The first word that runs through Frank Castle’s mind when he sees her for the first time is honey. She’s got a mane of thick, wavy, honey-colored hair and when she brushes past him to get to Amy, he swears he can taste sweetness in the back of his throat when he swallows. He shakes his head a little to clear it and watches the two girls embrace, Amy wrapping her skinny arms as tight as she can around the golden girl. He shuffles awkwardly from foot to foot, rubbing a hand over the back of his neck.
“It’s so good to see you.” The girl says, holding Amy at arm’s length and tucking an errant curl behind her ear. Frank feels a current of electricity work its way from his head to his toes when he hears her raspy, throaty voice for the first time. Amy is smiling so big it might break her face and wiggles in the girl’s grasp to extend an arm towards Frank.
“This is Frank.” Amy announces and the girl turns around slowly, fixing Frank with her big blue eyes. He can sense her immediate distrust of him and watches as the girl studies him, her long eyelashes brushing her freckled cheekbones when she blinks.
“Hi.” She says finally, extending a hand. She steps closer and Frank swears that she smells just like a sun-ripened peach. Get a grip, man. He clears his throat and shakes her hand.
“Nice to meet you, ma’am.” He barely manages to keep his voice even. The girl’s eyes clear and she laughs, exposing white teeth, perfect except for a deep, jagged chip in her left canine.
“Ma’am, huh? Makes me feel old.”
“He calls everyone ma’am.” Amy chirps, taking the girl by the hand and swinging her arm back and forth.
“Well, you can call me Cassie.” The girl nods at Frank and he feels that jolt again. “I’m sure Amy’s told you, but I’m her cousin.”
“Oh, the kid told me alright.” Frank half-smiles. “Been talkin’ my ear off the last month about her long-lost cousin comin’ back to New York from Russia.”
“All good things, I hope.” Cassie fixes him with that cool, blue gaze again and Frank feels like he’s being X-Rayed. This girl is unbelievably beautiful, but she looks barely older than the kid and Frank feels a little sick for thinking so.
“Anyway, it’s good to be back in the city.” Cassie says, then stifles a yawn behind her hand. “God, I need a nap. Haven’t slept since Moscow.”
Frank tries to picture her in the snowy landscape of Russia, but the image is too at odds with the girl in front of him who looks as warm as the sun on a sultry, summer day. He can imagine the snow would melt if she touched it, just sizzle away into little droplets that she’d lick from her palm, pink tongue poking past that broken tooth. He shivers involuntarily.
“You can take a nap in my room, if you want!” Amy is practically vibrating with excitement and Cassie grins.
“That sounds great, kid.” She ruffles Amy’s hair and Amy dodges away from her, giggling. “You mind if I rest for a couple of hours?”
Frank starts because she’s directed this at him and he frowns. “‘Course. Whatever you want.”
“Thanks.” Cassie bends down to pick up the two giant duffle bags at her feet, but Frank strides towards them and hefts them onto his shoulder before she can. She straightens up with a look of mild surprise on her face, but Frank ignores this and starts towards Amy’s bedroom. Cassie follows him and he drops the bags next to the bed. He turns around and finds himself almost toe to toe with her and his breath catches when he notices their proximity.
“Appreciate you letting me crash here. I’ll just be staying for a few weeks.” She murmurs. “Then I’ll be out of your hair.”
Quite frankly, Frank thinks, if she keeps looking up at him from under her lashes like that, she can stay forever.
“Not a problem, ma’am.” He responds quietly. They stare at each other for a moment, their breathing the only sound in the room. Frank’s fingers twitch with the effort of not reaching out to touch her, wanting to feel the heft of one of those waves of hair under his fingers, wanting to see if she’s as warm as he imagines. The smell of peaches and honey fills his nose and he feels like he could drown in it. Cassie’s top row of teeth catches her full bottom lip and Frank feels a sudden urge to run his tongue over the crooked edge of her canine and he clears his throat.
“Have a good nap.”
“Thanks.” Cassie reaches out and touches his wrist lightly. “Frank.” She adds.
Frank closes the door behind him and leans against it for a moment, eyes closed. He touches the fingers of his other hand to the spot where hers rested and imagines he can still feel her warmth.
“Frank!” He opens his eyes and the kid dances up and tugs on his sleeve. “Isn’t it cool that she’s here?”
“Mhm.” Frank gently leads Amy away from the door towards the living room. “Hey, uh, how old is she?” He asks awkwardly, averting his gaze.
“23.” Amy slides her eyes to the right to look at him sideways. “She’s pretty, huh?” Her voice is teasing.
“Hadn’t noticed.” Frank grunts, but the blush he can feel creeping up his neck betrays him. 23, Jesus Christ. He feels relief on the one hand that she is older than he thought, but that's still awfully young. But, a small voice in his head says, does she really seem like your average 23 year old? Frank remembers the distrust in her eyes, the way he can tell that she’s carefully tracking his movements, and he’d bet serious money there’s a story behind both that tooth and the reason she’s been in Moscow for the last 3 years.
“Hey, don’t you have some homework to do?” Frank catches Amy’s arm as she tries to sidle towards the living room where Max is playing on the carpet with one of his toys.
“Ugh, I was hoping that you’d forgotten.” Amy sighs dramatically and waltzes into the kitchen, scooping up her backpack from its usual spot by the pantry.
Frank sits across from her at the kitchen table and sips from a cup of coffee while she does her pre-calculus, trigger finger tap-tap-tapping away on the table. He’s trying so hard not to think about the fact that Cassie is curled up in what used to be his bed before he gave the big room to the kid when she moved back from Florida. He stiffens thinking about the warm, honey scent of her dripping and soaking into the sheets and takes a hard swallow of his lukewarm coffee.
“Are you okay?” Amy puts her pencil down and fixes him with one of her famous “don’t BS me, mister” looks. She looks a little worried and Frank’s heart softens as it always does whenever she makes it clear that she cares about him.
“Yeah, fine. Just, uh, been a while since I’ve had anyone else asleep in this house who isn’t you.” Frank nudges Amy’s foot under the table and she relaxes.
“Are you gonna make dinner for us?” She asks, picking up her pencil again. “Cassie’s favorite food is spaghetti.” She says casually, looking down at her homework. Frank can see the corner of her mouth twitching and shakes his head at her lack of subtlety.
“Is it, now.” Frank responds, keeping his voice even and not taking the bait. “Well then I guess I’d better make spaghetti.”