It’s a good couple of weeks before he’s woken out of a sound sleep by fingers poking insistently at his shoulder. Blinking, he pushes himself up and winces at the crick in his neck. He hadn’t meant to sleep on the couch. Fortunately the fire in the fireplace seems to have died without burning the house down. “Gen?”
His bleary eyes can’t make out her expression, not by just the light shining slantwise in from the kitchen. “You came back.”
“I didn’t say I wouldn’t.”
“No, I know.” He wishes he could see her face. Cautiously he lays a hand on her arm, just to be sure she’s solid. She stiffens, but she doesn’t flinch away.
He can’t help what happens next. His body does it without him. He pushes to his feet, circles his arms around her, and he pulls her against him. It’d serve him right if she threw him across the room with her ninja brownie magic, supposing she has some of that, but she doesn’t. She stands there, real and warm, and lets him hold her. He holds in a sob, barely. The kickback of it shudders through his chest.
“Hey,” Gen says. She pats at his arm. “Hey.”
Hurriedly Jared lets go and stumbles back. His arms fall to his sides; he folds them across his chest just for something to do. “Sorry. I’m sorry.”
“Did something happen?”
He laughs, sort of. It’s a wet sound. “No. I just. I didn’t know if you’d come back.”
Gen leans over and turns on the lamp on the end table. She squints up at him, but only seems more puzzled the longer she looks. “Did you think I wouldn’t?”
“I don’t know! I don’t know how you get here or why you visit some times and not others or whether you’ll get tired of me or if what happened last time weirded you out or...” He ducks his head and confesses, “You’ve got me all messed up, Gen.”
In the silence his pulse rings like a hammer on an anvil. His face burns. He wants to look at her, because who knows how long she’ll be here tonight, and he doesn’t want to spend what time he has with her looking at his floor. He can’t face her, though. Instead he takes in the ragged hems of her jeans, the white wornness of their seams.
Fingers lace through his. He stares at his hand, with Gen’s smaller one tangled in it. He lifts his eyes. Her scowl is familiar, but the wet glisten in her eyes is new. “I’m sorry,” she says.
“What? For what?”
“I didn’t mean to mess with your head. It, um. It takes a lot out of me, to show myself to you.”
Horror washes over Jared. “You mean this is hurting you? Do you need to leave? I don’t want to—”
“Stop,” she says, and his mouth snaps shut. “I mean it tires me out, and I can’t again for a while. That’s all.”
“But you don’t have to,” Jared urges.
She squeezes his hand. “You’re right. I don’t.”
He gulps a breath. “Oh.”
“But it tires me a lot slower if I’m cleaning something, so, you want a sponge-bath?”
He blinks at her. This conversation keeps wrong-footing him. “Uh. Sure.”
So he follows her to the bedroom, strips, and lies on the towels she lays out – on his stomach this time, at her direction. She lifts her wet soapy sponge to his face and began to scrub around the back of his neck. Against the towel, Jared mumbles, “I missed you.”
“So I gather.” Behind his ears, a thorough exploration along the back of each one. “You quit talking to me, though.”
“I didn’t know what to say.”
“You’ve never had that problem before.”
His eyes are prickling again. “I know.” The sponge pauses. Jared twists to glance upward at Gen’s inscrutable face. When she doesn’t answer, though, Jared ventures, “Maybe you could talk for a while.”
“Anything.” It doesn’t matter. He just wants to hear her voice. He wants to know she’s there.
So she tells him about cleaning agents. He’s surprised at first, when she describes how best to clean a hardwood floor until it gleams, but when he makes a noise he glares at him until he ventures a conciliatory smile, and then she goes back to scrubbing and narrating. Maybe that’s all she can talk about, he thinks. Not that she ever talks to anyone but him anyway. Does she?
It’s relaxing, the steady scrub of the sponge, cleaning grubbiness out of his creases and crannies. Already he feels better than he has in weeks. He fights to stay awake; he doesn’t want to miss anything. “I wish I could touch you,” he murmurs, only half-meaning to.
The sponge pauses. A fingernail flicks against his arm. “Like that?”
He turns his head to get towel out of his mouth, and he drags his eyes open. “No, like, touch you. All over. Clean between your toes and behind your ears.”
“You want to wash me.”
Jared squirms. “And do other stuff to you.” He hopes he hasn’t gone too far, but she snorts, and it’s not an angry sound.
“Would you let me? If you could?”
Out of the corner of his eye, she stares down at him, half her face in shadow cast by the bedside lamp. “I guess maybe.”
“Don’t go sounding so hopeful. I can’t. So it doesn’t matter.” Her tone brooks no further discussion, but she’s wrong. It matters to Jared. He holds the hope of it tight to his chest.
After that, he loses himself to Gen’s efficient rhythm. Her notices her hands more this time, just touching, brushing across his shoulder blade or over his ass, trailing down his spine, like maybe she sees something she likes. There’s none of that cool professionalism he remembers from before.
“Over,” she says eventually. Jared squirms over onto his back. As fresh air tingles across his dick, he realizes: there’s no way he’s not going to get hard over this, even without the internal clean-out.
Especially not when she gets down past his belly and starts fondling him. Her bare hand slides up his dick. He squawks. Pushing up on his elbows, he says, “I really hope you’re doing that on purpose.”
And she grins at him, so devilish she might as well have horns. Deliberately she spits into her palm, eyes still locked on Jared, and she runs her hand up the length of him again. And then she reaches down and starts cleaning inside his thighs like nothing happened. Ever so casually, she says, “So, you want the full service cleaning?”
“Outside and in?”
And he wants to. Damn him, he really wants this bizarre thing that nobody in their right mind would want – well, almost nobody – and he wants it with her. But. “Could you stay, afterword?” Her face begins to shut down, and he hastens, “Just for a little while. You could do my nails or something?”
“I could do that now, if you wanted.”
“No, uh. After.” She’s still looking at him inquiringly, one eyebrow raised, and finally he says, “It was just hard, last time. Coming down by myself.”
“Oh. Sure.” She drops her gaze to the toenail she’s scrubbing at. “I’m sorry. I didn’t think of that.”
“It’s all good,” Jared promises. He wiggles his toes for emphasis, and Gen laughs. She laughs. It’s so unexpected, so free as it bubbles up out of her like some thawing fountain that it makes Jared want to cry. He’s already cried enough tonight, though.
And then Gen’s sponge has disappeared and she’s saying, “Okay, so, I was thinking we could try you on your back tonight, if you want. For your enema.” Her lips curl upward over the last word, and the sight of it sends a spike of heat through Jared. His enema, as delivered by his own personal brownie. Shit, yeah.
So he stays on his back, spreads his bent knees and plants his feet on the bed as she directs. The IV stand and the enema bag have appeared, by actual magic, and who thought that if actual magic existed in the world that it would be to enable Jared’s heretofore undiscovered kink habit?
This time he can see as Gen reaches down between his thighs and presses one jelly-coated finger into him. It’s cool, and his asshole isn’t expecting it even if his mind is. He has to fight not to squirm. She slides the jelly all around the entrance, and then she pulls the finger free, applies more jelly, and does it again.
She’s teasing him, and he huffs a complaint. “Patience,” she says, and pats his stomach.
The bag is already filled and hanging on the stand. Gen takes the tube slung over the bar of the stand and holds the nozzle up for him to see. It doesn’t look as big as he remembers it feeling. Then again, he could say the same for Gen’s fingers. She snakes the tube down between his legs, and a moment later it’s pressing into him. He grunts. Yeah, definitely bigger than it looks.
“Good?” Gen asks. She kneads his stomach a little, which is when he realizes he’s gotten tense.
He lays his head back against the pillow and takes a deep breath. “Good.”
The first trickle of heat makes him jump. “Just breathe through it,” Gen says.
He tries. He takes slow, deep breaths while the warm water fills his ass. “God, it’s weird,” he mutters.
“Tell me about it,” Gen says, like a command. “Tell me what it’s like.”
“Uh.” He tries to bring his brain back online. Words, Jared. “Warm?”
“Mm,” she says encouragingly.
“And, uh, sort of like I have to go?”
“Not for a long time, yet, Tiger.” Gen presses lightly against his stomach for emphasis. “We’ve got a lot of water left to put in you. Fill you up and flush you out.”
“Guh,” Jared says.
That wicked grin appears again. “Yep. We’ll push your belly out, all pretty and round and full.”
Words are difficult, on account of all his blood rushing south. He snags just one out of her litany. “Pretty?” he manages to ask.
“Really pretty,” she says, although the smirk has gone out of her voice. “All over, in fact.” Her palm slides up his bicep, and she cups the side of his jaw. “You’ve got all that farmer muscle, and this bizarre scoopy nose and these gorgeous eyes.”
“I do?” Jared says, bewildered. Whatever script they’ve switched to now, he hasn’t read it. “Uh. Thanks? You are, too, you know. Pretty. I like your mouth.”
She dismisses this with a shake of her head. “My mouth’s too big.”
“It is not,” Jared says, offended on her behalf. “It’s generous.” That’s more a Grandma Chandler word than a Jared word, but it fits. Feeling very daring, he adds, “It’s made to laugh. And kiss.”
“Oh, yeah?” Gen considers him a moment, and then she leans over and presses her lips to his, warm and insistent. He gets over his shock and puckers, and then the lips are gone, and she’s looking down at him, eyes fever-bright. “Like that?” she asks.
Before Jared can agree with her, a cramp knots in his stomach. “Ow.”
The impishness disappears off Gen’s face like it was never there. She smoothes a hand over his stomach. “Keep breathing,” she orders.
The cramp eases eventually, but now the pressure is building, and he’s started to feel waterlogged. His breaths come shallower and faster. A whine slips out of him before he can help it. Gen’s hand lands on his lower belly and massages, and the press and pull of her fingers across his overheated skin makes him groan. She adds fingernails, scraping lightly, and it’s all Jared can do not to buck against the touch and dislodge the all-important nozzle in his ass. “Goddamnit, Gen,” he mutters.
“Mmm.” She sounds much too pleased. “I told you it was pretty.”
“Just look at yourself,” she says, in a tone that brooks no disobedience. Jared has to take a moment just to breathe, and then he works himself onto his elbows and looks down his naked chest to his stomach, cupped by Gen’s tiny hand.
“Fuck.” He’s visibly rounder. His lower belly rises gently up from his abdomen like a happy crescent moon. “Am I almost there?”
“Just about. Close your eyes. I’ll tell you when it’s time.”
Jared eyes her for a minute, searching for some hint of mischief – though he’d do if there was any, he has no idea – and then he does as she says. She keeps on rubbing, and the water keeps on trickling in, and Jared’s world narrows to the mingled ache of pressure and friction and heat. Groans leak out of his mouth, barely noticed. He keens against a tangle of sensations he can’t be bothered to tease apart anymore.
“Okay,” Gen says suddenly. Jared blinks his eyes open, disoriented. “How are you feeling?”
Jared would laugh, but he’s afraid he’d spill. He grins, feeling a little stoned. It probably shows, judging by Gen’s smirk. “Awesome,” he says.
“Good boy.” She pats his belly. “You are going to be so clean in just a minute.”
Jared feels new heat flushing through him and all the way down to his dick. He doesn’t want to know whether it’s the pat or the praise that does it. “I don’t know if I can get up. Did you put more in this time?”
“Little bit. And you are so getting up. Hold on, let me get the nozzle out.” Jared feels the slide of the nozzle out of his ass, and automatically he clenches. While Gen fiddles with the stand, he lies back and ventures his hand over his stomach in fascination. Then he’s sorry he did, because his dick is eager and mostly hard and right there.
If Gen notices, she makes no comment. “Okay, on your feet.”
“I can’t. I think I just have to lie here forever.”
“Oh yeah?” Gen reaches over and presses on his stomach, not gently, and Jared practically jackknifes upright in panic.
“Don’t do that.”
Looking not even marginally sympathetic, Gen raises an eyebrow and points across the room. “Bathroom.”
With Gen’s hand on his elbow, Jared wobbles his way to the bathroom. He has never in his life been so glad for Grandma Chandler’s 90s remodel that put an en suite in the master bedroom. Gen gets him settled onto the toilet, and then he heaves in quick, shallow breaths and waits for her to leave.
“Nope,” she says, gravely folding her arms across her chest and leaning her butt against the counter top. “This is my job. I have to make sure it’s done right.”
“Are you kidding me?”
“Nope,” she says again.
Jared waits. She stays right where she is. There might be the beginning of a smirk at the corner of her mouth. “This is weird,” he tries again.
“I’m being thorough.”
“I can’t just— Not while you’re right here.”
“Well, that’s just too bad.” She inspects her nails. “Didn’t you say you were feeling sort of full?”
And goddamn, he is. It’s even harder to hold it in now than it was on the walk in from the bedroom, but even as his blood pulses with the urge to let go, every potty training instinct ever instilled in him in the fuzzy pre-dawn age of toddlerhood is fighting back. Embarrassment flushes hot and red from his chest all the way up to his cheeks. “Damn it, Gen.”
“Do you really want me to go?”
The earnestness of the question draws his eyes up to her face. She looks earnest, too, like she really will leave on his say-so. But he also sees just a hint of challenge in those dark eyes, and suddenly Jared wants to live up to it. He shuts his eyes and grits out, “No.”
He doesn’t open them to find out Gen’s response. After a short pause, she says, “Did you ever wonder how much water there is in the ocean?”
She proceeds to tell him about it. Given that she spent the first half of the evening talking about cleaners, he thinks she might be making it up. Then she talks about Niagara Falls, the crash of whitewater into the pool, the wind kicking spray up across the observation deck. Some tiny part of him thinks either she’s a hell of a storyteller or she’s actually been there, which raises all sorts of questions. He’s beyond asking them, though, because the descriptions of free-flowing water has his entire overfull gut trying to rebel. A stray cramp bites at him, and he groans.
“Anytime now,” Gen says.
“Don’t you have to be cleaning something?”
“What do you think I’ve been doing?”
Jared squeezes his eyes open. Gen has a bottle of window cleaner in one hand and a paper towel in the other. “Oh.”
“I could talk about round things instead,” she says. To his horror, she kneels in front of him on the bathroom rug. He’s hunched over, knuckles white with the effort of holding himself in, but her hand sneaks past his limbs and probes his belly gently. “Globes,” she says. “Oranges. Basketballs. The moon.”
“Stop that,” he says weakly.
“Tomatoes. Water balloons about to explode.” She pokes again, less gently, and combined poking and exhaustion and the image of himself one hatpin away from puncture and collapse sends him over the edge. His body lets go, and there’s a mighty splash.
Jared tucks his chin to his chest, flushing so hard he can barely see straight.
“Good boy,” Gen says again. “Do you want me to wipe you?”
“No,” Jared says.
“Did you... was it good?” Her hand lands uncertainly on his shoulder.
It takes a moment Jared to find his answer, and another few moments to find words. “Yeah. Yeah.” He hopes the feeling in them conveys the feelings the words themselves lack.
“Good,” Gen says warmly. “Just come on out when you’re ready. And you know, if you save that boner for when I can watch, I’ll clean you up afterwards.”
“Fuck,” Jared says blankly.
Gen ducks out, and eventually Jared pushes to his feet and wipes himself. He carefully doesn’t look into the toilet bowl when he flushes. Meanwhile the promise of being watched has perked his dick up again after having flagged under the sensation overload of the last... half hour? Jared suddenly cannot begin to guess how long this has been going on.
Slowly he makes his way out to the bedroom. Gen’s there, waiting on the bed with a nail kit and a towel. She watches as Jared gingerly sits on the edge of the bed. On her nod of encouragement, he slides his hand down his dick. He hesitates. He hasn’t jacked off in front of someone since his freshman year of college, and despite all the ways he has forsaken dignity recently, he suddenly feels a little shy. “Could you talk to me?” he blurts. “Tell me what I. What I looked like. And stuff.”
“Hot,” she says promptly, and he blinks, because that wasn’t in the script. But she continues, “Flushed all over. And shaking, especially your knees. I don’t know if you noticed.” Jared didn’t. “And you were whimpering like you didn’t know if you loved it or hated it. But you wanted it either way.” The corner of her mouth lifts. “And you lay there all sprawled out while you belly filled up like a little reservoir.”
His breath’s coming faster now. His thoughts catch for a moment, embarrassed at himself, but the embarrassment only gets him harder.
“And you were so red, sitting on that toilet,” Gen is saying. “We could have heated the whole house, because God forbid you ever go potty in front of anyone.”
Jared’s been working himself all along, and now with a shudder and a heavy sigh he comes all over his stomach. He flops back onto the bed and laughs; there is nothing left in him anywhere but good humor. Gen only smirks at him. Eventually he explains, “I used to date a girl who thought I was the least kinky guy on the planet.”
“Obviously she never tried the right thing.”
“Obviously.” After a moment, Jared remembers and scrambles upright. “Nails?” he asks, sticking out a hand. He isn’t letting Gen just disappear this time if he can help it.
Of course Gen pulls a nail bag from somewhere. She gets herself and Jared arranged up against the headboard, Jared still naked but tucked halfway under the covers. Gen pulls his hand into her lap and squints critically. “They’re a mess.”
“Farmer,” Jared says.
They sit like that for a while, Jared in a post-everything glow, Gen retreated to her usual quiet. Jared doesn’t mind the quiet, as long as he can still hear her breathe. Eventually she crawls over him so she can reach his other hand more easily.
“That was really good,” Jared says at last. “I hope... did you enjoy it, too?”
Gen snips at his hangnail. “What do you think?”
“I don’t know,” he says honestly. “I really hope you did, though. It’d be awful, if you... if you did all that to me and didn’t like it.”
Still bent over his hand, she says, “I wouldn’t have offered if I didn’t like it.”
“Oh. Good.” Jared thinks about that for a while. “Did you like it a lot?”
She slants a look over at him. “Where is this going?”
“I just thought, maybe...” Cautiously he slides his free hand across her thigh. She watches him and doesn’t slap it away, so he keeps going, down into the V between her thighs. Again, no slapping or smiting. He drags his newly filed nail up the crotch seam of her jeans, and she huffs softly. “Yeah?” he asks. “Or no?”
She gives him a hard look, and then she lets go, unbuttons her jeans, and slides them down to her knees, all in one awkward motion. Her panties are faded pink cotton. “Okay,” she says, grabbing for his hand again.
“You gonna multi-task?” He’s stuck between amusement and a deep, hungry need to go exploring.
“Take it or leave it.”
Oh, he’s taking it. He straddles her knees and sits back his heels – and it’s cold, here in his house in the middle of the night without a stitch on him, but he’ll make do for now – and slides his free hand between her legs again and begins to rub his thumb up and down against her panties. She grunts, and he starts to grin. “Good?”
“Just keep doing that.”
He does, crowing in delight when his thumb starts to feel damp. He pauses to take a deep breath, and grins again at the rich, heady flavor on the air that he wants suddenly, desperately wants to put his mouth to. Another time, maybe; tonight alone, Gen’s already exceeded all his expectations. He burrows his hand deeper, still massaging, and she jerks underneath him. He keeps going, trying every moment for another shudder, another hitch of breath, and then her thighs tighten up around his hand and her fingernails dig into his shoulder.
Then she collapses back against the headboard, eyes half shut.
She snorts. “Do you have any idea how long it’s been since someone got me off?”
She comes back to herself and blinks at him. “Never mind,” she says. “Here, I’m still not done with your other hand.” So Jared burrows back under the covers and returns his nails to Gen’s arguably gentle care. His eyelids begin to droop. He closes them, to save energy, but that’s the only reason. Gen’s right there, and he’s not going to miss a moment of it.
He falls asleep to the rasp of Gen’s nail file.
He wakes at seven thirty, hours later than usual. Still groggy, he stumbles out and feeds the chickens and the goat, and then he goes back to the house and heats canned stew. While it turns in the microwave he contemplates the tidy stack of clean bowls in his shelf.
“I wish I could see you all the time,” he says finally. “I know I can’t. But I wish I could.”
Into the silence, the microwave beeps.
He doesn’t hold his breath this time, but he tries not to worry, either. Gen’ll be back. He’s the first person who’s gotten her off in a long time, after all. Underneath that smug reasoning, though, is the hopeful suspicion that she likes him. As a person, at least. A friend. He tries not to follow this line of thought too closely, because it makes him want things.
Still. Jared is cautiously hopeful that there will be more brownie-enabled kink in his future. He daydreams about eating her out while she files his nails, and he wonders just how awkward that would be for his shoulder.
But the next time Gen wakes him in the night, something’s wrong. “What is it?” he asks, trying to untangle himself from the sheets and sit up and reach for the lamp all at the same time. Before she can answer, he recognizes the stinging in his nostrils. “Smoke. Fire!” He stumbles out of bed and nearly falls over his own feet. “Crap, did I leave the stove on? Crap. Crap!”
“Jared,” says Gen, and although Jared voice is firm he can hear a tremor underneath that scares the shit out of him. “Jared, the house is on fire, you have to get out.”
“Now.” She propels him out the door and down the hall by sheer willpower. At the front door she thrusts his winter coat at him and practically forces his boots onto his feet.
“My computer,” he says blankly.
“I’ll get it, just go.”
And then he’s standing in his yard, ankle-deep in snow. He’s honestly not certain she didn’t teleport him straight there. Mindlessly he pulls his coat on, because it’s freezing out here, and as he does he sees an unsteady light in one of the upstairs windows. A candle, he thinks. But no. Flames. He reaches for his cell phone and realizes it isn’t in his pocket, because his pajamas don’t have pockets.
Gen runs out the door, Jared’s laptop under her arm. She’s panting as she hands it to him, and then she slaps something else on top of the case: his keys.
“My cell phone’s in there,” Jared says blankly.
“Coat pocket,” Gen says.
He manages to dig it out, but his hands are shaking too hard and he keeps pressing the wrong keys. Finally he gets 911, and he tells the dispatcher that his house is on fire. Except then he can’t remember the address, and Gen has to tell him.
Eight minutes, the woman tells him before he hangs up. “Eight minutes,” he tells Gen.
“We should let your goat out and open the chicken coop.”
Gen points. There are flames in all the upstairs windows now, tall, orange ones that must be licking the ceiling.
“My house. My house is burning down.”
“The animals,” Gen says urgently.
“God. God, yeah, the animals.” Jared stumbles through a snow drift to the chicken coop, gets the latch open, and swings the door wide. In the red glow of the heat lamp, the chickens squawk quietly, confused but not yet distraught. He leaves them like that; he doesn’t want to shoo them out into the freezing temperatures unless he has to. Then on to the goat barn, where he grabs Daisy by the collar, hauls her out into the night, and sets her loose. She’ll find her way back in time for breakfast, fire or no fire.
Gen’s nowhere in sight. “Gen,” he calls. Sudden panic claws up his throat. “Genevieve!”
For a moment she’s standing next to him, a flicker or a ghost. He can barely see her in the dim orange light. She says, “It’s old wiring. You can’t save it. The whole house is going to go.”
“What’s happening to you?” He reaches for her, and it’s like passing his hand through a pool of warm water: temperature, a bit of resistance, but that's all. “What the hell, Gen?”
“You weren’t so bad,” she says.
Then she’s gone.
There’s insurance money. Grandma Chandler insists that she’ll give some of it to Jared, over his protests that the house burned down under his care. A corporation expresses interest in leasing the acreage and planting the whole of it with corn. A local family come for Daisy and the chickens. They promise Jared that Missy and Clarice will get their own coop.
When their truck has driven off, Jared stands and looks at the blackened struts of the house, rising jaggedly like stones above breakers of fresh-fallen snow.
“Genevieve?” he says. He tries again, louder, a yell that’d reach anyone for a quarter mile around. He doesn’t need to worry about feeling self-conscious; there is, after all, no one around to hear.
He moves to Chicago. Aldis puts him up. Adrianne is thrilled to see him. They both seem to know he’s grieving more than a farmhouse and an ill-conceived dream, but he doesn’t know how he’d explain, even if he wanted to.
He thinks back to those last moments. She didn’t seem to be in pain. That’s all he can find to cling to. At least she wasn’t in pain.
Someone knocks on Aldis’s door. Aldis is out with Adrianne, so that leaves Jared. He sets his laptop aside, checking first to make sure he’s saved the job listing. Then pushes up off couch, ambles down the hall, and swings the door open.
Gen is standing on Aldis’s welcome mat. She has a backpack over her flannelled shoulder and jeans he doesn’t recognize – darker, somewhat newer. Her eyes are huge, and she’s afraid. Jared can see it in the white of her knuckles and the taut lines of her face.
His mouth catches up to him. “Gen?”
She licks her lips. “Hey.”
“You’re alive. Right?” He reaches out to make sure she’s solid. She flinches at the touch, and he draws back – slowly, because his brain’s not fully online yet. Still, he felt her under his hand: solid. “I thought you were dead.”
Gen hauls the backpack higher up her back. “Can I come in?”
Jared snorts; the question seems so backwards. She doesn’t seem to see the joke, though. He steps aside to let her pass, and he closes the door behind her. He follows her to the living room, where she stands awkwardly, clutching her backpack strap. “You can sit, I guess,” he says.
She settles on the couch, pack in her lap.
“I thought you were dead,” Jared repeats.
“Brownie, remember?” she asks, half-apologetic. “Or I was. It’s not that easy. It just took me this long to get myself together again.”
“You’re not a brownie now?”
Gen shakes her head.
“Are you human, then?”
She shrugs. “Close enough.”
“Are you... why are you here?”
“Your grandma gave me your address.”
“I wanted to see you,” Gen says. Something of that long-familiar scowl returns to her face. It’s almost a relief to see it there, so much better than her pale slow panic. “Besides, you and your grandma are the only people I know.”
It takes Jared a moment to catch up to this. “You mean in the world?”
“I was a brownie in that house a long time, Jared.”
“And there’s no one—” But he can see in her eyes there isn’t. “And you came to me because I’m ‘not so bad’?” Gen’s eyes widen, and Jared immediately feels sick. He’s clung to those words for months. “I didn’t mean—”
“This was a mistake.” Gen pushes to her feet, pushing her bag over her shoulder as she goes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to bother you.”
He catches her halfway to the door, his hand closing around her arm. She stares up at him with huge, stricken eyes, and under his fingers she’s as warm and real a thing as he’s ever known. She’s here.
He pulls her into a hug. She resists for just a moment, and then her arms go around him and her head tucks under his chin. “Oh my God, Gen,” he says. “I missed you so much.”
“Yeah,” she agrees, squeezing tighter.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Whole fic on AO3
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