By the time he was finally laying in his own bed, the pain killers were working their magic in earnest, and Nick was floating on that warm, fluffy cloud of oblivion, again. And for the first time that day he had the chance to indulgently review the flashes of opiate-addled memories that had been peeking out and taunting him from the edges of his consciousness, all day.

MEMORIES was such an vague word, however, when one didn't remember what it was that one was remembering. Was it just a dream he'd had? Because these pills were really amazing, on that front. The night before he'd also had a dream about being abducted from the beach by aliens who had kindly sucked all the cancer out of his body with a huge alien suction hose thingie. That had seemed very vividly real, as well, but he could only assume that that had not, in fact, actually happened.

Or who knew, maybe he was just remembering an elaborate falling-asleep fantasy he'd spun, as he'd laid next to Jess on the sand. Because goodness knows, his mind had also been getting more and more creative with those kinds of scenarios as well, lately.

But maybe...just maybe...these snatches of memories were know...memories. Of stuff that really, know... happened. And given that that was at least a possibility, it seemed crucially important that he go ahead and trot them out and examine them in full. Piece them together the best he could. See if anything else came back to him.

Purely as an intellectual exercise, of course. Nothing more.

And so he began.

The first tentative images he allowed himself to entertain were of Jess sitting next to him in the salt-tinged dark, haloed by the lights of the boardwalk behind them. He was telling her that giving in and kissing her wasn't worth risking losing her.

Hmmm. Well, that wasn't very definitive, as far as "memories" went. He'd given himself that particular little speech a million times over, before. Even practiced, in his head, saying it to HER, should the need ever arise.

So he moved on.

Next he heard her voice, echo-y, like it was coming from under water, telling him that she wanted to kiss him too. But the lips did not move on the image of her face accompanying this memory, just her eyes, searching his, and giving him the permission he needed.

Weird. But not as weird as the next snatch of a memory, in which he argued that going ahead and kissing would be okay, since..since...since neither one of them would remember it the next day?!


He supposed it was possible that he could have been high enough to think and say something that stupid. But for Jess to just go along with that ridiculous line of "reason", without totally laughing in his face?! That was almost certainly the crazy stuff of dreams, right up there with cancer-sucking alien hoses.

But then...then...the next memories...of actually kissing her...oh, they were so unbearably sweet and real and true and right that he could hardly find it in himself to believe that it hadn't happened. Oh sure, the way the scenario played out in his head, it had all gone terms of his own smoothness. So that was almost certainly the fabrication of a wistfully over-active imagination, because realistically he did not consider himself a stud on the best of days, much less drunk off his gourd. And the fact that somehow a romantic orchestral soundtrack seemed to soar along with these memories also seemed to push things that much further towards the "it never happened, dummy" side of the check list.

BUT...but then... then there were the things he so vividly seemed to remember, in exquisite detail: The exact taste of her lip gloss, and the perfect, textured heat of her tongue against his. The way her tiny hand had shook against the back of his neck until she finally found the boldness to pull him to her. The fevered way he'd taken off Winston's coat, at first thinking only of removing at least one of the barriers between them...but then bunching it up for her to rest her head on as she lay there beneath him, whimpering his name in protest when his lips left hers, and stifling a moan against his mouth when they returned again.

Then there was the way her fingers had willfully scratched against the roughness of his beard, as if to satisfy a long-standing curiosity. The way he hadn't been able to stop mumbling her name..."Jess...Jess..." against her mouth as he kissed her. Then the long moments when he'd slowly, seductively moved his tongue in and out of her mouth, mimicking another movement that he really wished he was making, with another part of his body. And the way that she had trembled beneath him, mewling softly, almost making the noises that one would expect her to make if he was.

And now Nick hated himself for the way his hand slipped, almost against his will, under the edge of his blanket, and past the elastic of his underwear. It didn't matter anymore where these "memories" came from, even though hearing his own breath break and shatter like the waves against the shore in the night felt like de-ja-vu.

But right then all he could think about was free-falling, like a high diver, into the deep pools of her eyes, while her hair spread beneath them both, black wave on black velvet wave, to cushion his fall. And in his fantasies now he did unbutton her coat and slip a hand inside her shirt, sliding it up over her bird-like ribcage, to cup a tiny breast. An action he knew for a fact he would never have allowed himself in real life, but one that felt to him now, in this sweetest of stolen imaginings, like a homecoming, and his resulting absolute joy spilled in hot waves of fulfillment over the edges of his jerking fist.

Damn. DAMNNNN. Damn. Yes, he always hated himself after these moments. But they had come, with time, to feel a lot less like shameful indulgences, and a lot more like necessary acts of prevention. Because there were nights when, if he didn't do this, he would almost certainly have found himself jumping up out of bed, marching across the hall, and finding out what would happen if he caught her hair back with a rough hand before smashing his lips against hers with the craziness of it all, all of this, this way that he couldn't stop thinking about her this way even though he wanted to, more than anything.

Because Nick Miller messed everything up. It's what he did.

And he was determined, this time, not to.

Still, he could hear her eager voice in his head even now, asking, "Okay...just tell me! If you could do anything...what would you do?!"

And OH...there was so much. So much that he WANTED to do. If only he could know what would happen next.

But there was just no way to know. And she was just too important to take risks with.

So rolling over with his back to her room he decided that, for right now, if she was willing to just stand next to him on the beach holding everyone else's wallets, he could be more than happy with that.

As long as she was with him, he could be happy with that.