I know I must have paled. I could literally feel the blood rush from my face as her words hit home. The carefully practiced explanations, the meticulously collected, logical reasons that I'd gathered together to justify pushing Tam away suddenly felt just out of reach. "Tam..." I started in a pained tone, but it was difficult to continue. There were other words I wanted to say to her... Words that would completely sabotage everything I was trying to accomplish that night... But stubbornly I choked them back and forced myself to stick to the bits of the script I could remember from earlier. I averted my gaze, closing my eyes and turning my face away from her. "Being around me is too dangerous... You'll become a target... It'll get you hurt... or killed..."
"Why does that matter now?"
Cautiously, I opened my eyes to look at her. Tam looked calmer, but definitely still angry. "Why?" I echoed hesitantly.
"Do you remember the first time we met?" She closed her eyes. Before I could answer her, she shook her head. "No… Not when you woke up after we'd both been captured by the League of Shadows. The 'real' first time." The cowl she'd been practically strangling and had thrown down moments before was now picked up and being held close to her chest, like she would a stuffed animal. Something for comfort. Her voice was strained as she brought to the surface what was clearly a painful memory. "The first time I ever saw you was in a uniform similar to this, only it was ripped to shreds, and you were lying on a bed soaked in enough of your own blood, that I was certain you were dead." Her embrace around the cape and cowl tightened. "And then the world exploded with ninjas and assassins and that was how I really first met you."
We'd never talked much about those weeks when we first met. It had been a really bad time for both of us. I'd always just assumed that Ra's men had grabbed her from the hotel the night they found me, to use her as leverage. I never realized she had been in the same room as me that night I was almost killed by an assassin sent by the Council of Spiders.
"I guess, what I'm trying to say, is that even from the very beginning there's always been danger in our lives from time to time. I just... I don't understand why now you decide that your life is too dangerous for me to be a part of..."
"You're my best friend, and the people close to me always get hurt or killed," I thought to myself as she spoke.
"I thought... We've become so close over the years..."
"I need you to be safe. I'm doing this to protect you…"
"Even knowing the work you do and the dangers that come with it, whenever I'm with you I feel safe..."
"I love you, Tam."
"I love you, Tim."
For a moment, I wondered if there was an echo in my mind. Then I realized that what I thought was an echo was actually spoken out loud, but not by me. I looked up at Tamara feeling dazed as she looks back at me, the tears finally falling. Despite how close we both had become, especially over the last few weeks, neither of us had actually spoken those significant three words to the other.
I struggled to make my brain work. "She loves me?" I wanted to say something, anything, but the words just wouldn't come out. It was all ones and zeros in there. "Tamara," I murmured finally, reaching out to her slowly.
But she pulled away a step, out of my reach.
"Tim," she said as she wiped away some of the tears from her face. "I know you're afraid of me being hurt. That I might even be killed by the things you fight every day…
"I know this because I'm afraid too, all the time, for you."
My heart clenched, and a lump rose in my throat.
"Every time I listen to the news and hear of some horrible monster prowling the city, I worry if you're the one hunting it. Whenever there's a catastrophe that needs a whole army to save the day, I wonder if you're there with them. When you have to leave in the middle of a date to take care of 'business', I watch you walk away and think about how that might be the last time I'll ever see you."
Tam struggled to hold it together. She was trying so hard to put up a strong front, and it killed me to see how much she fought not to break down. If I didn't already feel guilty before about the things I said earlier that night, I did so now in spades. She was silent for a moment as she recollected herself with carefully measured breaths. When she lifted her head to look at me, she was trying to glaring daggers again. I understood the feeling all too well. When things are spiraling out of control emotionally, at least indulging in anger lets you have the illusion that you've got some semblance of a hold on things. That you're not just being swept away with the current.
"I don't understand what you're thinking, Tim! After how we first met, after everything we've been through together, why the hell are you pushing me away now? What's changed? Me? You? What? Damn it! Make me understand!"
Her rapid fire assault of questions did it. I gave up trying to analyze the situation, to try to think of the best thing to say or the best way to react. I gave up thinking altogether and just let instinct take over.
Before she even had a chance to realize what was happening, before she could try to move out of my reach, I grabbed her by the arms and pulled her in close. I swallow her startled gasp as I captured her lips with mine. Crushing her body hard against me, I kissed her completely unrestrained. All my longings, all my passion, all the deep hungry feelings I felt in my heart for her I tried to convey in that one kiss. Only when both our lungs were starved for air did I finally pull my lips from hers. Still without a word, running purely on impulse, I rested my forehead gently against hers, my eyes still closed as I held her tightly to me.
"I love you, Tam," I whispered to her. "With all my heart. That's what's changed."
I bowed my head for a second kiss. This was the tender kiss I wanted to truly burn into our memories. As my lips drank slowly, deeply of hers, I told her exactly how much I loved her. How I wished I could share the rest of my life with her. That I would do anything and everything within my power to protect her. Even if that meant saying…
Before I could second guess myself, before Tam could have a chance to say anything in protest, I tore myself completely away from her arms. Numbly, I slipped my cowl and cape back over my head as I made a beeline for the edge of the roof once more, gathering up my nearly forgotten grappling gun along the way. Again I wasn't thinking. I was running on autopilot as I sent my line flying into the darkness and swung out into the night away from her.
I don't know how far I'd gone when I finally lost all my steam. My arms ached and my lungs burned. Everything hurt as I stumbled to a stop there on the rooftop of a cathedral miles away from where I'd started. After nearly slipping off the steeple I'd landed on, I tucked myself into the shadow of one of the gargoyles guarding the tall spires of the century old building and sat there in heartsick misery.
"I'm sorry, Tam… I'm so sorry."
An hour, maybe two, passed there at the cathedral. The chatter on the com link was oddly quiet, but I was too immersed in my own guilt-ridden, downtrodden mood to care. Then, seemingly out of thin air, I heard the sound of a very familiar set of boots land with confidence on the spire directly behind me. I didn't have to look up to know who it was.