Author's Note: Needed a little more Nadia-Doyle bonding to add flavour to the physical attraction…

The world seemed somehow much more complex and at the same time, much simpler. Mike Doyle had always seemed like a character in a classic comic book. A dark side, yes. But overall, a known quantity, unwavering and solid in his pursuit of justice. At this moment, the man looked more human than Nadia ever imagined he could.

She almost smiled with the realization that she alone might possess the capability to recognize Mike's current state for what is was. Except, she found it rather disturbing. Interesting, but disturbing.

She had witnessed the man in a variety of states in the time she'd known him, most of which had occurred in the past week. A softer Mike Doyle was, while perhaps still strange, not a shock. But this was not the mussed, befuddled, appealingly cuddly creature that had answered the door that infamous night. Nor was he that adorable boy who had flashed her a smile to melt her insides. It wasn't even the confused, frustrated man whom had confronted her three days ago with her shocking actions.

No, the man she found brooding in a shadowed corner of CTU was a stranger to her. Well, not completely unfamiliar. Next to no one would detect it, but Nadia could read his extremely subtle shift in body language, a change ever so slight in the way he held himself that informed her of his preoccupation.

"Mike, what's wrong?"

He fixed her with a blue stare that would've sent ninety-nine out of any hundred people on their merry way.

Nadia furrowed her brow, the precursor to an outright frown. Mike was wearing his standard 'neutral' expression. The one meant to be unreadable.

And it was.

Yet she knew something was bothering him, something serious.

"Let's go to my office," she said. She didn't allow it to be an offer that he could refuse. Rather she adorned her commanding tone of voice. Even so, Mike Doyle could refuse. And he'd been known to, leading to some very public, scathing arguments. However, this time he obeyed. Perhaps because he was, as he appeared to be, so very distracted by some unsettling thoughts.

Nadia hesitated only briefly, closing her office door behind them. She had made an active effort not to be alone with the man ever since that searing kiss. More so in the few days since she'd broken up with Milo. She hid her glances despite how often she felt her eyes drawn to the field agent. Her behavior was always professional in dealing with both her ex-boyfriend and the man to whom she bore some strange, feral attraction.

But this was a conversation that was not meant for others to hear. Maybe it was being ridiculously overprotective of the man, but she did not wish anyone to witness his vulnerable moment, even if it was only obvious to her. She left the blinds open, however, so no one could accuse her of doing something unseemly with the man whom she arguably very much desired to do something unseemly with.

Once the agitated agent had reluctantly settled into one of the guest chairs in her office, Nadia leaned back against the edge of her desk and asked, "So...what's bothering you?"

For a moment it looked as if he were about to do just as she feared he would; deny any such notion that he was deeply troubled. But apparently, he knew as well as she did that he'd been caught. Mike Doyle for some reason had opened himself up to Nadia. And resultant from such basic intimacy, she could read his subtle moods, as well as being able to see past the ones he blatantly broadcast -whether they were purposeful obfuscation or not.

So instead of shrugging off her concern, he met her studious gaze. For months, she had worked with the man. Yet she had barely attained the level of control not to start when she directly encountered that vivid gaze of his. Generally the unwavering blue intensity put one on the defensive, feeling exposed by its piercing nature. However, Nadia persevered beyond her initial urge to recoil, taking in the (could it be?) sorrow... and pain.

"I'm not making McDonough talk," he said.

Had she misinterpreted the turmoil and vulnerability she thought she'd seen in him? Was it just his pride hurting because he couldn't break the anarchist militiaman they'd captured in the raid last week? It was hard to reconcile a picture of insulted vanity with the self-less man she had come to know so well.

Mike shook his head upon discovering her critical look.

"You don't understand," he said. "I can make him talk."

What was he going on about?

"But I'm not making him talk."

"Why?" The revelation had not clarified the situation an iota. If anything, it had her even more baffled. He couldn't mean... "I can't believe you sympathize with the bastard."

Again, Mike shook his head wordlessly. He was still holding back for some reason. Rising from his seat, he paced frenetically about her office. Not a difficult feat, since Nadia was prone to the occupation herself and had the furniture conveniently arranged for such circumstances. But however conducive the space was to such activity, shock struck Nadia dumb nonetheless. Never had she seen the unflappable man so agitated, not even whilst anticipating a dangerous field assignment or finding himself rendered helpless to resolve a situation. There were times his temper flared, but his confidence never appeared to falter.

Pushing him would be a mistake, so Nadia reigned in her rampant curiosity and nagging concern. She said nothing. Just quietly watched and waited while he battled his thoughts; each step, each twitch of muscle a reflection of some unseen mental barrage. She wasn't sure it was what had initially set his world awry that currently had him so agitatedly embroiled in self-debate. Rather, Nadia thought it very likely the current issue under consideration was whether or not he should tell her.

Finally the prowling creature came to rest. (She hoped not in preparation to pounce...) Having once more resumed the chair before her, Mike Doyle met her gaze with his ever-startling blue one.

The sorrow and tumult remained visible in the depths of his stormy eyes, but perhaps somewhat tempered by his decision to reveal, share, and possibly ease his angst.

If anything could be said for her acquaintance with the often trying man before her, it would be that she had gained a patience she never quite seemed capable of previously employing. For Nadia continued her silence, hoping her eager stare did not belie her attentive, understanding outward pose.

"They say you die a little every time you take a life," Mike said.

For once, the implacable man blinked first. He broke the unbearable intimacy between them by averting his eyes. And Nadia was grateful. His pain had seemed to slowly pour into the depths of her through that captivating gaze.

"That's not quite true." His voice was low; distant and contemplative. It was an odd contrast to his usual self-assured timbre.

"It stays with you, yes. Changes you. But you don't remember their faces, like they say you do...

"I don't know. Maybe for some. But not for me. They fade with time, like most memories. Become vague. Not so vivid. Like an old photo. They're supposed to stay with you in technicolor, so they say. But..."

His eyes briefly sought her face, as he searched for the words. This was obviously not something he'd tried to verbalize before. The trust implied therein both pleased and terrified Nadia. She nodded encouragingly.

"I've killed people." There was a portion of regret in the statement, but no guilt. And Nadia understood enough of Mike Doyle to comprehend the way his conscience worked. He was sad that circumstances had required him to kill, but had no remorse for actions he'd been driven to taking.

"Even when you're so close to them that you can feel their breath on your skin, the heat of their body, look into their eyes... It's not so terrible," he said, again looking at her with an almost pleading expression. Perhaps, he was actually concerned about her opinion of him. The opposite was true, but Nadia could not quite wrap her brain around Mike's valuing her good opinion as much as she did his. He was such a loner, and did whatever it took to do his job, popularity and sociability be damned.

"The life, the light leaves their eyes, but it's not... it doesn't destroy you. Because it was them or you."

Nadia nodded. She knew the type of situation, the only type of situation that would cause Mike Doyle to take a life; defense of his own or others.

"It's just as if they're there one moment and gone the next. The whole of them.


"And then not."

He shook his head, as if it might rattle the correct words around until they fell into the right places and became coherent.

"You haven't damaged them or destroyed them. Only sent them on their way," he said, and then added quietly as if he only meant to think it and not say it, not say any of it, "though many deserve far worse."

Unexpectedly, the disturbed field agent reached out and took her hand, startling Nadia. She did not pull it away. Because maybe he needed the contact to anchor him, his fragmentary thoughts.

"But, Nadia, when you hurt someone... it's horrifying."

Oh, Mike. She squeezed his hand reassuringly.

"When you... When we..." His jaw visibly clenched. "When I interrogate -no, when I torture people, I destroy them. I break them down, dismantle them, tear them apart. It's worse than killing them, watching them reduced to nothing but shreds of humanity. That's what kills you inside, kills me."

He let go of her hand and looked away.

"A little part of me dies every time I hurt someone, no matter how evil a person they are."

More than anything, Nadia wanted to pull the heartsick man into her arms. She wanted to hold him, comfort him, give him the human contact he seemed in desperate need of possessing. How much of himself had he sacrificed solely to protect others, to save innocent lives, to serve his country, for the greater good. And who in the world knew what he'd given of himself?

If she knew the man well enough to guess, and Nadia was now certain she did, Mike Doyle had never revealed his deep sorrow, his secret pain to anyone else. She couldn't contemplate his reasons for sharing this vulnerability with her, not at that moment, not when his heart lay exposed before her and all she wanted to do was wrap her arms around him, cradle him close to her, kiss his face and soothe his hurt.

But she couldn't.

Not here. It wouldn't be appropriate. She couldn't even touch him. Not that she gave a damn. Not that she wouldn't do so anyway. Just to let him know he was not alone. Just to let him know she cared. But Mike Doyle would not let her near. Even in his vulnerable state, he was as pragmatic as ever. In fact, he was already closing her out again, no doubt regretting his brief weakness in discussing something so personal with her while at work.

He almost made it to the door before Nadia recovered her composure enough to order him to hold on for a second. He turned to face her, all business once more.

"How long have you been at it today?" It being the interrogation of McDunough and cohorts.

"Since I came on shift," Mike said.

That was what, ten hours ago? Damn. The man was determined for someone with such significant emotional reservations. Of course, 'detached' was probably his middle name. Well, she knew it wasn't. But it should have been.

"Go home," Nadia said. Mike looked as if he were about to protest but she cut him off. "We still have another day before Division transfers the 'People's Militia' out and another team of interrogators get their turn."

She could almost read his thoughts, the forthcoming arguments. There's something big brewing. Their team already knew the players, their backgrounds, their pressure points, were the best ones to press the prisoners. And while just a hunch, they all felt that the timing was vital.

Somewhat surprisingly, Mike said none of those things. He simply scoured her with one last piercing blue evaluating gaze, nodded and left.

Oh, yes. The man was most definitely feeling off kilter.

Nadia unceremoniously plopped into her chair. Propping her elbows on her desk, she put her face in her hands and tried to force the world back into its organized, sensible state with long, slow breaths.

She had liked that world. That apparently fantastical world of just...what, eight days ago? Really? Only eight days? Well, how long did it take for the universe to shift entirely, anyway?

But what a wonderful world it had been. Simple. Straightforward (more or less). She worked for the good guys. Still true. See, consistency. How lovely. They stopped bad guys. Also true. Great. She had a whole team of intrepid, stalwart people. Smart, technologically savvy people like Milo and the O'Brians. Brawny, badass people like Mike Doyle. Mike Doyle, her ass-kicking go-to man. Tough. Terse. Uncomplicated.

Nadia sighed.

So very complicated.

And she was helplessly drawn to the complications. Most would say it was not too late to avoid becoming ensnared. But God help her, she knew it was far too late. Because she was going to go to him.

As soon as this day was over, she was going to go to him.

A/N: More soon… probably the smut I've obviously been building up to… and then maybe some fun action/angst plot.