Notes: This is a sequel to Shirt and a response to cupcakemonster's Easier as an Analogy. I know, I know. I said I was done with this thread. But the temptation proved too much to resist. So....
The closet was open and today only one oversize sleeping shirt hung inside.
"So." Paine sat down on the bed and pulled off her boots. "That's over then?"
Nooj stood in the doorway. "Yes."
"Did you come to your senses and throw her out, or did she come to hers and leave?" She looked at him in that forthright way he found so unsettling.
"Neither. Or perhaps both. It was somewhat-- look, can this wait for a moment?" Nooj crossed the room and sat next to her, stilling her hands before she could remove any more clothing. "Must our encounters always be so businesslike?"
Paine was taken aback. "What are you talking about?"
"It's always the same lately." Nooj stared into the closet, Paine thoughtfully watching his face. "You come after nightfall and head straight here. We chat a little, a verbal fencing match more often than not. Then it's time for bed and you're gone before the sunrise." He looked at her then, the expression in his dark eyes serious even for Nooj, and she checked the sarcastic response that sprang to her lips. "What are we doing, Paine? What is this all about?"
She realized that he was still holding her hands, and it felt so right and totally smothering all at once. Suddenly she needed to get away, and so she pulled free as she stood up. "What brought all this on?" she asked, crossing her arms.
"Before-- the end, Rikku said some things that got me to thinking." Nooj stood as well, but he preserved the distance that he sensed Paine was asking for. "She may be a silly, impulsive girl, even foolish at times, but sometimes she sees quite clearly." He took a careful step forward. "We have this fiction between us, this idea that we have no claim on one another. But I'm tired of pretending that it doesn't make me crazy to think of you with Baralai. And I'm tired of telling myself that I want anyone other than you in my bed." One more step. "The last time we discussed our relationship, you told me that you would tire of Baralai, but I see no sign of that yet. Am I waiting in vain? Is there something the Praetor has that I have not?"
Paine never moved. "He's easy," she answered softly. "Baralai is easy, and he's safe. Loving you has never been easy, and it is most definitely not safe."
Nooj took the final step that closed the gap between them and lightly rested one hand on each of her forearms. "And you are really that concerned about playing it safe?"
She finally dropped her arms and her defenses, raising her eyes to his as she braced her hands against his chest. "Maybe not. Or at least, maybe I shouldn't be."
He kissed her, once, his mouth soft and feather-light against hers. She raised her palms to his cheeks and drew him down to her.
Later, they did talk at last, hands joined over the kitchen table as they shared their hopes and fears and thoughts about the future. The next day, Paine had a serious conversation with Baralai. And the day after that, all of her shirts were in Nooj's closet.