There was a moment, just a moment of stillness where the air seemed to be heavy with the potential of a turning point, but Hardison and Parker started arguing about stupid-ass shit, he was sure, and everything crumbled. She went off to mediate and he stood in the empty room before going on a run.
The sky was overcast, clouds hanging low. He wanted to go full-out, but he paced himself, dodging parked cars and nannies with strollers, as he made his way to the small park a mile or so away from their headquarters. He had rules. A lot of them. He knew what he was, was intimately familiar with all the broken, jagged, edges of his psyche. Rules helped tie him down, rules helped him beat back the rage that flowed through his veins as easily as blood. A body can't live in the shadows and come back into the light the same.
He'd come perilously close to breaking some of those rules. Don't fuck with a buddy's girl. Don't shit where you eat. Nate was damaged, cracks running along his weathered facade, and she was the first person since his ex-wife who stood a chance of fixing him. It didn't matter if she and Nate weren't official, didn't matter if Nate was in jail, she was off-limits, but she had a way of looking at a person and seeing clear through to the bottom. She smiled, a small quirk of her lips, and he'd felt it like a roundhouse. She'd seen the ghosts he carried and she still smiled.
A bird cried out as it circled overhead, freewheeling on a draft. The wind brought the scent of exhaust and grass, with the faintest hint of sea-salt. In a rare moment of whimsy, he figured that every city had its own smell. New York City was the smell of hot pretzels and sewer steam. Los Angeles was heavy smog with the fire of fresh sunlight. He'd been all around the world, but his favorite scent was still fresh earth and saddle soap.
She'd smelled like some expensive perfume today, with an underlying trace of jasmine tea. God knows what he'd smelled like when she stumbled into his training room. He'd made a stir-fry for lunch so maybe she'd smelled peppers and sweat. He shook his head at the odd direction his thoughts had turned and kicked up his speed a notch. Hardison and Parker had probably made up by now. The younger couple were like magnets, continually drawn together and occasionally forced apart. Neither of them had any idea how to handle what was between them. She helped them best she could, dispensing advice and being a sounding board, depending on what was needed. If he wasn't careful, she'd suck him in and he'd find himself taking Hardison out for tacos while the other man ranted about personal boundaries and geeks and blah di blah.
His muscles were feeling pleasantly loose and, after his third loop, he started to head for the park exit. There was a little bodega on the route home that had decent produce. He thought about picking up some tomatoes to make some sauce. She liked his cooking, although she had the typical girly preference for his baking. On the rare occasions he made shortbread, he couldn't get her out of the kitchen, no matter how fiercely he scowled. She'd sit at the table, delicate hands wrapped around a mug of fragrant tea, as he mixed the ingredients together. While the shortbread baked, she'd coax him to join her and they'd talk about all the places they'd been. They didn't talk about what they'd done or why they were there; they just shared memories of soaring cathedrals and tiny bookshops down hidden alleys.
The bodega came into view, but he kept running. Now he was thinking he might call up a friend, go out for dinner. He may have to keep a low profile, thanks to that dickwad Sterling, but he knew a hole in the wall Mexican place that served kick-ass guacamole. As soon as he got back, he'd give Tammi, a redhead with a fondness for margaritas and who didn't have roommates, a call. He was swearing off brunettes for a while. Dark tendrils against pale skin and a soft laugh, it'd be too easy to forget and too easy to remember.
Nate would get out of prison eventually, as a break-out plan had been the main topic of discussion for months. It wasn't even the first time he'd had to retrieve someone from jail, but his urgency to free the mastermind was rapidly intensifying. He was pretty sure she felt it too. No matter what he might say, Nate would never really accept it and the team, the opportunities for atonement, it would all go away. He wasn't ready to go back into the shadows.
With a nod to Cora, he cut through the bar and headed for the elevator. He flipped his phone open and dialed, as the elevator began moving upwards. There was one ring, two, three, and then the doors slid open and he found himself staring into her eyes. Tammi's voice was in his ear as he watched her smile in greeting before slipping past him into the elevator. He murmured something, anything, to Tammi as he turned to catch one more look, to smile back. The doors started to close, and he couldn't help it, he thought, there was a moment...