In the pearly morning light, with the sheets rumpled, you rediscover your favorite freckles, the tiny equilateral triangle on his right hip. You brush your nose against it, Eskimo kiss, then press your lips to the spot. His heavy-lidded eyes blink open. His hair is rumpled above his softly wavy hairline, and he stretches drowsily before rolling onto his back and cupping your head in his hands, fingers curling around your skull. Before he can pull you up his body, you move your head and take him into your mouth. He's warm and heavy and salty on your tongue, and his fingers twitch in your hair. You swirl your tongue and he mimics the motion with his hips, his head thrown helplessly back against the stark white pillow. His abs are trembling under one of your hands, and his bruised thigh fills the other. He's making sounds low in his throat as you work your mouth on him, sucking and scraping and savoring. You pull free when he starts to shake in earnest and watch his pulse flutter in his throat, his muscles spasm as he comes.
He'd looked like all of his sleepy strength had been sapped by your ministrations, so it's a shock when he pushes back the shower curtain and joins you under the spray. He's all slippery delight in your arms, biting whatever skin he finds as he turns you round and round, licking away the wounds he's created. That brazenly luscious mouth of his is a lethal weapon, you think dimly, when he pins your wrists against the tile above your head with one hand and lets it roam all over you again. His wet stubble scrapes against you when you cry out.
You're playing catch up in all your classes because of your jaunt to Ithaca, but your mind is on Dean. When you finally get home, he's in the kitchen making grilled cheese. He flips the sandwich in the saucepan and turns to you. You grab him by the front of his shirt to pull him close. The fabric, washed to faded softness, rips around your fist. "Oh," you say, startled by what you've done, "I'm sorry." His chest is exposed, framed by tattered black cloth that only serves to highlight all of the bruises he bears.
His eyes, startlingly green, meet your own. He can't keep his straight face for long. "'S okay," he grins sweetly and gives you the kiss you wanted. "Guess we won't be going out tonight," he says.
"Don't you have another shirt upstairs?" you ask, frowning dubiously as he shakes his head, obviously pleased with himself. The only shirt you own that would fit over his broad shoulders is currently at the bottom of your hamper; you haven't even unpacked your suitcase, let alone done a load of laundry. You're supposed to meet the girls in a few hours and you've already kept Dean a secret for long enough. He leaves you to your unsatisfactory thoughts and flips the sandwich onto a plate, setting another stack of bread, cheese, and tomato in the hot pan. He pulls the sandwich in half and offers one triangle to you. Your mouth is full when you remember the shirt Dad left last time he visited and Dean chokes a little when he sees your smug grin.
He has no idea how to hold hands. His grip is much too tight, bending your wrist awkwardly and squeezing all of your fingers together uncomfortably; his hand is wrapped around yours like you're dangling out a fifth-story window. You shake him loose and try again, braiding your fingers with his, and after a moment he relaxes his hold.
He tugs gently to steer you away from the stoplight. "Shortcut," he says; "nicest way to get between your place and Rick's house."
"Who's Rick?" you ask, smiling at his exposed wrists; Dean's apparently got a few inches on Dad in both height and breadth. The lavender dress shirt is pulled taut against his muscled back, and he's fidgeting a little in it, unaware of how it darkens his skin and makes his eyes luminous.
"Friend of my dad's. Been crashing with him since I got into town." He pulls you out of the shadows of imposing apartment complexes and into a large park. He drops your hand and wraps his arm around your waist, drawing you in close against his left side. You thread your fingers through the belt-loop at the small of his back. Daylight savings time means the sun is still bright, and you catch the blond hidden in his hair and glittering stubble. He can feel your gaze and he looks down, smiling. Then he stutter-steps and looks past you. "Dad?" he says, and you follow his eyeline. You see dark messy hair above a newspaper, and the fingers of the man's left hand curling around the pages just like Dean's do when he sits at your kitchen table; all that's different is the wedding ring. The man peers over his newspaper, apparently equally surprised. "Dad!" Dean laughs, incandescent with joy, and you realize how scared he must have been for his father. The newspaper is folded away, and you can see there was good reason for Dean's fear; his father's wearing bruises around his throat, red against his beard, and a cast on his right arm. Dean goes still and quiet. "How's Jill?" he asks.
"She's good," his dad smiles. "Real good. But I'd rather have had you backin' me up." He looks at Dean's arm, still comfortably cinched around you. "Must be the first time you're glad you had to stay behind, patch yourself up." They're not speaking in code, but you're having a hard time making sense of what you're hearing. You think back to Dean in your bed, that first time, supple skin brilliant in the hot sunlight, no recent injuries visible. You start to panic, wondering what you could have missed; you press your hand flat against his back, fingers spread wide, trying to feel what eluded you before.
His muscles tense beneath your palm. "How was California?" he says, a little more quietly, holding his breath.
His dad sags a bit, like his energy's just been sapped. "California's a big place, Dean," he says evenly, as if he's trying not to bite out the words. "It was sunny, just like this," he says, raising his head and squinting a little like he's unused to the light, the way it makes Dean's ring shine. "But sticky," he adds, nodding for emphasis, "way too hot for April."
They eye each other for a long moment before Dean snaps back to himself. "Dad, this is Cassie," he says; "Cassie, this is my dad, John Winchester." John's eyebrows go up, disappear under his mop of hair, and he seems more surprised now than when he first saw you joined at the hip with Dean.
"Good to meet you, Cassie," he says, and his eyes are dark versions of his son's, wide and bright and framed by a thick tangle of lashes, and the burr in his voice, that raspy rumble, will be in Dean's in another twenty years. You smile and his face goes thoughtful, and he nods at you and Dean to sit. He looks Dean over carefully, inch by inch, but you're the one he speaks to. "So," he says, ignoring the dark hurt purpling Dean's cheekbone, "you already trying to whip my boy's wardrobe into shape?" He grins, and he evidently means to be jocular, but all you hear is a warning.
Something is telling you to tread carefully. "No," you say and stop, unsure of what's going on.
"I'm just borrowing it until we get to Rick's," Dean explains easily, keeping you tucked warm against his side.
"Rick told me you haven't been sticking around much," John says, his gaze shifting to you.
"No," Dean agrees. "Had a job to do and a girl to see," he says, giving you a slight squeeze in time with the cadence of his voice.
"Job's done, then?" John asks, and even though Dean is still relaxed beneath your hand and nods casually, you're sure you heard a challenge in that question. John just sits back and brings his cast up to rest on the stone table between you, scratching at his beard with his good hand. Silence stretches out between them, an old and familiar friend, you're sure, if John always denies with his eyes what he says with his mouth. Dean has his arm around you, his gaze on his dad, and a smile on his face like this is close to all he's ever wanted. It must get to John, because after the sun sinks a little lower and gets a little redder, he pulls you and Dean in with a big, dimpled grin. "Right," he says, finally sounding sincere, "time for me to get back to Rick's. You two coming?"
Dean quirks his eyebrow at you to ask how you're doing for time. You're already late. You shake your head, make yourself smile, and stand. "We need to get going," you explain; "it was nice meeting you." Dean beams his approval and your smile stops feeling so fake.
He waits until his dad's marching off before wheeling you around and heading in the opposite direction. "Think you're pretty sneaky, don't you? Getting me all dressed up to meet your friends," he murmurs into your hair. "I'll get you," he promises, and you can hardly wait.
The girls are all clustered at the bar when you and Dean walk in. You make the introductions, and he smiles and nods genially, one arm draped over your shoulders. Lynn is the one who draws him out, chatting easily, doing most of the talking, as usual, with her dark hands. It looks like she's telling him of her misadventures through Europe last spring, but you can't hear a word she says because Jenna pulls you into a huddle with Amy and Kami, and demands, "How long?"
"How long have you been with that sexass?" Amy clarifies.
"Couple days," you say, rounding down to forestall the interrogation. "Plus I was away most of last week. What's been going on with you guys?" You know you're not going to get away with it, but a respite for tonight is all you're looking for.
"He treating you right?" Kami asks bluntly.
"Yeah," you say, and the conversation turns. Amy's little sister is coming for a visit at the end of next week. Jenna wants to hear all about the conference. As you're filling them in, Lynn and Dean drift back toward you.
Kami must have been waiting for Lynn to return before she shared her news. She finally came out to her parents. "Oh, Kam," you say as the four of you move to hold her close in a tangle of arms. "What'd they say?"
Kami laughs at the tears in her eyes; she's never liked getting emotional. "They said they weren't happy but they'd learn to be. As long as I was happy." You're wiping at your own eyes when Kami turns an impish smile on Dean. "You can cry too, Dean; I won't tell anyone," she says, startling a laugh out of him. He's standing behind you, and he lays his forearm on your collarbones and pulls you gently back to rest against him. "You're alright," she says, grinning like she's ready to burst, raising her bottle in a toast, just before Brent and Stuart emerge from the back room, pool cues still in their beefy hands.
You cannot for the life of you figure out what Jenna sees in either of them, or even which twin she actually likes. Maybe she's just read Gone With the Wind too many times for her own good. They flank Jenna, bumping Kami and Lynn, and look expectantly at you. "Brent, Stuart, this is Dean," you say, trying with the pitch of your voice to let Dean know these are acquaintances, not friends, no one he has to humor.
"Crikey," Stuart says, as if only Brent can decipher his flat Australian accent, "that's a hell of a bruise he's got. Always said, didn't we, that our Cass must like it rough. Wonder where her bruises are, then," he smirks and looks you up and down. Jenna's looking like she wants the ground to open up and swallow her and you reach out to clasp her arm. Dean has gone still behind you.
"You drunk?" he asks, conversationally, only a hint of a hard edge in his voice, offering no clue what answer he wants to hear. He drops his arm and steps to your side. He moves like he's no longer constricted by the size of Dad's shirt.
"Off this piss?" Brent asks incredulously, grabbing Jenna's beer and chugging it. "No fuckin' way, man."
"Why don't we play a round, then, let the girls have their own fun," Dean suggests.
Brent and Stuart share a smile. "Which one of us you want to play?"
"Either. Both." Dean shrugs like it's all of absolutely no importance. "You win, I'll buy you enough . . . piss . . . to get you both drunk." Neither one of them notices that Dean hasn't named the prize for his own victory, and you wonder as he leads the way to the tables in the back what price he will exact.
You've been writing for three hours, and your thesis is coming together, creating a shape for itself out of blue scribbles. You read it over one more time, crossing out words you've used too often, reworking clumsy phrasings. You're so close to being done that it's tempting to just keep going, but you know you need some time to consider the last section before you set pen to paper. You look over at Dean, his face washed blue-white from the computer monitor's light. "I need a break," you announce and he looks at you like he's game for anything. You stack your books and papers on the floor in front of the couch and walk into the kitchen, pressing play on the tiny boombox on the counter. The cd inside is the one you like to cook to, the one you made from Mom's and Dad's music collection, and it whirs to life.
Marvin Gaye sings out as you open the drawer with all the take-out menus stuffed inside. You gather them up with both hands and nudge the drawer shut with your hip. Dean's sprawled on the couch, waiting for you, and you sit on his lap and drop the menus next to your books.
He turns you in his lap and kisses you, dirty and just a little rough, doing things you didn't even know you wanted until he showed you. His hands keep sliding up, down, holding your face, your shoulders, your waist, your hips, your thighs, like they can't figure out where to rest, but his mouth stays on target, tongue and teeth and lips soft and chapped all moving just right. You want his mouth on you everywhere, and you lean back against his steadying hands to unbutton your shirt. "Cassie," he says, like it's your first time, and you push forward again, needing to stop that throaty voice. But you can't, and when you've stripped yourself bare and pulled him on top of you, he's still speaking, hoarsely, urgently. It's somehow different this time and you can't figure out why that is, not with his hands roaming over you like they're flaying you, peeling off your skin, and his mouth lingering over all the new, tender places beneath. You don't know if he's just had an epiphany, or if he had his revelation long ago and has been waiting for you to catch up; it could be that you realize together that you could have this for the rest of your lives. And you're sobbing, so he lifts his mouth from you but keeps his fingers crackling on your flesh, and tells you a joke. And then he swallows your laughter down.
You've finished typing up all the new pages you've written and your brain feels fried. You're cleaning the kitchen while you wait for Dean to get back, singing along loud and carefree to your cd, hitting staccato notes when Fats Domino plays, relaxing into languid purity with Sam Cooke, when there's a loud thump at the door. A large, thick envelope has been pushed through the slot in the door; it lies on the mat, the rest of your mail scattered on top of it. It's got a Cape Girardeau postmark and when you brush the other envelopes off it, you can see the Breeze logo in the corner. You rip it open and find a formal letter offering you the job Jimmy mentioned at the end of last summer, along with a sizable stack of tax forms and HR paperwork. Otis Redding croons tenderly in his thready voice as you squeal and dance around in a little circle. You scoop up all of the mail and dump it on the kitchen counter, turning the volume all the way up. When Dean walks in, you're still dancing, and trying to sing both parts of "If I Can't Have You."
He grins at your giddiness and steps by you to wash his hands and face; he throws the towel next to the mail and scoops you up. "Good news must just follow you around," he says, and you kiss him hard and hot like the song suggests. "Or maybe it's my luck that's turning around," he breathes into your mouth, pulling back teasingly, eyes crinkling triumphantly as you lean eagerly forward to continue the kiss.
You unlock your legs from his waist and jump down, rifling through the papers to find the letter. The duet ends and the next song, slow and graceful below with Ella Fitzgerald's sweet warmth on top, comes on just as you find it and hold it out. Dean tenses and hits the power button with one sharp jab. "You . . . don't like Ella?" you ask, trying to figure out what just happened.
He offers you a sickly smile and takes the letter reluctantly. He looks hard at you, like he's torn between memorizing your face and turning away, before dropping his eyes and scanning Jimmy's letter quickly. "Missouri, huh?"
He's drawing a line with the tone of his voice; you're not going to trespass. "Yeah. Middle of nowhere. I always miss it until I'm back there." He's looking a little better now, like he's securing the armor that had slipped from its place. "And then I miss the rest of the world. But college doesn't last forever, and home's where I want to be." He nods, like you've just said something profound, and you wonder what on earth that could be. You take a chance. "You okay?"
"Yeah," he scoffs, shrugging casually. He's not quite meeting your eyes when he admits, "Just reminded me of something."
"Old girlfriend?" you ask, trying to sound nonchalant. He looks so surprised you know that can't be it. You poke him when he starts to smirk; evidently he sensed your brief flare of jealousy. "Shut up," you mutter. He spreads his hands, the very picture of innocence. "What was it then?"
You want to bite your tongue as soon as the words are out; his burgeoning glee vanishes instantaneously. "Her voice," he says unhappily, shifting guiltily like a four-year-old caught with his hand in the cookie jar, turning away.
You catch him by the arm and pull, leading him out of the kitchen and up to your bedroom. Here at least you know you can't hurt him.
Dean's eyes flare open in the dark and his arm tightens around you reflexively. "Go back to sleep," you soothe; "I didn't mean to wake you." He looks like he can't decide whether to trust you, staying still when you cup his cheek, careful to avoid the fading bruise. "I'm just going to the computer," you say, slipping out of the bed; "I figured out how to conclude my thesis."
You type as the sun rises, finishing as the birds begin to sing. You were expecting a sense of accomplishment, but as you crawl back into Dean's waiting arms, all you really feel is relief.
You're still in your bra and underwear in the walk-in closet when you hear Dean coming up the stairs. He pauses in the doorway, shirt off and jeans undone, kicking off his heavy boots. He smells like grass and sweat and smoke and his face shifts from exhausted to puzzled when he registers your state of undress. "I'm taking my advisor out to dinner," you explain, pulling out your long green skirt, holding it up against you. "She signed off on my thesis." The skirt won't work with your blue heels, and you fold it back up. He nods and continues on his way to the bathroom.
Even though he left the door open, there's steam clouding the mirror by the time you get in there, and his clothes are in a muddy and bloody pile next to the tub. He's not singing or moving, just standing still and letting hot water beat down on him. "What happened?" you ask.
"Training," he says. "Dad."
"With a broken arm?" No surprise Dean was a wreck if his dad acts like he's the original Iron Man on a job too; you'd be willing to bet his dad made today as difficult as possible in an effort to prove how little his broken bones mattered. You wonder how long Dean's been living like this, hurtling between adrenaline and panic, vulnerable because of his own strength. You wish he could just get a moment to rest.
"Wrist." He reaches for the shampoo, peeks around the curtain; his delicate collarbones gleam with water. "Marines don't quit," he says, obviously quoting, "and when they're injured, they go twice as hard."
He's got clean boxer-briefs rolled neatly in his bag. You grab a pair and two fluffy towels and go back into the bathroom. He shuts off the water and steps out of the tub, taking the towel you offer. He dries off and dresses and follows you to the bedroom, sitting obediently on the edge of the bed when you nudge him. "Lean forward," you say, standing between his spread legs, and gently towel his hair dry, looking at the fine white scars that thread his back. His hands come up to rest on your hips and when you finish with one last tender swipe, resting a careful finger in the hollow where his skull meets the nape of his neck, he presses his head soft against your belly. He shudders when you finally pull away, watching you go with unselfconscious eyes.
You hang the towel in the bathroom and walk into the closet, finally deciding on your navy cap-sleeved blouse and long beige skirt. Back in the bedroom, you can see him in the dresser mirror, still slumped, silky lashes dark against his pale face, muscles uneasy beneath his skin. You've got bobby pins in your mouth and for once your hair is obedient, not springing out of control, and your fingers are quick and sure. He's watching you wonderingly. You apply mascara, your eyes and mouth open wide. He looks like he's watching a magic trick. You slip into your heels and take one last glance at the mirror. All you can see is a little boy lost.
You are beyond exhausted and all you want is Dean, to take you to your bed, pin you down with his insistent body, be ruthless in his pursuit of your pleasure. You want to feel his downy skin burn against yours, his hair soft in your fists. You want to hear his breathing hitch, to revel in your power to make that layered voice deepen to a growl. You want him to work his magic, make time stop when your body clenches sweetly around him, look at you with wide clear eyes like you're the journey and the destination together.
But he's not here, and you're too tired to sleep. A hot shower lasting most of an hour relaxes your body, makes it feel pliant again. You pull on your softest pajamas and furry slippers and pad to the kitchen to make some tea. Two cups of chamomile later and he still hasn't come home.
All you want is Dean, to take you to your bed, spoon up behind you, and nuzzle your neck. You want to feel him drag his lower lip along the side of your throat, fingers skimming lightly at your waist. You want to hear his low laugh when you burrow back against him, his murmured words of love.
You remember him reassuring his father that the job was done, but you can't help cataloguing his injuries and wondering if he's found a new case, another foray into danger that will mark his body, slow him down, leave him dead. You swirl hot soapy water in your teacup and set it in the dish rack, wipe down the counter, tuck the kitchen chairs back in, and straighten the towel hanging from the refrigerator handle like all of these motions are rituals to keep him safe, domestic offerings to get him to walk, whole and happy, through your door. But they're not enough; you don't know what would be enough.
You just want Dean to come home to you, as his slow kiss this morning had promised he would.
Your reflection in the glass door startles you momentarily, and you slide it open and step onto the patio. You can hear soft animal chitterings and chirps. The stars are bright and you tilt your head back, trying to remember how Dean had found Cassiopeia above. The way he'd said "Big Dipper, Polaris, Cassiopeia," an unassailable sequence, three easy steps, links in a chain of knowledge he's tested and trusted, comes back to you. But the skies are written in a language you don't know, and the lights don't spell out any kind of message for you.
What you need, evidently, is a project. Your thesis is no longer looming over your head and all of that energy is being spent on imagining Dean hurt, Dean fading, Dean dead. Your nightmares slid so easily into one another that you can't even count how many times he screamed, how many ways he crumpled, how many times you watched the light leave his eyes.
Running your errands is out of the question; you want to be here when Dean finally comes home. You decide to start packing up all of your books, your heavy winter clothes. You've still got some boxes in the basement that haven't been too warped with the damp, and as you're coming up the stairs with a few in your hands, the phone rings. You race over. "Hello?"
You don't hear the deep voice you were hoping for. "Baby," Dad says, "were you ever going to tell me about the job?" He sounds so proud.
"Maybe," you tease, waiting for his familiar comeback.
"I told your mother I wanted a boy," he sighs, and all the words are the same as ever but he can't quite manage the tone.
"She's got an appointment tomorrow at Mercy. Turns out the new head of oncology is Lenny's college roommate's dad."
And strings were pulled. The care packages Gramma Rose has shipped you have been astonishing, but nothing can compare to her Sunday dinners, and you remember your cousin telling you that he and his roommate would ditch the Penn dining hall and go to South Philly like clockwork every Sunday at five. "Can I talk to her?"
He goes quiet. "Make it quick, Cass. She's real tired." You can hear him bellowing like a brat for his mama and Gramma's wheezy chuckle as she takes the phone.
"Morning, Little Miss," she says.
"Morning, Gramma." Your heart lurches; she sounds just the same. Surely they'll say they caught the cancer early, that there's no need to worry, that she'll be right as rain soon. She's fine. Dean is fine. "Daddy behaving himself?"
She snorts. "He thinks I don't see half of all he gets up to," she says, clearly tickled. "And what's this Cora was telling me about you taking a young man to church?"
You'd forgotten the persistence of the grapevine, the way your aunts all talk, an entire generation of women at their happiest gathered in a hot kitchen, but scattered across the country, making do with solitary telephones. You don't know what to tell her about Dean. He's beautiful. He sits at your kitchen table like he belongs there. I don't know where he is. Your silence stretches out uncomfortably, and she takes pity on you. "You tell me all about him when you finally get down here," she offers, and you take it. "See you soon, sugar," she says and hangs up.
You've set aside a small stack of old favorites to tide you over for the last few weeks of school, but all the rest of your books are in boxes. Your sweaters and corduroys and flannel sheets are in the big suitcase you keep under the bed; there are empty shelves in the walk-in closet. One day of packing and already the house looks different, and you're struck by the urge to put everything back. You wonder who will win the housing lottery next year and end up living in your little house, the space that welcomed you from the moment you set foot in it.
You scramble to your feet when you hear the front door being opened and race downstairs. He's there, backlit by the porch light, unhurt; your thankfulness is spiked with sharp resentment for the hours of doubt you endured. That's your future, right there, and you see it so clearly, and it hits you like a blow to the chest. When you finally raise your eyes to his, you realize that he's holding himself still, that he is not smiling.
Maybe he is hurt. You didn't see it when he first entered your life, left behind to "patch himself up"; there's no reason to assume you've gotten any better at it. "Dean," you say, and he shuts the door behind him and steps close, long legs eating up the distance between you. He's too quick for you to determine if that economy of motion was necessary, but you suppose the speed itself is a good sign. His kiss is gentle, his thumbs sketching patterns on your cheekbones. He's so good at this, making you feel cherished, that it would be easy to forgive his silence. But you know your brain will only concoct more horrors next time, and you need to speak up. You take a step back.
He's slightly flushed and he grins down at you, a hint of shy wonder dancing across his face. "Shouldn't have started like that," he murmurs, running a hand over your hair, then resting it against your cheek; "you distract me."
"You," he answers, and though it makes no sense, you know exactly what he means.
"Where have you been?" you plead.
He looks puzzled. "Working," he says simply.
It's not about apron strings. You just need him to hear the truth. "I was so worried about you. I need you to tell me where you are from now on."
His eyes widen as your voice shakes and it's obvious that it never occurred to him that he could be the source of your fear. "I . . . I was with my dad," he finally says, as if at the mere sight of John Winchester, bad guys the world over just pack up their stuff and back away slowly. You pull up his shirt and point at the wounds scattered across his chest. "Research and training, that's all," he avers; "nothing dangerous."
But it was preparation for something dangerous, and that he doesn't bother to deny. Points for that, you suppose; if he treated you like an idiot, you'd snap. "Researching what?"
His hands are gentle but insistent, wrapping familiarly around your shoulders and pressing you down. You sink into the couch and he sits too, twisting so that his back is against the arm of the couch and he's facing you. His eyes are bright and soft and unwavering, trained on you. "Researching what happened to my mother," he says and you feel dimly that you should have known, from the way John wore his wedding band like an act of aggression, the way Dean hid his hurts, that there'd been no indulgent, intuitive, impulsive presence in their lives, no Mom or Gramma Rose. "She was murdered almost twenty years ago. We've been hunting for the demon that killed her ever since then."
Somehow it hurts more to think of what he's gotten than all he's lost. John Winchester, former Marine, with his fanatic's face and unyielding personality, gave his boy a quest instead of a home. You think of the list of towns jotted down on the cassette cover, Dean reporting back like a good soldier, the lifetime of scars his body bears. You find your fists clenching and look up to see his gaze fixed on you.
Whatever he was looking for, he wasn't expecting anger. His face softens with relief, his eyes flicker a bit, and he pushes on. "There's more." He digs in his pocket and pulls out a ring of keys. When he opens his hand, you can see they are your keys splayed out on his palm. "I lifted these from your bag the night we met," he says; "I needed a key to the writing center for the job I was on." Your head is spinning. You want to rage at him for lying to you that gorgeous night, for showing you the stars, for kissing you. No. You owe it to him to be fair. He sought you out and stole what he needed, but he took the time to get you inside your house. You kissed him. You invited him into your bed, into your life. You trust him. You reach for the keys and meet his eyes squarely. He blows out a little breath. "Old boyfriend?" he teases, pointing to Lenny's faded Penn charm on the keychain.
"No," you smile, tossing the keys behind you. "Cousin." His eyes crinkle up in his boyish grin. You kiss it right off him and he pulls you closer, shifting so that you're lying on top of him, lithe and lissome and just as eager. You're safe here in his arms, vulnerable only to him, and he won't take advantage. You smile against his lips. You know what to tell Gramma Rose now. You kiss the tip of his freckled nose, the cleft in his chin, and his lush mouth again. "What was the writing center case?" you ask.
He laughs, delighted and tolerant, at the way you're snuggling into him, and the vibration of it rockets through you. "You want a bedtime story?" he asks, voice honey-dark, one heavy hand lazily stroking up and down your spine. You tuck your face into the warm crook of his neck and breathe him in. "You know the big glass case in the lobby?" He waits for you to nod. You kiss his throat. "The letters and diaries that are in there now have been exhibited around the country. And wherever Sherwood Wilson's writings go, poltergeists follow."
You can't have heard that properly. You raise your head to ask him to repeat that, but he's still telling the story. "Turns out a group of kids started reading his stuff back in the Twenties and decided to sacrifice themselves and become his undead minions. All they managed was to turn themselves into nuisances. Poltergeists are a pain in the ass." You push further back, locking your elbows. His eyes are clear. "So I went through the whole thing - candles, chants, herbs. They didn't want to go," he says, running his hand absently over his chest, "but the ritual worked." He smiles at you, bright and pleased and totally at ease.
You scramble back off him. "Cassie?" he asks, reaching for you. "What's wrong?"
You draw a shaky breath and meet his gaze. You're convinced you see concern there, but you were so sure about all of the other things you'd read in his eyes, and never once did you see insanity. He has to be joking. "Poltergeists?" He sits all the way up and nods, smoothing down his spiked hair. It makes no sense. You feel like you can't form complete sentences. "How . . . how does ghostbusting fit in with tracking down your mother's murderer?"
He knots his brow like he has no idea why you're so confused. "All of these things need to be taken care of," he says, like it's perfectly reasonable. "And Dad and I are getting closer and closer to the demon, and we'll be ready for it."
He'd meant to say "demon" before. That wasn't the word of a four-year-old kid scared to death because his mommy was suddenly gone and he needed to name the evil that had snatched her away; that was literally what he believed. Your legs are trembling but you make yourself get off the couch and back away slowly.
"That's crazy," you breathe, needing to assert yourself. Your body is still warm from being pressed insistently to his, from the touch of his darkly ripe mouth. What is he doing to you that you find yourself actually wanting to believe him? His eyes are as green and clear as ever, steady on you and shining with pain. He looks like his life has come crashing down around him, and there is no love or laughter or future in the rubble. No, stop. No more romanticizing. You need your brain to start working again.
"Cassie?" he asks again, rising from the sofa, and his voice is the same as it ever was, and you realize that he hasn't changed; you just never really knew him. How much of him did you make up? How much of the Dean you love is only in your head? "It's the truth, Cassie, I swear it," he promises, looking just like he had every time he told you he loved you.
You are cold with horror, sick with doubt, and there's broken glass in your throat. "You're crazy," you whisper. He really believes what he's telling you. You ignore your treacherous tears and try to sound stronger. "Get out," you say, more loudly, trying not to notice how he looks like he's breaking clear across, cracking wide open. His face is crumpling, but when he reaches out to swipe away your tears and you flinch away from him, he blinks and his eyes go shuttered, deliberately opaque, his mouth thins to a tight white line. He backs off and looks at you one more time, then turns away and walks out the door.
You rush over to lock it behind him, fastening the chain with unsteady fingers. You bury your face in your hands and sag against the door, sobbing uncontrollably. You could get lost like this.
You could get lost like this, but you straighten your spine and get hold of yourself. You won't let that happen.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
Cross-posted all over the damn place.