Title: Time for Now

Sequel to Off the Record; Trory. Set roughly summer of 2012, if I've done my math right in my head. Warning, I was a liberal arts major. *wink*

He wasn't there. In one instant he was gone, and though she watched in horror there was nothing she could do to stop it. Too much was out of her control. She'd had no right to ask him to stay, and willing him to be safe was not enough to ensure the outcome she desired. All she'd wanted was for him to come back so they could have a second chance. Not even a second chance, really, but an opportunity to be something more than a life-changing one-night stand. Just when she thought she could stand the pain no longer, the raw, aching wound somewhere between her heart and her stomach, she woke up. That's when she always woke up.

Her breath was coming hard—not an anomaly in bed of late, but this time it wasn't physical activity that was the instigator of said labored respiration. The dream had been intense, as always—a nightmare in the form of an alternate reality, some of her worst fears playing out in culmination —her helpless to do anything other than feel the pain it evoked. Now fully awake, she was left with a phantom ache, having experienced such a deep loss in the unconscious wanderings of her mind that she was anxious to rectify any question that it was simply a bad dream; she needed instant reassurance of her waking reality. She rolled over from her solitary position where she'd been clutching onto her pillow that she'd no doubt abused as she tossed and turned in her sleep and scooted in small shifts over the midline of the king-sized bed to wrap her arms around the bare torso of the man with his back to her. Her slender arm slipped under his strong forearm, smoothing her open palm against his sculpted abdominal muscles and pressed her chest into his back. She buried her cold nose between his shoulder blades, using her mouth to kiss his spine in restitution for the chilly assault should it wake him out of his deep slumber.

After all, she didn't need him to be awake at that moment; she just needed him to be hers—to just be there.

She closed her eyes, a flash of a crashing helicopter and perfectly folded flags threatening to envelop her back into the alternate reality she'd just emerged from should she dare make an attempt having a peaceful rest of the night's sleep. She gave her unconscious partner another squeeze and pressed her cheek against his back, soothed as she was able to hear his breath, deep and even. She had no desire to get out of bed, regardless of her inability to return to sleep. The man wrapped in her limbs shifted as she wondered just what time it was, the clock display blocked from her view by his pillow on the opposite side of his bed. Their bed, rather, though she was still in possession of another one at another residence that was barely ever used. It was a case of semantics, where she truly lived at that point, one that she only ever enjoyed arguing over to get him riled up for carnal purposes. The man didn't need to be talked into sexual situations, but over time she'd found that a good argument did wonders in supplementing his need to aggressively alleviate all the natural feelings that tended to build up between them. She'd also learned that she was a fan of some aggression when it came with the overwhelming desire she felt for him. Just the thought of it, as his arm slid under her shoulders to allow her to now curl up on his chest while wrapping her thigh around his, resulted in her body temperature rising a good ten degrees. Her cheeks began to burn and for a moment her hand strayed just far enough to allow her fingers to skim the top hem of his boxers, itching to sink into his flesh under the elastic band.

"Are you awake?" she whispered, in a tone so inaudible that even if he were awake, he might not have heard her over the hum of the cicadas through the open bedroom window. She leaned up just to watch his inert face, keeping her hand resting on the low end of his stomach, where flesh met fabric.

"Not officially," he whispered, louder than her, but in a thick tone that cued her into his suspended state. He was in that fuzzy area where he could catch the next REM cycle with no effort or be coaxed out of the relaxed state by a hair trigger. She felt a brief pang of guilt, pulling him into a state of unrest just because she didn't want to return to her prior state of dream-induced panic. She wondered what lie ahead for him in his dreams. "Why?"

"I had a weird dream," she informed him quietly, though it wasn't the first time she'd uttered that sentence to him at an unorthodox hour. He always seemed to rouse when she emerged from those dreams, almost as if he were aware of her need for him.

He opened one eye in the darkness to observe only the outline of her shape in the darkness at first, despite her currently using his body as a body pillow. He knew where every last inch of her was located. That visual was enough to wake at least one part of his anatomy. "Weird how?"

"Unsettling, I guess," she answered, now able to see more of his features as her eyes adjusted to the lack of light. His hair was barely tousled, the ability for his hair to become out of place a sign he'd probably get a cut in the next day or two. He'd shave in the morning, but she preferred the light stubble that had emerged across his chin and cheeks. It grazed her body when he kissed her, adding a tactile sensation unique to him and the way he caressed her. The way her thoughts had turned, one would have thought the dream she'd had would have been more of the naughty variety. Though she'd still had a desire for him, she'd been unable to touch him, he'd been wholly inaccessible. Even in her dreams, be they good or bad, she felt a raw, charged pull to him. Now awake, she shunned the idea of breaking contact from him.

He let out a deep exhale and his hand skimmed up from its resting position on his mattress to her hip. His fingers dragged up over her torso from there. "You want to talk about it?"

He always asked her this; at least for as long as she'd been having the dreams while she was supposed to be peacefully sleeping next to him. The dreams had started before he'd begun sharing a bed with her in a regular manner, of course. She'd had the first dream that first night after she'd watched the breaking news coverage in her offices, staring stock still in shock before arguing with a heat she didn't realize she held within her with a colleague who'd made some off-hand, snide remark about how retaliation was simply the price of doing business in global domination, while she waited desperately for more information to come in from their sources on the ground half a world away. Before that—before being with him, she'd only ever had recurring nightmares about being unprepared for tests—the worst fate her teenaged self could conjure. Being with him had changed a lot of things in her life; her concern for his safety something she was desperate to verify. She knew that no news was good news in their situation, though she often had the thread of doubt remind her in the back of her mind that officially they didn't exist, and no one was obligated to contact her should something happen to him, and so she'd kept vigilant. Her job made it easier, but there was no way anyone could have missed the news of the helicopter of SEALs being shot down so soon after he'd gone back into action. She'd endured the dreams, not confiding in anyone as she'd not told anyone about her night with him to begin with. She'd eased her mind by learning all she could about the incident, the Chinook helicopter, the men who died, officially in the name of research for work. Work was a constant, stories kept coming, but her wait for him continued.

By the time he was able to reappear in front of her outside of her dreams—and she could remember every last second of that first night they'd been able to share upon his return—she'd not wanted to burden him with the fear that still haunted her. And so, every time he asked her, she had the same answer.

"No, I'm fine. I think I'll just go get a drink of water," she assured him, leaning up to brush her lips across his rough cheek, the stubble grating the thin skin of her mouth. His lips were on hers a half a breath later, his body turning in over hers before she could push herself up to ease out of the bed. She was surprised; he normally granted her access to slip out of bed, allowing her a moment of solitude to get a drink, take a few deep breaths and prove to her psyche that he was still there even when she couldn't feel him or see him. She welcomed the way he was overwhelming her thoughts, pressing her down further into the mattress as he easily rolled his weight onto her. He slipped one knee between her legs as his tongue eased along her bottom lip. His fingers laced through hers as he lifted her arms up over her head. His arms extended out, holding her in place. His nose nudged her cheek, and even in the darkness she locked eyes with him.

"You have these dreams a lot," he stated, no question in his voice.


He studied her, their bodies still interlocked in an intimate dance, though he'd paused all motion. "You never talk about them. Not to me," he ascertained, his specificity a desire for an answer. She wasn't sure if he didn't want to pressure her or if it was just more of his intense training bleeding through. He did not have to ask questions to obtain answers. He had many methods around the usual routes people used to gather information.

"Not to anyone," she admitted softly, using her bedroom voice, as she arched up to achieve friction. It was difficult to maneuver, however, with his stature and strength over her, holding her in place. It was effortless for him, becoming her anchor. His position was tactical, to be sure—he was at the ready to please her, and yet he controlled her attention in the meantime. She had to talk to him, even if it remained her right to keep information from him.

He leaned down and kissed her deeply, in an attempt to reassure her. The effect of the kiss, however, only served to fuel her desire to shelve the conversation. Her dream was just that last connection to a time she wished to put behind her, and logically she was sure it held no more weight for her. She preferred moving into the present with its lure of getting lost in him. He was very real against her.

"You can tell me things," he pulled up just a little, his hand skimming down her bare arm again.

"I know. I do. It's," she shook her head. The words wouldn't come because she had never spoken them out loud. It would have made it seem too real, too possible. Even now, she preferred to keep it just a bad dream.

He seemed to accept her inability as his mouth busied itself along her collarbone. Incomplete words were replaced by breath, heavy and damp against the back of her teeth. She turned her head to one side, her cheek pressed into the pillow as he sank lower on her body. Perhaps that was the best way to soothe the residue from any nightmare—if she needed proof that he was not only alive, but tangible, he was giving her substantiated evidence of his existence.

"God, you're good at that," she managed as her body shivered, a reaction to air colder than the temperature of his mouth making contact on her skin as he offered a brief preview of what was to come and eased back to be face-to-face.

"I didn't need you to confirm that," he kissed just below her ear, "but it is always nice to hear."

She reached out, her hands holding his cheeks as she stared into his eyes. They had an intimacy, aside from the visceral manner in which she was drawn to him sexually, that made her feel raw. It was unlike anything she'd ever encountered. It wasn't even just that she loved him; she feared that losing him would alter her life in ways she'd never considered before. She'd felt a sense of loss the first time he walked out of her life, but they'd been kids. She had no frame of reference for just how fragile life could be, how swiftly courses could be altered. The second time they parted ways, she'd had little choice in the matter again, but she'd been determined to believe in their unconventional devotion. It wasn't her place then to make demands on his life; beside the fact that his life was on a track that she assumed she couldn't alter, no matter if she attempted to change his mind or not. Now that he'd come back to her again she just wanted to be in the moment with him. He was there, right then, and giving heed to the past or future seemed a waste of time. Time was best spent in his arms or simply by his side.

"Do I need to persuade you to continue?" she asked, still searching his eyes. She could feel his arousal against her thigh, and she knew that even he couldn't resist temptation when it was a sigh away. All he had to do was thrust into her; he was so close to entering her, and she could feel the tension in his body as he hovered over her.

"And what," he kissed her again, open-mouthed and playful, "would that entail?"

"Whatever you want," she answered honestly, making his eyes flash, and she was surprised that he didn't just come up into her in that moment. Instead he continued to hold her gaze.

"You know what I really want?" he asked, his voice still deep—no longer from sleep, but now from the rush of encompassing intimacy. It wasn't like him to keep her waiting, at least not in moments like this. In fact, given their state of undress, the acts he'd already performed on her body, their relative proximity, and the way he felt about her—he was definitely showing off his superior restraint by remaining at the precipice. There was something about the way he was looking at her, into her almost; it should have been unsettling, but somehow she couldn't break away. He was the first man that saw past what she projected for others to see. Other people knew her, or at least, parts of her, even well enough that other men had fallen in love with her; sure they could make her happy for varying amounts of time. The difference was she wanted him to make her happy, all of her, forever. There was just one thing she was holding back from him, and that wasn't anything she needed to afflict him with—she'd convinced herself it was just her own tiny cross to bear.

"Tell me," she breathed, ready for anything.

He circled her wrist with his hand, wrapping his fingers around to hold her hand in place on his cheek. "What are the dreams about?"

She hesitated. "Nothing."

He exhaled, disappointed. "Rory," he began.

She shook her head, slightly. "I'd rather put it out of my mind. I'd rather focus on you," she spoke with authority as she raised her hips up into his as a reminder that she was primed and ready for a little less talk and a lot more action.

"You say my name," he announced, his hand continued to hold her still; his eyes remained dark with concern.

"What?" she asked, not understanding. She was starting to realize he wasn't going to drop the conversation, despite having a very naked, very willing woman at the ready underneath him.

"When you're having those dreams, you call out my name, like you're in pain. I know you don't want to talk about it, but I can't ignore it, Rory. How long have you been having these nightmares?"

She bit her lip. "A while."

"Before I came back?" he pressed, searching out the time frame.

She nodded. "Ever since," she paused, in disbelief that she was being made to confess, "the first one was the night the news broke that the Chinook went down, killing those SEALs."

He stroked her cheek. "Rory."

She shook her head. "I'd never had thoughts like that, before that night with you in Washington. I mean, you see that stuff on the news, all the time, people are over there, in wars, giving their lives, but never before had I been stuck with just numbing fear that it could have been," she closed her eyes, still not wanting to say the words out loud. He was back now, he wasn't in danger. He was transitioning into teaching, training new generations of SEALs to take his place. He was constantly having meetings and preparing for what was to come next in his career, and the rest of the time he was with her. She'd been grateful, not wanting the other shoe to drop. It'd seemed too good to be true that her wait was over, and he'd wanted to be with her too. She'd known he wasn't just paying her lip service for one amazing night, but not knowing if or when he'd ever return… it was more than she could have hoped for. She was just happy for the time, the present.

"Me," he supplied, still watching her with a mix of pain and concern.

She nodded and looked away for a beat. "Yeah. I thought they'd stop; I mean, after they released the names, certainly after you showed up, but," she shrugged.

"What happens?" he asked, quietly in the still of the darkened bedroom. "In the dreams."

"I don't want to make a big thing out of it," she managed. "It's irrational."

"The sound of your voice," he closed his eyes. "Please, tell me."

She swallowed, accepting defeat. "Okay. It starts with me, at work," she began. "Just in the news room, filing copy, and the big screens are on, like they always are. But they break into a big story, talking about the crash, and it shows everything. The helicopter crashing, the people dying. You," she began, but her voice caught and the tears started. He immediately cradled her into his arms, pulling her against his chest as she cried.

"I'm sorry," she sobbed, wiping the tears off with the back of her hand hastily. "I'm sorry, I know it's crazy, I mean, you're fine. You're here."

"I couldn't get to you any faster. It wasn't safe for us to," he closed his eyes. "I had a job to finish, and it was more important, after we lost those men. They were good men."

"I know," she blinked back fresh tears, her eyes glassy. She was glad for a veil of darkness, though she knew that as her eyes had adjusted, he was probably not missing a single detail.

"I know you know. That story you wrote, the profile of one of the fallen SEALs," he led.

"You read that?" she asked, surprised. He'd still been overseas, unreachable when that story went to print. She couldn't picture him reading the paper or scanning his phone for news on the front lines. He got directives, not headlines.

He nodded. "That's when I knew for sure, that you meant what you said. About wanting me to come back to you, when I was able."

She drew in a ragged breath. They'd never really talked about that fuzzy interim period, between when they met in Washington, D.C. and his arrival at her doorstep six months ago. She knew that he couldn't discuss that part of his life, and she respected that. She hadn't wanted to overload him with the way she'd worried; he'd told her not to dwell on it before they parted. He hadn't wanted to push that on her. And after all, what kind of woman lets her emotions be ruled by a man she only spent one night with?

"I interviewed his widow," she explained, her voice small and soft. "She was so poised. She loved him, you could see how much she loved him. She was proud of him. And there were moments when she was talking about him that you could see—she'd pictured her whole life with him. There was a whole future that was never going to happen. They weren't going to get to have kids, they weren't going to find their dream house, they weren't going to retire to the coast and enjoy their grandchildren. Before I left, I asked her, how she managed to be so collected, so at peace with it all. Do you know what she told me?"

He shook his head—this part wasn't in the piece she'd written. It had focused solely on his colleague in arms, a man who had fallen while carrying out the same directives as he. It was a roll of the dice, he knew, for the outcome to turn in a different direction. But the hardest part to explain to the people that loved them—the people that they loved—was that it was just part of the job.

"She said that she couldn't focus on all the stuff they'd never get to do. He wouldn't want that for her, anyway. But she was just grateful that they'd had all the time they had before he left. That she'd gotten to fall in love with him, have stupid fights and pretend that time wasn't measured for them. That she'd gotten to marry him, and that he died knowing that she was strong enough to go on and that she was the one that was going to mourn him the most."

He closed his eyes. "Rory."

"I cried all the way home. I barely made it into a cab," she shook her head. "I didn't have any of that. I had one night with you, and still I felt," she shivered in his arms.

"I felt it too," he assured her. "I wanted to tell you I was okay. I got to you as fast as I could."

"No, I know. I just," she tilted her head up to meet his eyes once more. "I wasn't ready to lose you. I wasn't ready to be okay with losing you."

He kissed her again, at last, purposefully. If what she wanted was him, that was what she would have. The time in conversation had allowed libidos to wane, but the instant his lips took hers, they were both ready to pick up right where they'd left off. He knew the one thing she'd been afraid to put upon him; and he was even more certain of where he stood. She wasn't with him out of obligation, and he hadn't owed her anything. He needed to hear her say him name a second time that night, but in relief, in awe. She wouldn't need to ask again what he wanted from her. He planned on making it abundantly clear.

"I love you," he uttered into her ear, his body beginning to show her how much. He planted his hands on her hips, pulling her up just enough, holding her steady as he pushed into her at last. She gave a whimper as she pushed up against his body to savor the feel of him now inside of her. She wanted to savor having the luxury of time with him. If that was selfish, she simply didn't care. She moved with him as he began a slow rhythm, as if he could read her mind. Maybe he wasn't a mind-reader so much as he just wanted the same thing she did. He'd never given her any indication that they weren't on the same page, but in the back of her mind she could still hear him telling her that they couldn't be together; his life didn't lend itself to having complications. As his hands slid up her back, easing her body upright above his, she felt that it was so very simple. His tongue circled her nipple, making her arch with desire, and it was anything but complicated. She just wanted her time with him.

"I love you, too, Tristan," she said as she kissed his shoulder while his hands supported her bare bottom, lifting her up with each thrust. She was glad to have the support of his arms around her, holding her up and against him—she felt like otherwise she'd melt down into the bed. He was in peak physical shape—she watched from over the top of the book she always took to bed as he did his nightly regimen of pushups at the foot of the bed. She had no idea how many he did, too many for her to keep count, but his cadence was perfect. His body would rise and fall in a steady, fluid motion as if his arms would never tire. Every once in a while, he'd look sidelong at her as she ignored the pages before her and studied his upper body as he conditioned it and give her a knowing wink. She knew that the moment he climbed into bed, he would seek her out to condition other parts of his physique that also exceeded her approval. She'd always known that sex burned calories, but she'd never understood how effective it could be until she'd gotten involved with him. The man should be awarded a gold medal for the event. She'd never considered herself an athlete, but for him she'd rise to the occasion.

"Fuck," he swore, having lost the easy, slower rhythm as he got lost in her—her hair falling against his face, her fingers digging into his shoulders, her legs wrapped around his waist—and with increased speed came a swift climax. Not one to leave her hanging, he ramped up his attention at her chest, forgoing the playful teasing of his tongue around the outer edges where the pigment turned from milky white to a rosy hue—he sucked the entire tip of her breast into his mouth, assaulting her senses with enough force to push her over the edge with him.

She clung to him, his mouth still against her breast, his ear listening to her racing heart. When he finally looked at her, her only thought was that she was glad she didn't have to walk away from him this time. She wasn't sure she was capable of doing that again.

"I want to give you all of that," he said at last, brushing her disheveled hair behind her ear.

"All of what?" she asked with still uneven breath, pushing a lock away from the other side of her face.

"Everything," he said evenly. "I want everything with you. I want to be with you, I want to marry you, have babies, grow old, all of it. I didn't make any of those decisions before I enlisted because I didn't have to. I didn't have anyone then, no one that changed how I lived my life. It was only mine, and I made decisions based on me. But with you, that's why I chose to transition out now. That's why I want to teach. I can't go back in, leaving the possibility of you—a real life with you. That's what I want."

Breath left her body again at once; it was a good thing he was still holding her. He was her strength, and it had never occurred to her before him that someone else could provide that for her. She'd always thought that she had to do everything on her own. But he'd done what no man had ever been able to do before. He'd turned her world upside down and helped her put it back together, and it was stronger. She could be strong for him too.

"I won't go anywhere. If you needed to," she began, but she knew that his mind was set. She hadn't hidden her joy, when he'd laid out his next step in his career for her for the first time. To have him back, in relative safety, after waiting and hoping not to hear his name called out as a part of listed casualties—it had been like waking up out of her nightmare.

He kissed her then, for her understanding, she thought, but in all truth all she could think of was returning that kiss. She held her palms against his face. She didn't ever want to lose the ability to touch him. She knew she'd never lose the desire.

"So, you want to marry me?" she asked, wondering if he realized the full extent of his earlier proclamation. It wasn't a statement most people made out of turn. In fact, usually it was delivered more in question form, though he'd gotten his point across regardless.

He smiled. "I did say something to that effect, didn't I?" Now he was teasing her, not to throw her off the trail, but simply because he just couldn't resist.

She nodded, her heart swelling. She couldn't have wiped the smile off her face if she'd tried. "I distinctly remember you saying exactly that."

He rubbed one hand down his own cheek, feeling the rough drag of his emerging beard. "Guess I should get a ring, then. What about your folks, are they the type who need to be asked for your hand and all that?"

"I think asking my permission will be sufficient," she assured him, watching him in wonder as he discussed the matter off the cuff as her heart pounded against her chest. She'd thought about marriage—she'd thought about marriage in regards to him. But she knew from experience that thinking about it and talking about it were two very different considerations.

"Do I have your permission?" he asked, solemnly. He watched her carefully, sure to catch any hesitation, any doubt should even the slightest hint enter into her reaction. He had no interest in rushing her. She never kept him waiting, even when he expected her to—especially when she should.

"To propose to me?" she questioned, unsure as to his level of seriousness. He had a longstanding practice of taking great enjoyment in teasing her, especially when she was trying to be staid. Getting her riled was his preferred pastime, but she could detect no knowing smirk, no gleam in his eyes that suggested he was anything but straightforward in his curiosity.

He nodded. "Because if you're not going to let me ask, I'm going to have to break out all the stops to convince you."

Her whole nervous system seemed to reset at his words. "You've been holding back?"

Now he really smiled—and the gleam in his eyes seemed to turn on with full force. Again, there was nothing untoward there, just happiness. "I think it's unwise to show my full hand all at once. After all, we have the rest of our lives together. I want to keep your attention for a long time to come."

She nodded, her mouth gone too dry to form words straightaway. "The rest of our lives?" she finally managed.

He nodded again, brushing her cheek with his knuckles. Her eyes fluttered just a bit at the gentle stroke. He barely had to touch her to evoke a whole-body response. Sometimes his words alone were enough to evoke that response. "If that's what you want. It's what I want."

She kissed him. "Your intentions seem honorable," she raised an eyebrow, taking a playful tone, though her words were true. He was an honorable man. He was a strong man. He was a dedicated man. Frankly, he was all man, and he was good at anything he set his mind to. And it seemed currently his mind was set on her, on their future. "Just," she put her hand on his, as if to halt him.

"I'm not going to propose to you right now," he assured her with a knowing look. He knew better than to ambush her, even after discussing said ambush with her. She was a woman that needed time to process things. "But just because we have the rest of our lives together doesn't mean I'm going to wait too long. Sounds like we've got lots to accomplish, you and me."

She frowned a bit, in confusion. "Lots to accomplish?" Her mind, as it tended to do, turned to their careers—and as he was as accomplished in that area as he would be and was now moving to teach his expertise, and she was in the midst of living her own childhood dreams, it left her unable to process his words.

He smiled in such a way that her toes practically curled. "You were the one talking about babies and grandbabies. You do know how babies are made, don't you?"

"Oh," she blushed, and even if the shadows of night covered the change in color of her cheeks, surely he could feel the heat rolling off her. Hell, heat was radiating off her whole body at that point. "I think you've demonstrated that explanation quite vividly."

"You're a lovely assistant," he kissed her cheek, making her giggle softly. "You're sure?"

His question was so soft; his whisper came at her ear, and she put her hands out to cradle his head against hers as her heart swelled. "Yes."

His lips pressed against her temple for several seconds. He wanted to marry her. She could be happy for months on that simple fact alone. They had so much to look forward to, and yet she was content in that very moment.

"We should get some sleep," she offered, still unaware of the exact hour. She didn't want to know how much sleep they'd been robbed of; given the turn of conversation, she simply didn't care.

"You think you can get to sleep now?" he offered, still concerned as they shifted back under the covers, him sliding his body up against her, his arm coming to rest around her waist.

"Yeah. I think you just gave my mind sufficient distraction from my bad dreams."

He kissed her hair. "I always was good at distracting you."

She gave a soft, breathy laugh. "I think maybe you used to be the one who was distracted."

His grip on her tightened, a quick squeeze. "I think even you'll agree that my concentration has vastly improved over the years."

"Maybe I just wasn't paying good enough attention before."

She was sure he was smiling at her admission, though she was facing away from him. "Wake me up if you need me, okay? I'll be right here."

"You'll be right there," she repeated through a yawn, her eyes closing heavily as her subconscious finally received the message. He was back, he wasn't going anywhere. He wanted to marry her. And as for her, she was going to say yes.