Sentinel Fan Fiction Page || Fanfic -- Drama

Summary: Four connected scenes focusing on Jim and Carolyn's redeveloping romantic relationship. Warning: There is very little Blair in this fic

Setting: Post-TSbyBS universe (in which Blair has his degree and is a full-time consultant). Set sometime after Not So Faded, my previous Jim/Carolyn story. Also references to Three to Tango by Robyn.

Notes: I've been wanting to write more Jim/Carolyn stuff; it was just taking me awhile to get to it. I haven't delved into fanfic romance since my pre-TS writing days with B&B and SMK. There are romantic scenes in some of my Prophecy stories, but nothing quite like this. Forgive me if it gets a little ... purple in places. I'm out of practice. :-)

Beta'd by the ever-lovely Robyn with whom I discussed all these scenes and who always encourages me to write. What am I going to do when you move away? ~sniff~

Dance With Me
by Becky
March 2002

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
We come to love not by finding a perfect person,
but by learning to see an imperfect person perfectly.
-- Anonymous
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sitting cross-legged on his sleeping bag, Jim watched the shifting shadows dance on the wall of the three-man tent, using them and the other bag's rustling to determine when Carolyn had settled herself. After a full day of hiking, talking, and fishing, both were tired and ready for a good sleep. His lips quirked upward into a smile as he turned slowly around, seeing Carolyn stretched, eyes closed and one hand tucked behind her head. The memory of her surprised shriek when the fishing line nearly yanked her into the water would live with him for awhile. A tiny chuckle slipped out before he could catch it.

"You're thinking about that fish again, aren't you?" Carolyn's eyes opened briefly to glare at him. The amusement lurking in their depths belied her accusing words.

"Uh, would it help to deny it?" He tugged off his t-shirt and pulled on a clean one.

"No." Her eyelids dropped again, covering her eyes. "It wouldn't."

Jim peeled off his jeans and socks, then slid into his own sleeping bag, resting on one side to admire the woman lying next to him. Light from the small lamp resting on the small ice chest cascaded past her. Face bare of make-up, hair mussed, lips curled into a secret smile...

"Now you're staring." Carolyn opened her eyes and shifted onto her side, facing Jim.

He answered her smile with one of his own. "Can't help it. The scenery's pretty irresistible."

A flush of pink colored her cheeks, though her eyes remained on his. "Flatterer." She paused, then added, "This trip went much better than the last time you took me camping."

Jim groaned. "You mean the only time I took you camping. I never knew so much could go so wrong. It was bad enough that it rained, but the tent leaked..."

Carolyn chimed in. "...which the wind blew over anyway..."

"...and finding not just one, but two flat tires on the truck..."

"...and of course, the phones didn't work..."

"...so we walked to the nearest park station..."

"...in the rain and the mud!"

They laughed together at the horrid memory, each falling onto their backs. Gasping for breath, Jim managed, "I haven't thought about that trip in years. I didn't think you were going to speak to me for the next week after that."

She chuckled. "I nearly didn't."

"I'm glad I stuck to taking you dancing after that." Jim pushed himself up and reached over Carolyn to the turn off the lamp. As he moved back, Carolyn wrapped one hand around his arm, tugging him toward her. Lowering his head, Jim found Carolyn's lips meeting his in a surprisingly passionate kiss. When released, he looked at her thoughtfully, asking, "What was that for?"

"Just...replacing bad memories." She stroked her fingers along his arm.

"Hmm." He smiled. "Feel free to do it again." Jim laid down, rolling onto his side and draping his captured arm over Carolyn as she turned away from him. Spooned together, each in their own sleeping bags, Jim hadn't felt so close to Carolyn in a very long time. Long minutes passed, their own breathing and the sounds of the woods around them the only accompaniment to the peaceful silence.

Jim broke the quiet with a hesitant question. "So, why did you come on this trip, knowing what happened last time?"

Carolyn didn't answer, and he began to think she'd fallen asleep when she shifted slightly, turning her head upward to look at him. Although his enhanced sight couldn't totally cut through the darkness, he could just make out her features. Her upper hand came up, and she touched his cheek with gentle fingers as she spoke.

"I believe in giving things a second chance."

A stab of unexpected emotion shot through him. He blinked several times, clearing suddenly watery vision. Grasping her hand where it lay on his cheek, he threaded his fingers through hers, pressing his palm to the back of her hand. He kissed it, then curled his arm around her again, burying his face in the back of her neck.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak.
-- Hopi Indian Saying
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Dinner in, then dancing out." Carolyn tilted her head back to smile at Jim as they moved together on the half-lit dance floor. Other couples glided past them, each caught in the spell of the elegant orchestral music playing in the background. "Don't those usually happen either both in or both out?"

Jim shrugged. "I like to cook. I wanted to cook for you. And I wanted to surprise you." He slid a hand down her back as they swayed.

She chuckled. "Finding you in my apartment, cooking me dinner...that was definitely a surprise. Not what I was expecting you to do with the emergency key I gave you after the camping trip last month." Her hand moved over his shoulder, quietly admiring the strength she felt beneath the cloth. "And the dancing?"

"Ah...the dancing." With a sly grin, he said, "Maybe I just wanted to see if you still cleaned up well." His eyes left hers, dipping downward to scan the long blue, spaghetti-strapped dress. The material shimmered at him as Carolyn moved, her leg occasionally peeking through the slit running up one side.

Carolyn raised inquisitive eyebrows when he again looked up. "And?"

His grin turned into an appreciative smile. "You'll do."

A bubble of exasperated laughter slipped out before she could stop it. "Jim!" She slapped his shoulder playfully.

Jim laughed with her, then said, "You're lovely, Carolyn." He brought one hand up to touch her cheek. "As always."

They stilled, ignoring the movement around them, then Jim lowered his head to kiss her, one hand still tenderly cupping her face. Carolyn's hand tightened, fingers curling inward to grip his collar as she leaned into the kiss. Jim slowly pulled away, waiting for her to look at him. When she did, she smiled. He smiled in return, his thumb stroking her cheek before gently tugging her forward to rest her head against his shoulder. He started moving them to the soft music again. One hand lay smooth on her lower back, guiding her and holding her close. The other hand was entwined with one of hers and pressed between them at chest level.

A gentle silence fell between them, broken only by the music and muted voices of other couples. Some minutes later, Carolyn spoke up quietly, her eyes fixed on Jim's coat collar. "Do you remember the last time we went dancing?"

Head dipping slightly, Jim searched his memory. "The last time? Not ... oh, wait, I do remember. It was at a ... retirement party, wasn't it?" Off her half-nod, he continued softly, sensing Carolyn had a reason for asking. "What about it?"

"That was ... that was when I knew it was over...between us, I mean." She squeezed her eyes shut, not knowing if she should continue. When Jim didn't say anything, she lifted her head but kept her eyes focused on their clasped hands. The words spilled out in a rush. "I--You--I was dancing with a stranger. The dance was perfunctory; we didn't talk, didn't laugh, barely looked at each other. Simon ... caught me crying later. I took--"

His fingers tightening on hers, Jim interrupted. Regret and sorrow laced his tone. "You took a taxi home. I didn't even notice until I decided to leave a half-hour later. Simon had to tell me." He swallowed. "Two days later, you gave me the divorce papers. Carolyn, I wish--"

Glistening eyes finally raising to meet his, Carolyn covered his lips with two fingers. "No, no apologies. That's not why I brought it up. I just-- I'm glad-- It's good to--" Sighing, she shook her head in frustration. "I'm saying this all wrong." She dropped her hand back down, touching her forehead to his shoulder, hiding her face and muttering a choice word or two under her breath.

Jim lowered his head, whispering softly, "No, you're not. I think I understand. And I'm here now. Dance with me."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
One either moves toward love, or away from it.
There is no other direction.
-- Vincent, Beauty & the Beast
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"I'd forgotten how well you dance, Jim." Unlocking her apartment, Carolyn stepped inside, followed by Jim.

"Only with you." Jim closed and locked the door in a few swift moves before helping Carolyn off with her coat. She kept the soft shoulder wrap on to ward away the chill of the apartment as it warmed up.

After flipping on a light and adjusting the thermostat, she turned to watch him hang both their coats in the small hall closet. "You mean you've never danced with anyone else?"

Jim shrugged, then grinned. "I tango'd with Sandburg once. Does that count?"

Her eyes widened. "You what?"

Laughing, Jim walked with her into the front room where they settled onto the couch. "It's not as bad as it sounds. Conner asked me to teach her. Seems she heard from gossip that I'd taken lessons with a certain forensics chief once a long time ago. She kept stepping on my feet, so Sandburg and I demonstrated for her." He draped an arm along the back of the couch, dropping his hand slightly to rest against Carolyn's shoulder.

Carolyn toed off her shoes and curled her legs underneath her as she laughed with Jim. "That brings to mind a rather...amusing picture."

He shrugged, smile remaining on his face. "Sandburg's an amusing guy."

A loud meow interrupted them as Ellie appeared on the back of the couch, landing with one graceful leap on Carolyn's other side. Feline eyes examined Jim, then ignored him in favor of licking delicately at one white paw.

Jim rolled his eyes at Ellie's antics. "I see I'm still in the 'not approved' column."

Carolyn turned back to face him, a twinkle in her eyes. "Oh, I don't know. Normally she hisses at anybody who comes inside, my friends included. She's very choosy."

"Hmm." His fingers brushed over her shoulder, sliding underneath the wrap to touch bare skin. "So...you had a good time tonight?"

"I did." A sly grin slid across her features. "Of course, now that you brought up tango'ing, I'm curious how much you really remember. Or maybe how much I remember."

Jim chuckled. "Maybe next time. And probably not in public since I don't want to embarrass myself when I fall on my face."

Carolyn slid a little closer and patted him on the leg. "I'll bring the rose. And I doubt you would fall on your face."

"It's been a long time." He shrugged, his eyes a little distant in memory as he continued to ghost his fingers over her bared shoulder. "After our...demonstration, Sandburg ended up doing most of the teaching to Conner anyway."

She leaned forward, making his eyes refocus on her. "Still... I'm sure you'd remember quickly enough."

Surprisingly, her comments failed to bring forth a smile. Instead, Jim's other hand came up to touch her cheek, fingers trailing across it as he tucked a few hairs behind her ear. All thoughts of dancing slipped away when he shifted and lowered his head to hers, his lips seeking hers. At first the kiss was soft, then rapidly grew in intensity until it stepped over some invisible line the two of them had silently drawn. Certainly they had shared numerous kisses and embraces during the past several months of "dating," but most had stayed within a certain range.

However, this time...

Letting Jim take control, Carolyn pressed a hand to his chest, feeling his heart pounding against her palm. Jim's hand on her face shifted in response, moving behind her head, fingers threading her hair. Some part of her noted that her wrap had fallen off her shoulders and that Ellie was probably making a nice nest. Comparison to the kiss from years ago during the Switchman case skittered across her mind, then disappeared. This was different. This wasn't so needy...it was...

Jim released her with a soft gasp. Rather than pull away, he rested his forehead against hers, eyes closed. His hand released its grip on her shoulder, and he painstakingly moved the thin spaghetti strap back where it belonged. He swallowed. "I should go," he said.

Carolyn jerked away, her eyes flying open. Behind her, she heard a vaguely annoyed meow from Ellie. "Go? What?"

Jim caught her hand. "Carolyn, if I stay..." He hesitated, then looked away. "If I stay, we both know I won't be sleeping on the couch..."

She blinked.

"...and I don't know if you...if we're ready for that." Taking her silence as an answer, Jim squeezed her hand then released it and stood up. "I'm sorry. I'll...I'll talk to you tomorrow." He slipped past her.

Carolyn shook away her shock and grabbed his hand, forcing him to a stop. "No, Jim, wait. Please." She swiveled on the couch to face him, but didn't stand as she stared up at his profile. "I don't understand."

Although his hand remained in hers, Jim didn't turn to face her more fully. Instead he stared into the distance, jaw muscles flexing as he tried to explain. "I can't do casual with you, Carolyn. And I don't want to ruin what we're building here." His eyes closed and he swallowed, turning his face away.

She stood finally, splaying her other hand on his back and pressing her forehead against his shoulder. "Jim..."

"I couldn't hurt you like that again. I--" He stopped abruptly, remaining silent for several seconds before speaking in a barely audible whisper. "I love you."

Carolyn froze, then raised her head. Slowly, she released Jim's hand and moved to stand in front of him. She touched Jim's cheek, smiling as their eyes met. "I love you too. Don't go."

"Carolyn...are you sure?" Jim clasped her shoulder, thumb stroking her skin.

"I'm sure." She stepped a little closer, moving deliberately into his space.

Jim's arms closed around her automatically, holding her lightly. "I don't want to pressure--"

Carolyn repeated, "I'm sure." Then she tilted her head just slightly and grinned. "Besides, you'd never fit on the couch, and Ellie's not big on sharing." Swaying just a little in his arms, she said quietly, "Dance with me."

Sometime later...

A single lamp dimly lit the bedroom and the two figures beneath the coverlet on the wide bed. Jim rested on his side, looking at Carolyn whose eyes were closed. After a moment, her lips quirked up into a gentle smile. "You're staring at me again, aren't you?"

"Yup." Jim reached over and brushed messy hair off her forehead.

She opened her eyes and peered at him through lowered lashes. "What're you thinking about?"

"Me? Nothing really."

"Jimmy..."

His eyes grew soft. "Just thinking how lucky we are to get a second chance."

With a soft chuckle, Carolyn shook her head. "Not that I'm complaining, but when did you get to be such a romantic softie?" She slid her hand up to touch his chest.

"Hmm..." Jim shifted toward her and kissed her. "Must be all those Harlequin novels Conner brings with her on stakeouts." He nuzzled his way across her cheek to her ear. "They've got some good tips."

Carolyn laughed and kissed his temple. "Silly man."

"Only for you."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Anyone can be passionate, but it takes real lovers to be silly.
-- Rose Franken
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

"Go ahead, Chief. I'll be right behind you."

Arms loaded with grocery bags and his backpack over one shoulder, Blair nodded and disappeared into the apartment building. Jim hefted the last few bags out of the truck bed, then closed the tailgate. He made his way across the parking lot slowly, enjoying the calmness and the knowledge that the weekend -- one he had off -- was finally here. No bad guys, no politics, no listening to Rafe whine about how his cast clashes with his wardrobe. Stepping inside the building, Jim noted the elevator lights stopping at the third floor. Not wanting to wait for the elevator to return, he headed to the stairs. He let his mind drift as he contemplated the weekend's activities, mostly involving sleep. You're getting old, Ellison.

If Carolyn had been free, he might've popped down to San Francisco. His lips curled into a smile, remembering last month's visit. Staying the night hadn't been planned but neither had it been regretted. They'd talked and laughed and ... danced ... all night long. Leaving the next morning had been hard. Their parting kiss flashed through his memory, and he grinned. Carolyn never would've put up with the whole 'pushed against the door' thing when we were married. Obviously time has changed us both.

He just wished they could see each other more often. Talking over the phone just wasn't the same. Pausing at the second floor landing, he sighed and shook his head. Work and bad guys had conspired to keep them apart.

*thud thud thud thud thud thud*

Jim frowned at the sound of pounding feet coming his direction on the stairs. Craning his head and looking up, he saw... "Sandburg? What're you doing?"

One hand grasping the railing to catch himself and stay steady, the other gripping a backpack strap, Blair rocked to a brief halt a few steps above the other man. He stared at Jim, a partial grin flitting across his face before he blurted out in a rush, "I, uh, just remembered that I left something at my office. It's kinda important." He edged past a boggled Jim and continued down the stairs, skipping a few here and there. A careless hand waved behind him. "Don't wait up!"

Jim blinked. Then rolled his eyes and trudged up the last flight of stairs and down the hallway to his door. I swear Sandburg gets stranger every day. Nudging the door open with one hip, he stepped inside and turned toward the kitchen --

-- and froze, forgetting how to breathe.

Leaning against the center pillar, attired only in a strategically buttoned white dress shirt and holding one long-stemmed red rose was Carolyn. She smiled and walked toward him on bare feet.

"Hey, soldier boy, wanna dance?"

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
To love someone deeply gives you strength.
Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage.
-- Lao-Tzu
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The evening was going perfectly. The dinner. The candles. The music. The wine. The woman. Jim stopped himself and gave his head a mental shake. Wine, women, and song. I sound like Sandburg. He refocused on quickly storing the leftover containers in the fridge as Carolyn handed them to him.

A brief flicker of the overhead kitchen lights made him remember that the evening was not quite perfect. He had also planned a nice evening stroll down by the water. But rain had arrived a day early and so that was postponed. Still...it was perfect enough that it didn't matter.

Task complete, Jim turned to face Carolyn, who smiled and draped her arms around his neck. Pulling her close, Jim leaned down and gave her a slow kiss.

Carolyn slowly re-opened her eyes. "Mmm. I have to..." She nodded toward the bathroom behind him. "Be right back."

Jim released her and stepped aside as she passed him. "I'll be waiting." He watched her go, then strode quickly into Blair's bedroom. Moments later, he exited, depositing a small white gift box on the coffee table. Jim paused there for several seconds, his hand hovering over the box. Be sure, Ellison. He glanced between the box and the bathroom door before straightening and decisively moving to check the woodstove. I can do this. As he finished adding wood, Carolyn re-entered the room and settled on the couch. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her glance curiously at the white box.

After relatching the woodstove door, Jim walked over and sank down onto the couch. Taking a deep breath, he picked up the box and handed it to her. "This is for you."

Carolyn raised an amused eyebrow. "Should I be worried?" She gave the box a gentle shake.

Jim chuckled. "It's perfectly safe."

She eyed him. "Then why are you nervous?"

"Because I ... I want you to like it." He inclined his head toward the box. "Open it. Please."

With careful fingers, Carolyn removed the top of the white box and set it aside. Nestled inside, amidst fluffy cotton padding, was another box, but not a paper one. It was a small intricately carved wooden box, just big enough to hold a few trinkets. Carolyn gasped in surprise and delight and lifted it from its holder. "Jim, it's beautiful!" Silver hinges and a clasp connected the lid to the base. The lid itself was decorated with two entwined thorned roses. She ran her fingers over the roses and smiled up at Jim. "Where did you get it? It looks hand-made."

Jim reached out and touched the lid as well. "It is. A couple weeks ago, Sandburg dragged me to a shop in some outdoor market where a friend of his sold hand-carved goods." Part of him remained focused on the box, marveling how he could almost feel the individual knife strokes. "I saw it and hoped you would like it."

Carolyn leaned into him and kissed him, lingering as she said, "I do. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Jim's hand came up to stroke over her cheek and tangle in her hair, his fingers getting lost among the strands.

Looking back at the box, she asked, "Was there a reason you picked this one?"

Jim shifted, then explained slowly. "I liked...what it felt like." Off her bemused glance, he wiggled his hand in the air. "To my fingertips. It felt...softer than the rest. Sandburg muttered something about different kinds of wood, but..." He shrugged. "It was just...right."

Carolyn remained silent for several moments, then licked her lips before continuing. "You've told me a lot about your senses and what you can do with them. Who you are with them. Who Sandburg...who Blair is to you. And I understand, mostly, all of that." Box forgotten, she hesitated, then rushed on. "But there's one thing I've been wanting to ask. Why didn't you tell me?"

He blinked, mouth falling open. "Why didn't I tell you...?"

"Why didn't you tell me, at the beginning, when you first...got them? Yes, we were divorced, but I thought we were friends, even then." Old hurt crept into her voice.

Jim touched her arm. "We were. We are."

"You told Simon."

"I had to tell Simon," Jim defended. "He had to sign off on Sandburg's being there." The pleasant mood of the evening quickly disintegrated.

"You trusted some kid you'd never met before, but you didn't trust me." She looked away, concentrating on the windows.

Jim struggled with his rising frustration. "Carolyn, I never set out to...to hurt you or mislead you. That kid knew how to make my senses work. Simon found out by accident and then I had to explain everything to him anyway to keep Sandburg on board. I needed him."

"But you didn't need me."

"That's not what I said." He released her and rubbed his face.

Carolyn shifted away, her face closing off as she crossed her arms over her chest. "Then what are you saying?

Standing abruptly, Jim took a few steps away from the couch, facing the windows. "Look, back then, I wasn't ... comfortable with my senses. I didn't even want Simon to know." Outside, the rain pelted against the patio and the glass, leaving streaks of distorted light on the windows. "If you'd stuck around instead of gallivanting off to San Francisco, maybe I would've told you. But when you left, there didn't seem to be any point."

Strained silence followed before a muffled crack and quick footsteps caused Jim to turn around. By then Carolyn was at the door, hurriedly yanking on her coat while she shoved her feet into her shoes.

"Carolyn, what --?"

Shooting him a quick glare, Carolyn shook her head. "Don't. Don't try to...just don't." Her voice cracked, and she paused to visibly compose herself, straightening just slightly as she pulled open the door. "Thank you for the dinner. I'll-- Never mind. Good night, Jim."

"Carolyn...wait..." Jim stretched out a hand toward her, but it was too late. She'd vanished through the open doorway and into the hallway. He could hear her rapid footsteps clattering angrily down the stairs. For a moment, he was surprised that her voice remained silent but then he realized she probably thought... knew he'd be listening. Deliberately, Jim made himself stop, turning away from the door to slump back down on the couch.

At his feet lay the specially chosen, hand-carved wooden box. The locking clasp had opened and spilled its contents onto the floor.

That went...not well.

Leaning over, Jim picked up the box. Turning it over in his hands, he discovered one corner had been dented and a hinge was scratched, but the box was otherwise intact. He ran sensitive fingers over the rose design, regretting that the box would never be used by its intended owner. Carefully setting it on the coffee table, he reached back down to pick up a second smaller box -- a box covered with soft black velvet. He left it closed and set it on the table as well.

So much for second chances. He sighed and rubbed a hand over his forehead.

"Jim?" Blair's confused voice interrupted his despondent thoughts.

Glancing over his shoulder, he spotted Blair standing warily in the open doorway, water dripping off his jacket to puddle on the floor. "You can come in. Carolyn's not ... she's gone."

Blair frowned and shifted from one foot to the other. "Yeah, I know, she nearly mowed me down on her way out. I'd only stopped by to pick up a book I need for tomorrow's class." He gestured toward his room. "I was expecting you two to be, well, both here, not.... What happened?"

Jim shrugged and turned away. "We argued. She got mad. I said something stupid. She left. End of story."

Ignoring the water he was dripping onto the floor, Blair moved further into the room to stand by the couch. "I ... see," he said quietly. "What exactly did you argue about, Jim?"

"The fact that I didn't tell her about my senses before," he finally said, knowing Blair wouldn't stop pestering him until he told him. "When she was still here." He sighed. "She thinks I didn't trust her."

"Did you?" Blair asked bluntly.

Jim glared at him. "Of course I did!"

"Then why didn't you tell her?"

"I...I don't know. I was still getting a handle on them. And I wasn't sure where I stood with her and I didn't want her to think I was... And then she left. And..." Jim slumped further into the couch. "I don't know why."

Blair nodded quietly, his eyes drifting away from Jim to the boxes on the table. He frowned, then blinked several times. "Jim! Is that box what I think it is? Were you going to--?"

Jim interrupted him and leaned forward to hide the velvet-covered box in his hand. "Yes, but it didn't happen. I never got the chance."

"Jim, you need to go after her, man." Seizing Jim's arm, he tugged him upward off the couch. Jim, in his shock, let himself be drawn to the front door. Blair thrust a pair of shoes into his chest. "Here, put these on. You can still catch her. I'm guessing she's trying to hail a cab and I haven't seen many out there tonight."

"Sandburg, what are you talking about?" Jim scowled at the shorter man. "Carolyn doesn't--"

Blair waved a hand in the air. "Yes, she does. If you love her, and I'm pretty sure you do, and you want to ask what I think you want to ask, then you need to go after her. Right now. In the rain." When Jim still didn't move, he added, "Or you might lose her forever."

A scant minute later, Jim burst through the front door of the building. He ran down to the corner and paused, desperately scanning down the left side of the street in search of Carolyn's figure. Nothing. Twisting in place, he eyes searched the other side of the street and nearly immediately focused in on Carolyn standing on the curb, arms wrapped tightly around herself, hair plastered to her head.

"Carolyn!" Indiscriminately splashing through puddles, Jim rushed to her side. Her head snapped up and she turned just as he reached her. Without stopping to think or consider his actions, he wrapped her in wet embrace, tucking his head down near her ear. Much to his surprise and delight, Carolyn's arms wound around him with the same fierceness.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry."

Their voices overlapped, and they each pulled away to stare at each other before Carolyn smiled tentatively. "This wasn't quite what you had planned for tonight, I imagine." She wiped futilely at the rain-soaked hair that stuck to her face.

Belatedly, Jim remembered the umbrella Blair had tossed him at the last moment and raised it, giving them a tiny haven of shelter. "No, it wasn't." He slid his hand up to brace itself against her neck, thumb stroking her jaw line. "Actually, I had planned...I wanted to...to..." Releasing her, Jim nearly shoved the umbrella into Carolyn's hand, then he reached into his pants pocket, yanking out the velvet-covered box. "You didn't open the wooden box inside. If you had," he flipped open the lid to reveal the diamond ring inside, "you would've found this."

Voice shaking, Carolyn's free hand flew up to cover her mouth. "Jimmy? Are you...?" Her eyes wide and wet from more than rain, she looked up at him.

"I am." Swallowing hard, Jim touched her face. "Please don't go, Carolyn. I love you. I need you. I want to marry you." He smiled crookedly, his own eyes suspiciously bright. "Again. I don't want to miss another dance with you." Nearly before he finished speaking, rain suddenly poured down on them again as the umbrella fell to the side, forgotten as Carolyn's arms lifted to encircle him. One hand clasped protectively around the ring box, Jim held her close and kissed her, oblivious and uncaring of the rain soaking their clothes.

Breathless with love and laughter, Jim finally managed to ask, "Is that a yes?"

Carolyn nodded, a wide smile on her face. "It's a yes." She released him and held out her hand, biting her lip as Jim's own hands trembled as he slipped the engagement ring on her finger. Voice breaking, she whispered, "I love you."

Jim kissed her fingers, then held her face in his hands to kiss her, murmuring his own "I love you's" against her lips.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Immature love says: "I love you because I need you."
Mature love says: "I need you because I love you."
-- Erich Fromm
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~The End~