don't understand

I could never hurt the one I love, she's all I've got

I slip my arm around her, pulling her close. "You're cold."

"Am not." She protests softly, but nestles into my hug. Lia is slender, even thin, but her feline build hides surprising strength. She rests her head on my shoulder and looks up into my eyes, her gold-flecked green meeting my black. Streetlamp-light catches the gold flecks, making them look like fallen and falling stars. So many fallen stars, so many still falling.

Her eyes used to be pure green. The gold flecks—falling stars—give her eyes an air of weary sadness and vulnerability; it breaks my heart to see her in an unguarded moment like this one.

She's so vulnerable

Lia frowns, breaking my trance. "Quit staring at me, it's rude." she admonishes, but not harshly.

"C'mon, rest. You sleep even less than I do." I wrap a blanket around her—when she tries to protest, I hush her gently. "Shh… sleep. I'll be here when you wake."

She finally gives in and leans into me again, relaxing as her eyelids slide shut. A pang of regret shoots through me as I watch her eyes close—I love her eyes. They are her hallmark, those emerald eyes—and she has to hide them sometimes to stay safely anonymous.

Don't hide your eyes..

I wait until I am completely sure she is asleep, then ease us back down onto the bed, dragging the blanket over both of us. Before I close my eyes, I place a kiss on her forehead—a gentle chaste kiss. "Goodnight, dear heart. Sleep well—I love you."

Content, I abandon myself to sleep, with my partner, friend and secret love beside me.


This is now completed. Thanks for reading!