Title: Home Free
Status: one-shot/complete
Warnings: language

A/N: Here's a thing no one was expecting unless you follow my tumblr! It's a longish one-shot companion piece to PSoG, since I know the lack of parental resolution was a thing nobody liked about that story (that aspect was mainly left out because the story wasn't supposed to really be about real life and families, it was really about the college experience and how it's separated from exactly that kind of thing). There are two parts, which I've uploaded as two chapters here. Hope everyone enjoys it.

Home Free

Part I: Saul

The temperature outside was hovering in the low eighties, bright clear skies and a bright white ball of a sun, but inside the small Flagstaff airport it had to be about twenty degrees cooler. I still felt overheated, sweat building helplessly at the back of my neck and under my arms, pulse rushing in my neck. This anxiety had been building slowly for the past few days, and I'd woken up at about three this morning with it full-blown in my gut and hadn't gone back to sleep.

Hadn't managed to eat breakfast either. Or much lunch, when we'd stopped on the way to the airport. And now Mike and my mom and I were waiting outside the security lines, waiting for Vaan's flight to come in, and I could hardly sit still. I kept checking my phone every thirty seconds, watching minutes tick by slowly towards 1:45, and then even more slowly past it. The flight display screen had said the plane was on schedule, so...any time. Any time now.

My phone jangled inside my sweaty hand, and I just about dropped it in my hurry to flip the cover open and read the text I'd just gotten.

fuckin hot as balls here dude

My breath caught a little, and I almost dropped the phone again trying to text back. are you here?

About half a minute later; just landed, doors not open yet. got a guys butt in my face tho

I snorted, and noticed my mom glance in my direction. I took a deep breath. how dyou know its hot then

The reply came all in caps; IT JUST LOOKS HOT OKAY

I could feel both my mom and Mike's eyes on me this time as I laughed and clutched the phone in both my hands. God, this happened every time that I didn't see Vaan for a while. Nerves and anxiety and a weird sense that it wouldn't be the same once we did see each other again. But then all it would take was one thing Vaan said or did and all of it would just…go away.

Now I was just anxious in a good way. Excited. Still a little worried about my parents, and how this whole thing was going to go with them. Mostly my mom.

"He's…sort of here," I said, since they were both still watching me. "Probably another couple of minutes."

"Is he going to have anything to get at the baggage claim?" Mike asked, and I shook my head. Knowing Vaan, he'd just have one smallish bag with everything he needed crammed inside. He wouldn't waste time with checking anything.

My phone buzzed for my attention again, but I ignored it for a second and tried to catch my mom's eyes instead. She'd been quiet ever since we'd left the house, not saying much over lunch, and I wasn't sure if she'd said anything at all since we'd gotten to the airport. But she wasn't looking in my direction anymore, and my stomach clenched back up a little. I think saying nothing at all was her way of trying, but it wasn't reassuring.

I finally flipped open my phone again to read Vaan's last text.

im like walking down the beatles gangplank here so you gotta let me know soon

let you know what?

what I can do whe bc its gonna be all hot make outs unless u say no

It took me longer this time to respond; my hands were shaking a little too much.

not this time, not yet



I set my phone down on my knee and covered it with my hand, breathing out slowly. The airport wasn't very crowded, and only a few people were trickling out from behind the security lines and wandering towards the baggage claim. Vaan would be hard to miss. I watched a girl with faded aqua stripes in her brown hair drag a tiny rolling suitcase out the front doors and disappear into the bright sun, and realized I didn't know what color I should be looking for to spot Vaan. It'd been a month since I'd seen him, his hair could be anything.


But there was no mistaking that voice. I'd only turned away for a second but when I looked back around, there he was. Walking right towards me at a pretty quick pace and grinning wide, and I really only got that one second to register that he was here,because the single smallish duffle bag he was carrying hit the bland slate-blue carpet with a flump and then he was suddenly down on one knee and in my arms. A huge breath of air broke its way into my lungs and I curled right around him, dragging him close, making sure I didn't impale him on the arm of my chair.

"Hey, babe," Vaan said in my ear, and just hearing his voice was almost too much. I gulped in another breath that sounded a little strange and desperate and dug my fingers into him. He was holding me back just as hard, and rocking us gently from side to side. I could hear jewelry clinking against the arm of my chair. He smelled a little like stale sweat and recycled air from the plane, but also like that certain spicy shampoo and sharp aftershave and every other familiar thing I always associated with him.

After about half a minute, he started to pull away. I grabbed him right back. My face ended up mashed against his neck this time. I got a handful of his hair and twisted my fingers in it, my other arm up around his back and clutching into his shoulder. He was such a comforting solid warmth against me, I couldn't let that go just yet.

"Dude, this is maybe more obvious than making out," Vaan muttered somewhere into my neck, hot air sliding up behind my ear.

I didn't let go of him anyway. "S'okay. You know that I told them," I whispered back. "I just thought...kissing might be a little much, right out of the gate."

"Was that a pun," Vaan said delightedly. I loosened up my hold on him enough then so he could wiggle backwards, and we could actually see each other.

I'd barely gotten a look at him before. His hair was actually fairly normal, for him. All of it bleached to near white except for a wide lock of bright purple right in the front, tucked sideways behind his ear. Most of it was longish and loose, parted down the middle and shaved short along the sides and back like it'd been when the semester had ended. He was in those fading black pants with the red stitching he loved so much, and a perfectly hideous tie-dyed shirt in bold reds and yellows and blues. He looked perfect.

"Hey, oh, hey," I said, and my hands went up to his face all on their own. His soul-patch was back; he'd shaved it off before the semester had ended, but here it was again, in that darker blond that was his natural hair color. His piercings were cool and clinky against my skin. I thought there might be a new one, in his left ear.

It'd only been a month. A few days shy of one, actually. And I'd still missed him this much.

"This is kinda not subtle," Vaan said, kind of gently, and then made a very soft throat-clearing noise and flicked his eyes somewhere back over my shoulder.

"Right, uhm, these are my parents," I said idiotically, turning towards them. They were both staring, just a little. My mom actually had her hands clasped together up near her throat, and I had no idea what that meant. Vaan climbed gracelessly back to his feet, using the arm of my chair to lever himself up. He ignored his duffle and took a step past me and towards them.

"Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Aiken," he said, with a kind of casually earnest charm that was a little bit new on him. But I suppose I'd never seen Vaan actually try to be polite before. "It's real nice to meet you. I'm Vaan Bauer."

Mike was first to move forward and catch Vaan's outstretched hand. "You can call me Mike," he said. "I expect you know we've heard a lot about you."

"I bet," Vaan said, throwing an amused sidelong glance at me. He said something else, but I wasn't really listening or looking at him. All my attention was on my mom.

When I'd first told her and Mike about me and Vaan and how I was not really all that straight like I'd tried so hard to be, she'd been...unsure. Not upset, not angry or unreasonable, just confused on what to do, how to even take it. It'd been such a strange quiet bewilderment that it was almost worse than being mad or over-dramatic. She'd almost seemed...wounded, like she couldn't exactly understand why I was telling her or what it meant. And because of that, I'd tried not to talk about him too much, just not to overwhelm her with the idea that I had a boyfriend. And so I hadn't really told them much about how he looked.

I was regretting that a little now, especially because my mom hadn't done anything yet. Mike handled teenagers all day long so there really wasn't much that phased him; Vaan was probably unexpected, but nothing had hadn't seen before. My mom wasn't so inured. And she'd probably been expecting my boyfriend to look like someone who went to a private college in Southern California, someone whose family had some money, and most of all—the kind of person that I'd hang around with in the first place. Vaan didn't look like any of those things.

It'd even been surprising that she'd been okay with him coming to visit in the first place. I'd pitched the idea to them expecting disappointment. I had a feeling that Mike was behind the fact that she'd said yes. And that it was basically the only thing I'd wanted for my birthday.

I was just starting to get really uncomfortable with how my mom was just standing there, staring at us, when she suddenly seemed to snap out of it. She swallowed and pushed her hair back behind her shoulders, and then stepped forward towards Vaan. I saw his whole body startle to attention, everything in him tuning itself towards her. He knew, because I'd told him, that she was going to be the one to be gentle with.

"I didn't know...I didn't know how well I was going to handle this at all, but you—" she gestured, almost helplessly, and then suddenly stuck out her hand firmly. "I'm sorry, I'm Evangeline. Please call me Eva."

"Vaan," Vaan said again, taking her hand and looking slightly stunned. He flicked his eyes over to me again but Iwasn't any help either—this definitely wasn't the reaction I'd expected. I didn't even know yet if it was better than what I'd expected. I had no idea what was going on. "It's really nice to meet you."

Their handshake went on for a couple seconds too long, and it was impossible to tell who wasn't dropping it. Then, finally, their hands fell apart. Vaan's went right into his pockets and my mom folded her fingers gently together, pulling them close to her body. They were still looking at each other, almost curiously.

"Okay," said Mike, with a sort of pointed cheerfulness. "Let's head out, then. Vaan, you need a hand with anything?"

Vaan startled, turned away from my mom. "Nope, I'm good." He shouldered his duffle bag, and right away slipped around to the back of my chair, grabbed the handles and started spinning me around towards the front doors. I didn't miss the glances that Mike and my mom threw at each other, and even the way Mike looked like he was going to say something. No idea what that would have been, since my mom shook her head quickly at him. I wasn't sure if that should make me nervous or not.

But Vaan being right at my back was enough to make it for it, at least right now. I blindly put my hand back to him, and he caught it and squeezed it for a couple nice seconds. But one of us needed both hands free or we'd never go anywhere, so he let go reluctantly and started moving us forward towards the exit.

"So now I totally get how you ended up with a middle name like Algernon," Vaan said, leaning forward over my shoulder and keeping his voice lower as he trotted us along after my parents. "Evangeline, wow."

"I'm pretty sure it's another family name."

"It's badass!" Vaan said. "Both of 'em are. I got the billions of stuffy weird family names that aren't even interesting."

"I like your overabundance of weird family names," I told him, and Vaan snorted a little. I caught a look at the side of his face just before he leaned back up, all the earrings glittering there. "Also, did you get a new piercing?"

Vaan bumped my shoulder and I could hear the smile in his voice when he spoke next. "Sure did. How'd you even notice that, dude?"

"I'm pretty familiar with your face," I said, and Vaan laughed bright and loud. Up ahead I noticed my mom almost turn around to look back at us, and then check herself and face forward again. Mike dropped his hand to the small of her back, said something quietly to her.

"Yeah you are," Vaan said, and shuffled his fingers into my hair. He didn't take them out again, just settled his hand at the back of my head and rubbed his thumb gently against my neck. I knew that it wasn't easy to move me along with just one hand, but I didn't want him to let go of me, so I helped out by pushing the wheel on that side. It was maybe a little awkward, but it worked out well enough.

We passed through the front doors of the airport into the mild midday heat. Vaan made a little grumbling noise, and while we were waiting to cross the street over to the small parking lot, he fumbled a pair of sunglasses out of a pocket and jammed them on.

"So, Vaan," Mike said, because he'd clearly realized that my mom wasn't going to do the usual questions that she would have if Vaan had been just a regular friend. "How was the flight?"

"Oh. Great," Vaan said, sounding slightly startled again. "I, uh, yeah. Just fine. And I really appreciate you coming out all the way to pick me up."

"The airport's really not that far," I muttered at him, but he elbowed me pointedly in the shoulder.

"It was really no trouble," my mom said. "And what else would you have done?"

"I—I don't know. I coulda just taken a cab," Vaan said, scratching at the back of his hair. "I don't want to inconvenience anybody."

Mike and my mom glanced at each other, and both of them looked like they didn't know whether to be startled or dismayed at the idea.

"He's from Southern California. Driving anywhere's an inconvenience there," I said, and Vaan tossed me a grateful little look.

"You're in Arizona now, buddy," Mike said, and clapped him on the shoulder. "It's not so bad here."

We'd gotten to the small airport parking lot by now. The minivan was the main car we used, at least when I was coming along. We also had an older Volvo that Mike usually drove to work, and once in a while my mom used for errands. But the minivan was the more useful and, admittedly, fairly cool. The back door was automatic, and all Mike had to do was hit a button on the keychain and it would slide open. He did just that as we got up closer, and Vaan stopped walking. By default, I stopped too.

"Oh wow," Vaan said, as the ramp unfolded itself and extended out from the backseat of the van. "Well, that's...nifty. Can you just—"

I grabbed my wheels and rolled myself right up the ramp into the backseat. The seats could be moved around, and usually the easiest spot for me was the front passenger seat, but today we'd arranged it so I could be in back with Vaan. I backed up into the empty spot and leaned forward so I could see him out the door.

"Come on up," I said to him. Vaan pointed at the ramp and made a questioning face, and I nodded. He grinned and walked right up it, ducking under the roof edge of the door and sitting himself down in the one seat that was back here, next to me. He plopped his duffle on the floor at his feet.

"You guys good in there?" Mike said as my mom climbed into the front passenger seat. "Do you need—"

"No, it's okay," I said. "Give us a sec, though. Can you do me a favor?" I added to Vaan, and he nodded. I pointed at the tie-down system attached to the floor of the van. "Can you clip me to that?"

"Wha—oh, right, obviously," Vaan said. "How's it work?"

I coached him through the process, which was fairly simple and Vaan always picked things up quickly, so it didn't take much longer than if my mom or Mike had done it like usual. It was mostly a bunch of seatbelts that extended out of things and clipped to certain places on the chair, and also around me. I could sense my mom and Mike sort of watching this whole thing, maybe surprised I was letting him do it, but it just seemed like something he should know.

The drive back to our house really wasn't that long, and Vaan seemed really surprised when we were coasting through our suburban neighborhood and pulling into the driveway about twenty minutes later.

"Yeah, never mind, it really wasn't a big deal," he said, and I put my hand on his knee and squeezed.

Mike let me and Vaan out of the car first before he pulled into the garage. We'd never really fitted the garage with a way for me to get in or out of the house from there, since it was just an unnecessary extra expense when I could use the front door perfectly fine. There was only a slight raised part at the bottom of the doorframe there, and a really simple ramp took care of it.

So Vaan and I went into the house that way, and my mom and Mike went in through the garage and met us in the living room. I could already sense Vaan itching to really look around and see the house, but when my mom cleared her throat a little, he turned right to her.

"You'll be right over here," she said, and led the way towards the guest bedroom.

The guest room was mostly used as an office and storage; Mike had a desk and a tiny old TV in here, and sometimes did work here or mostly all the family finances, and my mom kept boxes of wine and Christmas ornaments stacked up inside the closet. There was also a futon couch, which had already been pulled out into its bed form, and made up with sheets and pillows.

Mike had followed along with us, and now he cleared his throat slightly from the doorway. "You know, Eva..." he started, but Vaan jumped right in.

"This's really great, thanks," he said, and walked right in and dropped his duffle up on the futon. I had no idea how he was going to get by for a week with just that little bag, but I was also sure he knew what he was doing.

"We'll let you get settled," Mike said, and steered my mom back out towards the living room. Which suddenly left Vaan and me alone together.

"Well," I said, not sure what else to say. I'd known my mom was cleaning up the guest room for him, and there'd been no way I was going to say anything about it. Then or now. If she wanted us to have separate rooms, we'd have separate rooms. Just, when he was actually here, it seemed like a much bigger deal that we'd still be separated by a couple of walls and a living room.

"Don't worry, I totally promise to sneak into your room at night," Vaan said, leaning one knee on the edge of the futon and bouncing slightly on it. "And be back here in the mornings like a ninja."

"You'd better," I said with relief, and he grinned at me.

"So. Do I get a tour of your cool pad or what?"

"Sure. C'mon," I said, backing myself out of the room. Vaan launched himself off the futon and followed after me, tonguing idly at his lip ring and spinning it as he glanced around, eyes tracking over the pictures in the hallway.

"Where'd you get that shirt, anyway," I said, as we headed back to the main area of the house.

"Huh." Vaan glanced down, like he'd forgotten what he was even wearing. "Oh yeah! Road trip, uh, two summers ago. After freshman year. Sloane n' me went up the coast to visit a buddy of hers. They sell this shit in NorCal at like, roadside stands. Acres of tie-dye. It's hippietastic."

"I think there's another word for it," I said, and Vaan wrinkled his nose up at me.

"Well then I guess you're not gonna like your birthday gift," he said, and I shoved at him, laughing.

"You better not have gotten me anything," I said. "I told you not to."

"I did, so deal." He turned backwards to stick out his tongue and almost tripped over his own feet. "But it actually isn't a hideous shirt."

"I didn't get you anything for yours!"

"Yeah, well, we were in different hemispheres when mine occurred, so that's totally irrelevant."

"Ugh," I said, and Vaan just laughed at me. By now we were in the middle of the living room and I had no idea where my parents had gone off to, because we were alone there. Vaan turned in a circle, swiveling around on his heels, looking around at everything.

"So this's where you moved to when you came back to the States?" he said, running his hand over the brass seashell sculpture that sat on the end table by the couch.

I shook my head. "Not right away. We moved in my mom's sister at first—just until we were more stable, I guess. But we didn't move out again until my mom married Mike. But that was a different house. It was two stories, so...after the accident, we moved. Here."

"Oh. Right," Vaan said. "Sure. Well, it's nice. Sure dig that orange fireplace."

"Thought you might." The fireplace in the corner of the living room was stucco, and painted a muted but noticeable orange all the way up to the ceiling. It'd been that color when my parents had bought the house, and I think my mom had convinced Mike not to paint over it. She used the built-in mantle to line up her row of kachina dolls, and all the bright colors of them popped out against the orange. Mike always referred to it as the Southwestern corner, since it was the only part of the house that looked that way. Everything else was mostly in mild muted colors, lots of pale olive greens and ocean blues and browns, because my mom had an eye for that kind of thing.

"So, living room here, kitchen there," I said, gesturing around. "Master bedroom's that way, and then I'm over here."

"Oh my god I get to see your room, this is awesome," Vaan said, like he'd honestly forgotten that the house I lived in might also have a room that was mine. "Let's go, man!"

"Okay, okay!" I led the way back to my room, which I'd given a half-hearted attempt at cleaning up before Vaan'd gotten here, but I knew it didn't matter much. I didn't actually need to impress him. And Vaan was much messier than I was in general.

And the first thing he said when he walked inside was, "you're so organized, god, this is not normal. I love it." He flashed me a grin, took something like a little lap around my room, looking everything over. If it'd been anyone else, it would have made me nervous, too exposed. Even my parents didn't spend a lot of time in here. But Vaan knew...so much about me already, that there was nothing invasive about this at all.

Vaan turned back towards me and his eyes flicked over my shoulder, to the space above my desk, and his face lit up about ten times more. "You put my poster up!"

I maybe blushed a little. "Yeah, of course I did."

"Aww. 'm so flattered."

"You made it for me, what else could I possibly do?" I said. It was the one of Karajan conducting that he'd blown up for me nearly at the start of last school year, when he'd thought my dorm room wasn't decorated enough. "Okay, come on, there's more house to see."

It wasn't that I didn't want him in my room anymore, I was just thinking about how my mom might not be so keen on it. She hadn't ever liked it any time my ex-girlfriend had been in my room, even if we had the door wide open. It probably wouldn't be any different now that I had a boyfriend instead, or that I was nearly twenty now and not a teenager anymore.

Our house wasn't huge, so the rest of the tour went pretty quick, and finished in the nice-sized back yard. We ended up parking ourselves out there for a while, Vaan sprawled out on one of the patio chairs and me pulled up next to him, our fingers folded together on the arm of my chair. Talking about nothing and everything, the way it always felt with him.

He was two weeks into his internship at his dad's company, and we'd already talked about it a little over the phone and online, but so far he wasn't hating it as much as he'd expected to. Mostly, he thought, because his dad wasn't actually his boss.

"I see the guy just about as much there as I do at home," he said, waving his free hand as a little flying bug careened around his head. "Which is just fine. Mostly the ladies there run me around, give me projects. It's kind of idiot work, honestly. But not that bad."

"How'd they like your hair there?"

"Not a lot, frankly." He pushed his fingers through the purple part, twisting the strands around. "But I just keep it bleached, really, and they're more all right with that. This part, I just put in yesterday."

"Just for me?"

He leaned over and kissed my cheek, which was unexpected and made me warm up a little. The first really intimate contact we'd had here yet, other than the intense hug at the airport. "Just for you. 'cause like, we met when it was that color, right? I thought you'd like it."

I did. Even though my real wish was to see his actual hair color, I didn't think that was happening anytime soon. And this was actually...sweeter. I reached out and touched the colored strands, sifting them through my fingers, and Vaan made a contented little hum.

"So. When do I get to meet your parents?" I said, sitting back, and Vaan instantly frowned at me.

"Why would you want that."

"Maybe so I can judge for myself what they're like." I studied his profile for a second, and the way he was pointedly not looking anywhere near me. "Have you still not told them? At all?"

He slouched down further in the chair. "I'm working on it." The words were a mutter.

"Okay." It was disappointing, honestly, but not actually my business. It was between him and them. "Okay, well. I'm not going to force you to or anything."

"Yeah. Yeah, and I should tell them. I just…" He heaved out a heavy breath and tilted his head back. "It's gonna be even harder now, because I've seen it go well with yours. It's not gonna go well, on my half of things."

I wasn't entirely sure things were a hundred percent well on my half either, how my mom was handling this was still...uncertain...but it definitely could have been worse. The problem with Vaan and his parents was that, since I hadn't met them, I had no idea if he was exaggerating or not. If things really would got as badly as he thought, or if he was just being a little dramatic.

I was just about to ask him if there was anyone at all he'd told about us, like the housekeeper Michelle that he really seemed to like, when the patio door slid open behind us and Mike came out.

"Why so somber out here? You guys need a drink or something?" He was carrying one himself, just a beer from the garage refrigerator where my mom made him keep them.

"Not that birthday yet," I said, and he winked at me. I was pretty sure if I'd actually wanted one, he'd've let me. He was always telling us about his students at school and how they were more determined to do the the things that were off-limits to them, and that they'd always wind up doing them more dangerously and less informed that way. My mom wasn't always so happy when he applied that attitude towards me, but lucky for her there wasn't anything crazy I'd ever wanted to do. Other than, I guess, Vaan.

"I could!" Vaan said, throwing his arm up in the air. Then he let it flop back into his lap. "But no thanks."

"Well, more for me," Mike said, and settled himself down into another patio chair. There was a wet handprint on his jeans, and the bottle was sweating fat water drops over his fingers. It was late afternoon by now and the sun was going down, but the temperature was still pretty warm. Mike popped the cap off and took a gulp, then looked over at me.

"Hey, your mom was looking for you a few minutes ago. Better go find her," he said.

Well, that wasn't a subtle hint at all. Talk to your mom. "Yeah, all right." Vaan would survive out here with Mike just fine, I felt fine about leaving them together. And Vaan caught my arm for a second as I turned myself around, gave it a little squeeze. I threw him a little smile, and went back inside the house. I could hear Mike and Vaan's voices as I shut the sliding glass door behind me and rolled towards the kitchen.

My mom was sitting at the kitchen table, sort of doing a crossword puzzle from the newspaper. She was staring at it, but not actually writing anything down. I pulled up across from her on the opposite side of the table, and she glanced up. For a second I didn't say anything, and neither did she. The newspaper page crumpled a little under her fingers.

Finally I leaned forward, and closed my hands over hers. "Hey."

"Hey," she said, almost shyly. "You know, I'm sorry about today. Being so nervous. I know you had to be nervous too, and I didn't help."

"No, it's...that's okay," I said. "It. Well. You probably know what we should...talk about, right now."

"What I think of him," she said, and I nodded, my throat dry.

"Different," she said, slowly. "I mean, very different from what I imagined when you first told me. And then different again from how I thought when I first saw him." She laughed, a little disbelievingly, and draw her fingers back through her loose hair. "But he's so…cheerful, and polite. And thoughtful. Even though he looks….where did you find this boy?"

I laughed; I had to. "The counseling office, actually."

She glanced up at me, a faint wrinkle between her eyes. "Oh."

"It's something his parents made him do. They're not...really into how he dresses. Or how he does a lot of things."

"Oh," she said again, and then frowned. "Have they met him?"

I laughed again, and a lot of the long-standing tension that had tangled all through me was finally loosening its grip. She really did like him, she really was handling this. Maybe it'd just taken this long, or maybe it was just because Vaan was like that. It was hard to imagine someone not liking him. "They're not strict, exactly, they just have...certain ways they want things to be."

"You've met them?" she asked, and I shook my head. "Are you going to?"

"At some point." I still hoped, anyway. Vaan might not be all that happy about them, but they were an important and permanent part of his life, and that meant something.

My mom reached out across the table suddenly, took my hand. "Maybe this is a foolish question," she said. "But...this is serious for you. Both of you. I can see that. Maybe I thought it wasn't when you first told me, and it was just a...college thing." She laughed, but I could tell she felt bad for that thought. "But as soon as I saw you together at the airport...that was all I needed to know."

My heart was beating a little harder and I was fairly sure I was blushing. "That's a question?"

My mom shook her head. "No. The question is...does he take care of you?"

A year ago, maybe even half a year ago, that question would have been frustrating and maybe even gotten me angry. The idea of needing to be taken care of had been such a nightmare, my answer would have been a snappish I don't need that. Not because it was true, but only because the fear of dependency had been so strong and debilitating, and trying to think about the rest of my life forced to need people much more than I ever had was overwhelming.

But then I'd met Vaan, and he'd been so different from anyone else, doing things for me in such a casual, unthinking way that it'd been almost impossible to hate it. He'd never done anything for me because he thought I couldn't, or out of any sense of pity, but just because that's how he was. He just did things.

And he'd made it okay because of that, and I don't even think he'd purposefully tried. And it wasn't just him that I didn't mind doing things for me anymore. If someone could make something a little bit easier for me, and didn't have to go out of their way to do it, then why not let them. It wasn't the end of the world.

"He does," I said. "He really does."

"You...you've been together how long, again?"

I almost didn't know how to answer. The answer for what she was asking was different than how I actually felt about it. I counted our friendship as part of being together, because it was just as important and relevant as the dating part. But that would take more explaining than I wanted to get into. "Almost four months."

She nodded, slowly, like that was an acceptable amount of time. "So he's familiar with...he knows the kinds of things you need. I mean, he knows that…" I could see her trying to avoid saying something like knows your limitations and is aware of thing you can't do because those were kinds of words we weren't supposed to use after the accident, because they were too negative. It'd been part of therapy.

"He knows what he signed up for, mom," I said, and realized that sounded a lot more like something Vaan would say. "I know you just met him, but...if you knew him better, you'd just...know. He's not like that. It actually…" I laughed a little and rubbed at my face, because it was so strange to be talking about this with her finally, Vaan in the context of being my boyfriend instead of just my friend. "He usually hates it when I assume he'll be bothered by something or think something's a problem. He's so good about...about everything."

"Good," she said, with more force than I'd expected. "Good. You know that's...the most important thing. That you have someone who can be that for you. Especially for you."

"Yeah, I know." Out on the back porch, I heard one of them—Mike or Vaan—laugh. "I'm really not worried about it at all. It's never been a problem with us, and...so, you should try not to worry about it either."

She sat back in her chair, brushing her dark hair out of her face, and smiled at me. "I'll try," she said. "I'll try because you asked, but I'm your mother and I'll probably always worry. I just want the best for you."

"He is the best," I said before I could stop myself. "I mean...no, that is what I mean. I can't imagine anyone being better. He's...one of the best people I've ever met."

The smile she gave me at that was worth all that sappiness. I rolled around from my side of the table to her, and kissed her on the cheek. I probably hadn't done that in years, but it felt like the right thing to do. She smelled good, warm and familiar and a little like onions. She put her arms around me and gave me a strong hug, and when she let go of me I felt like the last rough edges of this had been smoothed down, that this really was all right.

"Thank you," I said quietly, and she smoothed her hand over my hair and gave me a light kiss on the temple. "I know this wasn't easy."

"It was easier than I thought it'd be," she said. Then she suddenly stood up, pushing back her chair. "I should probably get dinner going. Give me a hand?"

"Of course," I said, and followed her into the kitchen. My job was usually to set the table, wash vegetables, little tasks. I knew how to do some things, but our kitchen was small and I mostly got in the way. Both my mom and Mike liked to cook, and my mom was especially good at it, and so I was happy to leave them to it. And right now, I was just happy that everything was going this well.

Vaan and Mike came inside a few minutes later. Mike was laughing as he slid the glass door open and Vaan followed him inside, grinning. I'd always had a feeling they'd get along, but to really see it like this—a bright happiness bubbled up in me. I caught Vaan's eye and he caught mine right back, a little bit of a question in his expression. I tried to let him know without words that everything was okay, and he seemed to understand.

"We got two more sets of helping hands here," Mike called into the kitchen, and Vaan did a little jazz-hands thing behind him, and for the first time since this whole visit had been finalized, I felt like I could finally breathe again.


Later, after dinner and after we'd all watched a movie together in the living room that I'd barely paid attention to because Vaan was holding my hand the entire time and playing with my fingers and while it wasn't enough to wake up a certain part of me, it was enough to be the only thing I could focus on for an hour and a half. I couldn't stop stealing looks at him either, watching the little glints of silver in his ears and the way his loose hair fell around the sides of his face, and the angles of his jaw and the little bump he had right in the middle of the arch of his nose, the way his mouth stretched around his teeth when he smiled and creased lines into his cheeks, the light gold hairs just starting to stubble up on his chin.

By the time the movie was over, Vaan had his head tilted against my shoulder and was yawning. And while the credits rolled, he got himself up to his feet, thanked my parents again for picking him up and then for dinner, and said he was going to head to bed. Which meant he left me for the guest room/office, and there'd be a stretch of time before my parents went to bed and he'd come back over to me as promised.

So I went and took a shower, which ate up a lot of time, spent a while checking email and Facebook, then got into bed. I couldn't shake off the habit I'd made for myself at school, early bedtime for getting up early, and even with all my time wasting it was barely past eleven.

So I ended up laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, waiting for Vaan.

For a while.

A long while.

I was trying not to watch the clock or get impatient, but I kept glancing over every few minutes Had he fallen asleep? Plane flights were always exhausting, but they were more strenuous for me than the average person, and I was pretty sure Vaan was more used to them. From things like that impromptu Paris trip with his mother over the Christmas break. Still, maybe he was tired. Or he'd forgotten.

And that was all right. I'd gotten through a whole month without him already, and we didn't always sleep in the same bed at school anyway. It was all right that he wasn't here. I turned off the light, pulled the covers up around me and dragged a pillow into my arms instead. I breathed out into it, telling myself not to miss him this badly when he was in the same house and not five hundred miles away anymore.

A few minutes later, I had another thought. That maybe he'd been kidding before, and hadn't really meant that he was going to sneak over into my room. He was trying to respect my parents, I knew that, and...maybe he was just going to take the whole thing seriously, and do absolutely nothing that went against anything that wanted or said. That'd be like him, and while I loved that he was like that...I didn't love the idea of it right now.

Still, I held out hope for another half an hour, and then another fifteen minutes past that. But eventually, sometime around midnight, I fell asleep.


Something jostled me around, cold fingers pressed along my arm, nudged it up and slid beneath it to hug an arm around my waist. By the time I'd gotten even half-conscious, I was completely cuddled up in lanky arms and somebody's breath was ruffling through my hair.

"Hey babe," a voice said, low and warm against the back of my neck. "Scoot a little, huh?"

"Oh. Oh, hey." I woke up the rest of the way in a hurry, squirmed around until I was more or less facing him and giving him a little extra room. "Hey."

His smile was dull white in the dark. "Hey."

I stretched forward a little more, pressed a searching kiss against him. Our first in over a month. Vaan made a pleased sound and kissed back, and it went on warm and slow and careful for a while. Kissing him was familiar and distant at the same time—it'd been a month, but it still seemed like the last time we'd done this hadn't been so long ago. Or maybe I'd just been imagining it so much that it felt that way.

When I pulled back, the glowing green numbers of the clock behind his shoulder read nearly two in the morning. "God, it's late."

Vaan's arm squiggled around under the blankets, adjusted itself around me. His palm pressed against my spine, just right above the spot where feeling started to dull and fade away. "I know. 'm sorry. But your folks were up talking in the kitchen until like...forever. Didn't want 'em to catch me creeping on over. Even though 'm pretty sure your dad is really aware this is going on."

I could feel the flush all the way down to my shoulders. "Yeah. I picked that up too."

Vaan was thoughtfully quiet for a moment, and then; "'s'all right to call him your dad, right? Like, is that what you call him?"

"No, but yeah. I mean...no, I don't call him dad, but you can say that he is."

"Whadda you call him?"

"Mike, usually."

Vaan chuckled. "Right, sure. Makes sense."

I patted my hand along Vaan's chest, found the cords of his necklaces and twisted them around my fingers. They were familiar and comforting, and I started feeling out for the shapes of them that I knew, the textures and details that I expected. "He did technically adopt me. But we both decided it was too weird for me to call him that. I was seventeen by then, so...yeah."

"Why'd he even bother? I mean, that's...you know. Kinda old for that, by that point."

"Yeah. He wasn't going to, originally. But—and this might seem, I don't know, really unfeeling or something—but it was mostly for insurance reasons, and...if there was ever an emergency when my mom wasn't there...I mean, we thought it was better if Mike could be involved in...that kind of thing, legally, regarding me."

"Oh. Right, yeah. Okay. Gotcha," Vaan said, and then was quiet for a while.

"What?" I said, when the silence had gone on a little too long. I tugged gently on the handful of necklaces, and Vaan's hand came up and closed over mine.

"I'm just—that you hafta think about this kind of stuff. You and your whole family, I mean—like having to move, and that thing with the car, and make all these serious life changes...fuckin' reality check, man."

"Yeah, well. It's been a constant one of those for the past couple years," I said, and Vaan shifted against me, pulled back. I tried to move with him, but he really didn't go that far and I nearly ended up smacking our faces together.

"Heh, hey there," he said, and smoothed his hand up over my forehead. "Sorry. Just wanted to look at ya."

"Oh." It was dark, so he couldn't see much. Neither could I. The only light was from my clock, and it was hardly anything. He was just a vague sense of something hovering over me, a solid black shape against the patchier shadows of the room.

"You're just kind of amazing, okay?" he said. "Just...everything. And the way your family is, like—and they all came to the airport today to meet me, I can't even imagine my parents doing that for anybody. They'd send a car. Maybe."

I reached up until my hand found his face and smoothed out on his cheek. "You're really sure about that."

"Yeah, I am. But forget it, that's not what I—just, you can really see how good your mom 'n' Mike are, and like, how tight you guys all are, and that's like an amazing thing. It's so nice. And real fuckin' regular, even though...I mean, it's not all that regular. You know what I mean."

"I know what you mean," I said, and I did.

"And you're gonna be ready to be a fucking adult way before me."

"I don't know. Can we not think about this?"

"What do you want to think about?"


He sounded surprised when he spoke again. "Oh, really."

"Mmh. You probably thought I couldn't feel you getting hard down there."

"I was kinda hoping, actually. 'cause honestly, not a real appropriate conversation to be getting turned on during. I just…" Vaan made an interesting little sound that was kind of a laugh, "I missed you so damn much. And I don't just mean the sexy stuff, but that is kind of a thing when we're all up in a bed together like this, it's just gonna happen. We can ignore it, okay, it's not real urgent."

I traveled my hand gently down his stomach, feeling his muscles twitch and tighten under my fingers. "Is it okay if we don't ignore it?"

"Oh. Yep, that's...that sounds excellent too. Nngh," Vaan added. "Ohhh, okay."

"I missed you too." My voice came out embarrassingly shaky. "So much."

"Shit," Vaan breathed, and pressed eagerly up against my hand. His fingers gripped hard around my arm. "Saul, god."

"Okay, if you hold onto me like that I can't do anything."

He laughed, loosened up on me. "Whoops. Carry on."

It didn't take long. I'd barely gotten my fingers reaquainted with his piercing when he jerked and grunted and lurched against my shoulder, a wet heat coating my hand and wrist.

"Wow," I said as he sagged heavily into me, and he growled a little laugh against my neck.

"Oh, shut up, I missed you, how'm I supposed to have any kind of control right now."

"And here I thought I was just really talented."

Vaan shook against me as he laughed, and wrapped a hand around the back of my head while I tried to surreptitiously wipe my hand off on his pajamas. He noticed anyway.

"Oh my god, my shirt again. Dude."

I nipped at the edge of his chin. "Someday you'll learn to bring a towel or something."

"No, 'cause these would be your parents' towels. And that's not cool."

I laughed and pulled him closer to me, winding an arm around his lower back and holding him tight. He nuzzled into the pillow right behind my shoulder, turning his mouth close to my ear. His hand slid questioningly over my hip. "How about you?"

I shook my head. "Not tonight."

"Okay," he said. With the same faint wistfulness he always had when I couldn't. But after a couple of months of being together, we both knew how this went. "C'mere, then."

He wrapped me up in his arms and settled his chin down on my shoulder. A couple quiet minutes passed, us just breathing together and Vaan's heartbeat slowly calming down where it was pounding against my chest. His fingers idly drew little circles and swirls above my hip, which tickled but not enough to make him stop. Contentment settled over me in a sleepy cloud, and there was absolutely nothing about this moment in time that I would change.

I just sliding close to that edge of sleep when Vaan moved against me and said, very quietly, "so glad to be here, you got no idea."

"'m pretty sure I do," I murmured back.

He chuckled against the side of my jaw. "We gonna turn this into a contest of missing each other? I'd win."

"Shh, go to sleep."

He smacked his palm lightly against my back. "See, you know it too."

I gave him a kiss just to shut him up. "Good night."

A warm laugh against my mouth. "Hmm. G'night, babe."

I rested my head down on his shoulder, and was out in less than a minute.


Vaan wasn't there in the morning, which was just what he'd promised and definitely for the best, but it was still...disappointing. I ran my hand around the empty spot in the sheets, completely cool and bare of any sign he'd been there, and sighed. It was all right, it was better than him not being here at all. And when we were back at school in the fall, we could do whatever we wanted again.

Despite the slightly start to the day, it really improved from there. My mom and Mike took us all downtown, where we spent most of the day wandering around and looking at stores, eating lunch outside in the still very nicely mild warm weather, although Vaan still wore his sunglasses most of the day. At school we didn't spent a lot of time outside together, it was mostly in the dorms or in the cafeteria, and I'd never really noticed how much he wore them.

I did catch Vaan and my mom having little conversations here and there, cautious little interactions that all seemed to go pretty well. One time, when they were looking into a storefront window together and Mike and I were a dozen yards back, he said something that made her laugh brightly. It was just good to see.

Because it was the middle of the summer and a Saturday, there was a lot of stuff going on around in Heritage Square that the city put on; small concerts and performance arts and then later on they'd be projecting a movie up on a screen in the middle of the square. We decided to stay around for that, and then have dinner afterwards, so it was kind of late by the time we were heading back home.

It was just a good day, and as we were driving in a contented tired silence back to the house, I took Vaan's hand across the backseat. He smiled at me and leaned his head down on my shoulder, and I let my eyes close for a moment, completely content.


Vaan showed up a lot earlier that night. I still had the bedside light on and was sort of reading, but not really. Mainly because I was thinking too much about when he'd show up, and I kept reading the same page over and over again without processing any words. When I heard the soft click and slide of the door pushing open, I pretty much threw the book to the floor.

"Hey," Vaan whispered across the room, still hovering by the door.

"Get over here," I whispered back, and he didn't waste anytime about it. He was crawling in the bed with me a moment later, and we took a little time to arrange ourselves around each other comfortably. And then stayed quiet for a while, tangled together, breathing warm and comforting. Time slid by, but I wasn't in any hurry for anything. I did have something I wanted, but it could wait for a while.

"Hey, hey." Vaan suddenly poked me in the side a couple times. "Happy birthday, babe. Welcome to being twenty."

A glance back at the clock told me it was a minute past midnight, officially the 18th of June. "Mm, no thanks," I said, and dragged the blankets up over us both and settling us into a cozy darkness. Vaan laughed and burrowed closer, getting his face against my neck and giving me a few sloppy little kisses there.

"Seriously, happy birthday," he said, after another minute or two.

"It's only midnight."

"Yeah, so?"

"I wasn't even born until the afternoon," I said through a simultaneous yawn and smile.

Vaan elbowed me in the ribs. "Doesn't matter. Whole day counts. Starting now."

"Mm. 'kay." I caught the back of his head, rolled him into a messy kiss. Vaan came right back enthusiastically, sliding fingers into my hair and opening his mouth to mine, turned the kiss into something more like messy wet breathing against each other, something that could have become frantic and out of control, but didn't. It went on for a while, slow and a little sloppy but nice, so nice. His hands ran over me careful and not all that daringly, not doing anything very intimate, and I touched my fingers to (nearly) each of his piercings one by one. It started to get suffocatingly hot and damp under the blankets, and we had to throw them back and resurface for fresh air, still holding on to each other and exploring each other gently.

Then, for a while, we just lay up on the pillows, looking at each other and not doing much of anything. Our hands played together between us and that was all, just dry warm skin sliding around and knuckles locking and unlocking together and the stupid simplicity of this, and how much I loved him, nearly took my breath away. The time we'd been apart, even if it hadn't been that long, just made me appreciate everything we had that much more. How lucky I was.

"Hey," I said at last, my voice coming out a little cloudy and rough.


"I'd...I want to try something," I said, and squashed down the weightless fluttery feeling in my stomach.

"Anything," Vaan said agreeably, and pulled my hand up to kiss my fingers. My heart trembled a little. "It's your birthday."

"I want to—I mean, I'd like us to, or you to...uh..." I stopped, cleared my throat, tried again. "I want to have sex."

"Dude, that is not an outlandish request, we do that all the time." Vaan dragged himself up to an elbow, slung his other arm across my chest so he was sort of half-hovering over me. "That's such an average birthday request that I am vetoing it. Choose again."

"No, I mean...more than that. More than what we usually do." The words even felt hot and shaky to say, and it shouldn't've made me so nervous, but it did.

Vaan tilted his head, that lock of purple drooping down over one eye, and moved his hand down along my temple. "So like...the whole thing, all the way?"

I nodded, a wedge still in my throat. "The whole thing, all the way."

Vaan just kept stroking his thumb over the spot near my ear. "You're sure on that? I don't wanna like…hurt you, or anything."

"You haven't yet."

He laughed, a sound that was just about as nervous as I felt. "Yeah. But. This'd be different."

"Well, I've been...looking into it."

"Ooh," Vaan said, perking up at eyebrow. "Oho. Well, well."

"Oh, shut up," I said, face warming up again. "Don't be twelve."

"Can't help it sometimes." Vaan grinned widely, and then toned it down a little. "But, seriously, yeah? This's kinda out of nowhere, you know."

"I just want…" Could I say this without either making an idiot of myself or ending up crying, or both? I was going to have to try. "It's not really the sex. I mean, it is, I want that too, it's just that sometimes what I really want…to be closer to you. With you, inside you, just...with you and your mind and who you are and….I want to be so close to that, anything, any way I can be. And I don't know how to do that, except maybe...this would be something like it."

"Oh," Vaan said in a faint voice. Then, "y-yeah. That sounds...yeah. I gotcha."

I cleared my throat again and tried to get ahold of myself. "So. Anyway. I'm really pretty sure I can do it, there shouldn't be anything—I mean, you'd be doing a lot of the work because I...can't."

"Sure, yeah, makes sense." Vaan nodded, sounding steadier too, his hand picking up its rhythmic little stroke over my ear. "Whatever you want me to do."

I frowned at him. "I want you to want it too, you know."

He laughed again, which sounded a little more strangled this time. "Man, believe me, I want it too. I am really trying to be so cool about this right now, you got no idea how not easy that is."

"Please don't be cool about it," I said though a unsteady laugh. "I'm not being cool at all."

"Yeah, you are." He leaned in, kissed me long and careful. As he did, I felt him move around, and then blankets shifted over us and cool air rushed in against my skin, and then one of Vaan's legs swung over my lap and he wound up sitting across my hips, a weight I could barely feel. When he broke the kiss, he didn't lean back very far. "I really have no arguments against any of this, whatever you want is what I want too," he said. "Hell, I woulda been just great with what we were doing before, could've done that stuff forever and been just fine. This's like...a total bonus."

My hands had ended up framed around the sides of his waist, and I took them off to catch his hands and weave our fingers together. "You ready, then?"

"Oh yeah." He took in a breath that lifted his shoulders, let it out again, gave me a nervously excited smile and started to climb off my lap. "Where d'you want me?"

I caught him quickly, held him in place."No, actually just like this is...that'll be the best."

"With me on—okay, like, what crazy sex book you been reading, 'cause I'm pretty sure there's no way things are reaching the right places if I stay right here," Vaan said, and wiggled a little to make some kind of point, but some wires were definitely crossed between us right now.

I rested a hand back on his hip, and he was so warm through his worn plaid pajama pants. "No, okay, wait. How were you picturing this?"

"I was th—oh. Oh man. Apparently not the same way you were," Vaan said, and laughed. "Dude, okay. I thought, you know, you wanted me to...but okay. I get it now, same page found, we're good."

"Are you okay with that?"

"Saul." Vaan flicked me in the ear. "You know I'm okay with, like, most damn things. And if I wasn't, I'd tell you."

The laugh that came out of me was breathless and light. "Okay. Okay then."

"Well okay then," Vaan said brightly. "We got this. Too bad we don't got any of those wacky flavored condoms."


"Are you kidding me?" He sounded completely delighted. "Did you like...bring some home with you?"

"Yeah, maybe I did. Top drawer."

"You're the best." Vaan gave me a smacking kiss and then rolled away, and there was the clunk of the drawer sliding open and the shuffle of all the random things inside. Two seconds later he rolled back with a couple of foil packets in his fingers, and straddled my lap again.


"Oh come on, I was in a hurry and just grabbed 'em," Vaan said. "Or is two not enough?"

"Shh-hh." I laughed and pressed fingers over his mouth. "Dork."

"Hey, no, you're the dork, I'm the geek," he protested, and I shut him up with a kiss. When we pulled apart again, he was grinning. He ran two pointed fingers down my chest, wiggling them down towards my navel. "You take a pill?"

I nodded. "Not long ago though, I didn't know when you were going to show up."

As an answer, his fingers walked down my stomach and flattened out over the front of my pajamas. "Hmm. Not awake enough yet."

"Well, maybe we should take off some clothes and that'd help."

Vaan grinned and hooked his fingers into my waistband. "Yeah, maybe so."

By the time we got through coaxing and teasing and tickling the pajamas off each other, the bed was hot and damp around us and Vaan was laughing helplessly and I was more than ready to do something, anything, I didn't even care at this point what it was. That was the problem with these little helper pills; sometimes it was a little more than I actually needed. Vaan'd needed to go back to the drawer to grab lube, and then I'd carefully pressed a finger, then two, into him, and watching him rock back and forth on my hand was nearly enough to make me lose it already.

We'd done this a few times before. But it'd been playing around then, experimenting, usually when other things were going on around in the front. Vaan'd always been really okay with it, so maybe it shouldn't have surprised me that he was fine with what I wanted from him now. But it was still a little new, and awkward, and even though I really had looked into this, it was different. There was a reason for it this time. So I kept at it longer, until Vaan was shaking and flushed and probably beyond ready.

"'kay, okay, I'm really good now," I managed, and slipped my hand out of him. "You, are you—?"

Vaan huffed and sat back on his heels, raking damp blond and purple strands of hair out of his face. "God, yeah. One thing, one thing first," he panted, and glanced back towards my door. "Are your parents heavy sleepers?"

"I—" It took a hazy second to remember why that'd be relevant. Then, "um, oh, right. I guess—my mom is. Mike's...not always."

"Okay, okay. I just gotta feeling this is gonna be noisy. Me, at least. I'll try not to—let's just go slow, okay?"

"You're pretty much in charge up there." I ran a hand up his warm side, felt the way his ribs were heaving and the dampness of his skin. My fingers stopped at his nipple piercing, and I pinched at it and made him whine softly. "Go as slow as you need."

That grin of his came right back, and he curled down and brushed a kiss from my mouth up to my cheek. "'kay," he whispered, and then reached back behind himself, lifting up and getting a hold of me at the same time, and then—carefully, almost gingerly, pressing himself down.

A nearly identical sound came out of both of us, some kind of startled exhaled groan. Vaan laughed through his teeth, tilted his head back, all the muscles of his stomach tightening and his shoulders stretching back. Then, slowly, so slowly, he sank down just a little further, and then a little further beyond that. My fingers dug into him and I arched back into the pillow, gritting my teeth against the teasing pleasure of it.

"Fuck, god," he bit out suddenly, and from the way he'd tensed up all over it wasn't a good thing. His thighs were trembling to either side of me and his eyes were clenched shut.

I pressed fingers into his hips, trying to breathe steadily and focus. "H-hey, are you okay?"

"Yeah, yeah. It's weird. It's okay. 's just really hard on my legs, like this. Bad idea. Hold up." He lifted away suddenly, and the little bit of us that'd been connected suddenly wasn't anymore. I made some sort of helpless sound, a disappointed groan at the loss of him, and Vaan smoothed a hand down the side of my face.

"Hang on, babe, I'm comin' right back," he said. "I just gotta—here."

He fell forward suddenly, right down onto me, and I started in surprise because it seemed like he'd just suddenly lost his balance. But he caught himself on his elbows, one of either side of my shoulders, sinking into the pillows and bracing himself there like that. Now he was crouched over me on his elbows and knees, and probably in a lot more stable position.

"'kay. Way better. Now help me a little," he whispered. "Get yourself in there."

"Oh…oh. 'kay." Fluttering nerves slammed up from my stomach and beat around my ribs and my breath was hard to catch. Now, I didn't want to hurt him. But I got a trembling hand down myself, a hand low around Vaan's hip, guided us together. God, the heat of him was so strong already, and I wasn't even inside him yet. "Okay," I whispered. "You're good, whenever you want."

The way he moved reminded me of a cat stretching. As he drew backwards and settled down more heavily on his legs, it drew him lower and pushed us together. A deep aching heat swallowed me up, flooded out along all my skin and clogged up the air between us with a damp heavy haze. He was still moving slowly, what felt like centimeter by centimeter, and his damp breathing was getting shorter and shallower against my neck. Until, finally, he had to be all the way there, because I couldn't take much more of this. What I could feel and what I couldn't feel were such conflicting senses that I could hardly tell what was going on, except that I'd never felt anything like it.

Vaan made the softest sound, a pitched ah that sounded like the last squeeze of air out of a deflating balloon. It pulled a laugh out of me, and I tugged at his hair and scratched my nails into his scalp, every inch of my skin raw and prickling.

He lifted his head slightly. "What, babe?"

"You doing okay?" He wasn't moving, just sitting there on me, which was—torturous, actually, and if I could've, I'd have been doing something about it myself. But I really couldn't, and had to wait for him.

"Mmh. Still weird. But it's good. It's...it's you. That's always okay."

"Mhh. Might...might help if you moved."

"Bossy, bossy," he said, but grinned against my shoulder. "Yeah, think I'm ready to do that."

It was nothing like I'd imagined, nothing like I even remembered sex being like, but it was perfect. We moved small and gentle together, everything slow and so careful. His weight on me was heavy but not too much, and there were points where a sharp ache skewered up my back and made me clutch at him and stop him, but feeling him all around me, skin to skin and his breath shuddering against me

This was what I'd wanted when I'd asked him for this. This closeness, being with him, connected so physically in a way that wasn't easy for me, that never would be, but that Vaan would never complain about, would always be all right with doing whatever it took. He would do anything for me, and the realization of that was like a scream building up deep inside me, something horrifying and joyous at the same time, because I didn't know how to repay it and I didn't know how to keep it. Loving him didn't seem like enough, not with everything he did.

Vaan suddenly slid fingers over my cheek, and I felt the slickness there that wasn't just from sweat. "Babe, are you…?"


His hands pet down my hair, along my face, touching my mouth. "Shh, hey, 's'okay. Go ahead. God."

I wrapped my arms around him and pushed my face into his neck and didn't really cry as much as I'd thought would happen, but it did happen. Those overwhelming feelings had to get out somehow, or they'd smother everything in me. I could taste the salt of my own tears against Vaan's skin, and when I came it was was with a low wail that I couldn't hold back. And then I was laughing, and Vaan was grinning against my cheek and rubbing himself in a few quick shoves against my hip until he was done too, and we were left in a tangled pile of shaking sweaty limbs and heaving breath and satisfaction.

Vaan mumbled something I couldn't hear, and all I did was tighten my tired arms around him and lean into his shoulder. We held each other like that until I fell asleep.