"Couch or armchair? Couch. Book or Television? Definitely TV. Football or Law & Order? The latter; maybe it'll make me fall asleep. Bourbon or beer…what's the point of even asking? The real question is glass or bottle?"

This was the extent of Nate's thoughts as he wearily climbed the stairs to his apartment…well their apartment technically. He had stayed behind an extra week in Madrid, tying up a few loose ends on a con while the rest of the team went home for a little "vacation" before the next job, which really only entailed sleeping in late and lounging around their respective homes watching Housewives marathons. It wasn't uncommon to completely lose touch with everyone during these breaks and so Nate was slightly surprised to see two missed calls when he turned on his cell phone; both from Eliot.

"Huh." Nate contemplated calling the man back; he had already been out of touch most of the past two days due to the long flights. "Oh well." He tossed his phone on the kitchen counter, grabbed a bottle of scotch and a glass, and headed for the couch. As soon as he sat on the couch Nate lost the motivation to look for the remote and instead closed his eyes while massaging his sore neck.

"You're too old for this, Ford." he told himself. "Why couldn't you take a normal job? Have a retirement account or something? Buy a villa along the Seine. It would be nice to see France again. Maybe she would come with me…Sophie loves Paris. It's the art, she says. Oh knock it off; she isn't going anywhere with an old windbag like you. Maybe I'll go somewhere quieter…mountain home in Austria? Yeah…like I'm cut out for that kind of frigid weather. I might as well be realistic. I'm going to be here in this flat that isn't even mine until I die or she gets fed up and leaves. Maybe I should buy a couch I actually like. Suede?"

The cell phone began to vibrate and Nate groaned, completely unwilling to rise from the sofa or depart from his jumbled thoughts. The buzzing eventually stopped and the phone beeped, alerting him to a new message.

"Silence, finally." He closed his eyes again just in time for the phone to begin buzzing once again. He tumbled off the couch and lurched for the phone to stop the noise.

"What?" he growled.

"Nate?"

Sophie's voice; she sounded upset. Nate was instantly alert.

"Sophie? What's going on?" she hardly ever called him; that was Hardison's "job."

"Nate…" she was out of breath and her voice was high-pitched, like she was crying. "Nate I…I…"

Nate's heart was beating faster from a rush of adrenaline before his mind even started playing a guessing game.

Sophie took a deep, ragged breath as she tried to control her voice. "Nate, I need you."

He was already jerking his shoes back on and looking around for his keys.

"Nate?" she sounded pitiful. "Nate, are you there?"

"Where are you?" his voice was sharp. "Where the hell are my keys?" He was barely even listening to her as he started tossing cushions off the couch.

"I…I'm at the hospital."

Nate ceased his quest for the car keys and stared into the empty apartment as his brain registered the words. "I'm going to be very, very sick."

"Where?" he barely heard the question himself.

"Nate…"

"Where?"

"Boston Medical." Sophie's breathing was still very abnormal and her voice was faint.

Nate snapped the phone closed and glared at the couch. "Where are the damn keys?" he screamed to the empty apartment. Only a few moments later he found them, obscured by the bottle of bourbon on the coffee table. He snatched up the keys and then looked at the glass container in rage.

"I'm going to lose her." It was the first time it occurred to him that Sophie was actually something he could lose. His rising emotions were more than he could bear and he reached for the bottle. It was halfway to his lips when he paused and the flung it across the room in a fury.

"You fool." He cursed himself and fled the emptiness of the apartment, leaving the glass shattered on the floor in a growing pool of golden liquid.

Nate had never driven so recklessly in his life; unaware that he was even doing so. He had only one thought… "I can't see her. I can't. Not like this. Not in the hospital. Not in a bed. Not with a gown, with IV lines, with monitors…I won't see her. I won't." Still he sped towards Boston Medical Center as fast as the vehicle would take him and the surrounding traffic would let him.

He parked near the front of the hospital in a haphazard fashion taking up two spots, completely oblivious.

"I'm not going to see her. I'm not." He walked rapidly into the main entrance and began to look around aimlessly. "I have to see her. I can't. I will. I won't." Nate tugged a hand through his hair. "I can't ever go to Paris again."

A nurse passing by stopped and noted the distress etched on his face. "Can I help you find someone?" she asked softly, trying to look him in the eyes.

Nate didn't even hear her.

"Sir?" she reached out and touched his arm lightly. "Are you okay?"

"Huh?" Nate finally noticed her and shook his head. "Uh, no not really." He stumbled over the words. "I can't find her."

"Who? A patient here?" She guided Nate towards the admitting desk while he struggled to put his jumbled thoughts into words.

"Yeah… Sophie…but probably not as Sophie. Maybe Charlotte?" Nate was starting to sweat and his hands trembled.

The nurse noticed the symptoms. "Sir, I think you're having a panic attack. You should come with me and we can get something to help you."

"No, no, no." Nate laughed absurdly. "I'm not crazy. I just got a call and I need to find her or I'll never be able to go to Paris again."

"Uh-huh." The woman was sensibly unconvinced. "Will you at least sit down?" she coaxed.

"No!" Nate looked back at the woman sitting at the admissions desk. "See if there's a Sophie Devereaux." He unbuttoned the top two buttons of his shirt. "Why is it so stuffy in here? I can barely breathe."

"Please come to the Emergency Department with me." The nurse attempted again.

"No, damn you!" Nate glared at her. "I said no! Why can't you…?"

"Nate?"

"Sophie?" Nate turned around and saw Sophie hurrying across the large lobby towards him.

"What's the matter with you?" she hissed, looking apologetically at the nurse who had decided it was a good time to leave the man for someone else to deal with.

"Sophie! Sophie, Sophie, Sophie…" Nate couldn't say a word. He stared at her in complete shock for a moment, taking in her curled hair, made-up face, and typical designer clothes and shoes. Nothing would have given away her phone conversation with him except that her eyes were still bloodshot and her mascara was smudged slightly.

Nate suddenly wished he had taken the nurse's advice and sat down. He swayed to the right and Sophie grabbed his arm roughly to steady him.

"Nate?" her voice was softer. She looked into his face, surprised to see the redness of his eyes.

He was still working hard to control his breathing and couldn't explain but he was starting to feel like a fool and that was changing his feeling of panic into anger.

"Damn it, Sophie." He finally managed. "What were you thinking?" He was still panting and his voice was gruff.

"I was thinking you should be here!" she exclaimed, her defenses rising in spite of his pitiful appearance.

"You scared me half… do you have any idea what…you can't just…damn it, Sophie!" he tugged at his hair again and turned to walk out of the building. He didn't know if he was leaving or just going for a walk…he just had to get out of there, away from everyone staring, away from her scornful look. He wandered, unaware of where he was going, and ended up seated on the bench of a picnic table; elbows resting on his knees; head resting in his hands.

"You fool." He chided. "She said she was at the hospital, not a patient. Fool! Idiot! Of all the stupid, irrational, crazy, moronic things I could do I just had to run into the hospital raving like a lunatic and looking like a…a… fool (there's no other word for it) in front of her. Right in front of her. Idiot!"

The adrenaline was slowing and it left him feeling weak, nauseous, and shaky; his heart was still beating furiously even though he was constantly willing it to slow.

"How can she do this to me? We're friends. Barely that. We… we… we agreed. Just friends. It's too hard. This is all too damn hard. Idiot!" Nate was so involved in his thoughts that he didn't hear her soft steps approaching. She sat beside him and put her hand on his back, rubbing her hand slowly around in circles occasionally entwining the curls at the nape of his neck around her finger. She didn't say anything, simply waited while his breathing pattern normalized and then slowly returned to a normal rate.

"Parker is in the ICU," she told him quietly.

His head jerked up, looking at her intently, waiting for her to continue.

"Her appendix ruptured. Hardison found her early this morning and called an ambulance." Sophie took a ragged breath. "She's pretty sick, Nate."

Nate nodded so that Sophie wouldn't continue the explanation. He felt a heaviness in his chest that was unrelenting but not the same level of anxiety he was dealing with earlier and the difference bothered him.

"How bad?" he finally asked.

Sophie seemed irritated by the question. "Intensive-care bad, Nate. They call it the ICU for a reason." Sophie was frowning again. "She just came out of surgery an hour ago. She has tubes, and drains, and IV's, and monitors, and bandages…everything you hate." Irritation had progressed to anger and Nate didn't know how to keep this from escalating.

"Will I be allowed in?" he asked softly. "I don't want to go in. Not the ICU, God, anything but the ICU. Why is she asking me to do this?"

"As Uncle Brian you will be." Sophie seemed mollified by his effort. "I'm Aunt Cathy." She reached her hand towards him but dropped it to her side as Nate stiffly fell in step beside her.

Nate wanted to reach out and grab the offered hand but the thought of touching her warm skin made his chest start hurting again. He suddenly recalled the sound of her crying on the phone and he began studying her face.

"Soph."

She continued walking but glanced at him momentarily.

"I…I don't know if I can…"

She cut him off with an angry glare and a sharp answer. "We are the closest thing to a family that girl has and if you can't find it in yourself to suck it up for fifteen minutes and visit her in the hospital than you're not worth …" Sophie cut herself off to avoid saying something she would regret but her message was still clear.

"If I go in there and Parker doesn't…if she doesn't…if…what if the worst happens? Will I see her every time I step into a hospital? Will I see her face next to my son's? How did this happen? Why the hell do I even care so much? I work with these people. Coworkers. Barely even friends. Parker probably wouldn't even call me her friend. Would she? I doubt it. Family? That's what Sophie said; family. When did we become a family? We didn't. We can't be. I can't go there. I object! But when does it matter what the hell I think? They all do what they want anyway; especially Parker. Oh hell…Parker. Parker."

By this time they were approaching the ICU and Nate unconsciously held his breath, trying not to breath in the smell of draining wounds and stale sweat mixed with antiseptic, the smell of an intensive care unit.

"I'm here to see my niece," he tried to sound as cool and collected as possible to the nurse at the desk.

"Her name?" the nurse pecked at a few keys on the computer and paused, waiting for him to give her the name.

Sophie gave Nate a subtle signal. "White. Alice White."

"Okay," the nurse nodded and scanned the computerized chart for a moment. "You can go in but visiting hours are over in another fifteen minutes. You'll all have to leave."

"All?" Nate mumbled to Sophie as they headed to the room.

"Hardison and Eliot have both been here all day." She responded coldly.

"That's not fair. You can't compare me to them. It's different for me…you know it's different."

The ICU rooms faced the nurses' station with glass walls so that the staff could keep an eye on the patients. Some rooms had the curtains partially closed but Nate could still see plenty as they approached the end of the hallway. He was starting to feel sick again.

Sophie entered the room while Nate hung back, observing the group from outside the window. Hardison had pulled a chair as close to the bed as possible and he was holding Parker's hand. Eliot stood in the corner, saying something to Sophie before looking up and glaring directly at Nate.

"He thinks I'm a coward. I am a coward."

Sophie said something else, Nate couldn't quite catch it, and Parker opened her eyes and looked around the room. Even from outside the room she looked feverish and her usually pale skin was looking almost gray. Her eyes were glazed and red and she looked around the room, a frown on her face. She spotted Nate standing outside of the room and she stared intently at him, looking frightened.

"She's scared because I'm here." Nate suddenly realized. "I wouldn't come unless I absolutely had to…" Nate had a sudden urge to hug the small woman but common sense told him to stay put; that would only frighten her more. Instead he offered a small, terse smile; it was the best he could muster up at the moment.

Parker saw the reassuring grin and responded with one of her own and a feeble wave.

Nate's heart constricted again and he raised his hand in response before backing away from the window and quickly leaving the hospital.

XXXXXXXXXX

Sophie sank into the passenger seat of Eliot's car. She had driven by herself to the hospital but she was too physically and emotionally spent to manage the long drive home. The ride to Sophie's apartment was silent, each of them lost in their own thoughts. When he finally pulled to the curb in front of her building Eliot put his hand on her shoulder.

"You can stay at my place if you want." He offered. "You know…if you just don't want all the quiet."

Sophie smiled appreciatively but shook her head. "No. I'm sure I'll fall asleep soon enough." That was a lie, of course. She'd probably be up all night. "Are you going back to the hospital tomorrow?"

Eliot nodded.

"Can you pick me up?"

He nodded again. "I'll see you around nine then." He smiled reassuringly as she climbed out of the car and she stood on the curb a moment watching him drive away.

"Of course I don't want to be alone." She admitted. "But it's not Eliot I want." Sophie frowned as she turned to walk up the stairs and spend the night alone in her apartment worrying about her friend and wondering about her partner.

"He can bloody well just go to hell for all I care." She told Eliot emphatically the next morning when he came to pick her up. "I called him, I begged him to come and he…he…waves? That's all he can do? No 'hello' or 'how are you?' He just did…nothing, that's what he did, nothing. Miserable excuse for a man."

Eliot wisely kept silent and let her rant.

Sophie kept up her tirade until they reached the hospital, only toning down her anger when they reached Parker's room. Hardison was already there in the same position they left him in; maybe he never left. Parker was awake and looking listless; listless was good. At least she didn't look so exhausted. The head of the bed was higher, almost at a forty degree angle, and Parker was trying to hide the ratty stuffed bunny she was holding under the blanket.

"Hello Parker." Sophie impulsively kissed the girl's cheek and Parker grinned. "Did Hardison bring your friend?" Sophie laughed lightly, feeling in better spirits with Parker's improvement.

"Nate." Parker whispered.

Sophie looked around the room without thinking. "Nate was here? Again?"

Parker nodded. "He thought I was sleeping."

"Damn him!" Sophie cursed him silently. "He can't do something so…so…sweet. No! He's history. Worthless scum…inconsiderate…selfish…and…and and he came back to a place he hated to smuggle in her stuffed animal. That dear, sweet, awful, horrible man!"

"Is he coming back?"

Parker shrugged, oblivious to Sophie's bewildered expression. "I dunno. If he does tell him to bring some blue fruit loops." Parker poked Hardison's shoulder to wake him up. "I asked Hardison but he's too busy apparently."

XXXXXXXXX

Nate walked silently into the ward, hoping not to catch the attention of any nurses passing by.

"Parker," he whispered, touching her shoulder lightly. "She's still so hot." He accidently brushed against the blanket and displaced it to reveal two drains pinned to Parker's gown, both filled with bloody fluid. He felt nauseous but he forced himself to smile as Parker awoke.

"Sophie was looking for you today." She whispered.

"I'll bet. She's probably carrying a knife."

"Yeah? Well I was a little busy. I got your text though." He held up a Ziploc bag full of carefully sorted blue fruit loops.

"Finally!" Parker grabbed the bag eagerly. "I've had to sort my own all day."

Nate chuckled. "I wonder if she thinks I buy them this way?"

"Nate?" Parker munched quietly on the cereal. "Thanks for not babysitting me."

"Huh?"

"They're all hanging around all teary like I'm going to die any second. It's creepy."

"They care about you, Parker. That's all." Nate turned to walk out of the room, one more second and there and he might start throwing up again.

"Do you?"

Nate stopped dead in his tracks and turned to look at the young woman. "Parker doesn't ask questions like that. Parker asks for bunny rabbits and blue fruit loops, she doesn't ask about feelings."

"I brought you your fruit loops didn't I?" Nate figured the logic would be acceptable to the young woman.

"Three boxes worth too." She smiled weakly as she evaluated the bag.

"Get some sleep, Parker."

XXXXXXXXXX

It had been almost five days since Sophie had seen Nate that day at the hospital. She wasn't sure if she was avoiding him or the other way around but every day that she visited Parker there was something new in the room from Nate; the rabbit, fruit loops, a box of antique padlocks, and Parker's grey hoodie. She walked into the ICU and was met with an empty room.

"What happened?" Sophie hurried to the nurses' station, her voice laced with fear. "Where is she?"

"She's gone." The nurse who had been caring for Parker put a hand on Sophie's arm.

"Wha…?"

"Fifth floor, the Stringfield building."

Sophie sighed deeply and had to laugh at herself. "I'm getting as bad as Nate."

"She was doing a lot better last night so we transferred her to a medical floor."

Sophie smiled appreciatively and hurried off the unit and began winding through the long passageways to reach the other building of the hospital.

The atmosphere in the room instantly cheered her. Eliot was sitting on the foot of Parker's bed, an angry expression on his face (a welcome change from his recently pensive features) and Hardison was in his chair by Parker's bedside, looking a little annoyed himself. There was a monopoly board set up on the bed and Parker was sitting cross-legged with a triumphant grin.

"You can't steal property cards, Parker." Eliot complained. "Put 'em back."

"C'mon, Parker, that's not cool."

"Oh you're just mad that I'm winning. Besides, if you leave the bank unprotected it's going to get robbed…simple as that."

"You stole money from the bank too?" Hardison was looking more amused than upset.

"It's not winning if you're cheating…Sophie!" Eliot turned around as she walked into the room. "Sophie, explain this to her."

"Parker, it's not fun for anyone else when you cheat." She admonished with a smile on her face. "Oh let her cheat. Let her do whatever the bloody hell she wants, look at how good she looks!"

"It's fun for me." The blonde seemed uninterested in their enjoyment level.

"Sorry, Eliot." Sophie laughed. "I can't argue with that."

"If you don't like it, too bad." Parker put in for good measure. "This is my game now and Nate said I could make up my own rules."

"Oh this is ridiculous!" Eliot stood up and moved to lean against the window sill.

"Nate was here?" Sophie mumbled quietly to Eliot.

The man nodded. "Yeah, he was here most of the morning…played a couple of games with her. Cheated left and right too."

"He must have just left." Sophie found that annoying.

"Yeah, just a few minutes before you walked in."

Sophie frowned and made a mental note to stop by the "office" before she went home. She was going to have a little chat with Nathan Ford.

XXXXXXXXXX

Nate could hear Sophie's steps pacing back and forth in the hall outside of the apartment. He braced himself for the coming onslaught. He leaned his head against the back of the sofa and closed his eyes; he was too tired to deal with this right now. He had spent most of the night outside of Parker's hospital room and when she awoke and caught sight of him outside the door she demanded entertainment and that's when he made a trip to the closest toy store and bought the board game.

"But what do you do with it?" she had asked him when he delivered the gift.

It had been a surprisingly easy decision to stay and attempt to explain the rules to Parker. Once Hardison woke up and Eliot arrived it had almost been enjoyable as the competitive nature of each person came to the forefront. But then the ICU nurse called up to the room to tell them "Aunt Cathy" was on her way up and Nate suddenly decided he had stayed far too long.

He kept his eyes closed as he waited for her dramatic entrance into the room but it never came. He waited almost five minutes and then opened one eye, looking towards the door.

"Sophie!" his voice was gruff and he sounded annoyed. "Can we get this over with?" He knew she was waiting just outside the door trying to decide which attitude to give him; cold shoulder, righteous indignation, smoldering malevolence, or maybe she would switch it up and try seduction mixed with passive aggression.

There was a moment or two of silence and then the door opened. Nate surveyed her body language. "Good," he thought. "No act at all." Sophie's expression was clear and honest; pure anger and frustration.

"Why did you leave?" her voice was tight and low, her anger barely restrained. She didn't give him much of a change to answer. "Why did you leave the hospital today, Nate?"

Nate was undisturbed by her furry; he had been avoiding it for the past few days but he had been expecting it nonetheless. "Am I not allowed to go home and get some sleep anymore? Do I need to check in with you first?" His sarcastic tone deepened her frown.

"You know what? Maybe that's the wrong question. Maybe I should ask you why the hell you came to the hospital in the first place? Hmm?" She started waving her arms dramatically as she walked towards him. "Why in god's name did you come when I called, Nate? Why would you come all the way across town, acting like a mad man, and then put all your effort into leaving the second you get there? If you don't open your mouth this instant and tell me what the hell you're doing I swear I'll…"

Nate smiled at the irony. "You know I've been asking myself the same question." He thought of the broken glass near the wall and he wished he hadn't wasted all that bourbon. "Why did I go, Sophie?" He was asking himself as much as her. "Why the hell did I risk my life weaving in and out of traffic, causing god only knows how many accidents only to end up in a place that will give me nightmares for weeks…" he was gaining momentum and he stood up as he raised his voice. "Why the hell did I verbally assault some random nurse who was only trying to help; why the hell did I feel like my chest was going to explode; why was it so damn different when I found out it was Parker in the ICU and not…?" He caught himself right before it was too late.

Sophie was stunned into silence. She still looked frustrated but not as angry. "You didn't know it was Parker?"

Nate rolled his eyes and went to the kitchen, rummaging around in the cupboards for replacement alcohol. "You weren't very specific on the phone."

Sophie remained very quiet as she processed his angry rebuttal.

"I'm going downstairs." Nate growled as he slammed the cupboard door shut.

"It gives you nightmares?" she asked quietly.

Nate scowled and headed for the door.

"No." she hurried to him. "Wait. I'm sorry."

Nate stopped his retreat and raised an eyebrow. Sophie never apologized.

"Sophie why are you pushing me on this?" he asked, sounding more tired than annoyed. "You wanted me at the hospital so I went to the damn hospital."

"That's just it, Nate." She put her hand on his arm. "Why?" He didn't answer and her voice took on a pleading tone. "Nate, I'm not angry with you because you left! I just can't figure out why you came in the first place!"

"Because I thought it was you!"

"Damn it," Nate cursed to himself. "I wasn't supposed to say that. Oh she's going to have a field day psychoanalyzing this one."

"Me?" She gave him a blank stare. "You mean you thought I was the one that was sick?"

"I didn't know what to think!" he back peddled. "You're not very easy to understand when you're sobbing!"

"So all that…" Sophie's face and tone had softened considerably. "All that yelling and cursing and hyperventilating…that was for me?"

He sneered at her. "Yeah, a Nathan Ford Hospital Special. I hope you're not expecting a Christmas present too."

She couldn't stop a smile from creeping onto her face and of course it only fueled his embarrassment and therefore his anger.

"Nate, please don't go." She begged with a little laugh when he turned to leave again. "I'm not mocking you. I'm flattered." She impulsively grabbed his hand, standing only inches away from him.

Nate knew she was daring him to kiss her and he wanted to, he desperately wanted to.

"It mattered more than it should." He told her quietly. "With Parker too."

"That's because you care about us." She chuckled softly. "Caring is normal, Nate. It's not the end of the world." She backed away from him, ending the moment. "Parker wanted me to ask you to bring another game." She smiled and started for the door. She wasn't satisfied with the way the conversation had ended but leaving things unsettled was becoming quite the routine for them.

"You could stay." He said suddenly; he surprised himself with the suggestion.

"And what would we do, Nate?" her voice had an irritated edge to it.

He looked around the bare apartment. "Are you hungry?"

"No."

"Sophie?"

"What?" she was becoming impatient; if he couldn't get to the point she had better things awaiting her, like a bath and a glass of wine.

"It was different when I thought it was you."

She looked bored; she had twelve years of experience in hearing him come so close and still so far. "That's nice, Nate." Her voice was flat. "Like I said, I'm flattered. Now I'm going home." She turned to leave.

"I think it's because I love you. No. I mean it was different because I know I love you."

She stopped dead in her tracks, her back to him as she processed. "He's never said that before, has he? No. He's never said 'I love you' before. Never. Nate doesn't say things like that. He can't. It…it… but he did. He said it."

When she finally turned to face him Nate was surprised, she almost looked hurt by his awkward declaration.

"I know you don't…" he paused, looking for the right words. "You don't need…me. Or rather, you don't need me to…I mean…I just want you to know that I want to be there for you even if you don't need me. You asked me to come and I came but…but I should have stayed."

Sophie inclined her head to one side in contemplation. "You would have." She finally responded. "You would have stayed if I had been honest with you."

"Did you lie to me, Sophie?"

"I didn't tell you the truth. I tried to, on the phone, but you were already too upset. I should have told you that I was scared." She shrugged. "I was almost as panicked as you were, Nate. Neither of us is used to worrying about someone else. You would have stayed." She reiterated. "Wouldn't you have? If I had honestly told you I needed you with me?"

Nate wasn't entirely sure but her confidence in his loyalty comforted him. He sighed and dropped his head into his hands. "You deserve someone so much better than me, Sophie."

"Of course I do." She smiled gently. "But that's irrelevant. What are you doing tonight, Nate?"

He was surprised by the deviation. "Sleeping."

"And if I told you I needed the company of a friend?" she walked back to him, placing both her hands on his chest.

"I'd try and find you one." He gave her the slightest smile and she reciprocated.

"Can you be there for me tonight, Nate?"

He couldn't restrain himself any longer and he bent his head down and kissed her firmly.

"Clearly tonight is not a problem." She still looked pensive. "And in the morning?"

He kissed her again, this time wrapping his arms around her and pressing his hands into the small of her back to pull her closer.

"Nate?" she wouldn't let it go; not this time. "I waited for too many years to let him kiss his way out of a conversation."

"Sophie," he whispered into her ear. "I'm yours for as long as you'll have me."

"Because?" she wanted to hear him say it again; make sure she hadn't made the entire thing up.

He continued kissing her neck. "Because I love you. I'm going to try, Sophie, because I love you."

She closed her eyes and wrapped her arms around his neck, leaning into his embrace. "We can do this one day at a time, Nate." She reassured herself more than him as emotions churned inside of her.

"Yeah." She thought she heard him laugh. "One day at a time…until death do us part."

"Nate!" she pulled back in surprise at his choice of words.

"I don't do well with subtlety." He reminded. "I'm either all in or I'm out." He stroked along her jaw line with his thumb. "And with you…" he kissed her again, softly this time. "I don't really have a choice in the matter. I'm already in love with you." He was beginning to enjoy using the phrase.

Sophie felt frozen in place. She had never been so close to what she had wanted all along and yet so afraid of accepting it. Her mind whirled with what-ifs.

She sighed deeply and looked up at him. "I don't want to be with you." She shrugged. "But at this point it really doesn't matter what I want." She rose up on her toes and kissed his cheek. "I need you every bit as much as you need me." Sophie allowed herself to smile and Nate pulled her even closer; never before had the twosome felt so in sync with the other and it would probably be a long while before they would again. So for the moment they relished the time in each other's arms and the promise of forever.