"I need you."
Nina looked away for a moment, swallowing hard. She had thought—she had hoped, even—that Lee would have cared enough for her to agree. But when it came down to it, he valued her more as a tool than as a person. There was no one she was truly important to for who she was, and she had nowhere to go and nothing else to do. "Okay," she said with a nod, working hard to keep the tears out of her eyes for long enough to finish talking with him. "Whatever you need."
She turned to leave before he could see the first one fall, and walked blindly to her office. At least she didn't have to walk past Cam and Dani to get there. She needed no fresh reminders that no one really, truly, cared for her. That no one really wanted her for herself, instead of what she could do.
She closed her office door behind her without turning on the lights, using her spatial memory to circle around behind her desk. The weight of her pain made her legs unstable, and she collapsed on them, slumping against the wall. She leaned her head back, out of sight from anyone walking by, and let the tears fall freely.
"I'll see you tomorrow, hey?" John asked Rachel.
"Yeah, I'll be here," she said, smiling.
"All right." He waved as he exited the room.
Rachel glanced around after he was gone. Her senses had been expanded—but they seemed to be a lot easier to control now. She had been able to kiss John without the physical sensation taking over and resulting in a swift and sudden orgasm; it was something she had never been able to do before. The lights bothered her so much less than they used to. And the sound! She could actually identify all the sounds in a much wider area—and easily tune out what she didn't want to listen to—which was a new experience.
She expanded her hearing to the building as a test and started filtering. The humming of the various machinery and lights, the janitorial staff cleaning on the first floor… There were some heartbeats in their offices—and the sounds of a couple doing a little making out. Cameron and Dani, it sounded like. And then… She frowned in complete bewilderment. Was that Nina crying? She had to be mistaken. Nina never cried. Rachel could count on one hand the number of times she saw anything resembling a tear in Nina's eyes, and it never went beyond the hint of them. Nina crying just didn't happen. But there was no doubt about what she was hearing—some sniffles and heavy breathing—and Nina was alone.
Almost against her will, Rachel found herself drawn to investigate. Cameron and Dani didn't seem to notice her as she tiptoed past them to find Nina's office. It was far from the others', probably to avoid them having to see each other.
Rachel stopped at the door. It was closed, and the office was dark, but the sounds were clear. Nina was in there—and she was definitely crying alone. Rachel pressed the handle down and pushed, and the door opened slowly. The sniffles stopped, replaced by heavy breathing. "Nina? It's Rachel." Only the breathing answered Rachel. "Are you OK?"
The answer was quiet enough that Rachel almost needed her abilities to make it out. "Doesn't matter."
OK, something was definitely wrong. Rachel walked through the small office, turning her sight up to recognize the subtle changes in dark shades that indicated outlines of furniture. She rounded Nina's desk to find Nina sitting against the wall, arms resting on her knees. Nina's face turned downwards as soon as Rachel came into view. "Yes, it does matter," Rachel said. Nina's response was a tiny shake of her head.
Rachel felt so many emotions at that moment, she wasn't sure how to sort them all out. On one hand, Nina was the person who had— Rachel didn't have a good word for it, what Nina had done to her in the club. But on the other… this was a Nina who was hurting. Very deeply, from the sound of it. And it didn't look like she had anyone to turn to.
Rachel bit her lip and finally acted, flipping on the desk light before kneeling next to Nina and reaching for her. Nina leaned over easily with Rachel only having to pull gently. Rachel circled her arms around Nina and pressed Nina's head against her shoulder with one hand. She was surprised to hear Nina's sniffling intensify slightly, and Nina's arms lay at her sides, rather than returning the hug.
Slowly the crying dwindled and faded as Rachel held Nina. She was about to push Nina away from her and upright when she heard Nina's voice. "Why are you here?"
"Because… I heard you crying."
"But you hate me," said Nina, voice slightly muffled by Rachel's shirt.
Rachel's heart wrenched slightly at the pain in Nina's voice. After how badly Nina had hurt her, she had tried to forget she cared, but that obviously didn't work. "No, I don't hate you," she said softly.
"You should. You shouldn't come anywhere near me. I might end up pushing you again."
Oh, Nina. Rachel hadn't been ready to accept her apology before, too hurt and upset over what she had done, but it was clear that Nina regretted her actions very very much. "I don't think you will," Rachel told her, hoping she was right.
Nina shook her head, pushing back from Rachel while keeping her eyes turned downwards. "You don't understand—I can't control myself. I end up pushing people when I feel desperate." She took a deep breath and hugged her knees. "I pushed Cameron up there this morning, just because he was trying to run away from me and I didn't want to be alone. And then I had to push him to forget so he wouldn't look at me like he hated me."
And Nina had clearly had to walk past Cameron and Dani to get to her office. Rachel sighed. "Have you talked with Dr. Rosen about this?" she asked.
Nina snorted lightly with a little bitterness. "Yeah, I told him I need to stop pushing entirely, 'cause I couldn't pick and choose who." She propped her elbows on her knees, covering her face with her hands. "He told me I was the most powerful tool he had and that he needed me." The last few words were tinged with tears.
Rachel stared in shock. Dr. Rosen had prioritized going after Stanton Parish over Nina's well-being? She pushed aside the sense of betrayal to concentrate on the broken woman in front of her: who did Nina have looking out for her, then? The answer was clear—no one. When she had first gotten to know Nina, Rachel had been the one who needed support, reassurance, and acceptance, while Nina had seemed suave and self-assured. Little had Rachel realized then how fragile Nina really was, how much of her self-confidence had rested on her pushing and her bonds with the others on their team. And now that Nina's ability had proved to be addictive to the point of hurting others, and the connections to everyone else were weak or frayed, Nina had nothing and no one she could count on.
It was clear that Rachel had a choice to make. She could offer some platitudes, give her teammate small amounts of reassurance, and leave Nina in her pain. Or she could reach out and establish the connection that Nina so desperately needed. The thought of the latter option filled Rachel with apprehension; she would be taking an enormous risk, especially now that she knew what Nina was capable of. Nina was every bit as emotionally needy as Rachel had ever been—possibly more—but she had not learned to cope with it as Rachel had, instead using her ability to make herself feel better. It would be a challenge, one Rachel didn't know if she could handle; Dr. Rosen's failure to support Nina as he should've left a bitter taste in Rachel's mouth. But could she really leave Nina the way she was? Imagining herself in Nina's shoes answered that question with a swift 'no'. Which left only one path.
Rachel took a deep breath and scooted till she was sitting next to Nina, back against the wall. The first step wasn't easy to take, but she had to, both for herself and for Nina. "Come sit in front of me," she said.
"Come on," Rachel coaxed, using a hand to nudge Nina forward. When Nina had moved sufficiently, Rachel summoned her courage to say, "Now look at me."
Nina shook her head.
"Are you planning on pushing me?"
Another head shake.
"Then look at me."
Slowly Nina met Rachel's eyes with her own reddened ones.
Rachel opened her mouth and said three of the hardest words she had ever had to say. "I forgive you." A weight came off her shoulders upon uttering them, and that part of her that had held onto the pain found a new wave of sympathy for Nina.
Nina's head shook once more. "You can't! You can't just forgive me for doing that to you. For hurting you like that."
"Yes, you did hurt me," Rachel began. "Uh-uh!" she said when Nina's head dropped. "Stay with me here." She reached out with her hands and grasped Nina's face between them, pulling up so Nina would have to look at her. "Yes, you hurt me deeply."
"I practically raped you," Nina whispered.
"What you did violated me, yes, but I don't consider it rape, and I'm the one who gets to decide what it's called, OK?" Rachel said firmly. Nina's eyes flickered assent, and Rachel went on. "Whatever it's called, I am choosing to forgive you. And that's my right to do as well, if I want." A couple tears escaped from Nina's eyes, and Rachel wiped them with her thumbs. "Come here," she said softly, releasing Nina's face and opening her arms.
It took a little maneuvering, but she soon had her arms folded around Nina, and Nina's head lay on her shoulder. "Now, there's nothing I can do about Dr. Rosen's decisions," Rachel told Nina. "If he wants you to push people, then that's what you'll have to do."
"Yeah. I told him I'd do whatever he needed."
Of course Nina did. What other choice was there? Rachel's heart wrenched again for Nina, and she used one hand to brush some of Nina's hair back behind her ear. "I do think that I might be able to help you, though. If you want."
"Yeah," Nina said quietly. "I'd like that."
Rachel let her fingers trail through Nina's hair, brushing her scalp lightly while Rachel thought. "I'm not a therapist, but maybe we can try this. When do you find yourself pushing people that you don't intend to? What are the circumstances? What are you feeling?" Nina's heart rate slowed and her body relaxed overall as Rachel stroked her head, so Rachel decided to continue her actions.
There was a long silence before Nina spoke. "It's when I'm feeling like—like people are pulling away from me. When they don't want to be with me."
"When you're feeling rejected?" Rachel asked.
"Yeah. I—I keep pushing Cam. Because I miss what we had."
"You know that you don't have a relationship with him right now, that he doesn't want that."
"Yeah." Nina's voice was barely audible. "Because I screwed it up, and now he's got Dani instead."
Rachel had no response for that statement; Nina was accurate, if blunt. Rachel closed her eyes, thinking for a moment. "You know how I went on dates now and then, and they were always disasters I wouldn't talk about?" Except for Sam. She had eventually told Nina about her reaction to Sam's kiss, and Nina had turned around and told Tommy, before making use of the knowledge herself.
"Right now I'm actually in a relationship that is working. So far. And I have an idea about why."
"Because I was ready emotionally, when I went into it. I knew who I was, and I liked myself. Mostly. I'm still battling some insecurities. But overall, I'm pretty confident now, and comfortable with myself, and that means I'm able to focus on the other person." Rachel stopped running her fingers across Nina's head and just rested her arms around Nina as she spoke. "By that criteria, would you say you're ready for a relationship?"
Nina's reply was a hesitant 'no'.
"I agree. And the problem with Hicks is that he's on our team, and you have to work with him all the time. And he's dating Dr. Rosen's daughter, and you have to see them sometimes. So you aren't able to just move on and never see him again, while you focus on getting yourself in a better place."
Nina's head gave a tiny nod.
"It sounds like it's just too tempting for you to make him behave like he used to with you, though, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Nina said quietly.
"So, avoid him. Don't look at him if you can help it. Don't talk with him unless he starts a conversation, and when he does, look away, even when you're answering him. It'll look rude, but I can explain to him why if you want, ask him to leave you alone." Rachel heard Nina's heart rate increase as she spoke, and Nina hunched up a little more than she was. "Hey," she said when she smelled a fresh tear, "it's OK. It's OK." She brushed the hair away from Nina's cheek. "You need to give him the space to sort out his relationship without you messing it up, and you need the time to learn to live without him."
"I know," Nina choked out.
"Then do it. And when you're feeling like you're being rejected, I want you to come to me right away, before you can get to the point where you end up pushing someone, and I will stay with you as long as you need. Because I am not giving up on you," Rachel promised. At this point, she wasn't sure if she could keep it, but she would try her best, for Nina's sake.
Nina sat up and stared at Rachel, hope beginning to grow in her eyes. "You mean it?"
Rachel gazed back steadily. "Yes, I mean it. You're my friend, and I care about you." It was the truth again. Somewhere between the moment she first heard Nina crying and now, she realized she did indeed consider Nina a friend again. It was like starting their friendship from the beginning—with a role reversal. Could she count on Nina to be there for her when she needed it? At the moment, no. This was going to be very one-sided for a while. Nina was going to need a lot of support—and possibly a roommate again, Rachel realized. She sighed inwardly. Her life had just transformed in a very drastic way in the space of a half hour. Hopefully, for the better.
"This is a two-way promise, however," Rachel went on, and Nina looked at her with a slight wariness. "Your side of it is to promise that you will never push me unless I ask you to or unless it's to save me from getting hurt or killed." Rachel watched Nina's gaze drop once more, and continued in a softer voice. "You won't need to push me to stay because I will not push you away. You just have to remember to come find me whenever you're feeling that desperate. I don't care what time of day or night it is—if you need me, come find me, all right?"
"All right," said Nina.
"You promise? On both accounts?" Rachel asked.
Nina's face was somber as she looked at Rachel. "I promise."
Rachel struggled to her feet and reached a hand down to help Nina up. "And remember," Rachel told her, "Gary is a good person for you to be around right now, too, because you can't push him and he's constant. So you have both of us, all right?" Rachel could see Nina struggling with her emotions again. She reached out once more to hug Nina, feeling Nina cling to her. "It's going to be OK," she promised, hoping she was right.