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She undressed for him slowly. He looked on with bated breath as she undid her shirt button by button, then shrugged it off and let it drop to the floor. Next, she took hold of the hem of her top, and he swallowed hard as she pulled it over her head. He wanted to touch her so badly. His heart was beating fast as she undid the button of her pants, then stepped out of them, and it started beating even faster when she joined him on the bed, smiling. She put her hand against his chest and pushed him down into the pillows, then she leaned forward slowly, and he could already imagine her lips on his…

He woke up with a start, breathing fast, his heart racing. His first reaction was one of disappointment and frustration that she wasn’t really with him, but a moment later he felt an all-consuming, burning sense of shame creep through him. He rubbed his face hard, trying to erase the memory of the dream. He was not, not allowed to think of her like that, even subconsciously. He wondered vaguely what had woken him up at such a crucial moment – just in time, he thought. Was it the noise from Nairobi’s birthday party, which had still been in full swing when he had gone up to bed? He listened… no, that couldn’t be it, everything seemed quiet. The next moment, however, there was a knock on his door, and he realized that had been what had woken him up.

He switched on the light and got out of bed, his mind still fuzzy with sleep, and opened the door. His eyes went wide as he saw Raquel standing there, smiling at him. For a moment, he wondered frantically if he was still dreaming, but then he realized that she was really there, and he felt himself go bright red at the memory of his dream.

She raised her eyebrows. “What are you looking so embarrassed about?”

“Nothing”, he said quickly. “Is… is something wrong?”

“No”, she said idly. “I just didn’t want to go to bed yet. Can I come in?”

“Uhm”, he said, but she didn’t wait for his answer. She slipped past him into his room, and let herself fall down on his bed.

He quickly closed the door and turned around, flustered to the extreme to have her in his room, in his bed, only minutes after that dream. His cheeks were burning, and he felt so awkward he wished the ground would open up and swallow him.

She sat up and threw him a curious look. “Seriously, why are you looking like that?”

He took a deep breath and tried to change the subject. “How was the rest of the party?”

She grinned broadly. “So much fun! You missed the best part.”

He suddenly noticed something he hadn’t noticed before because of his embarrassment.

“Are you drunk?”

She winked at him. “Only a little.”

He narrowed his eyes at her. “I think it’s more than a little. How much did you have to drink?”

“I lost count”, she said lightly, then she patted the mattress next to her. “Don’t just keep standing there, sit down.”

“No thank you”, he said stiffly.

“Come on”, she smiled. “Relax.”

He cleared his throat. “Why are you here?”

“The party’s over.”

He checked his watch. “It’s three o’clock. You have class in the morning. Go to bed.”

“But I’m not tired yet.”

He gave her a stern look. “So you thought you’d come and bother me?”

She grinned. “I didn’t think you’d mind. Why did you leave the party so early?”

“I have class in the morning too. I don’t like to be tired.”

“Don’t you ever have fun?”

“Not usually, no.”

She gave him a long look which he couldn’t really interpret. When she spoke again, her voice sounded a little wistful.

“Wouldn’t you like to, sometimes?”

“What?”

“Have a little fun.”

She slowly got up from the bed and he stiffened as she walked towards him. His instinct was to back away, but he stood his ground. His heart started beating faster as she came very close to him.

She looked up at him. “Don’t you ever want to just cut loose?” she whispered. “Do something stupid?”

His heart was beating painfully hard now. “Why… why would I want to do something stupid?”

“Just because it would feel good”, she murmured, her eyes still on his.

He made a supreme effort and looked away. “I’d only regret it later.”

She came even closer to him. “Maybe you would”, she said softly. “Maybe you wouldn’t.”

She reached up a hand and ran it along the collar of his pajamas. Her nearness was making him dizzy. His blood was pounding in his ears and he couldn’t breathe right. Her hand was on his chest now, and he wanted to touch her so badly it hurt, but she was drunk, she wasn’t thinking right. She wouldn’t be here if she’d been sober. He took a big step back.

“I’m pretty sure I would”, he said firmly. “Goodnight.”

She gave him a sad look. As she turned away from him, she stumbled over the carpet and almost fell, and he realized she was drunker than she looked. He caught her by the elbow.

“Alright”, he sighed. “Let’s get you to bed.”

“I can get to my room by myself”, she said with dignity, but she leaned rather heavily on him.

“You’re going to fall and hurt yourself”, he grumbled as he steered her towards the door.

When they got to her room, he sat her down on the bed, then went downstairs to get her a glass of water. He sat down next to her.

“Drink all of this. Hopefully that will make your hangover tomorrow less severe.”

She did as he said, then handed him back the empty glass. As he wanted to get back up, however, she stopped him with a hand on his knee.

“Do you want to stay?” she murmured. “Just for a bit?”

He was unable to move as her hand slid up his thigh, then he shook himself and firmly pushed it away.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

She put her hand on his sleeve.

“You’re always so well-behaved, Sergio”, she said softly as she moved her hand down his arm. When she started stroking his hand, he closed his eyes for a moment as a deep, desperate longing shot through him. She wasn’t making this easy on him.

“Always the perfect gentleman”, she whispered as she leaned her shoulder against his. “Always. Even when we were sleeping in the same bed. Even now.”

“Your judgment is impaired”, he said stiffly. “You really need to sleep now.”

“I suppose”, she sighed regretfully, then she withdrew her hand from his and got between the sheets fully dressed.

He got up and turned off the light. “Goodnight, Lisbon.”

“Goodnight, Professor.”

As he walked back along the dark hallway to his room, he told himself firmly that this didn’t mean anything. She was really drunk, she just wanted some companionship and he had been her best option. He supposed he should just be grateful that she hadn’t gone knocking on his brother’s door. When he got back into bed, he lay awake for a long time, afraid of the dreams he might have if he let himself fall asleep.

The next morning, he was just knotting his tie in front of the mirror when there was the softest knock on his door. He opened it, and there she stood, giving him such an embarrassed look that he forgave her on the spot.

“I’m so sorry”, she whispered guiltily. “So, so sorry.”

He shook his head. “It’s alright.”

“No, it’s not!” she said. “I made you uncomfortable.”

“Your judgment was impaired”, he said.

“Yes, it was”, she said firmly, confirming his suspicion that it had been just the alcohol talking last night. “I didn’t mean to…”

“I know”, he said quickly.

She pressed her hands to her face. “God, I’m mortified.”

He gave her a smile. “There’s no need for that.”

“I want you to know that I would never have done that if I’d been sober”, she assured him.

“Yes”, he said with a sinking feeling. “I realize that.”

“Good”, she said, relieved. “Can we… can we please never talk about this again?”

“Consider it forgotten.”

“Thank you”, she whispered.

She turned away, and as he watched her go, he wished – for just one fleeting moment – that he could have been just a bit less of a gentleman last night.

 

After dinner that night, when they were all gathered around the table, he suddenly noticed that Nairobi was missing. When he asked about her, Tokyo informed him that she’d gone up to her room because she said she wasn’t feeling well. Concerned, he went up the stairs to check on her. He walked up to her room and knocked.

“Yes?”

He opened the door and went in.

“Nairobi, are you alright?”

She was lying in bed, but she sat up as he came in. “I think I have a fever.”

He sat down on the bed next to her.

“You may have caught Lisbon’s flu. Let me see.” He touched her forehead with the back of his hand. “No, I don’t think it’s a fever. Maybe it was the food, I don’t feel very well either.”

He knew perfectly well that his current state of inner turmoil had nothing to do with the food, but it was true that he didn’t feel great. So when Nairobi said: “Well then, lie down. There’s room”, he hesitated for only a moment, then lay down beside her with a sigh. He wished he could just tell her everything, he wished he could unburden himself, ask her for advice, but he knew he couldn’t.

As they lay shoulder to shoulder, he noticed how different it felt to be in the same bed with Nairobi compared with Raquel. Sure, he still felt a little awkward, but there was none of the same tension between them, and his body didn’t react to her presence with any of the distressing things it did when Raquel was near him. Nairobi didn’t seem to be experiencing things the same way, however.

“Is it me”, she said, “or is there some tension in the air?”

“Tension?” he said, surprised. “Here?”

“Yes”, she said, turning to him, and he suddenly felt less comfortable. “Maybe it’s because I’ve been locked away in here for months, or maybe it’s the fever, or maybe…”

She reached out a hand and touched his tie, and he stiffened. “… maybe it’s your sex appeal.”

He wondered how the hell this was happening to him twice in two days. What was it with the women in this house?!

She gave him an appealing look. “Don’t you feel the same way about me?”

He felt supremely uncomfortable. The truth was ‘no’, but how could he tell her that without hurting her feelings?

“Well”, he said awkwardly. “There’s no denying that you’re a strong woman. A confident woman. And you’re beautiful, and of course I’ve noticed that. But… personal relationships are not allowed.”

She gave him an amused look. “I don’t want you to marry me.”

He noticed how it cost him no trouble whatsoever to say no to her. It wasn’t at all like last night. “No, we can’t.”

“Just this once?”

She was getting much, much too close to him and he didn’t like it at all. He was just about to get off the bed when the door suddenly opened and Raquel walked in.

“Nairobi, how are you…?” She stopped dead when she saw them. “Oh.”

He immediately scrambled off the bed, feeling himself go red. “I… I was just checking up on Nairobi.”

She gave him a cold look. “Yes, I’m sure you were.”

Nairobi looked between the two of them, then raised her eyebrows. “You know what, I’m really not feeling well. Can everybody leave, please?”

Raquel turned around and marched out the door, and Sergio hurried off after her into the hallway.

“Look…” he said, “Wait! It wasn’t…”

She sharply turned on him. “It wasn’t what?”

He cast around awkwardly for the right words to explain. “It wasn’t what it looked like.”

“Really?” she snapped. “Because what it looked like was that you were getting very cozy with Nairobi.”

He glanced at the stairs, at the bottom of which the others were probably still gathered around the dinner table.

“Let’s continue this conversation in private, shall we?” he murmured, then opened the door to his bedroom and gestured for her to go in. For a moment, it seemed like she would refuse, but then she pushed past him, throwing him a filthy look in passing. He closed the door behind himself and turned to her.

“Look, I was really just there to see if she was okay.”

“Then why were you in the bed with her?”

“I wasn’t feeling great either and she asked me to lie down.”

“It took me hours to convince you to get in the same bed with me when we were at that hotel! But when Nairobi asks you, you have no problem with it?”

“It’s not the same thing”, he said softly.

“No”, she said, sounding very upset. “Apparently it isn’t!”

“It wasn’t anything like that!” he hastened to assure her. “Nothing happened!”

“Only because I walked in on you!”

“No!” he said. “Nothing would have happened.”

“Oh please!” she snapped. “You were only inches apart! Her hand was on your tie!”

“I didn’t want it there!” he said, exasperated. “But what was I supposed to do?”

“Push her away!” she said. “You had no problem pushing me away yesterday!”

“You were drunk!” he said.

“You’re a hypocrite!” she said, and he could see tears in her eyes. “You’re always talking about how there shouldn’t be any personal relationships between us, and then I find you in bed with someone else!”

Nothing happened”, he said, confused by her reaction. “Why are you getting so upset about this?”

He could see something inside her break, some restraint that had been holding her back.

“Because I’ve been trying so hard to keep to your stupid rules!” she shouted. “I’ve been trying so hard to respect your boundaries, your needs, your personal space! And it’s been killing me! It’s been slowly driving me insane because… because I am so in love with you!”

His frantic train of thought came to a screeching halt. He stared at her. “You’re… you’re in love with me?”

She gave him a pained look. “Yes. I really don’t want to be, but yes.”

Inside his brain, things were suddenly clunking into place. A warm, golden feeling of joy was sparking inside his chest, but he didn’t dare let himself believe it yet. “Are… are you sure?”

She quirked up one corner of her mouth. “Pretty sure, yeah. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, and no matter how hard I try – and believe me, I’ve fucking tried – I can’t think about anything else.”

He couldn’t move for a moment as the glorious realization of it swept through him, numbing his thoughts, filling him with happiness.

She went on: “I’m really sorry. I know I shouldn’t have said anything, but I just couldn’t keep it in anymore. I know you don’t want this, I know you only want to be friends.”

God, she was saying stupid things. Such stupid, stupid things.

“I know I’m making a fool of myself here, I know you don’t care for me in the same way…”

He kissed her. He didn’t think about it – he just leaned forward and pressed his lips against hers. When he pulled back, she looked at him in surprise for a moment. Then she threw her arms around his neck and kissed him back, and he wrapped his arms around her waist as he reveled in the feeling of her lips on his, the unutterable satisfaction of holding her, finally, finally holding her. The joy of her closeness was so all-consuming that nothing else really registered outside of the fact that he was touching her.

The next moment, however, she pushed him back against the wall as she kissed him more deeply, one hand in his hair, and alarms started going off inside his brain as she pressed herself close to him. His heart was beating frantically and he felt terribly dizzy. Still kissing him, she undid his tie, then her fingers started on the buttons of his shirt, and as he suddenly realized what was happening, he felt a stab of panic like he’d never felt before. Were they really going to do this? What if he did it wrong? This was a momentous thing they could never come back from, and she meant so much to him... Her mouth was still on his, her body pressed against him, and it was flooding his brain, it was so deeply overwhelming, it was too… too much.

Gasping, panicked, he pushed her away from him. She looked up at him in confusion.

“What’s wrong?”

“We… we can’t do this”, he panted, steadying himself against the wall, trying to keep from shaking.

“What?”

“We can’t do this!”

The confusion in her face was changing to hurt, and he hated himself, but he couldn’t, he couldn’t.

“Why?” she whispered.

His brain wasn’t working right. He cast around frantically for a reason, and he instinctively reached for the thing that gave him certainty in life: rules – guidance, safety.

“No personal relationships between members of the team”, he mumbled, not looking at her.

She was silent for a long time, and he tried with all his might to pull himself together, to get a grip on the conflicting emotions that were threatening to drown him.

Finally she said, in a quiet voice: “Are you serious?”

There was still a swirling vortex of panic inside his chest, but he managed to look outwardly calm as he looked up at her and firmly said: “Yes.”

He needed her to leave, he needed to be alone, so he went on blindly: “This was a mistake. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

She gave him a soft look. “Sergio…”

Hearing her say his name was so painful that he couldn’t stand it. “Please leave”, he whispered, his voice breaking.

“But…” she said appealingly. “Don’t you feel…”

No”, he said sharply, and she abruptly stopped speaking. “Please… please leave.”

The look she gave him was so full of hurt that a small, distant part of his brain yelled at him to stop her, to take her hand, to explain, but the little voice was drowned out by his overwhelming need to think, to stop and sit down and process this. So when she slowly walked to the door, he let her go.

As the door closed behind her, he sat down heavily on his bed, shaking, and buried his face in his hands. What had he done? He’d been so happy at finding out that she was in love with him, too, that he’d acted on an impulse, and now he had upset the delicate balance that they’d been able to create. He’d never even considered the possibility that she might reciprocate his feelings, had never allowed his thoughts to stray to what might happen if she did.

He took a deep breath and tried to figure out why he had reacted so strongly, why her presence had suddenly become unbearable to him. He didn’t like breaking rules, that was definitely a part of it. Especially a rule that he had created himself, and for a good reason. He still believed very strongly that an emotional bond between them would cloud his judgment and endanger the operation. It was bad enough already even now, before anything had happened between them – how much worse would it be if they actually started a relationship? What if he, at some point, had to decide between her safety and the safety of all of his crew, or the success of the operation? What if she distracted him so much that he couldn’t think straight anymore? The lives of nine people depended on him. He couldn’t allow it, he couldn’t risk it.

And then – he swallowed – there was the personal aspect of it. Now that he was calmer, he could take a step back, and he realized that he was terrified. He’d never been in love before, and it was scary as hell. She was so wonderful, so amazing, and he just knew he was going to screw it up. Hell, he groaned, he’d already managed to screw it up, in about a minute and a half after she’d told him she was in love with him. That must be some kind of record. He knew he was woefully unequipped for this sort of thing: barely any experience with previous relationships, no social skills, no emotional intelligence whatsoever. And it had suddenly gone so fast. He’d barely had time to register that she had feelings for him too, and he felt like he would need at least a week just to come to terms with that, and then slowly, very slowly, think through all the possible routes they could take, all the possible things that could go wrong or – he barely dared to think about it – all the things that could go right. Time. He needed time. But he’d robbed himself of that by kissing her, and setting things in motion he wasn’t prepared to handle.

What must she think of him now? Kissing her, and then pushing her away like that. He shuddered to think how angry she must be, but he couldn’t possibly talk to her again before he’d figured things out for himself. He suddenly shook his head. What was there to figure out? They couldn’t do this – he couldn’t do this. There were a thousand reasons not to go there, and he shouldn’t. He wouldn’t. He’d apologize to her – when he could gather the courage to face her again – and then he’d stay away from her for a while, until things went back to normal. If they ever could. He buried his face in his hands again. What had he done? Don’t you ever just want to do something stupid? Just because it would feel good? Her words echoed in his mind. Well, he’d certainly done something stupid now, but it didn’t feel good at all.