So, here's "Lacuna," a look at Dean and Cassie the first time around. Rated R. 13,000+ words.
(Remix - "Negative Space" by angstslashhope - here.)
He has a face like a fallen angel and a drifter's possessive gait, walking tall like he owns and spurns everything the eye can see. No, stop. No more romanticizing. This is why you decided to stop writing fiction. You'll need to be more economical with your language when there are deadlines and word counts involved; lyrical precision will have to take a back seat to cold hard fact. He's just a good-looking guy and he's headed this way. He's looking past you and you cut your eyes sideways to watch him go when suddenly, one angled shoulder later, he's standing right in front of you. "You're a writer," he says, and his eyes move down you briskly, straight back up to your face, and you expected feigned hesitation in the voice and ill-concealed lasciviousness in the gaze but you find neither.
"Journalist, actually," you bristle. He nods. You give in. "How did you know?"
A small smile appears on his face. "You've got ink on your lip," he replies, gesturing briefly but leaving some space between the two of you. He hasn't touched you at all, hasn't allowed the jostling of the frat-party crowd to sway him into you.
You stick your hand out. "I'm Cassie."
He ignores it and now you're wondering if he was raised in a barn. "Not Cassandra," he says, again with certainty in his dark voice. It's getting a little annoying. His smile, perversely, gets wide and amused and sincere. "A teller of truths no one wants to hear. That's no name for a journalist."
There's a time and a place for Greek mythology and you wonder if this is all an elaborate April Fool's prank, if this guy can possibly be for real.
"Come see your namesake with me," he says, and even though you know better than to leave a party with a strange man who still hasn't offered you a name, you're sorely tempted. Because although it's nearly midnight, his voice is like autumn sunshine shot through with lazy dust motes, and you'd be getting to see the stars with the sun at your side; you'd get to be Sally Ride.
"Let me get my bag," you say and he doesn't even brush softly against you as he heads for the back door.
Brandon corners you as you wander into his room to retrieve your bag and coat from the piles on the bed. "Taking off so soon?" he asks, and you shrug a goodbye his way. It's easier than trying to explain the nameless man, the drifting angel, to him and you squeeze by him because he's too drunk to remember to get out of your way. You weave through the crowd and finally make it into the chilly spring air.
He's doing his best caryatid impression and he almost blends into the background. When he sees you, he looks intent, and he suddenly stands out again; you shift half a step closer without really meaning to. Something about him is throwing you off-balance. "Do me a favor?" you ask, handing him your bag so you can wind your scarf around your throat properly without getting it tangled in your hair. You keep your eyes down as you work your hair free, as you button your coat, as you pull on your gloves, and he waits patiently for you to get settled.
When you look up, he's looking at you, not coy or cocky, not insinuating or calculating, just looking. He's not playing by the rules so you don't have to either. You look back. Seconds slide by in silence and you're surprised to hear yourself ask, "Can you really find Cassiopeia?"
Even in the dim light you can see that something behind his eyes shakes loose a little at the question. He raises his chin slightly and falls into step just behind you as you walk to the field behind the chapel. "Stop," he says and tilts his head up. "Big Dipper, Polaris, Cassiopeia," he recites, not bothering to point. He looks lost in contemplation and you're not sure he remembers you're there. His throat is long and muscular and somehow tender and you can see the stubble dusting his strong jaw. You get dizzy, and you look straight up at the sky to give yourself an excuse for it.
All you see are hundreds of lights, no patterns at all, and you remember snuggling back against Dad's chest as the two of you perched on the picnic rock and he told you stories of the stars and you listened with your eyes closed because you could see it all so much more clearly that way. Cassiopeia was a queen you remember; see, there's her throne. And she was beautiful. And she had a beautiful daughter Dad said and cuddled you extra tight. "Andromeda," he says, and you're brought sharply back to earth. He's moved a step closer and he smells like soap and frost, cold and clean. The strap of your bag is sliding slowly off his shoulder.
A loud howling arises behind you and you jump a little before turning back to him and smiling wryly, "Frathouse row." He shrugs noncommittally as shouts of "Class of 2003!" echo through the night air. "I should get going," you say, unable to look him in the eye any longer.
He hitches your bag a little more securely to him and nods, "It's late. I'll walk you home." You're not worried about the frat boys or the hour, but you're not about to protest either.
You're too busy feeling like Orpheus, straining to hear Eurydice's footsteps trailing along behind, to breach the silence he's blanketed himself in. He's effortless as a shadow, and you don't need to speak or gesture at all to guide the way. He may be able to see in the dark with his cat's eyes, but you can't, and as you turn to face him you wish you'd left your porch light on just so you could see what he'd look like with a halo. There's enough light for you to take the canvas bag he holds out to you; you balance it on your hip as you tug off your gloves, you dip your head even though you always find your keys by touch rather than sight.
But your fingers are failing you now, and you grunt a little in frustration as they begin another sweep, trailing delicately through crumbs and over paperbacks and a dented water bottle. "Can't find my keys," you stammer. The faint lines of a frown are marring his forehead as he catches your eye.
You're relieved that he's not hectoring you with the litany of questions everyone feels compelled to ask – "where did you see them last?" "don't you have a spare set hidden somewhere?" "are you sure you had them this morning?" – and you wonder briefly if his reticence is borne of his belief in your stupidity or in deference to your agitation. You could swear you'd heard your keys jingling when you'd swung your bag off Brandon's bed. "I think I can get you in," he says, and he's gone from looking dismayed to confident. "And if I can," he continues, beginning to circle your little house assessingly, as if he's both appalled and amused by its meager defenses, "you need to talk to your landlord about putting bars on all your windows, not just the ones on the first floor."
He swings himself up, carelessly balanced on the slender porch railing as he reaches up with his eyes and fingertips. Even in his shitkicker boots, he's finding toeholds in the stone, and he moves slowly and steadily up. It seems like you've spent your whole evening this way, with your head tilted up, but you can't stop watching him. His jacket swings out a little and you can see that the pockets of his coat and pants are stuffed with small objects. His jeans are worn, shiny and rubbed down to white thread in places, and they are settled on him like butter melting from the heat of a roll. They distend briefly as he digs in a pocket for a butterfly knife, and he's gripping the windowsill with one hand and working the knife with the other; he clicks his tongue as he closes the knife and nudges the window open with the heel of his hand. He's got one foot planted on the hardwood floor of your bedroom and the other long leg dangling out the window and he bends at the waist in a taut flamenco curve and glides fully inside as if he's choreographed and rehearsed this scene.
You walk to the front door that he's already opened and see him in the living room, pivoting slowly, weight on one heel, looking at your art prints and the signs you carried in protest marches. You step by him on your way to the kitchen and automatically put the kettle on. You applaud your subconscious for giving you a job to do. He follows and sits down at the battered table that Dad hauled out of Gramma Rose's basement for you. You busy yourself preparing the tea tray, setting out the china Mom shipped you for your twenty-first birthday. You love the way the prim white cups look so coolly demure when they're full, that the earthy redness of their interiors is only revealed as time stretches out and tea and companionship are savored; you're too accustomed to finding symbolism in novels to ignore it in real life. He watches you put gentility on display as you align cups on saucers and straighten out the sugar bowl. "You have your mother's hands," he says, and you turn to find his green gaze trained on the snapshot of her at the piano, pale familiar fingers arched and powerful, striking twin D-minor chords three octaves apart.
Your tongue is tied and his hands are wrapped around his teacup and he smiles and you swallow scorching liquid. He clears his throat. "I should go," he says and stands, sliding his full cup away from the table's edge.
He's almost at the door when you catch up, pull him close by his leather lapels, and reach up to kiss him. His lips part in surprise, and he tastes like clear water. You wonder what he was doing at Brandon's party if he wasn't looking for a hookup or alcohol. And then his tongue comes into play and he's kissing you senseless with that lovely wet mouth and he's cradling your face in strong, rough hands.
And then he's out the door.
He's the last person you expected to see when you walk into the library the next morning. He's curled uncomfortably into one of the hard wooden chairs, frowning slightly at the words he's reading. He sits up, flexes his back, and settles back again, his eyes moving steadily down the page all the while. When you see how automatically his jaw shifts the pen in his mouth so that he can read around it, you realize that this is no mere pantomime of industry; when you get lost in a book, your fingers steal up and braid and twist your hair into unnamable shapes. He's not going anywhere for awhile, if the pile of frayed books in front of him is any indication, and you've got work of your own to do.
A few hours later, you would kill for a cup of hot chocolate. You put away your notes and stretch and glance back at his table. It's empty and you whip your head around, just in time to see him leaving the library. You follow him out into the sunlight, watching the way he moves. The sunshine is casting harsh shadows, and the starkly alternating light and dark play havoc with your eyes. You can't see him ahead of you anymore, but you keep moving in that direction just in case. Just as you pass the writing center, a hand shoots out and grasps your arm. There he is, leaning against the brick building, and something about him must make you a little wild because you're on him before he says a word. He's picking you up, shifting but not breaking the kiss, and the heels of his hands are hot on your hips, fingers splayed against your ass, and all you want to do is kiss him like this for weeks on end. When you come up for air, his eyes are level with yours. "It's Dean," he says softly. Before you can speak his name, he breaks the fog around you with a sharp grin. He smacks a quick kiss on your lips. "And Cassie, you weigh approximately a ton," he says, lowering you back down.
"Jackass," you laugh, and he's captured your open mouth, drawing sighs from you with his, hands holding your face this time. You could get lost like this. You think you will.
"Come by tonight?" you ask when you finally have the wherewithal to speak.
"Ah, Cassie," he murmurs regretfully, drawing your name out without a trace of sibilance, another unusual skill to add to the tally in your head. "I can't tonight."
"Come home with me now then," you press, taking the heavy sweetness of his mouth once again.
His hands and lips are hot on you, tracing promises all along your too-boyish body, and your head is thrown back, your eyes are closed, your fingers are digging into his wide shoulders, and you're whimpering as he works you to a frenzy. But he doesn't need momentum; it's when he slows and stills, eyes smiling up at you as he rests his chin just below your navel, on the only femininely soft spot of your lean and rangy body, that your eyes and throat open, and you are crying, pulling him back up your body, and moaning his name into his mouth. "Dean," you say, and he transforms before your tilted gaze. It's as if the warm spring light has decided to stop acting as particles, little spotlights, and chosen instead to revert to a wave, washing over him, lending him a haze he doesn't need, and you're dangerously close to being bewitched by how his shining bronze hair has softened to fawn, how his emerald eyes have subsided into the lushness of moss. "Dean," you plead, and he locks his elbows and holds himself sweetly above you, eyes on yours.
The charm around his neck rests heavily in the hollow of your throat. You arch up to kiss the tip of his nose, shimmering with freckles, and twist to nip at his jaw, tongue rasping along his stubble. He takes his revenge on your throat and throws one of your legs over his shoulder. Your fists are in his hair, like velvet brushed against the grain, as he moves inexorably down. The flat of his tongue is unbearably hot against you, as he strokes back and forth like a cat lapping up milk, but you're the one who's mewling, writhing, heels ascending and descending on the ladder of his spine. You mingle his name with blessings and blasphemies as you come, and he moves in accord with you, shifting and rolling so that you rise up over him and his hands drape over your hips, clutching at your flesh as you begin to move. You've never been more perfectly balanced and you find the rhythm that blows his pupils into wide, defenseless black holes, the thinnest strip of gold around them. Your hands seek his and his hips snap up, and watching him lose control is what releases you a second time. He gathers you close, pulls you down with an arm around your back, two layers of sweat making your skin slick and sticky.
His very stillness is soporific, and you are sated to the point of drowsiness. The afternoon sun slants strongly against you, turning his pale skin deep gold, and you stretch and wind your arms around him, and sink into his warmth once more.
You wake at twilight to an empty house.
The morning is grey and dim, and as you pass through the rooms of your little house, flipping light switches as you go, you feel your mind rousing itself, stretching eagerly in anticipation of the day's work. Hunting down the leads in the footnotes from the last round of research has left you with two books and a long article to read. You settle on the couch with the photocopies in your hand, drawing up the old ink-stained blanket to cover your lap.
Hours later, your brain is tired from too much thinking and your fingers are cramped from too much writing. You're just settling down to watch bad TV and maybe be lulled to sleep on the couch by the sound of the rain when there's a knock at the door. You open it and see Dean smiling at you, wide eyes drifting up to take in your flannel pajama bottoms, shapeless T-shirt, and glasses. His gaze rests on your head gently and you realize you must have been playing with your hair as you wrote. Your hand steals up to confirm the presence of several strange twists and braids and your jaw goes a little slack in horror. He grins puckishly and tips his head forward, saying, "Do me!"
And there's heat kindling in you just like that, at the sight of the soft dimples bracketing his mouth. You reach out and get a good grip on his thick, damp hair. "Gladly," you murmur and pull him close.
It's a good thing you know your little gamekeeper's cottage so well, because he's backing you up the spiral staircase and you can't hold on to anything but him. Your bedroom is dark, the clouds letting through only a little moonlight, and you pull off his clothes and let them fall with wet slaps against the floor. He gets your shirt off and smiles against your mouth when he realizes you're not wearing a bra; he peels your pants and underwear down together, his ring catching cold on your flank. You shiver and he lays you down on your unmade bed and covers your body with his own. All that chilled golden skin is pressed to you and you stroke it greedily, letting his cool slim hips coax your legs open, letting the contact leech the warmth from your skin and spread it to his. Your hand rests on the back of his neck, still damp, as he pushes inside you, his head dipping to kiss behind the hinge of your jaw, and his eyelashes trail along your skin. You flex fiercely around him and he raises his head to look you in the eyes, to make sure. He draws back and then thrusts again, more forcefully, and you want more, more friction, more heat, more strength; his movements get sloppier, harder, sweeter, and your back arches bonelessly, wantonly. The light that suddenly shines behind your eyes takes you by surprise, and he groans as you gasp, and he bucks and lets the last of his control slip.
You must have been dreaming about Mom's cornbread because you wake convinced you can smell butter. You're brushing your teeth when you hear a faint scraping sound. You finish up quickly and pad quietly downstairs. Dean's sitting in your kitchen sharpening a knife. Your knife. His hair is damp and curly and he's wearing a faded red t-shirt and jeans. He's got one arm resting on Gramma Rose's table, which is covered with a long sheet of newspaper, and his feet on a second chair. His toes are long and crooked. There's a plate of buttered toast on the table, another plate piled high with apple eighths next to it. He looks up, unsurprised, as you appear and smiles around a mouthful of apple, his hands continuing their steady rhythm.
"Morning," you say, sitting in the chair he pulls his feet off. He nods at the food and you reach across him to snag a piece of fruit. He sets down the whetstone, pulls a cloth from his back pocket, and rubs briskly along the blade; he folds the sheet of newsprint crisply to trap all the filings and grit inside. You pull the plates closer to you and hold out an apple slice to him. He grasps it with his teeth and gets up to throw the newspaper away.
When he sits back down, he hooks his feet around the legs of your chair and drags it close. He crunches on toast, swiping at his mouth with the back of his hand. He pulls the remainder of the newspaper to him and opens the national news section. The silence is peaceful, and you're almost wondering if this is all a dream. You take the last slice of apple and lick your sticky fingers clean, regarding him contemplatively. His face is clean-shaven, his skin scrubbed and pink, the freckles he probably hates winding merrily along the bridge of his nose and cheeks. There's a new constellation of holes in the jeans he's wearing; they can't be the ones you threw to the floor last night. You frown a little, certain he hadn't been carrying a bag.
The campus chapel bells peal out solemnly, interrupting your reverie. "Oh, shit," you mumble, confirming your fears with a glance at his wristwatch. He looks up, quirks an interrogative eyebrow at you. "I missed my bus," you sigh. "Can you call for a cab? I'll just jump in the shower."
"My car's outside," he says, polishing off the last bite of toast, and even in your hurry you can't miss the pride in his voice at the possessive. You grin and run up the stairs.
You nearly wipe out when you step into the tub; its floor is treacherously wet. The soap is already slick, nearly jumping out of your hands, and the water beating down on you is set to the hottest temperature. It stings pleasurably on your back as you lean down to shave your legs.
He doesn't sing the hymns. His eyes are down, and his hands tug at his jacket, pick idly at the holes in his jeans, but you can tell he's paying attention to the sermon. You drag your gaze away from him and tune back in; you hear the verses from Genesis hover in the air around you. "Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let's go out to the field.' And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is your brother Abel?' ‘I don't know,' he replied. ‘Am I my brother's keeper?' The Lord said, ‘What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand. When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.'" The hard wood of the pew is biting into your flesh and you shift uncomfortably.
Dean's eyes are sparking hotly when the congregation rises to leave and he won't meet your gaze. He gets up and turns to lead the way out of the pew; the leather of his jacket is too thick for you to be able to gauge the degree of tension in the set of his shoulders. "Cassiopeia," you hear, and Dean stops short. He turns his head slightly, enough to get you in his peripheral vision, but the pew is too narrow for you to squeeze by him and get between him and Aunt Cora.
It's too soon for this inspection; you should have been quicker at hustling him out the heavy double doors. But you were wondering what about the sermon had gotten him so fierce, and now he's on display before her inquisitive eyes, magnified and disconcertingly split behind her thick bifocals. You might as well get this over with. "Aunt Cora," you smile, "this is Dean." You don't let yourself think about the fact that you haven't asked his last name, what he does, or how long he plans to stick around; you fix your mind on the things you know, the kisses and the kindnesses, and continue smoothly. "Dean, this is my aunt, Cora –" is as far as you get before she cuts you off.
"Dean," she nods, unsmiling. She heard everything you didn't say, and she's looking up at him, waiting with her arms crossed. It's clearly a test. You remember with sudden trepidation the last boy she faced down, who tried to call her "Aunt Cora" and got an earful about respect and family; he'd never called you again. You find yourself waiting for Dean's response.
You can only see the curve of his cheek, the way he bends his head as the fight goes out of him. "Miss Cora," he says tiredly, holding out his hand, "I hope the day is treating you well."
She puts her tiny hand in his and looks at the mud on his boots, the holes in his jeans, the slump of his shoulders. She studies his face. "It is indeed," she finally says. She smiles, draws her fingers from his, and steps aside. His footsteps are measured as you walk out of the church, but he's moving like he's hollow.
He tunes the radio to static and leaves it there for all thirty minutes of the drive back to your house. One inquisition is more than enough, and you don't want to ambush him with all of the questions you should have asked before you climbed him like a tree and took him to your bed. You gaze out the window at the familiar landscape speeding by, looking more like a watercolor than real life.
He pulls up as close to your house as he can get but doesn't shift out of drive. He's not quite looking at you, but you give him a smile anyway. He must have caught it because his own mouth twitches slightly before he turns away.
You walk into your house alone.
Your email inbox is tediously slow to load, and when it finally comes up, you scroll through Amish spring break jokes and party invitations, wondering what Aunt Cora had seen to make her turn kind. Halfway down the list of unread messages is one from Professor Tey. Her father's been hospitalized, and she won't be able to attend the conference in Ithaca this week; she wants to know if you will deliver her paper at the panel. You know quite well that she's only asking you because all of the grad students are entirely occupied with grading papers and defending their dissertations; still, it's a tremendous honor and one you can't refuse without good cause. You write back to accept.
Your own deadline is looming a little larger now, and you settle down to work.
You've got six more pages drafted when Dean knocks on your door. He's got a duffel bag in his hand; his hips shift restlessly but his eyes meet yours steadily. You get up on tiptoe and kiss him, fingers sliding along his forearms. "I've still got work to do," you whisper, and he nods.
When you finally get upstairs, he's asleep: features soft, one hand under his pillow, and looking as lost as he did when he had his face tilted up to the stars.
He's doing push-ups on the back patio when you stumble sleepily down the stairs the next morning, missing his warmth against your back. The snick of the sliding glass door is nearly silent, but he's already aware of you, smiling up at you as his charm beats steadily against his breast, as his elbows lock and release. There's a cool breeze pulling lightly at you but you ignore your chills when Dean rises up and walks toward you. He grins companionably at you, stopping short when you continue to stand in his way. "Morning," he tries, but that only makes you more aware of how the early sunshine licks at his bare shoulders, turns the black of his boxer-briefs to well-worn grey. You look up at his puzzled face.
You step closer still, clasping his hands in your own, and kiss him. His tongue is thick and talented, making slow, deliberate strokes against your own. You circle his waist with your arms, pinning his hands together at the small of his back, and he moves willingly with you, ending up flush against your chest. It's the languid seductiveness of his kiss, contrarily, that makes you giddily aware of his power, coiled within him, voluntarily bound by your hold on him. He's content to stand pinioned, half in and half out of your house, wholly in your arms. You could get lost like this; it's too much. You pull your head and hands back.
There's a furious struggle making itself plain on his face. The ease with which you can read him is almost unpleasant; it feels too intimate somehow. You back away, a few steps, retreating into the kitchen. He hasn't dropped his gaze. "Cassie, I . . ." he says, and your back is against the refrigerator. It vibrates against you. His eyes clear and he keeps them open as he steps close and presses his lips to your jaw. He plucks delicately at your glasses, sliding them up so that he can brush his mouth over your eyelid, moving on to the tip of your nose, skipping your lips to rest, warm and soft, over the pulse-point of your throat. He's saying something, but you don't know how to break his silent code.
"Love you," you hear, but it's your own voice, chanting it over and over, and your fingers scrabble desperately at his freckled skin, trying to pull him close, willing him to stop your mouth, to tell you everything you need to know. It's your frustrated, half-choked whimper that guides his mouth to yours, and he finally leans all the way in, pressing you between the warm low hum of the fridge and the golden heat of his scarred body.
You're doing your usual Monday evening ritual – cursing yourself out for scheduling four classes and a few tutoring sessions at the writing center in one day just so you can have your Fridays off – when you walk into your house. The sounds coming from your bedroom are so anomalous that you stop in your tracks, lingering at the foot of the stairs with your head cocked, ignoring the weight of your bag and the fact that your feet are killing you. There's a brief pause and then it starts up again and you dump your stuff and make your way up the stairs, walking into the bedroom to find Dean sitting Indian-style on the floor, an array of small tools spread in front of him on a stained and threadbare towel, as he fiddles with a cheap-looking walkman. He's singing along loudly to the cassette in your stereo, sounds you don't recognize and would hesitate to classify as music. It's just noise, cock rock, strident and invasive, the inanity of the lyrics' macho posturing concealed beneath relentless, thumping, simplistic rhythms. You roll your eyes and toe off your shoes. The floor is cool and soothing beneath you and you ease the kinks from your shoulders, stretch your back, and look again. It's different this time. He is exuberant, his strong voice perfectly pitched, soaring and falling with the music, making you hear the melody buried in the twisted wreckage of heavy metal. He turns the walkman over in his broad hands, giving it a final inspection. The song fades out on the umpteenth repetition of the chorus and he sets the walkman down and says, "C'mere." You pad over and lean down. He doesn't rise to meet you halfway, and it's further down than you'd intended to go; his hands find your elbows and his grip is firm and sure as he buttresses your unsteady weight. As your mouth finds his your precariously pinned hair comes loose, tumbling down around his face, so that you're kissing him in the dark again, with only errant threads of light poking through.
You lift your head and he pushes, smoothly setting you back on your feet. "I've got news," you say, just as the cassette stops with a loud click. "What were you listening to?"
He shrugs. "Just a mix tape I made in high school. What's the news?"
"I'm flying to Ithaca tomorrow." He starts to pack up his tools, fingers a shade too nimble. You turn away from his clipped, controlled movements. You hit eject on your stereo and the tape deck opens; cassette in one hand, you pick up the battered plastic case with the other. There aren't any song titles scribbled on the cover but the spine says MIX TAPE #11. The inside fold, against which the cassette would normally nestle, bears markings in what must be Dean's handwriting, in several different colors of ink, print easing into script on each line, strong rather than neat. Bolus, Oregon. Pixley, Arkansas. Lowry, New Mexico. Orlo, Minnesota. Bellavista, South Carolina. Thalia, Vermont. Roxiticus, New Jersey. "One of my professors asked me to deliver her paper at a conference there," you continue, and you hear him slowing down a bit, listening. "I fly out tomorrow morning and I'll be back on Sunday."
He stops altogether. "This a big deal?" he asks, starting to smile. You nod, then shrug, and he laughs at your demurral. "Congratulations, smartypants." He sprawls back, weight on his hands, all casual ease now. "Want to celebrate tonight?"
"Yes." You decide that springing a surprise on him will be easier for you if you're wearing comfy clothes. You head into the walk-in closet and strip off the skirt you wore in an effort to convince Professor Tey you can dress like an adult. You slip on your oldest, rattiest sweatpants and the sweatshirt you made in home ec in seventh grade. You walk back into the bedroom to find the impromptu workshop cleared away and Dean lying on his stomach on the bed. His chin is propped up on his stacked fists and his eyes are closed and you allow yourself a shiver of pleased wonder that he is here, in your bed. He doesn't stir, so you give yourself another moment of contemplation, and you can't believe you didn't notice it the second you walked through the door. "What's got you all lit up?" you ask, making your way over to the bed, laying a hand on his soft hair.
"You look . . . happy." He looks lighter than you've ever seen him, and he opens his eyes and they are warm as they rest on you. He rolls over onto his back, scooting across the bed to give you room to perch. His shirt rides up a little to reveal the smooth jut of one hipbone. It fits your hand perfectly.
"My dad called. He's safe. He'll be here in about a week."
"Safe? Was he in danger?" You haven't seen anything about a big accident or disaster – plane crash, tornado, something – on the news.
"Always. He's always in danger, Cassie," he says, and you meet his eyes. "He's a private investigator. I work with him. He's been on a case in California for the past few weeks, and he finally finished it this morning."
"Oh." It's frankly bizarre, hearing Dean say so much; you're already accustomed to figuring out his moods from his face. "That's why . . . the knife."
"Yeah. That's why the knife," he agrees, as if what you've said makes perfect sense. He holds out his hand, whether to pull himself up or to drag you down, you don't know. You hold yours out anyway and he tucks it inside both his own, warm and firm. After a moment like that he shifts his grip so that you are shaking hands. "Dean Winchester at your service," he says quietly, not a hint of playfulness in his manner.
You pull on his hand and he sits up. You thread your fingers through his hair and kiss him soundly, feeling him relax bone by bone. "Remember that celebration you mentioned?" He nods and lets a libidinous grin stretch his pretty mouth. "You're meeting my girlfriends tonight," you inform him and watch as the wicked smile disappears. It seems he's not above pouting. Before he can actually start to whine, you cut him off. "We get together every Monday night. Boyfriends – while they last – need to be checked out." His face goes blank. You tilt your head to the side as if you're inspecting him for flaws. "Don't worry; I think you'll pass." Ever so slowly, he rearranges his features into a face only a mother gargoyle could love. "Nice try, lover," you murmur, letting him lie back down and pull you on top of him, and he hums as he bites your lower lip and stops your giggling.
His long lithe body had been pliant beneath your hands, his happiness lighting up his face and lightening his limbs. Time ceased to be important when his hips rolled languorously against you, when the heat of his skin was insistent on you, but it ticked inexorably on without you.
You know you're not one of those girls who blows off her friends the minute she lands a man; you refuse to be. Nevertheless, the uncomfortable sheen of guilt lies irrefutably on your skin, and you stare out the car window, hoping to distract yourself. Professor Tey's radio is tuned to NPR, and her voice slips through the pauses, explaining the conference schedule to you, chatting about the colleagues she'd been hoping to meet once more. You must be nodding and murmuring appropriately, because she smiles, friendly and pleased. You've read through the paper you'll be presenting several times, most recently this morning, out loud, to banish the silence that seemed to swoop down around you when you realized Dean was gone.
And you're definitely not one of those girls who sulks over a lost kiss goodbye.
The conference is surprisingly engaging. Suddenly you're able to put faces to the names that have only shown up in your bibliographies, speak to people whose work you're using for your thesis. You follow the crowds and hear ideas for books being born. It's not your world, not even a world you've dreamt of, but it opens up invitingly before you.
Your own time at the podium passes like a dream. You're wearing the red cotton blouse and long black wraparound skirt that made Dean's roguish eyes brighten the most when you modeled your grown-up clothes for him late that night, both of you grinning and giddy and lusty. Your voice is clear, pitched to reach the edges of the dismal hotel conference room, the cadences practiced, so that Professor Tey's words flow as if they are your own.
You treat yourself to room service and spread your thesis notes out over the scratchy, shiny surface of the pale blue bedspread. You've still got work to do.
His stillness gives him away. Everyone else in the airport crowd is jockeying for position, getting up on tiptoe, craning their necks to see who's approaching. He's easy to spot, the light on his leather jacket an unchanging dull gleam, hands shoved in the pockets of his jeans, head angled down and cocked as if he's relying on sound to find you. Everything seems to fall away, the loudspeaker's tinny blare fades, and your path to him is straight, your stride is unwavering. "I love you," he says, and leads the way to his car.
You don't say it back until you've got a hand on his warm chest, just below what looks like a recent knife-slash, to the left of an ellipsis of small, deep gouges, also new. You say it when you breathe his name against the bruise blossoming high on his cheekbone. You say it like you can keep him safe.
Forward to 2/2