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“Come with me,” the words were heartfelt and soft, but it was the trembling hand reaching for her tugged at her heartstrings. Melinda took Phil’s hand, swallowing the gasp that threatened to leave her at the contact. His skin was so warm as she entwined their fingers together and she thought that she never wanted to let go of him again.

 

They stood, silently enjoying this intimate contact--both happy but wishing for much more.

 

It was hard to remember a time when they had denied themselves this comfort, but for most of their relationship they had avoided this kind of contact, both afraid of their feelings. Everything had changed in space. Space! Melinda had always craved his touch, but she only started indulging in that sweet temptation after their reunion at the lighthouse. When Phil came for her, she forgot all about her pain and focused on his arms wrapping securely around her. Closing her eyes, she felt valued and cherished. She grabbed a fistfull of his shirt and brought him closer to her, feeling his heart beating wildly under her fingers. It was almost too much, experiencing the real thing after she had imagined it for so many years. Almost.

 

After that, they had been mostly concerned with saving the world, too busy to indulge in anything other than passing touches that only served to stoke her hunger for him. A hand pressed to her lower back as they walked; their hands touching as they stood impossibly close to each other; a brief caress or a quiet moment in the cockpit; an affectionate shoulder squeeze. Melinda collected each gesture and treasured it, adding it to all the moments in their three decade friendship that made her heart swell. For the first time, she found herself wishing to talk about “them” with Phil. But there was no time while they were in space.

 

And then there was Phil’s deal with the Ghost Rider. Anger still bubbled to the surface every time she thought about him keeping the details of the deal from her. She knew he was protecting her, but damn it they were partners! That was something she needed to know, to prepare for his absence, to stop herself from wondering if he’d ever return. Now she knew he’d always come back to her, but she didn’t when he disappeared shortly after arriving back to their time. The agony of parting ways still haunted her nightmares.

 

When he returned to her--tired, beaten and weary--she suggested they take some time off, just the two of them. He had smiled, his bruised and scratched face endearing him to her. That was two days ago.

 

Now they were outside their new base and he was standing in front of LOLA, ready to go. His sunglasses obscured the beautiful blue eyes she had loved all these years, but she knew they were smiling, just like the rest of his face. He was basking in the sun, his skin deprived of that wonderful warmth for too long, just like hers.

 

“Where to?”

 

“No idea. I was thinking we could just drive, go anywhere we feel like going. The destination doesn’t matter to me,” she could hear the unspoken as long as I’m with you.

 

Smiling, she let go of his hand to jump in the passenger seat. “Our bags?”

 

“In the trunk.” Of course he had packed for both of them. She was sure he had also picked up snacks for the road. Phil was nothing if not prepared.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

* * *

 

The wind and the sun on his face felt amazing. He had forgotten how liberating the road could be, how it had always lifted his spirits. With Melinda sitting next to him, her hair blowing gently behind her and a small smiled tucked in the corners of her mouth, he loved the road even more. After spending so long away from his team, away from the simple pleasure of being outside, he couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate his return. To earth, to this time, to her.

 

They were driving aimlessly, like he had done many times in the past. Following the road in front of them, heading south to chase the warmer weather. They stopped at dusty diners, enjoying the peace among the sleepy customers and extracting comfort from the familiar foods. They shared a slice of pie at each stop, no matter the time of the day or the meal in front of them.

 

Melinda slid next to him at every diner booth, pressing her leg against his and occasionally resting her hand on his knee. The waitresses invariably gave them an endearing look upon noticing the perfectly empty seat across from them. Knowing that Melinda wanted him that close made Phil feel giddy. That proximity meant that when they looked at each other, their faces were only inches away. Struggling to keep his eyes on hers, Phil lost the battle and looked at her lips more times than he could count. That would have mortified him had he not seen Melinda do the same; every time her eyes dipped, he felt a thrill run down his spine.

 

On the first day, after spending eight hours on the road, they stopped for gas. Phil climbed out and leaned on the side of LOLA while the gas flowed into the tank. He was soon lost in the sight of the pink and yellow swirls in the sky above as the day died. When he heard the loud click of the nozzle stopping, he turned and saw that his seat was taken and the passenger door was open in invitation to him. After finishing the transaction, he made his way to the other side of the car, smiling to himself.

 

Not saying a word, Melinda drove them out of the gas station and toward the sunset. A few miles down the highway, she took an unmarked exit, making a series of deliberate turns. Nearly an hour after exiting the highway, they stopped in front of a colonial-style house on a quiet, yet picturesque town. Melinda got out of the car and headed toward the front, past a sign that said “Crawford B&B.” Phil went to the trunk to retrieve their bags, his heart beating faster with each step he took toward the house.

 

An elderly couple greeted them inside. “Welcome! You must be Mr. and Mrs. Connor. We’ve been expecting you,” said the woman as her husband smiled politely.

 

Phil briefly glanced at Melinda before smiling back at the couple. His first surprise was that she had made reservations and the second was her choice of names; Connor had been his mother’s maiden name. As the couple showed them to a beautifully decorated room on the second floor, Phil was surprised yet again. They’d be sharing a room, pretending to be a married couple. In and of itself, that fact wasn’t strange--they had done that very thing many times throughout the years they worked together. But this was different. This time they were themselves and after growing closer in the last few months, he had a reason to believe this was significant.

 

Once their hosts left the room, Phil went to the beautifully carved armoire in the corner and set down their bags. Melinda was facing away from him as she looked at the dark mass of the mountains in the distance, the peaks barely visible in the blackness of the night.

 

Coming to stand behind her, Phil felt the overwhelming urge to wrap his arms around her. After all the trials and tribulations he had endured, this was one battle was he soundly lost. For a brief second, as his hands made contact with her sides, he felt her tense. Fear started creeping in, freezing his hands in place. Before he could pull away, she leaned into him, her back coming to rest snuggly against his chest as her hands covered his own and pulled them tightly across her stomach. Phil let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding and he hugged her close, resting his cheek against her temple. Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes to enjoy the warmth of her body, his nostrils filling with the calming scent of her orange blossom shampoo.

 

They stayed like that for a long time, neither strong enough to step away from such comfort. Eventually, Melinda began turning in his embrace, her face coming to rest so close to his that he could almost taste her lips on his.

 

“I’m ready to start moving forward,” her words came out breathless and low, sending shivers down his spine.

 

Not trusting his voice to respond, Phil closed the gap between them to seal his lips to hers. Her arms sneaked around his neck as he brought her closer. The contact made him dizzy and her lips set his body ablaze. As the passion that he had bottled up for years began bubbling to the surface, he felt her tongue darting out and begging for entrance at his lips--he immediately opened up to her and deepened the kiss, letting himself fall into the abyss. He would never look back.