As Autumn watched Cassandra pedal away, the reflectors on the spokes of her wheels catching the light, the redhead shuddered at the sensation of icy, intangible fingers trailing down her spine. It was just a glint of flickering brightness against the shadows lining the road- not even the right color- but again, the image of a child's shoe appeared unbidden in her mind, and the saccharine sweetness of the ice cream lingering on her tongue was suddenly bitter ash in her mouth. Her mother was waiting for her; she, like the pretty reporter, would get to go home tonight. But, as she nudged the kickstand up and placed her feet on the pedals, it wasn't toward home that her handlebars turned. Not yet.
It was nearly 11:30, after what seemed an eternity spent racing down country roads between pale, moonlit fields, that the building came into view. Even then, some instinct kept Autumn from looking back the way she'd come, now that she was more familiar with that sense of creeping unease at her back- dread- than she'd been the first time she traveled this path alone. Instead, she let that feeling spur her forward, overriding the dull ache in her lungs and the burning in her thighs. What had once seemed to her the lair of Shelly's most fearsome boogeyman was now simply a house rising up from the surrounding farmlands; having seen the den of an actual monster, the Bannon farm was an inviting sanctuary by comparison.
Muscle memory applied the brake as gravel crunched beneath her bicycle tires, dropped the kickstand and carried her up the porch steps. There was as little thought in the movement as there'd been in leaving the diner parking lot, for once no inner dialogue or contemplation on the ride. Similarly, there was no real consideration of the time, or circumstance, as she knocked quietly at the door.
Quiet rumble of male voices from inside, a scrape of a chair, a footfall. The door opened, revealing Gar Bannon, a plainly surprised look on his face at the sight of the young woman. He started to speak, then peered closely at her face. "Autumn." Whatever tone of surprise he'd initially intended to speak her name with was muted, overlaid by concern at something he saw in the shadowed pools of her eyes. "You, uh, here to speak to Jase?"
Swallowing past the sudden tightness in her throat, the red-haired girl nodded. "Hi, Mr. Ban- Gar," she corrected herself for what would likely not be the last time. She liked Jason's dad, and despite knowing he'd been present for their last encounter with the nightmare hellbeasts, it seemed wrong somehow to relate the combination of otherworldly and mundane awfulness that brought her to his door. "I'm sorry to bother you, I know it's late. Would it be okay if..." She rubbed her palms against her thighs to still their trembling, the polite smile on her lips taut. Uncertain. "Is, um- is he still up?"
"If he's not," Gar stated gravely, stepping aside and waving her in. "He'd want to be, I'm sure." His gaze was filled with questions, but with a stoic practicality that seemed very much like his son's he set them aside and focused on the matter at hand. Closing the door, he went to the foot of the stairs and called up in a low, but carrying voice. "Jase?" There was a pause, then a door opened somewhere above them.
"Yes?" came the familiar tone, crisp and alert-sounding, curiosity a faint note rather than the substance that the word suggested. A creak of floorboards, a shadow moved on the wall above the bookcases that lined the staircase.
"Autumn's here. You decent?" Gar smiled faintly, winking at the girl. There was another pause.
"Sure." Now there was curiosity in his voice. Gar gave Autumn a nod and indicated the carpeted stairs.
"Thank you," the subdued redhead replied, her gaze following the neat rows of books she'd noticed the last time she was here, though she'd had no reason then to venture upstairs. Now, suddenly, Autumn was conscious of the state of her hair, the film of sweat and dust and... probably worse that clung to her skin and her clothes, but it was too late to turn around, wasn't it? She was here, even if she wasn't entirely sure why, and the only thing to do was climb. Ascending the steps slowly, she noted the sheer number of volumes present as well as the apparent variety of subjects covered; while most of the books downstairs were related to cooking or practical household concerns, these seemed more esoteric. A few sets of what looked like very old encyclopedias, noteworthy for their impressive leather and gilt spines, stood next to well-worn science textbooks, botanical field guides, and ones marked with characters she couldn't even read. It occurred to Jason's brand-new, very first girlfriend that he'd probably read all of them more than once. Reaching the landing at the top, Autumn unzipped her jacket and exhaled, counting to four.
He was standing on the landing, in the dim gold radiance cast by an overhead bulb that picked out the bronze tones of his hair and features and warmed the glacial pallidity of his gaze as it studied her. His head tilted slightly, something she now surmised was a deliberate visible cue rather than an unconscious one, something he added for the benefit of others. Part of his 'peopling'. "Autumn." He didn't smile, despite the warmth in his voice as he uttered her name, the glittering interrogation of his gaze at odds with the warmth also there as he stepped towards her.
"Jase," she replied, and took another deep breath, her fingers tangling themselves in the fabric of her hoodie. Even with everything that had happened, even with the uncomfortable way her t-shirt was sticking to her skin, there was something about those cool, not-wholly dispassionate jade eyes that made it difficult to think of anything else. Focus, Autumn. "Listen, I know it's really late, and I kind of just showed up, and we've only been dating for like a day, but I have a favor to ask." She paused, then amended, "Two favors. If it's okay, I would really like a shower, and a hug. In that order." There was another pause, another slow exhalation. "Please."
A half-beat of her heart and then "Okay." The word was simply and sincerely spoken, without fanfare, and Jason half-turned, gesturing towards a doorway. "The bathroom is there. One moment, and I'll get you a towel." He started to move towards a closet, his manner composed. So composed, in fact, that Autumn experienced a weird but not-unpleasant sense of surprise.
"Wait." she managed, causing him to stop and look at her. Then she wondered why she'd spoken up. It was just odd, the way he accepted without questioning or demanding to know what was going on. Jason considered her a moment as she stood, silently trying to put into words the question in her blue eyes.
"You're upset." he said by way of answer to the unvoiced query. "Shower first, hug second. My curiosity can wait." He turned and retrieved a large dark blue towel from the closet, along with a matching washcloth. "I'll get you something to wear. Leave your clothes outside the door and I'll get them cleaned up." He led her to the bathroom door, then handed her the towel and cloth.
No argument. No inquiry. No demands. Just... "Okay," and "I can wait." As if the explanation for her completely unreasonable request- after showing up unexpectedly in the middle of the night- was less important than the fact she'd made it. Autumn blinked up at him, surprised, in the soft golden light, her eyes the murky, indeterminate grey-blue-green of the ocean in the wake of a storm, and then nodded as he pressed the bath linens into her hands. She'd half-expected to be pinned to the wall by that piercing crystalline stare, questioned in precise and excruciating detail about why she'd shown up and what had happened, but... "Okay." At least for the moment, she didn't have to explain anything, to really even say anything at all, except-
"Thank you," she breathed, cool fingertips lingering just a moment on the backs of his hands as she took the towel and turned, closing the bathroom door quietly behind her. For the span of several heartbeats, the redhead sagged back against that door, the thick wood panel reassuringly solid against her shoulders and spine as the reality that she was safe slowly penetrated the fog of apprehension she'd been moving through all night. With that recognition, a growing awareness of physical discomfort replaced psychological unease. She was sore. She was sweaty. She could actually feel the grime on her skin, and although being in the Old Town Hall had effectively granted her temporary immunity to its smell, she was pretty sure no one around her could boast the same. Ugh. Her nose crinkled in displeasure at the thought. In less time than it would have taken to list the layers of clothing she was wearing, she'd managed to tear them all off- opening the door just enough to confirm no one was watching before leaving them just outside.
As Jason found something for her to wear and explained to his father, briefly, that she'd be staying for a little while, Autumn did her best to scrub away the physical residue of the night. At least she wasn’t sick, this time. The hot water was a soothing balm to both achy muscles and jangled nerves. It rinsed away the faint traces of earlier tears as well as the ones that spilled out unbidden beneath the spray, and banished the visible evidence of the girls’ adventures down the drain in a dark swirl, surrounding her in the clean scent of unidentifiable herbs and green, growing things. Jason’s soap. Jason’s shampoo. She lingered there a few minutes longer than was strictly necessary, the idea of his smell on her skin warming her as thoroughly on the inside as the shower was outside, and by degrees, the red-haired young woman felt herself relax.
Wringing the water from her hair and combing through the damp curls with her fingers as she finished up and dried off, Autumn drew in what felt like the first full breath she’d had all evening. One of Jase’s oversized t-shirts and a pair of shorts with a drawstring waist lay on the counter, neatly folded, and she allowed herself a little smile as she pulled them on, her still-pink cheeks flushing a slightly deeper shade of rose as it occurred to her that her underwear had gone with everything else she’d been wearing. Although, she reflected with a faint grin, the most effective way to deal with most of it… except her hoodie… was probably just shoving it in a furnace and walking away. Between the fries, the ice cream, the exertion of the ride, and the luxury of a shower and clean clothes, she could almost convince herself that things were okay. Almost. As she stepped out of the bathroom, Autumn’s eyes caught on a sliver of light escaping a half-open door across the way.
Padding across the carpet, she peeked inside, rapping her knuckles against the door frame in a quiet knock. “Jase?”
The room was another library, shelves lining the walls from floor to ceiling and broken only by a closet door, the large sash window and a desk in one corner. The center of the room was largely dominated by a low bed consisting of a king size mattress only slightly set above the floor - a futon style, she thought it was called. As her eyes took in the room, it's lack of pop culture posters, or art, or photos, the lack of clothing strewn about and, most notably, the absence of eau-de-sock, it struck Autumn that this was by far the tidiest teenagers - especially teenage boy's - room she had ever seen. The only marked disarray was the couple of piles of books next to the bed - which the room's occupant currently sat on, long legs stretching out in front of him as he leaned back against the wall, reading by the light of a lamp.
Jase looked up as she knocked, smiling slightly in that way he did - the faintest of crinkles at the corners of his eyes as they took in her freshly-washed self. Heat flickered in the depths of his gaze as it rested on her pink-tinged cheeks, but all he did was close the book he'd been passing the time with and set it aside, watching her as he motioned for her to enter. "Come on in." he invited. A touch of a wry smile graced his lips. "I believe you would be the only person other than my father who has."
"Thanks," she replied with a faint, answering smile, pleased at the inclusion in such a select group as she stepped over the threshold and into the decidedly un-hoardlike inner sanctum of Bannon the Magnificent, he of the spear-like claws and teeth of swords. Then again... Scanning row upon row of books, it occurred to the curious redhead that the library in the rest of the house wasn't singular at all. It must instead have spilled forth from this room, the accumulated knowledge of minds great and good and simply novel overflowing down the stairs and into the kitchen and- she assumed- probably elsewhere, as well, like so many gold bars and gleaming gems amassed for his pleasure. A cave of wonders, of mysteries and secrets, treasures for the brilliant young man's keen intellect to peruse at his leisure. "It suits you."
Autumn's footfalls were silent on the rug as she closed the distance between them, hesitating for little more than the span of a heartbeat before she perched on the edge of the bed next to Jason, feet on the floor. The camping trip had been one thing, but this was his room. Girlfriend or not, there were rules for this kind of thing, right? Some kind of protocol to be observed? Angling toward him, she turned slightly, pressing her lips together as her eyes moved thoughtfully over his face. She'd just seen him earlier that evening, had spent almost two full days with him, but in that instant it didn't feel like even that had been enough. "So, um, the hug. Should I just...?" Meeting Jase's gaze, his companion gestured vaguely toward him as if asking permission.
His head tilted slightly, the wry smile widening for a moment and revealing a hint of dimple in each smooth cheek, then Jason simply held out a hand to her. "Come here." It wasn't quite a command, and wasn't quite a request, and contained warmth of emotion not usually present in his habitually precise and clinical manner. She took the long, strong fingers in her own, folding her hand around his, letting him draw her to him as she shuffled closer until she felt his arm slide around her shoulders and tug her into an embrace.
"You never need to ask to touch me." he murmured with his lips on her damp hair, his free hand stroking the ends of her curls, fingers toying with them. "That privilege is yours."
In answer, Autumn simply nodded, pressing her face against his chest as her other arm curled around his side. Her fingertips slid under the hem of his shirt, finding the warm, bare skin of his back beneath the cotton and exhaling a long, shaky breath that seemed to come from her toes. Her eyelids drifted shut at the feel of Jason's breath on her hair, the pressure of his arm, the dextrous fingers entwined with hers; although she didn't feel the least bit sleepy, it was the first time since she and Cass had left the basement that she'd seen nothing at all when she closed her eyes. That alone was worth the ride through the dark Montana night.
"Same," she murmured against his collarbone, drawing her pale legs up onto the bed and all but melting against the reclining youth. The awfulness was still there, that haunting chill that whispered that things weren't at all okay, and that they might never again be okay, but at least for the moment it seemed distant, muted by the heat radiating from Jase's lean form next to hers. "You have really good hugs, you know?" his potentially biased girlfriend opined quietly, her thumb moving lightly over his knuckles. "For an alien."
In the diamond-etched crystal prism of his mind, Jason was hard at work analysing Autumn's appearance, manner, and possible reasons for being here. He was also focused intently on the feel of her wet hair, cool on his fingertips, and the warmth of her touch on his skin. That connection, that sense of being touched and the vulnerability of being close to another, was deeply personal to the strange young man - which is why he tolerated very few people within arm's length. It was also fair to say that Autumn's proximity, after his earlier wrestling with the remembrance of their sensual play of the night before, was performing an excellent job of undoing the locks of his self-discipline like a practiced seducer's fingers would unfasten the buttons on a shirt.
"It must be part of the genetic superiority." he joked softly. "Intelligence, aggression, fearlessness... and really good hugs." He breathed in deeply, his eyes half-closing as he struggled with the urge to change the nature of his caresses, to seek her mouth with his and draw out gasps of pleasure, to bury his fingers deep in her hair and crane her head back so her ivory throat would be laid bare for his lips... He breathed out again, feeling his center stabilise once more. It was apparent to him that Autumn hadn't come seeking sex. She had seen something, or experienced something, that had upset her deeply and needing comfort she had come... to him? Perhaps. Perhaps she had also been scared, and so wanted a sense of protection? It was hard to say with any certainty, at least for him. So he concentrated instead on what he did know. Autumn wanted to be held. That he could do, and so his arm snugged her closer as, in a gesture of comfort he'd seen others do, he softly kissed her forehead.
"Mhmm," the redhead agreed, smiling in spite of herself at the gentle brush of his lips. Even in this, she realized, Jase was a fast learner, and a part of her wondered what he'd be like when he was older, more experienced with life and women and, well. Everything. That was a question for future Autumn to answer, though, as current Autumn had more pressing concerns. "Must be. The other stuff just makes it hard for people to figure that out. Lucky me, huh?" Shifting slightly in his arms, she tilted her head back to catch Jason's eye and smiled, one corner of her mouth curving upward. "Probably all the Irish in my family."
Even under questionable circumstances such as these, it was impossible to remain completely unaffected by his nearness, the firefly glimmer of gold in his gaze, the lingering hint of tobacco just underneath the verdant, crisp scent she'd come to associate with Jason Bannon. Feeling her face growing warmer as she studied his features, the blue-eyed teen caught her lower lip in her teeth, biting down just hard enough to remind herself that was definitely not why she'd come out here. Probably. Then again, it hadn't really been a conscious choice on her part, had it?
"You said earlier you were curious," she stated, focusing on the here-and-now of those pale green eyes. "And you've done both the favors I asked for, so I kind of owe you some explanation. Would it be okay with you if we stayed like this while we talked, though?"
Neat white teeth worried at her lower lip, causing it to redden enticingly, and Jason almost lost his struggle there before getting control once more, remonstrating sternly with himself and more than a little concerned. This was not like him, to feel so easily pulled like this.
"It's more than okay to stay like this." he said in answer to her question, his eyes studying her upturned features with a gaze that was half analytical, and half appreciative. "And you can give as much, or as light of an explanation as you choose right now. I kind of get the impression the scouting was... unpleasant?"
Autumn snorted softly in something like laughter, though there was nothing at all to laugh about. It was just easier, preferable to the alternative, which was to start crying again. "Yeah. The two of us went to Bunnee's, after," she explained, resting her cheek against the smooth plane of his Jase's chest, turning his hand over in hers and studying the faint marks on his palm, the whorls on the pads of his fingertips as she traced them with her own. "We talked about it a little, but I don't think either of us have really processed, yet. There's a lot of pieces of ideas kind of floating around in my head right now, and I don't know how much help it'll be. If at all." Exhaling, the animated redhead frowned, rearranging herself again as if to get closer. When she began again, her voice was quiet, distant in the way it had been when she'd spoken of her grandfather on the porch a week before.
"It was a lot like Cassie said when she described it, but worse. The darkness, the smell... Awful. Cody wasn't there, though. Just us, and all the, um." Her voice wavered, a sudden shiver prickling the freckled skin on the backs of her arms. "The animals he'd killed. There were a whole lot of them, and not just in the basement, and most of them had been there for a while." There had been so many of them, their little bodies just mangled, brutalized and tortured and then discarded like trash... Her eyes darkened, lashes trembling slightly at the memory as she fixed her gaze on the lines encircling the base of his thumb. Focus, Autumn. You have to be able to talk about it. She inhaled, counting silently in her head and holding the breath before releasing it again. "He wasn't around, but it felt like... If you walk into a room where someone was just standing, and you know that they were there? Like, there's no hot coffee cup, or lit cigarette, or anything to give you a definite clue, just that feeling. They just stepped out, but they might be back any second. Sort of like that."
"Well, that settles the matter of where we go to find him." Jason murmured, part of his mind examining the description of the place. Mangled, tortured animals. To him, no more than distasteful, and more so due to the apparent senselessness, but from recent experience he knew it was more than that for his girlfriend. He gave her what he judged was a reassuring squeeze, and upon feeling her make a small noise, tighten her embrace of him and press her face into his chest assessed that the comfort was well-received. "Tomorrow, if you feel capable, I'd like you and Cassie to do a floorplan of the place for us to study. To describe it so that we're as ready as we can be. We know we're on a clock with taking him down, so the sooner we prepare the better."
"But that can wait till tomorrow. This is hug time." he added with another small kiss on the top of Autumn's head, breathing in his shampoo mingling with the warm smell of her hair - of her. His scent on her. Odd how that affected him so strongly, causing not just arousal but also provoking urges of protection, of possession. Mine, the urges rumbled, and the diamond-clarity of Jason's thoughts resolved to keep a strong watch on that, lest it come on him at a bad time, or lead to... unproductive confrontations. "Was there anything more? Either of you get hurt?" he inquired with mild concern. He had initially assumed that, if that was the case, Autumn would have led with it. But people were strange sometimes - it would not surprise him for Autumn to disregard a wound in her distress over the dead animals.
"No, not hurt. Freaked out, scared, angry, yeah, but not hurt. The place sounded like it'd fall on our heads the whole time, but it seemed pretty solid. Some of the old stairs were out, broken railings, stuff like that, but I mean, that's what you expect, right?" She sat quietly for a moment, weaving her pale, cinnamon-flecked fingers through Jason's long, tan ones. The actual physical aspect of the place was easy to describe, just a practical assessment of its construction and how time and the occasional vagrant or animal incursion had changed it; its effect, however, wasn't quite so simple for the earnest young woman to relate. "I know we'll probably talk a lot more about it tomorrow, and Cass took a lot of pictures, so you guys can see exactly what we found- there were drawings all over the place, but not like graffiti. More like creepy cave paintings of the… monster, I guess? That she talked about. Cody, or the spirit, or whatever. Skull, antlers."
Autumn leaned back suddenly, straightening to meet Jase’s eyes. Whatever questions or ideas she had about the meaning of those primitive scrawls, their origin, or what they might suggest about the historical goings-on in Shelly could wait until everyone was together. That was just details. It might help them come up with a working hypothesis, or add some color to the outline of events they were sketching, but it didn’t seem immediately useful. …Except in one instance. "Not just drawings, though. There’s a big one, on one of the walls down in the basement, and we’re pretty sure that’s the Door,” she added soberly, a subtle emphasis on the last word. “Cassie felt it there, I think, and-“ The redhead blinked, wide, dark pupils constricting sharply at the memory of the marks on the floor, the rust-red flecks on Velcro, the fluorescent stripes, as she tensed. “-and there was a little boy’s shoe, and… And that’s- the wall is where the blood stopped,” she finished tautly.
He remained silent for a moment, his eyes on hers as he absorbed everything. A Door, audibly capitalised. A boy's shoe. Blood. Autumn's pupillary constriction and the way the colour drained from her ivory skin, throwing the dusting of freckles into high contrast. The way her voice tightened and the tremor in her fingers around his.
"That'll do for now." he decided softly, tugging her back to snuggle against him, resuming the gentle stroking of her hair, fingertips lightly brushing strands back from her cheek and ear, resting his jaw and cheek on the top of her fiery curls. "Did I tell you yet today that I admire your courage?" he murmured with a soft smile that would have astonished practically everyone in the Fellowship, except possibly Sean.
"Don't feel brave." Autumn muttered, her eyes closing as she listened to his heartbeat against her ear and breathed in his scent.
"And yet you are. You're scared, and do what needs to be done anyway." Jase said firmly, his voice still low as he dropped another kiss on her brow. "I'm not an expert, but I'm pretty sure that's the definition of bravery most people agree with."
"Mmmm," his girlfriend hummed noncommittally, too preoccupied with allowing him to spoil her for a little bit longer to contest the point. This wasn't at all what she'd expected, this tenderness in his manner- Jason was clinical, pragmatic, and, yes, passionate, if the last twenty four hours had been any indication, but this was an entirely different sort of intimacy. For all its strangeness, though, the feeling of gentle fingers in her hair, the rise and fall of his chest, the warmth of his breath on her skin and the faint resonance of his Shine interacting with hers... It felt pleasantly familiar. He'd offered actual comfort- not empty platitudes or reassurances that everything was going to be fine, but simple physical presence. Connection. He'd told her not so long ago that if she ever had a bad day, he'd be right there, and she was pretty freaking sure that tonight qualified. ...And he was true to his word, wasn't he? He listened. Even if it wasn't something he knew anything about, or had any experience with, he'd actually been there. It wasn't just something he'd said to make her feel better.
"Okay, Professor Bannon," Autumn conceded after a moment, inhaling tobacco, something crisply botanical, and what she could only identify as 'Jase' under that. "I'll take your word for it." Releasing his fingers, the freshly-showered young woman wrapped both her arms around the laconic youth's spare, wiry torso, her hands sliding beneath the hem of his shirt as she attempted vainly to get closer to him. The journals, the trip to the reservation, talking about the basement and how to handle it- all of that could wait a little longer, she decided. At least until tomorrow, and that seemed, at the moment, to be very far away.
It was a little while later.
Jason had recited poetry to Autumn - poetry in various languages, spoken in a soft voice - as she'd cuddled close, and whether it was his voice, or choice of poems, her emotional exhaustion, his smell or some mixture of them all she had fallen into a doze, lips curved in a faint smile as she occasionally made 'mmh'-ing noises and wriggled as though it were possible to snuggle closer.
"His spots are the joy of the Leopard, his horns are the Buffalo's pride." Jase said softly, smiling a little at the drowsing redhead as he quoted Kipling. "Be clean, for the strength of the hunter is known by the gloss of his hide. If you find that the bullock can toss you, or the heavy-browed Sambhur can gore-" Whatever came next was interrupted as a text tone went off from Autumn's phone and her eyes snapped open.
"How'd that get here?" she asked, blinking a little. What time was it?
"It was in your hoodie. I retrieved it when you put your clothes outside the bathroom." Jason explained, passing it to her without glancing at the screen.
With a murmured 'thanks,' Autumn tapped her phone, visibly reluctant to shake off the reverie as she sat up with a little huff and swiped away the broad field of wildflowers that appeared on her lock screen. Maybe Cass was checking in, or her mom, or- "Oh. It's from..." Copper brows knit together in confusion as she checked the name. "Marissa." There was a hint of a question in the word, a note of surprise, and then she tapped the screen again.
[Wow, heard from Devin you're sleeping with Jason? Nice, Autumn. Nice.]
"Wait, how did- ?" she murmured, re-reading the text one more time. Fully awake now, the companionable warmth she'd been drowsily enjoying seemed to rush suddenly upward, flooding the girl's bronze-flecked cheeks with scarlet. It didn't really bother her that Marissa knew, but she'd meant to tell the beautiful fashionista herself, and... Autumn had never actually been congratulated on making out with a guy before. This whole 'having a female best friend' thing was a little different from having a guy best friend. Huh. Grinning in spite of herself at the prospect of being able to actually talk to another girl about things like this, of having a 'bestie' who wouldn't show up to threaten the guy she was seeing, Autumn leaned back against Jason's chest. Still blushing, she tapped out a quick reply.
[No, not sleeping! Will tell you about it tomorrow!]
Marissa's response was almost immediate: [Can. Not. Wait.]
The redhead's smile widened as she read the emphatic reply and set the phone on the bed, her rosy flush deepening by degrees as she peered up into the pale green eyes in such close proximity to her own. "I guess the cat's out of the bag with Marissa. Apparently Devin said something to her about us."
"Devin knew we were going camping. Though it's improbable he knows what happened there." Jase noted, running his thumb along Autumn's lower lip as his palm caressed her cheek. He paused, reflecting. "I did ask him if perhaps your behaviour towards me indicated attraction. I wasn't sure, and didn't want to presume and make another mistake."
"You talked to Devin about me?" Autumn asked, embarrassment warring with the little skip her heart made at the confession.
"Not by name - I just described the behaviour and asked his opinion. Though he might have put two and two together." Jason smiled a tiny amount. "He's far from blind or stupid."
"You're taking girl advice from Devin?" Autumn didn't know whether to laugh or be aghast. Jason shrugged, smiling.
"He was pretty helpful. Said the best way to find out was to test the waters. It didn't occur to me to do so until that moment by the fire, though." He lightly brushed his lips over hers. "I'm glad I did." he murmured against her mouth.
His pink-cheeked companion was glad, too; in fact, she spent the next few minutes communicating her satisfaction at the arrangement with quiet enthusiasm, heated kisses stealing the breath from their lungs and ardent caresses igniting incandescent sparks along their nerve endings. That it went no further was a testament to Jason's strength of will and Autumn's fear of being sent off to a remote convent on a mountaintop in Eastern Europe, and before the hour was too late to be considered "wholly unacceptable" by weekend standards, he offered to drive her home. Unlike the last time she'd visited, there was no argument or debate over whether she'd traverse the dark roads on her bicycle. As she changed back into her own clothes, somewhat reluctantly relinquishing the t-shirt he'd loaned her, she was silently grateful not to have to make the trip on her own after everything that had happened that night.
"Oh, hey, I forgot to mention it earlier." Twisting her still-damp curls up at the nape of her neck, Autumn rolled the little elastic band off her wrist and looped it around the knot to secure it in place as she sat on the edge of the bed, getting ready to leave. "My mom said if you guys come by around 8:30 or so, we can all have breakfast before we head over to the Rez. Normally I'd just text you, but, you know. Sort of not an option." She grinned over at him, nose crinkling slightly as she leaned down to pull on her hiking boots. "Nothing crazy. Waffles. Bacon. Probably whatever fruit she picked up from the farmer's market. Coffee, of course. Wanna come?"
A smile curved Jase's lips. "Having me over twice in two days for a meal? People will talk." he teased her, enjoyed the renewed dark rose that flooded her cheeks even as she smiled back at him.
"What do you think they'll say?" she asked, playing along. Jason pretended to consider as he stood, moving to shuffle his feet into his own boots.
"Probably that you're leading me astray by means of feeding me." He gave a small grin as he opened the door for her and followed her down the stairs. Autumn chuckled as Jason quickly told his dad - and Hank, who was still trying to beat Gar at chess - that he was driving her home, and as the pair headed out onto the porch, collected Autumn's bike, and headed over to the smaller barn she nudged him with an elbow.
"Is the food method working?"
"Definitely." Jason nodded, deadpan. "I'm totally led astray." He popped the trunk of his car and helped her hoist the bike into it, giving her a smile across the roof of the Charger as they moved to the driver and passenger doors. "Now let's get you home before Dana rescinds the offer to feed me."