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Where the Heart Is

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The kiss isn't the deepest or longest or most aggressive they've shared--that honor goes, hands down, to that first kiss on Christmas morning--but neither is it exactly brief, nor chaste. And this kiss possesses something all their previous kisses lacked. It's not just an expression of love or affection or desire, although all of those are present in it. But there's something more, something which had been absent even in their lovemaking. This kiss contains a promise, a sacrament, the final and inextricable communion of two souls.

When they break the kiss, Luke glances out of the corner of his eyes, first left and then right, to see if any of Lexie's friends were watching. He doesn't see any of them, but also finds he doesn't really care one way or another. His sister is in his arms and he is never, ever going to let go of her. "Happy New Year, Lex."

Lexie smiles back at him, her face an image of beatific contentment. "Happy New Year," she replies, as the band begins to play "Auld Lang Syne."

Luke’s not sure if Lexie’s friends saw them kiss or if everybody is just very tired and drunk, but there’s silence in the limo as it takes them away from the city. He figures it doesn’t matter. Even if they did see something, Luke and Lexie will be long gone by the time anything would be able to get back to their parents.

The limo pulls up in front of the Matthews household, and Luke and Lexie say a brief goodbye to Tamara, Magda, London, and Jane as they get out, then start their walk up to house. "Mom and Dad must still be at Uncle Peter and Aunt Mary's," Lexie notes, gesturing at the absence of their father's car in the driveway.

They make their way through the house and up the stairs. "See you in a couple of hours," he tells Lexie. She leans in for a kiss and he obliges, then makes his way into his room. He makes sure to set his alarm, then collapses into bed, where unconsciousness takes him immediately.

Luke wakes up what seems like a few minutes later, his alarm blaring in his ears as he groggily searches for it to turn it off. It requires an act of will to get out of bed, but Africa is calling. He winces as he gets up and quickly dresses, then finishes packing his bag before exiting his room, half-afraid to find out his memories of New Year's were nothing but a very pleasant dream.

He finds Lexie in the bathroom, dressed in travel clothes and brushing her teeth. He grabs his own travel toothbrush and brushes his own teeth. Once they've both spit out into the sink, he leans over and gives Lexie a quick good-morning. "Morning."

"Morning," she says, smiling up at him. "You ready to go?"

"Just as soon as I pack my toothbrush," he tells her, shaking the water from its bristles before returning it to its travel case. "You?"

"Yep," Lexie says. "Let's go."

It's a bittersweet sensation getting in the Jetta with Lexie, knowing he may never go back to this house. But that house isn't his home, not anymore. The one thing that made it still "home" is sitting in the driver's seat of the Jetta, and she's going with him. He can't really convince himself it's true, but he just watches as they get onto the highway and, about twenty minutes later, take the exit for the airport.

They leave her car in the short-term parking lot. “We can call our parents from Paris and tell them to pick it up,” he says as he grabs his backpack and gets out of the car.

To his surprise, he watches Lexie pop the trunk of her Jetta and pull out a full-sized luggage bag. “When did you pack that?” he asks.

Lexie shrugs. “A couple of days ago, just in case,” she answers. “I figured I could always just unpack it if I decided not to go, and I didn’t want to end up deciding to go and then being forced to leave everything behind because I didn’t have time to pack.”

They make their way to the terminal and manage to check their baggage and go through security without any incident, giving them time to catch breakfast on the concourse while they wait for their flight. Lexie takes a bite out of her croissant, then leans over and rests her head on Luke's shoulder.

"Tired?" he asks her.

"Three hours isn't exactly a full night's sleep," she agrees.

Luke turns his head and presses a kiss to her forehead. "Just be glad you didn't drink more than you did last night," he points out. "An airplane isn't exactly an ideal place for a hangover."

"Ugh," she says, then lifts her head and looks at Luke. "Speaking of getting wasted, how do you think Gwen will react when she learns I've run off with you?"

Luke shrugs. "She'll get over it," he says nonchalantly, hoping he's right. But as much hopes the best for his cousin, he also finds that he doesn't really care how she reacts.

Lexie nods thoughtfully. "How do you think Mom and Dad will react?" she asks, the worry clear on her face.

Despite Lexie's obvious trepidation, Luke still can't quite totally stifle a wry laugh in response to her question. "Badly," he admits. He can't imagine they'll take Lexie's sudden disappearance very well, even without them knowing the truth about the nature of the relationship between their son and daughter. "But what are they going to do about it? Follow us to Africa and try to drag you back with them?"

Lexie laughs. "I wouldn't put it past them."

Luke takes her left hand, the hand whose ring finger now bears his ring, and brings it to his mouth, pressing a soft kiss to her knuckles. "You're not the little sixteen-year-old girl you were when I left for Africa. You're an adult now. You deserve to get to make this decision for yourself." He's just glad as hell the decision she made was to choose him.

Lexie sighs. "I know. But it's still a little scary, you know."

He presses a second kiss to her knuckles. "I know," he answers. "Life-changing events always are. But I'll be right there with you, I promise."

Lexie smiles. "Always?"

Luke nods, not letting go of her hand. "Always."

After breakfast, they walk towards their gate hand in hand and wait for their plane to stard boarding. When it's time to board, they stand, still holding hands. "Ready?" Luke asks, giving Lexie's hand a quick squeeze.

"Yeah," Lexie answers, a grin spreading across her face. "Let's go home."