A/N: All right, y'all. Here it is. The first chapter of my Grace/Luke fic. I decided to go ahead and post it because it's been done for days but I'm blocked on chapter two and didn't want to hold on to it anymore. This is going to be a really long fic and I'm not entirely sure how it will all go down. So bear with me.
For this chapter to make sense, it's imperative that you read the December chapter of "We've Only Just Begun" first. In fact, the next chapter (the one I'm blocked on) picks up a few hours after the end of WOJB, so just read the whole thing.
Chapter Theme Song (because I make soundtracks to my stories): She Will Be Loved by Maroon 5.
Luke had no idea why Grace was still here. Three days had passed since she'd shown up unexpectedly at his door soaked to the skin and radiating such sadness that he'd been struck speechless. When he'd finally found his voice, he'd babbled about insignificant things: the happenings of Cambridge, the best place to go for coffee or hamburgers, the paper he was working on for one of his honors classes. She'd born it all with a slight smile. She even seemed grateful that he hadn't asked her any questions. But that didn't make him feel any less like a bumbling idiot in the face of her miserable silence.
"I'm not five, Girardi."
He looked down to find her gazing up at him, indignation in her eyes, amusement on her lips. He'd been buttoning her up in his overcoat. She barely had anything suitable for Massachusetts' late winter weather. "I'm responsible for you while you're here. I don't want you to get sick."
Grace rolled her eyes at that. "Let me repeat. I'm not five."
"No," he agreed thoughtfully, "but you're upset about something. You're hurting. When someone's hurting, you take care of them." Luke plucked a scarf off of the coat rack behind him so he wouldn't see Grace's reaction to his statement. He wrapped it securely around her neck.
"So are scarves like a family obsession?" Grace asked softly.
Luke glanced up to find unshed tears glittering in her eyes. "Joan's the only one with an addiction," he answered, unsure if he should ignore her tears or wipe them away.
She lifted her hands, hidden in his too-big gloves, then dropped them. Her shoulders sagged and she screwed her face up as if that would dissolve her tears. Quickly, she blinked, but they spilled down her cheeks anyway. He'd never seen her look so forlorn and defeated. "I don't know how to make it stop," she whispered.
He took her into his arms then and held her tight. She wrapped her arms around him and buried her face in his chest, scrubbing it on his coat to erase the evidence of her pain. Luke was vaguely aware that he'd be late if they didn't get going, but found he didn't care. Resting his chin on the top of her head, he absently rubbed her back as she took long, shuddery breaths to compose herself. Finally, he heard her say, "You're going to be late for class. Will they lock you out if you're late?"
"Maybe." Luke shrugged. It didn't really matter to him.
"We might still make it in time if we hurry," she said, pulling out of his arms. "Come on."
"Wait a minute." He put a skullcap on her head, making sure it was a snug fit. At her disbelieving expression, he said, "I told you. I don't want you to get sick."
"Do you always worry this much?" she asked as they hurried to his car.
"No," he answered. The truth was Luke worried about very little. Almost everything else in his life was easily taken care of. Simple. Explicable. But then Grace had never been any of those things.
"I have to go to lab this morning. I can't take you with me. Will you be all right by yourself?"
Grace closed the Scientific American magazine she'd been trying to find some interest in and glared up at him with what she hoped was an exasperated expression. "I thought I told you yesterday, Girardi, that I'm not five. The same thing applies today."
"Yeah, I know, but my lab is lengthy and I don't want to leave you alone too long."
"Not only can I entertain myself, though not with this," she said as she tossed the magazine on his coffee table, "I'm also fully capable of taking care of myself. I don't need a babysitter."
Luke dropped his bookbag to the floor with a heavy thud and sat beside her. "I know you're highly self-sufficient. However, you're here because something painful happened and you need someone else to look out for you so you can deal with it. Let me do that. Let me look out for you."
After a brief silence, she said, "I promise to be here when you get back. Your apartment won't be trashed nor will it be burned to the ground. And I promise I won't do myself any bodily harm. Have I covered everything?"
He glared at her for a moment, then smiled. "Smart aleck."
She grinned at him. "But you knew that already."
"Yeah, I guess I did." He got up and grabbed his bag before turning back to her. "I should be back in about two, two and a half hours."
"Okay," Grace said, making a greater show of her annoyance than she actually felt. "Go already."
Luke laughed and brushed a kiss across her mouth. "Two and a half hours tops." Then he left, leaving an astonished Grace on his couch.
When they'd gone to the video store, Luke had not expected to find himself on his couch with Grace's head in his lap watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She'd shrugged when he'd looked at her, eyebrows raised in obvious question. "I really like this movie," she'd said simply. So they'd rented it, ordered a large vegetarian pizza (again, he hadn't asked any questions) and settled in to watch it.
"I'm convinced the director was on some heavy psychotropic drugs when he made this movie," she said.
"Yet you chose to watch it."
"It's so weird and creepy."
"Can you honestly say the Oompa Loompas don't freak you out?"
Luke looked at the screen as the overly tanned, green-haired midgets began to sing. He had to admit that there was something about them that seemed a bit sinister. "Point taken."
They were halfway through the movie, trading random comments and laughing at the same parts, when Grace shivered. "Cold?" he asked.
Her voice was soft, husky, almost wistful. It drew his gaze to her. That's when he noticed he was running his hand through her hair. And that she shivered whenever his fingers grazed her neck. "Grace?"
"Don't." She turned her head and looked at him. Her blue eyes, usually fierce and strong, were quiet and shadowed. "Please?"
It was torture not to ask her all the questions piling up in his mind. What happened to her? Why was she here? How could she be so open and yet more distant than ever simultaneously? What did any of this mean? Why did she shiver at his touch? But the plea in her eyes, something he instinctively knew she wasn't aware of, made him keep his questions to himself. There'll be time, he told himself. The right time will come and the mystery that is Grace Polk will be revealed. "What do you need me to do?"
"I don't know." She turned her head back to the television. He followed her lead. "I liked that hair thing you were doing."
Luke smiled and resumed combing his fingers through her hair. This would do for now.
She didn't want to move. Not that she'd ever admit it, but lying here in Luke's arms after crying for the first time since Adam's mother died seemed perfectly natural. Absolutely right. Inevitable. It terrified her. But then her feelings for Luke had always terrified her.
Grace had never been able to put her finger on it, but something about Luke called to the vulnerability she refused to show. When she was with him, she wanted to tell him all of her sorrows and sins, her joys and dreams, her fears and her triumphs. She wanted him to know her. It took all of her considerable willpower sometimes to keep her mouth shut, but she knew that it was for the best. The less he knew, the better.
So why are you here, she asked herself for the thousandth time. Why didn't you go to Adam or to your parents? Why did you drive over four hundred miles to Luke? Because Adam may have come out of himself, but he hadn't really come back to her. He belonged to Joan and she needed someone to wrap around herself like a blanket against the cold. And, even though her current pain was a family sorrow, she wasn't ready to trust them with her yet. The Polanski family portrait didn't have "functional" stamped on it for a reason.
Luke, on the other hand, made her feel safe. She'd never understood how a scrawny geek like him, whom she could easily beat up if the urge struck, could make her feel like that. Yet, whenever he was near, she felt like she could lay down her shield because he'd protect her, look out for her. She hadn't felt like that since before Aaron left home. And, though she could take care of herself, she liked feeling like there was someone she could turn to when things got to be too much. Luke didn't need her to be levelheaded or the voice of reason or objective. He didn't need her to be strong. Grace really didn't know what he got out of their relationship at all.
A glance told her he was asleep. Carefully, Grace removed his glasses, folded them, and placed them on the end table. She took the opportunity to study him. She concluded that he would never be ruggedly handsome. Luke, like Adam, had a sort of eternal youthfulness about him—something she'd never had, even as a kid. Cupping his jaw in her hand, she slid her thumb across his cheekbone, delighting in the sweep of his eyelashes against her skin. They seemed impossibly long, the kind of lashes women spend outrageous amounts of money to have. He shifted beneath her—his cheek pressing into her palm, his arm tightening around her waist, his leg sliding between hers. Swallowing, she pulled her hand off of his face.
She was sprawled across him now. Luke was surprisingly firm. His hand rested on her hip, squeezing it ever so slightly. His fingers brushed across her hip bone and caressed her flannel-covered thigh. Suddenly, she was extremely conscious of the fact that she only wore a pair of panties and his oversized button-down.
He shifted again, turning on his side and wedging her between his body and the back of the couch. Their bodies were perfectly aligned and his mouth just a few inches from hers. Grace felt shockingly aware of him. Her breasts were pressed flat against his chest. Their legs were tangled together. She tried to get off the sofa without disturbing him, but he simply tightened his arms around her and buried his face in the side of her neck.
Desire flared in the pit of her stomach. Closing her eyes, Grace slowly exhaled. She was not supposed to feel like this. Not now. Not when things had gone wrong again. How could she feel like this after what happened? The answer was both simple and complicated. It was Luke and her feelings for him had never made sense. She could deny them, but she could never control them. So she lay there, strangely at home in his arms yet troubled by her comfort.
Grace sighed. Her time here was up. She had thought to stay through Friday and leave early Saturday morning. But that couldn't happen now because she wanted him. She wanted to lose herself in him, just for a little while, and forget about everything else. Doing that would only muddle things further for both of them. Luke deserved better than that.
Yes, it's time to leave, she thought as fatigue closed her eyes. First thing in the morning. But, she thought as she nestled into his warmth, this is nice. I'll just get a little sleep first.