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Of all the terrifying things Beth has heard over the last year, she's pretty sure in this moment that nothing has stricken her quite like Rio's laughing behind her, “Yo, ma, what's this?”

She doesn't know what he's found, but it can't be anything good if his tone is any indicator.  Sure enough, when she turns around, she finds him grinning at her and holding up the little baggie of pot she'd shoved hurriedly into her purse days ago, telling herself she'd deal with that disaster later .  She should have known leaving it in her purse could only end in an entirely new disaster.  Her life is just like that now.

“It's not mine,” she blurts, utterly at a loss.

It's not a new feeling.

“Oh,” he nods, biting his lip and stepping closer as heat creeps up her neck.  “So, what, you just holdin’ it for a friend?”

“Didn't you--” she reaches out to snatch the bag away, but he holds it just out of reach, “Didn't you ask to meet me for a reason?”

“We'll get to it,” he says, which isn't reassuring at all .

Clenching her jaw and crossing her arms, she waits a moment before she says, “I found it in Kenny's sock drawer and I hadn't decided how I was gonna deal with that…” she trails off for a moment, wary of his widening grin and his proximity, “I was gonna deal with that later.”

“And you just been holding?”

“Apparently.”  When his shoulders start shaking, she demands, “Why are you enjoying this so much?”

“Oh, I think you know,” he responds.  At her scowl, he makes a sweeping gesture at her and continues, “I mean, c'mon, you got that whole squeaky clean, straightedge housewife thing down pat, no one expects you to have weed.”  He pauses thoughtfully.  “Xanax, maybe.”

It takes her a moment to figure out what to say to that, and what she settles on is, “You know I'm not squeaky clean.  That I'm not is actually sort of your fault.”

He sucks his teeth and scoffs, “Please.  Do I need to remind you how we met?”

He does not.

“Anyway, you can’t just go through my purse!” she says, belatedly outraged.

“I mean, it was on top,” he shrugs.

The thing is, it would be easier to be mad at him if she didn't like this weird cat-and-mouse thing where she always feels like she's fighting for an upper hand.  She doesn't even know why she likes it (that's not entirely true, she knows why she likes some of it, but she's still stinging too much from the last time to really acknowledge that).  It's not a real fight, and she thinks part of her likes the attention and the lax line of his shoulders and the way he prowls towards her, and it's about as close to flirting as she's gotten in… probably ever, but at least in years , and she just…  She likes it, regardless of the fact that he's made it pretty clear nothing more is happening here.  She thinks she gives herself away, though--she thinks it's probably alright. What's all this been on his part but pigtail-pulling?

“You ever smoke before?” he asks, close enough now to touch and her fingers itch with it.

She rolls her eyes and takes a step back so she can get enough room to breathe , and she says, “You've met my sister.”  It's amazing how he makes this big, big house shrink down to just enough room for the two of them.  At his look, she shakes her head and throws out her arms a little and says, “When I was a kid.”

She can feel him giving her a once-over before he asks, “So, what you think?  You up for it?”

“That's a terrible idea,” she laughs.  When he shrugs again and turns away from her with a comment about not pressuring her, she grabs his arm without thinking and says, “That wasn't a no.  Just... needed to say it for the record.”

Turning, his eyes pin her in place, and she feels like she's being assessed and completely forgets she's currently holding his arm until his gaze drops to the hand she's got hooked around his bicep.  She jerks away like she's been burnt and breezes past him to drop onto the couch.  “Aight then,” she hears as he walks around her to set himself neatly in the middle of the couch.  He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a little cardboard book she recognizes in spite of the years.

“You just… carry rolling papers?” she asks, ignoring the anxious-excited quake in her belly when he opens the bag and she can smell it already.

“Always be prepared,” he answers wryly.  She turns to face him, lower back now pressed into the arm of the couch and knee pulled up, careful not to touch him.  “No kids tonight?”

There's something in how his voice changes these days when he mentions her kids that she can never quite interpret--just a hint of sobriety, what could be called gentleness if she didn't know he doesn't think she deserves that.  “Nope, they're with--they're at Dean's,” she responds.

“Ah, Dean,” Rio breathes, half-amused and mockingly wistful.

Instead of responding, Beth watches him work, watches his long fingers portioning out weed--and she feels ridiculous somehow referring to it as weed, as anything, she's a mother of four!--and, with practiced motions, roll a joint in a way that shouldn't make her thrum with want but does.  When he lifts it to his mouth to lick the paper, she has to look away, feigning cool.  This is such a bad idea, she's supposed to just be cool, with him here, high?  Why would she do this?  She only has a moment to panic before he's produced a lighter, and her eyes narrow as she bites back a comment about being prepared.  

No turning back now , she thinks as a perfect little mushroom cloud of smoke curls past his lips before he sucks it back in.  “Show off,” she mutters, hating herself for the flutter in her chest when he smirks, and their fingers brush when he passes her the joint.  It feels unnatural in her grasp, and she somehow feels like she’s seventeen again.

Her first hit makes her cough, hard, and she glares at Rio when he tosses his head back and laughs and it rings out in the empty house around them.  She takes a few moments to stop choking on the burn in her throat before trying again, rolling her eyes at his quiet, amused, “Careful, now.”

This time she manages not to cough, but it’s a near thing.  When she looks, his eyes sparkle with mirth, and she feels brave enough to shove his shoulder gently.  He squints at her, lips twisting, and she shakes her head and props it up on a hand, elbow on the back of the couch, as she passes the joint back to him.  They’re silent, for the most part, and it’s weirdly nice. It’s… calm, which things never are with him. Heated, yes. Fraught, of course. But never this easy tranquility, and she wants to blame the drugs because the alternative--that this is something they can be with one another--is almost painful in spite of the fact that now, a couple hits in, she’s starting to feel the high.

She makes the same mistake this time that she always did as a kid--that is, overdoing it, and by the time he tries to pass it back to her and she waves it off, pretending to be more present than she is, she realizes she’s much, much too high.  It starts in the way her stomach flips like she’s on a roller coaster every time she closes her eyes, in the too-dry click of her throat when she swallows, the way her tongue is plastered to the roof of her mouth.  She draws her foot up off the floor, plants it on the couch cushion, and bends her forehead to her knee and breathes and holds herself very tight because she feels like if she doesn’t this dizzy feeling in her belly will grow, make her clumsy, make her fall off the couch even though she knows she’s completely still.  Distantly, she feels him shift and stand, and it makes her feel like she’s on a ship on stormy seas.  

“Here,” he says, soft and sudden, and he’s standing in front of her holding a glass of water when she looks up.  She takes it gingerly, feeling like she has to concentrate real hard on keeping her grip just right , as he sits next to her, close enough now that one of her knees presses into his hip.  “Slowly.”

She scoffs because she can’t quite muster, I know, I know .

The first sip slips icy over her tongue, and she thinks she can feel the chill all the way down her throat and into her stomach.  It takes a couple more for her to feel more pleasantly stoned than completely wrecked, but she finds it’s easy now to lean over to set the glass on a coaster on the coffee table.  Somehow in the shuffle she ends up with her toes tucked under the bend of his knee, but he isn’t saying anything about it so she keeps her peace.

When she straightens, she pulls a face at him that can’t quite cover up her smile as she says, “Well, that was embarrassing.”  He doesn’t really respond, just shakes his head and twists to face her.  She watches his hand lift but closes her eyes when his fingers trace a familiar line down her cheek, pushing her hair back, and the words are tumbling out of her before she has a chance to really think it through, “You didn’t have to get me high to play with my hair, Rio.”

He lets out a bark of a laugh, and his hand falls away.  She lets her eyes stay closed for a little bit longer, content in the little bit of peace they’ve carved out here even if she’s sure it’s a freak incident--especially because she’s sure it’s a freak incident.  When he moves, she can feel it, but he doesn’t leave again, and a moment later, the TV comes on.

It’s safer to look at him now, when all his attention is on trying to find something to watch.  She lets her head drop into her hand again, eyes tracing over his profile, his long, long eyelashes, his beard, his lips.  She realizes, somewhat distantly, that there’s a heat in her belly and she wants--she wants him, and, sure, some of that is the weed, but most of it is the memory of his hands on her skin, the memory of him buried inside her and the way he moans--

“What’re you thinking, Elizabeth?” he asks suddenly, breaking through her daydream as he tips her glass of water to his lips.

She realizes, heat creeping up her neck, that she was staring--that it wasn’t actually all that sudden--and she feels like no matter what she says, she’s tripping headlong into a trap.  

“I’m not thinking a single thing,” she answers eventually, voice high and artificially sweet as her fingers comb through her hair.

Smirking, he sets the glass back down and pushes up onto one knee, moves so quickly it almost makes her dizzy and then he’s looming close.  “You sure?” There’s a challenge in his eyes, and as he pushes closer, she unconsciously shifts to accommodate him. “Seemed like you were lost in thought.”


Don’t?! she thinks vehemently.

“Don’t?”  One eyebrow arches.

Beth licks her lips, and her mouth is so dry again, and his eyes flicker down.  “Don’t put your shoes on my couch,” she snaps, kicking weakly at his leg.

It does the trick, though, and the tension melts out of him--he falls backwards with his hands on his stomach and a loud, bright laugh that’s so big it takes up all the space in the room, and she can’t hold back the giggles that bubble up in her chest.  Both hands clap over her mouth, and she laughs until her stomach hurts, until there are actual tears in her eyes. As she sobers, she catches his eye, and another fit threatens--she knows he knows from his lopsided smile--and she swallows thickly and looks at the TV instead without seeing what’s on.  She doesn’t turn her attention back to him until she feels less like she’s going to burst out laughing if she does.  She finds his eyes on her and his face worryingly serious.

“I’ll tell you what I was thinking,” she offers, leaning back and biting her lower lip to keep from smiling, uncomfortable under his scrutiny.

“Yeah?” he asks, eyebrows jumping.

“Yeah, take off your shoes first.”  She watches him roll his shoulders as he sits up and shucks off his shoes, lets them thunk to the floor, and she thinks as he moves back into her space that there are very valid reasons not to do what she’s about to do, but they’re all so far away she can’t really grasp them right now.  Not when he’s so close and she’s all warm and fuzzy around the edges and he smells so good. So, in spite of the fact that there’s a very real, very rational part of her telling her not to do this, it’s surprisingly easy to shove away, whispering as she closes the distance between them, “I was thinking about how I wanted to--”

The kiss is, at first, a lot like how she imagines kissing a mannequin would feel like because he goes so stock still that she's struck with oh shit I definitely shouldn't have done this to a degree that's almost painful.  When she starts to pull back--already planning to, like, grab her kids and flee to Canada or bury herself in the garden--he huffs, “That was so lame,” before nudging back in, hard and quick.

“Well,” she breathes, dazed, “Cat’s been outta the bag on that one for a while.  I offered to make you a sandwich before we slept together.”

He pushes up, and one of his hands is on her thigh when he asks, “We jokin’ about that now?”

His tone is mild, not upset or angry, so she boldly tips her chin up and declares, “I am.”

When he dips back down, shaking his head, and she arches up to meet him, it’s--it’s explosive and overwhelming and so, so slow she’s in agony when his tongue slips past her lips.  She remembers, at some point, that she could also be touching him instead of letting her hands rest dumbly on his shoulders.  She hooks one hand around the back of his neck, tugging him down further and shifting clumsily--and, at one point she thinks, jabbing him in the side with her knee--until she’s got one leg on either side of him, and she wants more than anything to feel him against her, feel the weight of him.  The angle isn’t quite right, though, and her back digs uncomfortably into the arm of the couch, but she doesn’t want to break away just yet--fears, however distantly, that doing so would shatter whatever fragile spell they've weaved here. He moans when she drags her nails over his scalp, and she drinks it up greedily, eagerly, wanting whatever he’ll give her.

She doesn’t mean to, but she whines when he breaks the kiss, and her hand falls away as he sits back on his knees, scrubbing his face with his hands and breathing just as heavily as she is.

“God damn,” he says gruffly, hands going to her knees then climbing upward even though he doesn’t make much of a move to get closer.   

Sitting up engages her core a little more than she’s prepared to do in her current state, and so she ends up listing back with her hands behind her to keep her upright.  There’s something unflatteringly close to arrogance welling in her chest and coloring her voice when she offers, “We could stop.”

Eyes narrowing, he shrugs, “We could,” but she doesn’t have much time to agonize over what to make of that because then his lips are on hers again, and his arm wraps around her waist, and he lifts her which she feels like she forgot he could even do .  She gasps, surprised, and as soon as he drags her forward, she moves with him.

When she drops back, already pulling him down with her, she smacks the back of her head on the arm of the couch and yelps, “Ow, shit, ow!”  His low chuckle vibrates through her, and she shoves at his chest, wounded even as his fingers card through her hair and brush over the spot that’s definitely going to bruise.  He shifts back until she can shuffle further down and lay flat on the couch, grumbling, “Shouldn’t be so hard.”

“It’s because you’re high,” he says helpfully.

Lucky for them both, probably, she opts to arch up into another kiss instead of responding, catching his lower lip between her teeth and hitching her knee up over his hip until he’s right up against her, chest-to-chest.  She’s not really sure how long they stay like that--for pretty obvious reasons, she’s more focused on the slick slide of his lips against hers and their wet gasps and the way he can’t seem to stop rolling against her. Her fingers splay over his ribs, dig into his back, and she thinks as his hand slips from her hip up under her blouse, hot against her skin, that she could crawl out of her skin with want.  He breaks away for just a beat before nipping his way to her throat, and she tilts her head to the side, baring her neck and letting out a moan when he sucks hard under her jaw.  She arches her back when he bites the bruise he just made and gets her hands up under his shirt to dig her nails into the lean muscles of his back, and she’s already weighing moving this whole situation into her bedroom when she feels buzzing against the inside of her thigh.

“Please tell me that’s not your phone,” she murmurs as he snickers into her shoulder.

Lazily, he untangles himself and sits up, digging in his pocket.  She’s vaguely annoyed at his ability to look completely unaffected, the only evidence of what they’ve been doing in his kiss-bruised lips.  “I gotta go,” he says with no inflection whatsoever.



“Are you serious right now?” she demands in disbelief.

At that, at least, he gives her a half-smile before lifting one shoulder with a simple, “Yeah.”

With a scowl, she gets up and, in spite of her irritation and the throbbing need, realizes she’s kind of starving right now.  Her mind is more on her pantry than anything else as she watches him tug his shoes back on. She walks him to the door purely out of habit and waits a moment before the silence becomes oppressive.  “So, this was…” she trails off, words on the tip of her tongue and just out of her grasp. The ones that do come to mind don’t seem like enough-- unexpected, amazing, awesome, frustrating.

“I’ll see you later, Elizabeth,” he says.

It’s not until she’s nearly elbow-deep in a bag of tortilla chips that she realizes he never actually got around to telling her why he needed to meet her.