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Step Too Far

By Quillblade

 

Don't believe in fear
Don't believe in pain
Don't believe in anyone
that you can't tame


"What is it about me that you don't like, Jay?!" Nylessa asked. "Tell me and I'll see if I can't change it but for Drake's sake stop sidewinding all the time!"

Cutter raised an eyebrow with a half-grin, ignoring her request. "Why are you so desperate to have me?"

"I am NOT desperate!" she replied indignantly.

"Really."

"Really!"

His grin grew infuriatingly wider. "Then you'll be able to take my apologetic refusal with grace."

Nylessa tried her best not to scream. Cutter always seemed to have that effect on her - whenever she felt she'd got somewhere with him he'd spin around and it turned out that she had in fact got nowhere at all. It was highly annoying, but only ever served to make her more determined to 'conquer' the supercillious Annoyingly Unflappable Hacker.

It was at times like this she regretted giving him such an apt nickname, which he seemed to take such great pride in. Forcibly, she calmed down and gave him a small smile. "Grace is my middle name, hon."

"I thought it was Taliesin."

"Details." She waved her hand as if brushing the topic away. "Well, thank you for dinner, Jay, it was lovely as always."

He bowed. "I live to serve."

Nylessa very nearly hit him at that point.


That night Nylessa lay on her bed, by herself and feeling just a tad furious over it. She ran her hand over the little white satchel, absently reading the plain text on the front. She rarely had cause to use aphrodisiacs - she never needed to - but she kept a small box of them along with.. ah.. other 'essentials' in her room.

I could, you know, she thought at the room in general. I could slip it in his drink when he isn't looking, he wouldn't know what happened. Mentally, she slapped herself. That was just plain nasty; she wouldn't stoop that low, angry or not.

Of course... it needn't go very far...

No, it's not right.

But he's only a guy.

A nice one.

And a very cute one.

And an infuriatingly hard to seduce one.

An IMPOSSIBLE to seduce one...

It could be made easy....

"No," she said out loud, and stuffed the satchel in her pocket, sitting upright on her bed and hanging her legs out over the edge. "No," she said again, just to remind herself of the decision.

But still...


"Coffee or tea, hon?"

"Coffee, please."

Nylessa and Cutter stood in the kitchen - it had been another dull kind of day, the horrible winter weather making any idea of a heist both improbably and undesirable. Meeting Cutter in the hallway outside the Mess Hall entirely by chance, Lessa had invited him for a warm drink. Now she poured him a mug of coffee, her expression slightly absent. "Milk? Sugar?"

"Just a little sugar, thank you."

She reached out for the sugar bowl. Touching the edge of the bowl, she looked at the en-satchelled sugar packets, remembering one very like them sitting in her pocket. It was hard not to bite her lip with indecision - I don't know... should I? It wouldn't be right... but... ohh... Her annoyance and her desire to finally get the man won out over her conscience in the end, and when Cutter was looking round she took the little satchel from her pocket and poured some of the contents into his coffee, stirring quietly. "So, how was your day?"

Cutter chuckled, turning back to her. "I think I've had my fill of explosions for a while, let us put it that way."

She sighed as she added the rest of the satchel's worth to her own tea as well. "How many more things blew up?"

"More than I had intended," Cutter commented, his expression wry.

Nylessa clucked her tongue, and handed him the coffee. "No people, I can only hope.." she said, heading back out to the Mess Hall with her own cup in hand.

He followed her, mock hurt in his tone. "Really, give me a little credit. I am the model of caution."

The Mess Hall itself was empty of people - it was a Moonday night, people rarely stayed in there long after dinner at the start of the week - so she had a range of choise with tables, but chose one near the closest corner anyway. She sat down, and pulled out a chair for him. "Of course, of course, I apologise with my whole heart."

"I suppose I can forgive you."

She grinned and winked at him, taking a big sip of her tea as she did so. "So sit down, already. I'm glad no one's been exploded, and I'm glad no one's exploded you."

Cutter sat down in a lazy position that nevertheless wasn't a slouch. "My, what cheerful thoughts. I lost about a week's work, but no appendages, so I won't complain."

"That's a plus, at least," she said, and paused thoughtfully. "That must have been the tremor we all felt earlier, I suppose. I'd wondered why it came from up above."

"I'm never, ever letting Nosedive in there again." Cutter started on his coffee, commenting on the pleasant flavor as if it were entirely because of her magic touch.

She smiled at him, and then backtracked suddenly. "Oh, Jay, hon, what possessed you to let him inside in the first place?"

His grin turned a little rueful. "I like to give everyone the benefit of the doubt at least once."

"But.. Nosedive?" she sighed. "That's almost as bad as letting Dalin run around in there."

"Dalin has never caused this much damage all at once, and that's the truth," he replied, shaking his head. "And at least he does what he's told."

"True, you're right."

"I'm always right. And Dalin's actually done surprisingly well as far as managing not to cause damage," he added, rolling up his sleeves absently. "As long as he's not moving too much." Cutter frowned, looking at her strangely. "Isn't it hot in here?"

"A little," she agreed, personally feeling her blood would melt the polar caps. "But, I suppose if we put those two side by side, Nosedive would have to be the most dangerous."

Cutter grinned widely. "I don't know, I think I could top them both, really."

She looked him up and down with a speculative expression. "Actually, I think Nosedive might have an inch on you height-wise."

The man chuckled, his expression openly mischievious. "I wasn't aware that height entered into the equation."

Nylessa grinned. "I'd tell you why, but let's not go there."

"Oh why not." He grinned back lazily. "It's such a fun place."

"Ah, and you'd know, of course."

His grin became surprisingly more like a smirk. "As would you, I'm sure."

"Certainly I do. And, what's more, I agree."

"Naturally. I'm right."

Nylessa leant her chin on her hand. "As always?" she asks.

Cutter rested his elbows on the table, holding his coffee cup loosely. "So some have claimed, but I hate to brag."

"You were one of them just a little while ago." But Cutter was engaged in his usual habit of choosing whichever truth was convieniant at that moment, and as a result he denied that he'd ever said such a thing. Nylessa shook her head slowly, and then tapped him on his beak, mock-sternly. "I believe your words were 'I'm always right', and you've said it on more than the one occasion."

He caught her hand with a charming grin. "Ah, but then I'd have been mistaken a moment ago, and that just wouldn't be possible. Are you trying to make a liar out of me, my dear?" He nearly lost his grip on the almost empty coffee mug in his distraction, but just managed to set it on the table rather than dropping it.

Nylessa smiled slowly, placing her own cup down beside his. "I think it's a little late for that."

"I don't believe in too late." He still hadn't let go of her hand.

"Oh, really? What do you believe in, then?"

Cutter examined her hand absently, matching it palm to palm with his. There was a glint in his eye that wasn't normally there. "Me."

"And that's all?" she asked, twining her fingers in with his.

"Usually."

"Ah. And occasionally you believe in something else? What's that?"

He didn't answer, not paying attention to anything but her eyes, which he suddenly seemed to find fascinating. Nylessa cocked her head to one side, raising an eyebrow questioningly. "Hon?"

Cutter grinned and mimicked her. "Darling?"

"What is it that you sometimes believe in but at others don't?"

His grip on her hand tightened, just slightly. "Everything else."

She raised her other hand and gently clasped Cutter's between hers, leaning so close their beaks were almost touching - almost, but not quite. There was a gentle fog around her mind that made it even more one-tracked than usual, but it was almost unnoticeable even so. If she hadn't known why, she wouldn't have been able to guess. "Interesting beliefs you have. As for me, well, I try not to think about it too much, but I guess I just believe in what I can see, and hear, and smell, and taste, and touch, and feel.."

Cutter didn't even seem to hear most of this, having somehow managed to get lost in her eyes again, and he just sat there gazing at her. Then he appeared to make up his mind, closing the small distance between them and kissing her.

Putting her arms around his neck, Nylessa slid off her chair and into his lap, a faintly smug expression on her face that Cutter didn't see. There was also - but not shown on her face - a sharp twinge of guilt and self-disgust, but the portion of the drug she had consumed pretty much kept it at that and nothing more. The only refusal she made was when Cutter laid her down on the table. She laughed and stroked his beak. "Not here... someone might come in..."

"Then we'll have to go somewhere where they won't..."

"Indeed." She lifted an eyebrow. "My room or yours?"

Cutter grinned slowly. "Yours is closer."


Morning came and brought the end of night. Nylessa murmured something incoherant, rolling over as she did so, and bumped into the other occupant of her bed. She muttered something a bit darker, and then opened her eyes slowly, running a hand across them. For a moment she just looked into space, remembering where she was and what happened. Then with last night all too clear in her head she leant on the pillow and watched Cutter sleeping, unsure whether to wake him or not. His sleep was so deep he might well have been in a coma, and he was very still, but breathing softly.

Nylessa, smirking just slightly, traced the line of his mouth with a finger, over his lips, up his cheek, then around the eyes and the eyebrows, tracing the whole face. He gave no response at all, and she gave him a light shake. When that didn't work, she shook him a bit harder. "Cutter... wakey wakey..."

Finally Cutter stirred, but just groaned and rolled over, muttering something with the tone of 'Five more minutes,' though it was really more of an incoherant grumble.

She slid up alongside him and rested her arms on his shoulder. "Come on.. wakey wakey, sleeping beauty..." Still a bit foggy-minded from the combined drug and sleep, waking Cutter up was the only thing she could think of doing right then. She slipped back into watching him for a little while longer, then leant down and kissed him on the mouth. "Wake up, hon.."

Cutter sighed and, rather reluctantly, returned to the waking world. "Hnnh?"

She smirked down at him and raised her eyebrows. "Good morning." In response to this, he blinked hard and frowned, looking rather puzzled. Nylessa leant off his shoulder and snuggled up beside him, slipping an arm about his chest. "Not going to greet me in return, hon?" she murmured. "Usually it's the polite thing to do.."

He put an arm around her automatically, still looking bewildered. "Lessa?"

Nodding, Nylessa kissed him again. "Mm-hm."

Cutter ran his fingers through his hair anxiously, then sat up, shaking his head. "I feel...odd." Lessa sat up alongside him, stroking a hand across his back and neck - he wasn't the only one; there was a faintly bitter taste in her mouth which was nothing at all to do with the drug. She didn't want to recognize it as guilt. Cutter stared at her for a few moments, rubbed at his eyes, and quickly scrambled off the bed. "I've got to go."

"What... why?" He dressed quickly and didn't answer her. "Jay, please.." He still didn't answer, and his expression was steel. Oh no... what have I done...

Traitor. The word hit her hard and she almost felt like being ill. Traitor of trust. It's all your fault, what you've ruined now. Selfish. Stupid. Traitor, traitor, traitor... Nylessa slid out of the bed and took his arm, wanting to explain that he wasn't the one at fault, but unable to speak. Traitor, traitor, traitor...

Cutter stiffenened slightly at her touch. "I've got work to do."

She drew back as if stung. "Well... fine then." Nylessa watched as, looking uncharacteristically nervous, he headed for the door; then, sighing, she sat back down on the bed and put her head in her hands. Oh, gods, what have I done... "Cutter... Cutter, I'm sorry... I..."

He paused at the door, looking back at her almost sadly. "No, Lessa," he said, "I'm sorry," And with that, he walked out.


Jedar was, to be frank, confused - both Cutter and Nylessa had been avoiding him like the plague of late, and apparently they'd also been avoiding each other. He couldn't think of a likely reason and didn't want to think of a less-than-likely one, but he had to wonder if it wasn't something he'd done, or hadn't done, or said, or...

Really, he didn't have a clue.

So he went to ask. Nylessa was out, or at least didn't answer when he knocked on her door, but Cutter was cooped up in his room as usual. Jedar could hear a drill of some kind going through the thick steel door. Knowing the man wouldn't be able to hear him otherwise, he banged the door hard and then walked in. "Hoy! Cutter?"

The younger man very nearly dropped the drill he was using, and he turned it off quickly, looking around with a slightly annoyed expression which seemed to freeze for a moment before a grin replaced it. "Jedar... what can I do for you?"

"You could explain to me exactly why you and Lessa have been conveniently missing me and each other at mealtimes, why Lessa never answers me when I knock at her door, why..."

"Who am I to know a woman's mind?"

Jedar regarded him with something not quite irritation and not quite suspicion. "Because I'm sure you have something to do with it. She might be angry at me, but I shouldn't see why that would extend to her avoiding you as well."

"I don't know why she'd be avoiding either of us."

"Really."

"Really."

"Cutter, what do you think I'm going to do if you tell me? Kill you?" Jedar meant it as a joke, but the expression on Cutter's face wasn't particularly jovial. "You do, don't you. Good grief, man, what happened?"

The other looked a little pained. "I.. slept.. with Nylessa."

He blinked. "Eh?"

"I slept with Nylessa."

Jedar gave him a cross glare. "Normally I'd rip your head off at the neck at this point if I didn't know you were just joking..." He stopped, looking hard at Cutter's face. "You're not joking, are you."

"No."

One...two...three...four...five... "So, what about 'just friends'?" he asked, in the nicest tones he could manage.

Cutter turned back to his equipment, looking - astonishingly enough - awkward. He ran a hand back through his hair, fiddling with something that looked like a fancy remote control. "I really don't know," he admitted finally. "It just.. happened."

Jedar sighed, looking around for a chair. There wasn't one, so he just leant against the wall. He didn't really feel up to standing anymore. "Why?"

"I don't know that either."

"Seems you don't know yourself as well as you thought you did."

"I guess not," Cutter replied quietly, still not looking up.

Already angry, hurt, and confused, Jedar didn't think he could handle feeling sorry for the guy on top of all that. Even so, it added itself to the jumble. "You really don't know, do you. You're not just saying that because you can't think of a good enough excuse."

"No, I don't."

"Do you have any idea how hard that makes this all for me?" he complained. "On the one hand, I could quite easily kill you and hang your remains in the Mess Hall. On the other, I really don't know what to think or what to do because neither of us know how it all happened. You weren't drinking, were you?"

"Only coffee. Nylessa had tea."

"Well, there's that explanation out the window."

There was a knock on the door; Jedar very nearly called out that Cutter was busy and not taking visitors, but that wasn't very polite. Cutter looked at him and shrugged, saying loudly, "The door isn't locked."

He probably wished it was, because it was Nylessa who walked in. There was a short, uncomfortable silence, in which Cutter turned back to his gizmos and Lessa kept her gaze mostly on the dusty stone floor. Jedar just looked from one to the other. "You two want me to leave?"

"No."

"Yes."

Jedar gave Cutter a dry look. "I'm afraid the lady insists that I leave you alone with her." Probably not the best choice of words to use under the circumstances, but - assuming they ever talked again - he could make it up later. Maybe. As he walked out, however, he gave Nylessa one of the looks she always referred to as the 'hurt puppy eyes'.

Lessa winced and looked away, listening to the door close behind her. So, Cutter's told him. It probably would have been better coming from me, and Jay doesn't realise yet... Another mistake, and another apology. This was turning out to be a really horrible week. "Cutter... we need to talk."

Cutter didn't look up from the piece he was 'examining'. "Do we."

"Yes, we do."

Finally Cutter looked up, leaning rather stiffly on the counter. Nylessa tried not to sigh. "Cutter, about the other night..." she hesitated. It was almost too hard to explain. Also feeling awkward in the silence, Cutter attempted to force a grin and say something witty, but failed utterly. The silence dragged on, achingly slowly.

Now Nylessa really did sigh. "Cutter, it wasn't your fault."

Cutter raised his eyebrows at this. "Why should it bother me?"

She just looked at him. "If it didn't bother you, you wouldn't have shut yourself away in here. If it didn't bother you, you wouldn't be avoiding me, or Jedar. Dammit, Jay, you even look bothered, and that's just not like you!" For another moment or two she paused again, unsure how to phrase it. She knew he'd hate her after she told him, probably never speak to her again let alone trust her with his friendship, but... But I can't leave him like he is. Eventually, Nylessa decided to be blunt. "And it should bother you, Cutter, because... I... I put something in your coffee that night."

His expression froze. "What?"

"I drugged you, Cutter," she said, closing her eyes so she wouldn't have to see his expression. "It wasn't your fault. It was mine." But she couldn't keep her eyes closed for long, and she opened them to find his expression darker than she'd ever seen before. "I'm sorry, Jay," she whispered.

Cutter was very still for a while, just staring at her. "I think," he said finally, his voice tight even though his anger was plain enough to see, "You'd best leave."

"Cutter.. no. I'm not going to leave. Not until we sort this out."

His grin was ice. "Sort what out?"

"You know perfectly well what," she said, "Don't play with me."

Cutter's temper snapped. He crossed the room before she could blink and grabbed her roughly by the arm. "Why not? Everything's a game for us, isn't it? Nothing to take too seriously?" He shoved her up against the wall and held her there. "What if I just took what I wanted from you, hmm? What difference should it make?"

Her heart faltered. "Cutter!" she snapped, trying to squirm free. "Stop it, that hurts!"

At this he regained some measure of control and let her go. "Not as much as what you did to me. So get out."

Nylessa stared at him, doing her best not to cry. She'd known this would be how it would turn out, but it still hit her hard. "Jay..." He didn't answer, stiffly leaning on his hands against the workbench, with his back to her. Stubbornly, she stood exactly where she was, saying nothing until Cutter picked up his tools and looked as though he was going to get right back to work. "I'm not going to leave, you know. Even if you bodily throw me out, I'll just wait outside."

He didn't look up. "Suit yourself. You always do."

"As do you, I've noticed," she retorted.

"Have you."

She closed her eyes briefly. "Cutter... I was angry that night. It was very stupid, very selfish, and if I could go back in time I'd do anything bar actually killing myself to stop me doing it. But I can't. All I can say is that I regret it and I'm very, very sorry."

Cutter tossed his tools down furiously and turned back to her. "Do you love me?" he demanded.

"What? No! I.. I mean.. I like you, Jay, a lot, but.."

He grinned a little bitterly. "I don't love you either. But somewhere in this Lair there is a good man who for reasons that I can't possibly fathom at the moment does love you. In spite of his apparent lack of judgement I call him a friend, and I'm not one to throw that friendship in his face for the sake of some petty whim!"

"I.. I can't.. I'm sorry..."

"Don't be sorry," he replied, turning back to his tools. "Be gone."

There was another short silence. "You're never going to forgive me for this, are you," Nylessa said in a small voice.

Cutter's tone was almost normal as he answered, "Not today."

And, unlike before, that pretty much ended all talk. Deciding there really was nothing more to be said, Nylessa finally did as asked, leaving Cutter alone in his workshop. Outside, after she'd closed the door, she stared at the room opposite but didn't really see it. "Oh, gods, I'm sorry."

"Did it not occur to you that perhaps for some things, 'sorry' isn't good enough?"

She spun around. "Jedar! How.. how long.."

"The whole thing." And he didn't look very happy, either.

Nylessa's heart sank. "I..."

"Don't even try to explain, please." Jedar sighed and shoved his hands into his pockets, looking as confused as he felt. For a while they just looked at each other, before Jedar turned and started walking away.

Suddenly scared, Lessa ran after him. "Wait.."

"Why?" He stopped and turned around. "After all I heard, why should I? You don't seem to care all that much about anyone else but yourself." He sighed again. "You know the phrase, 'it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt'. Well, there's more than one person hurt by this, and I think the games should be postponed for a while."

She blinked at him. "What do you mean?"

"Lessa, I love you more than anything. I just wish that was enough for you." He left her standing there in the middle of the hallway, on her own.

You stupid girl
You stupid girl
All you had you wasted
All you had you wasted...

 

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