Title: Avoidance Is a Crime

Author: Tote

Genre: angst and romance? I hate limiting it to a genre. Can't 'Jane and Adam' be a genre?

Rating: PG

A/N; I don't know if this series is completely resolved or not. It doesn't feel that way to me but I happened to have a proof-reader on hand today who thinks this is an unreasonable note to end it on, especially with no reference whatsoever to Wuthering Heights. My defense was, if this was in fact to end the way Wuthering Heights did, they'd all die. Oh, and I'm going to be in America from the fifteenth of July to the fifteenth of August, so either less or no stories at all will be submitted in that time. Much thanks to all my most loyal reviewers, you're all wonderful people.

An odd, hovering feeling of dread seemed to hang over Arcadia the day Joan returned to school. It was humid, sticky weather but the sun never showed its face: instead, a balmy darkness seemed to cluster in hidden corners and electricity shot through the air. Longing for rain was the surest way to keep dry and the school campus was a desert.

As she slammed the car door shut, Joan's eyes couldn't help but wander across the steps leading up to the doors, half-wishing for and half-dreading the sight of Adam. But he, like God and peace of mind, seemed nowhere to be found.

Growling in the back of her throat, she tugged hard at her necklace, enjoying the bite of pain in the back of her neck.

"Bye, Dad," she said, in warning, as Will tried to exit the car.

"Don't you need me to help you, you know, cross the street? You're still in crutches." He gave his daughter a hopeful look. It was rare he got to help her anymore—he longed for those days before boys and mysterious accidents, when Joan was a little girl.

"I can manage," Joan replied, "I'm not five, anymore, Dad," and she hobbled across, irritably aware of her father watching her to see she made it safely.

Though she wouldn't admit for a thousand dollars (well, actually she would) it made her feel kind of nice, kind of safe. A part of her, a pretty big part actually, still believed in Daddy making it all better. Or wanted to, anyway.

Just as she let her guard down, thinking nostalgically about her weird Dad, she heard a voice calling out the name that she knew so well: "Hey, Adam!"

It was M.J. Obviously.

She spotted her on the front steps in jeans and a sexy off-the-shoulder blue t-shirt and another political toque: SHUT UP, BUSH! A bright, gorgeous smile lit up M.J.'s pretty face as she raised a hand in greeting.

Despite the fact that she'd visited Joan and given her a brand-new copy of Jane Eyre and a box of chocolates, she still grated on Joan's nerves.

Adam approached M.J., head down so that Joan could not see his expression. But she did see her tug at his sleeve and him follow her slowly up the steps and into school in the stream of slow-walking, grumpy high school students.

Don't let him get away with it this time, Kevin's voice echoed insistently in her mind but it took on a new meaning.

Kevin had meant: don't keep giving him chances to disappoint you, avoid him, stop caring, let go—whatever. Easy for him to say. He didn't live every day feeling like the greatest gift God gave his children was being snatched away from him.

Don't let him get away with it this time…

Demand some answers, Joan's mind translated. Why hadn't he visited her while she was at home, recovering? Why had he disappeared from the hospital? Why did he still choose Bonnie, choose M.J., choose everyone and anything over Joan, the so-called Heathcliffe to his Cathy.

"It's not letting him get away with it," Joan said aloud, frowning thoughtfully at Adam's back—and God, how strange to feel so drawn to someone's back, to his tense shoulders, how strangely strong the desire to be walking beside him. "If I don't like what I hear, I'll just—faze him out."

"Yeah, good luck with that," Grace replied, walking past her with a wink. Calling over her shoulder but not slowing her pace, she added: "How's the leg, Girardi?"

"Sucky!" Joan snapped loudly, hobbling clumsily to catch up with her, "Thanks for visiting me, by the way…" she went on, slightly breathlessly, once she was at Grace's side, "…really showed me how much you care."

Grace had been another noted absence since the accident.

"What?" Grace stopped walking so fast, Joan had to hobble backward again. She gazed, puzzled, at her friend, her blue eyes piercingly grave. "Your geek brother didn't tell you we came by?"

Joan frowned. "No…who's we?"

"Me," Grace resumed walking, "and Rove."

"What?" Joan exploded, "Why wouldn't Luke…" she paused, suddenly anxious and a little hopeful, despite herself, "Did he say anything to you? Or…or, leave me something?" The image of some beautifully weird sculpture, hidden somewhere in Luke's room, entered her mind.

"Nope." Grace squirmed, then handed her a vanilla cupcake, "Comfort food," she said, by way of explanation.

"He didn't say anything?" Joan took a big bite of the muffin which was so delicious, it almost had to be fresh from the oven—but she didn't even taste it, "How can that be? I mean—nothing? About anything?" She took another bite, chewing furiously.

"Um…he said: 'hi' and 'is she asleep?'" Grace narrated slightly sarcastically, "and, you know, mushy crap I would never repeat."

Joan gave her a threatening look. "Wanna bet?"

With a sigh, Grace stopped walking, looking sad for her. "He said: 'she's so pretty when she sleeps' or 'when she's asleep' or something, and then he said…" she looked at Joan reluctantly, as if doubting her ability to handle this, "he said: 'I can't be around her anymore' and he kissed you on the cheek and left." Grace looked away, tugging unnecessarily on the strap of her bag over her shoulder, "you were passed out on the couch."

"Oh." Joan put her hand against the wall of lockers to steady herself, then remembered that Adam had banged his head against those lockers and withdrew her hand—as if burned.

She closed her eyes against Grace's frowning face, trying to block out the sudden, uncontrollable urge to punch someone out. Balding her hands into fists, she dug her fingernails into her palm and the pain was nothing at all, not in comparison to the horrible vividness of what played behind her eyes.

Adam, in his shed, gripping the table and standing so still and silent, so shaken, and her shouting: "Hey, tell me it was completely innocent!" The rage on his face as he turned to her, eyes wide with anger, with defiance and cold defeat: "It wasn't! It wasn't, okay?"

Adam, head in her lap, his eyes half-closed as he played with the edge of her sleeve. He'd pressed his nose against her stomach, breathing in and saying softly: "I love you, Jane," so suddenly and with such intensity, his lips moving against her skin as he said it and she could feel the heat of his mouth there, the ripples of incredible, demonizing lust rushing through her. She remembered the silky feel of his wavy hair as she ran her fingers through it, trying very hard to breathe.

Adam, in the hotel room, his eyes shining with something that made her afraid and wildly happy in the same moment: "Is—is that why you're here?" And she hadn't known then if that was the reason, only that she knew she belonged to him already, that one step might complete him and make him whole again, filling up his sketchbook with drawings and doodles and caricatures. Well, wasn't it worth the risk? God, how beautiful he seemed, how sweetly sexy as he watched her: "It just seems like we should get," deep breath, "closer," she'd whispered.

Adam, his body angled toward hers and his eyes screaming everything he felt and everything that was good, so loudly that she could feel herself drifting toward him, floating above Bach's tinkling piano, inching toward his lips and the ache of desire in her throat that throbbed, that made it so hard to keep from crying as she forgot, forgot completely that he was with Iris. Or didn't care.

"Girardi!"

Joan opened her eyes, understanding once and for all why Adam banged his head against the lockers—she could imagine the ironic cruelty of being able to see any frozen image of her in his mind, she could see trying to beat those images out. She sucked in a breath.

I can't be around her anymore. "What, what class do we have?" Joan mumbled, her hand mechanically reaching up to touch the cheek he'd touched.

Grace watched her with raised, worried eyebrows. "Math? Huge test? Simultaneous equations?" She shook her head in disbelief, "ring any bells?"

Joan shrugged. She hadn't studied.

Now looking around a little frantically—possibly for Luke, for some kind of back-up, Grace added in an undertone: "He won't be there. He's taking AP math now, so he'll be in there." She nodded her blond head at a door diagonally across from them. And then: "Oh, crap. It's The Toque."

Joan saw her, too. M.J. was apparently also in AP math and, in walking toward the door; she caught sight of them (despite Grace covering her face with her hand and Joan looking down to examine her nails, scowling) and headed right over.

"Hey, guys," she said, smiling a little shyly as she adjusted her anti-Bush toque, "Hope you guys aren't giving me cold shoulder because you're republicans."

"Not likely," Grace spit, looking livid at the thought. If she'd ever had any sympathy for M.J., it would've disappeared right then. Being accused of being a republican confirmed to Grace that she was the anti-Christ. "A 'D' paper is calling my name," she told Joan and left, disgusted.

M.J. looked to Joan questioningly. "How are you feeling? Look," she went on, breezing over the question, "Adam is actually fine. He got his head looked at."

"I know," said Joan.

"And he visited you in the hospital…"

"Yeah." Suddenly, she saw Adam over M.J.'s shoulder, looking very pale. He was wearing a dark hoody, the dark hood of which covered his hair. His eyes looked dead and he walked slowly, then stopped, as if electrified. He turned his head and looked straight into her eyes, unblinkingly.

Joan's mouth parted: now that he was actually there, she couldn't bring herself to demand answers. He looked so…

M.J. looked over her shoulder too, and seeing Adam, she immediately grinned. "Hey! Joan is being a grouch today, come cheer her up."

Adam looked away. "I got math," he said to the wall of the lockers behind them and the bell rang, on cue. He went into math and M.J. eagerly followed, waving her calculator at Joan in goodbye.

In five minutes, she would be late for her simultaneous equations test and the teacher, who was usually indifferent to her, would hate her guts. Grace would worry and then punch her in the arm later for making her worry. Her average would go down.

Oh, well.

Joan hobbled to the classroom door and knocked, her stomach knotting up with fear. The teacher opened the door, frowning at her. "Yes, Miss…?"

"Girardi," said Joan, "I'm sorry, but I need to borrow Adam Rove for a minute."

M.J. looked impressed. The class tittered. Joan tried very hard not to look at Adam, but knew he wasn't looking at her.

The teacher crossed his stocky arms, looking resistant. "And why is that, pray tell?"

"I…" Joan fumbled, "…am supposed to bring him to Price's office. He, um, egged his car."

Adam now did look up, eyes widening but there was a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth. Joan glanced at him, flushed and very pretty in the clear light from the window and his smile flickered as his eyes looked somehow darker with pain; he looked at his math teacher instead, who looked absurdly pleased for some reason.

"Well, who am I to stop you," he chortled and waved Adam away, who slowly got up; "Take all the time you need." Price was apparently as hated by the teachers as he was by his students, Joan thought.

She went out into the hall and Adam went with her, avoiding her gaze. Not knowing immediately what to say, Joan started toward the front doors and he loyally walked beside her, asking nothing but looking at her with curiosity, concern and strangely, resignation.

"You disappeared at the hospital."

Adam nodded, his eyes clouding over as he put his hands in his pockets. He did his best to match her aggressively fast pace. "Yeah."

Joan sped up, going surprisingly fast for someone in crutches. "With Bonnie."

Adam raked his hand through his hair, knocking his hood off, "Yes, Jane," and his voice was soft and patient, adamantly calm, despite her increasing anger and his obvious sadness.

"Well?" Joan half-said, half-gasped, "Don't you—don't you…"

In her sudden burst of emotion, she tripped on her crutches. Instantly, as if he'd just been waiting for the opportunity, Adam reached out and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her up, just before her injured leg made contact with the hard floor.

His arms felt strong and firm around her waist. Joan leaned into him, despite herself, as she caught her breath. His mouth was inches from her bare neck.

She could feel his soft sigh caress it and she shivered. He could feel her belly button ring through her shirt. For a moment, they stood together, locked in embrace. He breathed in sharply, slackened his hold and let her go.

"Here…" he murmured, putting her arm around his shoulders, and he supported her weight as they walked forward, together. His eyes met hers, shining. "Better?"

If she leaned just slightly forward, she could kiss him. "Yeah, thank you," she said quickly, then looked desperately away. "Adam…"

"Yes?" His eyes called to her.

She was breathing unsteadily. A tear rolled down her cheek. "Did you work things out with Bonnie?"

"What?" He stopped walking. "Work things out…?" He still supported her weight as he shifted to get a firmer grip around her waist: his fingers fanned out against her stomach, electricity shot through her.

"Are you with her now?" Joan looked down, ignoring the throb of longing in her body and the pressure of tears in her throat.

"No." He sounded almost angry and Joan turned to him, defiant, ready to tell him that it wasn't her fault for jumping to conclusions: he'd been avoiding her, how was she supposed to know? But before she could speak, she realized his anger wasn't for her: "I owed her an apology. For the way I treated her, after…"

Joan nodded.

"She didn't deserve what I did." Adam looked at Joan. "You helped me see that. In the library, when you said that I wasn't…your Adam, anymore…" He swallowed. "I didn't get it at first. Then I thought about it, and what I've done. I've changed. And not for the better."

He gave an ironic, self-hating grin and then it vanished, replaced with the truer look of determination, "So I tried to…be your Adam. I went to Bonnie and told her what a moron I am."

"What did she say?" Joan asked, watching him closely.

"A lot of things. She kind of apologized too, for talking about it in front of you, the day of the, the mock trial—it's not important." He looked at his feet, frowning in deep thought.

"So you're…" Joan cringed, "…friends now?"

"Not really, but she feels a little better about it now." He added, "We were never really friends. We were out to destroy each other, we just didn't know it."

"We were never really friends, either, you know," Joan answered and they stopped again, by the doors. "We always…"

"Yeah," Adam nodded earnestly. "Yeah, I know."

She'd disentangled herself from him and now leaned against the door behind her, crossing her arms and not looking him in the face. "Maybe it's stupid, pretending we can just be friends."

Adam's earnest look failed and for a moment he looked as frozen and stunned hurt as the night she'd said maybe we're just not ready, and then looked resigned. "I know." He closed his eyes, shaking his head, "I know that, Jane, that's why I…I'm not going to hang out with, with any of you anymore."

Joan stared at him, stunned. "You mean…you're just…"

"I'm the one that ruined it," Adam said, simply.

"But, Adam! That doesn't mean…I still need you, I—" She cut herself off. Joan could feel Adam staring at her and when she met his gaze, he looked breathless: his eyes were brimming with tears.

"Jane." He looked down with an effort, breathing out. "I don't want to hurt you anymore than I already have and… being with you, every day and seeing you, looking so—" his eyes ran over her form in a way that was shockingly intimate but not slimy. It was as if he was acknowledging beauty in its purest form. "I can't be with you, and not to be your friend and not be with you, I…"

"Be my friend," Joan whispered, cupping his face as she felt wild joy slipping through her, her crutches clattering to the floor. "For now, just be my friend."

He bit his lip, staring at her, eyes burning. He covered her hands with his. She looked back, heart hurting but mending, too.

And anyone could see they weren't friends.

6