There is this thing that's like touching except you don't touch.
Back in the day it just went without saying at all.
All the world's history gradually dying of shock.
There is thing that's like talking except you don't talk.
You . . . sing.
~The Dresden Dolls~
The early morning sun was just peeking through the heavy fog when the car pulled up the drive, tires crunching on the white gravel. The car door shut, then heavy shoes thunked on the steps up to the porch. The figure laying face-down on the porch swing barely twitched, bare back covered with long, thin red welts. There was a long-necked bottle still held loosely in one hand, and seven or eight others were scattered around him. They clinked as they were toed out of the way, then the driver cleared his throat. There was a faint moan from the sleeping man, and another, more insistent cough.
The man's arm twitched, knocking a few more bottles over, then he turned his face to the side and made a half-hearted effort to bring the bottle he grasped to his lips, the swing swaying slightly as he finally managed to make contact with the glass. His throat worked as he drank, then squinted blearily up at the men that stood over him.
"Unh." He sniffed and wiped the back of his hand across his lips as he sat up, then yawned and scratched at his chest. "Who're you?" His voice was low and gravely from sleep, and he winced and let out a soft hiss as his nails dragged over a large, circular bruise surrounding his right nipple.
"Are those teeth marks, Mr. Dawes?"
Jack cleared his throat and winced again, this time a pleased smirk crossing his deformed features. "Yeah," he coughed. "Last night was a good night." He chuckled, quite pleased, then rubbed at his face before looking up at the men again. "Who're you?" His bottle dangled carelessly from his hand, but his fingers were curled around it in a manner that said he could quite easily turn his beverage into a weapon.
"Detective Mark Daniels, Mr. Dawes, and this is my partner, Detective Tim Grady. Fair Oaks PD. We'd like to ask you a few questions." He flipped his badge and toed one of the bottles, and for a moment the only sound was the clink as it rolled into another one. "Lots of bottles."
Jack flipped his drink around to show the label as he took another gulp, making a face. "Root beer. Ugh. Wam root beer." He burped slightly and then heaved himself out of the swing, bare feet slapping on the porch as he weaved toward the screen door. He bumped into the small table by the swing and cursed under his breath, then leaned his shoulder against the door and banged on it. "Rachel!" he called. There was silence inside. He banged again, harder. "Racheeeeeel! Lemme in!"
"Go away!" she finally yelled back.
"I'm sorry!" Jack called in return. He was grinning from ear to ear. "Lemme in, sweetheart!"
He turned around, pressing his back to the screen as he shook with silent laughter. The detectives watched him with raised eyebrows. "Baby, you know I love you! I need you, darlin'!"
"Mr. Dawes ---"
"Go to Hell, Jack!"
"Mr. Dawes, this won't take very long at all."
Daniels was ignored as Jack rattled the door with another swig of his warm root beer. "At least let the nice detectives in?" Silence. "Honey?"
There were hurried footsteps and then Rachel was opening the front door, wrapping a silk robe around herself tightly. She peered out the screen as Jack pressed his face to it.
"Aw, I knew you wouldn't make me stay out here all day. Gimme a kiss, moonshine."
"Shut up, Jack," she said distractedly, then opened the screen enough to ease outside, closing it before he could get back in. "I'm sorry, about that, Detectives . . . ?"
The brunette extended his hand and she shook it. "Daniels, Mrs. Dawes, and this is Detective Grady, Fair Oaks PD. I'm sorry to intrude, but we need to ask your husband a few questions."
Rachel sighed as Jack slid behind her, reaching back and grabbing his hands as he snickered to himself. "I'm sorry about my --- ooh! --- husband," she countered with an over-the-shoulder glare at Jack, pulling him around and sending him back to the swing with a shove. He went with a small laugh, flopping back in the swing with his arms over the back. Rachel turned back to the detectives and smoothed her hair behind her ears. "What can I do for you?"
Daniels sighed as Jack leered at Rachel. She ignored him. "We just need to ask Mr. Dawes a few questions, ma'am."
"Wasn't me," Jack offered. "I was having sex at the time."
Rachel's back tensed, but she only offered the detective her best smile. "Would you like to come inside, detectives? Out of the noise?"
They looked between the two as Jack hooted with laughter. "Mrs. Dawes, we're just here to talk with your husband."
"And you still haven't told me why. What's wrong? Fair Oaks is ten miles away, and not even in this county. You're a bit out of your jurisdiction."
Daniels clearly wasn't pleased, but he adjusted his lapels. "You're aware of the recent spat of kidnappings in Fair Oaks?" he asked. Rachel nodded. "There have been . . . developments. If we could go inside . . . ?"
Jack stood up and wrapped one arm around Rachel's waist, the other curving protectively around her shoulders. He wasn't laughing any more. "What's that got to do with me?"
"Shush, Jack," Rachel said, opening the door. "Come inside, detectives." She waved them in as they thanked her, then lead them into the kitchen. "Have a seat. What's going on, and why do you need Jack for it?"
The detectives stayed standing, despite the chairs they were offered. They watched Jack pace to the fridge, pulling Rachel with him. She took his hand and squeezed it, kissing his shoulder gently as he gulped orange juice from a pitcher.
"Well?" he asked without turning around.
"Shh, Jack," Rachel murmured, kissing his shoulder again as she ran her fingers down his scars.
"Three victims so far," Grady finally said. His hard blue eyes bored into Jack's head. "The bodies were dumped in the woods ---"
"Bodies?" Rachel interrupted. "They've been murdered?"
"That's what 'bodies' generally refers to," Jack commented. "Slashed like me?" He made a half circle in the air with his finger, still staring into the fridge.
"Ah . . ."
"Come on," he snarled, "that's the only reason you'd come looking for me. Do you think I did it, or do you just want a psychopath's opinion on the killer?"
"You're a little touchy about all this, Mr. Dawes," Grady said. He had his hands on his hips, which pushed his suit jacket back and showed the butt of his gun.
"'Course I am. You think after fourteen years people are going to forget about me? I mean, I know all the little towns in this area fit a horse, horse and a half, but you're not that po-dunk out here. Either you think I've got something to do with those girls, or you think I can help you find the killer." He grabbed an apple from a tray of fruit next to the fridge and smacked his wife's rear, heading toward the living room as he bit into it with a crunch. "Can't help you." There was a faint hiss. "Fuck, and last night was so good, too. What a buzz-kill . . ."
Rachel sighed as she looked after him, then turned back to the detectives. "Is my husband a suspect?" she asked bluntly.
"He's certainly not concerned with endearing himself to anybody." Daniels exchanged looks with Grady as Rachel ran her fingers through her hair, combing it slightly.
"Jack's never been concerned with making a good impression on complete strangers just for the hell of it. Is he a suspect?"
Daniels sighed and shook his head. "No, Mrs. Dawes, he's not."
"Not yet," he admitted.
"Tell me about the murders."
"We're not at liberty ---"
"If you want my husband to help you," Rachel cut him off with narrowed eyes, "then I need to know the details so I can convince him to cooperate. 'Please' and 'thank you' don't work with him."
They exchanged glances again, then Daniels shrugged and took out a small packet of photos. He handed it to Rachel and she took them out, lips pursed as she flipped through them.
"Three victims in the last two months, all female, mid to late twenties. The first one was found two weeks ago in the woods, and we found the other two within five miles of the first. They'd been beaten, raped, and tortured before their throats were slit. The . . . mouth . . . happened when they were still alive."
"Jack was with me when they were kidnapped," Rachel mused as she stared at the pictures of the bodies. 'Whore' had been carved into them, in addition to the Glasgow smiles. "Or in town; he doesn't go very far."
"He's not a suspect, ma'am. He just has . . . experience with this sort of thing, and right now, we have nothing to work on. No new people in town, no suspicious activities, nothing. The women didn't know each other, either. Nothing to connect them."
"They look similar," Rachel said, finally sitting down and throwing the pictures on the table. "Green eyes, brown hair, around five nine . . ."
"You fit the profile," Jack mumbled from the doorway. She turned to look at him and he hadn't put a shirt on, but he held jeans and a t-shirt, which he set next to Rachel. "Go put these on." He was frowning down at the pictures, his lips pursed, but pulled Rachel into a tight embrace when she stood up. "Change right outside the kitchen," he whispered in her ear. His fingers trailed through her hair, then across her cheeks and he kissed her gently. "Go." Rachel left, then he turned to the detectives and took her vacated chair, swinging it around so he was straddling it with his arms crossed over the back as he poked through the pictures. "Still alive when their faces were cut . . . carved up pretty good, too. Beaten, raped . . ."
"Very good, Mr. Dawes," Grady started.
Jack waved him off with a snort. "I was listening at the door." His lips quirked up to the right at their expressions. "You think I'm going to leave my wife alone with strangers, in what she's wearing?" Then he cleared his throat and his eyelids lowered to slits as he leaned over the pictures, gripping the back of the chair and resting his chin on his fists. "Pretty good work. Got a little sloppy here," and he gestured, "or maybe they started struggling. He's got experience, at any rate. Not an amateur." Then he sat back as Rachel came back in, leaning his head against her stomach as she ran her fingers through his hair. "These are all things you could find out without me, so why are you really here?"
"Can you tell us anything about the killer?"
He rolled his eyes, staring up at Rachel. She wasn't smiling at him. He hated it when she wasn't smiling at him. "No, I can't. Too soon, I've been out of the game too long. Come back with more information once a couple more girls go missing and I might be able to help."
"Does it matter to you at all, that these women are dead?" Grady asked sharply.
Jack finally looked at him. "No," he said simply. "It has nothing to do with me; if Rachel went missing, I'd find the fucker myself and kill him, but these have no impact on my life, so I don't care. Sorry, I haven't taken my love-people pills this morning. These," he continued with a wave at the pictures. "are just objects. Things. Inconsequential. I know their friends and families would protest, but I'm not their friend or their family." He pushed back on Rachel until she let him stand. "Now, detectives, good luck finding him and all, but I've got things I need to do today. If I don't show Susie how to do a proper lift today, she'll whine forever."
"Yeah," Jack said as he browsed for more food. "I teach a dance class in town on Saturdays. What? Can't I have a job?"
"Sorry," Daniels said as he gathered the photos. "We weren't expecting you to be a dance teacher."
"I've always known how," the scarred man replied, looking at his wife with a grin that she finally returned. "Look, obviously you know how to track me down, so if you need any more help I'll play along. Until then, get out."
"I'll walk you to the door," Rachel offered. The men followed her, leaving Jack to dig out the orange juice again and slip a toaster pastry into the oven to warm up. His shoulders only relaxed when Rachel's hands ran over them, digging in and then offering two pills at his lips. He laughed softly and took them, making sure to suck as much of her fingers into his mouth as possible, rolling his tongue around the slender digits and biting down gently. Rachel leaned her cheek against his back and sighed. "That wasn't polite."
"I'm not a polite guy." He took a gulp of the juice to wash the pills down, Rachel's fingers playing along his scars and he leaned into the contact before turning, wrapping his arms around her waist and holding her close. She returned the embrace as he buried his face in her hair, taking deep breaths. He was melancholy, and clinging in the way he only clung when he was worried about her. "Don't go anywhere alone from now on," he murmured in her ear, then held her face in his hands and kissed her lips firmly. "Please, Rachel."
She pulled back, green eyes shining at him, and then kissed the bite she'd given him the previous night. He sighed and wove his hands through her hair, holding her head in place.
"Dance class is at one," she whispered. "It's barely nine."
"Yeah, well. I wanted some make-up sex and they were in the way." One hand slid under her shirt, ghosting over her breasts before rubbing them. Rachel's breath on his chest hitched. "C'mon, cupcake," he whispered in her ear, undoing the button on her loose jeans and then pushing them off of her hips.
"In the kitchen?" she giggled.
Jack thought as he pinched her nipple gently. "You're right. Get the blanket. Porch'll do just fine."
"Jack!" He smiled down at her and Rachel just laughed, leading him to the living room, where she grabbed a huge blanket from the linen closet before heading to the porch. "All right, this was your --- hey!"
He'd grabbed her back and thrown her gently on the couch, kneeling down and working at getting her clothes off, humming while he did so. Rachel gasped and pulled his hand between her legs once they were both naked, and Jack obliged with a laugh. When she was whimpering with pleasure he pushed her thighs open enough to slide between them and into her, and if he normally held her in his lap at this time, well, sometimes he needed the comfort of covering her with his body.
When he finally lay his head on her sweaty breasts, Jack let out a long sigh. Rachel was instantly touching his face, and he smiled despite himself.
"Are you worried?" she murmured.
"Eh." He closed his eyes. "Left my thing in the oven."
"I turned it off. Do you think this is just a coincidence?"
"No one of any importance knew we moved here," he said with a shrug, enjoying her presence. "But word gets around. Could have reached someone by now. You fit the vic profile, at any rate, so I don't want you out and about alone."
"I won't. Are you really going to cooperate if those detectives come back?"
Her arms were warm and comforting across his back. He sighed. "Yeah, sure. Why not." Then, "Forgive me, yet?"
Her laughter was muffled as she kissed his neck. "Yes, asshole, I forgive you."
"Mr. Jack! Mr. Jack! Mr. Jack!"
"Oh my God, SusieSusieSusie!" Jack returned with a roll of his eyes as the small girl bounced up and down, returning her frantic waves with wild gestures of his own. "Christ, I hate kids," he muttered as Rachel laughed.
"You're great with them."
"I threatened to kill her." The girl's older sister was there, too, fifteen and pretty and staring at Jack with love-sick eyes.
"She'd just run into the street," Rachel reminded him. "You were scaring her into obedience; what do you think the original fairy tales were meant to do?"
"You only know that because I told you." He took her hand as they crossed the street to the small dance studio, and the five-year-old threw herself at his legs, hugging him tightly. Rachel laughed again when Jack had to do an odd twist to keep Susie's face from landing in his crotch, then she greeted the girl's sister, who hadn't stopped staring at Jack.
"How are you, Janet?"
"I'm good, thank you. Susie, let Mr. Jack go."
"Lift me!" the girl demanded instead. Jack sighed and did, holding her above his head with one hand as he unlocked the studio. Susie shrieked with laughter. Janet was frowning, which was why he'd lifted the girl up instead of ignoring her. The he tucked her under his arm like a sack of potatoes as they all went inside.
"Ready to learn how to do a lift?" he asked.
"Yeah!" Susie squealed.
"Good. Sit down and wait."
Jack was grinning as he pulled Rachel into a hug. "I have to kiss my wife goodbye," he told Susie. "This is important grown-up stuff." Grown-up stuff that Janet obviously wished he'd do with her. Rachel didn't know if Jack had realised the girl had a crush on him; she doubted it, because if he had, he probably wouldn't go near her. And Janet wasn't the only teenager or twenty-something in town whose knees he made weak. Jack exuded the bad-boy vibe even while on his best behaviour, and that was probably the main reason his dance class had as many female students as it did.
"Ew!" Susie grouched, sitting down and crossing her arms over her chest. Jack was trying not to laugh, making kissy noises before his lips actually met Rachel's. She kept the kiss quick and chaste.
"I'll be in the office," she told him. "Might as well get a bit of work done." She avoided a pinch to the rear and glared at him. "You behave, Jack."
"Bah, you're not the boss of me!" he exclaimed.
"Yes she is, Mr. Jack," Susie piped up. "You always do what Miss Rachel tells you." Her voice was wise and knowing, and Jack turned slightly to stare at her.
"Uh . . ."
"Remember when she made you do the splits?" The girl giggled and Jack scowled.
"Yeah, well, it's only 'cause she feeds me."
"And if you don't behave, I won't bring you lunch." Rachel tweaked his nose before walking out the door.
Jack sat next to Susie, who crawled into his lap despite her sister's protests and threw her arms around his neck. He looked surprised, not quite sure what to do with his arms or hands.
"If Miss Rachel doesn't bring you lunch, I'll give you some of my sammich," she told him earnestly.
He settled on ruffling her red-brown hair. "Thanks, kid. She'll bring me lunch; she always does."
"Because she thinks you're hot!"
"What?!" Jack stared at the girl, wondering where she heard half the things that came out of her mouth.
"She thinks you're hot," Susie said. "She told Mommy last Saturday that that's why she keeps you around, and that you're good in bed. And you've got a nice butt, too. That's what Mommy said."
"Susie! Leave Mr. Jack alone!" Janet wailed. She was turning bright red as she pulled her sister out of Jack's lap, and he blinked a few times. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Jack," she gasped as Susie squirmed and whined.
"Eh, it's all right. Doesn't know what she's talking about." He stood and cleared his throat, maybe a little self-conscious that a five-year-old had been repeating an adult conversation that had been about him, and he was saved when another group of kids walked in. "Hey, Susie, shut it, all right? It's time to warm up. We're going to learn lifts today," he said in a louder voice, turning to his students. There were cheers; they'd been waiting for this for three months, ever since Jack had lifted Rachel above his head in the middle of the street after one class.
"Miss Rachel! Miss Rachel! Mommy said I can come over for lunch!"
Rachel raised both eyebrows at Jack as he hoisted Susie onto his back. Janet was following them across the street as the other students went off with their friends or parents, blushing. The woman probably wanted to get started on the booze early, but she shook her head to get rid of that thought. Mary's husband had died in a hit-and-run; she was taking it hard, even after two years.
"Really?" she asked as Jack kissed her.
"Getting sloshed early," he muttered against her lips.
"Yeah!" Susie chirped. She squeezed Jack's neck and he made a choking noise, his upper lip curling in a snarl.
"Susie, you're choking Jack."
"I'm sorry!" She squirmed up his back to lean over and kiss him on the cheek, which made him stumble as all four of them walked to the car.
"Do we want to go to the deli and get something, then go back home?" Rachel asked. She was laughing at the startled and unsure look on Jack's face as Susie rested her cheek against his. "Janet?"
"Uh? Oh, uhm, sure . . . if that's all right." She smiled shyly at Jack, who looped one arm around her shoulders and one around Rachel's waist, having moved Susie to his own shoulders.
The way she was blushing and leaning into his casual embrace made Rachel wonder how Jack couldn't realise the kid was head-over-heels in love with him. Then again, she herself was the only person who generally got that close to him, so it might not have occurred to him that it wasn't everyday behaviour. Janet was now bright red, trying to hide that fact from Rachel as Jack hummed to himself.
"Hey, why not?" he finally decided as Susie laughed and braided his hair. "I've got two and a half lovely ladies, why not show them off?" He grinned at both of them, then tilted his head up to look at Susie. "Wanna make s'mores later?"
"Yeah! I love s'mores!"
"Good. Down you go," he said as they entered the deli. "Go get whatever you want." He gave her a small shove, then called out, "I want the tuna melt on wheat!"
"Okay!" the girl called back.
"Order your own food, Jack," Rachel told him.
He raised a quizzical eyebrow at her. "Why? Isn't that what kids are for?"
"They're to love, cherish, and nurture," he was told.
"Well . . . that's what I've got you for." He said it like she ought to have known, then rubbed the back of his neck. "Geez, your mom's not getting grandkids from anybody. She's gonna be pissed. And what the hell did that brat do to my hair?" he asked suddenly, feeling the three braids that were sticking up from the top of his head.
Rachel burst into laughter, which prompted Janet to giggle a bit herself. "Took you long enough to notice. I think it looks cute."
"I am not . . . cute," Jack growled, but Rachel leaned up to kiss him. "Okay, I'm freaking adorable."
She rolled her eyes. "Right. Get what you want, Janet."
"Thank you, Mrs. Dawes." The girl followed her sister, glancing briefly back at Jack and Rachel.
"What's up with her?" Jack asked as he rested his cheek on Rachel's head. "That time of the mo---oof! What was that for?" He rubbed the stomach she'd just elbowed and glowered at her.
"Show a little compassion, Jack."
"I don't have any."
"Rule number one with women," Rachel went on, "is that you do not make light of our periods. Ever." Then she pushed away from him and went up to order her own sandwich as Susie came back with theirs.
"She was mean to me just now," he told the five-year-old as they sat at a table.
Ever ready to leap to Jack's defence, Susie immediately turned in her seat. "Don't be mean to Mr. Jack, Miss Rachel!" she called out. "I'm gonna marry him some day!"
Jack spluttered as Rachel started laughing, trying not to choke. "Y, yeah," he coughed. "Some day. In . . . twelve years. Uhm. Right."
"He's just being a big baby!" Rachel called back as she paid. "And you can't marry him; he's mine." She set a tray of drinks down in front of them as Jack and Susie let out twin whines, then sat after Janet had. "She's a bit young for you anyway, Jack."
"Oh, but Janet isn't." He turned and wiggled his eyebrows at the girl, who froze, her eyes huge. Then Jack laughed. "Oh, come on, I'm just teasing. I am blissfully married to an amazing woman. Even if she is mean and makes me sleep on the porch."
He was threatened with a salad fork. "You deserved it," Rachel told him, "and shut up."
Jack scratched at his chest again as he grinned. "Yeah, sure."
"You're in the high school play this year, aren't you, Janet?" Rachel asked, ignoring her husband and leaving him to the company of a five-year-old girl.
"Uhm, yeah . . ."
"What part are you playing?"
Janet fidgeted as she took a nibble of her sandwich. "Uhm, a handmaid and a party-goer."
"Eat that," Jack said as she pushed her sandwich away from herself. Janet looked at him in surprise and tried to protest that she wasn't hungry, but he cut her off with a frown. "Eat it. You just got out of an hour-long dance class, and you worked your butt off. There's no way you're not hungry, and don't give me that diet bullshit." He sat back in his seat as he glared at the girl. She looked like she was about to cry. "What is it with you women and being thin? Men like curves, you know. God, if we wanted a girl with the body of a ten-year-old boy, we'd just do the ten-year-old boy, you know?" He was disgusted, and even Susie was looking chastised.
"Jack . . ."
"I, I'm sorry," Janet whispered as her lower lip quivered.
"It's all right, Janet," Rachel assured her as she hugged the girl. "Jack hasn't learned to be tactful yet."
"What for?" he asked. "So you can starve yourself and I can sit back and say 'Hmm, Janet's looking a mite thin these days, don't you think?' Whatever." Then he looked between the two and sighed. "Look, Janet, I'm sorry. I didn't meant to upset you. You look just fine the way you are; you don't need to lose weight."
"Cathy called me fat the other day," the girl sniffed.
"Cathy's a stupid slut," Jack replied.
"Jack! Not in front of Susie!" Rachel glared at him and he turned to the girl.
"If you tell anyone I said that, I'll throw you into the ocean, okay?" he asked cheerfully.
Susie's eyes were wide as she nodded and ate her little sandwich. "Okay," she promised. "I won't tell."
"All better. Now, Cathy is exactly what I called her and you know it. She's a snot, and the only reason she thinks you're fat is because she's so ridiculously scrawny. I can count her ribs. It's disgusting." He scoffed and snapped his fingers at Janet, who took a hurried bite of her food. "Better. I don't want to hear any more diet crap from you, all right?"
"Okay," Janet whispered, and then he reached over and ruffled her hair with a grin.
"Buck up, sunshine. I'm not mad at you." He pushed her drink at her as she smiled at him. "There you go. We'll build a big bonfire to roast s'mores on, how's about?"
Rachel sat back and smiled as Jack coaxed smiles out of the two girls.