Title: Ready

Disclaimer: I do not own Leverage or its characters and I make no profit from this.

Spoilers: None.

Pairing: Nate/Parker

Author's note: I've been away from my favorite pairing for too long, so I had to write something about them.

XXXXXX

It was the middle of the night, which meant she was usually either somewhere she wasn't supposed to be, or lying in bed, wide awake, imagining that she was somewhere she wasn't supposed to be.

And tonight, she was definitely in the former category.

Considering she was in Nate's bedroom and all.

She leaned over his side of the bed, trying to see if he were really asleep. All she heard was quiet, even breathing, but it was still too dark to see his face. What if he weren't alone? The thought jolted her, making her feel much more like the intruder she was. But no, he had to be alone. She'd know if he were spending his nights with someone; she made it her business to know things like that.

"Nate?" She asked quietly. "Are you awake?"

She got no response, and now she could thankfully see well enough to confirm that he was alone in his bed.

She certainly wasn't going to stand here all night. That would be a waste of time. She leaned further over his sleeping form. "Nate!" She yelled, and then barely bit back a scream when one moment she was standing over him and the next he'd flipped her over so that she was under him on the bed.

It took him a few seconds to fully realize who had been leaning over him. "Parker?"

"Good, you're awake!" She said cheerfully. "I don't have to wake you."

"You did wake me," he said, confused. "Didn't you?"

"You tell me," she said, trying for innocent. And then, "You're kind of still on top of me."

He let her go and she moved back a few inches to the other side of the bed. "So," she propped her head up on her elbow and watched him. "This is fun."

"Oh, is that the word for when you're woken up in the middle of the night by a soon to be former team member?" He asked.

Parker huffed and rolled over onto her back. His bed was actually quite comfortable – far more than hers, in any case. "You're always looking at the negative side of things," she told him.

"Let's think, what possible reason could there be for your being in my bedroom at…" he checked the clock. "3:03 am?"

"Nate –"

"No, let me," he interrupted. "Is my apartment on fire?"

Parker automatically looked around. "Not that I'm aware of."

"Are you on fire?"

She glanced down and then cursed herself. "Of course not!"

"Did someone die?"

"No – why would you suggest such a thing?" Her voice rose to an unnatural pitch.

"Am I dying? Or are you dying?"

Parker frowned. "I guess someday both of us will –"

"What else?" He sounded much more enthusiastic now. "Am I in hell? No, purgatory. And I have to deal with you. Is that it?"

"You're really a bastard sometimes," she complained.

"Hey, there are actually a lot more reasons than I originally thought for why you'd be here at…3:05 am."

Parker stared into the darkness and realized that maybe coming here had been a terrible idea. At the very least, she could have waited until the sun rose to bring Nate her problems.

She couldn't leave, though. Her thoughts had been pulling at her for weeks now, until she finally gave in; she couldn't give up now.

Much to Nate's dismay, nothing he said was causing her to leave, either. What did a guy have to do in order to not be harassed in the middle of the night by the team of criminals he'd pulled together?

Parker stood and started walking in circles around his room, before sitting next to him on his side of the bed. Several times it looked like she might speak, but she stopped herself every time.

Nate turned to his clock again, as if staring at it long enough might make the numbers change into something much more palatable. "Did you know that every single one of you has broken into my apartment in the middle of the night at some time in the past three months?"

"Really?" She picked up his wallet and started flipping through it. "Nate, you need to have a talk with them about boundaries," she said, as if the two of them were on the same side, and the other three weren't. Moreover, she said it without the faintest hint of sarcasm, and he thought that might be why he loved her so much.

Then he froze at the fact that he'd just had that thought, and blamed the late (or early?) hour.

"Don't they know you're entitled to your privacy?" She elaborated, which might have had more impact if she hadn't been waving around his driver's license. "And really, they all visited you in the middle of the night?"

"Yes, really. At least the others didn't make it to my bedroom. Except Hardison."

She paused while counting the money he had. "You have to tell me that story."

"Another time," he waved her off and sat up. "What is it that couldn't wait until I was more than 20% conscious?"

"It's…" she suddenly felt incredibly silly. Coming to Nate in the middle of the night, as if – what? What was he going to do? The rational part of her realized that this entire endeavor was futile. But even that didn't kill the hopeful part of her – the part that thought maybe – maybe… She shook her head and had to face the hard facts: he'd probably get mad that she'd woken him up for a matter that she shouldn't have asked him about in the first place.

Nate realized after a minute of silence that she wasn't going to finish her sentence and sighed, falling back onto his bed. He was exhausted, and it seemed she didn't have a good reason to be here, and he was getting more irritated with her each passing second.

"Parker," he bit out, "either explain or go home. I don't have time for this."

She wanted to tell him it was the middle of the night, and thus he had nothing but time, except his tone kept her from doing so. He wasn't happy with her and she didn't blame him. Bothering him at this time…she knew she would be furious if someone woke her while she was sleeping; Nate had every right to be just as mad.

"I'm going to go home," she told him, standing, and carefully putting his wallet back.

He almost missed the uncertainty in her tone. And any other time he might have simply ignored it, but for some reason, he couldn't tonight. "Get back here," he ordered right as she made it to his doorway.

"Why?" She asked. "Nate, what could you possibly want to talk to me about at three in the morning?"

He sat up again, his sheer incredulity giving him the energy to do so. "You woke me!"

"I don't understand what you're getting at."

"Parker," he took a deep breath and prayed for patience. "Don't make me come get you."

She eyed him carefully, as if assessing how likely he was to actually come and drag her back to his bed. Sighing in acquiescence, she returned to sit opposite him. "It's really nothing."

"If it were nothing, you wouldn't be here," he said, turning to face her. His eyes had adjusted to the dark by now, but even if he hadn't been able to see her, he'd have felt it when she threw herself onto the other side of his bed, burying her face in a pillow.

"Let's just forget it," she mumbled, her words nearly impossible to make out.

"Parker!" He yelled, feeling slightly bad when she jumped and jerked away from him. He continued more calmly. "Talk to me."

"I have an…issue," she told him, the words floating quietly through the darkness.

He obviously knew that much, since he figured she wouldn't have come to him in the middle of the night otherwise. That didn't mean he liked it, though. Nate banged his head into his pillow once before realizing it was a futile effort when it didn't have the impact of a hard surface to make his point.

"I need to be more awake for this," he mumbled, throwing off the covers and heading for the stairs. She followed him downstairs without a word, taking a seat at the kitchen counter.

He waited a minute, but she didn't seem inclined to speak. "Well? You woke me up, make it worth my while," he finally snapped, impatience making his words sharper than he usually was with her. He bit back a sigh when he heard his own tone. He usually tried to be – well, more careful, at least where she was concerned.

She crossed her arms and graced him with a decidedly unhappy scowl. "I thought you'd be more supportive. You're really not that helpful, Nate. In fact, you're being downright inhospitable to someone who has a problem."

"Sorry, Parker. I'm tired, alright?" He ran his hands over his face, and didn't dare look at the kitchen clock. It would only reinforce his thinking that it was too damn early for – whatever this was.

"Yeah, whatever," she said. "Maybe I shouldn't even tell you, I should leave and we can forget it."

Now he was getting upset, and he briefly felt like shaking her to make a point, but didn't dare – God knew what kind of Krav Maga exercises or whatever else Eliot had taught her lately. He didn't want to find out. "You try being hospitable when the sun is still three hours away from rising."

"I'm being nice to you right now, aren't I?" She protested.

"That doesn't count, because you woke me!" He argued, but she didn't seem to understand his point. He shook his head in exasperation. "Remember this next time I come visit you at three in the morning – then we'll see how you react."

She stared at the kitchen countertop for far too long. "If you came to visit me at three in the morning I'd know something was wrong and I'd listen to you."

Nate heaved an internal sigh and walked into the living room, falling into one of the chairs. Trust that she'd make him feel like the bastard when it was she who had woken him at such an ungodly hour demanding – what, exactly? He still had no idea. "Are you going to tell me what your issue is sometime today? Or do we have to wait for the sun to actually rise?"

She took it as the invitation it was and quickly joined him in the living room. "I have…relationship issues."

He stopped himself from laughing just in time – he had no idea how she'd react to his amusement at her making such a statement. Probably not well. "You? Really?"

She missed the sarcasm, intently focusing on her folded hands. "Really, and…I don't know what to do."

"About what?"

She glanced up, obviously uncomfortable about discussing whatever was bothering her, and Nate racked his mind trying to fill in the blanks. She wasn't in a relationship at the moment, nor had she dated anyone recently of which he was aware. And he'd made it his business to make sure he'd be aware of anyone his fellow team members dated – simply because nothing could pull them apart faster than romantic entanglements gone awry. At least, that was the explanation he'd stick to, if anyone asked.

That left only potential future relationships as the focus of Parker's concern. Which led to only one conclusion.

"Is this about Hardison?" He asked reluctantly, though it shouldn't have even been a question, because he knew he was right.

She gave him a half-hearted smile. "I guess you could say that."

Nate felt the beginnings of true discomfort forming. The last thing he wanted to do was discuss her love life, and he couldn't even begin to articulate why that was the case. Nevertheless, it caused him to shift a few times in his chair in an effort to block said feelings and pay attention to the subject at hand. "Surely if you have something to discuss with him, you'd be better off talking to him directly instead of me."

She looked horrified at that suggestion, so he quickly thought of alternatives. "Alright, what about Sophie? She'd be far better than me, you can't deny it."

Parker shook her head adamantly. "No way, I can't talk to her about this. Sophie is…" she looked at the ceiling as if flipping through a mental thesaurus. "She's too worldly. She knows everything."

Nate didn't see how that was a bad thing in this situation. "Wouldn't that be what you need?"

Parker hunched her shoulders and seemed to fold in on herself, just the slightest bit. Strangely enough, it made him want to hug her; he actually found himself leaning forward before he snapped to attention and quickly pulled himself back. "Nate, I can't ask her about something as simple as this, it's embarrassing."

Some part of him registered that she wasn't comfortable enough to talk to Sophie or Hardison, but she was comfortable enough to talk to him. That meant something – it did – he just wasn't sure what.

He didn't even bother mentioning Eliot as a third possible choice, because if she already discounted Hardison and Sophie, there was no way she'd go to Eliot for relationship help. He'd most likely stare at her blankly and then walk (or run) away as fast as possible. "Alright, it has to do with Hardison, but what specifically?"

If it was even possible, Parker tensed more at his question. "I know he likes me. I like him, too."

Nate began wishing he was anywhere but with her, because he honestly had no idea how to talk her into starting a relationship with someone. Moreover, he didn't want to do such a thing. It went past uncomfortable; it had moved into disconcerting, and distressing, and…wrong. What did she want him to do, set them up on a date? "If you like him and he likes you," he managed to say, feeling as if he were swallowing broken glass, "then you two should go out."

She was already shaking her head. "No! I mean, I like him, but I don't like him. Know what I mean? I love him as a friend, but that's it."

Oh. Oh. He felt a weight lift, and determinedly avoided thinking about such a strange reaction to her words. "Really?" He asked, narrowing his eyes at her in disbelief. She could have fooled him. She could have fooled anyone – hell, she obviously had fooled Hardison.

"Really," she sighed, pulling her knees up to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. "I feel bad because I think I've led him on without realizing it and I don't know how to tell him that." She glanced over at him. "Without breaking his heart."

Nate felt the discomfort in his chest slowly dissipate as he realized what she was saying, and he should have felt sympathy for Hardison's upcoming rejection, but instead all he felt was relief. Relief that he wasn't going to have to help her start a relationship with someone.

Someone else.

Someone who was not…him.

Oh God no, he thought to himself, because that unexpected thought had come from nowhere, at least nowhere of which he was consciously aware, and it compelled him to look anywhere that was away from her. He was not ready for that. He probably never would be.

"What do you think I should do?" She implored.

"I don't know," he told her slowly, deliberately going to the kitchen and making some coffee, despite the fact that it would keep him awake for the rest of the morning, scrapping all plans he had of getting her out as soon as he could and going back to bed. But it didn't matter, did it? The caffeine would make no difference to his state of mind now; he'd never get to sleep again with the thought of her running through his head.

He had the feeling that he was now more confused than she was, and that was saying something.

"I came here for advice," she told him, and he was grateful she hadn't returned to the kitchen. This would be easier with her ten feet away. He hoped.

He stood in front of the coffee maker, as if his proximity would speed it up. He needed something else to do, to distract him from his increasingly panic-inducing revelation. "All I can tell you is to be honest with him."

And didn't that make him feel like the worst kind of hypocrite, telling her to be honest with Hardison. After all, he had no intention of ever being honest with her about what he was thinking right now.

She was silent for another minute, and he spared her a glance over his shoulder, only to find she was watching him intently, which caused him to quickly look away again. "You think I should tell him I don't like him that way."

He nodded. "Right."

"It'll hurt him."

"It's the truth," Nate countered. "Would you rather enter a relationship with him knowing it will go nowhere? You know that would only hurt him more."

"Yeah," she whispered. "People are so complicated and confusing. It was much easier when I didn't have to deal with this kind of thing."

"Hardison loves you," Nate told her, finally gathering the courage to turn and face her. He leaned back against his kitchen counter, wondering if he looked as non-chalant as he was going for. "He certainly loves you as a friend, and as such, he might be disappointed, but he'll appreciate that you were honest with him."

"Really?" She asked hopefully.

How the hell should I know? You'll probably break his goddamn heart, was what Nate wanted to say. Instead, he studied her face and realized that all he could do was lie, because in this case the truth wouldn't help anything. "Really."

The coffee machine dinged and he turned to pour himself a cup, grateful that he had a momentary distraction.

"What caused all your relationships to fail, Nate?" She asked from behind him, and he was glad he hadn't taken a sip of his drink yet – he would have choked on it.

"What?"

"There must be something. It'd be useful to know."

"I don't know, Parker," he said irritably, sipping the coffee and grimacing at its bitterness. He added more sugar.

She walked over to pour herself a cup. When she spoke, it was almost as if she were talking to herself and not him. "It must have been you, right?"

"Huh?" He mumbled, getting the feeling that he wouldn't like where this was going.

"All of your relationships have failed, and the one common denominator among them is you. Therefore, it stands to reason that you were the problem."

He stared at her, thinking it over, and cursing that, logically, she was right. It was him that had been the recurring factor in all his failed relationships. But still, he hadn't been entirely to blame. He wouldn't take that burden. "There were other factors," he argued. "You know, besides me."

She sipped her drink tentatively, checking to see if it was too hot. "Like what?"

He couldn't do this, it was still too early in the day (3:37 am), and she was asking him things he didn't even like to think about alone, never mind discuss with company, and she was still…Parker. It was that last fact which made this nearly impossible.

"What caused my relationships to fail has nothing to do with you," he pointed out.

After a moment, she spoke. "I guess you have a point. But I still think it's relevant," she insisted, and suddenly it was Parker that was looking anywhere but at him.

And that made him suspicious. Too damn suspicious. "What do you mean?"

"It could still be helpful to me," she said, staring at her coffee.

"How so?" He demanded.

She looked up at him, and that uncomfortable feeling in his chest from earlier returned full force, and it got worse, and worse, until he thought he might need to sit down, or stop her from answering, or run away –

And he was still not ready for this.

"It could be helpful if I wanted to be in a relationship."

He gave her a piercing look, about to tell her that his past relationships had nothing to do with her future ones.

"With you," she finished in a whisper.

He slammed his mouth shut, two simple words terrifying him in a way he hadn't known in years.

She set her mug down on the counter and took a step toward him. "That's why I came to you," she said, in a stilted and awkward way, but forcing through it with a tenacity he'd always known she had. "And why I didn't go to Hardison or Sophie or Eliot. I wanted to know if…well if…"

Not ready, not ready, not ready. The words repeated in his head as he stared at the blonde woman before him in disbelief.

In fact, he must have whispered them at some point, because her mouth turned up into a hopeful, if tentative smile. "I am ready," she whispered, closing the gap between them to kiss him.

No, you've got it wrong, he wanted to tell her. He hadn't meant she wasn't ready, he'd meant that he wasn't ready. Except as he felt her kiss him, his body responded without his mind really thinking about it, until he let go of his reservations, and pulled her closer, kissing her back with a passion he hadn't felt in…he couldn't remember how long.

"See?" She whispered as she pulled back, much earlier than he wanted her to, and the word was full of hope, but also a question that he couldn't ignore.

He blinked and met her eyes, wanting to tell her she was beyond misguided, that she didn't know what she was doing. He wanted to tell her that she was wrong, that she deserved anyone aside from him. She should know that he wasn't the man she thought he was – the man she imagined him to be.

The not ready's echoed through his head, and with them, the absolute knowledge that he could not do that to her. She deserved so much more than that.

The moment she touched him was the moment he began to realize that not ready wasn't a reason; it was an excuse. And one he'd been using for far too long.

"Yeah," he found himself saying, affirming the question she'd asked without as many words. "I see."

She flung herself at him upon hearing his answer, and it felt right in a way he'd never expected. He hugged her back, just as hard, while one final thought played in his head, on repeat.

Not ready...not ready? Screw that.

He was ready.

But only for her.