It was just past four in the afternoon when Cory pulled his truck into the parking lot of Jane's apartment building. He'd gotten lost twice, had had to stop and ask for directions at a gas station before finally finding her address. He might have been able to track a coyote through two feet of snow without stumbling, but he hadn't been out of Lander in long enough that city navigation wasn't his strongest attribute. He tipped his hat forward as he got out of the car to shield his eyes from the glare of the sun.
Jane was waiting for him on the sidewalk, having locked up behind her. She lifted a hand in greeting, and he paused five feet away from her before taking the hat off. He hadn't allowed himself to think about this at all, had just packed a duffel bag with enough clothes for the weekend. They stood in the shadow of the building, somewhat shielded from the heat. He hadn't seen the scar she'd picked up before this.
"Weird without the badge, huh?"
She'd debated sticking to the collared shirts she wore on the job now, but this was Cory. Who had never judged her or made her feel less than, even though she very much got off on the wrong foot and had even underestimated the climate. His eyes flicked down towards the scar, then back up to her face before he put the hat back on, tilting it backwards this time.
"It's not that bad." She opted not to ask if he meant the situation or the healed wound.
"You want to come upstairs? I was thinking we could go out tonight, but you might want to drop your stuff here first."
"I didn't bring much, but yeah. Probably cooler inside."
Their feet made noises on the metal staircase leading to the second floor. Jane lived alone, and she'd considered a studio apartment when she first moved to the area for the sake of practicality and rental prices. As the newest agent to qualify for fieldwork, she'd been given a less than plum assignment, and her various fiascos on the job had done little to improve her prospects for promotion. Having to fight her way back from the emotional and physical trauma of her first big case had made her stubborn, though, too stubborn to quit.
'Impersonal' was the first thing Cory thought when he stepped beyond the threshold in her wake. Clean and tidy, but it didn't have the lived-in feel of his place. He looked at the two framed prints of landscapes on the far wall, peered briefly into the kitchen. "You do these?"
"Oh, God, no. I took art classes for a little while after college, before I joined the academy, but I wasn't any good at it. I bought those at a street fair in Chicago."
Jane stood in the middle of the living room jingling her keys in one hand before putting them down on the end table close to the window. Cory was still looking at the pictures. She'd already made up the couch, The backs of his hands and his forearms were a deep brown. He took his cowboy hat off, put it on the arm of the chair next to the sofa.
"Where's your bathroom? I stopped for lunch, drank too much coffee."
That snapped Jane out of the mini-reverie she'd been in, standing there watching him from behind. He was the first man she'd invited into her apartment since she'd lived here, and his very silence seemed to fill the entire room. She'd made a few more friends in her support group, and sometimes she had lunch with them, but nothing had really gelled.
"Just down that hall," she said, pointing in the opposite direction of her small kitchen. She waited until she heard the door snick shut, crossed the room to turn the AC up a notch. He hadn't said the obvious thing, that it didn't look like she spent much time here. In the kitchen, Jane opened the fridge and got out a can of Coke.
Cory pooled water into the palm of his hand after tending to his business, ran it over the back of his neck. What did she think of him? He'd been alone by choice for a long time, unable to cope with even the thought of moving on, but he sensed that Jane was probably in the same boat. For different reasons, maybe, but loss had a way of helping you develop an instinct for things. The bathroom was small, with a shower stall instead of a bathtub. The plastic curtain was closed. He could hear her in the kitchen. When he stepped out into the hallway, he dried his hands absently on his jeans.
She was at the sink with her soda, looking absently at the dishes in the drying rack, and when he stopped moving he was closer to her than he'd ever been. The impression the hat had left was still obvious, and they regarded each other a little warily. But when he leaned in that little bit, his eyes were clear.
He didn't rush that first kiss, because he didn't take this or her lightly. And if he hadn't asked first, it was because he was afraid he'd break the spell. Break the spell or that she didn't mean to look at him the way she did. Cory jammed his hands into his pockets to keep them off of her.
God, his mouth. Jane fumbled the mostly full can onto the counter so she could put her hands behind her back. She could smell his aftershave and the clean shirt he was wearing, and if he was out of practice at this she couldn't tell. After a minute, she rested a palm on his shoulder, and he stepped out of her bubble.
"I'm not. I just..."
She didn't finish the sentence, and it didn't feel necessary to say it was because he'd stopped without her having to say it. Cory rubbed his hand over the top of his head, making his hair stand straight up. Jane reclaimed her Coke, and he stood another step backwards before moving into the living room. There had been a question in the kiss, one she'd answered. He let out a breath as he took a seat where he'd be sleeping that night.
"So what did you want to do today?"
"I was thinking we could go to this bar I like. They have pool tables and sometimes live bands, but I'm not sure who's playing tonight."
She could still feel his mouth against hers, the imprint of it. She hovered between the kitchen and the living room, then took the chair near the television she seldom watched. Contrasting and comparing between this and his cluttered but comfortable house. His terrible couch aside, Cory's place just seemed a lot more like a home. She eased back in her seat, the can resting between her palms.
"Do you, uh, know how to dance?"
He gave her an amused look, leaning his weight against the arm of the couch. "It's been a long time," he replied. Before everything fell apart, he and Wilma would spend the occasional evening having dinner and listening to live music, but that was in a different life. There was a thin film of dust covering the TV screen.
"How's Casey? He just started back at school, right?"
"Oh, yeah, he's...he's good. He misses being able to ride horses as often, but he's made some new friends. He came for a visit before I saw you the last time, stayed for a few days. Good to know he's still close enough, y'know?"
He looked down at the floor between his feet, and this was the most attached to someone he'd felt in a long time, too. She'd become important to him, a light in the darkness. Cory gave the young agent a direct look, making eye contact and holding it as he rested his hands on his knees.
"You look good, Jane. Really good. If you were worried about..."
He pointed at the side of her neck, where she'd be marked for the rest of her life. He'd watched her sleep that first time she ended up in the hospital, stayed a little longer each time he visited, and if he'd been rendered quieter by his past, she had made him more determined to finally come out on the other side. Cory's gaze was intent as he shook his head.
"You shouldn't be. Not because of me."
Jane's cheeks pinkened even as she worked against the urge to crawl into his lap, and if his mouth was dangerous, his eyes were worse. "I worked hard to get back to full strength," she said. "O couldn't go back to work unless I was fit for it, and I couldn't just...quit. I couldn't let those guys win."
"I'm glad you called." Because I wouldn't have.
"Me, too." I know.
They did go dancing that night, at Jane's one real hangout. He paid the cover charge and she bought the first round of beers. No band that night, but there was a jukebox, and he got change for four dollars so he could pick some songs later. It wasn't crowded yet, so they took up space at one of the pool tables near the back. It was the first time she could recall feeling like she didn't have to talk to fill any silences, that she could keep Cory's attention just by being there. They played four games, calling it a draw when they both won two. He'd changed out of his old tennis shoes before they left her apartment, put on boots.
"This seems almost like Lander."
He said it as they reclaimed their chairs, and she smiled and nodded. "I spent so much time there over the past year, I wanted someplace similar for my off hours. It's not the same, but it's close."
"I pictured you somewhere fancier. More lights, maybe where they serve champagne, I dunno."
"Nah. I'm a small town girl, I guess. It's nice to hear that you thought of me, though."
Jane's voice was light, but the look Cory gave her in response made her toes curl inside her Birkenstocks. Exactly how had he imagined her? If it was anything like she had imagined him, the night that lay ahead was going to be a long one. He finished his beer, jingled the change in his pockets. Decided not to elaborate.
"Dance with me?"
Just enough of a question to not be demanding, but assured that she wouldn't say no just the same. Jane took off her lightweight jacket while Cory dropped quarters in the jukebox, punched in his selections. When he held his hand out to her, she slipped her fingers through his, feeling the calluses and the careful strength in his grip.
There was just enough height difference that she could put her head on his shoulder, and she smelled the spicy odor of his aftershave again. Sharp and clean, like the woods surrounding the reservation. His breath fanned over the top of her ear, and her hands made themselves comfortable at the small of his back, the soft chambray of his shirt molding against his shoulders.
'Unlock my love and set me free
Come fill me up with ecstasy,
Surround my heartbeat with your fingertips,
Unbind my feet, untie my wrists,
Come into my world,
Of loneliness, and wickedness, and bitterness,
Unlock my love....'
Lucinda Williams' voice rolled out of the jukebox as a few other couples joined them on the floor. Cory wasn't as graceful or as confident a dancer as he used to be, but Jane's slight weight in his arms, the scent of her shampoo so close to his nose, more than made up for it. He'd lost everything; his daughter, his wife, and in some ways his son, and he had no intention of recreating that history. The woman he was dancing with had made his heart beat again, and even though he knew he was still bruised, would always be bruised, Jane had been a healing salve on the last of the bleeding wounds.
"You smell good."
She looked up at the words, brushed her mouth against the underside of his jaw before resting her cheek against his shirt again. The warmth of him was incredible, as if all those years in the harsh winters had conditioned his body to be immune to cold. Cory the human furnace. The thought made her snicker, and he leaned back a notch.
"I'll tell you later. Maybe."
They were both buzzed when she unlocked the door of her apartment, her more than him. They'd left before last call, when the place really started to fill up, and Cory dropped his weight on the couch and leaned his head against the backrest. He took off his boots while she poured water from a pitcher in the fridge, bringing him a plastic cup.
"You working tomorrow?"
"I don't think so. I could always get a call to come in, but if not I'll probably sleep in."
He made a noise in response, and Jane emptied her cup and put it on the kitchen counter. She'd checked the local entertainment section for the weekend in case he wanted to see some of the highlights, but she'd started to think about the night ahead on the drive back. There was a lot they hadn't talked about, and she lived here and he lived in Lander. Was unlikely to want to leave it, the bad memories aside. His hat was still where he'd left it.
"Um, the hot water's kind of unpredictable here. If you want the first shower you can have it."
He was turning the cup around and around between his palms. It had the logo for the University of Florida on it. He'd realized his own level of want, consciously realized it, when he climbed the stairs to her door the first time, even before he kissed her. And the dancing had only intensified it, the way her body fit against his. Cory snapped himself out of the reverie when Jane spoke, out the cup on the table in front of him.
"Nah, you go ahead. I might make a sandwich if you've got fixings, though."
She took less time than usual in the bathroom, and the ends of her hair were damp as she changed into boy-shorts and a T shirt with FBI across the front. They passed each other in the narrow hall as she exited the bathroom, and the door clicked shut before the water started again. There was a plate on the kitchen table with bread crumbs scattered over it. Cory had left the peanut butter out, and Jane absently put it back in the cabinet.
The hot water ran out just as Cory shut it off, and he toweled himself off briskly. His clothes were still on the counter next to the sink. He'd used her soap on purpose, with no care for how long the scent of it lingered. The soft cotton of his pajama bottoms made a whispery noise as he pulled them on, and he looked at himself in profile in the mirror on the back of the door before sucking in his stomach.
He stepped out into the hall, the last of the steam dissipating. Her door was still open. His bare feet made noise on the standard issue carpet as he moved back into the living room.
Jane was combing out her hair when she saw him pass by her door. She'd changed her own sheets that morning, tossed the dirty ones in the hamper. Tomorrow was laundry day. The clock on the wall said that it was half past twelve in the morning. In the living room, she could hear him turn off one of the lamps.
"Cory?" The comb pulled through her fair hair, working out the tangles. Later, Jane would swear she could hear him turn his head in the direction of her voice.
"You don't have to sleep on the couch if you don't want to."
He let out a breath, counted to three. Thanked whoever might be paying attention for her courage, because she kept saying it when he might not have.
In the bedroom, he put the pillow she'd set out on the sofa next to its twin. He'd turned out the rest of the lights, made sure the door was locked. He cupped her narrow jaw between his hands while she grasped his forearms.
God, his mouth. Jane's hands tightened their grip as she kissed him back, and the shiver that passed through her rippled through him like an echo. She was his light in the darkness, and he was the silent presence who hovered even in his absence.
His mouth was on her neck, sucking lightly on the scar, and her hands spread out on his back before they reached the bed. Cory stretched out she sprawled across him, and they made slow work of exploring each other's mouths. Up this close, his kisses bordered on the lethal, but he let her have as much of the lead as she wanted. When she finally broke away for a full breath, her heart was beating so hard it she could feel it in her temples.
She tugged on the waistband of his pants, the elastic stretching. Because she was done being cautious for the night. "Off."
He was bigger than she thought he'd be, but as she sank onto him it was a good hurt. A muscle in Cory's jaw twitched as he set his teeth, and his hands made slow circles on her hips as she got used to the stretch. "It's been a while," she said shakily, and he nodded.
"We'll go as slow as you want. Just..."
His breath caught as she rolled her hips in a slow, tight circle, and he'd been celibate for so long that he might have finished right then if he hadn't squeezed his eyes shut. So he couldn't see her, because even in the dimness Jane was the golden sun to his silvery, cool moon. Her hands flattened on his warm chest, and she had the sudden absurd wish to be wearing his cowboy hat.
Maybe next time.
When she started to move, he looked up at her through eyes dark with need, and his roughened hands cupped her breasts. This first time could go as leisurely as they wanted, but he had every intention of trying to drive her through the mattress the next. She leaned down for a kiss, and he arched his neck when her mouth drifted down his jawline.
She let out a muffled laugh against his neck, set the pace a little faster when she sat up again. His fingers dug into her thighs, then into her ass as his hands shifted. Jane's eyes were slotted with concentration, her expression intent. They could talk later, in the morning. After some of the burn had died down. He'd started to rock against her, matching her rhythm even as his callused hands clasped more tightly.
It made her come, just the way he said it, and her inner muscles fluttered before they clenched. She ground down against him, and her hair was in his face as she wound her fingers through his. He let out a noise that was almost like a yelp as he finished, the pulse of it making his belly go slack. Her face was very close to his, and he freed one hand to brush the hair out of her eyes.
"I don't usually..."
"Neither do I."
Her expression was matter of fact, but the affection in her touch was evident as she eased her weight off of him. She left the bed just long enough to clean herself up a little, and when she exited the bathroom she was carrying a wet washcloth. Cory had one arm behind his head, and when Jane touched his spent cock with the terrycloth he opened his eyes lazily and watched her tend to him. It had been stupid not to use anything, something he didn't intend to repeat, but her attention was very much appreciated.
She lay down next to him when her task was completed, and they watched each other for a long time. He couldn't call it love, but the affection he felt for her burned in his blood. After a while, she put her hand on his chest, over his heart, which had slowed to its normal pace.
"You're so fuckin' handsome."
He fell asleep before he could answer her, and she turned over and scooted backwards, so that her back was against his front. She did not drape his arm over her, but his warmth was enough to lull her into slumber.
For this, Jane was glad she'd been reckless.