(2018-11-21) Catchup Dinner
Life has been crazy for Julian, but he still needs to have dinner…

Tick. Tock. Not only had Julian not contacted Nina in over a week since their psuedo date (are they even calling it that yet?), he's late to the meet up that he actually texted -her- first for! Thirty minutes passed, the retro door to the restaraunt swings open and in comes the ranger himself, his hands working to fix the wrinkled flannel he's wearing and dust off his jeans. He's one of those lucky few that, when rolling out of bed, his hair just sort of always looks relatively styled, and it has that sort of look now. On closer inspection, it's pretty clear from the dark circles beneath his eyes that Julian and sleep have not been intimately connected in quite some time. But when he spots Nina, a quick smile seems to dash away much of that weariness. He makes a bee line for whatever table she's chosen for them.

Punctuality is clearly an important thing for Nina, as she has been waiting at the pizzaria for some time all by her lonesome. As the appointment is at the pizzaria, she has made it a point not to overdress; even so, her denim jacket and form-fitting jeans are designer-cut, and the black high heels still manage to give her a look of chic sophistication. Her drink is half gone by the time Julian shows up, and the lady herself is flipping through her phone while she patiently waits in her chosen booth. And while most women would be justifiably pissed off at being made to wait for half an hour, Nina looks up and smiles politely when Julian arrives. "Julian." She greets him gently. "More tourists to rescue today?"

The apology is already forming on Julian's expressive face as he slides into the booth Nina picked out for them. He takes a deep breath, the exhale seemingly releasing much of the tension and stress of the day from the man. "Dead kids, blown up ranger stations, fanatic cultists - just another day in Calaveras." His hand resting on the table makes a motion to reach across, perhaps to fish for Nina's, but he hesitates and ultimately just lifts his hand to emphasize his words in a smooth way of hiding the potential faux pas. "Listen…" Julian begins, clearing his throat as he prepares for the expected explanation.

Nina clearly notices the intention of Julian's hand. Unhurriedly she lays down her phone on the table, then folds both hands on the tabletop even as Julian withdraws. She simply tilts her head at his summary of events, dark eyes denoting curiosity. "I was going to complain about a copier paper jam at work today, but I think I would rather hear your story." She offers with a light deadpan, yet there is no smiling. No, she can tell this is serious business. "What happened?"

Julian's thoughts are sort of dashed, at least momentarily, as Nina deadpans and it actually coaxes out an easy going chuckle from the man. "It's kind of why you haven't heard from me in awhile." He finally begins, his eyes briefly flickering down to Nina's hands and there's a subtle twitch in his own, which have equally been planted on the table, as if he might make another run at it. "I don't know how much of the news you pay attention to, but this crazy cult has picked up some traction in the city. Their calling card seems to be bombs. It's pretty unreal, actually. I'd swear sometimes I was back in Afghanistan." He shakes his head, trying to clear away the bewildered look on his face. "They are recruiting teenagers. Some of 'em hit the San Juan station…" His expression hardens, but those glassy blue eyes of his are about as transparent as glass, the rugged, rough looking ranger is somewhat shaken. "I killed one of them."

Nina listens attentively; there is even a furrow of her delicate brows that breaks her usually unreadable self. "It is impossible not to have heard about this… cult." She acknowledges, her eyes focused on his while Julian relays his story. Aside from a slight quirk of a brow, there is no major shock or outrage when she hears the news, merely absorbing it calmly. After a moment's silence, she slowly holds out a hand towards him, across the table. "You killed them in self-defense." She states simply. "You know that, yes? I hope you are not blaming yourself."

Julian's eyes flicker left to right as he runs through his thoughts, heavily sighing again. "I know. It's such a damn waste, though. Stupid ass kids." He mutters something else under his breath, shaking his head. Her hand is accepted, tentatively at first, then more confidently encompassing hers in both of his. "I'd been meaning to reach out to you, I just had to work this shit out in my head first." He looks up from where he had been looking at their clasped hands, a wry smile on his face. "What kinda guy puts out all that baggage before a second date? So, I wanted to work it all out."

Nina's slim fingers curl around his in a comforting, reassuring clasp. "Take your time. It's not easy to work through trauma." A faint smile forms on her lips, as her gaze falls to the connected hands briefly. "There is a reason cults and unscrupulous leaders target young people; they are impressionable, easy to manipulate, and overconfident. Are there any concrete plans to deal with this cult problem? To be honest, I never thought coming here to Calaveras was going to be a dangerous assignment."

Julian's hand sort of expands, allowing his fingers to spread out and slowly begin to intertwine between each of Nina's more delicate digits. What started as a slow, absent caress while he spoke evolved into a tighter clasp. "Trauma and I are very familiar friends." Julian responds cryptically, his gaze taking on a sort of haunted look, what can best be described as a thousand yard stare. When he blinks his eyes and re-focuses, his hands squeeze hers and he nods in agreement. "I saw the same style during the war. It makes me wonder…" Trailing off, the man considers the unfinished thought, then finally shakes his head and lets it go when posed a more concrete question. "That's all a bit above my paygrade. I've got my people canvasing the outside regions, but we haven't found anything yet. If the PD has any information, they're not sharing it with us. The FBI is involved though. I've got a contact there but I haven't reached out since the attack."

Nina doesn't seem to mind the hand-touching; she has actually let her attention drop to the interplay, even though she is still clearly listening to Julian talk about his past, brief as it is. When he shifts back to the present situation, Nina turns her gaze back at his face. "Do you have any tips on what we can do to minimize risks, then? I mean…." It is her turn to trail off for a moment, as her gaze falls momentarily to the entwined hands again, before lifting. "…sometimes I do feel self-conscious here. Calaveras doesn't have a big Asian community like San Francisco; sometimes I feel people look at me strangely."

Julian is still in his own head when Nina starts questioning him and it takes him a moment to re-focus his attention on her. That familiar cavalier smile of his returns and where his hands were previously just maintaining their connection with her's, now his thumb begins to absently move, caressing the top of her hand. "Well, the safest place you could probably find would be up on the mountain at my cabin." There's a spritely little sparkle to his eyes as he gauges her response, but rather than letting it simmer, he quickly moves on. "No, you're right. This place is kind of…traditional, if you know what I mean. Small town syndrome, an' all that." His eyes flicker downward, to their hands, which he squeezes affectionately before looking back up at her. "You do kinda stand out." Pause. "In a good way."

The smile on her face is more of a sweet, endearing one that her usual, office-polite version. "Tell that to the cultists." Although it's clearly a deadpan, her delivery is a mild one. "When you are an extremist looking to make a statement, why not blow up that foreigner? Blame her for everything." And although she paints a pretty dire picture, Nina is still very calm and serene. "Didn't you say you were attacked at your station in the mountains? Doesn't that make your cabin just as vulnerable?" She queries - does she recognize it as a tease? Maaaaybe?

Julian concedes with a cant of his head and nod. "So far, it seems like their primary targets have been first responders and the media. I suppose if you want to upend people's confidance and spread a little fear, you target the very organizations that help protect them." He cannot help but shrug though, clearly only speculating at this point. Julian can't help but chuckle at that last part, making sure to give her hand a particularly tight squeeze. "Oh, maybe down in the valley. But none of them have the knowhow to navigate the mountain itself. Not like me. That's my home, I know every shadow." After a brief pause, he settles his gaze on hers and it's as warm as their hands are when clasped together. "I'd keep you safe." There's a moment of quiet there as Julian studies Nina from across the table and then he clears his throat. "I have to admit something…"

It's at that moment that a server approaches their table, a young man that looks as though he is still a teenager but carries himself with well adjusted professionalism as he asks for their drinks. Julian's hands reflexively release Nina's and he looks up, his thoughts finding a momentary reprieve as he asks for a sweet tea and glances at the asian girl across from him for her order.

Nina doesn't pull back her hand as reflexively as Julian, doing so at a much more easy pace. While he places his order for a drink, she takes the opportunity to check her phone with that same hand, all in one smooth motion. She only looks up at the server when it's her turn. "I would like a refill of my cranberry juice, please." She lightly taps the edge of the mostly empty glass on the table. With that taken care of, Nina turns her full attention back to Julian. "I know you haven't had a chance to see the menu yet, but do you mind if I make a suggestion? I would really love to try this… Mile High Specialty Pizza, with shaved beef, BBQ sauce and three different types of cheese. Maybe side orders of caesar's salads?"

Julian's hands are not far away, but the presence of the third party definitely caused him to disengage. He does start to reach for a menu, suddenly realizing they had been sitting there talking and both of them were there to eat, presumably. But when Nina offers up an option, the easy going Julian just shrugs and waves his hand for her to proceed. "That actually sounds good to me." Pause. "Wait, 'Mile High'?" There's definitely a boyish quirkiness to the smile he presents the Asian girl, reflecting on that sense of humor that colors up the man's personality and belies his age.

The young waiter just smirks and takes the order, excusing himself to scurry off to the back.

Nina shakes her head slowly with a perfectly polite smile. "I didn't make that up. It's right there in the menu, page three under specialty pizzas." She gestures at the menu on the table before leaning back in her chair. Still, Nina watches Julian's grin with obvious amusement, and after a few moments she leans forward again. "Alright, I can see you are suffering greatly from holding back. You can say it. I promise I won't question your maturity."

Julian just straight up busts out laughing at that point - surely, he had been holding it in. And it's obvious that Nina has pegged him pretty well as the man leans back in his chair and just…it's such a drastic change. He had entered the restaurant wound pretty tight and in the span of such a short period of time of being in the Asian girl's presence, it all just melts away. "I mean, really? It doesn't even make any sense. This is a pizza joint!" But he cannot help but continue laughing, that ultimately dies down to a soft chuckle as he shakes his head and rubs his eyes. The waiter returns at about the same time with their drinks, assuring them both their pizza isn't long for being finished, and then quickly darts off to take care of other tables. "But no, really. I had something to tell you…"

Nina looks like she is expecting exactly that reaction from Julian. Smiling in obvious amusement, she leans on her crossed arms on the table top, watching him laugh and patiently waiting for the mirth to take over him. Thoughtfully, she makes no attempts to stop his laughter or argue the source of his humor - even when the server returns with their drinks, whom she graciously thanks until Julian regains his composure. Gingerly picking up her glass, she doesn't quite bring it to her lips yet, but tilts her head at Julian. "So what is it?"

Julian apparently didn't realize he was holding his breath at the end of the half finished thought, allowing for a little dramatic pause that ultimately ends with him exhaling sharply . "I drove past your place every night. You know, just to make sure everything was cool." Again, judging from the way he looks and his cheeks puff out a little, it's clear he's holding his breath as he gauges Nina's reaction. "Yeah, kinda stalkery. I know. I guess I was caught up in my own shit, I didn't wanna lay it on you. You don't usually air out your dirty laundry till you've been dating for, what, a few months?" Pause. The consternation on his face is clearly something the rugged man isn't accustomed to. "I mean, not that I'm saying we're -dating-. It's just not the sort of thing-" He handwaves, dismissing the blunder half-completed. "Feel free to stop me any time here."

Nina has well demonstrated that she has mastered the art of unreadable pokerfaces, but instead of a resting bitchface, hers usually settles on a pretty, polite smile with just a hint of playfulness threatening to break through. This is the same face Nina wears as Julian spills what is on his chest, watching him, smiling at him. Yes, it's impossible to tell whether it's a teasing smile, amused smile, or whether she's just suppressing her shock and disgust. But she does bob her head occasionally, as if encouraging Julian to continue his revelation. Eventually, she puts down the unsipped drink, and resumes folding her arms on the table so that she can lean forward and lower her voice.

"But you are doing so well." She stage whispers to him.

Finally, finally, her polite smile spreads wider in a very feline way. "That can be considered stalkery. But it can also be sweet." Beat. "Let me ask you something, Julian — and, feel free to refuse to answer if I am prying. How many women have you been… interested in before?"

Julian is no stranger to the intricacies of a woman who has the higher ground on a man - considering his disposition, a guy like Julian probably gets himself into these situations a lot. So it may come as a bit of a surprise when the question sobers up his awkwardly amusing fumble. He takes a minute to consider her question, choosing his words carefully. The crow's feet at the corner of his eyes returns in force as he almost seems to squint while drawing on the memories. "Just one." He finally admits, eyebrow going up and the non-alcoholic sweet tea in his hands getting sucked down with the same speed as a shot of whiskey. "Long time ago." He flicks his eyes from the empty glass to Nina's face, head tilting slightly. "That's an odd question."

Nina's headtilt mirrors Julian's, almost as if she is trying to keep her eyes leveled with his. "It isn't, not really." She tells him gently. "Some men are practiced liars, but even with them I can usually tell when they are lying. You — you are not one of them." There is a slight lift of her delicate brows, and a brief flash of a brighter smile. "You are an honest man — the only things you hide, are things you hide from yourself. So if you tell me you have only been interested in one woman before, I absolutely believe you." She slowly uncrosses her arms, and gingerly holds out her right hand towards him. "It also tells me you are faithful, at least to your heart, and that you are not just looking for someone, for the sake of having someone." She curls her slender fingers, beckoning for his hand. "So if you tell me you might be interested in me, and maybe, just maybe you like to give a relationship a try? I'd be happy to entertain the idea."

Julian just studies Nina quietly as she seems to so easily pick apart certain aspects of him. It's unsettling at first, for a gruff, rugged man like him. But he seems to be overcoming that initial, knee-jerk reaction in the span of a few seconds as his demeanor evolves from uneasiness to a calmer acceptance. Quietly, he looks down at her hand, the way the delicate digits invite his own, which he obliges smoothly. The touch is tentative at first, like two teenagers holding hands for the first time. Each of his fingertips touches one of Nina's and a dance plays out, with each of his fingers finally interlacing with each of her's. A smile breaks across his expression, dashing away that grim exterior with a warm, if somewhat still tempered smile. "You're very perceptive… and I really like that about you. I don't have to say much." He gives the more slender hand a gentle squeeze, and although their hands are locked together, his fingers loosen and curl in a soft caress. After watching their hands interlock and settle into a familiar, comfortable show of affection, Julian looks back up at that almost boyish smile starts in the corner of his lips, entirely contrasting his normal weathered demeanor. "Now, about this mile high thing…" He's teasing, and lets on to that by the genuinely mirthful look on his face, though there is certainly a spark of fire in those metallic blue eyes.

Nina slips her digits in between his, accepting the gentle squeeze and letting his fingertips feel her soft, smooth skin at his leisure, silently watching how they move across the back of her hand. As if reading his intention, her gaze lifts up almost at the same time to meet his, another twinkle of playfulness in her dark eyes. "Maybe one step at a time? We can leave the mile high thing for a later discussion." She suggests lightly, but that quirk of one brow is almost suggestive. How she manages to suppress a chuckle is anyone's guess. But she does continue in a slightly more serious tone. "Tomorrow is Thanksgiving; are you having dinner with your family? Maybe with Miss Stone and her sister?"

Julian matches Nina's playful look and though he's certainly kidding, there's still that spark in his gaze. He almost got her laughing though, and that elicits an even more genuine smile from the man that shows off those pearly whites of his. When he's not walking around looking all grim and straight faced, he has quite the smile. The mention of Thanksgiving has the color in his face noticably drop. "It's TOMORROW? Shit. I haven't even called Kitty in a couple days. She's gonna kill me." He takes a deep breath and uses his free hand to rub the stress from his expression.

"You can thank me for the reminder after you call her, then." Nina turns her hand up, curling her fingers to lightly caress Julian's hand, before pulling it back. Not to end contact, but to pick up her cranberry juice for a proper sip. "In any case, I was going to invite you over to my new place tomorrow. You can probably use a nice cup of fresh brew to wash down an undoubtedly full Thanksgiving dinner." Her lips curl again, all mysterious-like. "I haven't completely moved in yet, though. So I am going to apologize for the mess ahead of time."

"I'll be sure not to tell her I forgot." Julian amends with a warm smile, unable to hold back the chuckle. When her hand pulls away, Julian, rather than look kind of awkward with his hand out there, withdraws it to grab his empty glass. Upon realizing it's empty, he just continues with the conversation, sparing Nina a skeptical look and building smile. "C'mon, you just want me to come over so I can help you move heavy stuff and unpack." He remarks, leaning forward into the table, removing some of the empty space inbetween them that the table is creating. His eyes lock onto hers and there's a moment where he just tries to hold that gaze.

That mysterious smile of hers is now laced with amusement. The glass leaves her glossy red lips for a moment, allowing her to reply to his tease. "I'm disappointed that I am so transparent with my intentions." Nina's tone is playful, but there is also the possibility that she is saying exactly the opposite. "Will you still come over anyway?" She asks, then sips the juice without taking her eyes off of his. The sip is, like everything she does, slow and easy, almost lethargic. As if noticing belatedly that his glass is empty, Nina actually holds her glass and offers it towards him.

Julian seems to be inching across the table inch by inch, elbows down and his hands not quite outstretched too obviously, but palms up in a sort of silent invitation were she to pick up on it. Her ambiguous comment is met with an equally neutral smile, but those eyes of his study her intently. "Of course I will, what time?" His eyes flicker to the offered glass and his eyebrow goes up, "I've got a looong haul back up the mountain, this better not be too strong." Of course, it may not be alcoholic at all. He remembers the word cranberry in her order. Right? When he accepts the drink from her, Julian takes advantage of the brief contact to let his fingertips linger with hers, always finding some sort of excuse to make contact, even if it's momentary.

"This is cranberry juice, Julian. I hope that's not too strong." Even her deadpans are delivered in a tranquil tone. She also seems very willing for those brief contacts, allowing those light touches whenever they occur, before relinquishing the glass to his tender care. "Whenever you are finished with dinner. And I want you to take your time and enjoy your Thanksgiving meal; there is absolutely no need to rush out on my account. My unpacking isn't going anywhere." She pauses briefly. "Maybe you can give me a call before you come over, so I can get the coffee started."

Julian laughs again, for some reason probably a bit louder then he intended, but the man -does- seem noticably more animated tonight, with Nina, and the touches come more often and with less tentativeness. Even when the waiter returns with their pizza, he doesn't immediately give up her hand and rather reluctantly releases it so they can eat. After he downs the rest of her cranberry juice, he wipes his lips and shakes his head, biting back that youthful smile of his. "Nope, not too strong at all." Of course, this is followed by him ordering two of the same drinks for them before the waiter can run off and help someone else. After everything is settled and they each have slices of pizza in front of them, Julian continues their previous conversation. "Yeah, I'll call you." He gives her a look too, a sort of silent promise. After all, the last time they parted ways, he wasn't exactly punctual about contacting her. After a big bite of pizza, the ranger, with his cheek puffed out, shoots Nina a playful look. "I -knew- it was to help you unpack." Beneath the table, she can feel the subtle nudge of his booted foot, a playful bump where the contact is mostly maintained after the initial contact.

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