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(een And )p Audiences
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$astiel/,ean #inchester
,ean #inchester- $astiel- 'a& #inchester
Pu.lished: /0!31021/! #ords: !3243
%or "icher or Poorer- or +ay.e 4ust as +onster 5ait
.y araftatsea
,ean and $as go on a hunt 6with 'a& assisting7 where they have to pretend to .e &arried to
catch the &onster. 89actly what it sounds like: a fake &arriage fic featuring cooking-
.a.ysitting- drunken confessions- and one out1of1control ga&e of 5ig :ay $hicken.
'ee the end of the work for notes
;t<s a &onth or two after the %all- as they<re calling it. 'a&<s still sick as a dog 6.ut not =uite on
his death.ed- so ,ean counts it as an i&prove&ent7- $as is still a gru&py dick>his default
?hu&an@ &ood- or so it see&s>and ,ean is still trying to hold (ea& %ree #ill together. +ost
days- it see&s like the .est he can do is the e=uivalent of duct tape and pliers. Ae thought it
would get easier after Bevin left- after he found his &o&>alive- thank god>and va&oosed- .ut
it<s actually gotten harder.
Bevin- at least- was so&ething to focus on. *ow there<s nothing- so they all Cust kind of drift.
'a& holes up in the li.rary- $as eats all their food and .itches a.out 'ay Des to the ,ress fro&
his spot on the sofa 6and yes- $as has a spot- he<s worn a .utt1groove in at least a foot deep7- and
,ean tries to pretend they<re not stuck in the suckiest holding pattern west of the +ississippi.
;t<s not like there<s a lot else going on. (hings are =uiet on the +etatron front- on the $rowley
front- on the fallen angels front>and it<s not like they<re not working on it- they are- .ut that<s
different fro& .eing a.le to do so&ething a.out. *o- they<re left twiddling their thu&.s- slowly
going insane- and ,ean<s convinced it<s going to end with one of the& killing the others.
;t<s got to stop.
,ean<s solution is hunting. And sure- 'a& and $as look at hi& a little weird when he suggests it-
.ut once they actually go it turns out to .e a good thing. :reat- even. 'a& and $as .oth get
really into it. 'a& does the research thing- which is what ,ean kind of thought $as &ight like-
.ut it turns out $as Cust likes .eating the crap out of .addies. %iguresE it<s easy for ,ean to
forget- so&eti&es- that $as was a warrior. And that actually works pretty well- since it<s not like
'a& can play .ack1up in his current condition.
(hings are still tense .etween hi& and $as. ;t<s .etter than it .efore- though- when
they were ignoring each other entirely. *ow- they &ostly hunt together and avoid each other the
rest of the ti&e. ;t<s a far cry fro& what ,ean wants- .ut he<s accepted that it<s what he<s going
to get. And hey- he thinks- whenever he<s feeling particularly shitty a.out it- it<s .etter than it
;t all goes to shit in 5oise.
;t starts out innocuous enough- 'a&<s voice echoing through the .unker as he shouts- ?Aey-
guysF (hink ; got so&ething.@
,ean perks up- of course. ;t<s .een a few days since their last hunt- and that was pretty ta&e>
restless spirit in (opeka. +ay.e 'a&<s got a challenge- he thinks- hopeful.
And &ay.e he does- .ecause when ,ean walks in 'a&<s looking e9cited- eyes wide as he scrolls
down his co&puter screen. ?#here<s $asG@ 'a& asks- eyes still glued to the laptop.
?Aere-@ $as says- slouching in. Ae<s wearing the sa&e grungy sweatpants he wore yesterday- and
,ean has to fight the urge to pants hi& Cust to get the stupid things in the laundry. Ae<s
not one to Cudge- though. 'a&<s taken to calling hi& ?the revolving door of plaid@ lately.
?:reat. 'o-@ 'a& says- a grin twitching at the corner of his face- ?you guys readyG@
;t should>and does>send alar& .ells ringing. 'a& see&s way too happy a.out this- .ut &ay.e
,ean<s .eing paranoid. +ay.e it<s Cust a really cool case- a rare &onster or so&ething. ?Out
with it- 'a&-@ ,ean says.
?Okay. ;t<s>it<s really cool-@ 'a& says- full1on grinning now- and ,ean feels a &atching s&ile
for& on his face. 4ust the case- then. 8ven $as looks sort of intrigued as 'a& continues- ?; read
a.out these once in ,ad<s Cournal- .ut they<re really rare. *ever thought we<d actually co&e
across one.@ And 'a& so.ers a little- s&ile fading as he says- intent- ?5ut ; need to know you<re
?;nG@ #hat- did they Cust get cast in :rease: (he +usicalG #ho says ?in@ like that- any&oreG
#hatever- ,ean thinks. 5ut then it hits ,ean that 'a& is asking- and his eyes narrow. ?#hy<re
you asking- 'a&G@
?;<& not sure you guys are up for it-@ 'a& says- looking &ay.e a little too innocent. ?;t<s
undercover. Hike- really undercover.@
?'oG@ ,ean says with a shrug. ?$as and ; can handle it. "ight- $asG@
;t<s a challenge- like everything .etween the& nowadays. ,ean can<t e9plain it- it<s Cust how
things are. (hey can<t see& to help pushing.
$as glares. ?Of course-@ he says.
And 'a& s&iles- like the fucker knew- like he was e9pecting $as to up the ante- and wow- this
does not .ode well for either of the&. ?:ood. *ow- you readyG@
,ean<s pretty sure he and $as are giving 'a& identical looks.
5ut 'a&<s glee is a force that can<t .e ta&ed- so his grin .roadens as he says- ?;t<s an
#hich- y<know- &eans a.solutely nothing to ,ean- so he looks at $as. (he guy<s eyes widen-
eye.rows rising. ?"eallyG@
?(hink so- yeah.@
?#hat<s thatG@
$as takes a seat at the ta.le and ,ean follows as 'a& puts on his ?professor@ &ask- as ,ean likes
to think of it. ?:reek. "eally rare. (wo heads- and pretty nasty1looking in its true for&- if the
sources are right.@ 'a& flips the laptop around and shows ,ean a picture of a scaly- two1headed
thing- and ,ean shrugs. Ae<s seen worse.
?Anyway-@ 'a& continues- ?it<s not going to .e in its true for&. ;t<ll .e hiding. ,ad<s .ook says
it splits when it<s doing thatE each head takes a hu&an .ody. (hey can leave each other while
they<re like that- .ut they prefer to stick close. #ithin half a &ile if possi.le. 'o they pick
couples- usually. And that<s what it<s .een eating.@
%rowning- $as dru&s his fingers on the ta.le. ?$ouplesG (hat<s unusual.@
'a& shrugs. ?Deah- .ut it &akes a weird kind of sense. ;f it<s posing as a couple- that<s who it<ll
.e around- rightG Other couples. And it<s got two heads to feed. (wo &eals for the price of one
&akes a lot of sense.@
$as nods- considering- and ,ean<s content to follow their lead on this one. Ae<s fa&iliar with his
fair share of lore- .ut this isn<t so&ething he<s co&e up against- and they .oth see& to know
&ore a.out it than he does. ?5ut why an a&phis.aenaG@ $as asks. ?;t<s a plausi.le e9planation-
.ut surely there are other things it could .e.@
?(hought a.out it-@ 'a& ad&its. ?(hey are rare. 5ut it<s the I+other of Ants-< rightG A.out the
ti&e the couples started disappearing- there was a huge ant infestation in town.@ 'a& turns the
laptop again- and this ti&e the screen shows a headline: ?5O;'8 A;( #;(A %"8AB A*(
;*%8'(A(;O*.@ ?Aad to call in e9ter&inators three counties over.@
?A&&. #ell- it<s possi.le- ; suppose.@
(hat<s a.out as &uch as they<ll get out of $as these days. %ro& hi&- it<s practically a screa&ing
?And it<s usually in deserts- rightG #ell- 5oise<s .een going through a .it of a heat wave- so ;
$as nods again- .ut then ,ean cuts in. ?#hat<s the undercover partG@
'a& .ites his lip- like he<s trying to keep fro& s&iling- and fuck- no- ,ean can see e9actly where
this is going. Ais suspicions are confir&ed seconds later when 'a& says- ?#ell it<s couples-
rightG Dou<ll need to lure it into the open. 'o ; figure- what .etter way to do that thanJyou
know- .e a coupleG@
?*o- &an-@ ,ean says- forcing an awkward laugh. Ae shoots a glance at $as- .ut the guy look
stone1cold serious- as always. ?(here<s got to .e another way. #e<ll Cust do the fed thing.
"ight- $asG@ Ae<s not looking at hi& when he says it- .ut when $as doesn<t respond- he<s forced
to turn to hi& and ask again- ?"ight- $asG@
$as sighs. ?; hate to ad&it it- .ut 'a& &ight .e right.@ 'a& is looking pretty self1satisfied- and
,ean fights the urge to strangle his .rother. ?A&phis.aena are very clever. ;f this one realiKes
it<s .eing hunted>which it would- ; assu&e- if we start =uestioning couples>it will likely Cust
leave town.@
And go to prey on so&eone else. :reat. 'o- not an option. ,ean crosses his ar&s- scowling. ?'o
why does it have to .e &e and $asG@ 5ecause things have .een awkward enough with his
friend/angel/whatever lately- not like they need to add so&e fake ro&ance to the &i9. ?#hy
can<t you and ; do itG@ he asks 'a&. Ae looks at $as- then- and if he didn<t know .etter he<d
think he saw a hurt look flash across his face.
?;<& sick- ,ean. 'o ;<& not going to .e &uch help when it co&es ti&e to killing it. And you
want the people in the co&&unity to welco&e you- not worry whether or not ;<& going to give
their children e.ola.@
'a& &ight have a point- ,ean concedes.
?OB- fine. 5ut what a.out $harlieG ; &ean- who says this co&&unity likes gay peopleG ;t<s
5oise- for $hrist<s sake- not 'eattle.@
?; can ask her- ,ean- .ut she asked us to cool it for a while- rightG 5esides- one of the dead
couples was gay and they all have ILO(8 %O" O5A+A< signs on their lawns. ; think you<re
,ean asks how he knows that- and 'a& gives hi& so&e e9planation a.out :oogle- and so&ething
called street view- and right around the ti&e of elections. +ostly- he ignores hi&- waiting for
hi& to finish .efore saying- ?5ut seriously- there<s got to .e another way.@
At this point- $as stands up fro& the ta.le a.ruptly- al&ost sending his chair careening
.ackwards. ?;<& sorry the thought of .eing &arried to &e is so offensive to you- ,ean. ;<& sure
we can find so&eone else to play your ro&antic partner.@
,ean Cust stares as $as stalks off- leaving hi& and 'a& alone in the kitchen. #hat was thatG he
?,ude-@ 'a& whispers. ?; think you hurt his feelings.@
?#hatG 'a&- c<&on.@
'a& gives hi& .itchface of epic proportions.
?#hatG@ ,ean asks. ?#hat do you want &e to doG 'ay ;<& sorry ; don<t want to .e fake1gay1
&arried to his assG "eally- 'a&G@
5ut now that ,ean thinks a.out it- what if their situations were reversedG ; wouldn<t care.
#ould ;G And then he winces- .ecause- OB- &ay.e it wouldn<t feel great. ;t<s not like he and
$as were getting &arried for real. ;t<s all fake- rightG And saying no to that could i&ply you
don<t even like the guy 6as a friend7- and shit- now ,ean kind of feels like a douche.
?'hut up-@ he tells 'a&- who hasn<t said anything.
Ae goes to apologiKe to $as.
Ae finds the guy in his roo&- paging through a .ook fro& the .unker<s li.rary. ,ean knocks-
even though the door is open- and $as says- ?$o&e in-@ without looking away fro& his .ook.
?4ust &e-@ ,ean says.
$as grunts- and ,ean .ites .ack a sigh. $as isn<t going to &ake this easy on hi&.
?Hook- ;<& sorry- OBG ;<ll do it. ;<& ga&e.@
And yeah- it<s a pretty shitty apology- even .y ,ean<s standards. 5ut a part of hi&<s unwilling to
give any &ore ground- like doing that &ight reveal too &uch of hi&self to $as.
$as Cust rolls his eyes and says- ?%ine- ,ean.@
'o&ehow that gets the& to 5oise- with fake ;,s that say ?,ean '&ith@ and ?$as '&ith.@
?(he real =uestion-@ ,ean announces as he drives the ;&pala through the streets of 5oise- ?is
whose last na&e is itG Dou took &ine- right- $asG I$ause you<re the world<s .iggest sap.@
Ae can practically feel $as<s frown through the headrest- and he can definitely see 'a& rolling
his eyes in the passenger seat. $as gives a thoughtful h&&& and then says- ?; think you took
&ine- ,ean- seeing as yours was for&erly>'a&- what<s so&ething appropriately appallingG@
'a& coughs a laugh into his hand- thinking a.out it. ?:aylordG@ he suggests.
,ean scowls and $as snickers- .ecause it doesn<t take a nuanced grasp of hu&an references to get
that Coke. ?"eally- guysG #hat are you- fiveG@ #hen 'a& .arks out a short laugh and $as<s low
snicker turns into an actual chuckle- ,ean Cust rolls his eyes and tries to pretend he<s not .lushing
a little. ?"egular and $ostello- you two.@
A.out fifteen &inutes later- $as leans forward and asks 'a&- ?;s that an actual na&eG@
'a& snorts and says- ?Deah- $as.@
$as pauses and then chuckles- a low- deep thing that &akes ,ean s=uir& unco& in his
seat for reasons he can<t =uite pinpoint. #hen he shoots $as a look a.out it- $as Cust shrugs and
says- ?#hatG ;t &akes it funnier.@
(his .etter .e a =uick hunt- ,ean thinks- tightening his grip on the steering wheel.
An hour later and they<re .y 'a&<s hotel- Cust twenty &inutes away fro& the two1story house that
$harlie ?purchased@ for the& using a du&&y account. ;t<s got Cust enough in it to &ake the&
through the first two weeks of ho&eownership in the gated co&&unity of Ao&e Oaks.
,ean<s really hoping they won<t need that long.
?OB-@ 'a& .egins- still sitting in the car with the&. ?%ro& here on out- it<s real. #e know fro&
the way the couples died that the a&phis.aena was spying on the&. ;t learned their ha.its: when
they went to work- when they ca&e ho&e- when they went to .ed. ;t killed the& at ti&es it knew
they would .e vulnera.le.@
,ean gri&aces and nods.
(he He%rays: (ina and +atthew. (ina ran a yoga studioE +ichael worked fro& ho&e. #hen she
got ho&e fro& her yoga lessons at 4:00 p& every #ednesday- they<d take a shower together. A
couple thing. Alone- vulnera.le. (hat<s when it got the&.
(he 'i&ons: $lara and ,anielle. (hey were planning to run a &arathon together and did their
long runs every 'aturday. (he a&phis.aena killed the& after they ca&e .ack fro& a si9teen1
&iler- when they were passed out on the upstairs .ed- sweat still drying on their skin.
(he Aanovers: 4ohn and $ynthia. (hey had a thing for .ondage- apparently. 4ohn liked it when
$ynthia tied hi& up>not ,ean<s speed- .ut to each his 6or her7 own- that was his &otto>and the
.ugger got the& that way- taking $ynthia down while 4ohn was incapacitated.
'o yeah- it<s safe to say the thing knew their ha.its.
?'o you can<t half1ass it-@ 'a& persists. ?'eriously.@
?#e get it- 'a&-@ ,ean .arks. ?One hundred percent gay- one hundred percent of the ti&e.@
'a& holds up his hands. ?OBF OB. 4ust &aking sure. ;<ll .e at the &otel. (wenty &inutes
(he only good part is that they get to keep the ;&pala. 'a& gets out- letting $as take the
passenger seat.
And then it<s Cust the&- sitting awkwardly in the car.
'o&eti&es ,ean wonders how he let it get to this point- or if it<s even his fault. #hen $as
showed up on their doorstep wearing his dirty trenchcoat and s&elling like dog piss- looking cold
and unhappy and desperate- ,ean let hi& in. 5ut he still didn<t want hi& there- not really. %or
all that they<d reached so&e sort of uneasy truce .efore +etatron- $as isn<t really forgiven. Ais
decision to go haring off after the guy despite *ao&i<s warning is Cust another sy&pto& of the
pro.le&. $as doesn<t think- he doesn<t listen. *ot even to ,ean. *ot any&ore.
;t<s not like he was right and $as was wrong- .ut $as wouldn<t even hear hi& out and that hurt
after everything. After the apocalypse- after "aphael- after the Heviathan- after Purgatory>was
it too &uch to askG
%or the first week or two after $as showed up at the .unker- he kept looking at ,ean like he
wanted so&ething fro& hi&. ,ean<s not an idiot. Ae can guess what it was. A.solution.
%orgiveness. Ae wasn<t ready to give it- .ut a &onth in- when he was finally starting to think
&ay.e- $as Cust kind of withdrew into hi&self. ,ean<s &ade a few atte&pts to draw hi& out>
the hunting thing was one of his .etter ideas>.ut he hasn<t tried. *ot really.
Ae<s afraid to get hurt again- if he<s honest.
'o so&ehow- he and his 6for&erG7 .est friend ended up like this- coha.itating .ut .arely
speaking. And now they<re going to have to pretend to .e &arried.
?$<&on-@ ,ean says- shifting the car into gear. ?Het<s get this show on the road.@
(hey<re living in $lara and ,anielle<s old house- which still has all the furniture 6&inus the .ed
>that was sort of a lost cause7. *either wo&an<s fa&ily really approved of their ?lifestyle-@ so
the property went to a niece who was &ore than happy to sell it furnished to another gay couple.
;t &eans ,ean and $as only have suitcases to &ove in- which is good- ,ean guesses.
As he lifts the .iggest one out of the ;&pala<s trunk- ,ean scans the neigh.orhood for the four
couples still in residence: the +c*eals- the Alders- the Bearneys- and the ,iggses. One of the
four is dead- with the a&phis.aena assu&ing the couple<s identities. %ro& what 'a&
told the&- they<re sort of like Heviathan in that they download the &e&ories of the people they
clone- which e9plains why no one<s noticed the switch.
(hey<ve already ruled out the +c*eals 6'usie and Aank7- the only couple with kids 6+artha- -
and 4ere&y- /7. (oo co&plicated a ruse to &aintain- and a&phis.aena don<t eat kids according to
'a&. (hat leaves the Alders 64ohn and 4ennifer7- the Bearneys 6%ran and Aarold7- and the
,iggses 6Penny and +arshall7.
Ae doesn<t see anyone when he looks .ut as he<s lifting the second suitcase out of the .ack a pair
of hands Coin his- easing the load. Ae looks up to see Aank +c*eal- gray1haired- forty- and fit-
s&iling at hi&. ?#elco&e to the neigh.orhoodF ;<& Aank.@
Aank e9tends a hand- which ,ean takes after he<s wiped the sweat on his pal&s off on his Ceans.
?,ean '&ith. (hat<s &y partner- $as-@ he says with a Cerk of his head towards the house- where
$as is pulling a suitcase up the front steps. ,ean ignores the weird flip in his sto&ach.
;t<s a 'aturday around &idday- so ,ean shouldn<t .e surprised when Aank asks- ?Dou
two got plans for the nightG 'usie cooks a &ean pot roast and we<d love to give you a proper
welco&e. (hings<ve .een tough in Ao&e Oaks.@ Aank falters- then- like &ay.e he<s saying
&ore than he should.
,ean Cust claps a hand on his shoulder. ?Aey- &an. #e know a.out the &urders. ;t<s part of the
reason we could even afford the house- to .e honest. ,on<t sweat it.@
Aank looks relieved- the handle of the last suitcase and lifting it over the lip of the
trunk. ?:ood. (hat<s good. ;t<s nice to see a new fa&ily &ove in- you know.@
?Deah-@ ,ean agrees.
Aank helps the& &ove the rest of their Cunk in the house- repeating his invitation to dinner .efore
he leaves.
(hen it<s Cust the&- ,ean and $as- twiddling their thu&.s.
?#e should do so&ething-@ $as says- .reaking the silence. (hey<re .oth in the kitchen- ,ean
nervously dru&&ing his fingers on the counter- $as hovering .y the refrigerator. ?'o&ething
that will encourage people to approach us.@ ,ean stiffens- .ecause that sounds a little too &uch
like strategy and they can<t talk a.out hunting here- .ut $as picks up on it and adds- ?;<d like to
get to know our neigh.ors.@
,ean rela9es. ?Deah-@ he says with a shrug. ?Het<s take a si91pack out on the steps.@
(he steps are a little narrower than ,ean realiKed- so they wind up with their hips pressed
together. ;t &akes ,ean a little unco&forta.le and fro& the way $as is fidgeting- he can guess
the guy feels the sa&e- .ut they<re supposed to .e &arried. 'uck it up- ,ean tells hi&self- pulling
a $orona out of the pack and handing it to $as- who hesitates .efore taking it. ,ean gra.s one of
his own and holds it out for a toast- s&irking as he says- ?(o our new life together- .a.e.@
$as snorts- .ut clinks their .ottles 6,ean<s a little i&pressed that he knew what to do- .ut he
guesses those (H$ &arathons had to .e good for so&ething7 .efore taking a swig. ,ean sees hi&
fight down a gri&ace and laughes- earning a scowl fro& $as. 5ut then they settle into the day>
the sun is shining and it<s war& out- thanks to the heat wave>and ,ean can ad&it that it<s nice.
Ai& and $as- like this- Cust sharing the silence. ; &issed this- he thinks- a little wistful as he
looks at $as s=uinting .ehind the aviators $harlie .ought hi&.
And the plan actually works. 5efore long they<ve &et .oth of the Bearneys- the fe&ale ,iggs-
and the &ale Alder. 8veryone<s pretty nice- &ostly saying the sa&e sort of thing. ,ean tries to
keep an eye out for any evidence of the a&phis.aena- .ut so far he<s co&ing up e&pty.
After 4ohn Alder leaves- ,ean rises and stretches- the fa.ric of his polo shirt 6another $harlie
purchaseE she insisted on ?gaying the& up@ for the outing- to which ,ean said- ?;sn<t thatJ
so&ething1istG@ and to which $harlie replied- ?;<& Cust going for realis& here- ,ean.@7 riding up
his .ody and revealing so&e skin. #hen he turns- he sees $as staring>which- weird>.ut he
figures $as is playing it up since their i&&ediate neigh.ors- the Bearneys- are out doing lawn
work. 'o he waggles an eye.row and asks- ?Hike what you see- .ig .oyG@
$as chokes on his .eer. ,ean laughs and ruffles his hair .efore heading inside- shouting .ehind
hi&- ?$<&on. #e need to get dressed for dinner.@
'usie is still finishing up the pot roast when they co&e over- the +c*eals< two kids running
around the kitchen and having a spoon fight while Aank trails after the&- &uttering threats and
trying to separate the two. ;t<s actually kind of adora.le- and ,ean feels a .rief pang of nostalgia
for the ti&e he spent with Hisa and 5en. ;t was right to leave- he re&inds hi&self. ;t was. 5ut
thisG (his was what he &issed the &ost. (he ?fa&ily@ thing- going to 5en<s .ase.all ga&es-
helping Hisa &ake dinner. ;t was nice- even if he couldn<t give it his all. 8ven if he couldn<t love
Hisa the way she deserved to .e loved.
?'o-@ 'usie asks as they sit at the ta.le- +artha and 4ere&y s=uir&ing in their seats. ?Aow did
you two &eetG@
(hey talked a.out it on the way over. 'a& decided that he would co&e up with the story to avoid
another :aylord incident- so it o.viously ended up .eing totally over the top and way- way too
corny for ,ean<s tastes. 5ut that<s life.
?;<& a fire&an-@ $as e9plains after swallowing his asparagus. ?,ean works construction.@
6,ean nods helpfully in confir&ation- &outh full of pot roast.7 ?; was on duty when we got a call
fro& one of his sites. (he .ea&s in the structure collapsed. ,ean was trapped .eneath one of
the&. ;Jsaved hi&.@
Actually- ,ean thinks as he takes another .ite of the pot roast- that<s pretty close to how it
happened. Ae i&&ediately regrets the thought when he takes a look at 'usie and Aank and .oth
of the& have fucking stars in their eyes- like it<s the &ost ro&antic shit they<ve ever heard.
,ean al&ost coughs up his pot roast- .ut &anages another nod and what he hopes is a fond look
at $as. ;t falls closer on the scale to ?constipated-@ though- given the raised eye.row
that $as shoots hi& in return.
,ean tries not to roll his eyes as he takes his second helping of pot roast- &ore than happy to let
$as do the talking for hi&. 'eriously- he thinks. #hat the hell. $an<t two guys Cust .e friendsG
;t<s a thought he<s had often enough- usually after so&eone<s &istaken hi& and 'a& for a
couple. (hen he re&e&.ers that these people think hi& and $as are- like- &arried- so it<s
actually pretty understanda.le that they see a ro&antic .ent.
?Aank and ; &et at work-@ 'usie e9plains. 'he laughs- reaching for her hus.and<s hand and
s=ueeKing- eyes crinkling. ?; was his .ossF ;t was co&pletely inappropriate.@
Aank- who ,ean would<ve pegged as one of the world<s &anliest &en not a few short hours ago-
fucking .lushes and adds- ?#ell- ; didn<t stay with the co&pany too long after ; knew 'uK was
interested. #e didn<t really cross any lines.@
#hen ,ean looks at $as- the guy is actually s&iling. (here<s a war&- happy e9pression on his
face- and ,ean feels a pang of so&ething as he tries to think of the last ti&e he put that
e9pression there. (oo fucking long- is the first thing that pops into his head. Ae dis&isses it-
re&inding hi&self that it took .oth of the& to get where they are today.
And then his appetite<s gone.
Huckily- they<ve only got dessert left and ,ean<s &u&.led e9cuse of ?diet@ is enough to get hi&
off the hook for that- though $as shoots hi& an odd look. .ecause even though it<s cake
6as opposed to pie7- ,ean rarely turns down dessert.
$as takes a slice- as do Aank and the kids. 'usie gives ,ean<s ar& a co&forting pat- e9plaining
she<s on a diet- too. ?'olidarity-@ she says with a s&ile.
(he evening<s gone well- it see&s- .ecause Aank and 'usie trade glances at the end of it .efore
'usie clears her throat and says- ?Histen- we<d like to give you a proper introduction to the
neigh.orhood. #e were thinking of having a .ar.ecue to&orrow and inviting everyone. ;n your
honor- of course. Are you freeG@
,ean allows hi&self to grin- .ecause this is actually perfect. A chance to &eet all the neigh.ors
and ask so&e awkward =uestions. ?'usie-@ he says- ?we<d love to.@
;t<s only as they<re walking .ack to their house- streetla&ps lighting the pave&ent- that ,ean
realiKes he and $as are going to have to share a .ed. 'a& was really fir& on that point-
.ecause he knew ,ean wouldn<t like it. 5ut a&phis.aena can adCust the siKe of their true for&-
so there<s no guarantee it won<t .e spying on the& fro& the vents or so&e freaky shit like that-
and not sharing a .ed with $as is e9actly the kind of red flag they don<t want to raise.
5y the ti&e they get to the front door of their house- ,ean<s sweating. #hy a& ; so da&n
nervousG he wonders. (his is ridiculous. ;<ve shared plenty of .eds with 'a&. *ut up-
;t gets even &ore awkward when they<re .oth in the roo& together- still dressed .ut aware they
can<t really sleep in their clothes. ,ean finally gives a grunt of frustration and Cust starts
stripping until he<s down to his .o9ers and a t1shirt. (he soft rustle of clothes .eside hi&
indicates that $as is doing the sa&e- though ,ean definitely doesn<t look to confir&. #eird- he
thinks as he crawls into .ed. (oo friggin< weird.
(hen $as is there ne9t to hi&- and $hrist- ,ean thinks- why didn<t we .uy a .igger .edG (his one
is way- way too s&all .ecause he can feel $as<s .reath on his godda&n neck- hot and s&elling
like the cake he Cust ate.
(his is gonna .e a long fucking night- ,ean thinks.
Ae<s right- of course. $as<s gentle snores confir& that he<s asleep a.out thirty &inutes after
lights1out- .ut ,ean<s awake for another hour after that- wondering why there<s a churning
feeling in his gut.
,ean wakes up with his face pressed into the covers- an e&pty spot on the .ed .eside hi&. Ae
can hear the shower running in the other roo& and figures $as is already up. :roaning-
he cracks an eyelid and looks out the window. 'unshine. A glance at the clock confir&s that it<s
al&ost eleven. (hey<re going to have to hustle if they want to have potato salad for the .ar.ecue
at one.
#hen $as co&es out of the shower &inutes later- wearing only a towel and still dripping wet- he
looks really flustered: cheeks red- a little twitchy- eyes darting away fro& ,ean as soon as they
landed on hi&. ,ean can al&ost feel his good &ood fro& the night .efore evaporate.
?)h- ;<ll Cust hop in-@ ,ean &ur&urs- scooting past $as.
$as doesn<t say a word- .ut ,ean can feel the guy<s eyes on his .ack as he disappears into the
(hey<re thirty &inutes late to their own party which- as ,ean e9plained to $as- is pretty da&n
tactless- .ut $as insisted on ho&e&ade potato salad as opposed to store1.ought. And that was
A flash of 'usie<s red hair places the +c*eals for hi&: they<re .oth &anning the grill. (heir
kids are running ra&pant through the .ackyard- shrieking and shooting water guns at each other.
(he rest of the couples are &illing a.out- talking and laughing.
#hen they go to put the potato salad on the ta.le- +arshall ,iggs and 4ennifer Alder stop .y to
introduce the&selves. +arshall leaves soon after- .ut 4ennifer sticks around.
?'o- how<s the new placeG@ 4ennifer Alder asks with a s&irk. ?5et it gets lonely- Cust the two of
you.@ 'he<s got this reckless sort of vi.e a.out her- and the fact that she<s also a .usty Asian
.eauty>yes- the &oniker fits>&akes her ,ean<s type personified. 'he<s also definitely flirting
with hi&- despite the fact that her hus.and is less than a foot away and ,ean<s with his godda&n
(he last is a deal1.reaker. ,ean Cust doesn<t like cheaters. ,espite his long 6long7 string of one1
night stands- ,ean<s never cheated on so&eone nor had the desire to do so. And if he<s honest-
he<s kind of pissed off on $as<s .ehalf. (he guy<s right ne9t to &e- after all.
$as has picked up on so&e hu&an nuances in the past few &onths- it see&s- .ecause he clearly
gets what<s going on. Ae &ust- given that he<s Cust snaked his ar& around ,ean<s waist. ,ean
.ites .ack a yelp- .ecause he was not e9pecting that.
Ais first i&pulse is to shi&&y out of the grip- .ut $as tightens his hand on his side like he knows
that<s what he<s thinking. And fuck it- $as is right. 4ennifer needs to take the hint and leave.
5ut instead she<s looking at the two of the& in a considering way- her eyes &oving .ack and
forth .etween the&- a little light shining in the .ack. 'hit- ,ean thinks. 'he<s going to ask us for
a threeso&e.
Hater- when he<s telling the story to 'a&- so&e things &ight get e&.ellished or downplayed
accordingly. 5ut 4ennifer<s persistence is always the reason that hi& and $as end up in so&e
weird ga&e of 5ig :ay $hicken.
,ean claps a hand on $as<s ass and s=ueeKes- hard enough that $as practically Cu&ps out of his
Ceans. ?#ith this one to keep &e co&panyG *ah- ;<& good.@
$as<s hand clenches at his side. ,ean knows without a shadow of dou.t that he<s going to pay for
this later- .ut it<s worth it for the way 4ennifer<s eye.rows rise.
?; can<t i&agine so&eone would feel co&forta.le sharing the house with us-@ $as continues-
looking cal& as a fucking cucu&.er as he adds- ?,ean<s a real screa&er.@
,ean can feel his face .urning up- and yep- $as is going to get it for that one. Aow the fuck does
he even know what that isG ,ean wonders. Ae decides to .la&e it on (H$ 6again7 as he s&iles
and says- ?Only when you .reak out the toys- sweetheart.@ ,ean gives $as a slap on the rear for
good &easure- walking off to get a ha&.urger. #hen he spares a glance .ack at $as- the guy<s
Caw is hanging open and 4ennifer stares wide1eyed at the& .oth .efore running .ack to her
+ission acco&plished- ,ean thinks- taking a .ite of his ha&.urger and winking at $as.
After the .ar.ecue they head to 'a&<s &otel for a pow1wow.
?(he +c*eals are out-@ ,ean says- lounging on 'a&<s .ed. $as and 'a& are sitting at the
&otel<s lone ta.le. ?; know we thought they were- with the kids and all- .ut no way an
a&phis.aena<s gonna pay as &uch attention to two pips=ueaks as they do.@
?; agree-@ $as says. 'a& nods- &aking a &otion for ,ean to continue.
?(he Alders are a possi.ility. ; think the wife was- uh- trying to get &e and $as over to her house
for a threeso&e.@
)nsurprisingly- 'a& .usts a gut over that one- ignoring ,ean<s &uttered- ?Deah- 'a&- it was
freaking hilarious-@ as actual tears s=ueeKe out of his eyes- whole .ody shaking as he really gets
into it. *ot that he<d ad&it it- .ut it<s good to see 'a& laughing after everything.
?#hatever-@ ,ean continues. ?Point was- we would<ve .een on her turf and vulnera.le if it<d
'a&<s laughter dies down as he shifts into work &ode- pulling out so&e papers a.out the couples
that died. ?+ay.e- .ut the others all died in their ho&es. *ot the thing<s +O. ;t<d .e hard to
disguise a &urder that happened in your own ho&e- too.@
,ean shrugs. ?:uess she<s Cust a horny housewife- then.@
?(hat leaves the Bearneys and the ,iggses-@ $as re&arks.
?Deah. ; told everyone at the .ar.ecue ; used to work construction- ;<d .e happy to check out
their houses- yada yada. ;<& going to the Bearneys< on +onday and the ,iggses< on (uesday.@
(hey<d told the Ao&e Oaks crew that they had so&e &oney saved for the &ove .ut were still
looking for work in the area- which was how ,ean e9plained his a.ility to drop .y during the
work day.
'a& nods. ?OB-@ he says- then sighs. ?5ut hurry- guys. ;t<s .een one death every one or two
weeks- and the Aanovers died three days ago.@
(he rest of the night isJreally kind of weird- .ut nice. (hey go .ack to their house and order
piKKa for dinner- half and half so they each get the toppings they want. (hey split a few &ore
.eers over the piKKa and fall asleep on the couch watching 'tar (rek.
#hen ,ean wakes up a few hours later- he<s got his face on $as<s chest and>what the fuck is
thatG ;t takes ,ean a few seconds to realiKe that $as is awake and definitely stroking the side of
his face. Actually stroking- and it takes everything ,ean<s got not to tense up- or &ove- or freeKe-
or otherwise let $as know that he<s awake.
Ae<s not sure why he doesn<t. Het $as know- that is. Ae only knows he wants to figure this out-
why he<s waking up with his head on $as<s chest and $as is not only not pissed a.out it- he see&s
to .e actively enCoying it Cudging .y the stroking.
And then ,ean hears $as &ur&ur- ?Pretend- rightG (hat<s all this is-@ and ,ean<s &ore confused
than ever.
#hat the hellG
8ventually $as falls .ack asleep- fingers slipping off ,ean<s face- and if he feels a little sad a.out
that fact- no one has to know. ,ean<s not going to analyKe it. Ae<s going to forget it ever
happened- which is why he waits at least thirty &inutes .efore feigning waking up with a loud
groan and saying- ?$<&on- $as- let<s &ove this party upstairs.@
$as &u&.les so&ething unintelligi.le as ,ean drags his ass upstairs and throws hi& into .ed.
Ae stays awake a lot longer than $as does- Cust staring at the guy and watching hi& sleep until he
realiKes with a .lush what a godda&n creeper that &akes hi&. Ae rolls over and stares at the
wall instead- .ut he<s still thinking a.out $as as he falls asleep- trying to figure it out.
On +onday &orning ,ean heads over to the Bearneys< house- finding their spare key under the
&at and opening the door. Ae does a walk1through and then a closer inspection- .ut nothing
strikes hi& as out of the ordinary.
Ae heads .ack to their place feeling frustrated. Part of it is the night .efore>,ean still doesn<t
know what to &ake of it>and the other part is the case. 'a&<s warning 6hurry- guys7 is still
ringing in his ears. ,ean<s sort of starting to like the inha.itants of Ao&e Oaks- and he really
doesn<t want any of the& to die on his watch.
,ean freeKes when he walks in the door and sees $as in the kitchen chopping vegeta.les. (he
whole scene is so do&estic: $as &aking food- wearing a garish apron that says ?B;'' (A8
$OOB@ with a s&iling- o.viously gay &an winking on the front 6another $harlie accessory7- his
hair disheveled and his eyes intent on the food like he<s going to s&ite the flavor out of it. ;t
&akes so&ething lurch in ,ean<s chest.
(oo weird- he decides- .rushing off the feeling. (oo godda&n weird.
Ae takes a seat at the counter and asks- ?#hatcha &aking- $asG@
$as holds up his knife- studying it with a frown. ?'paghetti $ar.onara.@
?Aey- &y favorite-@ ,ean says- reaching for a to&ato that $as has got set out. ?(hese aren<t
traditional- are theyG@ he asks- rolling it over in his pal&.
$as shakes his head- now intent on chopping the .acon. ?*o- .ut ; like the&. ;f you want to help
you can .oil the pasta-@ he adds.
?)h-@ ,ean says- taken a.ack. ?'ure.@ Ae<s done plenty of cooking in the .unker- after all- .ut
he<s never cooked with $as. ;t feels different- so&ehow. ?#hat<s got you in a cooking &ood-
?#e needed dinner- and piKKa is e9pensive. #e can<t afford to eat out every night.@
*ot like the ingredients for 'paghetti $ar.onara are that cheap either- ,ean thinks- and he
wonders where $as got the idea to &ake it. ,id he know it was &y favoriteG he wonders- then
dis&isses it with a =uick- *ah- not.
,ean puts the pasta in the pot- .ut when he glances .ack at $as- he sees the guy is cutting the
.acon all wrong. ?$as- no-@ he &ur&urs- walking over to the guy. $as has plenty of strength
.ehind his cuts- and he certainly knows how to chop. 5ut he doesn<t know how to chop like this-
with food they<re going to actually eat. (he .acon<s looking a little &angled. ?Dou<re going to
&ush it.@
$as &akes a frustrated noise- setting the knife down on the cutting .oard. ?; realiKe that. ; Cust
don<t know what to do differently.@
?Aere-@ ,ean volunteers- sliding up .ehind $as- the guy<s hand and folding it over the
handle of the knife. (hen $as freeKes and ,ean realiKes what he<s actually doing- .ody pressed
up against $as<s .ack like a lover<s. ,ean actually thinks he &ay have pulled this &ove on girls
.efore- so what the fuck<s he doing using it with $asG 5ut it<s Cust like 5ig :ay $hicken. Ae
can<t .ack out- they 6he and 'a&7 talked a.out this. (he a&phis.aena could .e anywhere- and
stu&.ling .ack and yelling- ?$hrist- &an- sorryF@ doesn<t e9actly see& like so&ething a long1
ter& partner would do.
'o ,ean tries to pretend it<s nor&al. Aell- &ay.e he<ll think it is. :uy hasn<t .een hu&an for
that long. (his is totally not weird. *or&al. ;t<s nor&al. ?Deah-@ he says- aware fro& the
awkward way that $as shifts ne9t to hi& that this isn<t e9actly co&forta.le for hi&- either. ?4ust
cut like that. *ot too hard. Dou don<t need a lot of pressure. ,on<t want to destroy the stuff.@
#hen ,ean .acks away- $as swallows. ?)h- thanks-@ he says.
?Dou<re welco&e-@ ,ean replies- then flees the roo& to watch 'tar (rek until dinner<s ready-
desperately ignoring the fact that so&ewhere along the way- his dick picked up an interest in the
Ae doesn<t think a.out it over dinner>which is delicious- $as is a way .etter cook than ,ean
e9pected- chopping aside>.ut he can<t see& to stop thinking a.out it that night when he<s in .ed
ne9t to $as.
(his is $as- he re&inds hi&self- and 4esus- there can<t .e anything there. "ightG *ot after all
this ti&e. $hrist- ,ean tried to set the guy up with a hooker once. (hen ,ean thinks a.out doing
that now- and his sto&ach sours. (he thought is a lot less appealing than it once was.
And $as is a guy. ,ean<s not e9actly sure how he<d categoriKe his se9uality 6or whatever7-
.ecause he<s a pretty open guy and he can ad&it he<s found other &en attractive. 5ut he<s never
acted on it. At first- he was too afraid of what 4ohn would say or do and 4esus- even thinking
a.out it now s=ueeKes so&ething in his chest- a tight panic that &akes it hard to .reathe. Once-
he thinks- staring up at the ceiling- Cust once. Ae was thirteen and he told his dad he thought
4ohnny 'tein was ?hot-@ and the look that ,ad gave hi&J
;f looks could kill- ,ean thinks with a gri&ace. ;t was enough. 4ohn &ade his position clear.
(hen it was 'a&. ;t<s not like ,ean thinks 'a& would really care one way or another>he gives
'a& a lot &ore credit than that>.ut it would still change the way his .rother thinks of hi&.
(here was already so &uch .etween the&- what with 'tanford- "u.y- the apocalypse- and then the
&adnessJit was Cust easier to stick to wo&en. Hess to e9plain. 'afer- and ,ean likes girls 6a
lot7 so it wasn<t really a hardship for hi&. ;t was Cust easier to keep it to hi&self.
'till is- ,ean re&inded hi&self.
Ae chalks it up to a fluke and falls asleep.
(he ne9t day he checks out the Bearneys< place and strikes out again. (his ti&e- +rs. Bearney
6%ran7 co&es ho&e as he<s finishing up. ,ean hears her keys in the lock- so he &akes sure to tap
on one of the .ea&s as she co&es in.
?'ound as>whoa-@ ,ean says- realiKing she<s carrying two huge .ags of groceries. Ae &oves
forward to help- taking the largest .ag fro& her ar&s and following her into the kitchen.
?(hanks- ,ean-@ she says- s&iling as she puts her .ag on the counter. ,ean follows her lead-
setting his down ne9t to it.
%ran Bearney is young- only /2. Aer hus.and- Aarold- is 3. (hey<ve .een &arried for three
years. Ae learned all this a week ago when they were scoping the case- .ut %ran told hi& as &uch
at the .ar.ecue. %ro& what ,ean can tell- she<s a good wo&an. ,oes social work part1ti&e-
while Aarold .rings ho&e the .ig .ucks as a lawyer.
'he tucks a wisp of .rown hair .ehind her ear- leaning casually against the counter. ?Aow<s the
house lookG@ she asks.
?:ood. ;t<s- uh- good-@ ,ean lies. ?Aow was workG< he asks- &ostly for the sake of &aking
?Oh- you know. #ork-@ %ran says with a sigh. 'he<s s&iling- though- so it can<t .e all .ad.
$ouples- ,ean thinks. ;t<s in couples. ; should get her to talk a.out Aarold. ?Another late night
for AaroldG@ he asks.
%ran rolls her eyes. ?Oh- they<re all late nights these days.@ 'he gives hi& a wistful look as she
pulls a hunk of cheese out of the grocery .ag. ?; know you and $as are still settling in- .ut in
so&e ways ; really envy you guys.@
?8nvyG )sG@ ,ean asks- too taken a.ack to even atte&pt to direct the conversation .ack to
Aarold. "eallyG )sG (hen ,ean re&e&.ers that %ran knows nothing a.out his actual life- which
is pretty da&n terri.le. Ae can<t take the words .ack without sounding awkward- though- so he
Cust leaves the& hanging there.
?Deah-@ she says- giving hi& a .e&used s&ile. (he cheese goes in one of the refrigerator
drawers. ?; know you guys are still looking for work- .ut you get to see each other all day. And
>@ %ran hesitates- a slow .lush creeping up her cheeks .efore she says- ?>you guys are so
clearly in love. ;t<s nice to see- you knowG 'o&e people get their happy endings.@
,ean starts coughing- his face hot as a stove as he looks anywhere .ut %ran. 'he &ust realiKe
she<s &ade a &isstep- .ecause she i&&ediately says- ?Oh- ;<& sorry- ; didn<t &ean to &ake you
unco&forta.le-@ chagrin in her voice.
?*o- it<s not>@ and shit- ,ean thinks- a& ; really going to do thisG ;<& really going to ask- he
decides- then says- ?; guess ;<& Cust wondering what you see- is all. $as can co&e off as a- uh-
cold fish so&eti&es. (ook &e forever to realiKe he even liked &e- let aloneJyou know- liked
&e liked &e.@
#hich is true enough- ,ean supposes. +inus one of the liked &es.
?Oh- well- ; guess you wouldn<t see it. ;t<s Cust the way he looks at you- you knowG #hen you<re
not paying attention. Ae looks at you like you<re his whole world.@
,ean tries to ignore the lu&p that<s slowly for&ing in his sto&ach. 'he<s wrong- he thinks.
(here<s no way. ;t<s Cust $as<s weird staring thing. And yeah- that<s totally a possi.ility.
?Anyway- it<s sweet-@ %ran finishes softly- looking down at the .ag of carrots in her hand- and
,ean wonders .riefly if there are pro.le&s with Aarold.
?Deah-@ ,ean agrees &erely for the sake of ending the conversation. Ae &akes his e9cuses and
leaves. ;f he<s a little wild1eyed when he goes- %ran doesn<t see& to notice.
(hey go shopping together that night. $as asked and ,ean agreed- thinking- why the hell notG
;t<s a thing couples do- rightG And we<re supposed to .e a couple. Ae te9ts 'a& to let hi& know
the plan.
(o: 'a&
%ro&: ,ean
cas and i are goin grocery shopping- wanna co&eG
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
,ude no. ;<& not .eing the third wheel on your weird gay date with $as. ,o your shopping
(o: 'a&
%ro&: ,ean
fake date
(o: 'a&
%ro&: ,ean
and dude its not a date were .uying :"O$8";8'
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
)h huh
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
Dou know if you ever wanted to go on a real date with $as ;<d .e cool with it
,ean doesn<t even know what do with the last one e9cept think this is &y godda&n life- reallyG-
so he flips his phone shut and tosses it on the floor of the car- hoping $as doesn<t notice the flush
of red on his cheeks.
(he super&arket is a #hole %oods- of course. $as has .een into the organic shit since ,ay One
at the .unker- so ,ean really shouldn<t .e surprised at this point. ,ean gra.s a cart and so&ehow
they .oth wind up .ehind it- hands on the .ar as they push it through the aisles looking like the
gayest thing to hit town since 'iegfried and "oy.
?#hat do you want for dinner- ,eanG@ $as asks a.sently- eyes on the produce section.
?; dunno- $as. Are you cooking againG ,oesn<t really &atter.@
$as Cust rolls his eyes. ?Au&or &e- ,ean. #hat do you wantG@
?)&.@ ,ean thinks a.out it. ?PieG $an you &ake pieG@
?%or dessert. *ow what a.out dinnerG@ $as is already redirecting their cart to the section of the
store with froKen desserts- where he opens one of the freeKer doors and- like it<s no .ig deal- picks
out a froKen pie. +arie $alendar<s- .ut still: froKen.
?$asF (hat<s sacrilegeF@
$as Cust scowls at hi&. ?#hat do you want for dinner- ,eanG@
$as has evidently &ade up his &ind a.out the pie- so ,ean .ites .ack a sigh. ?5urgersG@
?; can do that-@ $as &ur&urs.
(hey leave with all the ingredients for great .urgers: ground .eef- onions- &ore to&atoes-
pickles- lettuce- and the proper condi&ents 6ketchup- &ustard- and &ayo7. (here<s also the
froKen pie- .ut ,ean<s trying hard not to conte&plate that particular a.o&ination.
Ae picks his phone up off the floor only to find he has nine 6*;*87 te9t &essages fro& 'a&.
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
B;,,;*:- ha
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
,ean if you actually want to date $as ;<& cool with it
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
;<& not like dad you know that rightG
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
,ean te9t &e .ack please
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
; don<t care OBG ; really don<t
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
; love you
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
?Oh &y god-@ ,ean whispers- aware his face is cri&son. (his is &y life. (his is really-
really it. +y friggin< life- &an.
?,eanG@ $as asks- all an9ious concern.
?*othing-@ ,ean gru&.les- then says- ?hold on@ so he can finish te9ting 'a& .efore he starts up
the ;&pala.
(o: 'a&
%ro&: ,ean
dude cool it i left &y phone in the car
(o: 'a&
%ro&: ,ean
i& not suddenly gay for cas everythings fine
A few seconds later- he gets a reply fro& 'a&. Ae doesn<t check it until he gets out of the house
6.ecause he<s a responsi.le driver- thank you very &uch7.
(o: ,ean
%ro&: 'a&
5ut if you were ; would .e OB with it- you know that rightG
,ean gives up.
$as follows a recipe and the .urgers turn out to .e surprisingly good. ,ean<s is actually &ediu&
well like he re=uested- and #hole %oods really pulled through with the produce and condi&ents.
*ot that he would ever ad&it to anyone .esides $as 6who gets a fucking s&irk on his face when
,ean caves7- .ut the +arie $alendar<s froKen pie is .etter than a lot of diner pies he<s had.
8specially since $as .rushes the top with egg whites .efore they pop it in the oven.
%eeling unusually full and happy- ,ean turns on an episode of 'tar (rek. $as Coins hi& soon
after it starts- interrupting with lots of =uestions. (hey<re =uestions a.out the episode or the
series- .ut ,ean<s surprised .y how little it .others hi&. Aey- he thinks- at least it<s not 'ay Des
to the ,ress.
Ae shouldn<t .e surprised when he falls asleep on the couch again- .ut this ti&e $as wakes hi&
and they head upstairs together.
,ean wakes up to the s&ell of fa.ric softener- his face pressed against a war& .ody. +&&- ,ean
thinks- nuKKling into the war&th. (his is nice. (he lower half of his .ody is definitely in
agree&ent- starting to &ove of its own accord.
At least until ,ean hears a soft snore- looks up to see a shock of .rown hair- and re&e&.ers that
he<s in .ed with $as.
;t takes every ounce of willpower ,ean has not to leap out of the .ed. $ool it. (hink. Act
nor&al. Aave to act nor&al. $as is snoring. Ae<s asleep. ;f ; Cust sneak out- ; can pretend this
never happened and $as will never know.
,ean<s heart is pounding in his chest as he slowly- slowly inches out of the .ed. Ae only rela9es
once he<s out and sees $as is still sleeping. Once that<s confir&ed- he practically runs to the
shower to take care of .usiness- .ecause there<s no way in hell he<ll live it down if $as catches
hi& with a .oner.
$as is still asleep when he gets out- .ut ,ean<s phone 6the .urner they got for the Ao&e Oaks
crew- not his actual phone7 is .uKKing. ,ean flips it open and heads out of their .edroo&- letting
$as sleep a little longer.
?,ean-@ he says.
?OhF ,ean- ;<& so glad you picked up.@ 'usie. ?Are you and $as .usy todayG@
,ean thinks a.out it. Ae hasn<t got any &ore houses to inspect. 4ust so&e vague plans for
research- which he<s &ore than happy to pawn off on 'a&. ?*o- ; think we<re free. #hat<s up-
8ven over the phone- he can hear 'usie<s sigh of relief. ?; usually work fro& ho&e on (hursdays
and %ridays- .ut there<s .een so&e crisis at work and they want &e to co&e in. +y usual sitters
are .usy. #ould you and $as &ind watching +artha and 4ere&yG@
,ean freeKes. Ais initial reaction is to say no- find so&eone else- .ecause it<s not like ,ean has a
lot of e9perience with childcare- 5en aside. And 5en was olderE 'usie<s kids are young- only five
and two.
Hike she can sense his hesitation 6she canE ,ean knows he<s taking a while to respond7-
'usie rushes to add- ?;t<ll .e easy- and ;<ll only .e gone a few hours. Dou can take the& to the
park. ;t<s Cust a .lock out of Ao&e Oaks.@
?)h. 'ure-@ ,ean finally says- wincing a little at 'usie<s sigh of relief. Ae<s pretty sure tag1
tea&ing +artha and 4ere&y with $as won<t get the& anywhere with the case- .ut ,ean kind of
likes 'usie and he doesn<t really want to leave her hanging. ?4ust give &e a heads1up when
you<re on your way over.@
?(en &inutesG@ 'usie asks- sounding too hopeful for ,ean to say no.
'hit- he thinks as he says and hangs up. :otta wake $as.
;t<s easier said than done- .ut thirty &inutes later hi& and $as are at the park with the +c*eal
kids. ?(wo hours-@ 'usie whispered as he passed the kids to hi&- and ,ean can work with that.
?'wing-@ 4ere&y says- pointing at one of the kiddie swings that look like .ig diapers as he
tugs on ,ean<s hand and repeats- ?'wing.@
+artha see&s to have honed in on $as- looking up at hi& with wide- .lue eyes as she says- ?$an
we play in the sand.o9- +r. '&ithG@
$as looks like +artha<s asked hi& to perfor& open1heart surgery- .ut he gives her a du.ious nod
and follows her to the sand.o9.
?:uess that &eans we get to hit the swings- little .uddy-@ ,ean tells 4ere&y. (he kid<s face
lights up- and ,ean feels his own soften in return. Ae knows he<s not cut out for kids. One
thought of 5en is enough to re&ind hi& of that>it never fails to leave a tight- pained feeling in
his chest. 'o no- kids aren<t in the cards- not for hi&. 5ut it<s nice to pretend so&eti&es- he
4ere&y- it turns out- loves the swing. ,ean gets a rhyth& going- gentle pushes that send 4ere&y
high enough to give hi& a thrill- .ut not so high that he gets scared. ;t<s an easy enough task- and
,ean finds hi&self watching $as and +artha as he does it.
+artha is trying to .uild so&e kind of sandcastle in the sand.o9. ,ean<s guessing the +c*eals
have taken the kids to the .each at so&e pointE that<s where she got the idea. $as is
watching her efforts with so&e confusion- a frown on his face. Ae<s intent- like +artha<s trying
to construct the ne9t ato& .o&. and $as can figure out the sche&atics if he Cust stares at it hard
,ean .ites .ack a laugh- shaking his head. (o his surprise- when he looks up he sees that $as has
gra..ed a plastic .ucket fro& the sand.o9 and taken it to the water fountain. Ae fills it up with
water and .rings it .ack to +artha- pouring it over the sand and e9plaining so&ething to her. Aer
eyes light up as she gets it- packing the sand into a fir&er &old.
#hen it<s done- +artha looks up at $as and says so&ething. ,ean can<t hear what she says 6or
asks7- .ut $as lights up like he<s Cust .een given a new pair of angel wings. ;t &akes so&ething
twist in ,ean<s gut. Ae thinks that once he &ight<ve .een a.le to coa9 a s&ile like that out of
$as. Ae<s not sure if he<s allowed- any&ore.
,ean<s .eco&e so focused on $as and +artha that he<s apparently .eco&e re&iss in his swing1
pushing duties- since 4ere&y whines- ?Push-@ and tugs on his sleeve. ?4eeK. Deah- kid- OB-@
,ean &ur&urs as he starts up again- .ut there<s no real &alice .ehind it. Bids will .e kids- he
'usie<s .ack within an hour- &uttering so&ething a.out a false alar& as she thanks ,ean and $as
again .efore packing her kids into the &inivan. 'he offers the& a ride .ack to Ao&e Oaks- .ut
,ean Cust shrugs and says- ?#e<re good@ .efore $as can agree. $as shoots hi& a strange look .ut
doesn<t say anything.
?#hy did you ask to stayG@ $as asks as soon as she<s gone.
?; dunno. *ot like we have any real plans for today. (hought it &ight .e nice to stay here.@
$as raises an eye.row .ut nods- content to follow ,ean to the parts of the park that don<t involve
a playground 6two guys without kids at a playground always leads to a few stares- ,ean<s found7.
;t<s &ostly Cust grass over there- a few .enches and so&e nice trees.
,ean takes a seat on one of the .enches and pats the seat ne9t to hi&. %rowning- $as takes the
seat ne9t to hi&.
(hey sit in silence long enough that ,ean .egins to think this was a .ad idea- .ut he<s not =uite
willing to give up. 'o he asks- ?#hat did +artha say to youG@
,ean shrugs. ?; was watching you guys. Pushing 4ere&y wasn<t- y<know- the &ost thrilling
thing ;<ve done all week. +artha said so&ething to you- and you kinda-@ he waves a hand in the
air- ?lit up.@
?Oh.@ $as looks a little e&.arrassed- the .ack of his neck. ?'he said she liked &e very
&uch and that ; was very good at &aking sandcastles.@
Haughing- ,ean puts a hand on $as<s shoulder and says- ?Bids- &an.@
?(hey wereJinteresting. ; don<t think ;<d want a child of &y own. (hey see& like a lot of
?(hat<s an understate&ent-@ ,ean &utters. Ae realiKes he<s still got his hand on $as<s shoulder-
and he re&oves it with a =uick Cerk.
?Dou were good with 4ere&y-@ $as says- unpro&pted. ?; know you think that after 5en you
aren<t fit to .e a father- ,ean. 5ut ; think you would &ake a good one.@
'o&ething lodges itself in ,ean<s throat- and if his voice is a little rough as he &u&.les-
?(hanks- $as-@ $as is good enough not to &ention it.
5y so&e unspoken agree&ent they start walking after that. (here<s actually a nice flower garden
near the edge of the grassy area. ;t<s &ostly wildflowers in varying states of .loo&- .ut there are
a few dor&ant roses in one corner. One is growing into the fence. ;t see&s like a sha&e to ,ean-
so he reaches over to loosen it. (he ste& springs .ack into place fast enough. ,ean feels a sharp
sting in his hand- though- and he hisses when he realiKes he snagged his finger on a thorn.
$as is .eside hi& in an instant- clutching his hand and staring at the cut like that<s going to fi9 it.
;t<s Cust a s&all cut- ,ean thinks- and he starts to say- ?$as>@
5ut then $as is dragging hi& over to the nearest water fountain- forcing his hand under the water
until the dirt is gone and the water<s running clear.
,ean<s .een pretty co&pliant- letting $as &anhandle hi&- .ut so&ething still doesn<t &ake
sense. ?$as-@ ,ean says- ?;t<s Cust a cut.@
$as<s grip on ,ean<s wrist tightens- his Caw set. ?,ean-@ he says- clearly frustrated- ?can you not
understand why it &ight .other &e that this is all ; can do for youG (hat this is all ;<& capa.le of
'hit- ,ean thinks. ; Cust can<t keep &y da&n &outh shut- can ;G And he feels &ore than a little
stupid- .ecause thisG Ae should<ve guessed that this would .other $as. Ae<s attri.uted so &uch
of $as<s &oodiness in the .unker to his guilt over +etatron 6he knows $as feels a lot of guilt
a.out that- he does7- .ut there<s &ore to $as<s sullen withdrawal in the .unker than +etatron- he
realiKes. $hrist- ;<& so stupid. #hy didn<t ; see itG
$as &isses .eing an angel.
And yeah- ,ean knew he &issed it. ;t was in an a.stract- yeah- ; guess that<s happening
sort of way- though. Ae never thought a.out what $as &ight &iss- or why he &ight &iss it.
+ay.e it won<t hurt to acknowledge what $as has lost. +ay.e it<ll help.
,ean covers $as<s hand with his own- &eeting his friend<s eyes as he says- ?;<& sorry- $as.@
(hen he e9hales- a little shaky as he adds- ?;<& so fucking sorry.@
$as doesn<t say anything at first. Ae Cust stands there- staring at their hands. And then he starts
?; &iss it- ,ean. ; &iss .eing an angel. ; &iss the things ; could do for you. %or 'a&. ; &iss
.eing a.le to fly.@ Ae grits his teeth- closing his eyes .efore he continues. ?; shouldn<t .e
allowed to &iss it. ;t<s &y fault ;<&Jlike this. ;t<s &y fault that all of the angels are like this.@
#hat can he say to thatG (he truth- (he words want to stick in his throat .ut ,ean
forces the& out- .ecause he<s needed to say this to $as for a while. ?$as- you were trying to do
the right thing. (hen- and>@ ,ean pauses- not sure if he should go further- .ut then he .arrels
ahead. ?>and with the ta.let- too. ; know you were- OBG ; know.@
$as stiffens- and ,ean can feel the faint tre&.ling in his hands where their skin touches. Ae
thinks a.out reaching out to touch $as on the shoulder- clap a hand around his neck- .ut he stays
still and waits for $as to talk.
?,ean- ;<& sorry. %or everything. :od- ;<& so sorry. ;f ; could- ;<d>@
Ae doesn<t need to finish. (hey can .oth guess at what he<d do differently. ,ean Cust s=ueeKes
his hand. #hen he does- $as<s shoulders slu&p as a little of the tension leaves his fra&e. (hey
stand over the water fountain for at least another five &inutes .efore ,ean says- ?$<&on- ; told
'a& we<d have dinner at the &otel with hi&.@
As they walk .ack to their house at Ao&e Oaks to get the car- ,ean realiKes that the light feeling
in his chest &ight .e hope. (hat was hi& and $as actually talking- talking like ,ean<s .een
wanting for &onths- or &ay.e even years at this point. ;f it took hi& and $as getting fake1gay1
&arried to get to that point- ,ean can<t regret it. Aell- he thinks as he cli&.s into the ;&pala-
starting her engine- ;<d get fake1gay1&arried to hi& another thousand ti&es Cust for that.
,inner is Hittle $aesars in 'a&<s &otel roo&- and ,ean can<t help .ut &ake a face when he .ites
into his Aot1*1"eady. ?)gh-@ he says- in what he thinks is a pretty apt su&&ary of the piKKa<s
'a& gives hi& so&e =uality .itchface- .ecause he 6'a&7 was the one who decided that
Hittle $aesars was the way to go. ?#ow- ,ean. *ice to know you<ve .eco&e so discerning.@
?Aey-@ ,ean replies- a little defensive as he puts his piKKa slice .ack on the plate- sliding it to the
corner of the ta.le. ?#e<ve .een eating good- OBG ;t<s hard to go .ack to crap.@ $as- who<s
sitting .eside hi&- &u&.les agree&ent as he .ites into his own slice of piKKa. ,ean el.ows hi&
in the ri.s as he adds- ?5esides- $as is spoiling &e. Ae<s a pretty good cook.@
$as<s cheeks turn a faint shade of pink as he swallows and says gruffly- ?(hank you- ,ean.@
'a& doesn<t say a word- .ut his eye.rows practically shoot into his hair.
And it<s safe to assu&e that 'a& notices so&ething<s changed .etween the&- .ecause
'a&<s not e9actly su.tle the rest of the evening. Ae keeps looking .ack and forth at the&- hiding
s&all s&iles when he thinks they<re not looking. #hen 'a& finally realiKes that ,ean<s noticed-
he shoots hi& an apologetic grin. ,ean Cust rolls his eyes and &ouths- #hatever- 'a&antha.
;t<s 9:00 p& and they<re a.out ready to head out when ,ean<s .urner phone rings. Ae flips it
open and says- ?,ean-@ wondering if it<s 'usie again.
?Oh- ,eanF ;<& so glad ; caught you.@
,ean gri&aces- &oving the &outhpiece of the phone down to say- ?4ennifer Alder@ for 'a& and
$as<s .enefit.
?Histen- ; was thinkingJyou and $as-@ she starts- and for one terrified &o&ent ,ean thinks she<s
actually going to ask for that threeso&e- .ut then she says- ?you<re gay- so you<re- like-
practically wo&en- rightG@
Ae hears her falsetto laugh over the phone and he<s on the verge of doing so&ething really stupid
like saying ?Hady- you can stick it where the sun don<t shine@ and .usting the whole gig- when
she adds- ?'o ; was thinking- you two should co&e to our .ook clu.. #e<re the Ao&e Oaks
:als. (his %riday- &y place- at seven.@
$ool it- ,ean. $ool it. (his is good. (his is good for the case. (he Alders< ho&e is one of two
they haven<t seen- so ,ean really can<t afford to tell 4ennifer Alder e9actly what he thinks of her.
;nstead- he forces so&ething he hopes appro9i&ates cheer into his voice as he says- ?(hat sounds
swell- 4ennifer. 5ut- uh- $as and ; won<t have read the .ook.@
4ennifer laughs like he<s said so&ething particularly funny. ?Oh- that won<t .e a pro.le&.@
#hatG ?5ut it<s :one with the #ind- if you wanted to give it a try-@ she adds. ?'o- can ; e9pect
to see you thereG@
?#ith .ells on-@ ,ean agrees- hoping his enthusias& doesn<t sound too forced.
?:reat. 'ee you thenF@ (here<s a click and the line goes dead.
'a& and $as are looking at hi& e9pectantly when he turns around and puts the phone in his
pocket. ?4ennifer-@ he e9plains. ?#e<re- uh- invited to the ladies< .ook clu. on %riday.@
'a&- of course- thinks it<s hilarious. $as- usually so a&.ivalent when it co&es to hu&an
custo&s- takes ,ean<s side to everyone<s surprise. Ae scowls and says- ?;<& not a wo&an-@
followed .y- ?and ,ean is definitely not a wo&an-@ which gives ,ean a war&- fuKKy feeling in
the pit of his sto&ach for reasons he can<t =uite e9plain.
Ae thinks a.out $as<s response so&e &ore as they pile into the ;&pala and head .ack to Ao&e
Oaks. 'ince falling- $as has .een a lot &ore connected with his vessel- .ecause it isn<t
actually a vessel any&ore. ;t<s Cust hi&. ,ean wonders idly whether $as o.Cected to 4ennifer<s
categoriKation of hi& as a hu&an or her characteriKation of hi& as a hu&an wo&an. 'a& would
never let hi& hear the end of it if he told hi&- .ut ,ean thinks it<s actually a pretty interesting
philosophical =uestion.
(hey head to .ed pretty early that night- and ,ean<s al&ost asleep when he hears it. At first- he
can hardly dare to hope it<s what he thinks it is. 5ut then he hears it again: the slow skitter of
so&ething that sounds like claws is co&ing fro& the ceiling. (he a&phis.aena. Or a rat- a part
of hi& argues- .ut it doesn<t sound like any rat ,ean<s ever heard- and given the kind of &otels
they tend to fre=uent he<s heard =uite a few.
,ean rolls over to his other side- where $as is facing hi&- eyes closed. ,ean slides closer-
pressing a finger over his friend<s lips to keep the& closed when his eyes flutter open. $as looks
down at ,ean<s thu&. where it<s pinned to his &outh- and so&ething like panic flashes through
his eyes. ,ean &oves in- close enough that his .ody is pressed up against $as<s. ;t<s a little
tight- .ut he can<t risk the thing overhearing this. Ae leans in- his lips right a.ove $as<s ear as he
whispers- ?Histen.@
;f he didn<t know .etter- he<d swear he feels $as shiver when he says it. 5ut then $as freeKes-
and ,ean can tell he hears it- too: the slow scrape of the creature<s claws. #hen ,ean looks at
$as ne9t there<s no panic or confusion on his face- Cust wary acceptance and a slight glint that
,ean<s co&e to identify as the thrill of the hunt.
,ean s&iles- then- and $as returns it. (his is a good sign: it &eans that they<re ne9t on the list.
(hey<re the creature<s ne9t target- not the +c*eals or the other innocent couples at Ao&e Oaks.
$as goes .ack to sleep soon after that- .ut ,ean stays up. (he noises stop a.out thirty &inutes
after he hears the&- growing steadily fainter until ,ean assu&es the thing<s left. Ae stays awake
another hour after that- Cust to &ake sure. 8ventually he falls asleep. ;f he sleeps a little closer to
$as than their friendship &ight warrant- no one<s there to Cudge hi&.
(hey &eet 'a& for .reakfast and tell hi& the news over a .ag of +c,onald<s finest hotcakes and
?4ust stay in the house today-@ 'a& advises. Ae looks tired- and ,ean thinks- (oday is one of the
.ad days. ?(ry to act vulnera.le. Dou have all the stuff you need to kill it- rightG@
,ean shrugs. ?4ust .ehead it- rightG #e<ve got the &achetes in a .ag under the .ed.@
'a& nods. ?Deah- so Cust stick close to ho&e- ; guess. Aope it co&es for you. ;f it doesn<t-
&ay.e you can figure out who it is at your- ah- .ook clu..@
?'ounds like a plan-@ ,ean says. ?$asG@
$as looks a little surprised that he<s .eing asked- and ,ean wonders if he<s really .een that .ad
a.out asking for his opinion lately. ;t<s possi.le- he realiKes with a sinking feeling in his
sto&ach. ,efinitely possi.le. $as recovers =uickly- though- nodding his agree&ent.
?:reat-@ ,ean says. ?'o let<sJgo ho&e- ; guess.@
(hey stop .y a local 5arnes N *o.le and pick up two copies of :one with the #ind on the way
ho&e 6?+ight as well try-@ ,ean says as $as eyes the cover critically7.
(hey take a crack at the .ooks when they get .ack. ,ean &akes it a.out fifteen &inutes .efore
he gives up and tosses the thing on the ta.le. ?*ot &y kind of .ook-@ he e9plains when $as
shoots hi& a frown. $as sticks with the thing a lot longer- reading for another hour .efore he
Coins ,ean on the couch where he<s watching 'tar (rek.
,ean turns it off when $as co&es to Coin hi&- turning to his friend to ask- ?Aow was itG@
?;nteresting. ;<& not sure a.out the historical accuracy- .ut it<s a fascinating portrait of life in
the 'outh.@
Heaning .ack against the couch ar&- ,ean crosses his ar&s over his chest. ?'o why aren<t you
still readingG@
$as shrugs. ?;<d rather spend the ti&e with you-@ he says. Hike it<s perfectly nor&al to say that
kind of shit to another guy.
,ean doesn<t .other correcting hi&.
?5esides-@ $as continues- ?there are other .ooks ; prefer. ; enCoyed Lonnegut &ore.@
?#ait- whatG@ ,ean asks. (hat<s new. Ae repositions hi&self- drawing up his knees to get a
.etter view of $as on the other side of their sofa. ?'ince when do you read LonnegutG@
?'ince you left the .ooks in &y roo&.@
Oh- ,ean thinks- a little stunned. Ae put the .ooks 6'laughterhouse1%ive and $at<s $radle7 in
$as<s roo& when $as ca&e to the .unker- hoping they &ight help hi&. (hey<re pure-
unadulterated escapis&- after all. Ae<s seen $as reading since he got .ack- .ut it<s always weird
stuff he gets fro& the .unker li.rary- .y guys like Proust and ,ostoyevsky. Ae<s never seen $as
reading those two- the only two .ooks that ,ean picked.
?Dou never told &e you read the&-@ he says- still processing.
$as turns away fro& hi&- looking out the window. ?; wasn<t sure if you wanted to know.@
And isn<t that a .itchG ,ean thinks- .ecause this is how they got here. 5oth of the& too stu..orn
to &ove- or give- or whatever they<re supposed to do to fi9 it. #ell- it stops now. ,ean<s tired of
it. Ae clears his throat- looking down as he ad&its- ?; did. ; do.@
$as still doesn<t look at hi&- not at first- .ut after a &inute he settles into the couch and says- ?;
think ; preferred $at<s $radle to 'laughterhouse1%ive.@
(hat launches a two1hour discussion of which Lonnegut novel was .etter and whyE ,ean thinks
'laughterhouse1%ive has the edge- .ut .y the end of it he still hasn<t &anaged to sway $as. (hey
eat a =uick lunch after that- and once they<re done $as suggests they go out front and garden in
the hopes that the neigh.ors will co&e talk to the&. ;t<s a good plan- so ,ean agrees.
(hey<re weeding the petunia .eds when Penny ,iggs stops .y to say hello- .ringing a le&onade
for each of the&. 'he<s got copper skin and .lack hairE ,ean<s .etting *ative A&erican. 'he<s
the youngest person in the neigh.orhood at /- and also the nicest. 'he<s shy and soft1
spoken- and she laughs at all of ,ean<s really stupid Cokes.
,ean and $as stay out in the garden after she leaves- finishing up the work. At one point ,ean
looks over at $as- planning to ask hi& if he wants another .reak. (he guy is sweating 65oise<s
still in the &idst of a heat wave7 and there<s dirt all over hi&: his Ceans- his white t1shirt- his
hands- hell- there<s even a s&udge on his cheek. Ae<s holding up one of the weeds and frowning
at the thing like it<s done so&ething particularly offensive- and ,ean CustJstops.
$as is here.
$as is here with hi&.
$as is here with hi&- doing stupid hu&an crap. $as is weeding flower .eds with hi&.
And ,ean is Cust so fucking glad he is. Ae goes .ack to weeding- hoping $as doesn<t notice the
dopey grin on his face.
Ae does- of course. ?#hat is it- ,eanG@
,ean conte&plates lying. 5ut look where that got us- he thinks. 'o he shrugs and says- ?*othing-
&an. ;<& Cust really glad you<re here. (hat<s all.@
$as gives hi& a s&ile- a real one- and turns .ack to the flowers.
(hey shower when they go inside- taking turns. (here<s a &o&ent of awkwardness when ,ean
gets out first- $as<s eyes sliding down his .ody .efore he .rushes past hi&- .ut when ,ean looks
.ack he<s sure he i&agined it.
,inner is leftovers. (he food was good when it was fresh- though- and it<s still pretty good
heated up- so ,ean<s not co&plaining. (hey watch a couple &ore hours of 'tar (rek .efore ,ean
calls it a night. $as heads up soon after.
,ean feels the .ed shift as $as crawls in ne9t to hi&. Ae has so&ething he wants to say-
so&ething that<s .een on his &ind since the flower .eds.
?$asG@ ,ean is on his .ack staring at the ceiling when he asks. Ae<s got a feeling that doing this
face1to1face would leave hi& feeling a little too vulnera.le. (oo e9posed.
$as rolls over to face hi&. ?DesG@
,ean swallows. ?(oday>today was good- rightG ; &ean- you had fun- didn<t youG@
Ae can envision the &ildly confused frown he<s sure $as is wearing right a.out now. ,ean<s
e9pecting so&e gruff response like ?; don<t see how that<s relevant-@ or ?; suppose-@ .ut $as
surprises hi&. Ais voice see&s softer than usual as he says- ?; did- ,ean.@
?;t felt like .efore-@ ,ean ad&its. Ae<s not sure which .efore he<s talking a.out at this point.
5efore *ao&i or +etatron- .efore his &adness- or .efore the souls. $as will know what he
&eans- though. $as will get it- he thinks.
?Des-@ $as agrees. (here<s so&ething sad- al&ost wistful in his voice.
;t<s what gives ,ean the courage to keep talking. Ae gets it. ?;s that>@ ,ean starts- and then
stops as he loses his nerve. ?;s that>do you think we can>fuck. ,o you think we can get .ack
thereG #here we wereG@
Ae<s not sure why it<s so hard to say the words. (hey<re Cust words- after all- .ut ,ean feels
stripped down- like he<s laid a part of hi&self .are he wasn<t sure e9isted any&ore. Ae<s left
sweating under the sheets- heart racing- and he isn<t even totally sure why.
,ean catches a shadow at the corner of his eye- like $as<s hand was reaching out for his face. ;t
lands on his shoulder instead. $as doesn<t give hi& a s=ueeKe- nothing like ,ean &ight do for
'a&. Ae Cust rests his hand there and says- ?; do. And ; want to.@ ,ean hears $as e9hale- a little
shudder at the end- and it<s co&forting to know that &ay.e this is hard for $as- too. ?Lery
&uch-@ he adds.
'o&ething releases in ,ean. Ae rela9es- the tension leaving his .ody. 'till not willing to look at
$as- he closes his eyes and says- ?:ood. :ood.@
Ae falls asleep with $as<s hand on his shoulder.
?,ude. #eG Hook aweso&e.@
(hey<re getting ready for the ladies< .ook clu.- and they<ve .oth Cust finished dressing in the .est
that $harlie could &uster. ,ean told her e9plicitly- *o pastels- no weird patterns- so they don<t
even look too gay- as far as ,ean<s concerned.
(hey Cust look good.
(hey<re .oth wearing khakis and white dress shirts- .ut ,ean<s got a gray .laKer thrown over his
and $as has a .lue argyle sweater over his. ;t .rings out his eyes- $harlie said- and ,ean kind of
has to agree.
?#e do- don<t weG@ $as grins- slipping his wallet into his pants pocket. ;t<s still weird to see
hi& doing little hu&an things like that- .ut he<s getting .etter at it all the ti&e. As if he can
sense ,ean<s thoughts- he adds- ?; didn<t think a.out things like that .efore. 5ut ; do now. ;t<s
?Auh-@ he says- .ecause that<s really all he can say to that. (hen he asks- ?,o you have your
.ookG@ ,ean<s got his own copy in hand- and at the pro&pting $as gra.s his off their night
stand. ?:reat. Het<s get this show on the road.@
(he Alders< house is the &ost i&pressive &ansion in Ao&e Oaks. ;t<s two stories with
a tented roof on top- wood paneling that ca&e fro& an old growth forest- and a garden
so i&&aculate that ,ean knows 4ennifer isn<t responsi.le.
(he wo&an in =uestion is at the door- greeting Penny ,iggs as they walk up .ehind her. ?OhF
Dou ca&e-@ she says- giving the& a tight little s&ile. ?$o&e in- please.@
,ean doesn<t like the predatory look she<s giving $as>who does look da&n good in the argyle-
,ean<s secure enough to ad&it that>so he gra.s $as<s hand .efore dragging hi& inside.
?$<&on- honey-@ he &utters. ?Het<s &ingle.@
(he interior of the house is decorated in what ,ean assu&es is an ho&age to the .ook- though it<s
not like he knows enough a.out the ante.ellu& 6or post1.ellu&7 'outh to .e a good Cudge of its
accuracy. 'usie +c*eal and %ran Bearney are .y a ta.le loaded with wine- .ut 'usie s&iles
when she sees the& and gestures for the& to co&e over. ?,eanF $asF Dou have to try this
As ,ean and $as walk over- ,ean notices a pile of .ooks on the ta.le. *one of the .ook&arks
&akes it past the halfway point- and ,ean .egins to suspect this isn<t a.out the .ooks so &uch as
the co&pany. *o wonder 4ennifer wasn<t worried a.out the .ook- he &uses- tossing his copy in
the pile. $as follows suit.
'usie has a glass poured for hi&. ?,ean- try this. ;<& serious. 4ennifer really splurged.@
,ean shoots the glass- which is filled with a dark red li=uid- a dou.tful look. Ae<s never really
.een a wine person. 5eer or hard li=uor are &ore his speed- though since Purgatory he<s cut
.ack. A lot. .e rude not to try it. Or weird. 'o ,ean accepts it with a s&ile and a
=uick ?(hanks@ .efore taking a tentative sip.
;n that instant- ,ean realiKes he<s never given wine its due. ;t<s sweet .ut not too sweet- rich and
deep without verging on .itter. ;t tastes incredi.le. ?Aoly shit-@ he says- and 'usie starts
?; know. ; knowF@ 'he gra.s the .ottle and tilts it so he can see the price tag on the .otto&.
?Aoly shit-@ ,ean repeats- .ecause it<s O201a1.ottle wine. And really- when in his life is he going
to have another chance to drink O201a1.ottle wineG
,ean decides he really can<t .e .la&ed for having a second glass. Or a third. ;t<s when he<s on
the fourth that he realiKes he &ight have taken things a little too far- and he<s
legiti&ately trashed. ;t<s .een a while since he<s had wine- and ,ean thinks he forgot how strong
it was.
A fuKKy part of hi& thinks this isn<t totally his fault. 'usie and %ran have .een encouraging hi&.
'usie keeps saying things like ?:od- you<re an adora.le drunk-@ and %ran 6on her second glass>a
kindred spirit- ,ean thinks- cause that<s a lot for the little lady7 has .een giggling for
the past fifteen &inutes- patting ,ean<s ar& every so often.
Once he realiKes he<s had a little too &uch- ,ean thinks: ; should find $as. (hen he proceeds to
announce- ?'hould find $as-@ and stu&.le away fro& the two wo&en.
$as is sitting on the sofa and talking to Penny. ,ean plops down .eside hi&. $as twitches a
little and sets a tentative hand on his knee- .ut doesn<t otherwise acknowledge his presence.
Ae doesn<t really process what they<re talking a.out. 'o&ething a.out .ees- he thinks. ,ean
gathers that Penny &ight want to start a .eehive in her .ackyard- and really- there<s no one .etter
to ask a.out that than $as. $as- for his part- is clearly into the discussion. Ais eyes are
practically sparkling- free hand &oving to illustrate his points with gestures- and he<s o.viously
entertaining Penny. 'he laughs at so&ething he says- covering her &outh as she snorts.
,ean<s staring. Ae thought he was- .ut it<s confir&ed when $as turns to hi& and asks- ?,eanG ;s
so&ething wrongG@
Ae kisses hi&.
;t<s pretty chaste as far as ,ean1kisses go- .ut it<s still on the lips. #hen he pulls .ack $as is
staring at hi&- shell1shocked- eyes wide and &outh open.
?*othing-@ ,ean says. ?(hat<s all.@
And then he runs to hide in the .athroo&. ;t<s easier said than done 6.ecause 4ennifer<s house is
huge7- .ut he eventually finds it.
%uck- he thinks- hands shaking as he locks the door and sits on the toilet lid- holding his head in
his hands and staring at the pale pink linoleu& on the floor. 'hit. Ais thoughts feel loose-
circling his head like water around a drain. #hy<d ; do thatG 'tupid =uestion- he decides. Ae
knows why he did it. $as. %uck- $as. $as- with his ridiculously .lue eyes and perpetual
.edhead. $as- who<s died way- way too &any ti&es for the #inchesters. $as- who &akes things
like .urgers .ecause ,ean likes the&. $as- who<s fallen and is still one of the scariest
&otherfuckers ,ean<s ever &et. $as- who pulled hi& out of hell.
?%uck-@ ,ean says aloud- voice hoarse. %uck is really all there is to say. Ae<s in love with $as.
(here<s a tentative knock on the door- followed .y a =uiet ?,eanG@
$as- his drunk .rain helpfully supplies. ,ean gets up- stu&.ling to the door and unlocking it-
turning the handle. $as &ust recogniKe the sound .ecause he pushes as ,ean pulls- sliding in and
shutting it .ehind hi&- locking it again. ?,eanG@ he asks. ?#hat<s wrongG@ Ae puts his hands
on either side of ,ean<s face- s=uinting at hi&- and ,ean has ti&e to think this is kinda nice
.efore $as<s hands drop and he looks away. ?Dou<re drunk-@ he says =uietly- so&ething like
disappoint&ent in his voice.
,isappoint&entG ,ean thinks- and then the pieces fall into place. (he way $as was touching his
face on the couch. (he way $as looks at hi&. (he way $as has handled everything these roles
have forced on the&. %uck- he wants &e.
?Deah-@ he agrees- and pushes $as up against the wall to kiss hi& again. ;f he was he<d
definitely do it .etter. Ae<d ask- or give $as enough ti&e to say no. 5ut he<s not- so he doesn<t.
And it<s not like $as see&s to &ind- given the way his hips push into ,ean<s.
;t<s weird- kissing another guy- and $as is definitely a guy. ;f his .ody wasn<t enough of a clue-
there<s also the stu..le sliding across ,ean<s face. (he sounds he &akes are in a lower octave
than ,ean<s used to- .ut he doesn<t really care. $as feels fucking fantastic- and ,ean<s not sure
why they didn<t do this earlier. Ae<s guessing there were reasons- .ut he<s also drunk enough not
to care- running his tongue along $as<s .otto& lip until the guy opens up.
:reat- he thinks. (his is really great- and then- &ore. +ore would .e .etter. Ais hands fall to
$as<s .elt .uckle- .ut as he<s sliding the tongue out $as gra.s his hands and goes still .eneath
?#hatG@ ,ean asks.
$as swallows- loud enough that ,ean can hear it. Ae closes his eyes and says- ?,ean- you<re
$as pushes hi& off- putting the .elt<s tongue .ack into place. ?Dou don<t want this.@
?; do-@ ,ean insists. ?%uck- $as. ; do.@
?Dou won<t-@ $as says- raising a hand to his forehead. ;t<s only then that ,ean notices his hands
are shaking a little- and he realiKes that $as is serious. $as is actually worried he<s going to
change his &ind- and that so.ers hi& up &ore than anything.
?$as- it<s still &e. ;<& telling you. ; do.@
?(ell &e when you<re $as &utters- fu&.ling with the handle .efore realiKing it<s still
Angry. Ae<s angry. #hyG ,ean gra.s his wrist to stop hi& and asks- ?$as- why<re you .eing
like thisG@
,ean isn<t really e9pecting an honest answer- .ut $as gives hi& one anyway. ?5ecause ; have
wanted this for far too long to allow you to taunt &e with so&ething ; can<t have.@ #ith that
incredi.le confession- $as finally looks at hi& and says- ?#e have to get through the rest of the
night. #e<re going to go out there and pretend like nothing has changed. ; trust you can do that.@
And then he leaves.
,ean sits in the .athroo& for a good five &inutes &ore- trying to process what Cust happened. Ae
thought $as wanted hi&- .ut that sounded different. A lot &ore like heart.reak. A lot &ore like
love. (hat<s good- rightG ;f we .othJthat<s good- isn<t itG 5ut $as doesn<t .elieve &e. (hat
thought doesn<t sit right- which is why ,ean leaves the .athroo& feeling a little sick.
Ae gets lost on the way .ack to the living roo& and ends up in the kitchen. ,ean can hear the
gentle swell of voices- though- so he knows he<s got to .e close. Ae<s getting ready to head
towards the sound when he sees it.
$rawling along the edge of the window- around it- and up into the rafter is a line of ants. *ot Cust
any ants- though. 5ig- fat ants. (he kind you<d e9pect to see so&ewhere e9otic. *ot a &ansion
in an ;daho su.ur.. +other of Ants- he thinks- then opens the refrigerator door on a hunch.
(here<s nothing- not even a .eer. ;t<s totally e&pty.
(he Alders are the a&phis.aena- and ,ean<s three sheets to the wind.
$as- he thinks. *eed to get $as. (hey can leave and regroup- .ut they can<t do this here. *ot
with ,ean like this- not with thoughts swar&ing in his head like angry .ees.
Ae finds $as on the sofa- looking a little flustered 6a leftover fro& the .athroo& incident- ,ean
assu&es7 and talking to Penny and 'usie. Ae feels a &o&ent<s concern that %ran and 4ennifer are
&issing- .ut the a&phis.aena has .een pretty diligent a.out covering its tracks so far- and trying
anything in this house with all the wo&en present would definitely ruin that. (here<s safety in
nu&.ers for the&.
,ean gra.s $as .y the shoulder and hauls hi& up- hissing- ?#e have to go-@ in his ear. $as is
i&&ediately on red alert- .ody stiffening as he nods.
?Dou<re leavingG 'o soonG@ 'usie asks- disappointed.
?#hat can ; say-@ ,ean says- trying for a char&ing grin. ?;<& a horny drunk. 'o&e things can<t
wait.@ (he .elly laugh that 'usie gives is followed .y a surprisingly deep chuckle fro& Penny-
and ,ean figures they<ve done a good enough Co. covering their tracks.
(hey wind up holding hands as they leave- walking shoulder to shoulder. Once they<re off the
Alders< property- ,ean leans in and says- ?;t<s the Alders. ; saw ants in the kitchen. #eird ones.
And there<s nothing in the fridge.@
$as sucks in a .reath. ?(hat sounds right.@ Ae<s =uiet- and ,ean can tell he<s going through the
sa&e thought process he did when he concludes- ?(he wo&en in the house are safe.@
?Deah- thought so too-@ ,ean says- proud of hi&self for sounding re& in the
&o&ent. (hat illusion<s ruined when he al&ost trips over a crack in the sidewalk the ne9t &inute
and $as has to catch hi&.
?#e<ll go .ack to&orrow and kill it.@
?'ounds like a plan.@
5ecause he<s drunk 6and only .ecause he<s drunk7- ,ean lets $as &anhandle hi& up the stairs
and into their .ed. Ae even lets $as undress hi&- hoping it &ight lead to other things- .ut $as is
unfortunately clinical. Ae takes off ,ean<s shoes .ut lets hi& do the rest- tossing a t1shirt in his
direction and heading into the .athroo& to change.
,ean<s already nodding off when $as cli&.s into the .ed. Ae &ust look dead to the world for
$as to do what he does ne9t. (he guy curls up .eside hi& and presses his face against ,ean<s
.ack. ,ean al&ost &isses it as he whispers- ?; hope you &eant it.@
(he words &ake so&ething clench in ,ean<s chest- .ut the pull of the alcohol is too &uch. Ae
falls asleep a few &inutes later.
?,eanF@ $as shouts.
*ot good- ,ean thinks. A second later- so&ething rips hi& fro& his .ed and sends hi& flying
into one of their .edroo& walls. Ae hits it hard- .ut luckily his head doesn<t &ake contact. Ais
whole .ack aches- though- which is never a good sign.
,ean .links- assessing the scene: there<s a creature that ,ean can only assu&e is the
a&phis.aena- and Aoly hell- it<s a lot .igger than ; e9pected. (he thing looks kind of like a scaly
chicken with s&aller wings and a long tail- and it<s got two dog1like heads. (he first is in the
place a nor&al head would .e- .ut the second is at the end of the tail. 5oth have raKor1sharp
Ae<s still a little drunk- or &ay.e Cust veering into hangover territory- .ut that does nothing to
&ute his reaction when he sees the thing has $as .y the throat. ;t<s clutching his neck with one
of the spindly ar&s that sticks out fro& under its wings- and ,ean doesn<t even fight the growl
that for&s at the .ack of his throat. ?:et the hell off hi&-@ he says- and then the tail1head swivels
towards hi&- eyes glinting.
5ad idea. ,ean dives under the .ed as it lunges towards hi&- Caws snapping. Ae &ust .e less
drunk than he thought .ecause the &aneuver works. Ae winds up underneath the fra&e and the
creature &isses hi&. Ais hands fu&.le with the duffel as he unKips it and pulls out a &achete- the spare in his free hand for $as.
,ean rolls to the left Cust in ti&e to avoid an unhappy end at the Caws of the a&phis.aena as it
sticks its tail1head under the .ed fra&e. (ightening his grip on the &achete he slashes out-
continuing to wave the sword .ack and forth in front of hi& as he crawls out fro& the .ed. One
of his wild swings lands a hit on the creature<s tiny ar&- causing it to drop $as.
$as falls to the ground- wheeKing and clutching his throat. ,ean shoves hi& to the side Cust in
ti&e to avoid the &ain1head<s teeth. ?$<&on-@ he says- dragging $as out the door.
(heir one real advantage is the thing<s siKe. 'a& told the& it could change it at will- .ut it<s
evidently decided that .igger is .etter. ;n the s&all confines of the house- that gives the& a tiny
edge. ,ean presses the spare &achete into $as<s hands as they hit the hallway- stu&.ling down
the corridor.
(he a&phis.aena roars and co&es after the&- its clawed feet ripping up the floor.oards as it
cra&s itself into the s&all space. (he tail1head is first- which &eans the thing ends up walking
.ackwards. As it<s rounding the corner- the a&phis.aena .u&ps into a ta.le in the hallway and
loses its .alance- the tail1head hitting the floor hard.
,ean sees his window and takes it. Ae Cu&ps forward and swings down- severing the tail1head in
one clean .low. (he &ain1head isn<t pleased- roaring as it rights itself and turns- finally facing
the two of the&. ;t gives another .ellow and Cu&ps- shooting forward at a speed ,ean didn<t
think possi.le.
Ae swerves to the side in ti&e to avoid the worst of it- .ut $as gets trapped against another of
those decorative ta.les- and he isn<t so lucky. (he a&phis.aena falls on hi&- and ,ean goes cold
when he hears $as screa& with pain as the thing tries to &ove- talons digging into his flesh. Ae
dodges the thing<s tail 6now headless- .ut still thrashing .ack and forth and likely to trip hi& if
he<s not careful7- Cu&ping onto its .ack and .ringing the &achete down on its neck- praying $as
can survive the e9tra weight he<s Cust put on his .ody.
Ais first stroke isn<t strong enough to sever the head- and it takes two &ore to detach the thing.
,ean rolls off the creature as its .ody shudders and slu&ps- twitching weakly a few &ore ti&es
.efore going still. ,ean doesn<t wait for the &ove&ent to stop. Ae<s already .eside it- pulling
$as out fro& under the creature.
$as is a wreck. (here<s .lood all over his face- and ,ean can<t tell whether it<s fro& one of those
head cuts that .leed a lot or if it<s so&ething &ore serious. ;t al&ost doesn<t &atter- .ecause the
talon holes in $as<s chest are serious enough- not so&ething that he and 'a& can patch up with a
first aid kit. Ais fingers find a pulse- though- and he can hear $as<s thready .reathing- so there<s
still hope.
Ae gra.s his .urner phone and dials 91!1!. (he police can find a way to e9plain the thing in their
hallwayE at least this way- they won<t take the .la&e for it.
5ecause he<s $as<s partner they let hi& ride in the a&.ulance- even though ;daho doesn<t
recogniKe sa&e1se9 &arriages. (he 8+(s are really nice a.out it- and no one &akes a crack
when ,ean holds $as<s hand. Ae knows he should feel &ore grateful- .ut he<s too worried a.out
$as to really say anything .esides a gruff ?(hanks.@ (hey see& to get that- keeping =uiet and
letting hi& .a..le to $as.
(hat<s what he<s doing. 5a..ling. (elling $as ridiculous things- &aking a.surd pro&ises- like
?;<ll never &ake you do the dishes in the .unker again- ; know you hate that shit-@ and ?Dou don<t
need your own roo&- you can share &ine-@ and ?5uddy- if you pull through this- ;<ll kiss you
every da&n day for the rest of your life.@
Ae dou.ts $as hears any of it- .ut it &akes hi& feel a little .etter to say it. Ae has a feeling a lot
of it<s long overdue.
As soon as they get to the hospital there<s a gurney waiting. (he 8+(s load $as onto it- already
prepping for surgery. ?;s he going to .e OBG@ ,ean asks one of the techs- the guy .y
the shoulder. ?;s heG@
,ean thinks he knows the answer- .ut he can always hope he<s wrong.
(he guy flashes hi& a sy&pathetic look. ?; don<t know.@
One of the 8+(s hangs .ack .y the truck- and she catches ,ean<s ar& as he starts to follow $as
in. ,ean is on the verge of .rushing her off and striding after $as when the 8+(- a wo&an in her
early twenties- points out- ?Aey- hold up. Ae<s going in. Dou<re going to .e waiting either way.@
Ais shoulders sag- .ut he stays to hear her out. ?Dou<re not fa&ily- so you can<t technically go in
to see hi&. 5ut talk to ,oris at the front desk. Aer son<s gay. 'he<ll let you in if you e9plain.@
'o&eti&es- ,ean is Cust struck .y how nice people can .e. +ay.e it<s .ecause the side of
hu&anity they deal with ain<t too pretty &ost days- .ut he tends to forget that there are people
like this. Ae feels pressure .uilding at the .ack of his eyes as he nods and says- ?(hanks-@ going
into the hospital.
;t<s only then that he re&e&.ers to call 'a&. ,ean fu&.les with the phone- flipping open the top
to punch in his nu&.er- the reality of what<s happened starting to sink in as he hears the dial tone.
?,eanG@ And then- .ecause it<s like two in the &orning- ?#hat happenedG@
?;t Cu&ped us. #e killed it- .ut we<re at the hospital. ;<& fine-@ he says- forestalling the o.vious
=uestion. Ae swallows as he adds- ?$as isn<t. ;t<s .ad- 'a&. "eally .ad.@
?'hit. OB- ,ean- ;<& co&ing. #here are youG@
,ean gives hi& the address and directions. ?5ring clothes- too-@ he adds- re&e&.ering that he<s
still in his .o9ers and a t1shirt. Ae stayed with $as until the 8+(s ca&e- and there was no way
they were getting hi& to leave after that.
'a& shows up a.out fifteen &inutes later- Ceans and a clean t1shirt in hand. ,ean didn<t ask for
the&- .ut there<s also a clean pair of .o9ers. (he ones he<s currently wearing are covered in
.lood. $as<s.
Ae changes in the .athroo& and walks out- stopping .y the desk. ?Aey- is there a ,oris hereG@ he
asks- re&e&.ering what the 8+( said.
?(hat<s &e-@ the wo&an said- her round face di&pling as she s&iles up at hi&. ?#hat can ; do
for youG@
?+y- uh- partner Cust got .rought in. $as '&ith. One of the 8+(s said you &ight .e a.le to
%or a &inute her face goes .lank and ,ean thinks she<s going to refuse- .ut it see&s she<s Cust
thinking. Once understanding hits she nods. ?; can do that-@ he says softly. ?;t was Ann- rightG
'&all girl- .runetteG@ ,ean nods. ?'he told you- then. +y son<s gay.@ ,oris gives
hi& a wan s&ile. ?;<ll let you know when he<s out of the O". #e<ll &ake sure you get in.@
?(hank you-@ he &ur&urs- then takes a seat ne9t to 'a&.
?'o what happenedG@ 'a& asks- keeping his voice to a whisper.
?#e went to the .ook clu.. ; started drinking. ,idn<t end well.@ #hen 'a& gives hi& A Hook-
,ean frowns and feels the need to defend hi&self. ?,ude. ;t was O201a1.ottle wine. ;t Cust sort
of happened.@ 'a& rolls his eyes .ut &otions for ,ean to continue. ?; went to the kitchen-@ he
says- neatly glossing over the kiss6es7 and argu&ent- ?and saw these ants. (hey
weren<t native. (hen ; checked the fridge. 8&pty. *othing- not even soda. #e left early.@
?Dou left earlyG Aow<d you &anage thatG@
,ean feels his cheeks heat up. ?; told Ie& ; was a horny drunk and dragged $as<s ass out of
'a& starts laughing. After a second- ,ean Coins hi&. .ecause there<s really nothing
worth laughing a.out with $as in critical condition- .ut so&eti&es it helps. ?And you totally
are-@ 'a& adds when he 6finally7 &anages to rein in the chuckles.
?#hatever-@ ,ean says. ?Anyway- we left and went .ack to sleep. ; woke up to that thing
throwing &e across the roo&. *ow we<reJhere.@
A sudden- horri.le thought occurs to ,ean.
?#e argued. $as and &e- at the party. ; don<t know what we said- .ut do you think it heardG@
Ae swallows the lu&p in his throat. ?,o you think it knewG@ %uck- a& ; the reason $as is in
hereG :od- all he had to do was keep his stupid &outh shut- &ay.e stop at the first glass of
wine. ;t<s &y fault- isn<t itG
?,ean. 'top. Dou knew it was stalking you- rightG Dou heard it.@
?Deah- .ut what if>@
?#as anyone around when you arguedG@ 'a& has a hand on his shoulder now. Ae<s using the
patient tone he saves for difficult witnesses- and nor&ally ,ean &ight .itch a.out it. "ight now-
he can<t help .ut .e a little .it grateful. ?,id anyone hear youG@
?; don<t think so. 5ut those things- they can change siKes- can<t theyG #hat if it was in the vents
or so&ethingG@
?(hey<re either .oth hu&an or .oth theJthing- ,ean. ;f 4ennifer Alder was hosting- it couldn<t
have .een in its true for&. ;t<s not your fault- OBG@ Ae &oves his hand down to ,ean<s- giving
it a co&forting s=ueeKe. ?;t Cust figured you<d .e tired after the party and it would .e a
good ti&e to try so&ething.@
?Deah-@ ,ean &utters. ;t<s then that it all starts sinking in- and he looks down as he asks- ?#hat
if he<s not OB- 'a&G@
'a& hesitates .efore he says- ?Ae will- ,ean. Ae<ll .e OB.@
$as isn<t going to .e OB.
8very doctor who<s spoken with ,ean has said the sa&e thing. Ae lost too &uch .lood. (he
a&phis.aena tore hi& up too .adly. ,ean figured as &uch. (he thing did a nu&.er on $as. ;t
left hi& looking like he went through the wrong end of a &eat grinder and god- does that thought
&ake ,ean<s sto&ach twist.
Ae<s spent every &inute he<s .een allowed in $as<s roo& since he was ad&itted 6which isn<t a
lot- the doctors have .een working on hi& al&ost non1stop7 .y his .ed- holding his hand. (he
first ti&e they allowed 'a& in with hi&- his .rother<s eyes widened as he saw it. 'a& didn<t say
anything- Cust looked at hi&- his face a silent =uestion. ,ean looked .ack and thought- 'a&-
don<t &ake &e say it. ;t<s too &uch. *ot now. 4ust use your godda&n giant .rain and figure it
out. Please.
'a& did. ;f he<s .een walking on eggshells around ,ean ever since- ,ean chalks it up to the fact
that he .arks at everyone who co&es within three feet of $as- and not so&e weird aversion to
,ean<s newly1discovered se9ual fluidity on 'a&<s part. Ae gives 'a& &ore credit than that.
(he doctors say it<ll .e his lungs that do it in the end. (hey<ve patched up what they can- .ut at
this point it<s a transplant or nothing and a transplant<s unlikely to co&e soon enough. *ot that
they would know what to do if it happened. $as<s care would re=uire regular doctor<s
visits and &oney and insurance- all things they don<t have.
;t<s one of those rare &o&ents when they allow ,ean in his roo&. (hey<re only going to get
rarer- ,ean figures- now that it<s getting down to the wire. Ae plans to &ake the &ost of the&- so
he sits down .eside $as<s .ed and threads his fingers through the guy<s hand.
(hat<s when it happens.
A &iracle- to .e precise.
(he scratches on $as<s face vanish. $olor returns to his cheeks. Ae takes his first full .reath in
days- and when ,ean rips one of the .andages off his chest he sees clean skin.
;t<s divine intervention. *ot god- ,ean thinks- .ut other than the head honcho there<s only one
asshole left in heaven to pull that kind of stunt. +etatron- ,ean thinks- and later he<ll worry
a.out what this &eans for the& and the fallen angels. %or now he<s Cust grateful. Ae even shoots
up a s&all prayer. ;f it goes so&ething like- (hanks- you sick son of a .itch. ;<& sure you<ve got
your reasons- so don<t e9pect &uch. :uess ;<ll kill you =uick instead of .loody like ; want- well-
who can .la&e hi&G
,ean leans forward and pulls the tu.e out of $as<s &outh. Ae<s rewarded with so&e dry
coughing and the flutter of $as<s eyelids. ?$asG Dou there- &anG@
?,eanG@ $as sounds confused. ?;<& in a hospital. #hat happenedG@
%uck- ,ean<s got tears in his eyes. ?$lose call-@ he says- .ecause +etatron can wait. ?(hat<s all.
5ut we got it- $as. ;t<s dead. *ot surprised you don<t re&e&.er. (hey put you on the good
drugs.@ And then- .ecause he can<t see& to help hi&self- ,ean starts .a..ling. ?(hey called it
an Iescaped Koo ani&al< in the papers- &an. ; &ean- reallyG 5ut they<re .la&ing it for all the
Ao&e Oaks deaths so that<s good- ; guess. 8veryone<s OB. ; &ean- the Alders are
dead- .ut we thought that- and>@
?,ean-@ $as interrupts- putting a hand on his ar&. ?,id you kiss &eG@ he asks.
Ae swallows. ?Deah.@
$as nods- processing. Ae looks down when he asks- ?,id you &ean itG@
Of course. (he guy escapes a life or death situation- and that<s what he wants to know. $as deserves to hear it- though- so ,ean says- ?Deah. ; can do it again. ;f you want.@
?+ay.e when ;<& offJwhat did you call the&G (he Igood drugs.< ; think ; would like that.@
$as is starting to slur his words at the end- so ,ean gives his hand a s=ueeKe and keeps his &outh
shut. +inutes later- $as is asleep. ,ean stands- stretching- una.le to fight the s&ile that falls on
his face. Ae leaves to tell 'a& the good news. After he does that- he figures they<ll start
planning how to .ust $as out of the hospital.
(hey<ll worry a.out the other crap later.
8nd *otes
'o- if you check out the wiki on the a&phis.aena
6 youPll see ; took so&e e9tre&e li.erties with
the &ythical creature in this fic.
;f youPre curious as to why +etatron healed $as- &y idea was that hePs already .usy dealing
with a war in heaven waged .y 4o- 8llen- Ash- 5o..y- etc.- and he didnPt want $as 6with all
his angel lore7 dying and Coining the heavenly ranks.
$o&&ents are always appreciatedF (hanks for reading. :7
#orks inspired .y this one
QPodficR %or "icher or Poorer or &ay.e Cust as +onster 5ait .y
Please drop .y the archive and co&&ent to let the author know if you enCoyed their workF

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