Triana guessed that she'd always had a thing for the pathetic type. Or had had. She was trying to get over it. Her friends, she knew, looked at Raven and thought she was falling into the same old routine, but she also knew that they couldn't be looking past the crutches if they thought that. He was, like, the most together guy she'd ever known, and he could treat her like he thought she was amazing without acting like he thought was some huge deal that she'd even talk to him. Things had kind of ended between them when he went off to school halfway across the country, daily phone calls dwindling down to weekly then to a few times a month and a handful of emails in between where they talked more like best friends than long-distance lovers, but he'd been exactly what she'd needed for awhile there.
But before that, yeah. Yeah, she'd had a thing for the pathetic type. Or at least a thing for leading them on, not because she got off on jerking people around but because they were always so nice, and if she could make them happy just by being nice back, why not?
It was the part of her that had made her let Craig Adams follow her around like a lost puppy for four weeks in the fifth grade. It was the part of her that hadn't had the heart to just firmly tell Joanie Pierce that she was flattered but wasn't into girls that way when they were freshmen in high school, not when she seemed so grateful that Triana tried to treat her kindly instead of throwing her crush back in her face. It was the part of her that let Dean Venture believe for years that maybe, someday, something could happen between them, because it seemed so bitchy to flatly tell him she wasn't interested when she was probably the first girl his own age the poor guy had ever seen.
And it was the part of her that made her sit down beside the depressed-looking guy huddled over at the bar when she recognized him, even though she knew that letting someone who knew she wasn't old enough to drink see her there wasn't the smartest idea in the world. She even let him see through the glamour of age she had wrapped around her--the glamour that was the whole reason she was even there that night really... well, that and getting out of the house for as long as she could, because how many nineteen-year-olds wouldn't test out that power at a bar the same night they learned it?--so he'd know who she was when she said, "Hey. Gary, right?"
He barely looked up at her, just giving her a quick blurry-eyed squint before turning his attention back to beer in front of him and saying, "Are you from the Guild? Well you can do whatever you want to me, but I'm not going back to the Monarch, and I'm not signing up to work with anyone else."
"Okay, wow," she said, reaching up to touch her face. "You just did a better job of convincing me that I need to wear less eye make-up than a thousand speeches from my dad. No, I'm Triana." He looked at her again, but there didn't seem to be any trace of recognition in his eyes so she added, "Triana Orpheus? I'm friends with Dean and Hank."
Finally recognition dawned, the force of it apparently enough to jolt him in his chair though she guessed that probably wouldn't have happened if he wasn't drunk. "Ohhh, the necromancer's daughter, right?" He took a swig of his beer than repeated his words, "The necromancer's daughter," drawing them out like he was trying to get a taste for them in his mouth. "Sounds like it should be a B-movie. Like you could say, 'Who would win in a fight, Elvira or The Necromancer's Daughter?'" For a minute he sat up straighter on his stool as he asked the question, but immediately after he slumped down again, squeezing his eyes shut, shaking his head, and muttering to himself, "No, that's not a good one."
"No kidding," she joked, trying to lighten the mood and secretly pleased at how he only identified her as her father's daughter unconnected with the increasingly troubled couple she was getting away from for the evening, "I'd beat the wig right off her head." She casually leaned against the bar, her hand just beside the glass he seemed set on focusing on, and let purple and black energy flare up around her fingertips for just a moment to prove her point where he'd be sure to see it and hopefully no one else would. It was a trick she kind of loved to do, just because it so obviously showed that she was getting this whole magic thing down.
That finally seemed to catch his attention enough to prod him into turning on his stool to fully face her. "Are you sure you're on the side of the good guys? Because from where I'm sitting, that was some pretty dark looking magic."
"Hey, profiling. Magic's just like a gun, or any other weapon; its not good or bad, the person using it is. So you can have my dad being the nicest guy in the world even though he's in a field that everyone who doesn't know better thinks is completely evil, or you could have somebody who only know how to heal using it to, like, give cancer cells a boost." She waved over the bartender for another drink, her throat dry after regurgitating that spiel from her first magic lesson. As she watched him pour she added as a low confession, "I wouldn't say I'm with 'the good guys', though. More like 'the neutral guys'. My dad totally thinks that as soon as I'm done training I'll join the Order of the Triad with him... or Tetrad then, I guess, I don't really know. But you can be a magician without getting involved in all this Guild and OSI stuff, and after everything I saw living at the Venture place I kind of think I'd prefer that."
It wasn't something she'd told anyone else, but from what she'd heard about what happened at that prom after she'd left she thought that maybe he'd gotten disillusioned enough with the whole good-vs-evil game that he might actually get it. The only other person she could say that about was Dr. Venture, and he was Dr. Venture. The last person in the world any sane person would confide in.
"Oh, you say that now," he said, with the sudden indignation of the drunk, "but it's not always that easy."
"What? Are you gonna say something like 'sometimes it's not a choice, it's a calling'?"
"No. No no no no." He shook his head, waving his hands in the air between them. "Sometimes it's not a choice, you just get knocked out when you're on a field trip and when you wake up you're in a butterfly costume."
"Oh. Okay... uh, geeze. Well, I'm too old for field trips, so at least I don't need to worry about that part."
He didn't even seem to hear her, still caught up by whatever private memory world had caught his attention. "And maybe you always knew you'd never be cool enough to be Han Solo but you don't even get a chance to be Luke. You're just stuck as random Stormtrooper #21 for the best years of your life, until one day you look around and it's gone so far downhill that your best friend is a ghost who isn't even there." He seemed to drag himself back to the present at that, focusing on her again, "You know, for such a nice guy your dad can be a real dick when he's shattering a guy's delusions."
"In his defense, if this happened the night I think it did than the guy who spiked the punch is the one you really need to blame. I haven't seen him that drunk since right after mom left and before he won full custody." Her father properly defended, she reached out and rested her hand lightly on his arm. She'd seen him dozens of times over the past couple of years while she'd been living at the Venture Industries building, sometimes close up and sometimes just from her window as she looked out on whatever crazy things were happening that day, but it was the first time that she'd ever touched him. Not that she regularly ran around getting grabby with older men she barely knew, but she couldn't help but have the thought jump into her mind when she made contact with him.
Of course, it was also the first time she'd ever really talked to him. Apparently it was just a day for firsts.
"And, hey," she said, "you aren't random. I totally recognized you as soon as I saw you, and it's not like I was right in the middle of the whole Monarch-Dr. Venture feud thing. And the guys liked you enough to invite you to their prom. That's like, the opposite of random."
"Which is, like, a giant sign of failure when you're one of the people who're supposed to be menacing them, but whatever! I am seriously just done with the whole thing. Completely." He suddenly narrowed his eyes at her suspiciously, which she decided she'd be nice and blame on the beer instead of taking personally. "What're you being so nice for anyway? You only know me as one of guys who kept attacking your house."
"Kept attacking the Venture house. You guys did stay out of our area, pretty much." Then she shrugged, and leaned back on her stool, staring absently at the ceiling like an answer he'd accept might be written in the grimy plaster there. "And, I dunno. Because the guys think you're nice, and I'm not some kind of sadist who likes seeing nice guys look depressed? Or because I'd guess that you could stand to see a friendly face now that all the people you know probably have orders to kill you on sight or something. Or just because sleezeballs are less likely to hit on me if I'm already talking with someone, if it'd be easier to believe an answer where I get something out of it."
"I don't think 'sleezeballs' would be the right word for that. Aren't you-- Wait, how old are you?" He gave the drink in her hand a sudden hard look like he'd only just realized that something was off there, but at least he kept his voice pitched low enough that the bartender didn't seem to hear him from where he was serving another customer at the other end of the bar.
She could have taken a minute to explain the glamour on her, how he was the only one in the whole place who didn't see her as pushing thirty, and let him go right on assuming that she was young enough that anyone hitting on her was, like, inviting statutory rape charges. Nobody would overhear her; the bartender wasn't in any hurry to get back to their area, more focused on flirting with the guy he'd been pouring liquor for, and she was the only person in the bar who seemed to think it was a good idea to sit near the guy with bulging arm muscles and a look that said the world had dealt him so many troubles that he might well be happy to deal some back if he got belligerent as he got drunker.
Instead, on pure impulse, she said, "Old enough to be legal. In every state." She'd been keeping an eye on the bartender, making sure that he definitely wasn't going to suddenly head back and check on them, but now her gaze slipped back to look at Gary out of the corner and gauge his reaction, not even sure what she wanted it to be, when she added with her voice pitched low, "I'm not jailbait, if that's what you're worried about."
He seemed to have a sudden coughing fit, and was he actually blushing? She couldn't tell for sure in the dim light, though just the thought that he might be was weirdly charming; she didn't even get that reaction out of Dean too often anymore, and even though she did do her best to avoid saying or doing anything around him that would merit a blush it hadn't been too long ago when that wouldn't even make any difference.
When he got himself under control again he stammered, "I... I wasn't thinking anything like that," in a tone that sounded like it was trying to be chivalrous but just ended up settling on awkward, and apparently not even noticing how obvious his lie was given the 'sleezeball' conversation path that got them onto the subject. "I was just wondering if you should be drinking that," he added defensively.
"You're right," she said easily, grabbing her half-full glass to swirl the beer left in it around for a moment before shoving it away, "I really should stop here. I've hit my limit if I want to be okay to drive home. Not unless I want to magic the alcohol out of my blood, anyway."
"You can do that?" he asked, raising his eyebrows at her.
"Yeah, but it sucks. Painfully. And you end up with, like, beer bruises and need to do more work to get rid of them, and if you're drunk enough to start with to think that it's all worth it than you're also drunk enough that chances are you'll screw up majorly and end up bleeding out your pores or something."
He turned his hand up to stare at the veins on his wrist with a perturbed expression on his face. "I think I would have been happier if I hadn't asked about that."
"Oh, come on," she said with a grin. "You were a villainous henchman. You've got to have seen way worse than bleeding pores before."
"Hey, just because I already have horrible mental pictures in my mind it does not mean I'll be happy adding more!"
"Okay, okay, sorry." She stood up, digging the cash out of her purse to settle her tab when the bartender finally dragged his attention back to them, then she leaned against the stool she'd just vacated and looked him over. "Speaking of not being okay to drive, want a lift?"
"I'm not that far..." he said, looking like he didn't quite trust the offer to be serious.
"Want a ride anyway?" She nudged his shoulder, not really trying to push him to his feet but just to punctuate the question, and couldn't help but notice how he really had gotten kind of ridiculously built; he could probably make a fortune with his own flab to fit type program if he'd done it in a way he could pass on to other people. "Come on, think about how guilty I'd feel if tomorrow I heard about some big car accident a few blocks from here because I let you convince me you'd be okay to drive 'not that far'."
He must have decided to believe she was sincere, because after just one more moment's worth of hesitation he stood up and named a street for her. One she knew, luckily. When they got outside she was a little surprised at how early in the night she suddenly realized it was, the streets still noisy with traffic and a good amount of people still wandering the sidewalks even though what had been a hot day had turned into an unpleasantly muggy night. She felt like she'd been sitting in there talking with him for a lot longer. In a good way, not a so bored that every second seemed to drag on way, which was kind of rare for her.
"Hey, where's your car?" she asked when they reached the parking lot. "I can set something up to make sure nobody'll break into it tonight."
He snorted and muttered, "Like they would bother," but pointed her down one of the rows of cars.
"The Nissan?" she asked when he slowed to a halt halfway down the row.
He looked away, a pained expression flashing across his face, and said, "It's kind of a tribute.
"I wasn't judging it or anything. That would be pretty hypocritical when you're about to see the clunker I have; I can't ever drive it to the Compound when I'm visiting Dad because I know if he sees it he'll freak out then probably spend more than he can afford getting me something safer." She walked around to the driver's side door, drawing power carefully to herself in the way she'd been taught, and when she peered in to make sure it was locked to begin with something on the rearview mirror caught her eye. "They make bat signal air fresheners?"
"Bat symbol," he corrected. "The Bat signal is a searchlight."
"Okay, they make bat symbol air fresheners? I think I know what to throw in Hank's birthday card this year; they've got to start driving sometime soon." She straightened up and reached out to him. "Give me your hand."
"W-what?" he asked, voice cracking nervously, but even as he said it he did as she'd asked. His palm was hot and damp against hers.
She covered it with her other hand, holding his hand clasped unnecessarily between hers for a moment longer than was really needed to just flip it over so it was palm-upwards. Once it was positioned in the way she wanted it she looked down at it like she was a fortuneteller reading its lines and lightly grazed her fingernails down his palm from the end of his fingers to the start of his wrist several times, smiling when she felt him shake slightly and knowing that the angle of her head would keep him from noticing it. "If you're ever working with some other magic user who needs a biological component to mark you to a spell and they pull out a knife, tell them to go to hell," she told him as explanation for what she was doing. "Nine times out of ten they're just doing it to try and cow you and don't really need anything but a few skin flakes like I'm getting, or a hair pulled out from its root, or... well, basic rule of thumb, if somebody could run a DNA test on it it'll probably work."
"What about the tenth time?" he asked, his voice sounding a little husky.
"The tenth time you've fallen into something nasty enough that you'll be happy you walked away from it later. I know there are a few things that aren't really bad that use blood in them, though I've been told I need to learn a lot more before I'm allowed to find out the details, but usually if a spell requires blood? It's a giant flashing warning sign to get away, especially if you're supposed to be the one bled." She found that she liked being the one giving the lessons about magic for a change, instead of being the one sitting around listening to exhaustive lectures about safety, and taking magic seriously, and how to tell when a spell was bad news.
She let his hand slip away from hers, then pressed the fingers that she'd used she scrape up skin flakes against his car. There was nothing flashy about the spell--if she were her dad she would add flash just to make a show of it, but she wasn't so she didn't--to any onlookers she just looked like she was standing there for a few moments. But that was one of the things which made it effective; if whatever she was warding had already caught someone's eye it would just look to them like she'd gotten lost in thought for a moment, not like she was doing anything to worry about. It was one of the very first spells that her mother had taught her when she started her training, her early lessons focused on things which had obvious functional uses in day-to-day life instead of more arcane magic.
Triana was pretty sure that was a sign that her mom had thought her suddenly wanting to learn her parents' craft was just a whim that she'd drop as soon as she realized how much work it would take, passing on knowledge that she'd still be able to use when she went back to her comparatively mundane life. But that was fine, she didn't let it bother her. After all, she'd obviously managed to prove herself eventually; her lessons were getting more interesting all the time.
"There," she said when she was done. "If anyone else tries getting into your car before the next time you open the door they're going to see a pretty awful 'premonition' about how they'll run straight into their biggest fear if they go through with it. And if they try again anyway, they're getting electrocuted." She thought about how that sounded for a second then quickly added, "Like, 'taser' electrocuted, not like 'you might find some fried bodies tomorrow' electrocuted. It still won't be fun for them, but it won't be crazy overkill for their attempted crime."
"Hey, you don't need to explain yourself to me," he told her. "Even if I had thought you just turned by car into a portable electric chair, which I didn't, I'm totally used to crazy overkill."
"I guess you would be. Come on, I'm this way." She lead him to her car, which was just as much of a clunker as she'd told him it would be but at least she kept it nice and clean on the inside which was enough to keep her from feeling too ashamed. Most of her friends let their cars get completely trashed inside, and when you had to shove aside a half-dozen fast food bags to make room in the passenger seat you started to appreciate a tidy hunk of junk.
His apartment building really was close enough that it was hardly worth driving, except that it was a swelteringly hot summer night and her car was old enough that the air conditioner used Freon which was pretty much the best thing in the world when it was hot out... if you ignored the whole 'destroying the ozone layer' thing. So even though, after a couple of minutes stuck at a red light and the time she had to spend looking for somewhere to park, walking probably would have been almost as fast it wasn't a choice she would have made.
She knew when she found that spot, when she parked and got out at the same time as him and set up her own security over her car, that she was making a choice in a way. She could have pulled up out front, said good night, and they could both have told themselves that she hadn't been doing anything but making sure there was less drunk driver on the road by giving him a ride. It would have been easy, especially since he was the first guy she'd ever given a lift home at night who honestly looked like there wasn't even a small part of him expecting anything more than that.
And maybe she'd have seen him again someday and maybe she wouldn't. Maybe they'd have talked to each other again or maybe without a beer in her it would seem like a terrible idea and she'd keep her mouth shut. The future, especially the alternate future, had a lot of maybes in it.
But, really, the choice had been made back in the parking lot when she'd curled her hand around his and realized that he had sweaty palms like he was the teenager, over her. It had been made when she'd offered him a lift even though he honestly seemed less drunk all the time, which made sense since when she looked back she couldn't remember him taking more than one sip from his drink the whole time they'd been talking in spite of how long he'd seemed focused on it.
Maybe, though it didn't seem likely, it had even unconsciously been made the minute she'd sat down beside him and let him see her as she was, for no better reason than because he'd looked sad and she'd decided to trust Dean and Hank's judgment that he was a person worth talking to.
Whatever the case was, she got out and ignored his look of surprise as she followed him in and up the stairs. It turned out that his apartment was just a small studio, almost all of his possessions still in boxes piled up against the walls. "Just move in?" she asked.
"Uh, about a month ago. I haven't had much time to unpack," he said, and she noticed him trying to unobtrusively nudge a box that was open to reveal it was filled with movie merchandise with his foot to behind an end table where it would be almost out of her sight.
She laughed and flashed him a smile. "You know, I'm friends with the Venture brothers. Do you really think I get scared off by some geeky stuff?"
He paused, then let his foot drop. "That... makes sense," he said, and cleared his throat awkwardly while she looked around at what little there was to see.
On another small table, next to a terribly out-of-date old rotary dial phone, she found one of the henchman masks she was more used to seeing him in.
He saw her reaching out to touch it and rushed to reassure her, "Seriously, I am completely done with all of that. You don't need to worry that this is all some big plan to kidnap you so The Monarch can use you to bait a trap for Hank and Dean or anything."
"It would actually be kind of impressive if it was. I mean, since there was no way you should have been able to know I'd be there tonight, or that I'd talk to you, or that I'd end up here if I did."
"I just found my spare mask while I was packing up my things, and I threw out the one I usually wear--wore!--when I quit but after I cooled down I kind of wanted the keepsake, you know?" he went on, apparently not even noticing her contribution.
"Hey, relax," she said. "I wasn't worrying about anything like that. I was just thinking that I don't see these that often these days." Thinking that, and thinking how she actually missed it, though she wasn't going to say that to somebody she knew had been badly burned by the whole thing. Even though she'd been telling him the truth when she said it wasn't a life she wanted for herself, she'd been happier during the years she spent watching it from the outside than she'd been in years. Maybe even since way back when her mom and dad were still happy together. She didn't regret her decision to leave or anything--she wanted to learn, and even if her dad had been willing to teach her she knew he loved her too much to teach her anything dangerous which was a problem when there was the potential for danger in just about every spell worth knowing--but she did miss being able to look out her window and always see something interesting.
"Oh," he said, and sagged down to sit on the edge of his bed. "Oh, yeah. That's on purpose."
"What, seriously?" she asked. "I didn't think I was more than a blip on the supervillain radar."
"I probably shouldn't be saying this, but... screw it. They don't deserve my loyalty anymore. See, the thing is that The Monarch only got to go back to fighting Dr. Venture by abusing a loophole, and he really doesn't want to give anyone any reason to complain to the Guild about him in case they start paying enough attention to notice he never spends any time on the guy he's supposed to be arching. A reason like somebody unrelated to the conflict getting harmed as collateral damage."
"So, when I moved out..." she said, starting to get it.
"...he just started making sure you weren't visiting when he wanted to attack. Problem solved since your dad is the only one we thought might ever complain, if it was you who got hurt. Most people don't even realize you can do that." He paused then glanced at her with a surprisingly vindictive glint in his eyes, "But if he ever gets hurt by them let me know and I'll tell you how to file the complaint. If it happened because he got himself involved they won't be held responsible, but they'll still need to fill out a mountain of paperwork and might need to try sweet-talking the Ventures into testifying that they saw him willingly join into the conflict."
"Wow, wishing paperwork on them, harsh," she said lightly, crossing over to sit down beside him on the edge of the bed, but her tone turned a little more sympathetic as she added, "You really left them on bad terms, didn't you?"
"I don't even want to talk about it. I just finally woke up and realized whatever I thought might be there for me they made it worth staying didn't exist, and then I remembered that I have some self-respect." He'd said that proudly, but suddenly he slumped and stared down at his hands. "Not that it's done me any good. I was sure, sure, that those guys in Sphinx would let me join up once I cut ties with the Monarch. We worked really well together, you know? It was, like, the first time I ever even found out what a supportive work environment felt like. Then they closed up shop the next day! They took enough pity on me to pay me for the afternoon I spent helping out the same amount they give when they need to hire an outside specialist for something, which, it turns out, is enough for me to get a car and rent this place for a few months on it alone, but... And then they said I should check out the OSI, which is fine for them but I've heard they brainwash ex-villains who decide to join up just to make sure they'll stay loyal."
Listening to his stream of troubles she could understand why he'd ended up sitting around in a bar looking depressed, but one thing in particular popped out at her. "Hey, I can name at least one good thing that came of it," she said, reaching out to touch his hand and pull his attention away from his thoughts and to her. "I wouldn't have sat down to talk to you if I hadn't known that you'd left them. And I definitely wouldn't have done this."
Moving quickly to try and stop any second thoughts from catching up to her she leaned into kiss him. And she might have first set down with him out of pity, but she was kissing him because after talking and teasing and laughing with him she just wanted to. If she picked that particular moment because he was getting down again and she wanted to give him something to cheer up about, well, she wouldn't call that pity. Not when she was sure she'd have done it just as easily if he'd been perfectly happy.
For a second his lips were slack against hers, like even then when she was sitting right there next to him on his bed he hadn't thought that anything would happen between them. Then he was kissing her back, hesitant at first but quickly gaining confidence when she responded to his response. He kissed like he hadn't had much practice at it, lips and tongue and, soon enough, hands moving with the same careful deliberateness of a couple of old boyfriends she'd had who had just enough experience to have a mental checklist of things like 'try not to drool too much' or 'keep track of where your nose is' but not enough to do it without thinking yet. But, more importantly, he didn't kiss like he had no practice at all, which she'd been a little worried about now that she knew he'd been kidnapped into being a henchman while he was still little enough to be going on field trips.
"Just so we're totally clear about this before we get any further," she said between panting breaths, pushing him back onto the bed then yanking off her own shirt even as she spoke which might have seemed a little counterproductive when she was trying to make a pause in the action, "By now I'm definitely clearheaded enough to give consent, and you should have seen us together more than enough to know that I have a great relationship with my dad, but not in a creepy Electra complex way, so I don't have any daddy issues that make me go after older men. Plus, I'm the one initiating things. So if you start feeling like you might have taken advantage of me later, don't." She snatched another quick kiss as she lead him to the snaps of her bra with one hand and started tugging at his own shirt with the other. "Seriously, don't. Dad literally has a sixth sense about that type of thing when it comes to me; he's definitely sense it someday, and then things would get bad."
He briefly froze underneath her. "Like, how bad? Zombies chasing after me bad, or--"
"Just, bad. Do you really want details?" she said, cutting him off. "And it really will be fine if you just remember what I said. If a guy hasn't done anything to upset me then Dad won't go after him unless he thinks he's done something wrong with me, intent matters and all that, and I just did my best to make it really clear you aren't doing anything wrong. And I already told you I'm not jailbait." She wiggled up until she was straddling his hips, both of them still wearing their pants which she'd need to do something about soon but for the time being she just slid her hands up his chest, feeling the tension drain back out of him as he decided to accept what she'd said.
His body was a strange mixture of soft and hard unlike anything she'd felt with any of the few boys she'd been in similar positions with, well-built muscle there no matter where her hands explored if she just pressed down a little but often covered with a layer of fat that he hadn't completely worked off yet. She found that she actually liked the contrast; she'd never been into the huge veiny muscles that body-builder types usually had but it was a lot more appealing with the edges softened a little. Maybe because it fixed that whole 'veiny' problem.
"One more thing," she said when she finally started tugging at the button of his fly. "When I pull a condom out of my purse in a minute it doesn't mean that I do this sort of thing regularly enough to make it worth carrying one. It just means that my stepdad is obsessed with being a 'cool' parent, and he thinks that includes giving me a couple to carry around 'just in case'."
A minute later she pulled a condom out of her purse, but by that point he was honestly too distracted to think anything of it at all.
Later--not quite as much later as she would have wanted but at least he was able to take a hint and not seem annoyed by it when she guided his hand between her legs after he was finished, which more than she could say for some guys--she pulled out of his arms, stood up on legs that were still a little wobbly, and started to say, "Hey, I've gotta--"
Unexpectedly he cut her off, his voice brittle, "Oh, of course. I'm sure you have places to be, I shouldn't have thought you might stay five minutes. Should I hope to see you again sometime?" He rolled over to face the wall, his body visibly even tenser than it had been when he was imagining her dad sending zombies to eat him.
She blinked at him, completely taken aback both by his actions and at the bitterness in his tone. "...Hey, I've gotta wash my face before I fall asleep in my makeup, be back in a minute," she finished her original thought, and reached out to run her hand gently along the knobbly line of his spine. He was shaking, slightly. "Are you okay?"
She barely heard his quietly whispered, "Shit," as he reached up to rub his hand over his face, then he rolled back to face her once more. "Sorry," he said. "Sorry. The last time I had anything to do with a woman it ended up being a completely horrible experience in just about any way you can imagine. I guess it's left me a little..."
"Distrustful?" she asked, taking pity on him by providing the most obvious word from her standpoint for the blank he was having trouble filling in.
"That works," he agreed, and reached out to take hold of her wrist. He stared at that point of contact, his thumb rubbing gentle circles over her pulse point, and admitted, "It doesn't help that I have no idea why you're even here. I kept expecting it to turn out to be some type of joke on me, but the punchline never came. It keeps feeling like the other shoe has to drop eventually."
"I don't make jokes like that," she said, not allowing her tone to get sharp at the suggestion that she might though it was definitely firm. "And... I don't really know why I'm here either. I just know that I liked talking to you. And I liked being here." Definitely liked it a lot more than she would have liked going home and watching another night of her mother growing increasingly chilly while Outrider remained completely oblivious, part of her wanting to say something but most of her refusing to let him have anymore hints than her real dad, the dad she loved, had gotten to what this time Triana could recognize was coming. "And I don't plan on going anywhere else tonight, so in the morning we can start seeing if we still, you know, enjoy each other's company when we're both completely sober, and work from there. You'll like having me around then; I know how to make a hangover cure that actually works. Another of those wanna-be cool parent things." She tugged her arm away from him, but leaned down to give him another quick kiss, more gentle than any of her earlier ones. "Now, I'm going to the bathroom for a minute. Then I'm coming back, and getting back in bed, and before long we'll be falling asleep. No other shoe dropping."
But she paused once more before she got there, a thought that probably should have been the first one in her mind if only she weren't sleepy and sated and still the tiniest bit buzzed finally making its way into her mind. "If you thought it was a joke... why did you go along with it?"
He was quiet for a long moment, staring up at the ceiling instead of looking over at her, before finally admitting, "Because I was hoping it wasn't."
And what could she say to that?
She went to the bathroom. She came back. They fell asleep, with him curled around her like he was trying to be absolutely sure that she really wouldn't slip away in the night.
And the next day, once they'd pushed through the initial awkwardness of the morning after and started trying to really get to know each other by talking about any topic that crossed their minds, they privately started to think that maybe, just maybe, that other shoe would turn out to be a long time coming.
If it ever fell at all.