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  • Minisinoo
    AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE (19) La Dolce Vita Minisinoo http://www.themedicinewheel.net/accidental/accidental.html SUMMARY (for newbies): When Harry
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 10, 2003
      "La Dolce Vita"

      SUMMARY (for newbies): When Harry Met Sally, X-Men Style. That is,
      how Scott met Jean, and why they fell in love despite the age gap.
      This X-Men film prequel depicts the early years at Xavier's, the
      genesis of the X-Men, Scott at college, plus the breakdown of a
      telepath when her powers explode unexpectedly.

      This is a full-blown novel. For previous chapters and further
      information, please see the link above. :-)

      WARNING: ADULT material

      Delirious and happy, Scott spent most of the next day trying to
      function past the roar in his blood and the sweet ache in his chest.
      Vivid memories of the night before struck him at unexpected moments,
      while erasing a blackboard, tying a shoe, or picking up a book
      someone had abandoned on a table in the solarium. He remembered the
      reflection of the setting sun in her dark eyes, or the feel of her
      skin under his thumb, or the way she'd opened her mouth beneath his,
      not too shy to kiss him back. (He hated doing all the work.) Only
      some of his memories were from the night's surprise ending, and he
      oscillated between a subdued daze and an exuberant agitation that
      amused the rest of the mansion's residents, his students not least.

      "They got in after midnight, that's for sure," Julio Rictor told the
      small crowd of four boys outside near the reflecting pond. A light
      wind rippled the water and wafted the scent of freshly mown grass;
      spiky iris bloomed purple and yellow behind beds of starred dahlias.
      "And probably later than that," Julio said to satisfy the curious
      faces. "I saw Dr. Grey come downstairs this morning and she looked
      pretty tired."

      "Was she acting as crazy as Summers?" Rusty Collins asked.

      "Dr. Grey? Not hardly. But she was grinning," Julio said. "And she
      told me 'good morning.' She never says 'good morning.'"

      "Oh, man, he so got some," Rusty announced.

      "Maybe," Julio allowed, "but she didn't come out of *his* room."

      "Don't mean he didn't get some," Rusty argued.

      At supper, Ororo and Frank found themselves alone with Hank after
      Scott wandered off to phone the hospital. "That's the third time
      today," Henry said, frowning. "He'll get her in trouble." His mood
      had been dicey for the past several weeks, and most of the mansion
      had attributed it to a conference he was to attend in a month -- the
      first public appearance he'd make since his full (very blue)
      mutation. Frank and Ororo had other ideas about the cause, and now
      traded a glance.

      "I think she would tell him," Ororo said quietly, patting Hank's arm.
      Hank didn't reply, but he left soon after. Ro sighed and raised her
      eyebrows at Francesco. He simply shrugged.

      "So," she said after a minute, in French, "did you notice that Scott
      had the Mercedes out this morning on the driveway, with all the doors
      open? He was shining the leather seats with Armor All. It seemed a
      strange thing to do between classes."

      Frank's eyebrows hopped. "Really? That is odd." When he didn't say
      anything else, she kicked him under the table. "Ow!"

      Jean's shift ran until eleven again, and she didn't make it back to
      the mansion until just before midnight. Scott had found an excuse to
      hang out in the garage, working on cars. Ever since his return from
      California, he'd once again taken over vehicle care as he'd promised
      Hank long ago, and as Jean's Camry eased into its usual spot, he
      stood up from where he'd been checking spark plugs on an old
      Corvette. "Isn't it a little late for that?" she called, getting

      Embarrassed, he shrugged and strolled over, wiping his hands on a
      greasy towel, then stopped with perhaps five feet between them,
      suddenly shy for no good reason that he could think of. So was she,
      but he pulled her like gravity and she fell in, approaching him until
      they were face to face. Bending but not touching her white coat with
      his dirty hands, he kissed her. She kissed back. Pulling away after
      a minute, she whispered, "You smell like car engines."

      "Sorry." Another kiss, quick.

      "Let me go upstairs and change. I've got to get out of these heels."

      "Why you wear those heels" -- a kiss -- "in the first place" --
      another kiss -- "beats me."

      "You're a dope," she told him fondly, and ducked away laughing before
      he could kiss her yet again, slipping through the side entrance into
      the back hall. "Come knock on my door in five minutes." He sighed
      and looked at his grease-coated hands, then back at the Corvette, and
      returned to finish what he'd started.

      In her room, Jean kicked off the pumps and shimmied out of her skirt,
      draping it over the back of her chair to air out, her suit jacket
      following it. The white blouse landed in the laundry bin, and
      dressed only in bra and panties, she entered the bathroom to brush
      her teeth, touch up her makeup, and refresh the perfume at her
      pulse-points. Then she put on a little silk minidress she liked
      because it showed lots of leg but was still comfortable, and went to
      crash on her bed for just a moment because her eyes felt so heavy.

      And naturally, exhausted from a sixteen-hour shift after very little
      sleep, she dozed off.

      Five minutes later (or maybe four and a half), Scott rapped softly on
      her door, then rapped again when she didn't answer. "Jean," he
      called softly, glancing down the hall in both directions. He didn't
      want any students catching him slipping into her bedroom. There was
      still no answer, and frowning, a tad worried, he cracked the door.
      The lights were on but he didn't see her at first, and was just about
      to call out when he spotted her collapsed on her bed, her (bare) feet
      still on the floor. She was so deeply asleep, she was snoring.
      Grinning, he slipped inside the room and stared down at her a minute
      in the bright glare of a bedside lamp. One edge of her dress had
      hiked up enough to show her panties and he ran fingertips over her
      long thigh, feeling the light hairs. Could one die of longing, he
      wondered? But he could also see the bruises under her eyes from lack
      of sleep, and bending, he lifted her legs up on the bed, pulling back
      the sheets and then covering her with them. Turning out the light,
      he kissed her temple and left her to sleep (checking the alarm on the
      way out). The next morning, when the buzzer went off, she startled
      herself awake, then remembered why she was wearing something other
      than nightclothes, and cursed at having stood him up. She showered,
      dressed and slid an apology under his bedroom door. He called her at
      lunch and they made plans to meet for a late dinner in Manhattan when
      she got off her shift at nine, then he surprised her by showing up at
      the hospital itself instead of at Bel Canto. "Hey, pretty woman."
      He had flowers, and was dressed in a jacket and tie. Charmed, she
      let him kiss her on the mouth in greeting. It was the first time
      they'd done so where anyone they might know could see -- a
      confirmation of something -- and a few of the nurses behind the
      station whistled and clapped. She blushed; he just gave that cocky

      When she ducked behind the station to grab her purse, a Cuban girl
      named Juanita whispered, "Is he *fine*, or what? Look at that

      Ears warm with both defensiveness and pride, Jean whispered back,
      "He's also very nice."

      "Ooo, he can be nice to me any day!"

      Smiling tolerantly, Jean narrowed her eyes a bit, then glanced at
      Scott. He was watching, but she could feel (if not see) that his
      eyes were locked on her, and her jealousy faded like spring snow.
      *You have a fan club*, she sent. He gave a little self-deprecating
      shrug, but not as if he doubted it, and the unconscious conceit of
      that might have annoyed her if it hadn't been so ingenuous.
      *Peacock*, she told him. All that got was another of his blinding
      smiles as she left the station to join him.

      "If I'm a peacock, you're a phoenix," he whispered, taking her free
      hand and drawing it around to tuck it inside his elbow. "All that
      bright plumage." He ruffled her (freshly dyed) red hair.

      It was a warm night, and they had to walk some blocks after parking.
      The lights were bright like her joy, and she liked the burble of
      people around them. She kept smiling at him; he kept smiling back.
      They held hands tightly. When they reached the restaurant, they
      found such a line that they left again, winding up at a deli half an
      hour from closing time. He hand-fed her potato chips and she caught
      his fingers in her mouth at one point, licking off the salt with wet
      provocation, then smiled when his breath stopped. Her own boldness
      thrilled her.

      He took her dancing afterward, and she discovered again that knowing
      and being weren't the same. The hard pulse of pop music throbbed in
      her jaw and sternum and the palms of her hands; she felt almost as if
      she could caress it. It slid over her body like a skintight dress,
      undulating, and she reveled in the feel of his fingers on her hips
      and his breath on her cheek and the sweet brushes when their bodies
      connected momentarily. Dancing was sex with their clothes on.

      Later, tipsy, they stumbled out onto the sidewalk, laughing, and made
      their way back to their parked cars. "Are you sober enough to drive
      home?" she asked him when they stopped beside her Toyota. He had his
      arms around her waist and was busy nibbling her jaw line.

      "Yeah, I'm fine," he replied against her skin. "Or fine enough. It
      hits me hard, then passes fast."

      "You're not acting fine."

      "I'm not drunk on beer. I'm drunk on you."

      Laughing, she shoved him back with her hands and her TK both. "You
      are such a corndog."

      "That's all? I thought you were going to say I was a horndog."

      "Oh, God -- get *out* of here. You're terrible! I'll see you back
      at the mansion."

      With a last kiss on her cheek, he headed off, and it struck her how
      different this night in town had been than the one a little over a
      week ago. She touched the skin of her neck and jaw where his mouth
      had been.

      Back at the mansion, they wound up in his room because it was closer.
      He kicked the door shut and she locked it with her mind. "Bed is
      better than a backseat," he muttered while he could still think
      enough to speak. How they got their clothes off remained a mystery
      to them later, but his pants and underwear wound up in a lump under
      the covers at the foot of the bed, and her dress landed on the floor
      somewhere in the vicinity of his desk, along with his jacket, shirt,
      and tie; they didn't find her bra for two days. The bright turmoil
      of his body fascinated her, but it was a tender awe. She wanted him
      just as much. It throbbed in her, low in the belly and down between
      her legs. His tongue traced her jawline, the point of her shoulder,
      the hollow inside her elbow, and the scoop of her navel. Normally,
      she was too ticklish, but not now. His palms were hot on her skin
      and she could feel the scrape of his short nails and the bristle of
      his beard. She parted her thighs for him, spreading herself
      shamelessly as he climbed between them. They'd gone well past the
      event horizon of teasing and now hurtled headlong into a singularity
      of physical fusion. Despite their ardor, or perhaps because of it,
      he never made it inside her but spilled himself too early on her
      white hip, much to his apologetic chagrin. She whispered that it
      didn't matter (and kept to herself that she was actually rather glad
      of it), then shyly asked him to use his hands again on her, which he
      did, and swallowed her scream by kissing her when she came. Stunned,
      they lay together for a while after, all out of words. She liked the
      rise and fall of his chest beneath her cheek, and licked the sweat
      off his skin like she'd licked the salt earlier. He tried to rouse
      himself for twice, but her body was too wrung, and she distracted him
      with kisses, retiring finally to her own room (borrowing his robe)
      despite his protests. "But I want to wake up beside you," he said.

      "Not yet."

      "Why not?"

      "I don't know," she replied, and she didn't because she was sure even
      then that soon she'd be waking up beside him for the rest of her
      life. It wasn't the certainty of prescience, like Frank's, just of
      rightness. They fit together. But she still wanted a little space
      for herself, some elbow room to get used to the idea.

      "I love you," she told him earnestly. It wasn't a consolation prize.

      He smiled. "Ditto."

      Just as Achilles had known that his own death would follow on the
      heel of Hector's, so Francesco Placido knew that when Scott and Jean
      became a couple, his own days with Ororo were numbered. Yet Achilles
      had gone out anyway to avenge Patroclus, and Frank had been making
      choices for a year that would bring back Scott. Some matters went
      beyond the personal. Nonetheless, he clung to Ro more tightly in the
      weeks that followed Scott's first date with Jean, and Ororo thought
      it merely sympathetic ardor; Frank was a romantic. It was only later
      that she understood.

      "What the *fuck* were you thinking, you idiot?"

      Back in the jet, covered in streaks of soot and hair singed, Scott
      had rounded on Frank to bellow like a master sergeant. "You could
      have gotten yourself *killed* back there! You could have gotten Ro

      "Scott -- " Ororo began

      Frank interrupted her. "It might have gone differently -- "

      "I don't give a rat's ass how it might have gone!" Scott interrupted
      in turn. "You can't double and triple think everything! You did
      that at Fort Tryon, too, and got your leg broke! Warren had to take
      you back to the mansion. And if Ro hadn't been there a few minutes
      ago, the fire would have had you!"

      Frank met Scott's eyes behind the visor and said, "I cannot do
      otherwise. You are Cyclops. You see with a singular vision. I am
      Cassandra, cursed by Apollo. I see everything."

      "Well you damn well can't *act* on everything in the middle of a

      "I know," Frank replied. There was a finality to his answer, and if
      Scott hadn't meant anything more by his remark than simple
      admonishment, his mouth now snapped shut and he stared at his friend.
      Then without saying anything more, he walked to the front of the jet
      and sat down in the pilot's seat, starting the engines and staring
      out the windshield at the blackness of the Arizona desert night. It
      was overcast still from Ororo's unseasonable storm (used to
      extinguish the fire) and he couldn't see any stars. In the back, he
      could hear Ororo speaking softly to the boy they'd rescued. St. John
      Allerdyce, he'd called himself, a pyrotechnic similar to Rusty
      Collins, except Rusty created fire -- an energy converter like Scott
      himself -- whereas John only manipulated it, like Ro manipulated the

      After a minute, Ro joined him, taking the co-pilot's seat. She
      didn't look at him; her chin was set. "He can't help it, Scott," she
      said, meaning Frank, not the boy.

      "That's the problem," Scott replied as he checked engine gauges. "He
      can't help it -- or stop it. It's his gift. Fence check -- cleared
      hot." And he cranked up the Pegasus engines, swiveling the fans down
      to lift the Blackbird off the high school basketball court where
      they'd set down and cloaked themselves.

      He and Ro didn't speak beyond piloting commands all the way back to
      New York, while Frank sat in the back with the new boy, telling him
      about Xavier's and answering questions. That, Scott thought, was
      where he belonged -- not in a combat situation -- and by the time
      they settled the plane into its hangar under the basketball court, he
      knew what he had to do.

      "Ororo," he said as he began a shut down, "would you take John to the
      professor? Frank, please stay with me."

      Ro glared at him, lips thin, but did as he asked without further
      argument. Mid-plane, she paused beside Frank and spoke to him in
      French, something soft and low that Scott couldn't hear clearly, even
      if he'd been able to understand. He swallowed. When she and the new
      boy were gone, Frank took her place in the co-pilot's seat. Neither
      of them spoke for a long time while Scott recorded flight data on a
      clipboard. Frank just stared out at the hangar. It was very quiet,
      only the sounds of the engines humming down and the scratch of
      Scott's pen on the paper. Their new uniforms were hot and Scott
      unzipped his jacket. Finally, realizing that Frank wasn't going to
      make it easier on him, he swiveled his seat to look at his friend.
      "It's not working."

      Frank nodded in quiet agreement; he hadn't made this easy on purpose.
      Scott had to be the *leader*, not a friend.

      When Frank didn't reply, Scott went on, carefully, "Can you promise
      it won't happen again? If I tell you to move, you'll move?"


      It wasn't the reply Scott had expected and he blinked behind the
      visor. He'd assumed that Frank would make whatever promises were
      required to stay on the team. But faced with Frank's blunt truth
      instead, he looked away at the aircraft system displays. "Frank, I
      can't take you with us if you're going to freeze up every time you
      can see three or four outcomes to a crisis." He glanced up again at
      his friend.

      Frank's eyes were sad rather than hard or angry. "I know. Quit
      dodging it, Scott."

      "What do you mean?" Scott yelled, frustrated. "You *want* me to kick
      you off?"

      "I want you to do what you have to do."

      Scott swallowed. "Fine. I want you off the team, Frank -- before
      you hurt yourself or someone else." And the irony of that -- of
      'firing' Francesco Placido from the very team his own vision had
      brought into being -- tasted sour.

      But Frank simply nodded and got to his feet, took off his uniform
      jacket (now devoid of the big, white X-target on the back), and
      handed it to Scott. "It's done."

      He left the plane then. Scott watched him pause in the hangar to
      light a cigarette, then head inside. There was a slight hesitation
      in his pace, a catch of sadness. Scott sat alone on the plane a
      while, tap-tap-tapping with his pen against the side-stick
      controller; finally he went inside, as well, his feet dragging. It
      was after two in the morning. Jean was waiting in his room, asleep
      in his bed, and woke when he came in. He didn't need to tell her
      what he'd done. She read it all out of his mind, along with his
      grief and his self-reproach, and rising in the room's dark, came to
      slip her arms around his shoulders, holding him. For the first time
      that night, they slept together without a prelude of sex, his head on
      her chest as she stroked his sweaty hair. (He hadn't even showered.)

      Ororo didn't speak to him for days, though Scott ran into Frank the
      very next morning at breakfast. Frank patted the space beside him at
      the breakfast table. Scott eyed him a moment, then sat down. "No
      hard feelings?"

      "Not really. It was the truth, no?"

      "Yeah." Scott drank his orange juice. "Xavier doesn't go into the
      field, either," Scott pointed out. "Well, not for dangerous stuff."
      It wasn't, Scott thought, as if Frank were leaving the mansion, or so
      he believed then. Frank didn't reply.

      That was a Sunday, and Jean had the whole day free for a change.
      They spent it playing in the pool with the kids. Scott managed to
      cut his hand and Jean took him inside to play doctor and wrap it,
      then making mute love on her bed with the windows open to the sound
      of students outside, a plane going by overhead, and the smell of late
      June heat. He was on top. He liked being on top, though he was
      embarrassed to admit it. He liked the feeling of power, of
      possession, and the intensity of sensation from that angle. But he
      didn't miss the fact that she bit her lip, brow furrowed, when he
      pierced her. It killed something in his chest, and he had a hard
      time hitting his climax. If he liked the sense of potency, *pain*
      didn't excite him, and he couldn't get past that small frown and the
      physical pang that had licked at the edge of his awareness.
      Afterward, he finally found the nerve to ask, "It still hurts when I
      enter you, doesn't it?"

      A long pause. Her gaze slid away, towards the windows with their
      antique walnut casings. She wished he hadn't brought it up, wished
      it could have been one of those truths they both knew but didn't
      discuss. "Yes."

      Skewered by doubt, he pressed, "Is it me? Do you need me to go
      slower, or -- "

      "No," she said, turning and putting a finger over his lips. "No.
      It's not you. It's just the way it is for me."

      "It's not supposed to be like that," he said, raising himself up a
      little on the sheets and looking down at her. He was irritated; she
      sounded content just to put up with it. "There has to be something
      we can do."

      Jean stared at him in surprise. He'd said 'we' -- 'something we can
      do' -- and tears sprang. Not understanding, he reached for her.
      "Jean, honey, I'm sorry. I didn't mean -- "

      But she buried her face in his chest and clung to him, pouring an
      emotional syrup of gratitude all over him: he hadn't seen it as just
      her problem. That made him burn with dim anger. Of course it was
      *their* problem. Though truth be told, he was baffled as well --
      Jean certainly wasn't frigid. She pursued sex with a vigor that
      charmed and flattered him. "We'll figure it out," he told her.

      *Maybe not*, she sent back, feeling melancholy. She'd turn
      thirty-one in a month and still didn't like sexual intercourse. She
      wondered if she ever would.

      "You're the doctor," he said and got out of bed, annoyed with her
      defeatism. "Why don't you find out what we need to do differently
      and we'll do it?"

      Rolling over on the sheets, she watched him head for the bathroom.
      Trust Scott, she thought, to take a pragmatic approach. "It's
      dyspareunia," she called, forgetting for a moment that the windows
      were wide open still to the yard below, then she turned bright pink
      and was glad of her medicalese. Grabbing her robe, she padded
      towards the bathroom. "Pain in intercourse -- dyspareunia," she said
      more softly as he cleaned himself off, then urinated. She thought it
      a measure of their growing ease with each other that he didn't seem
      to mind her watching him take care of bodily functions. "About two
      in every three women suffer from it at some point." She crossed her
      arms under her breasts.

      Finished, he eyed her. "Two in three? Shit." Then, "Get me my
      underwear, please?"

      She went to find them, tossing them to him as he came out. Plain
      white briefs. He stepped into them. She knew he didn't like to be
      fully naked even in his bedroom, or hers, 'flopping around down
      there,' as he'd put it once. They were both a bit prudish, or too
      aware of the absurd, and she'd never found the nerve to tell him that
      she thought male bodies fascinating, and not purely for sexual
      reasons. As many minds as she'd traipsed through, her own body was
      that of a woman, the sensations those of a woman when she stroked her
      skin. She might have Scott's thoughts (and those of other men), but
      she didn't live inside his body, and she was coming to understand
      there was a difference.

      Now, restrained if not dressed, he walked over to sit down on her
      bed, his hands folded. She stood with her back to the wall and
      looked everywhere but at him. "So what do we do about it?" he asked

      "I don't know," she confessed in a whisper. It wasn't entirely the
      truth, but a Victorian shame sealed her lips. "Just keep going, I
      guess. I'll get used to it eventually. Maybe after I have a baby,
      or -- "


      She glanced at the open windows, and so did he, but he got up to
      close them, then turned back to her. "It's not fun watching you
      wince. I'm hurting you -- you think I like that?"

      And she felt like crying again. "I'm sorry."

      "Oh, Christ," he said, crossing to hug her. "Would you stop it? I'm
      not mad at you." Scott really didn't understand why she got like
      this at times. It was as if his sophisticated Jean had been whisked
      away and replaced by a frightened, self-conscious girl who saw
      everything as her own personal failure. "I'm not mad at you," he
      said again, kissing her temple. "I love you. I don't want to hurt
      you. It's not supposed to hurt." Then an idea came to him and he
      dragged her back to the bed, sat her down, and searched out her
      reading glasses. These, he handed to her. "Put them on."

      She blinked at him like he'd lost his mind. "What?"

      "Just do it."

      "Okay." She put them on and it made him smile. He liked her in her
      glasses, especially when she wore no make-up and he could see her
      freckles. His brainy girl.

      "Now, Dr. Grey, you gotta help me. My girlfriend has this problem
      with sex."

      She burst out laughing, despite the tears still on her cheeks. He
      loved to make her laugh like that, all startled and caught and

      He got down on his knees in front of her, taking her hand earnestly.
      "I'm serious. I can use my hand on her, and that's fine, but it
      hurts every time I go inside her. She likes *me*, I think --"

      "She does."

      "-- but she doesn't like sex."

      "She likes sex fine. It's intercourse that's the problem."

      And that stopped him. He'd almost said, 'same thing,' then realized
      it wasn't. She was watching him steadily from behind square metal
      frames and polished lenses, and like his visor was for him, her
      glasses were her mask. Perhaps he'd made a joke of it, but she *had*
      become Dr. Grey, and he'd fallen in love with this part of her as
      much (maybe more) than the self-conscious girl. "All right," he said
      finally. "She likes sex. How do we fix the intercourse problem?"

      She frowned down at her hands, fisted and opened them again. A
      woman's hands, not a girl's, with skin that had gone just a bit
      slack, and she spoke in that slightly-swallowed inflection she had.
      She always sounded as if she chewed her words before spitting them
      out. "Some women tighten up spasmodically when their partner
      attempts penetration. There can be any number of reasons for it from
      a strict religious upbringing to previous bad experiences." The
      slight edge in her voice when she said 'bad experiences' made him
      reach out to catch her fingers in his. "But vaginas were made to
      widen -- they have to fit a baby's head -- so treating this amounts
      to teaching the woman to relax until she can accommodate her
      partner's penis comfortably."

      "So how do we do it?"

      Jean still wasn't meeting his eyes; she tilted her head a little and
      her lips were pursed. "Time," she said after a minute. "Patience.
      A little creativity -- increasing the number of fingers slowly, using
      a dilator -- "

      "How about a vibrator?" he asked, trying to lighten the mood.

      She teetered for just a moment, rage flashing in her eyes, pupils
      dilated with the fear that he was making fun of her. Then her lips
      tipped up as she realized he wasn't and she snapped from Dr. Grey to
      Just Jean. Pulling off her glasses, she frowned at him with mocking
      seriousness, she said, "What? You want sex toys now? After only six

      "Vibrator isn't *my* toy," he replied, flashing teeth.

      "You're insufferable."

      "And you love me anyway."

      "God knows why."

      "Because . . . " He leaned in until they were nose tip to nose tip
      and she could see her eyes reflected in the mirror of his lenses, and
      his own eyes behind them, glowing red, a little demonic, or at least
      demented. "Christ, I haven't got a friggin' clue why." And he
      laughed, pulling back. "Because you're insane?"

      Smiling, she fell against him, turning to rest her head on his chest.
      "I love you because you say 'our problem' instead of 'your problem.'
      And because you're really cute in the morning with bed-head and your
      face all sleepy, tripping on the way to the bathroom because you're
      not awake yet."

      "It's your damn shoes I trip over."

      "Oh yes, the 'goddamn motherfucking stupid fuck-me heels.' Can't you
      be more creative than that?"

      "What do you want when I'm half-asleep?" He flopped back on her bed,
      stretched, and grinned up at her. "So -- wanna wake up to my bad
      swearing every day?"

      She blinked at him. "What?"

      "Move in with me."

      Startled, she ran a hand through her hair. "Move in with you?" It
      had been only six weeks, or really, five and a half, from mid-May
      till the end of June, and she hadn't told her parents yet, nor had he
      told his. They'd lived in their private bubble of a spring romance,
      awash in the glow. Yet she couldn't think of a single, good,
      concrete reason not to move in with him. For all it seemed rushed,
      they'd known each other five years, and a part of him lived in her
      head. Looking down at him, stretched out on her bed in his
      underwear, as easy as a cat, she suddenly couldn't imagine him *not*
      there, couldn't imagine anyone else in his place. Besides, she
      thought, half her clothes were in his room and half of his were here.
      They might as well consolidate.

      More to the point, he needed the confirmation. She understood that,
      glimpsed it quite suddenly, hiding in the tenseness of his jaw
      despite his apparent ease. If she craved the reassurance of his
      devotion, he wanted their relationship to be public, wanted to know
      he meant more to her than a guilty pleasure. Wanted to know she
      wasn't ashamed of him. And she wasn't. Not anymore.

      Running her forefinger along one clavicle, she said, "What room do
      you think we should use? Yours or mine?"

      His grin was sudden and bright. "You've got the suite. Mine might
      be a little cramped."

      "Ah!" And she fell on him, pinning him to the sheets (though he was
      hardly trying to get away). "He only loves me for my sitting room."

      "And the veranda. You forgot the veranda."

      "You're such an opportunist."

      Continued DIRECTLY in 19b....

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