I actually should be doing a number of things other than writing and reading fic, but here I am anyway. So I played in Remix this year, and received an amazing story by the splendid Kyra, who took my original ficlet and turned it into this work of art: Alabama, Arkansas (The Fairy Tales Aren't Easy On The Feet Remix). Go, read!
I got to remix the wonderful Ghostcat, who writes gorgeous New Girl and Veronica Mars fic regularly. Her story "Sarsaparilla and the Starfish" was what I remixed, and blithers did her usual stellar beta on it. So here's "Root Beer Rag" [title from Billy Joel; root-beer mugs in the fridge courtesy of Dan Rydell], Nick/Jess, NC-17, set some time after 3x20, "Mars Landing."
"Root Beer Rag"
Her Smilax regelii print didn't survive Schmidt's ritual cleansing of her room – "you understand, Jess, that while my room should be estrogen-welcoming as befits the lair of a vagenius, it shouldn't be out-butched by Sadie's estro-max office" – and is in a box under Nick's bed, gathering dust and maybe centipedes.
The print is in no way necessary for her upcoming unit on Prohibition, when root beer had become especially profitable, but Jess is nothing if not an ardent advocate for audio-visual aids in the classroom. She resigns herself to seeing the dust of years on her black tights, sinks ungracefully to the floor – whatever Nick said about wanting his room to feel like an old-timey saloon, bedroom floors shouldn't be gritty – and pulls out her big cardboard box, all of the flaps neatly tucked into each other in a way that had mystified Nick.
Down at the bottom of the box, forming a stable base, are outdated successive editions of the MLA Style Manual, and on top of them are the framed prints that didn't fit on Nick's walls between his duct-taped and thumbtacked posters and assorted miscellanea. Stuffed into one corner is a jumble of black elastic that might be the Starfish, a couple of Cece's stretchy headbands, or the waist of her emergency pair of black tights.
The sarsaparilla print is as bright and pristine now as the day Nick had hung it on her wall, when he'd been her brand-new boyfriend and she'd still fumbled for words to describe the insane attraction his wrists held for her.
Having him in her bed hadn't made her any more eloquent. It had been easier to say, a lifetime before that, when they'd been stuck in that time of swirling uncertainty, that his habit of gargling his beer turned her on; easier to admit that much and let him laugh and make incredulous faces at her than to enumerate, in lusty detail, all of the reasons his beer-gargling got her wet. Because it wasn't just his wrists as they flexed when he popped the cap off a Heisler. And it wasn't just his throat as it elongated when his head tipped languorously back, looking as strong and yet vulnerable as a heavy flower's stem. And it wasn't just his eyes, fixed on her like they were heavy-duty magnets, pulling at the iron in her blood so that she shivered and stepped closer. It was all of him, and all she'd been able to say even months later, on the day he'd used a golf pencil and a level to hang up her print, was that he had hairy arms and nice wrists.
She had a better vocabulary than that, she swore she did. She could have busted out hirsute or virile or flexion, but the sight of his serious little frown as he measured just where he should drive in the nail for her print had gotten her remembering what they'd done hours earlier. He'd stripped her bare and set her down on her bed, careful, so careful with her, before sinking inexorably down and planting his face against her, licking and teasing and stroking at her until she was out of her mind. Her soles had clapped together, making that same sound Nick made when he fumbled one of his thick-fingered, clumsy snaps, and then Nick had slid three of those thick fingers inside her and she'd choked on his name. She'd run her fingers up and down his forearms, which were anchoring her hips securely to the bed and her cunt to his mouth, relishing the silky feel of the hair there, softer than the mop on his head. When he'd finally moved his mouth off of her, she'd sighed in relief that so much heat wasn't pressed up against her anymore, but it was only a breather before he slotted his hips into the space his shoulders had forged between her thighs, and his skin was hot and he drove into her core exquisitely, ruthlessly, just right.
She'd run out of words then too. Nick just stepped between her brain and her mouth sometimes.
She really needs to stop thinking of him as her boyfriend.
It isn't that they've been broken up for very long. Days, but she can still count it in hours; it's new enough that she can get away with that, the way new moms give their babies' ages in months rather than years. New enough to still be tender when she presses against the bruise.
She had loved him so much, and he'd reciprocated, she knew he had, because his eyebrows arched in that particular, delighted way and his whole face had just shone at her. When she sang into his skin, pretending his bellybutton was a microphone, he'd run a hand through her hair, absent-minded and glowing with contentment. She'd lost countless bobby pins in the wreck of his bed that way, but she hadn't wanted to block his questing fingers with a headband.
The girls in his bar don't seem to base their hairdos on what Nick is like in bed. She looks around at the girls being chatted up by her boys, Winston and Coach Fire-and-Ice-ing a couple of ponytails and Schmidt making a move on some girl with a complicated braid that trekked diagonally across her head. Nick is staying well out of the fray like he's still spoken for; he's shooting the shit with Sid but keeping an eye on her because the rest of the dummies had left her alone.
And she's watching his wrists again as he pops the top off a glass bottle of root beer and slides it down the bar to her. He opens one for himself, half-smiles like the Bulls just lost the pennant, and raises his bottle in a quick toast, not quite looking in her direction, before a customer calls him away. That first sip tastes nothing like Nick, and it should recall the endless summer days of her childhood when she'd drunk root beer out of frosted mugs her mom kept in the fridge just for her, but makes her remember him anyway, all sweet and smoky against her tongue when he'd opened his mouth to her, when she'd kissed him in the middle of a laugh, when she'd been allowed to kiss him at any time because she was his girlfriend and his sometime-starfish.
Nick is, even now, rewriting her history. For a long, insane moment, she wants him to, wants him to fill her head up with only him, erasing everyone else who came before.
She takes another long pull of root beer and reconsiders. She doesn't want that, any more than she wants a do-over on their time together. She just wants him any way she can get him, even knowing that his future and hers are poles apart. His north-pole polar bears would chomp on her south-pole penguins like candy. She runs her fingertip through the condensation on her bottle, wondering if she can work the polar ice-caps into her metaphor before she crashes from this sugar high.
When it hits, it hits with a vengeance. Nick isn't a polar bear. He's a man – a good man, a man she loves – whose vision of the rest of his life in no way overlaps with hers. It's not the first time she's had this epiphany, and it hurts just as much this time around.
He heads back her way when he's done counting out change for the customer. "You slowin' down, or you want another?" he asks, flipping a towel over his shoulder, bright white against the green plaid of his shirt. She remembers the feel of that shirt under her hands, the heat of his body coming through.
"One more," she says, deciding she can deal with a second sugar rush and crash, though some salt would help.
"Here you go," he says, popping open another, and setting a bowl of dry-roasted almonds in front of her.
"You're the best," she says, meaning it, and he goes still for a second before wiping the bar down. She moves the almonds and the bottles out of his way automatically, like she always did on the nights when she'd helped him close down the bar, back before they'd had the talk, back when she knew he scrubbed the bar so thoroughly because he was going to be laying her down on top of it.
Her fingers go nerveless for a moment and her empty bottle slips out of her hand. Nick catches it before it hits the bar and turns away, then changes his mind and cocks his head at her. "That Smilax regelii'll get you every time," he says, aiming a tentative smile her way. All she can do is nod dumbly.
When she finishes teaching the Prohibition unit, she's going to put that sarsaparilla print not on the overcrowded wall they still share but on top of the dresser he'd built for her, way before he'd ever kissed her. It doesn't belong in a box under the bed.
As always, I'd love to hear what you think.
This same entry also appears on Dreamwidth, at http://innie-darling.dreamwidth.org/440497.html.