so this is a sequel of sorts to shake the dust. if you don't want to re-read it, basically what you need to know is: skye found rosie crying in the bathroom and brought her to this great little bar so they could get ripping drunk. rosie’s a ballerina with overbearing parents and cute (but mostly absent) brothers. she needed a night out. skye was happy to help a fellow sister in arms. this is the morning after.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
There is some kind of infernal pounding doing pirouettes on the edges of her consciousness.
(One night with Rosie and she’s already thinking in dancer terms. This does not bode well for her sanity, to be honest.)
The pounding continues until Skye surfaces long enough to realise that it is a literal pounding of someone attempting to beat down her front door.
And not in the metaphorical sense.
Skye stumbles out of bed and trudges into the living room with eyes half closed against the bright glare of daylight. “Whoever you are, prepare to die.” She slaps a hand against the wall for balance and yanks open the door with a snarl that dies on her lips.
Standing in front of her is quite possibly the most attractive man she’s ever seen.
Like, to the point where she’s pretty sure there are laws in the universe against cheekbones and a jawline like that and oh god why did his muscles have to bunch so tightly under that black henley and –
“You can beat down my front door any time you want,” Skye mutters to herself, staring blankly as the mystery hunk begins ranting at her.
He’s paying approximately zero attention as she yawns against the back of her hand, content to let him get out his frustrations because nothing is really thick enough to penetrate the fog of her pre-coffee/post-hangover brain.
“And furthermore –” He finally stops, taking her in and the way she’s all but slumped against the doorframe for balance. “You’re not Rose.”
“Give the man a gold star,” Skye lifts a foot to absently scratch the back of her other leg. When he doesn’t seem compelled to expand on his declaration, and can only focus on the sight of her bare legs (she’d been sleeping off a hangover, for god’s sake; everyone knew you slept in an (just barely) oversized tee and underwear when sleeping off a hangover), she rolls her eyes.
The awkward silence stretches out painfully. She’d give her left arm for a coffee at this point.
“Can I help you with something?” Skye finally asks, growing more fed up by the second. “I don’t know how you got this address or what your problem is –”
That seems to snap him out of his dazed shock. “My problem?”
“– But some of us are trying to sleep,” she raises her voice, talking over the incredulity in his tone while looking as imperious as one can without wearing any pants. “And we didn’t ask for some crazy fan to come disturb our slumber on a perfectly respectable Sunday morning –”
“– Afternoon, actually,” he icily corrects, moving slightly until he is all but looming over her and definitely do his very best at ignoring all laws of personal space.
“– So if you have a point to be making, instead of just lecturing the entire hallway on their sleeping habits –”
“– of which, yours could apparently use some work,” he snidely remarks, stepping even further into the apartment.
Skye’s jaw drops open. “Screw you,” she shoves him backward with all the strength she can muster – which might as well be nothing, considering he doesn’t budge an inch. “Jesus. What the hell even are you? A robot?”
He opens his mouth to answer but is beaten to the punch by a feminine gasp.
Rose has stumbled out of the spare room, likely awakened by their shouting. She’s clad in the same perfectly respectable leggings and silk camisole Skye distantly remembers seeing last night, and clearly recognises the man glaring in the doorway.
“Oh god.” Rose looks slightly guilty. “I see you’ve met my older brother, Grant.”
Grant has the nerve to shift his eyes to Skye with a smugness that is entirely uncalled for. “As always, it’s been an absolute pleasure making the acquaintance of another one of your friends, Rosie.”
“I wouldn’t call it a pleasure,” Skye flicks a dismissive look at him before stepping aside so that he can properly come in and stop causing a general disturbance to her neighbors.
He casts a clearly dubious look at her shabby chic decor and seems to think better of proceeding beyond the entryway. “Rose. Grab your things. If we leave now, we’ll be able to get you back in time for rehearsals tonight.”
Rose opens her mouth, as if to protest and then thinks better of it at the dark look on her brother’s face. She leaves the room without a word to either of them.
Skye whistles under her breath. “Dick move, Grant.”
Grant turns bored eyes on her. “I’m sorry. Was this a conversation you were actually part of?”
“Seeing as it takes place in my apartment,” Skye boosts herself onto the arm of the couch and lets her legs swing idly, “I’m going to have to say yes. Yes, it is.”
“And what exactly,” the disdain is all but dripping from his voice, “Are you objecting to now? I know it can’t be the fact that I’m taking my sister off your hands, because she doesn’t actually live here.” As a quiet afterthought, he adds, “Thank god.”
“Can’t you see how unhappy she is?” She leans forward in earnest, nearly losing her balance and almost falling off the couch. “For someone who claims to be Rosie’s big brother, you’re doing a crap job of protecting her.”
Judging by the way Grant stiffens, she’s hit a nerve. “And you’re suddenly an expert on my sister,” he smiles widely, the picture of insincerity, “having spent less than 12 hours with her. Oh, excuse me – less than 12 hours sober with her.”
Instead of being hurt or answering in kind, Skye tips her head back and laughs. She’s shaking her head in mirth when Rose walks back into the room, her purse awkwardly snugged under one arm.
“I’ll get your clothes back to you as soon as I can,” Rose apologises, completely unprepared when the other girl unfolds from the couch to pull her into a gigantic hug. Rose stands there awkwardly for a moment, clearly aware of Grant’s carefully blank expression as she gingerly returns Skye’s embrace.
“Don’t worry about it, Ro.” The nickname slips out as Skye gives her one last fortifying squeeze. “You’re always welcome here.” She steps back and allows the other girl to gather her composure, flicking a glance to where Grant is waiting impatiently with the door half open.
Rose offers a tiny wave and one more backward glance, and then Grant is herding her out without so much as a goodbye.
The apartment feels about ten times bigger than usual now that the two Ward siblings have left. Skye takes a moment to acknowledge the hurt she’d felt when Grant accused her of not knowing Rose well enough to look out for her and the way he’d silently judged her living quarters – they weren’t much, but they were hers.
Then she turns on some music and sets about making breakfast.
It was probably a good thing she’d never have to see him again.
What a douche.
+ I HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR WARD SIBLINGS AND WARD FAMILY DYNAMICS OKAY???
HEY WOW DON'T REVISIT FICS FROM 2015 I GUESS I STILL HAVEN'T LEARNED THAT LESSON YET NOW HAVE I???????
What a week.
After getting fired from her latest job -- and feeling like crap because of it -- she’d had the brilliant idea of murdering a bottle of champagne to drown her sorrows.
It had surprisingly not worked -- and left her with a fuzzy brain to boot -- nor had it succeeded in making her feel like less of a failure.
She briefly wonders about how Rose was doing, only slightly hurt that she hasn’t heard from the girl. Then again, if she had to contend with an older brother like Grant, she probably wouldn’t be so quick to jump ship either.
Clearly, there is only one course of action to take.
Skye throws on a robe and wanders downstairs to the bar in search of orange juice.
...At least, this is what she tells herself she’s looking for while she adds a generous amount of prosecco to her mason jar glass until she’s left with a lion sized mimosa.
Hair of the dog, right? That was a thing.
“Rough night?” a voice dryly inquires from the doorway.
She turns to see Trip looking at her, the fondness in his gaze tempering the slight reprimand in his tone.
“Ugh.” She takes a big gulp, boosting herself on top of the closest bar stool. “More like a week full of Thursdays on crack and realising there’s no human decency in the world any longer.”
“It’s almost Noon, Skye.” Trip stands, folding his arms and tilting his head to the side in consideration. “This have anything to do with that leggy brunette you dragged in here last weekend?”
“And her idiot overbearing ass of an older brother,” Skye mutters, swinging down from her seat to clean off the condensation left behind from the prosecco.
It isn’t like Trip to be around so early prior to doors opening, which means he must have a problem. The idea of taking care of his issue is infinitely more appealing than dwelling on Rose Ward and her obnoxious -- if perhaps slightly attractive -- brother, Grant.
Sure enough, Trip ignores her grumblings and casts a speculative look at the schedule in his hands. “I’m short tonight. Marissa called out.”
“Shocker,” Skye rolls her eyes, heading for the stairs. “I’ll help out -- but only if you make me breakfast!”
“You mean lunch,” he corrects, yelling after her.
She shoots him a rude gesture before disappearing from view and Trip laughs, getting out the ingredients needed for a protein-heavy meal.
Her feet are starting to pulse from being crammed into the heels she’d thought were a good idea at the time (they weren’t) and her arms are aching from hauling bottles around and trading back empties for hours. They’re well into the busiest part of the night when Trip comes over with a cheshire cat smile on his face.
“No,” Skye turns around, running the next load of glasses through the sanitizer. “Whatever it is you want, my answer is no.”
“You haven’t even heard what I’m asking,” he laughingly replies, eyes on the crowd behind the bar as he cues up three draft beers for the high top server waiting for her round.
“When you look like that, I know it’s nothing good.”
“It’s time for your break.” Trip hands off the beers with an easy wink and pours a round of shots for the loud frat party at the other end of the bar. “And when Tall, Dark and Handsome comes in looking for my best bartender by name, I can’t think of a better time for you to take it.”
Despite the fact that she lives upstairs, Skye doesn’t often comes down to help behind the bar. While Trip has made it clear that she’s always got a regular position tending bar if she wants it, Skye tends to kick into different jobs rather aimlessly until she gets bored and moves onto the next. Only the true regulars know her by name and Trip would have never bothered her in the middle of a Sunday rush for that.
“Once again, my reputation precedes me...” Intrigued by the prospect of eye candy, Skye whirls back around. “All right. I’m game to blow off some steam with a handsome stud.”
Trip lifts his chin, silently indicating the man at the end of the bar.
Grant Ward stands impatiently, hands shoved into his perfectly creased blue jeans with a scowl on his face. He’s traded in the black henley for a dark button-down straining valiantly against his biceps -- and why was she even going down this road right now what the hell was wrong with her???
“You have got to be kidding me,” Skye returns the scowl with a sickeningly sweet smile, flicking her eyes back to Trip. “Allow me to amend my earlier statement to exclude that particular cretin.”
“I’m shocked you even know the meaning of the word,” Grant acidly chimes in, apparently unable to just stand there and look pretty.
What? She had eyes, didn’t she? She was only human, for god’s sake, and he was too damn attractive for his own good.
“I’m gonna let you two sort this whole mess out,” Trip sidles closer, firmly pushing Skye out of the bar and very nearly into Grant’s waiting arms. “Don’t come back until you do.”
When she opens her mouth to challenge him, Trip drops the easy-going act and shakes his head. “I mean it, girl. That scowl you got isn’t exactly drawing people over.”
Knowing that he’s right doesn’t make her any happier about it.
“What do you want?”
“And here I thought you’d be so thrilled to see me again,” Grant drawls, casting his eyes back to where Trip has picked up her slack behind the bar. “Troubles at work? It can’t be that glowing attitude you’ve chosen to bestow on all your patrons this evening, can it?”
She can feel the irritation bubbling under her skin. What was it about this guy that was so fricking annoying? Only Trip’s pointed throat clearing and dark look has her thinking better of opening up a can of verbal abuse and slinging it his way in front of the entire bar.
Skye clamps a hand over Grant’s wrist, letting her nails dig in until she sees a vein jump out on the side of his face. “Upstairs, now. Maybe we can talk about why you think it’s such a great idea to harass women while they’re at work.”
She doesn’t even bother with the lock, knowing she left it unlatched after a quick bathroom break a few hours ago, and breezes into her apartment. The shoes are coming off her feet out of habit more than anything else -- an impulse she wishes she had curbed when it puts Grant at an even taller advantage -- before she gives him her attention. He’s giving her an incredulous look.
“Do you really not lock your doors?”
Out of all the things she expected him to lead with, that wasn’t it. “I --?” She’s so thrown off by the question that she can’t figure how to to respond.
Grant, however, seems to have no such problems. “You mean to tell me that my baby sister stayed here and you didn’t even lock your doors?!”
She rolls her eyes, dramatically flopping back on the couch. “Chill out, drama queen. Of course I locked the doors then.”
...She totally had. Right?
“Then how do you explain --”
“-- I didn’t know I was required to explain my bathroom habits during a busy shift, Counselor.”
That shuts him up pretty quickly.
Skye lifts the arm covering her eyes to check on him. “Was there a point to this visit, or...?”
All of the sudden, Grant appears supremely uncomfortable. He runs a hand over the back of his neck. “What did you mean before?”
Like, seriously, hopelessly lost.
“Before, when? I tend to say a lot of things throughout the day --”
“-- Isn’t that the truth --”
She ignores his muttered commentary. “-- So I’m going to need a little context here.”
“About Rose.” He jams his hands back in his pockets, looking frustrated. “You said she was --”
“-- Unhappy.” The pieces fall into place as Skye sits up to peer at him more closely. He’s got dark circles under his eyes and there’s a line of tension running through his frame like he’s two seconds away from bursting out with it.
Something is not right.
Because she likes Rose -- even if her older brother was an interfering (somewhat) clueless jackass -- and because she’s got a soft heart for people trying to do the right thing, especially when it goes against their nature -- Skye relents.
“What happened?” She quietly asks, dropping her feet to the floor and giving him her complete attention.
The complete lack of attitude in her voice must put Grant at ease, because he relaxes enough to unfold his arms and lean against the couch, tension visibly bleeding out of him. “We had a scare. She...” He drags a hand down his face, sighing heavily.
“Think of me as a complete stranger,” Skye chirps, trying to be helpful.
He shoots her a dry look. “You are a complete stranger.”
“And yet I’m the one who you sought out for advice about your beloved baby sis.” When she spies the stiffness creeping back into his posture, Skye hastily tacks on, “For all you know, I could be a world renowned psychologist!”
“Who moonlights at a bar,” He replies blandly.
“Maybe I have a lot of client issues to process,” Skye primly announces, getting up to rummage through the fridge. She comes back bearing two water bottles, chucking one his way without any warning.
Annoyingly enough, Grant catches it neatly before it can hit him. The small act of aggression seems to relax him even further (rich people were weird as hell) and the next thing she knows, he’s dropping into the cushions next to her.
“Rose is the best.” He says it so simply that she knows he’s not bragging. It’s a statement of fact. “She’s been doing this for years. Could probably do the entirety of the Nutcracker with her eyes closed and one hand tied behind her back.”
“I... don’t know what that means, entirely, but go on.”
“She didn’t stick her landing the other day.” Some of the confusion she’s feeling must show on her face, because Grant continues, “Not sticking a landing is like... you suddenly remembering to lock your door all the time.”
“Low blow,” Skye mutters, fighting hard against the smile that wants to curl slowly.
He’s quiet for a long time before finally admitting, “It just isn’t done.”
Skye tentatively reaches out, putting a hand on his arm. He’s so lost reliving the apparent traumatic experience of Rose falling that he doesn’t even register the move. “She’s... like, eating and everything, right?”
Grant shakes his head as if to clear it. “Her diet has always been light during the season. The Company is kind of archaic like that and we’ve tried to talk to her but she just seems... so tiny these days.”
“I shouldn’t have made her drink those margaritas,” Skye whispers, slightly horrified by their prior weekend. No wonder they’d hit the other girl like a mack truck. No wonder Grant had been so pissed at her.
He pauses long enough in his reverie to catch the panic on her face and unconsciously reaches to cover her hand from where it rests on his arm. “Listen, Rose is a big girl. She makes her own decisions. If she needed to let loose for a night and shake off some of the pressure riding on her -- that’s her call.”
Not entirely believing him, Skye nods slowly, reluctant to meet his eyes. “Then why are you here, Grant?”
He stays silent for so long, just staring at her that she starts to think maybe he hadn’t heard the question in the first place. “Because she’s my kid sister. It’s my job to protect her. And somewhere along the way, I stopped doing that -- until you called me out on it.”
ABORT MISSION ABORT.
Skye sighs so hugely that it forces her back to arch into the couch even more deeply.
This wasn’t exactly blowing off steam with a handsome
stranger cretin stuff. This was terrible family drama and heavy duty FEELINGS stuff.
Not exactly what she was signing up for, as far as life choices went.
She chooses the path of least resistance. She doesn’t like committing too deeply to any one thing, much less a person. She believes in helping out people when she can and paying it forward, sure -- but is always careful not to form attachments that could grow roots and keep her in one place.
Skye has a sinking suspicion this Ward family had the kind of issues and drama that wouldn’t cause roots so much as it would turn her life upside down and leave her grasping for any kind of stability in her already (admittedly) shaky existence.
And while Skye ponders all of this, Grant keeps silent beside her. She appreciates that he lets her process it in her own way, and doesn’t try to rush her. Then again, he was probably raised with pesky things like manners and there’s likely a good portion of him that is aghast to have revealed all of this to a total stranger.
She knows she should be running in the opposite direction, screaming right now.
Skye reaches for the phone, and walks out of the living room to place the call, ignoring Grant’s squawk of outrage.
Trip sounds like he has everything under control when he picks up. “Having a little too much fun with your handsome stranger?” He teases.
“We got naked twenty minutes ago,” she retorts, with a sinking pit in her stomach that he’s going to see right through it.
True to form, Trip starts to laugh. The sound carries easily over the merry symphony of glasses being refilled and drinks being made in the background. “Told you that bleeding heart was gonna get you in trouble someday.”
“Ugh.” Skye hangs up, tossing the phone on her bed.
She peeks around the doorframe to see Grant with his head in his hands. She can’t let him go home like this, looking all weirdly vulnerable and acting like a normal dude who cares about his little sister.
This was so much easier when he was just some entitled douchebag looking down on her standard of living and throwing insults like confetti.
He wasn’t supposed to turn into a real human.
She’s been on her feet for hours. No one would blame her for kicking him out and taking the rest of the night off. And yet.
Damn this bleeding heart of hers.
His head snaps up and she watches him reel in his emotions to get up and leave.
“So I’m just gonna --”
“-- Sit down.” Skye orders, marching back into the living room. She throws a heavy chenille blanket at him, inwardly pleased that he fumbles to catch it.
“Popcorn or alcohol?” She prompts, raising her eyebrows in question.
“Right, stupid question. Obviously we need both.” Skye tosses the remote in his direction before ducking into the kitchen to get the popcorn started.
It takes about fifteen seconds longer than she’d expected for Grant to wander into the kitchen looking adorably confused. “Listen I’m not really sure what’s going on, but I should probably --”
“-- Watch Star Wars and lament over the fact that somebody else’s family has it worse than you?” Skye nods, pushing a beer into his hand. “Excellent idea. Let’s go.” She loops her arm through his and drags them back into the other room until he’s forced to sit down or fall down on top of her.
Grant elects to sit, nearly spilling the beer everywhere. He shoots her a dirty look.
Skye shrugs. “C’mon. Episode Four, chop chop. We have to start now if we’re going to get through the original trilogy tonight.”
At last, this gets a reaction out of him. “The entire original trilogy?!”
“Grant, I’m disappointed. Don’t you know you’ll never succeed at anything in life with that kind of attitude?”
“Because I want to devote hours of my life to this venture.” The sarcasm in his tone is a thing of beauty.
Skye nudges him. “That’s the spirit.”
He must sense that she’s not going to make it uncomfortable by bringing up what they had discussed before because she catches the brief look of relief in his eyes while the opening crawl fills the screen.
“Oh, and one more thing.” Skye retrieves out a bottle of tequila from behind her back. “Any time someone mentions The Force you have to take a shot.”
"We’ll be dead before the movie’s over.”
She grins widely. “But what a way to go.”
Skye wakes up only because there is a diabolical sunbeam currently doing its best to stab her in the eye.
In fact, were it not for said beam of sun, she would have probably kept right on sleeping (was she on the floor?) like the champ she was. Well that, and there was some unexplained male groaning from the couch above her.
“Not the usual sounds I like to wake up to,” Skye mutters, trying (and mostly failing) to prop herself against the couch.
“Just go away.”
She cracks open an eye to see Grant Ward, tangled up in about six of her best blankets, with an arm slung over his eyes. How had he wound up on the couch while she suffered on the floor? There is an expression of deep seated pain on his face.
“See I ever share my hangover cures with you,” Skye grumbles, rolling her eyes.
“Not... you,” he brokenly whispers. “Dear god, is someone trying to destroy your door right now?”
And suddenly, Skye is very, very aware of the pounding coming from that direction.
So maybe that’s what had woken her up.
“Why are people constantly beating down my front door.” She lets her head fall against the cushions in frustration. “Swear to god, if that’s Trip coming to say I told you so...”
“Grant Douglas Ward, you open this door right now!”
At the sharp female tone, all traces of sleep vanish from his face. “Oh no.”
“I have a bad feeling about this.” Skye groans, shoving to her feet and staggering to the door. She yanks it open to reveal a stunning brunette with an absolutely adorable baby girl in her arms.
Skye’s jaw drops open as the woman breezes past her without taking her eyes off Grant.
“You’re late,” she announces, all but shoving the baby into his arms.
“Oh hell no,” Skye whispers, eyes darting around wildly in search of either coffee or more alcohol. “You have a kid?” She hisses at Grant.
Arms now free of said kid, the leggy brunette turns back to face her. “Uh, no.” She turns to look at Grant, where he is currently occupied blowing raspberries at the tiny small in his arms, much to her delight. “I’m Kara, by the way. That’s Hudson.”
Skye can’t seem to find her voice to respond in kind because she’s too distracted watching as Grant’s entire person melts before her very eyes with the recent addition of Kara’s daughter.
Grant laughs easily as the baby smushes her hands all over his face. “Okay Hudson Rae, how about we let Uncle Grant have at least two cups of coffee before we launch into hide and seek?” He moves naturally with Hudson in his arms, clearly at ease with the baby and not at all alarmed by her explorative nature.
(And this is the man who yells at her for not locking her front door?)
“Sorry to have barged in on you like this,” Kara shakes her head, “But this one forgot he was supposed to watch her while I finished my class this morning and when he didn’t show, I had to use the find my phone app to track him down.”
If she has to watch one more second of Grant and Hudson cooing at each other in delight, her traitorous ovaries are going to explode. She literally cannot take another second here. She has to go.
“It’s no problem,” Skye toes on the closest pair of shoes she can find, not even caring that they are the same pair of heels she flung off due to intense pain from the night before. (Was she even wearing pants? Did it really matter?) “I’ll just clear out of here and --”
She slams the door behind her.
Kara puts her hands on her hips and turns to Grant with a speculative gleam. “I like your choice in bedfellows.”
He chokes and nearly drops Hudson to the floor.
“That explains why you weren’t answering your phone.” Kara’s gaze is cool as she takes in the rest of the apartment. “She’s a lot more... real than your usual type.”
“I didn’t sleep with her, for god’s sake,” he grouses, fumbling around for a mug to put some coffee into in hopes that his brain will wake up sooner rather than later.
Kara lifts a brow at some of the photos scattered across Skye’s fridge. “Maybe you should.”
Startled, Grant drops the pen he was using to write Skye a quick note. He dumps Hudson into Kara’s arms and very firmly says to her, “It’s not like that.”
“A pretty girl and you’re not immediately trying to get into her pants?” Her tone is arch with surprise. “Well, now. This is getting interesting.”
“We’re leaving,” he decides, clamping an arm around her and steering them out the door.
Grant wisely decides not to comment on the fact that he’d written down his phone number after thanking Skye for letting him crash at her place.
Skye flees to the closest offbeat coffee shop she can find.
Anything on par with a Starbucks means she runs the risk of seeing someone she knows, but this local roastery is less likely to have anyone batting an eyelash at her pajama shorts and oversized tee shirt. Thank god she had the presence of mind to grab her denim jacket off the hook from the bar on her way out before she left, or else she would be getting more weird looks than she has already generated.
Fortified with a quad americano and a crumb cake the size of her head, she starts in on the job listing for local businesses and expands her parameters for social media coordinator. Surely one of these stuffy old businesses needed someone to bring them into the 21st Century and run their Instagram and Twitter accounts, right?
Skye bites into the truly phenomenal crumb cake with a deep hum of appreciation and nods decisively.
If this doesn’t take her mind off of Grant and his niece (and the rest of his family that she’s weirdly drawn to for reasons she cares not to explore at the moment), then nothing will.
There’s a high end lawfirm not too far away looking for someone with her qualifications.
Trip has nearly three solid hours of peace before the late afternoon crowd starts to trickle in, and he’s planning to settle the books from the weekend accounts just as soon as he finishes eating an early lunch. He’s just about to tuck into his sandwich when the bell over the door tinkles softly, signalling a new arrival.
“What will it take for a man to get some peace around here?” He grumbles, pasting on a smile on that fades into something entirely more natural as he takes note of the brunette rounding the corner.
“Hi,” she boosts herself onto a barstool. Her blue eyes are alert, and she glances at the table where he’s spread out with a small frown. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your lunch.”
“It’s fine,” Trip reassures her, barely paying attention to the paperwork, sandwich all but forgotten at this point.
“I’m Rose, by the way. Not sure if you remember me, or --”
“-- I remember you,” he winks, trying to put her at ease. There’s a nervous energy coming off her in waves that makes his heart twist softly. No one should look that unhappy at this point in the morning. “You came in with Skye a while back.”
She nods, distant eyes still locked on the bar in front of her while she smooths her hands in repetitive circles.
Trip places a gentle hand over hers, stilling the motion instantly. Rose jerks to a stop, locking startled eyes with him. “Why the long face, girl?”
A broken smile twists across her lips. “Do you ever want to just quit your entire life because it’s killing you softly?”
Oh boy. This one was gonna be trouble for sure.
Trip exhales slowly, reading the sadness coming off of her in waves.
“So I’m thinking you’re gonna need something a little stronger than orange juice,” he drawls, trying to tease a smile out of her.
Rose casts her eyes to the ceiling, clearly attempting to keep the tears from leaking free. “That would be nice.”
Trip doesn’t comment on the way her fingers are gripping his with a desperate, bruising strength, or the self-loathing etched across her delicate features while she struggles to regain her composure. He knows a thing or two about impossible decisions and life choices.
“Well, let’s get you fixed up then.”
(Two hours later.)
Trip keeps a watchful eye on the bar’s sole occupant as the door to the back stairwell slams open.
Skye blows into the room with frantic energy. “I came as soon as I could get out of the coffee shop and...” Then her eyes lock on the scene before her. Rose is all but slumped over the bar, snoring softly. “Oh my god. You got her drunk.”
“She’s over 21. I assume she can get herself drunk if she needs to.” His tone is mildly reproachful, insulted that Skye would impugn his honor that way. He doesn’t serve people when they’re that far over the limit. He has clear standards about that.
“Grant is going to kill me,” Skye moans with horrified eyes, dragging her hands down her face.
He pauses. This is a new development.
“Since when do you care what pompous older brother thinks?”
She puts a soft hand on Rose’s back, rubbing small circles to try and rouse the sleeping girl. “Since I found out he wasn’t really a jerk after all, okay?” She shots him a dirty look. “Just, like, freakishly overprotective!”
Trip rolls his eyes. “You’re such a marshmallow.”
“So says the bartender who broke his number one rule of not serving before hours to pretty girls!” Skye hisses, not at all in the mood to discuss her current state of affairs.
He allows a sheepish grin to surface. “That girl’s like a wounded bird, Skye. I wasn’t gonna just turn her loose.”
“And I’m the marshmallow,” Skye grumbles to herself, trying to put Rose’s arm around her shoulders.
Trip ignores her, shoving her aside none too gently so that he can sweep Rose up into his arms. He decidedly does not think about how it feels weirdly right having her this close to him. “I assume we’re gonna let her sleep it off upstairs?”
“Well she sure as hell can’t stay down here and serve customers!” Skye practically yells, throwing a sweeping arm to encompass the bar itself.
He heads for the stairs with a barely stifled sigh at her dramatics, taking precious care to keep any part of Rose’s slumbering form from catching on the doorframe or stairwell.
Skye darts in front of him, opening the front door without interference, and already has her hands raised in defense to his lifted eyebrows. “I know, I know. I need to start locking my door. I’ve already heard it like a million times in the past twenty four hours.”
He settles Rose into the couch gently, furtively brushing the hair off her face with the hand that is shielded from Skye’s view. “For a girl who is usually so smart about people, you sure do make some questionable choices.”
Skye is watching him carefully with a look of calculation as she glances between him and the girl sleeping on her couch. “That’s two of the Ward siblings who have taken up residence in my apartment and you’re the one who carried her up here. I don’t think I’m the only one making questionable choices today, Antoine.”
He flashes her a quick grin, pressing a kiss to her temple on the way out. “Feel free to c’mon down later if you want to escape their family drama... I’m still short staffed downstairs.”
“Don’t think this conversation is over!” Skye whisper-screams at his back into the hallway.
Sighing deeply, she turns back around and feels her heart softening by degrees as she drapes a blanket over Rose. “Dammit, Ro. What the heck have you gotten me into?”
Hearing a firm knock on the door for the second time in less than 12 hours shouldn’t set her heart into overdrive, but Trip has long since abandoned her frantic text messages to get to work and Skye doesn’t exactly have anyone else to talk her down from the ledge right now.
She opens the door to reveal an annoyed Grant Ward, clad in a suit that fits him alarmingly well.
She firmly tells herself that she doesn’t miss the black henley from their first encounter.
“When I left you my number, I didn’t expect for you to blow up my phone with frantic texts. What the hell was so important that you had to drag me out of a brief with four other lawyers?”
It’s well after six pm -- shouldn’t his workday be winding down?
At his imperious tone, she has to swallow down the sharp retort that wants to leap free with a hand in front of his chest to prevent him from walking any further. “I just want to start off by saying that this is not what it looks like.”
Grant shoves past her, clearly not pleased with her stonewalling. She isn’t sure if she should be alarmed or relieved that he already feels this comfortable in her place. He stops dead in his tracks when his gaze alights on where Rose is currently sprawled across the couch, arms and legs akimbo. “Skye, what the hell!”
"Okay, kind of deserved that,” Skye admits in a low tone, “But I can explain.”
“I trusted you!” He hisses, shooting her a dark glare.
Saving Skye from an equally sharp return is the sudden awakening of Rose on the couch. Her eyes are glassy with unshed tears and she looks wrecked. “Three cheers for Rose Elizabeth Ward,” She warbles, clearly on the edge of hysterics. “Destroyer of ballerina dreams across the country and a damn ghost in her own life.”
Rose mercifully passes back out before Skye or Grant can reply.
They exchange wary looks and come to a sort of wordless truce.
“Okay, this is a bit of a problem,” Skye slowly announces.
“We’re going to need reinforcements,” he grimly agrees.
Skye doesn’t even bother answering the door when the sharp knock comes from the other side. “It’s open!”
“We came as fast as we could,” Kara steps through with familiar ease, trailed by a tall, lighter version of Grant, who holds Hudson in his left arm.
“Oh god, not the baby again,” Skye nearly whimpers at the sight of the little one, arms outstretched to her uncle.
Grant reaches for her as naturally as breathing, settling her in the crook of his arm calmly.
"So,” the guy trails off knowingly. “You’ve got it bad for my older brother and the Hudson peanut, huh?”
“Thomas.” Kara calls out sharply.
Skye puts the pieces of the morning’s interaction together along with the murky details Rose had told her about her brothers and has a niggling suspicion as to who the newcomer is. Then she takes in the exasperated but fond glare that Kara shoots his way and comes to the right conclusion this time. “Get out of here, you hipster jock.”
Thomas puts a hand to his chest in mock outrage. “I will have you know that I am a perfectly respectable stay at home dad blogger!”
When no one bothers refuting that patently ridiculous statement, Skye pauses from draping a new blanket over Rose’s prone form to stare at him more closely. “Wait.”
It is no exaggeration to state that Thomas actually preens under her scrutiny.
There is only one infamous Dad Blogger on anyone’s radar these days and Skye doesn’t live under a rock. She knows all about the bad boy turned dad internet sensation just as well as the rest of the eastern seaboard.
She mentally reframes his profile with sunglasses, pictures Hudson in the crook of one arm and a leather satchel (ostensibly doubling as a diaper bag) in the other. Her jaw drops open. “YOU’RE ‘Dad & Gone’?”
He grins smugly. “In the flesh, baby.”
Kara clears her throat in warning. “Tone down the charm, stud. Everyone here wants to keep their lunch in their stomach where it belongs.”
“I can’t help it if she recognises my celebrity,” he scoffs, shrugging off her reprimand.
“Oh my god,” Skye hisses, glaring at where Grant is still occupied with Hudson. She spares a brief smile for the baby, absently brushing the hair off her face with a soft touch before gripping his free arm with force. “You neglected to mention that your younger brother is Internet Famous.”
“That’s because I choose to ignore it most of the time,” Grant sighs deeply, ruffling the hair on Hudson’s forehead, much to her bubbling delight.
“Listen, just because I’m getting a couple thousand hits a day...” Thomas trails off suggestively.
“Wanna make it a couple thousand and one,” Kara softly questions, eyes glinting dangerously even as she threads her fingers through Rose’s in a form of distracted solidarity.
Thomas winks at her. “C’mon, babe. You know you love me.”
“If you end that statement with ‘XOXO, Gossip Thomas,’” Skye threatens, “I will kill you here and now, and to hell with my security deposit.”
“I’d take care of that,” Grant instantly offers, nodding at his briefcase. “There’s about a dozen prefilled out forms in there at all times to get off any clients for bad behavior.”
The distinct silence after his statement is so prolonged that it becomes uncomfortable.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” He hastily amends, glaring at them all in annoyance. Hudson chooses that exact moment to laugh and plant smacking kisses all over his face. “At least someone still loves me,” he grumbles, loosening his tie and sneaking his free arm around her.
The moment is broken by Rose’s soft snore.
“What are we going to do?” Grant looks at Thomas with something like despair in his eyes. It’s such a raw display of emotion from the normally composed man that it nearly breaks Skye’s heart.
“We help her,” Kara firmly decides, drawing their attention. “Whatever it takes.”
Thomas is the only one who doesn’t seem all that phased by the current situation. “Maybe she’ll finally get to break out of the family too.”
Skye can immediately tell he’s touched on a nerve when Grant stiffly replies, “Its not that simple, and you know it.”
“I know that when it comes down to choosing the things you love over the things Mom and Dad want us to love --”
Grant passes Hudson off to Skye casually, seemingly hellbent on getting his hands around his younger brother’s neck.
Lacking time to react more fully, Skye shifts Hudson to her hip without even thinking about it, stepping in between the two men. “Okay! Clearly there’s only one thing left to do now.”
“And that would be?” The carefully held tension in Thomas’s voice is thready with intent.
“Finish watching Episode Five, obviously.”
There’s a beat of silence that is only broken by his disbelieving response of: “I’m sorry, are you saying we should solve all our problems right now by watching The Empire Strikes Back?”
Despite the fact that Hudson has a deathgrip on her hair right now and she’s more than aware of Grant pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, Skye lifts her chin to meet Thomas’s eyes dead on. “You’re damn right I am.”
Thomas throws his hands up in surrender, turning to Kara. “You were right. I love her. She’s perfect.”
Kara leans back into the couch serenely with a tiny smirk on her lips. “I’m always right.”
Skye turns panicked eyes to Grant. “Should I be worried right now?”
“Shouldn’t we all be,” he mutters, slinking off to the kitchen with feeling.
Skye remains standing in her living room in no small amount of shock.
How is this her life right now??
“I’ll make a beer run,” Thomas supplies, heading for the door.
“Hey!” Skye lunges, grabbing at his arm. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” She tries to hand Hudson off to him rather desperately, but the little girl is clamped onto her like a limpet.
“You’re right,” He nods, all sincerity bleeding from contrite expression. “I should have asked if you wanted something else besides beer.”
She actually screeches at him, shaking her fist in his general direction. Much to her dismay, Hudson instantly mimics the sound and tiny gesture, nearly thwapping her on the nose. Thomas blows them both kisses as he sails out the door.
“I can see this friendship is going to need to be monitored,” Grant says quietly from her side, offering a glass of something clear and (please god) alcoholic. They trade in a movement that is much more familiar than it should be -- baby for drink in one smooth transfer -- and the ease of it has a funny ache creeping into Skye’s heart.
She looks to where Kara is still guarding Rose with a watchful eye, occasionally dipping her hand into the large bowl of popcorn that Grant must have set at her side while she had been distracted, fighting with Thomas.
So much for not letting this family take over her life.
“May the force be with us,” Skye mutters, knocking back half of her drink in one go and taking a seat on the floor by the girls.
“They don’t usually come to blows like that unless they’re around family,” Kara leans in to tell her softly, eyes tracking Grant as he steps into the kitchen to take a call on the phone in low tones.
Skye closes her eyes for a half a second, hearing her thoughts for the second time today echoed on screen while the movie plays in the background.
I have a bad feeling about this.
+ THOMAS IS ACTUALLY A FAMOUS BLOGGER.
It’s the middle of the night when Rose wakes up with the disorienting sensation of having no idea where she is.
Then she registers the feeling of Kara’s fingers folded tightly around her own, the distant sounds of the Star Wars theme repeating on loop in the background, and the dim surroundings of an apartment she remembers as being one of the last places she’d felt safe in years.
Of course. She is at Skye’s.
She blames the relentless nausea for her inability to comprehend what she sees next:
Was that really Grant curled up on the oversized loveseat with Hudson in left arm and Skye wrapped in his right?
“What the...” She covers her mouth in disbelief. “I think I might still be drunk.”
Thomas is sprawled on the floor at her feet, one arm curled lazily around Kara’s legs, tethered to his wife even in sleep.
“This is madness,” Rose mumbles, getting to her feet gingerly. When Kara’s grip on her hand tightens, she rolls her eyes and reaches for Thomas’s free hand. It isn’t until the two have their hands laced together than she can continue extricating herself with caution, nearly backbending over the arm of the sofa in silence like some kind of vigilante superhero.
Rose takes a few more beats of silence to take in the scene of the people she loves and committing it to memory before slipping on her shoes and out of the apartment.
She makes it about as far as the bottom of the stairwell when someone stops her.
“Love ‘em and leave ‘em, huh?”
Rose whirls around to see the handsome bartender from earlier with a rueful smile on his face.
What was his name again?
“ S’okay. Skye texted me earlier and said your entire family had descended upon her apartment, so I gather that it must have been kind of overwhelming.”
Is it because he’s a bartender and probably disgustingly well versed in reading people that his statement has her flushing with shame, or is it because he’s entirely too handsome for her own good?
Her head is pounding like marching band is passing through and the room is kind of spotty and --
-- the cute bartender is at her side in an instant, boosting her on top of the bar with little to no effort as easily as any of her dance partners ever had. He’s pressing a cold glass of water into her hand and urging her to drink it and it isn’t until she’s gulped down half that everything begins to settle back into place.
“Have you eaten?” His voice is low and concerned, and something about the easy warmth in it makes her want to cry a little for reasons she can’t quite explain.
He makes a low sound of frustration which does absolutely nothing for the flock of butterflies in her stomach and it seems like no time at all has passed when she becomes aware of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich clutched in her hands.
Carbs and sugar. Exactly what she didn’t need right now, especially with rehearsals kicking into high gear next week.
She hasn’t had peanut butter and jelly in years. The sight of the simple sandwich has her mouth watering in anticipation. Her companion remains silent as she devours the sandwich in a matter of seconds, only pausing to sip from the tall glass of water he keeps refilling and pushing closer to her.
Whether it’s the protein from the sandwich or her brain just kicking into place, she finally remembers his name.
Trip angles himself to lean against the bar with a reassuring smile. “Anytime, girl. You feelin’ a little more steady on your feet?”
“If I wasn’t reconsidering my life choices right now, I’d be doing pirouettes on your bar,” Rose says, arching her brows in warning. “I’m always steady on my feet.”
“Are you now,” he murmurs, a keen light of understanding coming into his eyes.
She flushes again under the attention, wanting suddenly to be anywhere else. She has the uncomfortable feeling that he knows exactly what led her to this point in her life and has no desire to discuss it at -- what time was it anyway? -- the wee small hours of the morning.
Trip nods slowly, turning around to finish cleaning up the bar around them. There are a few beer glasses on the counter on the other side of her, and of course, the mess made from her hastily assembled sandwich.
She’s about to reach for the nearest glass, intending to help, when he calmly says, “Don’t.”
“It’s hardly going to kill me to help tidy up after your last call,” She retorts, intending to do just that.
“Rose,” Trip says, putting an absent hand on her knee and squeezing gently. The gesture is so brief and butterfly-fleeting that she could have blinked and missed it. “When was the last time you just sat still and took a minute?”
And now she wants to cry.
Doesn’t he understand that sitting still and ‘taking a minute’ is what got her into this mess in the first place?
The last thing she wants to do is let her life catch up to her.
If she’s not in constant movement, whirling grand j’etes and arabesques, then she is motionless. And if that’s the case, then everything that is going wrong in her life comes crashing down on her like a ton of bricks.
She so doesn’t need this right now.
Doesn’t need her entire family crammed into Skye’s little apartment upstairs like some damn intervention; she’s not an addict, she doesn’t have a problem, this isn’t that big a deal and --
-- Gradually Rose becomes aware of Trip murmuring to her in low tones.
“Good girl. Breathe in slow... let it out...”
And realises that she’s in the middle of a panic attack.
Trip’s got her hands gripping the tops of his shoulders with force, enough that she can feel the corded muscles beneath her fingers and it has the grounding effect of pulling her back into the moment.
“-- If the next thing out of your mouth is sorry,” and wow, he doesn’t sound calm and easy going now, not judging by that low thread of fury woven under his words, “Then I will march you back upstairs myself and wake them all up to watch you unravel.”
That is the last thing she wants.
The shock of him doing just that has Rose snapping back into her senses with a few shuddering breaths.
“You with me yet?” Trip asks, reaching up to grab her fingers for a moment and giving them a reassuring squeeze.
Rose nods, the movement still jerky with shock.
Has she ever been this ungraceful in her entire life?
“Okay, then.” He doesn’t make any other movements, just stays rooted in place until she can finally get her fingers to unclench from his shoulders and withdraw them to her lap to try and hide the tremors she still feels.
Trip places his hands on either side where she sits on the bar, but instead of making her feel caged in, Rose has the oddest sensation of safety and it soothes the rapid beating of her heart into something more manageable.
“Sorry to have freaked.” She sniffs, hiccuping softly.
“Now what did I tell you about apologising?” The reproof is tempered with a hint of a smile while he looks at her from beneath his lashes.
They stay there for a few more minutes until Rose has the oddest sensation of matching her breaths to his and it feels like her heart has stopped its galloping ride.
“You know,” Trip begins, conversationally, “Skye is really good at understanding people.”
“As good as you are?” Rose can’t help the skepticism that comes biting out at his faux casual segue.
“Please. Who do you think taught that girl everything she knows?”
The laugh that comes pealing out of her is both unexpected and a blissful relief.
“I’m just saying... she’d probably be a good person to have in your corner when you talk to your brother.”
“Brothers, plural,” Rose rubs her temple in distraction, able to visualise all too well the overreacting that is sure to come from both Grant and Thomas.
“So you’ve got your work cut out for you,” Trip seems remarkably unfazed by this.
She wishes she had a modicum of his optimism and tells him so in no uncertain terms.
He lets out a booming laugh, and the warmth of it nearly staggers her. “Oh, I think you can handle yourself just fine, Rose.”
Rose finally meets his eyes and watches as the flicker of interest flares to life. The sight of it has her resolve snapping into place when she dubiously responds, “Okay, but if they don’t get it, I’m sending them your way.”
Trip laughs again, assisting her small jump down from the bar and guiding her back upstairs with his palm hovering oh so carefully to keep from touching her.
“This here is your stop, I believe.” He says, lifting his chin at Skye’s apartment door.
Rose nods, squaring her shoulders as if going into battle. “That’s two I owe you,” she turns her head just far enough to look at him, intent on making him understand how much it gets under her skin to be indebted to anyone.
“I’m not worried about it,” Trip reaches forward, twisting the doorknob gently to usher her inside. “I know you’re good for it.”
Somehow he knows all the squeaky floorboard spots and helps her to Skye’s unattended bedroom without making a sound. There’s the weirdest moment where she swears he’s going to kiss her, but he leaves without much more than a quick reassuring squeeze of her hands before he slips back out of the apartment quietly.
She lays in bed and replays the entire interaction until she drifts off to sleep.
The next time Rose wakes up, she has the creepy feeling of being watched. She opens her eyes to see Thomas and Grant staring at her.
“Ugh,” She rolls over, burying her head in the pillows. “Go away.”
“Nice to see that chipper morning attitude runs in the family,” Skye’s amused voice comes from a distance, and Rose withdraws her head enough to see the girl in question standing in the doorway.
Rose recalls what Trip said about having Skye in her corner and it has her lifting a hand to her in askance.
Skye flashes a smug look at Grant (maybe she had hallucinated them sleeping together after all) and climbs into the bed beside her. “How’s it hanging, Ro?”
Rose is gratified to find that the tears aren’t springing to her eyes right away this time. She turns to Thomas. “I’d like some coffee,” she informs him rather grandly.
“And I’d like a million dollars,” Thomas grumbles, getting up and leaving the room without further comment.
Thomas acting like everything is normal has a small smile curving up on her lips. It isn’t until she turns to intercept the sheer heartache on Grant’s face that she feels her own crumpling in sadness.
“Rose,” he begins, reaching for her slowly as if he fears she’ll spook and run.
Hadn’t she done that earlier though?
“I’m so sorry,” she brokenly manages, ashamed that she’d put that look across her favorite brother’s features. He’d always looked so strong, so capable of slaying all the dragons in her way -- and now he just looks defeated.
That he isn’t saying anything makes it so much worse.
“I’m sure what Grant means to say,” Skye clears her throat, shooting a dark look in his direction, “Is that he’s sorry things have gotten to the point where you felt so trapped.”
There is a dull silence while Grant stares at his hands with a quiet sadness. “I didn’t know,” he finally says, lifting his eyes to meet hers. “Rose... you’ve got to believe me. If I’d had any idea that it had gotten this bad --”
And she’s crying again.
“It’s not your fault,” she reaches for him, intending to reassure him somehow. She’d do anything to get that expression of defeat erased from his visage. “It’s not your fault,” Rose repeats, until she feels him wrap her up in his arms and hold on tight.
“But I’m your older brother and it’s my job to protect you,” Grant insists, tucking her head under his chin. “And I failed you.”
There’s a sharp inhale from her side that she thinks might be Skye, but then the door latches closed quietly and Rose can only focus on the fact that things might finally, after so long, be okay.
“Mom and Dad aren’t gonna like this,” she brokenly whispers, already fearful of their disapproval and what it will mean for her newfound budding strength.
She just can’t keep doing this. She has to get out.
“You let me worry about that,” Grant promises grimly, a low tension coiling beneath the gentle arms around her.
She draws back far enough to look him in the eye. “I won’t put you in the middle. Thomas made his choice. I’m making mine.”
“You’re not putting me in the middle if I’m volunteering to stand between you and them, Rose.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” she tries to explain, wishing Skye were back to help him understand what she’s saying.
“I want to.” Grant replies, all seriousness and dark promise. “Thomas needed to fight his battle on his own for Kara and the baby. But I’m your favorite brother for a reason. Let me do this for you.”
She can’t explain why, but it’s crucial that this is done on her terms. While it would be infinitely easier to hand it over to Grant and watch him make it all disappear, there’s something the appeals to her in the savagery of ripping away her parents’ outdated dreams for her after they’d placed her in this gilded cage for so many years.
“No. We do it my way or not at all.”
There’s a low whistle of approval coming from the door, and both Ward siblings look to see Skye clapping. “That’s my girl,” she says, winking.
“Grant?” Rose turns back to him, the question clear in her eyes.
“Fine,” he grouses, no doubt irritated that she’d taken away his dragons to slay in her behalf. “But we will plan this every step of the way and no more of this shutting us out business.”
“Like I could even if I wanted to,” Rose rolls her eyes, pressing a quick kiss to his cheek. “You’re still my favorite,” she whispers, not surprised to feel his arms around her seconds later, tightening to the point of near pain. She knows this hug is more for his benefit than hers.
“Damn straight,” he affirms, swiping at his eyes.
“Are you... crying?” Skye is incredulous.
“No,” he instantly denies, standing to his full height and towering over her.
Rose watches with delight as Skye refuses to be intimidated, and instead pokes him in the shoulder. “You are. Oh my god, you really aren’t a robot after all.”
Grant swears under his breath and shoves past her to bellow at Thomas in demand for coffee.
Skye folds herself around Rose for a quick and reassuring hug. “You’re gonna figure this out, you know that, right?”
Rose shrugs, leaning into her side gratefully. “If not, I guess I could always become a bartender. The place downstairs seems pretty decent.”
“About Trip...” Skye trails off, a keen understanding coming into her eyes.
“Whoops, gotta run to the bathroom,” Rose nearly dives off the bed and flees.
She tries -- and utterly fails -- to tune out Skye’s very knowing reply: “Don’t think this is over, Rose Elizabeth Ward!”
Rose scowls. Who the hell told Skye her middle name?
nothing like minding your own business and having THIS HAPPEN.
also i can't?????? believe i forgot to mention this?????
hudson rae ward was originally born in this fic and while it is obviously a different universe, the love between tk and their tiny small REMAINS THE SAME. you can all thank sam for her incredible hard work AND LEAVE HER A NOTE WILL YA?!