Title: With My Heart between His Teeth

Author: Tote

Rating: R, I guess for some tame hints of domestic abuse: very minor though, doesn't really go into it.

Genre: angst/romance

A/N: I wondered what might happen if Joan lost her faith after Bonnie to the point that she would deliberately not heed God's advice and leave Arcadia, refusing to do anymore assignments. It's a plot that a lot more could be done with, but I'm in a simple-minded mood and I threw myself into a post-Bonnie reconciliation instead.

There are hints of how it affected the ripples: Adam's Dad, Adam himself, note on the table. But I'm not sure whether to keep this a one-shot or develop it further into a 'series'.

Read, review, you decide. There's still a lot there to be resolved in the story obviously, possibly enough for a whole series and you guys (apart from Teejay, whose review was very kind) obviously didn't have any desire for another R-rated story like Running Home judging by the lack of reviews, so... constructive criticism, people! Tell me what you think.

Oh, and I think the line in the story and the title is from an old Jewel song, when she didn't suck. I used to love her but then she went commercial and I lost my taste for her music completely. Sorry, Jewel fans, but numbers instead of words in song titles spells T-R-O-U-B-L-E!

I smell something sweet in the air and it reminds me a little of caramel, of Mom's kitchen at Christmas. I lick my lips as if to taste the wind, but my mouth only tastes like cherry lip gloss and blood. Reaching up with my left hand, I rub my swollen bottom lip and lick the cut, compulsively, even though it stings. I close my eyes and feel a wave of something sick. Is this what my life is now? Is this who I am?

I'm on Adam's porch, nursing a hot Styrofoam cup of coffee from Starbucks and doing everything I can to ignore the reason I have for coming. My mind keeps tilting and careening around it: my hands shake and I almost drop the coffee. What will he say? But no, I can't think about that: if I do, I'll lose my nerve and leave and I can't do that. I lick the cut and enjoy the sting: it tastes like my punishment.

A car door shuts and I look up mindlessly, not totally sure if I want it to be Adam or not. But it's not; it's Mr. Rove, slowly getting out of his car with a pained expression. I feel bad: I forgot about his back. When he goes into the backseat to get his groceries, I jump up and run over to help.

He looks up, startled with eyes wide that somehow look like Adam's right now more than ever and drops his jar of apple sauce in surprise. "Awh, damn…" he mutters, looking down at the mess.

I step over it, smiling over my confusion, "Oh, God, I'm sorry… I didn't mean to scare you, sir. Um…" I pause, taking his bag of groceries from him before he can stop me, "let me help."

"Thanks, Joan." He laughs self-depreciatingly, "I must be getting blind in my old age on top of everything else, I didn't even see you there. You looking for my son?" I appreciate him respecting my privacy: it was obviously my face and not just me that made him drop the apple sauce.

I walk to the house, trying not to drop the huge bag of groceries, following Mr. Rove, who's walking the old man's walk…God, everybody seems so old. How can Adam's Dad be so old?

"Yeah, you seen him lately?" I ask, trying to sound casual and since its Adam were talking about, failing in a big way. "I need him. For, uh," I feel my face heat up, "something."

"He'll be home soon," Mr. Rove grunts and sinks down slowly onto his porch chair. "I'm sorry, honey, would you mind putting those on the kitchen table? I'm just so exhausted." He looks it, too. His face is gray with it and I feel a rush of hot tears, for time passing too quickly and too much in the time I've been gone, for all these changes I missed, but most of all for Adam. He must've been so lonely all this time, taking care of his Dad, giving it all up.

"No problem, sir," I call over my shoulder and kick the screen door open, go to the kitchen and let the bag drop with a sigh of relief. There's a note on the table and I shiver in surprise when I recognize Ryan's handwriting, even though I shouldn't be surprised:

Dear Adam,

I came by around three and you were out again. How long are we

going to do this, Adam? You know I can't make exceptions for anybody,

even a friend of Joan's. Have it mailed to me or give it in person by the end

of the week or I'll take steps to sell this place.

Ryan.

I scowl at the note after I read it, disgusted with Ryan but also with myself. If I hadn't been away, I could've helped, somehow, maybe. And what the hell was he talking about, saying 'even a friend of Joan's'? The last time I saw him we didn't exactly part on friendly terms…I sighed, maybe Ryan was using Adam's trust in me against him. That made me angrier.

"Jane?"

I turn quickly, my heart hammering. There he is, like a vision: dark, curly hair tousled and eyes wide with surprise like his father's a few minutes ago, but also with fear, concern. He's grown up too: his shoulders are broader, his body firmer and he's grown a few more inches. There's tiredness in his face, a tinge of gray, and I want to run to him: no 21-year-old should look that tired.

"Hey, Adam," I whisper throatily and resist the impulse. It's hard enough not to cry as it is. I avoid his deep, soulful eyes and stare at the hardwood floor instead. But it's no good; I can still feel him looking at me, feel his burning gaze running over my face. I'm so ashamed for letting it happen, for letting it go this far.

Suddenly, crossing the distance between us in two long strides, he's right in front of me and now I can't help but look him in the eyes. There are unshed tears in them as he looks at me with almost unbearable sorrow. That expression, that face! How can I have lived three years of my life without looking at him? He brings his hands up on either side of my face and cups it with both of them, shaking his head as if to deny what he's seeing.

"Who did this?" The voice is deeper but it can still say so much more than the meaning of the words.

"Adam…" I whisper soothingly, to cut his suffering short and mine, because I suffer when he does, "I'm okay now. Now that I'm here." I manage a smile.

"Tell me," he whispers fiercely and his forehead touches mine as we lean as far into each other as we can without kissing, and I'm filling up with desire and grief, how can you those things at the same time and why, why did I leave, "Jane. Please."

He doesn't have to ask me again. "His name's Seth. I thought I saw some good in him." I clear my throat quickly, not adding that I'd gotten divine advice against trusting Seth, "I was wrong." I was wrong to leave you behind, Adam. "I'm sor--"

He shook his head softly, telling me silently not to apologize. "How long has this been…" he stops, closes his eyes tightly and opens them again, like the nasty, purpling bruise on my chin and my cut, swollen lip might have disappeared in the meantime and when he sees they haven't, sighs deeply: "…happening?"

"He's never hit me before," I reply, shrugging away the six months of mental and emotional abuse like an itchy sweater: everything seemed so much easier here, in the house, with Adam. After months of misery, we stand in the yellowy light of the kitchen like two lovers who've never spent a night away from each other. I love him like nothing else on earth.

"He'll pay," Adam says softly, not with anger in his voice, not even jealousy, just grim, cool determination that makes me search his face in surprise.

"No, Adam…it doesn't matter now." I shrug, looking away from him so that he only sees my face in profile, the good side. "I'm out of there, anyway, right?" My voice sounds phoney even to my own ears.

"It matters." I look at him as he says this, and see his seriousness, his love for me pouring out of him, however involuntarily. I wonder vaguely what it was that made me left, exactly. There had been Bonnie, whose presence had always been there since the mock trial (like a bad stain) and God's assignments that began to get bigger and bigger, till I barely saw Grace and Adam anymore anyway, there'd been my stupid hopes and sillier dreams and eventually, Seth.

His name alone makes me tired, fills me with exhaustion that lives in my bones: but Bonnie's name has no more hold on me. Dimly, I remember hating her but, in all honesty, not as much as I've grown to hate myself over the past three Adam-free years. So maybe that's it: maybe I hurt myself more than she and Adam ever could.

But just as this thought passes, unwanted, across my mind, Adam pulls me into a hug and I let my body go limp against him as he rocks me gently side to side, like a little kid. My heart pounds in my chest at his nearness and his mouth by my cheek gives me hope that shoots through me like electricity along a hot wire and constricts my throat. Who am I kidding? My heart is in his teeth: he could snap me in half if he wanted to.

The trust I once had that he never would, is still lacking but I'm so far gone I'll take my chances: I'll jump in the deep end, I'll settle for knowing he could let me down again, hurt me to the point that we'd never find each other again, if I can get just a few more moments like this one.

"I love you." My voice says it, not me. But I do, I do: Adam is who I belong to and with. Seth just wanted to beat it out of me.

Adam buries his face in my hair, breathing me in and whispers in my ear: "I love you too, Jane," before kissing me quickly on the neck.

I close my eyes, I take my chances.

A/N: anyone interested in writing a sequel to this if I get stuck and don't (or even if do) please e-mail me: