Title: "Provoked"
Written by: Shawn

One-Shot

Summary: Provoked: to stir up, arouse, or call forth feelings, desires, or activity.

Category: Angsty Smut

Rating: MA for graphic language.
Timeline/Spoilers: Everything is canon through Dino Thunder. After that its all my AU.

Ship: Tommy/Kim Disclaimer: Disney owns it all now. I make no profit from this.

Authors Notes: This is definitely for the Grown and Sexy. A late night fic for sure. So sit back, relax, and unwind.

"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

******

******

4-Unit Greystone apartment building

1886 Madison Road

Top floor

Kimberly's bedroom

Saturday, December 7, 2009 2:00 AM

Los Angeles, CA

Wired, restless, and supremely pissed best described the current mental state of Kimberly Hart.

Having tossed and turned for the last hour at least, she just couldn't seem to get comfortable. Couldn't find that perfect position that would let sleep sweep over her, drowning her in that glorious end-of-the-work-week slumber. Having put in over fifty hours this week she was sure after Jason's big party tonight and a couple of drinks she would be dead to the world just as soon as her head hit the pillow. Her extra long week at the office certainly earned her the right to a good night's sleep and not anything resembling a early Saturday morning.

Alas, as the back of her hand angrily smacked the side of her bed, she knew all to well who the real culprit was behind tonight's sleeplessness. Tommy was no doubt passed out on the other side of the hallway outside her bedroom in his own. Probably snoring without a care in the world. Yet again the insanity of sharing an apartment with him reared its ugly head in her mind. Of course living with him wasn't exactly the problem. They'd meshed pretty well since day one and hadn't attempted to kill each other just yet. Both having wanted a year's worth of shared living to stave off excess expenses until they could afford individual apartment's again.

L.A. was many things, but cheap wasn't one of them. And with both having started new jobs in the last year, this 'brilliant' idea of Rocky's made alot of sense at the time.

Restless in the dark was as lonely a feeling as there was in the world. Kimberly groaned while staring up at the ceiling, agitated beyond words that Tommy was probably sound asleep without a care in the world while raging jealousy ate away at her sanity. Her mind refused to shut down after what happened at Jason's party. "Fuck," she swore out loud upon sitting up, mad at herself for even feeling this way. A year shy of thirty and she thought she was well past this kind of juvenile behavior. At some point in time when a woman reached a certain age she was sure guys couldn't make you feel this way, right?

The book she tried to read before bed, a new thriller by Brenda Novak called 'Stop Me' rested across the room on the floor. She'd thrown it at the wall in a fit of frustration. Unlike most girls who needed romance novels laced with sex to put them in a good bedtime mood, thrillers gave her peace of mind. She was different that way. Had never shared much with typical girls upon growing older. Where they went left, she dove right and kept on running.

But the more it seemed she ran from Tommy Oliver... other men... states away... a continent once... even a decade of years... the more he seemed to change course, heading straight toward her again.

Rubbing her right hand over tired eyes, Kim considered that possibility as much as she wanted to push it far from her. It just seemed that they had a mysterious, mystical, can't be created or hoped for chemistry. And after so many years apart just being long-distance friends, once they were faced with each other every day and single it seemed like the wheels began to turn again. She was from day-one physically attracted to him. She knew that. Accepted it. But big deal, she was attracted to the sexy IT guy at her design studio. So looks and body appeal only went so far to her.

What they had was intimate communication.

Drawing her pillow tight to her chest, Kimberly wished that she could just slam Tommy in the same mental box that Jason, Zach, Billy, Adam, James, Kyle, and Rocky were in. They were her guy buds who she could count on and trusted. She dearly loved them all. But she didn't tell them every facet of her life the way she'd begun to share with Tommy ever since they moved in together. Sharing her most personal thoughts was a skill she still hadn't mastered. She kept things close to the vest to ward off the possibility of getting hurt. Chances with her heart weren't taken. But with Tommy there wasn't even a choice. She simply acted it on instinct and allowed him the same freedom with her.

That built such an amazing intimacy between them. It wasn't planned. It wasn't even something she thought she needed. It was just there. It fulfilled something within her to finally have someone to share her all with, knowing he accepted her as she was no matter what.

Days grew into months. Shared meals, bill paying, watching TV together, and long end-of-the-day talks without either of them having significant others bonded them in a new way they'd never shared before as adults. She hadn't wanted to recognize it at first. She wasn't not dating because of Tommy. She just had to much going on in her life and dating wasn't on the agenda. Plus, she hadn't met anyone that truly moved her. And while she wasn't one to jump up and admit she'd gone nine months without sex... excluding nine days ago... she wasn't lonely for a man in her life.

As she once told Trini, "Dick didn't make her world go round."

Leave it to Trini to point out she already had a man who was probably more than willing to take her around the world and back again. Then Aisha joined her. Tanya agreed. Katherine... well, she was another story. Not a bad one. But something more. Different. She loved her Pink Ranger successor and held great respect for her. But they'd never be as close she was to Aisha or Trini. Just as neither of them would ever be as close to Tommy as Katherine was... still is... and probably always would be.

"Dammit," Kim sighed while scratching the back of her head. A mild head-ache was tap-dancing at her temples. Reaching for the glass of water she kept on her bedside table, she quickly downed two Advil. Hopefully that would help. Of course there were the glowing digits on her evil alarm clock as they glared at her. 2:20 AM. Jesus, she felt pathetic. And all over something so stupid and not even her business to begin with.

Why did it matter so much what Tommy did? Well, stupid question, she surmised. There was no way a level of possessiveness wouldn't creep in at some point. Kimberly knew that she should have never started sleeping with Tommy. And that's all it had been... until recently. One night back in October it began. They'd be in her bed or his watching TV late and talking like usual. Then either he'd fall asleep or she would, and the other would just cover the other up and leave them be. It wasn't what normal guy and girl friends did. As a child she'd slept in the same bed as all her boy pals in slumber party settings. But not as a adult.

She certainly hadn't expected to wake up that first morning with his arm around her and his hard cock pressed against her ass. That was a interesting moment... she allowed herself a small smile. It didn't evolve into sex or even a kiss. Kim was grown enough to know the morning boner was a male trait he couldn't really control. It was what it was. But when his arms closed tightly around her, now that was something special. Nice. Warm. Intimate. Being held was a human need no matter what anyone said and to go without for so long was heart-breaking. She enjoyed his embrace far to much that first morning it happened and each time after they slept together she never mentioned it or asked him to stop.

Just like he never brought up how her arm would cover his around her waist, or that sometimes she drew it against her chest and held it there while she slept. Intimacy was left unsaid. Unspoken conversations nestled between them over morning coffee and donuts. Hell, even she knew they were having eye sex judging by the way they stared at each other. But both were so busy professionally and whatever was happening at home was probably a byproduct of loneliness and being together so much.

She was sure over time it would gently fade. She loved him. Always. But that didn't mean there was a wedding march in their future. How many people seriously end up with the guy they dated in college? Kim often joked with her girls she had a better chance of winning the lottery playing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 than hooking up with Tommy again.

Of course, as with all best laid plans...

Shutting her eyes, Kimberly rested her chin against her pillow, recalling the 'Event' yet again. Nine days ago in Tommy's room. It was a typical Monday night. Nothing special at all. He was on a three-way phone call with Jason and his buddy Chris from college, talking about football and other guy stuff that didn't interest her in the least. She ate a late dinner that she hadn't cooked as he brought it home for her without her having to ask. A guy being that thoughtful for her wasn't something she'd been used too. But she'd done it for him before, so she didn't place that much importance on it.

After his phone call he plopped down beside her on the couch while she worked on her laptop. Talk was casual as ever. She remembered thinking how good he smelled after his shower and how his body warmth, even though he wasn't even pressed against her, was soothing. It was nice to have someone to come home to even if he was just a friend. There was a voice to bounce her day off of. To share a laugh or frustration or just that it was like every other day and she was just happy to be home. Having had her fill of football in the living-room, she deftly stole the remote from him and turned to the one channel she knew was the bane of a every mans existence.

The Scorned Woman Network.

The Lifetime channel.

His protests were defied by the middle finger despite not liking the Lifetime Channel herself. Messing with him was one of her favorite activities, so she did just that. His superior length allowed him to steal back the remote as they struggled through laughing, and once he had it in his possession he ran off taunting her. Not one to ever concede defeat, she gave chase inside his bedroom and then tackled him from behind onto the bed. Somehow after a brief struggle she ended up straddled over his hips, bent over his chest, her mouth inches from his. Triumphantly she held the remote in one hand, with her other braced on his chest.

Then she said something to him that absolutely set their world on fire.

******

Standing in front of his closed bedroom door, Tommy was sure he'd lost his mind or was damn close to it.

This was fucking stupid. Completely stupid. He knew he should just knock on Kim's door and ask her to talk. Hash this all out now before it lingered. Then they could clear up this mess and... well, after that he still wasn't sure what came next. If he allowed himself to admit what he truly wanted it would only open himself up to... Tonight's little 'show' wasn't meant to hurt her. But hadn't he hurt enough in recent days? Was he unconsciously trying to hurt her back? Shaking his head, he accepted that possibility did exist on some level. Being a good person and being a good person twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week wasn't humanely possible.

Did he want to pay her back for her silence?

That wasn't fair or mature and Tommy knew it. After the 'Event' as Kim had coined it, she never brought it up again. It wasn't that she refused to talk about. She simply didn't talk about it. Pretended as if it never happened and went right back to acting the way she always had. As if that incredible night hadn't mattered in the least. The world kept spinning and that was that.

Tommy's personal resentment built day after day, albeit quietly as he hid it well. The mature way to handle her would have been to force the issue. Force her to face this head-on and not let her escape. But he wanted her to have time to contemplate what it meant to her. She had her own way of dealing, so he gave her room to breathe. He choked his opinion while awaiting hers. It never came. And when he began acting as if nothing happened as well she showed no signs of caring.

That's when he began to grow angry with her. But after a long talk with himself he let it go. Holding onto something that obviously didn't matter to her wasn't worth it. They had barely four months left of living together and then he wouldn't see her every day anymore. Then maybe he could get his sanity back.

But what about his heart?

Turning away, Tommy leaned his back to the door, shut his eyes, and bowed his head in the dark. Quiet. He heard nothing. Not a sound. She wasn't watching TV and there were no lights on under her door. He'd peeked a few minutes ago. She was, yet again, indifferent. She wasn't letting thoughts of him rob her of sleep. And here he was as wide awake as if it were 9 AM.

Dancing seductively with Katherine tonight hadn't drawn her notice. Hadn't rated on her radar in the least. He hated that it mattered to him if it had. She was probably sound asleep, curled into a ball as usual. If he didn't know her so well he'd swear she was a Ice Queen in disguise. But he did know her well. Truthfully, he'd dare anyone to say they knew her better than he did. But the emotional lines were drawn and he had to accept that what was a life-altering night to him might have just been sex to her.

Despite the expected jerk-attitude of the Y-chromosome he just couldn't not be hurt by that notion. And deep down he was sure it meant something to her. He just wish she'd share what that something was. Being too restless to sleep and wide awake at 2:00 AM wasn't helping his current mental state. Tonight's party was supposed to unwind them. They shared a cab to Jason's place so that they could drink as much as they wanted. It was Friday night after all. And he certainly needed to let go. Maybe the spirits might loosen her lips a bit. He was grasping for anything.

Seeing Katherine for the first time in several months was a unexpected surprise. She danced all over the world these days, having attained a level of fame that eluded the rest of the former Rangers. She never sought it, but her talent demanded it. Still, she was the same soft spoken sweetheart who picked up the broken pieces of him once upon a time. He hadn't used her tonight. Hadn't made advances just to get Kim's attention or made sure she was near by when they talked privately. Tommy shared a special connection with his second girlfriend that went far beyond the typical with a ex.

Katherine was a part of him in her own, unique way. She was never second place, a replacement, or just a stand-in. He loved her deeply once and they talked about getting married someday during college. Life however, had other plans. They parted on good terms that allowed them a very close friendship. And for that he was so very grateful.

So tonight they enjoyed catching up while dancing closer than they probably needed too. She was single again and not opposed to his attention. And all guy's enjoyed attention. He certainly wasn't getting any from Kim, who had abandoned him soon after they arrived. So he enjoyed himself with an old friend, who happened to be a very attractive woman. And though they teased about their time together, they weren't going to re-visit it tonight or any night soon. It was Katherine that found Kim watching them from the bar area. It was her that whispered in his ear, "She's hurt. Tell me why?"

His response was to kiss her.

While massaging the back of his neck, Tommy knew he was a asshole for the kiss. And maybe Kat was a bad girl for indulging a moment or two. And maybe the consummate good guy and gentleman reveled in knowing for once he wasn't the one feeling hurt. But it was still the wrong thing to do. And yet he wished he knew for certain if it did hurt Kim. Love, while a beautiful thing, was complex. He wished he handled things differently. And yet another part of him felt as though he was justified in some way. He was human, after all.

But ever since they began sleeping together he couldn't get past how right it felt waking up to her almost every morning. Little real-life things like how she would always get up first to brush her teeth and pee, then slip right back into bed... and his arms for a little while longer until they had to get ready for work. And when she held his arm to her chest he felt like a God. He'd press his face to her hair to just breathe her in, trying to hard to convince his heart that this was just a very close friendship and no more.

She knew how he liked his coffee and made it for him just that way. She had a legendary sweet tooth and he knew what pastries were her favorites whenever he went shopping. She never asked him to go to the movies with her, only told him what she wanted to see and bought two tickets. He never asked if the second one was for him. When his father was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night she drove him there and took off work the next day, staying by his side the entire time until his dad pulled through bypass surgery.

Kimberly owned so much of his soul he wasn't sure he could ever get it back if it turned out she didn't want it.

Then came the 'Event.' It was a Monday night for crying out loud. Typical work day. Typical night. Nothing special. He was well aware that things with Kim were deeper than either of them were ready to accept. But there was a time and place for all things. If something was meant to happen he knew that it would. So he just treated her the way he always had. Like she was one of the most important people in his life. When he and Jason debated over who was hotter between one famous TV actress and another she make silent comments with her hands from over her laptop, chiming in her sarcastic opinion. Her presence was beloved even if she weren't in the conversation. He was just... so aware of her. They didn't leave each other poetry or accidentally walk into the other's shower. There were no moments fit for a romantic comedy in their day-to-day lives. But damn if their eyes weren't filled with longing.

He wanted her. And hadn't tried to hide it. Kimberly was many things, but bashful wasn't one of them. If she had a problem with the way he held her at night, she never said a word. In fact, she held him just as tightly.

Even now his cock strained inside his dark boxers the moment he recalled her stealing the remote from his hand that magical night. They tussled on the couch, panting and laughing until he took back the prize and dared her to come get it. She ran after him inside his bedroom and tackled him onto the bed. He let her roll him over cause the feel of her straddling him the way she did... low and deep over his hardness wasn't something he wanted to miss. And then she slowly bent over him, ghosting her breath across his parted lips before daring to declare, "Now that you have me where you want me, what are you gonna do about it?"

Exhaling all the air in his lungs, Tommy shut his eyes as his jaw tightened... oh how he fucked her that night.

******

The Cheval antique-style floor-length mirror reflected a woman at Kimberly she felt was a coward.

Having hated that word all her life, she could come up with no other concerning her present predicament. Not when the answer to all her drama wasn't even ten feet away. But to go over and knock on his door might cost her more than she's willing to give. Yet again, fear strangled her.

Nine days ago she tempted fate by daring Tommy to erase their carefully constructed line of friendship. The urgent longing for her she found in his piercing gaze had matched her own for weeks. Ever since they began sleeping together it was like a ticking time bomb, counting down toward the inevitable. And when he finally claimed her mouth she was undone by the sheer emotion behind his desperate kiss.

No man had ever kissed her like that before.

In the still of her quiet bedroom she could hear the phantom sounds of them kissing hungrily, biting at each other's mouths as if they were starving to inhale the other.

Her bra strap tore when she ripped it off, throwing the garment across the room. Her fingernail scraped his chest when she wrenched his shirt from his body. When his arm hooked around her waist, she was flung onto her back, stripped of the rest of her clothes until his mouth descended between her bare trembling thighs... his tongue and sucking lips caused her scream. She came in his mouth with her slender hips feeding him all of her until he finally covered her body with his own. Her arms tightened around his neck as inch by glorious inch of his cock spread her flesh until she was so full of him she wasn't sure where she began and he ended anymore. Her sex was tasted from his tongue as they devoured each other while rocking the bed so hard the backboard cracked plaster from the wall.

Coherent thought fled her world as he fucked her so hard...

"Enough," Kim demanded out loud while peering threw her bedroom window at the dark night sky. Answers and the moon seemed hidden from her tonight. She exhaled deeply, running a weary hand through her brown hair. Having enjoyed great sex before, even the very best of her entire life if she was honest, it was the way he felt so right inside her that caused her to not be able to think about anything else. In her embrace. In his bed, making love to him... kissing him like there was no tomorrow. Nothing had ever felt so perfect.

After a feverishly long time when they climaxed there were no words, only violent shudders as they clutched each other so tightly. Soaked in sweat, their labored breathing the only sounds that could be heard, they kissed softly all over the bed. No words were spoken. Nothing said. Nothing needed to be. And before she was even aware they were vigorously fucking again. Were sideways on the bed now with the sheet pulled from one end. Trading places of who was on top, so lost in each other. She had craved him as achingly as he desired her. After having enjoyed his friendship for so long the overwhelming lust he inspired floored her as deeply as the intensity of the feelings she felt as they made love.

He touched her... and she melted for him.

Shaking her head free of the memories as reliving them would do her no good, Kim understood Tommy's underlying frustration with her in recent days. She hadn't acknowledged what happened outside of a very vague phrase where she called their night the 'Event' the very next morning. And that was after she slipped out of her bed at 5 AM to shower and get ready for work. Her bed because even after their second time in his, they somehow ended the night in her room clawing at each other until they just couldn't anymore.

Now all she felt was regret and hurt. But not regret at giving herself to Tommy. Only that she didn't have the courage to tell him what it meant to her. That it wasn't just sex, but something so meaningful she barely had words to describe it. She sensed that morning after he was ready to have the 'big talk' and wanted to try and... but she froze. Her heart shut him out due to the absolute fear that she was making a huge mistake. Why did a simple Monday night yield the most incredible night of her life? Why that day and not the countless others they shared alone, including those weekends where they stayed home together and just vegged out on movies? She wasn't afraid of ruining their friendship. If he was already in love with her and she wasn't sure about him then it was already ruined. Love never really worked out well for her in the romantic sense. And for them this would be the second trip around the carnival. Different as they were far older, but still, the fear gripped her.

So for the last nine days she tried to bury what they shared as if it never happened. Her emotional shovel slammed over the covered dirt mound and that was that. She knew she was hurting him and couldn't stop herself just the same. Before she allowed herself to fall for him even more than she already had it needed to end. Being happy just might be meant for other people. It was a sad thought, and something she felt attached to for far to long. It took incredible courage to give your heart, trust, and soul to another person. And every time you did and it didn't work out it damaged your ability to believe you were even capable of it.

So as she settled on the windowsill, Kim massaged her temple with two fingers, still as restless as when she began this emotional journey. The streets were empty as anyone with good common sense was either asleep or still at the club. A drink might help, she considered before shoving the idea away. Tonight saw her grow angry at a kiss that should have meant nothing to her. If she could erase the 'Event' and not ever discuss it with Tommy then she should have rolled her eyes at the kiss. Not felt sick to her stomach and wanted to kick Katherine's ass. It wasn't a particularly politically correct thing to think, but the intent was there.

Her heart was involved. At long last she admitted it to herself, now roaming her bedroom with her arms clasped around her, as if warding off an imaginary chill. What Tommy did tonight was just to get back at her. Deep down she knew that. Recognized it as the juvenile act that it was. Men were men, defensive to a fault and vastly imperfect when they felt ignored. But was she any less juvenile by ignoring what obviously meant a great deal to him? Love needed to be, above all else, fair. And neither of them had been thus far.

It was time to fix this. Or end it. Some form of resolution before it drove her crazy.

******

"If you would have loved me then as much as you love her now we would probably be married."

Her lovely accent could hide the soft hint of hurt in her voice. Tommy sat at the edge of his bed, a cell phone cradled to his ear, somber expression on his face. He called her because she understood him in a way few did. And what he needed to talk about wasn't something he wanted to share with anyone else. Well, anyone outside this apartment and Katherine. "Can you say you honestly loved me enough after college to have gone there?"

Lying on her side in her lavish hotel room, Katherine sighed as their relationship swept over her, both past and present. His question was one she'd asked her self many lonely nights. "... maybe."

"But we didn't. Emphasis on 'we'," Tommy half-smiled in the dark. He knew she had as well.

"Touch ."

"So... That's everything. I haven't left anything out. You know it all."

When her phone rang twenty minutes ago she ignored it at this late hour since it wasn't her parents ring tone. But when it rang again and she saw the Caller-ID through light adjusting eyes she answered. "Once you started sleeping together there was no going back, Tommy. You knew that." She imagined him bowing his head, and then nodding in agreement. He clearly wasn't himself tonight. Her heart went out to him. "Kim's had a tough road, relationship wise. Children of broken homes find it much harder to trust in love. Your first exposure to it is what you see in your mom and dad relationship. And we all know her dad cheated many times on her mother with at least three women. So that was the start of her having trouble trusting men. She was like that in high school and you knew it."

Tommy slowly craned his neck about. "I was patient with her."

"That doesn't fix her issues. It just meant you were a good man," Katherine explained, her head lying over a plush pillow. "She's had a roller coaster ride in terms of relationships and that will make anything you try to start with her require a great deal more patience, compassion, and understanding. You know just as well as I do that love isn't a romance novel. Perfect people don't exist. We're all complex and the sum of our experiences. And we all come with emotional baggage. Some of us more than others."

Tired and restless, Tommy walked over to his bedroom window, peeking through the dark blue curtains. He made no attempt to hide the emotion in his voice. "She acted like we never made love."

Had he ever sounded so hurt before? "That was wrong of her. Just like kissing me tonight was wrong of you."

"Hey, you participated," he teased lightly.

"Yeah, but that was evil Kat getting revenge for the way you stared at the Viewing Globe when you saw Divatox had kidnapped Kim and Jason."

"That was well over five years ago."

"Don't think it didn't hurt me or that I forgot. I remember the way you looked and I knew deep down about us and... but I didn't want to accept it. And rest assured, I'm over it. But I'm human too."

"So what do I do?" Tommy asked, his back to the wall beside the window. "How do I fix this?"

"You already know the answer to that. You're just afraid of that nagging voice in the back of your head that's whispering depressing things like she just doesn't feel the same way. Fear is crippling you just as much as it is her. But you both need to face this head-on. If you feel the same then you'll have to find the courage to move forward together. But if she just doesn't feel the same then you have to move on before your heart breaks any more than it already has."

That wasn't what he wanted to hear, but it was what he needed to hear. Deep down he accepted that it was his fear of losing Kim that held him in check from forcing the issue. In that moment his truth was revealed. "I love her."

Katherine knew that. Hearing it made her smile for him. She, above all else, wanted him to be happy. "Then fight for her. Even if that means fighting her. At the end of the day, no matter what happens, you'll know you gave it your all. But this unresolved place you're both in will continue to hurt you until resentment begins to fester. At that point you won't even have a friendship left to cling too."

Having made up his mind, Tommy moved to his bedroom door, exhaling a deeply held breath. He felt that at least now he'd decided on a course of action. "You're my conscious, Katherine."

She smiled at his words. "And you're my hope that there are still some good guys out there."

"I love you."

"I know," she yawned sleepily. Though single and dating herself, she still considered every now and then what might have been with Tommy. "I love you too. Now listen to your conscious and go get your heart."

He snickered softly. "That was a terrible pun."

"At 3 AM, maybe. But by breakfast you'll be giggling over how witty I am."

Tommy laughed. "Go get some sleep. Text me when you reach Toronto."

"I will. Now go. I want all the sexy details tomorrow night."

"Will do." Pressing end on his cell, he tossed it onto his bed. Then he walked to his bedroom door and opened it, ready to seize the day.

******

Their moment of truth was finally at hand.

As if fate mysteriously stepped in to announce its unpredictable presence, Tommy and Kimberly stared at each other through parted bedroom doors. The quiet moment held a meaningful spirit as their eyes locked, startled that the other was there while not having a clue why. Neither had anything resembling a plan on how to have this life-altering talk as both had intended on just waking up the other to force the issue.

Tucking a lock of her shoulder-length hair behind her ear, Kimberly softly shut her door behind her. Her back pressed to it, resting a moment while watching Tommy lean against the wall outside his bedroom. His arms crossed his bare chest, the shadows playing over the hard line of muscle. Neither made a play for the hallway light switch as dim shadows surrounded them, with only the faint sound of their fish tank in the living room offering any noise at all. She had only slipped on a long night-shirt for this talk, but now felt under-dressed beneath his tense stare. Her throat swallowed hard as she tried to calm her nerves. "I was just going to pee."

She was lying. Tommy knew it. The gentle curve of her mouth said it all. A sly grin set on his face. "Me too."

Liar, she thought while trying to fend off a smirk. With a casual flair, she pointed down the hall. "You wanna go first?"

He understood her true meaning. She wasn't talking about the bathroom and he was way past ready to dispense with the verbal games. You could only play them for so long. They were at the precipice of something extraordinary or heart-breaking. Either way, something had to give. While standing there gazing at her, she appeared so tired and sad. The solemn set of her shoulders was all wrong. He could read her like a book these days and knew she was restless. A surge of protectiveness came over him as he wanted nothing more than to take her into his arms. But his pride was still in the way.

Moving off the wall, Tommy walked to the halfway point between their bedrooms, standing on the small Persian rug his mother bought as a housewarming gift. He hoped she understood the gesture of meeting her halfway. "I'm sorry about tonight."

"I'm sorry about the last nine days."

"... you mean that night?" he struggled, but managed to ask.

"Never," she didn't hesitate to reply. Summoning her courage, she pushed off from her bedroom door, approaching him until they were face to face. Until there was no where else for her to run. "I just..." her head shook as she dealt with her frustration with herself. "I couldn't tell you what it meant to me because of how afraid I am to give all of myself to anyone."

"I wasn't asking for all of you."

"That's a lie," she declared without accepting any retort. "You are a all or nothing type of guy. You would never be satisfied with half of me. You're not built that way. In fact, you're so rare in this day and age you might as well be as prehistoric as those dinosaur bones you teach about," she smiled gently. He sighed, hating how right she was. "Tommy, I'm a mess," she confessed as tears threatened her eyes. When he reached for her, she lifted her palm to stop him. She needed to get this out. "Seriously. I'm a girl with issues that have their own issues."

"I couldn't be farther from perfect myself."

"But you don't fear anything," she said. "You see a problem, tear it apart, make a decision, and then go forward. Whatever the consequences you live with them and deal. You're not afraid to try."

Tommy's brow narrowed. "And you are?" Her head bowed as the gesture was her answer. "I'm not asking you to marry me."

Her heart was so invested in this. In him. Her fists clenched tightly as she warred with herself. What she said next was expressed so faintly she barely heard herself speak. "I'm afraid."

Tommy knew he couldn't fix her. No one could fix another person. But he would stand by her. "I won't hurt you."

"But I might hurt you," she said upon lifting her gaze until their eyes met.

"I'll take the risk." Tommy spread out his arms in a show of surrender, sighing. "I don't have all the answers and I'm not a psychic. I can't predict the future. All I know that is our night together reawakened something in me that I can't just shut off. And I need to know how you feel about our night. I need to know where we stand."

That was more than a fair request. Holding her arms around herself, she walked past him just enough to create distance, now facing the staircase. He didn't follow, understanding her always. "The night we made love was the single most incredible night of my life," she confided in him. "I couldn't get over how right it felt. How right we felt together. I... I've never made love that passionately before." She turned around, capturing his stare. "You stir something all consuming in me. And that scares the hell out of me."

"Love should be all consuming."

"I need practical and cautious."

"Then you've been doing it wrong for years."

"Says the person as single as I am?"

"At least I don't fear trying."

From any other man his words would have felt like a slap to her face. But from him they were pleading for her to trust him. Her tone of voice fell to a whisper. "Are you in love with me?"

This was Tommy putting his heart out there with no guarantee at all. But if he talked the talk, he had to walk the walk. The real tragedy here would be in not having the courage to try. "In every way possible."

She shuddered as s single tear slipped down her cheek. Her smile it night to day as she gave a small nod of affirmation. "Good."

"Good?" Tommy repeated with a half-laugh. "I was hoping for something more than good."

"Not when you kissed another girl tonight. Katherine, no less."

"I was being a jerk." Tommy advanced toward her, continuing, "I wanted to hurt you. I wanted to know you felt something other than indifference. I wanted to know I could affect you. I wish I had been a better man, but I was hurting and wanted something other than the hurt I was feeling."

"You hurt me."

"I'm sorry."

She knew that he was. Just as he knew that she was. Imperfect, real people sometimes made mistakes that required apologies. That was life no matter what age you were. "If you want a guarantee in life marry a car battery," she snickered.

Tommy blinked. "What?"

"Just something my college dorm roommate used to say about relationships," she smiled.

"So?"

This was it. Sink or swim. Go for it or walk away before he was hurt anymore than he already was. Kimberly searched her heart and found her truth. She walked softly into his chest, shut her eyes, and then rested her head sideways against him. Her arms slipped tightly around his waist. This was their time at long last. There was no going back. "Of course I'm in love with you."

"But will you give us a chance?"

Titling her chin up, she looked deeply into his eyes. "My mother soldiered on for my sake through a marriage filled with infidelity. That affected me more than I should have let it. Coupled with more than a few of my own less than wise decisions, it means you're going to have to be very patient with me. I'm a work in progress, but I promise to work with you for us. I think we're worth it. So to answer your question, yes, I want us to try."

His eyes shut while his heart soared. His right hand ascended to warmly cup her cheek. "I promise to give you my very best."

"I promise you my very best as well," she replied, feeling a sense of freedom she'd never known before. She'd taken the huge risk. Walked to the edge of the cliff and jumped simply because she believed in them. And what would be, would be. She wasn't gonna go to her grave with unlived lives in her veins. A quote from a movie she saw once, but the truth none the less. Tommy was the adventure she'd been looking for all her life. "I love you. But if you kiss Kat again I will kill you."

"A proclamation of love and a threat of murder in the same breath," he noted while bending down to her. "Whatever am I to do?"

"Exactly what I say," she playfully taunted.

"We'll see," he replied before kissing her deeply, hooking his strong arms around her waist, hauling her petite frame against him. Her lips pursed, and then gently parted for his tongue. She giggled when he swept her off her feet, taking her into his room... to his bed... and into his heart where she belonged.

******

The End