Chapter 3

"Do you want me to tell you something really subversive? Love is everything it's cracked up to be. That's why people are so cynical about it. It really is worth fighting for, being brave for, risking everything for. And the trouble is, if you don't risk anything, you risk even more."

-Erica Jong-

--------------

As the door closed behind her, Ray stood rooted to the spot at the counter trying to decipher what it was that she had said. He knew what he thought she said but she couldn't possibly have meant what he thought she meant. He was not that lucky. Girls like Neela did not say what he thought she had just said to guys like him.

He had been in love with her for a long time and although he knew she probably didn't feel the same way about him, there had always been that unspoken thing with them that neither of them wanted to acknowledge. He knew he had serious issues in regards to thinking of her with other men - 'issues' was the term he had decided on. Blood-boiling, insomnia inducing, rage-filled jealousy seemed a bit melodramatic although that term was a bit more accurate. The thought of Gates', he felt his eyes narrow at the mere thought of the man, hands on her, or him kissing her or in her bed had driven him varying degrees of crazy for a long time now. But that was him - it was what he did. He had the girl who was perfect for him right there, so close he could almost touch her, and some other dirt-bag had swept in and made the move before him because he was trying to do the right thing for once. He had a right to be jealous.

Her on the other hand...he never really understood what was going on with her. She got jealous and she got ratty with him but anytime they came close to discussing anything to do with that side of their deteriorating friendship it caused an argument. She favoured the 'if we don't talk about it, it's not real' approach while he wanted to talk about it. Well, he wanted to talk about it because deep down part of him knew that they wouldn't talk about it so he wouldn't really have to face it.

For his part he had always made it as clear as possible how he felt without actually saying it but he could never work out what was going on with her. She had to know that he had feelings for him, he wasn't that subtle and she...well, he knew she cared about him in some capacity. But it was Neela - Neela who didn't do stupid things like fall for her stupid, reckless, ex-roomie.

But here she had been saying what he thought he heard her say and meaning what he thought she meant and he had no idea what to think.

She had said she was scared and jealous. Thinking about him not being there had made her feel 'empty' and that scared her? He ran his hand through his hair as her words went through his head - there really wasn't that much room for that to mean something different, was there?

She said he was important to her and nearly said the love word but...it was Neela. Neela - who always pushed him away. Who was his best-friend. Who didn't feel the way for him that he felt for her.

It was Neela who had come to his apartment and stood there, in front of him, at 4.30 in the morning and admitted she was jealous and scared of the way she felt about him and he had let her leave without saying anything? The same Neela who would try and explain this away in the morning and avoid him even more?

He smacked his head as his brain suddenly started working again. What the hell was he doing standing here for? He ran towards her old room to retrieve his phone and to get dressed. "Dammit, Ray! If you've blown this..."

-------------------

She had run out the apartment block and hailed the first cab she had seen to get her back to Abby's. As she went into the apartment she closed the door behind her and sank down behind it and put her head in her hands. What had she done? How could she have been so stupid? She didn't quite make an all out declaration of love, but she wasn't far short and now she had ruined everything. She had gone there to try and avoid losing him and somehow she had actually accelerated the process of pushing him out her life.

She brought her hands to her eyes and banged her head back against the door lightly. "Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid...how could you be such an idiot?"

Her phone began ringing on the table and she let out a groan as she buried her head between her knees knowing that it was Ray calling her. He was probably checking to make sure she hadn't taken a blow to the head or was drunk or something. She cringed inwardly as she imagined facing him at work the following day and wondered whether an excuse of 'dying of humiliation' justified taking a sick-day.

How the hell could she make this right now? She'd been home twenty minutes and she still hadn't worked out a believable excuse. The drunk excuse was possible but she somehow doubted that he would buy that. Feigning amnesia was not unappealing either and temporary insanity sounded like a definite possibility but at the moment she was favouring the 'immediately fleeing to England for the next two to thirty years plan.' That definitely had merit although the price of paying up her rent, buying a plane-ticket and the immediacy of departure made it a highly expensive option. 'Plane ticket? $700. Never having to see the guy you just humiliated yourself in front of again? Priceless.' She thought with a roll of her eyes as she tried to think about what she could say. The fleeing the country was definitely the best idea so far...

She banged her head back against the door and let out a frustrated scream, thankful that she was alone in the apartment. This would have been so much worse if she had done it while she had a roommate - at least here she could die of shame on her own.

As she brought her head back into her hands with a groan she heard a rattling on the door behind her. 'Please let it be a neighbour complaining about something or desperately needing medical attention. Don't be Ray, don't be Ray...'

"Neela?"

She groaned - God hated her. "I'm not in," she muttered.

"Neela, I want to talk to you..."

"Now is really not a great time, Ray. I'm thinking I'm drunk, or insane and I'm probably leaving the country - whichever one makes most sense so I really shouldn't be talking to sober, sane people just now because I don't seem to know what on Earth I am saying, or doing tonight. Can we do this another time? Maybe a year or two after we retire..."

She heard him drop down on the ground outside the door and sigh. "Fine - you don't need to talk. Just listen."

"Ray...honestly - we should just pretend tonight didn't happen. You know, then you can go back home and I can pretend that I haven't completely lost my mind and managed to completely destroy whatever remains of our friendship..."

"Neela - you said you weren't talking so shh!" he said sternly. "You talked, rambled actually and now...my turn. So same rules - you just shut-up and listen to me now, okay?" He gave her a second to listen and then continued. "Since you won't let me in I am going to pretend that you were nodding your head in agreement there. Right...first things first. I'm not going anywhere. I'm here, I'm staying. God only knows why but I kinda like it here. The hospital is good, I have friends here and the woman I'm crazy about seems to like it here. I would be insane to leave all that behind unless I've been fired and no one has told me. Secondly - you aren't the only one who gets confused and scared and pushes people away because of it. You aren't the only one who gets jealous."

"It's just I..." She began, not really sure what she was going to say but more to stop him from talking. The more he talked, the more she started to imagine things and the more she imagined things, the scarier it got.

"Shh! Seriously - just...shh, okay? You can sit behind that door screaming at yourself, pretending this never happened but I'm not going to let you do that. You aren't drunk, you're no more crazy than normal and it's okay to be scared. You think I'm not terrified? God, Neela - it's me. You know how many meaningful relationships I've had in my life? You think I want to risk blowing the most important friendship I've ever had or that I would do it if I wasn't serious here?"

She felt hot tears spring to her eyes and she leant over and leant her head against her knees as they began to fall. She couldn't really believe what she was hearing - it seemed so unreal, so perfect she almost felt it had to be another dream. Didn't he realise how badly she had treated him? How did she deserve to have him here, saying these things to make her feel better?

"Neela, don't cry," he pleaded through the door. "Please, let me in."

"I was so horrible to you," she sniffed. "You shouldn't be nice to me. You should be angry and shouting. Or at the very least gloating or something..."

"Well to be honest I was saving the 'I told you so' speech until later but if it will make you open the door I can roll it out now."

She laughed and wiped her eyes. She closed her eyes for a minute to try and clear everything out of her head. She had briefly imagined scenarios where she could be completely honest with him, where she would just say what she wanted to say, where she didn't always guard against the worst case scenario of taking the risk and losing out. She had, if she were honest, loved him for a very long time - since before Michael had died. It had just never felt proper, or safe, or sensible, or realistic to accept it so she pretended it wasn't there. It never went away though - it gnawed at her at times. It made her so angry at him at other times - because it was clearly his fault that she had these inappropriate feelings and it made her almost pathetically jealous at others. But now? What really was stopping her? Her pride? That had pretty much been destroyed by her actions tonight. Her cowardice? He deserved better than that. Her own brain? Well, if her own brain didn't want her to take a chance with Ray it should have stopped bringing him into her thoughts unbidden so many times. So what was stopping her then?

"Ray...I'm sorry. For everything - for the way I left, and the things I said, and Tony and the way I acted with Katey and for waking you up at 4 am and all that. I'm sorry. I just..." She paused, took a deep breath and just said what she was thinking. Now or never. "It's scary to be in love with your best friend," she whispered. "If I lost you then it would be losing everything and I can't lose everything so it's easier and safer to pretend it's not happening."

She sat in silence. She knew she shouldn't have said it but there was no point in not being honest now. Better just to clear the air completely one way or another. Whether she said it or not there was probably no way that their relationship would be able to revert back to where it once was, whether they wanted to or not. They had both probably said too much for that to happen. It had been unspoken between them for so long that she wondered if it was as much a relief to him as it was to her to clear the air of the constant cloud that seemed to follow them about. It was amazing how much lighter she felt for just saying the words. To not have to carry around the baggage of denial. For him to know.

It didn't mean anything though if it just felt like that to her. Her stomach began to knot as the full realisation of what she had said hit her. If this was a one way thing then he would be sitting behind the door thinking of ways to let her down gently and...

The silence from the other side of the door did nothing to reassure her.

"Neela," he said eventually. "Please open the door."

"If you go now we can pretend this didn't happen," she said quietly, giving him an out. "We can go back to where things were and this didn't happen and I didn't say anything."

"Neela...I'm not going anywhere. If I have to sit here until your next shift, I'll do it but I'm not going anywhere. Please...give me a chance here..."

Give him a chance - he made it sound so easy. So simple. But that was Ray all over - he wouldn't be looking to see what it would mean if they did this. What if it went wrong. What if two weeks down the line he was bored of her and met the next perfect model? What if the whole thing was based on wanting someone that neither of them believed they could get? What if the reality didn't match the romanticised fantasy she had. What would happen to them then? If the thought of losing him could hurt so much, did she really want to risk it actually happening?

'But what if it worked? What if it didn't go wrong? What if it really is as good as you believe it could be?' her brain whispered to her. 'Do you really not want to know?'

She bit her lip and sighed as she got to her feet. She took a deep breath and she opened the door and gave him a weak smile as he got to his feet. "Hey..."

"Hey..." he whispered as he walked in. He over to her and brushed his fingers along her tearstained cheek. "I'm not going anywhere. I know it's scary but what if it's worth being a little scared? Neela..." He lifted her chin with his hand. "I don't want to go back to just being your friend. We've done that. Do you really want to go back to that?"

His voice was desperate and she shook her head no. She didn't want to go back. It wasn't enough now. She thought back to the bickering, the fights, the nights she had just wanted to spend with him, the way he got under her skin, the number of times she just wanted to talk to him and forget everything else and wondered if it had ever really been enough.

"Then what do you want?" His voice was barely audible but he was standing so close she could hear it. Her heart was pounding and she could barely breathe. So many thoughts and questions and what ifs? ran through her head but she shut all them out. Rational thought had done nothing for her tonight so why start now.

She brought her hand up to touch his chest and imagined that his heart was racing the way hers was. She glanced up at him and suddenly she was 100 certain - the questions vanished, the doubts, the fears all went. Looking at his eyes she felt everything fall into place. She brought her hand up to the side of his face and she smiled involuntarily. She reached up and brought her lips to his gently. As she kissed him she felt like she was floating - feeling the warmth of his breath and the taste of his lips. She had thought about it happening in the past but to actually experience it...

She pulled back after a second to see his reaction but almost immediately he pulled her back towards him again. She felt her breath catch as he wrapped his arms around her and deepened the kiss. The taste of him, the feel of his tongue, the way his hands ran slowly up her back. She could feel the way his heart was pounding and the way his breath caught when she raked her hands through his hair and it made her almost giddy to think that she could do that to him. He was here, he was kissing her and it was all so much more than she had even thought to imagine. How did she manage to wait so long for this?

A few moments she pulled back and cupped his face in her two hands. She knew that he knew what she felt, and that she was serious but it seemed important that she said it out loud - that she verbalised what they both knew. He deserved that, she thought. He had been the one to put himself out there emotionally so many times in the past and it seemed important to her that she said the words.

She looked him in the eyes and whispered. "I know what I want. I want you, Ray. I...I love you."

As she spoke he exhaled slowly before breaking into a grin. "You got me," he said as he picked her up and spun around with her. "Do you have any idea how many times I've imagined you saying that? Geez, Neela..." He laughed as he put her down and kissed her again before pulling back and looking at her seriously. "I have loved you for a long time, you know? I didn't think you'd ever feel the same way."

"That's because you're dense," she said with a grin as she pulled him over towards the couch. "Lets face it, perception was never your strong suit."

He rolled his eyes as he sat down beside her. "I haven't slept, I've had a crazy woman show up at my apartment at 4 am, I've had to have a heart to heart with a door and now I'm getting insulted? I tell you this is hard work..."

She elbowed him gently before reaching up and kissing him again. She lay her head on his chest and closed her eyes, as a feeling of utter contentment overtook her. "And Luka always says that you're scared of hard work as well..."

He guided her head up and looked at her with a grin. "Yeah well, I'm sure it will be worth the effort."

"I'll do my best..." she replied as she slid a hand up into his hair and pulled his head down towards her. She knew deep down that there was a whole load of stuff that was going to make this complicated - Tony, Katey, everyone finding out but none of it seemed important anymore. It wasn't that she didn't care what they thought it was just...it felt right. It was worth the risk, and the gossip and the inevitable arguments it would cause. It all seemed so insignificant compared to how this felt right here and that was all that she cared about. She'd let all that take care of itself - for now, all that mattered was that he was here with her and he loved her the way she loved him. Nothing else mattered.

---The End---

Author's Notes - I'd just like to thank everyone who took time to read and review this. I hope you enjoyed it. I've left it semi open at the end in case I want to do a follow-up but I have a couple of more Reela fics I want to do first and no doubt if the spoilers are true I may want to do something a bit angsty at one point as well. Anyway, I just wanted to thank you all and keep your fingers crossed that the dumb writers don't mess up the best current relationship on TV irreparably.