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He remembered the first time he’d kissed her: the sweetness of her lips a pleasing contrast to the taste of beer on her tongue; running his hand through her hair and curling his fingers over her neck, feeling her skin flush with heat beneath his touch. He remembered the way she’d swayed into him, tugging on the loose, open halves of his shirt, bringing him closer – but not too close – but enough to make him burn to feel her hands on him.

He’d always liked her – Janey had impeccable taste in friends – but it wasn’t until she started coming out of her shell that he truly started to take notice. He found her intriguing; she got him on a level that nobody else did – no one not already related to him, at least. He’d been aware of her crush, and her seeming inability to act upon it; it had stoked his curiosity, because he didn’t think of himself as unapproachable. He’d even taken her out once, a sort of ‘proto-date,’ under the auspices of shopping for Janey’s birthday present. He had needed her help, and she did actually help him, but it also became all too clear that the idea of being in an actual relationship was way beyond her grasp.

Which was fine. He was hardly one to push.

They’d kept in touch since she’d gone off to college; he’d made it a point to invite her to all the Mystik Spiral gigs in and around Boston, and it always made him smile when he’d spot her in the audience. She was usually standing in the back with her arms crossed, whispering sardonic comments to his sister, who had to work to not crack up in the middle of a grunge club. He’d give them a shoutout from the stage and he’d watch as she averted her eyes, a flush burnishing her cheeks as she bit back a smile.

He enjoyed flirting with her. He always had.

He couldn’t pinpoint what exactly was different about that night. It was her twenty-first birthday, for which Jane had insisted on throwing a party and, of course, hiring Spiral to play the gig. She’d dressed in all black as if in protest, like her birthday – or legality – wasn’t something to celebrate. He’d watched her from the stage, and soon realized that for all her bluster to the contrary, she was actually enjoying herself. Her shoulders were relaxed, her arms unfurled, her feet crossed at her ankles even as she traded wisecracks with Jane, who sat beside her and cajoled her into drinking. After much haranguing, she finally accepted a beer, which she sipped through most of the band’s first set.

He’d made his way over to her during the break, just wanting to wish her a happy birthday, but the closer he got to her, the more his bland sentiment changed. She was striking up close: a bit taller than he remembered, her features a touch sharper, her layers of clothes hugging the curves of a quite pleasing figure. Her hair was swept up in a simple style, pinned back and exposing the delicate arch of her neck. Even her glasses were different – smaller, softer ovals in tortoise-shell frames, which seemed to disappear into her skin.

He remembered the way her eyes had widened when he’d approached her, the soft flush that had touched her cheeks, the way her shoulders had stiffened when he’d touched her. They didn’t have much time for conversation, and he wasn’t paying attention to it anyway, too busy gazing into her eyes and wondering how he’d never noticed the depth of their color before – brown ringed by an almost emerald green, darkened, no doubt, but her somber choice of clothing.

It wasn’t until after the second set that he’d finally managed to speak with her again, sliding into a seat beside her at the bar, making a joke about the likelihood of Spiral becoming a Doors cover band that played brew pubs. It relaxed her enough to start a conversation, enough for her to look at him directly and smile and share her observations of the party she hadn’t wanted but had somehow ended up enjoying.

They’d talked for a long time, their conversation lingering deep into the night. She was as sharp and worldly and incredibly intelligent as she’d ever been, but she was still sweetly naïve, too. She’d never been able to tell when a guy was into her – not back in high school, and certainly not now. Any other woman would’ve cottoned on to the way he’d been staring at her mouth, the way he’d inched closer to her over the course of the evening, pivoting his body to face her and leaning in, the corners of his mouth curving up with the hint of a smile, no matter what the topic. Hell, even Janey had noticed, throwing in her two cents when she dropped by for another round of drinks.

The good-natured teasing had embarrassed her – she was still a bit too sensitive – which was how they’d ended up alone outside in the first place. They stood in a small alleyway next to the building, just beyond the illumination of a streetlight, and he remembered contemplating the way she huddled into herself, very nearly slipping off into the shadows. So much progress in one evening, only to have it folded back in on itself. It was a shame, really…

She was still an interesting – no, fascinating – no, captivating person, even when slightly drunk and sulky and quiet.

If there was one thing he enjoyed about drinking, it was his newfound ability to be totally blunt and honest with himself. It had simply become too much to just look at her and flirt with her and think about her – he had to kiss her.

So he did.

It wouldn’t go down as the smoothest move he’d ever made, but it had gotten him what he wanted: his hands in her hair, her mouth under his, her body achingly close, beckoning to him, drawing him in.

He’d tried not to overwhelm her, tried to hold himself in check – tried to remember that this was Daria, the same Daria he’d made a move towards five years ago, the same Daria he’d spooked by simply taking her to Axl’s, the same Daria who worked hard to keep herself from being hurt, even if it meant damaging her friendship with Jane, or keeping her boyfriends at arm’s length – but it was really fucking hard, because she tasted really fucking good, and she was actually responding to his advances this time, and quite eagerly at that.

She shifted beneath him, causing the hand around her neck to slide into her hair, cradling the back of her head as she opened her mouth and deepened the kiss. She tugged on the ends of his shirt, pulling him closer, until he could feel the heat of her body, hovering mere inches away. It drove him crazy – she was so close, why wouldn’t she just touch him already?! – but it paralyzed him at the same time. He wanted to close his arms around her, to crush her against him, against the wall, to feel the warmth and softness of her body against his own, but he couldn’t make a move, couldn’t reason through his muddled thoughts, couldn’t figure out how to get what he so desired.

Finally – finally – she touched him, hesitantly, skimming her hands over his soft, well-worn t-shirt, making his skin prickle beneath her fingertips. He stepped into her, hoping to encourage her exploration, and was rewarded when she closed her arms around him, her hands blazing trails of pure fire up the planes of his back. He moaned, low in his throat, the sound reverberating through him and into her as he fisted his hand in her hair and slanted his mouth over hers at a deeper, more satisfying angle.

She dug her fingers into his shoulder blades and leaned into him, causing him to moan again, and he felt her smile against his lips, her apprehension melting away in the rush of heat and raw need that suddenly burned between them. He grappled for her hips, his hands sliding over every layer of her clothing in the process, and he relished the way she trembled beneath his touch. He’d never forget the way that felt, or the lines of her body, or the texture of her sweater, because Janey had picked that exact moment to make her presence known.

It’d probably been for the best, though it certainly didn’t feel that way at the time. He wasn’t ready for that moment to end. So many things had been left unsaid – so many things had been stirred up inside him, feelings he didn’t have words for quite yet.

He remembered staring after her as she walked away from him, allowing herself, however reluctantly, to be pulled back into her birthday party by his sister, and thinking: nothing would ever be the same between them again.

And that, he’d decided, was a very good thing.