She'd fallen asleep, her head tucked up against his shoulder, one hand resting on his thigh. She'd lasted only about half way through the movie before succumbing to sleep. It was still early evening, though the sky outside remained dark as night. The storm had not abated – torrents of rain still fell heavily on the rooftops. The room was cool; she'd cuddled up to him because he was big and warm and he'd offered to share a blanket with her, which now was tucked completely around her, cocooning her in its warmth. He didn't want to wake her up when she looked so peaceful and comfortable, particularly if it might cause her to decide she didn't want to share a bed with him, that she was still angry with him, that they were still on awkward footing.

She'd always been a fairly deep sleeper, so he had little fear of waking her up when he eased her off the couch and into his arms. She snuggled deeper into the blanket, her head tucked under his chin. It was the second time that night he'd carried her into the bedroom, only he hoped this time it would go better. Carefully he laid her out on the bed and untangled the blanket. She'd have to be changed; she'd never forgive him if he let her sleep in her clothes. He retrieved the soft, oversized pajama shirt she'd discarded, and began easing her out of her clothes. She awoke as he was buttoning her into the nightshirt, sleepy, disoriented.

"Gippal?" She reached out blindly, her eyes not yet adjusted to the darkness.

"Shh," he soothed. "Go back to sleep." He tucked the blankets up to her chin, making sure she'd be warm enough.

"Hmm." Her eyes closed and she yawned. She was groggy, her mind still sleep-fogged and hazy. "I'm…supposed to be mad at you, I think. I can't remember why."

He hoped she wouldn't remember until morning.

She turned a little, slipping her arms under the pillows. Her hair spread across them, loose and wavy. He wanted to slide his fingers into it, find out if it was as silky and soft as it looked. He eased onto the bed beside her, beneath the covers, and ran his fingers through her hair, combing soothingly through long, sleek strands.

"That feels nice." She shifted backwards towards him until her back touched his chest. She was probably just trying to share his body heat, but he couldn't help but to take advantage of it. He smoothed her hair away from her neck, kissing the curve where her shoulder met her neck. She made a little cooing sound, yawning again. "Gippal, what time is it?"

"Early still," he said. "You fell asleep during the movie. I tried not to wake you."

"Hmm." She turned her face into the pillow, tugging the blankets up to her chin. "I'm cold."

"I'll keep you warm." He curled an arm around her, dragging her against him, molded to the contours of his body. He enfolded her in his arms, holding her protectively. It was nice and warm and comfortable. She was still too sleepy to even think of protesting.

Lightning fizzled outside, and the distant boom of thunder raised goose bumps on her skin. She suppressed a shiver, ducking her head. But he knew. He'd always known when she was afraid, when she was trying to be brave and failing.

"Don't think about it." His arms contracted and he kissed her temple. "Don't think about it, honey."

"I can't help it. I…I just don't like the sound." That ominous crackle brought back frightening memories, memories of agonizing pain and sheer terror. She'd never liked revealing her fear to others; too many had laughed at her, mocked her. But Gippal never would. He was her friend, her champion. Her hero.

Thunder roared outside, making the window panes vibrate with its intensity. Rikku gritted her teeth, tensing. It was easy for him to tell her not to think about it, but with every crackle horrifying images rose unbidden in her mind. She could still smell her scorched skin, feel the heat and pain of the blisters that had risen on her flesh. She didn't want to relive those awful memories, she just couldn't help it.

"Don't listen," he ordered calmly. He turned her onto her back, settling over her. He braced his considerable weight on his elbows, then his big, warm hands covered her ears. Then there was nothing, no sound but the rush of her own blood in her ears.

He watched her curiously, watched her face as lightening illuminated the room for a moment, before plunging them both back into darkness. She didn't hear the crack of thunder that surely must have followed. It was relieving. He said something, his lips moved, forming words she couldn't decipher. With his hands blocking out the sounds, she couldn't hear him.

She watched as slowly his lips descended towards hers, watched until he got so close she couldn't focus on him, then felt his lips touch hers, warm and soft and sweet. He tasted a little like hot chocolate, and a little like something spicy and exotic she couldn't name. His warm breath fanned her cheek. He didn't stop with her lips – he kissed the tip of her nose, her cheeks, her chin, her forehead. There was no part of her face that didn't receive his attention, and she wasn't sure she disliked it. There was something decidedly comforting about it, and she just wanted to melt into the blankets and let him kiss her. She was enveloped in his soothing warmth, secure in the comfort of his arms. She could forget about the thunderstorm, forget about their fight, forget about everything. Gippal would block out anything else, erase any unpleasantness from her little cocoon of security and warmth.

She closed her eyes, concentrating on the feel of his lips on her throat, the delicate tickle of his eyelashes brushing her cheek. One of his legs nudged between hers. His hips rested squarely over hers. She moved restlessly, fingers clutching at his shoulders, then linking around his neck. Her bare legs slid across his hair-roughened ones, feeling the differences between them. Her skin was soft and smooth; his was muscled and dusted with a fine smattering of hair.

He sucked on her neck, nipping the sensitive skin, drawing a little surprised gasp from her. Her nails bit into his shoulders and she unwittingly pressed herself against him for one brief moment. Suddenly she felt the changing contours of his body, felt him growing hard against her. Her eyes opened wide, surprised. He was watching her, gauging her reaction.

She didn't know when exactly the switch from a comforting embrace to a sensual encounter had come about, but there was no mistaking that it had. She'd allowed it, encouraged it.

He was fairly sure she was blushing, but it was too dark to tell. She pulled her hands away from him, tucking them under her chin. He suppressed a sigh. Probably he'd pushed her a little too far again. She was still raw from their earlier argument, still wary of him.

He hadn't heard any thunder for a few minutes, nor had he seen any lightening. The rain still battered the roof, but it seemed the worst of the storm was over. He pulled his hands away from her ears, but her hair clung stubbornly to his fingers. Delicately he extricated himself from its clutches.

"I think it's over," he said, pulling away from her. "Go ahead and get some sleep. I'll take the couch." Probably she wouldn't want him sleeping with her after all. It had been foolish to hope she might.

Cold air assaulted her as he lifted away from her. He nicked a pillow from the other side of the bed and an extra blanket from the linen cabinet. She shivered, snatching up a blanket to wrap around herself.

He exited down the hallway, leaving Rikku all alone in the bedroom, in the dark. She heard the springs in the sofa creak as he lay down with a weary sigh.
She curled up against the pillows, listening to the rain pelt the window. It wasn't very nice of her to let him take the couch when she had his rather large bed all to herself. The couch probably wasn't very comfortable, and it wasn't any bigger than her own. Too small for a man like him.

Though the blanket was thick and heavy she still felt cold. Her toes curled, feeling like ice. She shivered, her fingers clutched the blanket closer. It wasn't doing any good. She was still freezing. She was going to have to ask him to come back to bed, or they were both going to be miserable. Only, how would she do it without sounding like she was inviting him to sleep with her?

She shook the thought away. Gippal would know she wasn't ready for such a thing, he always knew when she needed to back away a couple of steps before she was ready to move forward again. She thought maybe he knew her better than she did. He would know what she was asking.

She climbed off the bed, tucking the blanket around herself. She tiptoed down the hall, peeking out into the darkened living room to see if he was still awake.

"Kid, what're you doing out here?" he sighed.

"I…I…" she grappled desperately for words. "It's still my birthday, isn't it?"

He glanced at the clock, its neon numbers glowing in the darkness. "Yeah, for a couple of hours anyway."

"Can I ask a favor, then?" She dug a little furrow into the carpet with her toes, fidgeting nervously.

"Depends on the favor." He shifted a little, uncomfortable on the small couch.

"I…I want you to come back to bed." She bit her lip, but stood her ground firmly. Let him make of it what he would, she was tired of constantly shying away from him. She had nothing to be afraid of, nothing to be ashamed of. She was just a girl asking a boy for a favor, nothing more, nothing less. "It's your bed, anyway. I'd…I'd feel bad if I let you sleep on the couch."

"I don't mind taking the couch," he said. "It's not that big a deal. Like you said, it's your birthday. Least I can do is let you be comfortable on your birthday, right?" He didn't move, except to draw his knees up so his feet didn't hang over the arm of the couch.

"I'd rather…I mean, I really don't mind sharing," she said. She hadn't anticipated his refusal, wasn't prepared for it. She stumbled over her words, trying in vain to get him to understand what she wanted without seeming desperate or needy. She couldn't do it, couldn't think with him watching her curiously like that, couldn't seem to make the words come. It didn't help that her teeth were chattering. Her courage deserted her. "N-never mind," she said. "Sorry for b-bothering you."

She turned swiftly, heading back to the bedroom. She didn't close the door behind her and he heard her crawling back into bed. A few silent minutes passed as he debated his next course of action. Obviously she was a little upset about something, though he had no idea what it was, or what part he had played in it. He didn't understand why she couldn't just tell him what she wanted. He'd thought it would make her happy to have the bed to herself, to not have to worry about his attentions, especially if she was still angry with him. He sighed, hauling himself up off the couch and grabbing up his bedding, carrying it all into the bedroom. He dumped it on the floor and took a seat at the edge of the bed. She was buried somewhere beneath the blankets.

"Hey, Rikku?" He lifted the blankets, and her blonde hair spilled out over the edge of the bed. He slid his fingers through it reassuringly. "Are you okay?"

There was a muffled sniffle. She pushed away some of the blankets so she could see him. He settled his hand on her shoulder, surprised to feel tiny tremors shaking her.

"I'm cold," she said defensively, crossing her arms. Her lower lip was thrust out in a little pout that would have been adorable had she not looked so miserable. He brushed back her bangs.

"Is that all that's wrong? I'll see if I can turn up the thermostat a little for you." He hoisted himself up, but she caught his wrist as he was turning away.

"Don't go," she mumbled. She pursed her lips. "You said you would keep me warm. Please stay."

Finally he realized what she'd been trying to say all along. With a heavy sigh, he grabbed his pillow and blanket off the floor and set them on the bed. He lifted her blanket off of her, rearranging both blankets so they weren't all wadded up like she'd had them. Then he slid into bed beside her, forcing her to scoot over. He laid back and stared at the ceiling, wondering how to proceed. What was keeping her from asking for what she wanted? If she'd asked him to come back to bed in the first place, it would've kept whole charade from happening.

But then he remembered that she had asked him. He'd just assumed she'd been offering out of a sense of obligation, that it hadn't been a sincere request. He'd shut her down yet again, inadvertently backed her into a corner. Probably she knew exactly what she wanted but she had no idea how to ask him to help her. Or maybe she just felt she didn't have the right. He didn't know, but it didn't really matter. She was going to have to learn to ask, and he was going to have to learn not to question her, not to assume anything about her motivations.

She inched a little closer and her fingers brushed his forearm. "Gippal, are you mad at me?"

It was said in a plaintive, fearful tone. He felt like an ass.

"No, of course not," he said immediately. He caught up her fingers in his, turning towards her. "Come here, honey." Gratefully she slipped into his embrace, reveling in the warmth of his arms around her, of the heat of his chest against her cheek. She drew up her knees, curling into him. He hissed when her cold toes slid up his leg.

"Your feet are freezing."

"Well, if someone had come back to bed when I asked the first time, they might not be," she countered, shoving his shoulder.

It was the closest she'd come to teasing him for a while, and it was definitely a relief. He hadn't done any irreparable damage after all.

"I'm sorry," he said, stroking her hair. "Sometimes I don't understand what you're really saying. And I can't really know what you want unless you tell me. But you asked and I made a stupid assumption, and I'm sorry for that. I'll try not to do it again." He dropped a kiss on her hair, feeling the cold strands clinging to his lips. "But, you know, it's okay to tell me what you want. There's a lot I'll do for you, honey, a lot that I would love to do for you, but I can't read your mind. You have to tell me what you want. Okay?"

"I don't want to ask for stupid things like this," she said. "It feels too…" Too couple-like. And they weren't that. Not even close. She was taking advantage of his good nature, asking for things when she couldn't give him anything in return. It wasn't right. It wasn't fair. Maybe she could explain that to him. "It feels like I'm taking advantage of you," she said finally. "I don't…I don't want to do it."

"You're not," he denied at once. "I want to do stuff like this. I want you to think of me as someone you can rely on, someone who'll make you happy, keep you safe. It's true that I want more than just that, but I don't mind waiting for you. I'll never think of you as a bother, no matter what." He linked their fingers and kissed her forehead. "I like this."

"What?" she mumbled.

"This." His arms contracted around her briefly. "You're warm, right?"

She nodded, fingers squeezing his. "Thanks," she whispered hesitantly.

He sighed, sensing her subtle withdrawal. He wondered if they'd ever move past her instinctual retreat, if she'd ever stop being uncomfortable around him. "Is it really so bad, honey?"

She shook her head. "No," she said softly. "It's not…bad." It was just…different. A kind of quiet intimacy she wasn't yet accustomed to sharing with him. This was something she couldn't rationalize, couldn't chalk up to him overwhelming her with passion, playing his obvious experience against her. She couldn't justify allowing this sort of thing, regardless of how nice it felt to be held.

"Hey, quit it." He pinched her cheek. "You're worrying again."

"I-I'm sorry." She curled her free hand under her chin, ducking her head down.

He sighed. Still she was backing away, again he'd somehow managed to make her feel guilty, ashamed of herself. Maybe he was putting too much pressure on her. He knew they were still friends, that although he'd shifted the end result of their friendship, the expectations of it, that they were still the same two people who'd grown up together, spent their childhood racing over the sandy dunes of Bikanel desert. He was still the same boy who looked forward to her visits with childish glee, and she was still the same girl who made him chicken soup when he was sick and fussed over him like a mother hen. But maybe she thought something different. Maybe she was afraid of losing the friendship she'd invested so much of her life in maintaining. He wanted their relationship to deepen, their bond to grow and mature, but maybe she felt she was being forced to exchange it for something new and completely alien to her, something she didn't understand, wasn't comfortable with.

"Look," he began slowly. "I want you enough to wait for you, however long it takes. I want you because I know how good we are together, how good we could be together. I have confidence in that, that one day you'll understand that. But even…even if you don't…" It hurt him to even consider it, that maybe she wouldn't choose him. "Even if you don't, I'll still want you, we'll still be friends. I said I'd wait for you, Rikku, and I meant it." He cupped her chin, lifting it so he could see he wide green eyes.

"I'm not going away," he said. "I'm not going to let you run and forget about this. I want you to think about us, to think of me as more than just a friend. I want to be more to you than that. But I'll still wait as long as you need, and I don't want you to feel guilty about it. When you're ready, you'll come to me." He had to tell her something to ease her discomfort, to soothe her fears, but telling her too much would hurt more than it helped. She'd turn tail and run away, and he knew it. He didn't want to scare her, to send her running from him again.

She wished she could be as certain as he was. She wished she knew of a way to get rid of the uncertainty and fear lurking in her heart. He was right; she was always running away from uncomfortable situations. Only she'd been running away for so long that she didn't know how to stop. And she'd gotten herself lost in some mighty unfamiliar territory filled with unknowns. It was a scary place to be.

It was scarier to think that being Gippal's girl wasn't an altogether unattractive idea. He was handsome and sweet and caring, and he wanted her. She didn't understand it, but he made her feel things that no one ever had before. He'd touched her in ways she couldn't imagine letting anyone else touch her, and she'd enjoyed it. And that scared her most of all.

She wasn't sure of herself at all. She could wind up hurting both of them.

But Gippal was dependable – hopefully he could keep both of them safe. Even from her.

- -

She was murmuring his name. The soft, breathy little whispers drew him slowly out of sleep. She moved restlessly against him, caught up in his arms and the tangle of blankets wrapped around them. He eased her onto her back, readjusting the covers, thinking that perhaps the heat had gotten a little much for her. Still she moved sinuously against the sheets, fingers sliding across the bed until they slid up and over his chest. Her touch was light and soft. He had little doubt that she was still blissfully dreaming away.

In her sleep she cuddled up to him, nuzzling his shoulder, sighing when he wrapped his arms around her. Her legs slipped between his. She was plastered against him like a second skin, mumbling incoherently near his ear. Through the thin shirt he could feel her peaked nipples against his chest. Obviously she wasn't cold. He had his suspicions that she was having one of those dreams…suspicions he confirmed when he brushed her nipple with his fingers, and she let out a tiny moan. He did it again, and she shuddered in his arms, gasping with delight at the delicate caress. Deny it she might, but her body craved the pleasure he could give her.

But it was going to be hell enduring her unconsciously seductive movements, painful to try to ignore all those pretty little sounds she was making in his ear. Her questing fingers slid over his chest, brushing his nipple. He bit back a groan as she cooed in his ear, her warm breath making him shudder. Already he was painfully hard, and keeping her from touching him there was proving rather difficult. Finally in desperation, he caught both her wrists in one hand, gently pushing her onto her back. He stretched her out, pinning her down. The harder it was for her to move, the easier it would be for him to resist her unwitting seduction. Trapped beneath him, a little whine built in her throat when she could no longer touch him. Her brows knitted, her lips pursed petulantly. He contemplated waking her up just to save himself from the torture of seeing her stretched out beneath him, wanting him. She wriggled and her legs wrapped around his hips, arching against him with a little sigh. He felt like she'd knocked the wind out of him. His control promptly shot out the window. What could it hurt to give her what she so desperately wanted, as long as he didn't let it go too far?

With one hand he flicked open the buttons on her shirt, parting the soft fabric, kissing the soft, smooth skin he exposed. She made throaty, approving sounds as he sucked her nipple into his mouth, flicking his thumb over the other gently. She was so responsive, so passionate, just like he'd known she would be. She went to his head too quickly. As long as she was asleep, he'd have to tread very, very carefully.

- -

She woke slowly, twisting sensuously on the cool covers, caught in the remnants of some wildly erotic dream. Even now she could feel warm hands moving caressingly over her body. It felt a little too vivid to still be a dream. Someone's hot breath fanned her stomach.

"Awake?" There was a soft, teasing nip on her hip. She drew in a soft, confused breath.

"I'm dreaming." But she knew she wasn't, not anymore.

"No, honey." His tongue laved a warm path down her stomach, kissing the joint where her leg met her hip. Then his mouth was on her, and she couldn't make the fingers that were suddenly in tangled in his hair pull him away. She writhed, thighs squeezing, heels digging into his back, eyes shut tightly, swallowing back a gasp. He sucked on her clit, working two fingers inside her. She arched against him with a little keening wail.

"Please, oh, please, please, Gippal!" She cried, pleading for something, anything that would satisfy the aching hunger within her.

He moved up, forcing her hands from his hair to his shoulders. He kissed her lips, coaxing her eyes open. They were wide, desperate, wild. His fingers slid skillfully over her slick flesh, keeping her balanced on the edge of fulfillment.

"Soon, honey." He nuzzled her throat, laying tender kisses along her jaw. "Soon I'll be inside you, and I'll take you to heaven." He murmured the words in her ear, hearing her little sob, feeling her inner muscles clench around his fingers. "But not tonight."

"No!" She cried, fingernails carving tiny stinging crescents into his shoulders. "Don't…don't leave!"

His low chuckle rippled over her. "I'm not leaving, baby."

"Please, Gippal, I need…" Him. She needed him. His hands and mouth on her, his body in hers.

"I know," he soothed, pushing her towards climax, shoving her ruthlessly over the precipice, stifling her scream with his mouth on hers, murmuring nonsensical, comforting things to her until she stopped trembling in the aftermath of her violent release.

She was exhausted, weak, shaken. She'd let him do it again, and she couldn't even work up the energy to be embarrassed that she was still lying naked beneath him or that his hand still stroked her hip gently.

"I begged you," she whispered incredulously, her face hidden in his damp throat.

"Yeah," he agreed pleasantly, rubbing her bare back soothingly.

"I hate that," she said, pounding her small fist against his chest. "I don't beg!" It frightened her that he could make her beg. It hurt her pride. She might as well have given him a stick to beat her with.

"It was great for my ego," he grinned down at her. She blushed furiously, shoving at his chest.

"Don't make fun of me!" She snapped, dragging the blanket up to her chin. She turned her back on him, peeking over the side of the bed in search of the shirt he'd taken off of her.

"Hey," he tugged her back, sliding his fingers into her disheveled hair, cupping her face in his hands. She glared, but he soothed away the little frown. "I wasn't making fun of you," he said softly. "Not about this, not ever."

She clutched the blanket a little tighter. "I don't understand you at all," she whispered. "Why me, Gippal? There's plenty of other girls that actually want to go to bed with you."

"You want to go to bed with me," he said. "You're just having a hard time admitting it."

"But why me?"

"You don't wanna know, kid." He flopped onto his back, staring up at the ceiling.

"I do!" she persisted. "I have a right to know why you keep doing this to me!"

"I'm telling you, Rikku, you don't want to know." He'd called her by name, which he only ever did when he was absolutely serious about something. But she was undeterred.

"I'm telling you I do!" She shoved her hair over her shoulder, glowering at him.

"Fine." He kicked off the blankets and shucked off his pajama pants. She had very little time in which to be shocked before he caught up her hand and wrapped it around his cock, still so hard. Her breath hitched in her throat as he eased her fingers up and down the length of his shaft, the first time she'd ever touched that part of him with no fabric in the way.

"Feel me, honey. This only ever happens with you," he rasped. "I would give anything…anything to have you touch me, want me. I'm trying so hard to make you understand, to get you to see me as more than just a friend." His head fell back, his eyes squeezed shut, teeth gritted. She couldn't tell whether it was in pain or pleasure.

"I don't…I don't understand," she faltered.

"I love you!" He hissed. "God, I love you so much, and it hurts like hell! I'm horny all the time, but there's nothing I can do because you won't give me the time of day, and fucking another girl would be like adultery. No, don't stop." His hand cupped hers, urging hers back into the rhythm. "God, please, honey, don't stop now!" Now he was the one begging.

His breath was coming in quick pants, and he looked anguished, fists clutching the covers desperately as her hand continued moving on him. It was strange to see him like that. It was the first time he'd yielded control to her, and she sort of…liked discovering that she could make him as mindless as he'd made her.

But what could she do? She didn't know anything about it. Now that she'd gotten what she'd asked for just a few hours ago, she had no idea what she was supposed to do.

"You're gonna have to show me how to do this," she said hesitantly. "I don't know what to do."

"You're doing great on your own," he replied, but his hands caught hers, showing her how and where to touch him, how much pressure to use.

He'd put his mouth on her, there. Did men like that, too? She didn't know. So she bent down, stroking her tongue across the head before she could talk herself out of it. She hadn't known what she'd expected it to taste like, but it was just skin, slightly salty.

"You don't have to do that," he said hoarsely.

"Oh." She bit her lip. "I'm sorry." Maybe she should've asked first.

"Don't be sorry," he said. "I liked it. Some girls don't like doing that. I don't want you to do something that makes you uncomfortable."

"You did it to me," she reminded him.

"I like doing it to you," he replied.

"Really?" Her curiosity was piqued. "Why?"

"I love you," he said, and she could hear the sincerity in his voice. "I want to make you happy. Besides, you make the prettiest noises when you're about to come."

She was blushing again, and glad he couldn't see her. She bent down, finding a comfortable position, and swirled her tongue around him.

"Honey…"

"I want to," she said. "Really." And she closed her lips around him, sliding him into her mouth. He made a strangled sound, hands slipping into her hair. His clutching fingers helped her find the rhythm he needed, and she concentrated on the sounds he was making, discovering what he liked. It was strange, but oddly empowering to discover that she had the ability to make him like this, that he would willingly turn control over to her, that he would let her see him helpless and vulnerable.

Suddenly, his hands were pulling.

"Honey, I'm gonna come."

She didn't understand, but she raised her head, looking up at him curiously. Her fingers continued moving on him, and just seconds later she heard his hoarse cry – her name – and then felt his hands pulling her up the length of the bed next to him. Sweat was cooling on his chest, but his arms enfolded her tightly, and his lips touched her temple reverently.

"I love you," he said softly. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. I just couldn't help it." He was afraid she'd panic, that she'd leave and disappear and he'd have to spend the rest of his life searching for her. Because there was no one like her, no other woman he wanted. It had always been Rikku. It always would be her. Even if she didn't want him.

She couldn't think clearly with him holding her so tightly. His intensity frightened her. He'd known all along that she wouldn't want to know something like that. It was one thing to want her, and quite another to be in love with her. Love meant commitment and forever and forsaking everything and everyone else. Why would Gippal want that? She couldn't fathom it, didn't understand why or how or when. And she knew that he'd been trying to protect her, to wrap her up in his affection and allay her fears, to slowly introduce her to the idea before telling her something like that. He knew her better than she knew herself. How had that happened?

"Hey, Rikku?" His fingers caressed her cheek. She turned her face into his shoulder. She didn't have to deal with anything now; he wasn't asking her to make any decisions.

She hoped.

He'd said that he'd wait, that he'd give her as long as she needed. She sincerely hoped he'd meant it, that he wouldn't be angry with her for demanding he explain himself. She was fairly certain he wouldn't be. He'd let her deny responsibility; he'd assume it all. Even if she never mentioned it, he would know how confused she was, how much his revelation had affected her.

He shifted a little, easing her back against the pillows in a more comfortable position. He let her clutch the blankets tightly around herself, let her curl up into a little ball. But he tucked an arm around her, curling his body around hers comfortingly.

"It's not going to change anything," he whispered. "I promise."

But it already had changed things. She just didn't know what to do about it. Should she ignore it, pretend nothing had ever happened and hope that someday they'd regain their comfortable friendship? Or could she try to give him what he wanted and just…let him love her? She could do worse than him. He cared about her, and she cared about him in her own way. And it was nice letting him kiss her, letting him make love to her. Maybe it was nice because he loved her. Maybe his love could be enough for the both of them, at least until she had a definite answer for him, one way or the other. Maybe all he wanted from her was a chance. Maybe he really wasn't asking for more than that, for more than she could give him.

"Gippal?" Her whisper was so soft he almost didn't hear it.

"Yeah, honey?" He tucked her hair behind her ear, rubbing her bare shoulder reassuringly.

"I-I'll try." She drew in a soft breath, like she'd surprised even herself. "I can't promise you anything. But I'll try."

He knew what she was saying.

He slid his arms beneath her, gathering her up tightly against him. And she let him. She let him hold her, let him brush his lips tenderly over hers, let him tuck her up against him, let him wrap the blankets and his arms around her. And she knew he was happy – happy that she'd decided to give him a chance, happy that she was letting him hold her, letting him touch her. And really, when they were this close, this together, she couldn't seem to think in terms of him or her, and it was a little too easy for her to think in terms of them.

And maybe that wasn't such a bad thing, after all.