He had learned early in life that one didn’t always get what they wanted, but he was willing to compromise. Being Melinda’s friend again would be good enough for him. He was so glad she was back. He had missed her terribly.
Right now she stared at him, her left eyebrow ever so slightly lifted. This was her “I’m working, make it quick”-face. He had missed that too. He had hoped she’d allow him into her room but the way she blocked the entrance with her body killed that thought quickly. He meant a lot to her, that were her words. He wanted her to define what exactly that meant and at the same time he was afraid to ask.
“I brought you flowers,” he said as he handed her a bouquet of lilies. She loved lilies.
Raising a brow, she took them from him. “Why?”
Their fingers brushed and he wanted to linger, but this was stupid and awkward as it was, so he did the smart thing and let go. “You hate undercover work,” he said. This was so stupid. He was stupid.
“I’m sorry you have to do that.” He hid his hands behind his back. Since she had returned to him, he wanted to assure himself that things were okay between them. That they were still friends. He had said awful things. Just awful. She was so much more than an ally to him. He swallowed. “I know you hate insincerity.”
Melinda pulled the flowers close to her body and looked at them. “I hated keeping the truth from you.”
He sighed. Gosh, he was clumsy! “But you were never insincere,” he said softly. “You never lied and you were there for me all the way. You had my back.” Everything she had said to him had been helpful. And honest. And kind. “I’m sorry I couldn’t always see that.”
She squinted. “You bringing me flowers is weird.”
Yes, yes it was! He grinned with relief. “Felt wrong as soon as I handed them to you.”
“You never brought me flowers before.”
He shrugged. “We never fought like that before.”
Her face softened and she tilted her head.
He smiled again. “I’m really glad you’re back.”
“So you said.” She grinned and he loved her for it. “Ten times and counting.”
“I could bring you apology-flowers for that too,” he offered.
She sighed. “I hate this awkwardness between us.”
“Maybe we should stop apologizing?”
She snorted. “You sure? Next time I could bring you flowers.”
“I always found tulips very charming.”
They smiled at each other and he felt at home. This was them. This was good. “Did you try on your outfit yet?” he asked.
Her smile faded. “I have an outfit?”
He swallowed and gestured at the lilies. “You should probably put the flowers into water.”
He led his hands up in defeat. “Simmons picked out a very tasteful … sweater.”
“I hate undercover!” She glared and he loved her for that too.
He smiled. “I’m so glad you’re back.”
“More flowers?” she asked when he returned to his hotel room, hiding something behind his back. She sat on his bed in lotus position. Files lay in piles around her. They already had spent four hours going through them and organizing them.
“Pizza,” he said.
“Are you serious?” Her eyes widened and she dropped the files she had been reading.
Smiling he pulled out a white, flat, quadratic box. “I stole it from Fitzsimmons. It’s cold –“
“Don’t care!” She reached out and took the box. Within moments she had it opened and took big bites from two slices of pizza she had put upside down onto each other.
She closed her eyes and chewed, making little humming noises. This was his favorite part. She swallowed and smiled before she took her second bite.
“This is nice,” he said.
Melinda opened her eyes and swallowed. “It’s files and cold pizza.” Her eyes fell shut again as she bit into the pizza.
He grinned. “Still.”
She opened her eyes just to roll them at him. He sat down on the bed opposed to her and glanced into the box. One was still left. Every bet she’d take that last slice too.
“I almost forgot how hungry you get around midnight,” he said. When they had been on missions together, she had always feasted at night. She usually had forgotten to eat during the day. Not that he had minded too much. Watching her stuff her face with pizza had always been a pleasure. “I really missed you after Bahrain,” he said.
She put the pizza down and looked at it. “I couldn’t -”
“I know.” He shouldn’t have started. Stupid again.
“I missed you too,” she said quietly.
Well. He swallowed. “Can I have the last slice of pizza?” he asked with a grin.
She looked up and grinned as well. “You can fight me for it,” she said.
“Suddenly not hungry anymore.” He loved her.
She concentrated on her food again. She licked her fingers clean before she took the last slice. He meant a lot to her. And the last time he had spoken about their relationship he had called her an ally.
“You mean a lot to me too,” he said.
She looked at him mid-chewing, her eyes widened.
“I just wanted you to know that.” He folded his fingers around the edge of the bed. “I’m sorry I got so mad because of it.”
She swallowed. “Because of it?”
He should stop talking right now. “Was there ever a time where we could’ve worked?” he asked. “Before Bahrain I thought …” He shrugged. He had thought they could be together. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t say those things.” He was stupid. Stupid and tired and in love with her. “I’m glad you’re back,” he said.
She put the pizza back in the box and rubbed her hands against her black jeans. She didn’t look at him. She was probably looking for a way out.
“I don’t want to lose you,” he said. “I don’t want to push you away.”
Finally, her gaze met his. “Then don’t.”
“I don’t want to push you too far either.”
“I love you.”
His heard skipped a beat. She didn’t flinch saying that and he was sure he had misheard. “Excuse me?”
She looked at her lap and pulled her shoulders up. “I know you love Audrey and I …” She glanced at him. “Whatever you need me to do I’ll do. Anything.”
He moved to the edge of the bed and reached out his hand. Before he could touch her arm, she turned away from him.
“Please, I can’t –“
“You love me?” he asked, his pulse was racing.
“Yes.” She wrapped her arms around herself. “I’m sorry. Yes.”
He put his hand on her knee. “I love you, too.”
“Don’t say that,” she mumbled.
He kneeled in front of her. “Melinda –“
“It’s not the same and I can’t –“ She took a breath and looked at him. “I’m your friend. I’m good with that, but you can’t tell me that.”
Her eyes closed when he cradled her face and she sighed again. He leaned into her and placed his lips against hers. Gently. He had wanted to kiss her like that for decades. “I love you.” he said and kissed her again. “Not as a friend.” One more kiss. She cradled his face in her hand.
“I love you,” he said. Another kiss, then he leaned his forehead against hers. “Before Bahrain, I thought …” He sighed. “I wanted to ask you out that night, before …”
She stroked his cheek. “You did.”
“You never gave me an answer, I thought –“
“I was a mess.”
“I wanted you still.”
“You deserved better.”
He kissed her again. “Don’t say that.”
“I’m still a mess.”
“I love you. Never stopped.”
She pulled away but kept cradling his face. “Audrey made you happy.”
“No, she didn’t.” He leaned into her touch and smiled. “I missed you. I’m not missing her now.”
“You’re serious.” She sounded surprised.
“A little bit.”
She stroked his cheek again and shook her head. “You can’t die again.”
“I won’t, then.”
“Are you sure you want this?” she asked. “You want me?”
So very much. “Yes.”
And for the first time, she kissed him.
No more compromises.