Mature content. Please do not read this story if you are under eighteen or if you are bothered by sex or harsh language.

Lying on her stomach with one arm tucked beneath her head and the smooth, tanned length of one leg thrust out from beneath her white sheets, she looked like an angel. Or at least, the closest he was ever going to get to one.

And, yeah, maybe he'd been drinking.

And, yeah, maybe invading the inner sanctum of a girl he knew had been half in love with him practically her entire life wasn't the best idea he'd ever had.

But just now, he really needed someone. A female someone in particular. A someone who wouldn't reject him. A someone who could be trusted.

And, really, it wasn't as if he was taking advantage of her or anything. She was dead sober. She had left the party almost as soon as Wakka had busted out the good tequila, declaring she had an abhorrence of alcohol in general and tequila in particular (likely only recently acquired after an exceedingly painful hangover earned doing body shots at a wild party held in Luca – or so he had heard).

The only thing he planned to take advantage of was the fact that she was in love with him. Even if he hadn't known she'd take him anyway she could get him, he'd have figured it out right quick after watching her tonight. She'd been surreptitiously surveying him all evening – he'd felt her eyes on him all night. It was flattering, but a little misguided. Maybe in his younger days he would've been content with her hero-worship.

But just now he wanted something more.

And he didn't know how he'd missed it, but at some point between when they'd left Bikanel almost four years ago and now, she'd grown up and become downright beautiful. Oh, sure, her face had always had the promise of future beauty, but he'd considered himself too much a brotherly figure to take much notice of it.

But when the weak strains of light from the imminent sunrise slid across her face, he could hardly fail to notice. He dropped to his knees beside the bed, slipping his fingers under the soft sheet and finding the warm, smooth skin of her back.

Her breath sighed out from between her parted lips and he imagined she might've edged a little closer to him in her sleep.

She was so soft beneath his calloused fingers – it was a sobering observation. She deserved better than a man like him pawing at her. She deserved someone whose hands were as soft as she was, someone who would never hurt her. God knew he didn't know his own strength – he was as likely to leave her with bruises as please her.

What was he doing? This was Rikku. He couldn't just slide into her bed and make love to her as if he had the right to do so. He couldn't offer her all the things she deserved – it was damn selfish of him to come to her now.

But somehow he couldn't keep his hands off of her. He couldn't stop his fingers from creeping over her shoulder, tracing the delicate lines of her throat, and slipping across her nose as he eased a little closer to get a better look at the dusting of cinnamon freckles scattered there. His thumb brushed her lips, so warm, and parted so invitingly. She stirred, and he jerked guiltily.

He'd just about made up his mind to turn tail and run like hell when her eyes opened, half-hooded, sleep-fogged. She didn't seem particularly surprised to see him there, kneeling beside her bed, leaning half over her.

He knew what he must look like – he'd walked in bare-chested from the beach party. She wouldn't be able to see his pants from where she lay. He could only look like one thing – a man coming to meet a lover. She seemed not at all concerned with his state of undress, nor did she give much consideration to the fact that he'd removed his eye patch. Not that he would've expected her to – Rikku was not a girl easily overcome by scars or wounds of any sort. She wasn't shallow. He was fairly certain she wouldn't know how to be shallow.

She said nothing. Instead she sighed, turned her cheek into the curve of his palm, and closed her eyes. And in doing so, in failing to demand he absent himself from her room, she had sealed her own fate. Nothing short of another apocalypse would get him out of there now that she had given her tacit permission. She would never know how much she had endeared herself to him with that simple gesture.

But at the same time, he was loath to disturb her – she looked so serene and peaceful, not at all the wild-child she so often resembled in her waking hours.

He settled for edging aside the sheet, exposing her back. It was warm in the room, so the absence of the sheet didn't bother her. He tugged it away gently, until it lay draped over the footboard. He was somewhat relieved to note that she was wearing panties, if that tiny scrap of violet lace could truly be termed an undergarment.

Easing onto the bed beside her, he slid his hands into her thick, unbound hair. As his fingers slipped through the silky strands to her scalp in a gentle massage, he heard her soft coo of approval. He made a thorough exploration of her body, rubbing tense muscles, caressing warm skin. She stretched and purred like a kitten being stroked under his soothing hands.

He slipped his fingers beneath her, running his warm hands up the length of her flat stomach. Her stomach muscles twitched; her lips curved into a small smile. He would've sworn he'd heard a brief giggle. He eased his hands upwards, cupping her breasts.

She wriggled a little, settling more comfortably into his embrace. Obligingly, he turned onto his side, bringing her with him so her back touched his chest. He eased one knee between her legs and kissed the back of her neck.

He could feel her waking by degrees, innocently accepting his caresses at first, and then slowly becoming a more active participant, gasping tiny cries of pleasure as he fed the passion in her. Her hands fisted in the sheet and she arched her neck as he nipped her shoulder gently. She'd have his marks in the morning – one or two small, purple bruises on her neck that she'd probably be thankful she could conceal with that gaudy scarf of hers.

He wondered vaguely if she was really aware of what she was doing and who she was doing it with. If she'd be angry. If she'd ever forgive him.

A moment later she answered his unspoken question when he slipped his fingers beneath the flimsy lace waistband of her panties, and she cried out his name when he touched her.

He liked the way she panted, the way her skin glowed with perspiration. He liked hearing her nails scraping harshly across the fabric of the sheets as he slid his fingers inside her and drove her relentlessly toward climax.

He knew what he was doing; he probably could've taken her from one climax to another in a space of minutes, but he was selfish. He wanted to be inside her when she came. He wanted to feel her around him, holding him, loving him, sighing those husky little sounds in his ear.

He eased off her wispy little panties, flinging them aside, and she shifted in his arms to face him, frantically working the buttons of his pants. Catching her fingers in his to still them, he pulled her closer, tilting her face up to press his lips to hers. Under gentle pressure they parted, and his tongue swept inside. She was overwhelmed with the taste of him, the scent of him, the feel of hard, warm muscles beneath her fingertips.

He was charmed by her persistence – she'd gone right back to fumbling with his pants, finally working enough buttons free that she started tugging them off. He let her struggle with them a moment or two before he kicked them off himself, and then they were bare skin to bare skin, and she sighed like she'd been dreaming of it all her life.

He couldn't seem to stop kissing her, even when he was pulling her leg over his waist, fitting them hip to hip so he could ease inside her. He just couldn't resist – she tasted like sunshine and citrus, warm and sweet and tangy. He was so preoccupied that it wasn't until he tasted her sharp gasp that he realized he'd taken far more from her than he'd intended to.

Shocked, he pulled away just in time to catch her wince just a little – he could feel her inner muscles bearing down on him, struggling to accommodate him.

"Damn," he whispered. "God, Rikku, I'm so sorry, I never meant –"

"It's okay," she whispered back, and he wasn't sure if it was a blush pinking her cheeks or just the first rosy hues of dawn creeping over the windowsill.

She moved experimentally, wringing a hiss from him as he fought to stay in control. He held her hip in an iron grip, and his free hand he pressed to the small of her back, hoping to keep her still while she adjusted to him. If she moved again…well, he didn't think he'd be able to handle it.

She was still tender, and she needed time to let the pain pass or he might hurt her, and he really didn't want to be on her list of regrets. And though he'd never imagined she'd been a virgin, he was perversely glad that he wasn't one in a chain, that she had no other examples by which to measure him. But he was damn well going to make sure he became the standard by which all other men were measured. He was going to make sure she never forgot him.

So, as he claimed her mouth with his, he slid one hand down to where their bodies were joined and stroked her. It took only seconds for her to catch fire, and he eased out of her, moving slowly and gently for her, helping her find the pleasure beyond the minor discomfort. All the sounds he'd wanted to hear poured from her throat, and she buried her face against his shoulder and cried her satisfaction as she convulsed around him.

Even as he reached his own violent climax, he resisted the urge to thrust hard and fast – he bit the inside of his cheek and let her silky contractions take him to heaven. Next time, he promised himself, when she wasn't so sore, he'd teach her a dozen different ways to make love. And he wouldn't have to be quite so careful with her.

She collapsed bonelessly against him, breathing hard. Her heart thudded against his chest, her head was tucked under his chin. She fell into an exhausted slumber almost immediately, and he figured it was for the best.

Because for him, that was when the guilt set in. Rikku didn't belong to him; he had no business crawling into bed with her. He definitely had no business crawling into bed with her when she'd never been to bed with anyone before. He wasn't in the habit of deflowering virgins. It was a gift that she'd given him that he didn't deserve. Hell, he wasn't even sure he'd wanted it. It made things so much more complicated.

She twisted in her sleep, turning her back on him. He wanted to see her face, to look at her when she wouldn't be looking back at him, but he didn't want to wake her. What would he see in her face if she was awake, anyway? Regret? Anger? Love? He wasn't sure how he felt about any of those things.

Only one thing was sure – he had to leave. He didn't deserve her, he didn't deserve what she'd given him. Because if she loved him, chances were he'd just end up breaking her heart. And he didn't want that, not at all.

He shifted carefully towards the edge of the bed, trying not to wake her as he slid his pants back on in the early morning light. He might've gone out the door just like that, but something had made him wait and look back at her, still so young and innocent-looking awash in the dawn light – an early morning angel asleep on the bed, wrapped in a white sheet.

But not asleep. She had her back turned to him, but he could see that she was awake, staring out the window as the sun climbed slowly out of the depths of the ocean.

"It's okay," she whispered. "I know you have to go."

Still he hesitated. It was the first time a woman – a lover – had actually given him permission to leave. Before he'd just slipped out of their beds unnoticed. He'd never slept over; he'd never even wanted to. He hadn't thought it was in him to want a relationship, when lovers were just as nice and didn't make demands on his time.

But this was Rikku.

So he padded silently back to the bed, kissed her cheek and whispered goodbye, which was far more than he'd ever done for anyone else.

And then he left quickly and quietly, ill at ease.

Because for the first time in his life, he'd wanted to stay.