It's a simple answer. His whole miserable existence has become a public testament to why he missed her. No one else in town needs an explanation. But when Audrey – miraculously returned as herself – poses the question he's so used to denying it to her that he panics and plays dumb.

Then he turns it around and accuses her of lying when he's been doing the same just as long – if not longer. Because this is just how they operate – banter and problem-solve and ignore the feelings between them that have grown so strong they have practically combusted the whole town.

Until she finally admits what he'd already known – and changes the pattern.

For a minute he is frozen with shock, unable to do anything but watch her go. His deal with the Guard is based on her love for him but there's something incredible about hearing her say the words. He'd honestly believed it would remain an unspoken assumption until she put a bullet in his heart.

It's only after he's heard her declaration that he realizes how ridiculous that is. He loves her, damn it, and they are wasting time they don't have.

Except maybe they do. His resolve to offer himself as a sacrifice weakens at the prospect of a life with Audrey. Not hiding the connection between them, but embracing it.

Because maybe he couldn't let her go. But he's been awful at holding on.

What if he could change that?

He really is an idiot. They have been given another chance he doesn't deserve and they are right on track to waste it like the last time. Death might be better than their awkward dance of unrequited longing.

But it's not better than the alternative.

Time to step up to the plate, Big Boy says a voice in his head that sounds aggravatingly like Duke.

He dashes out of the station and finds her sitting in her car, playing on her cell phone. Her eyes widen when she looks up to find him tapping on the window.

"Let me in," he says, tilting his head toward the passenger door.

"Why?" she growls, the perfect combination of confidence and sass.

He waits until the door is shut and he is situated beside her before he grabs her hand, marveling at how soft and warm and small it is. This is not the kind of thing he does, ever. He's told himself so many times he was protecting her from his urge to feel normal when in truth he's terrified that the power she has over him has nothing to do with the Troubles.

Except he hasn't just been denying himself. He's denying her. She deserves so much more than he's given.

No more games. Less they're the fun kind.

"Because I love you. That's why I'm glad you're back."

Her smile is radiant as he pulls her toward him in a kiss that finally stakes his claim.

This time he won't let either of them walk away.

This show has hijacked my life! I gave myself a 500 word limit on this and I really think it's complete, but there will be more chapters of The Ruse and possibly a second chapter of Come to Thee By Moonlight. And I actually got back to work on The Return before I rewatched Countdown this afternoon and had to write this, because I really love how the show has been going this season but come on Nathan, it's time to step up here. Agreed?

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