Title: Et Al
Word Count: 19,302
Summary: He doesn't want to chose, but he will if he has to. [Tony/Cassie]
I started writing this forever ago, thus the new season has made it just slightly AU.
life is an awful, ugly place not to have a best friend.
- sarah dessen, someone like you
The thing about Tony and Sid, they're best friends.
They're more than that though. That's the real thing. They're brothers.
It's the kind of thing that could, understandably, get misinterpreted.
But Cassie knows. Has always known. She's stood on the outside of them and on the (somewhat) inside, and has removed herself by choice. But she knows, even with an ocean between them, that it's always going to be them. The two of them. They've gone through hell and back together, things that would have flattened lesser friendships and they're still standing.
She had seen Sid once. Before he left for home, his search futile. Stood on one side of Broadway with him on the other, not turning away until his eyes got too close and she fled. Again.
Because the thing about Sid and Cassie, she would have broken him.
Tony talks to Sid at least once a day.
University's predictable, and Tony sails through even with the sporadic lingerings of stutters and memory freezes. And there's something about talking to Sid, while he meanders his way about Bristol and school and his new job of the week, that reminds Tony of who he actually is, and not who the Oxbridge rejects are trying to make him.
(At one time he would have been leading that pack.)
"Painting eaves," Sid tells him one night when snow is on the ground and Auden is waiting on his desk. "Can't get rid of the headache from the fumes, but the pay is good."
Tony nods and stubs out his cigarette. The girl across the hall, with a spill of fire red hair and criminally indecent skirts, threw his out the window the first week and handed him a pack of cloves. They reek, and he coughed at first, but the return to nicotine was more of a crutch than anything. He's flexible.
"I have a paper due tomorrow," Tony says when it gets a touch too awkward. "Getting myself talked into poetry was a right mess." Sid won't get it, but they'll pretend otherwise.
"Yeah, I have to work early."
Halfway through Funeral Blues Tony gets a pain in his ribs, like the lingering aches of a persistent cough.
Don't quote him on this, but he gets homesick sometimes, sick of all the pretending, and yearns for the days when it all meant something else entirely.
Then he remembers that home is crumbling and no one's around town, and he goes back to making his point on his iBook.
New York is harsh, and its cold, and while no rent is nice, Cassie never feels at home there.
Her parents send her money, and the offer of a ticket home is always open, but the idea of the UK now makes her want to crawl inside a chasm in the side of a mountain somewhere.
She says this to a group of college boys during a lunch rush on a Saturday in September. They're doing internships in the city but the prospect of a road trip over the long Labor Day weekend is too much to resist. They say 'Dude' a lot, and Cassie says 'Wow' even more, and it takes less than half an hour before her bags are packed and the cook is wondering why no one's covering her tables.
They're Ivy League, so she guesses its going to be the place called the Hampton's, but instead they go on, into Virginia. It takes forever, but the air smells like heaven and the people she meets at the gas stations talk slow and sweet, sounding more gentle than they probably are.
She likes it. So she stays.
There are hotels and clubs all along the beach and she moves her way further down the coast, until its not South so much as just southern, the lush green giving way to cowboy boots. Its mostly family places. You have to be 21 to work in bars in the states, but that's only her days.
Cassie likes her days now. The nights are what's tough. So she starts bringing home guys from last call, and the occasional girl. Sometimes they only sleep. Sometimes they don't, but either way its easier to get through till morning with another body beside her.
By the time she makes it to Mexico there have been a good number of mistakes, both human and pharmaceutical. So she lies on white sand and lets the wind blow them off her skin and away.
Spring Break is more an American thing, but Tony's a firm believer in 'why not?'
He was supposed to go home for the week off, see Effy, see the folks, see Sid. Then the idea of Cancun and string bikinis and Jägerbombs comes up and really, his Dad's so guilty that the ticket is as good as his the second he brings it up.
Sid says it's fine. "There's always summer, right?"
There is, and there'll be more to do then. When its not just the two of them and their remember when bull.
Tony gets reminded of this when he zones out of lecture one day and goes to his embarrassingly stark Facebook, sees the old picture Jal put up the night before of her and Chris and Maxxie and Cassie, at some party somewhere, back before the cards took the tumble. He looks and looks and looks, until the faces blur and he can hear the music pulsing in his veins again. He's gone, floating off on a cloud of nostalgia and spliff and the things he forgot.
They stick out like sore thumbs on the beach. White skin against white sand, balanced out with bright drinks and dark intentions.
He's slathered in sunscreen, his shirt sticking to him in uncomfortable places, but he wants to get at least a little less pasty before he takes it off.
As far as he can see is tanned and toned, a feast to his eyes that makes his hands itch. A while is an understatement, not that he hasn't had offers. But the girls at Cardiff are more pretentious than he ever aspired to (Jesus) and honestly, the few that he did fuck were more about proving something.
To whom though, that's the question.
Cassie works the pool on Tuesdays. A throw away shift and they all know it, the lull between hangover and the next bender, but until she stops being 'all stiff upper lip' with the customers as her manager calls it she's stuck.
Translation: don't take offense when middle aged accountants grab your ass.
A stack of plates and glasses sit on the table near the entrance, and she huffs at the two dollar tip. The wind changes and there's a hint of something that smells like home, causing her to glance up and there he is, all angles and sharpness and those blue, blue eyes.
Her stomach twists and she walks away, her tray left sitting on the tabletop.
On the sand, she sits at the line where the water splashes at her toes, drawing on her at once both fuzzy and much too vivid memories of England and loud music and boys who never keep their word. She sees Chris on his bed, Sid in hers, Michelle sitting across from her at the kitchen table, feels that same pain she felt standing on the club steps with Tony popping up, ugly like a postmortem bruise.
And then he's there beside her, one long pale leg alongside hers, elbows on his knees.
"I thought you were in New York."
"I thought you were in Wales."
His eyes stay on the water. "Spring Break holiday."
"Oh." she drops her chin onto her folded arms across her knees, wants to disappear inside herself as Tony makes his presence known, reclining out with his arms supporting his weight.
They're a long way from 'Everything's gonna be all right, Cass' and they both know it. There are no soft hugs and no empathetic eyes this time, no soothing of wounds. There's only awkward silences and an ever nearing sense of the bubble about to be burst.
Looking at Tony is something Cassie used to do a lot. To try and see what he was up to. To feel concealed pity on whomever his target happened to be. To wonder how someone so beautiful could have such an ugly soul. Then the bus happened, and it was to see how he was doing, if he was Tony again, to eventually pinpoint how he was better than the old Tony.
His hair is longer, more like how it was before, brushing his eyes and his earlobes and he's just as pale as ever, the merest hint of pink in his cheeks. She watches the dance of his fingertips on his knees, nervous energy, as if they don't quite belong to him. It stops suddenly and she looks up to see him watching her.
The intensity in his eyes is chilling. She looks away.
"Running away's for cowards," he says, blunt, out of nowhere. "That's what I told Effy."
Not what she expected. "Effy ran away?"
"After braining some girl with a rock and leaving her for dead in the woods."
Lips pursing, Cassie imagines the scene for a second. It's hard to imagine Effy doing that, but at the same time she isn't all that shocked. The Stonems are not easily pegged. She learned that long, long ago; somewhere between that first pill placed on her palm and Sid's letter outside Anwar's party.
Cassie raises her eyes up, no longer able to stand the burning weight of his gaze on her without meeting it.
"Running away can save your life."
He nods, taking it in. Those hauntingly blue eyes swivel around. They land on the water and the happy families and rambunctious coeds. Cassie feels like she can breathe without them on her, judging.
The two of them, they don't belong somewhere so idyllic.
Something is broken in Cassie. It's easy to see that.
As easy as it is to see that it goes deep. Deeper than Chris, than Sid. Deeper than her anorexia even.
Whatever it is, it goes clear to her soul.
They've been sitting there for a while. Longer than a while by now. One of the guys he'd come with appeared in his peripheral vision about a half hour ago, only to disappear without a word. He figures it must have been an odd sight; the guy who talks empirically about the effects and reactions of physical attraction, who indulges himself only when it can't be put off, who claims that he learned his lesson courtesy of some major karma, sitting silently beside an obviously non Mexican waitress on a Mexican beach for two hours without speaking.
Idly, Tony lets his eyes venture up from the water that's now splashing up to their calves to her alabaster legs, on toward her knees, up further to her thin arms looped loosely about them, ending on her the contours of Cassie's face. Her cheek rests on her forearm, gaze fixed in his direction but not on him.
"Shouldn't you be working?" he asks when the silence goes on for too long.
Lifting one shoulder in an attempt at a shrug, she draws the tips of her fingers through the sand. "I was going to quit anyway."
"No you weren't."
For the first time since her eyes landed on him, Cassie smiles. It isn't the big, bright, albeit vacant, smile he's often associated with her, but at least it's something.
He leans his head closer, ticking his gaze from freckle to freckle trailing across the bridge of her nose (which he's almost positive weren't there before) to a scattering along the tops of her cheekbones. Her eyes widen, just enough for him to notice, but she doesn't move away from him, doesn't blink. Almost a dare.
Tony's lips curl. He feels more like his old self than he has in a year.
One thing England definitely has over Mexico is the parties. When the college kids are there it's all bad American pop and flat beer. When its locals it becomes something called Tejano and really potent tequila. Figuring the mix would be better than either option alone, she finds Tony and the guys he showed up with at the hotel bar and drags them into town through narrow streets until she finds what she wants.
The music is loud, if Spanish, and the haze of smoke that greets her at the door is familiar, like the feel of a warm blanket around her shoulders.
She heads in, leaving the boys to fend for themselves, but she can feel Tony's eyes on her for the rest of the night, until sometime around midnight when she grows bored of the local who keeps trying to stick his hand up her shirt and she leaves him by the back patio door, turning around and Tony's there, just watching her, cup in his hand and looking like a million other nights back home.
The air between their locked eyes charges and crackles, thickens to the point where she almost believes that there's an invisible tether tying her dark eyes onto his own icy ones and her breath catches in her throat.
He arrived with four other guys, and the one with the big ears, Paul, bumps into her from behind. She's almost grateful for a second. Of all the stupid and reckless and self-destructive things she's done in her short life, Tony would take the cake.
"So…" he drawls, alcohol making his voice quiver. "You know Tony then?"
Honestly, she didn't used to be so bitchy.
Paul leers at her, swaying close with his eyes on her chest. "How well do you know him?"
Cassie chooses not to answer. She turns away and vanishes out the back door before Paul has a chance to grope as well as ogle. Standing by the edge of the pool, she watches the moon play off the water. Its bigger than the moon in Bristol. She thinks it is anyway. Toeing off her thongs (Americans call them flip flops) onto the cement beside her, Cassie sits down until she can sink into the cool water up to her knees.
She has a choice here, and she knows it.
If Cassie plays her cards right, she'll be that girl Sid talks about when he gets older. 'The one who got away.' Broke his heart, yeah, but the leaving wasn't about him. She lost her best friend and just couldn't handle the grief.
She could never handle anything really.
It'd be a nice role to play. And its hers, if she wants it.
Or she can do what she always does and wreck it all. She won't be that girl anymore, won't be remembered in bittersweet talk of first love. Instead, she'll be the bitch who fucked his best friend in Mexico.
Tony and Sid, they're brothers. And they love each other the best of anyone, ever. They are always going to pick each other in the end.
To get in the middle of that… she'd have to be a fool.
They do. Of course.
Tony is lingering by the front door when she stumbles back inside, the Jell-O shots that 'lovely' Miguel gave her making it all seem not so bad. She wanted to dance and spin and let go. At least that's what she tells him later.
It takes two twirls to land her at the door, crashing into Tony, his large palms burning against the thin cotton of her shirt as he steadies her. She looks up at him, pupils blown out by alcohol and who knows what else, her deceptively innocent beauty wreaking havoc on his senses in such close proximity.
There really is no reason why it, why she, should be effecting him this way. For years Cassie drifted in and out of his orbit. He's vain enough to admit that he could have had her in bed at any time. Until Sid. And then Sid fucked Michelle, but by that time Cassie's proposition wasn't exactly a feasible option anymore. But he had never been tempted, despite her experience. There was just no draw.
Now though, now there is a draw. More than a draw. A magnetic pull is thrumming underneath his skin, the glow of the strobe lights hypnotic, and the smell of her wafts up to him through the cloying stench of smoke and sweat and booze. It's…intoxicating. Heady. Irresistible, if he's being honest.
"I have a single room." He's always been blunt. No need to be smooth here. Tony knows Cassie, and she knows him and the pretenses are laughable.
God. She doesn't even have the grace to look surprised.
Because she's not.
Pushing a swath of that untamable hair from her slightly damp face, she gazes up at him from beneath her eyelashes, unblinking. After several (painful) seconds during which he's convinced she's about to tell him to go fuck himself, her lips purse and she nods, resigned that its going to happen.
Her small hand slips into his and she leads him silently back to the hotel.
Beyond the chaste clasping of palms, Tony doesn't touch her until the door is closed and locked behind them. Cassie hears the snick of the bolt sliding into place and then his hands are on her waist, skimming around and up, staying within the parameters of decency. His lips land on her shoulder. He moves the curtain of her hair out of the way so his mouth can travel without the hindrance of corn silk curls blocking his path.
She's particularly sensitive at that hollow spot between her neck and her jaw, just there below her ear, and when Tony finds it he exploits the knowledge gleamed from the tightening of her fingers in his hair.
He feels massive behind her, his frame closing in around her shoulders, dwarfing her until she feels tiny, delicate.
One of his hands splays across her stomach, and hers, the one not snared around chocolate locks, slides in between his strong fingers. Nothing about Tony's hands feel disconnected now as he draws one inward, bunching the material of her shirt so he can feel warm skin and her nails dig into his palm enough to make his lips curl against her throat.
Tony's other hand has been silent thus far, remaining firm on the jut of her pelvic bone over the waistband of her jeans. Now it slides in, works the button and zipper free. Her head lolls back against his shoulder as they join forces to rid her of the denim. Once gone, Cassie raises her arms. Not needing to be told twice, Tony gathers the fraying hem in his hands and lifts her shirt away.
Cassie turns, meeting his gaze head on. A self satisfied smirk so in tuned to what she remembers of the infamous Tony Stonem plays along the contours of his mouth. She presses her thumb against the middle of that lower lip, tugging with the pad of her finger, a silent clue to what she really wants. His mouth dips into hers, warmth flooding through her.
She palms the flat planes of his stomach and chest underneath the material of his shirt. Taking the hint (or the initiative, whichever) Tony yanks at the back of the offending garment and pulls away from her to get it off over his head.
Placing her index finger in the hollow of his throat, Cassie runs a line down over his chest, scratches at the patch of hair leading down from his belly button, to the strings of his shorts and pulls them free.
Tony licks his lips, causing something in her body, low in her body, to flicker and come alive, like the striking of a match.
Had Tony ever given in to the idle curiosity of fucking Cassie before his accident, he imagines he would have made a quick job of it. Most likely in his bedroom, before he had to go meet Michelle or Sid or someone else, with Effy down the hall in her bedroom. It would have been rushed, rough, fueled by boredom and narcotics.
That would have been a mistake he realizes, as Cassie mouths at the skin on the low slope of his stomach. He jerks under her weight when she tongues at the overly sensitive skin of his hip, eyes unfocused and teeth worrying at his lips. Nimble fingers stray along his thighs and above, embedding only in places she thinks will garner a response out of him.
Oh yes, it would have been a big mistake indeed.
When her mouth hovers above his, Tony's lips curl in a teeth bearing, wolfish smile that makes her breath hitch - along with her entire body. He groans at the feel of it, his head rising to take her lower lip between his, teeth tugging at it. She squirms at the sensation, rubbing the length of her slight build against him.
He wants to flip them over, but an instinct tells him to let her be in control of this. Gossip has told him that Cassie likes to be on top as much as he does. So he consents.
Not that it's a chore to lay there and watch her moving on top of him, her ivory skin glimmering as she sways, catching shards of light through the too small hotel window. When she leans down and sucks at his earlobe his shoulders curl up off the mattress and he thinks to himself 'Sid's an idiot.'
Snaking a hand into her wild hair, Tony pulls her mouth to his, demanding a bruising kiss that goes on long enough to make his chest burn. Cassie gasps, the pair of them heaving labored breaths in stuttering starts and stops.
By now he doesn't care about preferences. He hooks his arms under her shoulders and turns her over onto her back. She says nothing of this, merely locking her legs around his hips and threading her hands into his hair.
God. It hasn't felt like this in so long.
Tony sprawls out on his stomach and observes her, a cocky twist to his expression, after they're finished. There was no cuddling. All of the fragments of tenderness that had sprung up between them on sweat slicked skin have since dissipated.
Cassie takes a long drag from her cigarette and hands it to him. He mimics her actions, feeling the jittery effect of nicotine on his body after so long mingle with the aftershocks of the endorphin rush. His skin tingles. That's what he tells her, marking his words with taps of his fingers against the ridges of her spine.
She sees nothing of the boy who had stood on her stoop in that hideous green blazer with flowers, even less of the one who had pressed her to him in a noisy club in an act of comfort. There is the vaguest hint of the Tony who quoted Proust to showcase his superiority lingering, but ironically it doesn't bother her. That is the Tony she met after all. The one she had gone about with when she was younger, who took her hand and helped her climb out of the harbor. The one who had brought her Sid's letter in a dim car park.
A dog eared paperback sits on the nightstand. Flopping backwards, she opens to the marked page and reads.
"I shall wear necklaces and a white dress without sleeves at night," Tony quotes. "There will be parties in brilliant rooms; and one man will single me out and will tell me what he has told no other person. He will find in me some quality, some peculiar thing."
While he talks, his hand takes up residence on her hip. He pulls her to him, the sharp angles of their bodies knocking together. Expanses of bare skin are so close that she can feel his body heat like a physical touch until it is replaced by the actual physical touch of him moving over her.
With his hand on a downward trajectory, Cassie lets the book fall forgotten onto the ugly green carpet.
"I tremble, I quiver," he whispers, hot breath ghosting her skin, punctuated with soft nips on her collarbone, "as I sit dangling my feet on the edge of the bed."
She gives a hum of appreciation, her hands wandering over the muscles moving in his back and he slides down. Level with her stomach, his mouth traces patterns too intricate to be nothing, before he speaks again. "That book always reminded me of you."
It's the last coherent sentence spoken between them for a long time.
Dawn breaks and she pries herself out of the starchy sheets and pulls her clothes back on, adding the jacket tossed over the back of the chair.
"That's my jacket."
Running her fingers through her hair, she faces him. Arches an eyebrow at his obvious statement. "I know."
A laugh huffs out of his Tony's throat. He comes to stand in front of her, arms at his sides.
There's something so trusting about standing naked in front of someone else. All six feet plus of Tony Stonem is there before her, nothing of him hidden away from her gaze.
(Nothing that can be seen with the eye at least.)
Despite the free reign she's being offered here, Cassie moves her hands to his face. She outlines his brow bone, skims the bridge of his nose, over the bow of his bottom lip and out to his jaw. Thumbs over his cheekbones, and traces his ears, fingers the hairline at the back of his neck. "You really are beautiful," she tells him.
He says nothing, lays his palms on the tops of her shoulders. The moment is almost startlingly intimate, broken by Tony stepping forward, more and more, and she winds up with her back pressed to the door. Eyeing her like prey, he lowers his mouth to her ear.
"Cardiff's really nice you know."
A beat. Her heart in her throat.
It's all shockingly simple to arrange really.
Despite what he tells himself about bringing Cassie back, closer to home, being an objectively good deed, he knows different. If it were truly about her and not him he would have said Bristol, or Elgin, not Cardiff.
She has the offer of an open ticket from her parents and she uses it, finally, with the few possessions she cares enough about to take with her tucked in amongst his polo shirts and paperbacks.
For the first few days she sleeps in his dorm room, usually when he's in class. His suitemate finds her 'charming', as she spreads her tiny body over every surface of the shared quarters in turn wearing little more than his shirts and those stripped knee socks she loves. Before the first week is over she's as well known in his residence as he is, and just as aware of the fact.
The girls in Tony's hall, they hate her on principle. Until they meet her. That's when she offers up those childlike smiles of hers and wraps even the coldest bitch of them all around her bony little finger. The boys are sold as soon as she drinks Liam, big and broad and a rugby champ, under the table without so much as getting woozy.
Tony revels in once again being the guy who has the girl that everyone else wants.
(Whether or not he actually has her is debatable. Rocking the boat for answers would get him nowhere.)
They don't have sex. At first. They dance around each other, figuring out the other's limits and boundaries with small touches and layered comments. They share his narrow bed each night, Cassie in the thinnest wisps of slips and Tony is his briefs. He sleeps and she lies there, twining thin limbs around his, her own personal plush toy. Other times, its her head on him while he devours his Lit coursework one volume at a time. She likes when he reads aloud to her, no matter the subject. He obliges because, well, because its easy.
So he tells himself.
When they finally do, its every bit as rushed and frenzied as he had once predicted it would be.
Cassie caved after a fortnight and told her parents where she was. They descended upon his room with tears and disdainful looks in his vicinity.
"You remember Tony," she says, "Sid's friend. He found me in Mexico."
The omitted is best left that way.
Her father looks pointedly at the pink bra peeking from beneath his duvet and glares.
"Do you want to come home, Darling?" Her mother lays a gentle hand on Cassie's cheek that makes her flinch. They all ignore it.
Elgin isn't home. Bristol isn't home anymore. So she might as well stay where she is. She says it with not at all subtle looks at him out of the corner of her eye and now Tony's starting to get ideas.
His eyes train on her mouth as she talks, not hearing the words so much as feeling them float on the air to plop and fizz onto his skin like snowflakes.
Her parents are staying for a few days. They'll find her a flat tomorrow. With more hugs she shrinks from and a handshake for him, they leave.
Tony has Cassie's back to his concrete wall, palm flat beside her head, before the elevator doors close.
The flat they find in the Adamsdown section of town is small, but Cassie loves it at once. It looks like her, with high ceilings and tall windows, the raised sections of floors lending a feeling of whimsy.
She decides to paint the central room dark red. Her dad drops by with the paint when Tony is there, crossing his arms over his chest in a challenge of manly pride. Tony wants to laugh, she can see it in the way his eyes twinkle and his lips curve. But then the offer of her own place might disappear and he only has a few more weeks of classes left - meaning his room has an expiration date.
So he peels off his jumper and sets to work.
Cassie mostly just flits around while Tony and her dad paint. Her mother has gone back to Scotland to relieve the babysitter so they've lost a buffer for her Dad's open hostility towards Tony.
(It's a little late in her opinion, she thinks, remembering some of the stuff they got away with when they were younger.)
One would think he could show a speck of gratitude for the person who found his daughter on another continent and brought her home. Or close to home at least.
Maybe if she weren't wearing one of Tony tee shirts that she's cut the sleeves off and tied up around her stomach.
It's a long process, both the painting and the stilted small talk. But he's going to take the last train out to be in time for work the next day, so he doesn't stay all evening.
Cassie thinks its more about not being here tomorrow to help the movers with the furniture.
After they're alone, Tony collapses on the air mattress in the middle of what's going to be Cassie's bedroom. His chest and back are splattered with crimson splotches, making him look like a war casualty. She sits beside him on the squeaky plastic that her father had insisted on (his eyes making it obvious that he didn't want his daughter staying in Tony's room any longer) with a rinsed out paint bucket and a damp cloth. She sits on his legs and scrubs the paint off his back, the pink water soaking the sheets.
Placing her lips at the outer shell of his ear, Cassie tells him to turn over. She's shed the tee shirt she was wearing. The tiny shorts disappeared along with her father. Settling herself on his lap, she goes to work on the splatters covering his chest and stomach. Tony lays his palms heavy on the bare skin of her thighs, his eyes never once leaving her face as she runs small hands along his flesh, the water running in rivulets down towards his waistband.
She thinks it should be these times when Sid's face pops up in front of her eyes, when she's with the one boy who should remind her of him. Yet the opposite is the truth. No one is on her mind right now but Tony and what his lovely hands are doing to her body.
They end up on the floor. Wet sheets don't hold a lot of appeal and there's something about the way the skin of Tony's cheek is pressing against her neck that makes her impatient.
For a second at the end she literally loses her breath from the force of what she feels and it lights something deep inside her, something too strong for her to fully tolerate. She pulls away, feeling panic replace the giddiness of temporary euphoria.
Tony's body envelopes her from behind on the cold hardwood. One arm drapes lazily over her waist, fingers skating against her stomach. "You all right?"
"Yeah." She lays back to look up at him. "That was lovely."
He knows she's lying, but doesn't press her.
Cassie turns her head and stares out the window, pulling Tony's hand to lie over her heart.
She gets a job at the bookstore down the way from her flat, which means Tony spends a lot of time there, exploiting her discount as much as she'll let him, but its only part time days so she also gets a job at the pub across the street at nights. Tony finds that one handy as well.
Tony impresses his History professor with his last paper of the semester, and he offers him a job for the summer, doing research and making copies, but it comes with a modicum of prestige as well, so he takes it.
"The only thing," he's told, "is that since you're not signed up for summer courses, you can't stay in University residence."
He can fix that.
Cassie stacks his book around the flat in tall towers along the walls and starts wearing his clothes more than she wears her own. He comes in between her shifts to see her in one of his polos and her knee socks, folding laundry or untangling the knots in her jewelry.
Its all so terribly domestic that he shakes his head at the irony before he pulls his clothes off and falls down beside her, his head going into her lap.
Tony still talks to Sid every day, only now guilt laces his words and feel heavy on his tongue - the guilt of Cassie's body asleep beside him - instead of the inevitable awkwardness of leading different lives. Not like saying 'Guess what, I'm shacking up with your ex girlfriend' rolls off the tongue. So instead he tells him about his work and how Cardiff seems like a different place in the summer, says he's sorry for not coming home like he'd promised.
"Don't worry about it, mate," Sid says, pausing to talk to someone else in disjointed words muffled through the phone. "Gotta do the work, yeah?"
After he hangs up he stretches out beside Cassie, finger twirling an errant curl around and around.
On the nights she works at the pub he comes with her, sitting at one end of the bar with his work or a book while the massive bartender, Rudy, teaches her how to mix proper drinks that Tony tests for her.
Things take a turn the night before the fall semester begins.
Some regular comes in on the nights Cassie works and plants himself right in front of her. Tonight must be special. He starts to come on strong and grabs her wrist. Tony stands up, ready to step in when Rudy pushes the guy away from her. His head tips in Tony's direction. "You might want to back off, mate. That's her boyfriend down there."
Tony has five inches easy on the guy, who's not big but bigger than Cassie. (Not that everyone isn't.) He raises one eyebrow and the ponce throws down a few bills and stalks towards the door. Cutting him off at the door, Tony stares the guy down. "I'd suggest you find another pub, all right?" He knocks the other guy's shoulder with his own, and takes his vacated seat.
"You okay?" he asks Cassie, seeing bright red flushing her wrist. Rudy sets a drink in front of him, on the house, and Cassie stares at him, wary, like she doesn't know him. "Cass?"
She shakes her head, grins at him. "I'm fine. Thanks to you." She leans over and kisses him quickly, before pecking Rudy on the cheek as well. "And Rudy."
As he watches her work, hair for once pulled off her face, Tony realizes that Rudy's right. He is her boyfriend now. Funny how that happened when he wasn't paying attention. He should have seen it coming though. They live together, they shag on a regular basis. Sometimes they even go grocery shopping together, or do the wash. And a proper relationship isn't far behind when a girl sends you out at eleven o'clock at night to buy her tampons, ignoring you muttering under your breath the whole time about the inconvenience and how you're not even going to get laid for your trouble when you get back.
It must not have dawned on her either if her shaking limbs are anything to go by. So he holds her hand on the ten minute walk home, stopping her under the low hanging awning to push stray tendrils away from her face and kiss her. Just kiss her, nothing more.
For her part, Cassie takes his face between her tiny palms and studies him, thumb running the line of his lips. Apparently she finds whatever it is she's looking for, so she nods and returns her hand to his for the walk upstairs.
Her parents insist that she spend Christmas with them. So does his Mum. Empty nest syndrome must be hitting her hard with both Tony and Effy away at school is what Tony figures.
When Tony drops her at the train station, he says goodbye without a kiss or a hug. Only a 'Pick you up on Thursday' passes over his lips before the line of his broad shoulders are swept away in the crowd.
With a heavy feeling under her ribs, Cassie boards the train.
They've waited until Christmas Eve to head out so as to make the trips are as short as possible. They exchange presents the night before they leave; a book by someone French for him, a tiny little crystal heart on a thin gold chain for her. Cassie cries when she opens it but can't explain why.
Her fingers never leave it the whole time she's on the train north.
Staring at herself in the mirror in her bedroom at her parents' house, Cassie sees the changes in her appearance more with the different setting around her. Her face isn't as gaunt as it had been, though she is paler from not spending her days on the beach. Lifting her shirt up, she sees that her stomach is no longer concave like it was. It can't be more than a few pounds, just enough so her clothes fit and don't hang off her shoulders, but to her it feels like a sign.
Tony makes comments when he notices her not eating, once going as far as telling her, over the rim of his book, in a flat, even, yet entirely too serious voice that he'll hold her down and make her eat if necessary. "You're being ridiculous," he scoffed.
And she listened.
(Especially when he tells her more weight makes her boobs looks better.)
The thoughts keep playing in her head, over and over. Remembering Tony looking at her while she studied herself. "Am I getting fat?" Standing behind her in front of the full length mirror in their bathroom, he ran his palms all over her, mouth on her neck.
"Not at all," he mumbled against her skin. "I like you like this."
Growing warm and restless, she flings the covers back and goes downstairs for a glass of water, and then another. She's not going to be able to sleep so she turns on the living room television.
The doorbell rings at half past three. Its Tony and Effy, both looking petulant and huffy.
Tony's polite when her parents wander down to investigate. Effy's not. But nothing is said of it owing to the circumstances.
(Cassie whispers about the divorce, and their Mum's boyfriend, trying to make it all sound terribly tragic.)
Effy's to share her room. Cassie's grandparents are in the guest room. Tony gets sent to the couch.
Neither girl sleeps, and then the oppressive weight of Effy's pointed silence grows to be too much, driving Cassie to go downstairs. Approaching the couch slowly, she feels the brief time apart from Tony prickling like hot needles against her skin.
He gazes up at her in the moonlight, eyes guarded, wearing the pajamas he hates. Wordlessly, he rolls from his back to his side, letting her lay in front of him, and molds his body into hers.
The last thing she's aware of before drifting off is the blunt edge of his nail raking along the bend of her elbow.
Effy insists on taking the train back. She says it's too much trouble for them to drive her all the way back home and then two more hours to Cardiff in the snow.
Tony hugs her on the platform, ruffling her hair when she steps away like any big brother would. Cassie watches, detached. He supposes the sight should invoke some feeling in her. Affection for him, maybe, being a good brother. Jealousy, because Effy is the only person that Tony has ever unconditionally loved.
She curls against the door on the ride home, and her big eyes trace his profile with all the intensity of a sculptor's chisel. Wet snow falls, heavy, the entire way, so the drive takes even longer and nothing is on the radio worth listening to.
"I want to have a New Year's party," she announces. "We haven't been to a party in ages."
He agrees. That was what they did best. Once.
Cassie's eyes close but she's not asleep. She doesn't sleep easily. And something has been weighing on Tony's mind since he and his sister left Bristol. Ever since his accident he's found it hard to keep things inside. He had always been blunt, cruel even, but now he just can't keep anything to himself.
"Effy says we're going to get married you know."
Slowly, her eyes slide open. "Really?"
He nods, moving his eyes firmly back to the road. "Yeah. She made a few remarks about how we could have just driven two hours and stayed in our flat but instead I dragged her all the way to Scotland. Says it 'means something.'"
In lieu of an answer, Cassie scoots across the front seat and snuggles into him, her forehead pressed to the side of his neck. He leans his cheek on the top of her head until she drifts off to sleep.
Her weight against him is familiar by now. He's felt it daily for over six months. Tony has come to know the map of her body by hand, is pretty positive he could pick out her scent in a sea of strangers, can feel the difference in the air of their flat whenever she's not there.
A buzzing in his pocket distracts him from the disjointed thoughts in his head. Trying not to jostle Cassie beside him, he pulls it out. It flashes 'Sid' across the screen. Cassie shifts against his side, burrowing her face further into him, so with a lead finger he presses the ignore button.
It's the fist day that Tony hasn't spoken to him since Chris died.
Tony's stopped answering his phone.
Cassie stands in their tiny kitchen pulling more plastic cups out and watches him as he pulls it out only to stick it back in his pocket.
"Think pretty boy is straying?" Most of the people are from the University, those who didn't go or did and couldn't get back fast enough, and a few people she's met at work. The girl voicing the question lived in Tony's residence the year before and used to hang around outside his room is low cut tops. "I mean, yeah, he's a great fuck and all, but he does live here. I wouldn't worry if I were you."
"I'm not," Cassie assures her, pouring her drink on the girl's shoes and walking away.
She comes up behind Tony and slides her hands around his waist. "You look like the type of bloke who'd have a girlfriend."
He turns in the circle of her hold, drops his arm loosely about her narrow shoulders. "Only if they're blonde and say 'Wow' a lot."
"Oh wow." Giggling, Cassie pulls him away from the window. "You haven't danced with me all night."
"No? Shame on me."
A secretive little smirk plays about the edges of his mouth as she wraps his arms around her waist. Not that they stay there. One comes up to tangle in the hair at the back of her head, the other sliding under the hem of her top.
Cassie grins. "Better not let your girlfriend see that."
"I think she'd let me by with it." He shrugs, winks.
Giggles that feel like champagne bubbles fall out between her lips. "You do?"
Tony's mouth comes to rest on hers, soft, and she yields under him like always, the synchronized sway of their bodies lulling her into a state of giddiness. The few, very few, times she danced with Tony back home were nothing like this. It was fast, fluid movements and eager hands backdropped by thudding bass lines and brightly colored strobes.
Nothing like this.
The expression on his face is shockingly tender. Cupping her cheek in a way he never does, he whispers delicate words like butterfly wings against her forehead. "Happy New Year, Cassie."
All the time they've been together he's never called her by a nickname. Not even a generic one like babe. She likes that. His saying her name, and only her name, makes her heart skip in a way it never has before in hopes that maybe she's special.
"Happy New Year, Tony." Pressing her lips to the underside of his jaw, she hooks her arms under his shoulders. She can hear the thudthudthud of his heart against her cheek.
He sighs. "You should find a softer resting place than my heart." One of his lovely hands spreads out on the skin of her back like he's afraid she'll take his advice.
She tightens her grip on him, screwing her eyes shut. "It's soft enough for me."
It's a shock that they're still together come spring. If asked, they would both say it's merely convenient.
Effy calls them both liars.
"You ever think about it?" Tony asks her from their bed one night. They both made it home before dark for once and there are no shifts to get to or papers to be written, so naturally Cassie insists they go to some frat party she's heard about at the pub. She's wearing one of those see through slips of hers under one of his nicer shirts. "About us still being here after almost a year?"
"No." Digging through the drawer, she pulls out a tube of bright red lipstick and swipes it over her lips. She shrugs out of his shirt and pulls her slip over her head. "We're fine and dandy, remember?"
He does remember, can see in his mind the exact expression on Cassie's face when the two of them watched Sid and Michelle on the dance floor below.
Standing in front of the closet in her mismatched underwear, Cassie picks through the racks of clothes, turning to face him with one dress and then another in front of her for his opinion. When she finds one that makes him grin, she pulls it on, pushing her hair aside for him to zip her up.
Sometimes, on nights like this, when they're getting dressed for nights out that won't turn out much different from the ones they had when they were younger, he thinks about the possibility of this becoming his life; him and Cassie getting ready for a night out, but with subtle variations. They're no longer in Cardiff for one. And they're older.
He wonders, in that idle way you wonder about whether bugs talk amongst themselves, would they be happy?
Cassie moves into him, kissing him lightly where his pulse flutters in his neck, and lays her head against his sternum. Tony runs his palms along the bare skin between her shoulder blades and rests his chin on top of her head. As thoughts run through his head like a steam engine at full speed, he thinks about them now, and how they are. A better question than will they be happy in the future is; are they happy now?
They're not unhappy. He thinks. Tony's not unhappy at least. Coming back to this flat every night and knowing that Cassie's going to be there, sitting in the pub and watching her pour drinks, having to dig through her clothes in the laundry basket to get to his, he likes all of that. He likes that she makes the coffee so early in the morning before she finally falls asleep and its more strong than he usually takes when he gets up for class. Likes the way she tugs his hair, hard, just before she comes. But most of all, he's grown to love waking up in the middle of the night when the warmth of her small body slides into the bed beside him.
No. They're not unhappy.
Cassie dances all night, trying not to think. Trying to ignore what she's not saying.
When Tony was in the shower earlier she couldn't find her necklace, getting down on her hands and knees to look under the bed. It was in the kitchen oddly enough, lying on the counter by the coffee pot. Tony's phone buzzes on the table. She looks at the screen, feeling her chest knot looking at 'Sid' flashing in bright letters. After it stops, she scrolls through the menu and sees that Tony hasn't been answering Sid's calls since Christmas.
Her stomach rolls. She makes it to the sink before the bile comes all the way up.
Sinking down onto the tiles, Cassie places her hands over her cramping abdomen until the nausea subsides.
She hasn't thrown up in over a year.
The familiar feeling rocks her. At one time, this was an everyday occurrence. More than once, and she always stood up feeling better, feeling lighter. Now she feels out of control. Guilty.
The first time Cassie saw Sid he was with Tony, at the college on the first day of school. They were sixteen and everything was so different then, when Tony loved Michelle and thought that had nothing to do with shagging other girls, when Sid thought he loved Michelle even though she was off limits, and Cassie was just there - when she wasn't in hospital - at the same parties, with the same friends. Then she fell in love with Sid. And everything went to pieces.
Tony never mentions Sid. Neither does she. They're both very careful about that.
Standing up and smoothing down her dress, Cassie rinses her mouth her and grabs a piece of gum from Tony's jacket pocket. He may make light of her anorexia, but that doesn't mean he would be okay with her purging again. She's not, but can't explain that to him without bringing Sid and everything else into it.
Still feeling queasy, she puts her necklace on, the one Tony gave her for Christmas, and fiddles with her hair in the reflection from the toaster until Tony wanders into the kitchen and asks her if she's ready to go.
The party is everything he complained it would be; loud, crowded, full of tipsy first years and cheap beer. But there is very little else that makes Cassie as happy as a party, no matter how bad, so they end up staying later than Tony wanted to. Its easier to let all the things she's not saying drift away with the music, to layer over her thoughts until they're covered in the white noise of loud techno. Cassie dances to keep up the silence in her head. She dances with Tony, a few of his friends, and she even dances by herself towards the end of the night.
"All right, Cass," Tony breathes in her ear, coming up behind her in the center of the floor, "dance time is over."
She turns around and twines her arms about his neck. "Dance time is never over."
Chuckling, he directs her towards the door, tossing goodbyes over his shoulder. Once outside, Cassie takes a deep breath and pushes her hair back from her clammy face. The heat was starting to go to her head and her stomach still hasn't settled entirely, which she figures is normal. Not that normal has ever really been her strong suit.
Instead of thinking about normal, she pulls Tony's arms around her and walks back to the flat, the rhythm of their steps jerky, but synchronized.
There was a time when Tony found drama and whirlwind crisis entertaining. Usually because he had orchestrated it for the sheer purpose of sitting back and watching it all unfold in front of him.
But the drama of coming home after Econ to find Sid standing in front of his door is one he could do without.
"Sid, mate, what are you doing here?" Tony's hands turn into jitters. He stuffs them into his pockets to hide the fact, and to try and gain a little bit of nerve.
He walks forward, shrugging. "Figured if you wouldn't return my phone calls then this was kind of the last ditch, you know?"
The words hit him like a punch to the gut.
"So what is it then?" Sid demands. "What has you so busy all of a sudden?"
Tony stands there, in the dimly lit building where he lives with the only girl Sid has ever really loved, trying to figure out some way for all of them to get out of this as easily as possible.
He has a feeling that's going to be easier said than done.
Before he can open his mouth the phone is his pocket starts buzzing. Sid's looking at him like he expects something but the way out is just too tempting. So he pulls the phone out and chooses to pretend he doesn't see Sid's self righteous glare.
The ID that shows up is the local hospital. Panicking, he answers. With it tucked between his neck and ear, he pushes at the door and sees that its unlocked.
Cassie never leaves the door unlocked. Not since he griped at her for an hour one night after he discovered one of his foreign film DVD's had gone missing while she was at the bookstore. The argument had ended in pretty fantastic angry sex against the living room wall. Ever since then she's made a point of locking the door whenever she leaves. Even if he's still there.
The flat looks like normal. His computer is on the coffee table, surrounded by course notes and empty beer bottles. One of Cassie's dresses is flung over the arm of the couch from where she'd thrown it last night before her shower.
The woman on the other end of the phone puts him on hold almost as soon as he answers. "Fucking hell."
Sid follows him inside, he stands in the doorway with that confused look on his face that Tony recognizes all too well. "Tony, what's wrong?"
He holds his hand up to signal Sid to be quiet. "Yes. That's me."
"Mr. Stonem, a Cassie Ainsworth was brought into Triage this afternoon-"
"What's wrong with her?"
Sid moves closer, his face fixing into a look of worry.
Images begin to swirl through Tony's head. He sticks his head in the bathroom, checking for razorblades, God forbid, or pills. Nothing.
He turn to the bedroom, and sees a dark red smear on the floor.
"I'm afraid we're not allowed to release that information over the phone."
"Then tell me what fucking room she's in."
He hears the shuffling of papers. "She's been taken up to the Obstetrics and Gynecology floor. That's all I know."
Obstetrics. The word pounds inside of his skull with a thousand and one different possibilities.
But the only ones that matters is Cassie in hospital and his getting there.
"Tell her I'm on my way."
Cassie is picking at the edges of the scratchy hospital blanket when Tony walks into her room. He's trying much too hard to act all calm, but his eyes are wider than usual and much too bright.
"Cass," he asks, sitting on the edge of her bed and smoothing her hair back, "what happened?"
His voice is so soft, so tender, that it breaks her heart. And it makes her feel twice as horrible as she already did. "I, um, I lost it."
Feeling like her soul is splintering, she takes a deep breath that squeezes her chest. "I- There was a baby. Now there… isn't."
Silence falls over them and she just can't avoid his eyes any longer.
She looks up and then wishes she never had. What little color that is usually in his face is gone. He's like a statue; white as death and still as marble. He swallows eventually, the noise freakishly loud and sounding like it hurts. "You didn't tell me."
"I wasn't sure," she whispers. They both know it's a lie. "I had an appointment tomorrow."
There's no need to tell him what kind of appointment she had. Not now. Why hurt him that way.
His hand goes into her hair again, long fingers scraping her scalp. Tears well up in her eyes. He's being so sweet, despite the fact that he's obviously upset that she never said anything. She covers his hand with her own, leaning her cheek into his palm. Her tears makes the loose hairs stick to her face and he pulls them away. It only makes her cry harder.
Tony pulls her to him, rubbing a soothing hand up and down her back. She clutches at the fabric on his shoulders, sobbing more for the betrayal she's committed against him than for the baby she hadn't even really wanted to begin with.
Lips against her hair, Tony shushes her. "Don't be."
The doctor comes in to talk to her. Cassie keeps a hold on Tony's hand, not wanting him to leave. She doesn't think he would have, but it helps; having his strong hand wrapped around hers, especially when the words 'malnourished' and 'underweight' send cold chills down her spine and make her squeeze Tony's fingers in her own.
And she hopes that she really is mad and Tony's grip isn't loosening.
The doctor doesn't foresee any long term damage. She just needs to take it easy for a few weeks. There's more, but Cassie tunes out when he brings up future children. The idea of children and the future, that all terrifies her.
Being with Tony, it's the happiest she's been in a long time. Its stable and its safe, Tony doesn't cheat on her, and he's not hiding some possibly fatal medical condition. She never, before the bus, would have thought that Tony could be right for her. But he just may be the most right thing she's ever had.
If she hasn't completely ruined it all.
Sid is standing there when Tony walks out of Cassie's room, exactly as he expected. He'd looked up at the window in the hospital room door once only to see his best friend there with a look of fury on his face.
And Tony can tell at once when he shuts the door that Sid is still furious.
"I thought you'd left."
Sid takes a step closer. "Yeah, I thought about it. But then I figured if something was really wrong, then my best friend might need me. Stupid, eh?"
The way his eyes flash leave no room for misinterpretation about his meaning.
Tony supposes he should be embarrassed. Supposes Sid's choice of emphasis was meant to chide him a bit, lay the ground for Tony to be truly told off for not telling Sid the whole story sooner.
"You -" Sid begins, walking away but turning back. "You fucking bastard."
He deserves that. Being honest, he deserves a whole hell of a lot more than that. But Cassie had a harder time than usual going to sleep, so much so that they'd had to sedate her, and he doesn't want the tearing into he's about to get to wake her up.
When he starts to walk away, Sid stalks after him, sputtering. "You're just going to walk away?"
Tony stops, Sid almost colliding with his back. He's close enough that Tony can lower his voice and not be overheard and hisses, "We're not doing this outside her room."
"Because you're so concerned about other people's feelings?"
They stop in front of the door to the stairs. Tony paces a bit before he says anything. He knew this was going to happen. Eventually. This entire time he hasn't really foreseen an end to what he and Cassie have, so yes, telling Sid was always something he was going to have to do. He just never imagined the circumstances to be like this.
"Sid, I… its just… I just-. Fuck!" He kicks the wall, anger searing him. Of all the times for his speech to fail him. "What do you want me to say?"
"First off, you can tell me what Cassie is even doing in Cardiff."
God. This is going to get real ugly, real fast.
"I ran into her in Mexico and asked her to come back with me."
Tony can see the wheels turning in Sid's head as that sinks in. He raises his finger on some point he's about to make, but something else must occur to him. After a few seconds, during which his face turns exceedingly redder and redder under his beanie, he stands directly in Tony's line of vision, standing up to his full height in hopes that his small frame will seem somehow intimidating. "You went to Mexico a year ago."
Tony nods. "I know."
Bitter laughter is the reply, along with Sid turning away.
Before he can say anything more his jaw explodes in pain and he stumbles back several paces. Sid shakes his hand, his face looking like he's in more pain than Tony is. Working his jaw to alleviate the residual soreness, Tony nods. "Guess I deserved that."
"Yeah, you did." Sinking down onto the floor, Sid lets his head fall into his hands. "Christ, Tony. Over the years things I've seen you do a lot of pretty horrible stuff to a lot of people, but I never thought you'd do something like this. Not to me."
He's right. Of course. Even back when Tony had lived to see how far he could push someone, he had drawn a line at Sid. At least at really hurting him. He never, ever would have done that. Not intentionally.
And now it turns out that what hurts him more than anything is the one thing that makes Tony the happiest he's been since that bus hit him.
With a heavy sigh, Tony falls back against the wall and slides down beside Sid. He props his elbows on his knees, turning his head to face his best friend. "I'm sorry, mate. I should have told you."
"Yeah. You should have." Sid angles his face away. He pulls his hat off and buries a hand in his shaggy hair, making it fall over the top of his glasses. "So, you two, you've been, like, together? All this time?"
Tony exhales through his teeth. A dozen memories of him and Cassie over the last year run through his head. "Yeah."
Sid stands. With a glare down at Tony, he slams open the stairway door and disappears from sight.
The entire two days that Cassie spends in hospital Tony stays with her. He leaves for lecture and then comes back. His computer is set up on her tray table pulled up to the chair by the bed. She lets him stay the first night, drawing comfort from the familiar feel of his body behind her on the too small mechanical bed and his warm breath puffing against her neck.
Because she can't fight back the feeling that she should enjoy it while she can.
Which leads her to telling him to go home the second night she's there. He should probably just concentrate on school anyway. It wasn't as if his spending all of his time in a small, way too bright room watching her get her vitals checked was going to be beneficial to him in any way.
What she doesn't tell him is that it's a lot easier to cry without him there.
Tony seems distant. And something, that same something that tells her when its okay to interrupt his coursework with a kiss on the back of his neck and when its not, is telling her that its about something other than her not telling him that she was pregnant. No, there is something else on his mind.
He takes her home and tucks her into their bed. She snuggles into the worn cotton sheets that smell like cigarettes and perfume, hugging Tony's pillow as tight as she wants to hug him. Only he has a study group and leaves after he gets her some water and tells her to sleep, dropping a kiss on her forehead.
She nods off, waking sporadically from a sleep cycle so different from the norm of where she tends to drift off in boredom or exhaustion after Tony had shagged her good and proper. Lately it seems that Cassie can't get to sleep at all unless Tony's next to her. But the sedatives she was prescribed are for that reason alone and Tony had brought her one before he left. Maybe she should have taken two.
Then she realizes that she didn't wake up on her own. It was a noise. Knocking, to be specific.
Cassie rolls over and attempts to ignore it. But the rapraprap persists, growing louder, so she rolls over with a groan and pulls one of Tony's shirts over her head.
She stumbles to the door, flinging it open in a way she hopes will make her anger evident.
And there he is, the boy who crossed an ocean to find her, standing at the door of the flat she shares with the boy who paid his plane fare.
"Sid, wow…" Her voice clogs up in her throat with the out of nowhere emotion. He's the last person she ever expected to see standing outside of her and Tony's flat. "What are you doing here?"
He shuffles his feet, looking down. Her heart clutches, aching with the memories of just how much she had loved Sid. Maybe some part of her still does, always will.
"I'll love you forever, Sid. That's the problem."
Isn't that what she'd said?
And now they've gone from 'I love you' to 'what are you doing here?' Pathetic.
Cassie remembers that Sid has always had a habit of sniffing before speaking. She doesn't know if its habit or a sinus issue perhaps, but it was one of the things she's loved about him from the beginning. He does it now, looking up at with his head slightly bowed and shrugs. "I wanted to see how you are."
"You… you knew I was here then?"
The idea that Sid could know she lives with Tony - that she's with Tony - makes her uneasy and panicky and the desire to run away sweeps over her with all the force of a tsunami.
His head shakes. The light catches on his glasses and distracts her for a millisecond. The twinkle takes her back in time, and the swell of affection in her heart is unlike anything she's ever felt, yet so similar to the way she feels when Tony laces their fingers together as he moves inside of her that her head spins.
"I came to see Tony the other day. The day you were taken to hospital."
She steps back to let him in. He walks past her, giving off that identical Sid smell he had over two years ago. Eyes sliding shut, Cassie feels the sting of tears rising up behind her eyes. She blinks them away as quick as she can.
"So…" His voice trails off as he stands in the middle of her living room, the dark earth tones of his clothes standing out starkly in contrast to the scarlet wall behind him. He's a streak of dirt on the life she's been living in Cardiff. "You're all right then?"
Her head bobs in reflex to the question. It's what she's been doing for years now. "Yeah, totally," she says. "I'm great."
"Then why did Tony rush out of here like a madman?"
She fidgets with the hem of the shirt she's wearing, which hangs down to the middle of her thighs. Cassie watches as his eyes follow the movement of her fingers, a small movement that sends heat coursing through her veins.
Cassie shakes herself out of her haze, Tony's face coming up before her eyes. "I'm fine, Sid. Honest."
He takes a step closer. Cassie tenses, all the muscles in her body coiling tight with anticipation. Any move he makes right now… no matter what it is, she wants to be prepared. "You're happy then?"
"Totally." That one at least isn't a lie. She thinks.
She watches Sid's face harden, his entire being taking on an accusatory undercurrent.
"He doesn't love you. He'll never love anyone." Sid mumbles.
Cassie thinks of Tony's fingers skittering feather light up her spine, the hot, possessive glittering of lust in his eyes, how he brings her coffee just the way she likes it, unprompted.
Something inside of her shuts down and wilts.
Anthea calls the last day of the term to tell Tony she's getting married. He spends most of the night and on into the next morning on the phone with Effy.
Cassie keeps her distance while he's on the phone. He hears her in the background, making coffee, getting ready for bed, brushing her teeth. They're routine sounds, but they feel like a tether to what his life is in actuality, a line to shore in the midst of the storm that is his sister's petulance.
After he hangs up Cassie wedges herself into the space between his back and the sofa. She wraps her arms around his waist and leans her cheek against the long line of his spine. Tony exhales. And Cassie never budges.
They had their first big row the night before. It was the first night that Cassie worked that he didn't go to the pub with her, begging off with a group study session for his Civics final. But then he had come home around dawn, the hint of strong, cheap perfume lingering on his skin beneath the smoke and sweat. It wasn't even the surprise that Tony could possibly cheat on her she says, but the fact that he didn't even care enough to hide it.
It was around the time that she threw his worn copy of The Prince at his head that the whole thing just sort of fell apart. They stood on opposite sides of the bed, eyes locked, breathing labored. They stayed that way for an indeterminable amount of time. It could have been just seconds, or it could've been forever, Tony's not sure. Something always short circuits in his brain when Cassie gets angry and glares at him with that fire in her eyes, something that sets off sparks down to his fingers and toes and ignites everything in his body. Especially the lower half of his body.
But judging by the flat out fury he saw in Cassie's dark, dark eyes he knew that there was not going to be any make up sex that time. Spinning on her heel, Cassie turned her back to him. With a sigh, Tony grabbed his bag and headed to his exam.
Now she leans into him silently and he can feel in his bones that she wants to help. He grabs one of her cigarettes and lights it, taking a long draw. His nerves go temporarily haywire, the nicotine buzz waking them up before the calm sets in. Tony's only a sporadic smoker at best these days. After going so long without it, his body reacts with just one puff. But the smell permeates the flat, lingers on the bedclothes from the excessive chain smoking Cassie does. It's easier now to handle directly. He honestly doubts he would have ever picked it up again if not for her. She claims to love the way smoke floats from his mouth, sexy and cinematic in dramatic swirls.
"Guess this means it's all finally over, my family." Half the cigarette is already gone. He stubs it in angry strokes on the side of an empty beer can. Ashes fall like snow on the table top. Tony stares at them, not even caring enough to wipe them away.
Cassie runs her hands up the inside of his shirt, resting one palm where his heart thumps. "What do you need?" Tony feels her lips moving against his skin through the fabric of his shirt. That same spark flickers to life, catches, and he shudders out a hard breath.
He turns as best he can, pulls her lips to his in desperation. They fumble for a bit on the sofa, trying to find a comfortable way to do this. Cassie pushes him onto his back, leaning over him with her knees on either side of his hips. She works at his belt buckle, lips on his neck, as Tony bunches her dress up until he can pull it over her head. She sits up once they're both naked and anchors herself with her hands on his chest. Tony groans, laying his head back and releasing a groan. Fuck. This is exactly what he needs; Cassie's churning hips against his own, thrusting and pushing all of his frustration into her.
Nietzsche wrote 'In revenge and love, woman is more barbaric than man.' But Tony knows, has always known, that's never been true where he's concerned.
Their rhythm is clumsy, the noisy, clanging drumming of a child who doesn't know how to play. Cassie moves erratically, her breathing forced, the way it always is when she's reigning in need to lash out and destroy. Tony pushes himself up, grunting at the change in angle. Cassie squirms, her jerky motion on temporary hold.
Gripping at her shoulders, Tony buries his face in Cassie's neck. He feels her fingers thread into his hair, tugging, panting. "Fuck, Cass."
"Tony." She kisses the side of his face, smoothes his damp hair back from his face. He raises his eyes to meet hers and there is a flicker of recognition, of relief, looking back at him and Tony feels his own crippling desolation sink back below the surface for the time being.
He falls back on the couch and lets the high flow in his blood. Cassie drapes herself over him, and he feels her skin sticking to his at every point of contact. Tony cups the back of her head, sighing so deeply his chest rumbles and Cassie giggles.
"There any spliff?" he asks.
Cassie props herself up on her elbows to look down at him. She stares into his eyes for a moment, so intent, like she's done a thousand other times.
Tony closes his eyes against her gaze. That look, it never fails to make him feel vulnerable and exposed, more naked metaphorically than he is physically. He still remembers who he used to be. Remembers how it felt to orchestrate his own amusements, sitting back and enjoying the fallout. He remembers how ridiculously self confident he was, how vain. How jaded.
In many ways, Cassie is even more cynical than he ever could have been. Yes, she is lighthearted and fun loving at first glance, but her scars run deep. Deeper than the pale, raised marks on her skin could ever show.
When he opens his eyes again, Cassie is frowning. He presses his thumb against the concave formed under her bottom lip. Cassie rolls her eyes and gets up to get the spliff from wherever it is she's put it this time. Tony lays there and tries to ignore how disappointed she looks.
Effy comes to stay with them when the wedding plans get to be too much for her.
Its not that Cassie minds having her there. Effy's not so bad. It's just the way that Effy watches everything that gets under Cassie's skin, those shockingly blue eyes, so like Tony's, never wavering as she inventories everything around her in eerie silence, that infuriating little Stonem smirk in place.
Effy is easily the most beautiful girl Cassie has ever seen. But that's to be expected. She is so much like Tony. They have the same narrow eyes, the same curved mouths, the same dark hair. And their hearts and minds, their souls, are equally as dark, twisted in a way that Cassie can sympathize with even if she can never fully understand. The two of them, they're a matched set.
Cassie wonders where that leaves her.
And where it leaves Freddie, who shows up on their doorstep a few days after Effy. He's polite and apologizes for just showing up with no notice. Tony hates him immediately.
As tall as Freddie is, Tony's taller still, and he stands when Freddie sits beside Effy on the couch, evoking all the big brother disapproval he can muster. Freddie looks appropriately nervous, Effy looks bored and lights another joint.
"Freddie seems nice, right?" Cassie remarks that night when they're laying in bed. She rolls onto her side and throws her leg over Tony's. He pats her thigh above the duvet. "Tony?"
His head angles to face her. One ambitious eyebrow arches high. "Ask me again when he's not in the other room trying to feel up my little sister without me hearing."
Cassie giggles and tucks her face into the side of his neck.
She wants to tell him not to worry, but it's pointless. Tony may talk of free morals and unrepressed sexuality better than any philosopher he's ever read, but when it comes to Effy, Tony will always worry. She is the mirror of him after all. It would be foolish not to fret. She learned the best of her bad habits from him. No one's ever done it better.
"Oh wow," she breathes between little puffs of laughter, "you're cute like this."
Tony snorts. "I am not cute."
"Yes. You are," Cassie insists. Shifting so that she's balanced herself on her knee, she heaves her body up and straddles his legs. "You're a very cute big brother."
He digs his hands into her sides until she shrieks. A thump comes from the living room, which only makes her laugh harder. "Looks like we interrupted their fun."
"Good." Tony pulls her down by her arms. Mouths meeting in a long, lazy kiss that makes her toes curl, Tony whispers, "Let's make our own fun."
The car ride to Bristol is quiet, despite the obnoxiously loud music Tony plays the entire way. Effy sits in the back, propped against Freddie's side, chain smoking the entire way and ignoring the barrage of phone calls and text messages that she keeps getting. Tony does a hands check in the mirror every few minutes. If Effy notices, she doesn't let on. Freddie does though. He shifts and flushes whenever he meets Tony's eyes in the glass.
Cassie pokes him in the thigh with his foot when Freddie clears his throat. He smirks, squeezing her calf. She closes her eyes and takes another drag of spliff.
Tony can feel his muscles tense walking up to the door to his childhood house. He hasn't been here for more than an hour in over a year, the first Christmas after he left, and that was awkward enough with their dad coming over for an hour for dinner and then leaving. Tony hadn't even been able to stomach staying the night. Now, knowing that there's some other man living in his house… his fists clench, fingers drawing inward in the same unnatural way they used to after his accident. Wrapping her fingers around his wrist, Cassie forces his tight digits loose and lace hers through them, squeezing.
The air in the house is manic the second they step foot inside. His grandmother is there, clucking over a large stack of papers at the kitchen table until she sees her grandchildren. Then she turns all of her fussing to them, smothering them with kisses and proclamations over how thin they both are. And when she finally releases Effy her eyes land on Cassie, partially hidden behind Tony's shoulder.
"And who is this then?"
"Tony's girlfriend," Effy states flatly, and disappears into the living room. He glares at her at over their grandmother's shoulder. She smirks and flips him off as she disappears from sight.
He knows how this is going to go. She did the exact same thing to Michelle one year. He moves to Cassie's side, giving her the space she'll demand otherwise. "This is Cassie."
She takes Cassie's face between her hands, pursing her lips as she studies her.
Tony thinks of all the times Cassie has done this to him. Hopefully he doesn't look quite so alarmed.
"Well now," she pronounces, "aren't you a pretty thing. And tiny." She looks over at Tony. "This one looks much sweeter than that last. And she doesn't keep yammering."
When she releases Cassie's face, Cassie teeters for just a second. Tony's been on the receiving end of his grandmother's death grip and knows how the force can offset your balance. She rights herself, spinning to him as the lists once more become the priority.
"Tony, I think we should go unpack."
Its not very subtle. But he obliges, picking up both their bags. Cassie can't see his face, but she knows him and must be positive that he's smirking (which he is) for she smacks his shoulder on their way up the stairs.
The biggest shock so far comes when he opens his bedroom door. All of his furniture is still there; his desk, his shelves, his bed. Only they're not his anymore. Everything in the room has been doused in Effy. She's everywhere.
"Oi, you took my room."
Effy is lounging on the bed, her head hanging off the end. She rises up to look at him in the doorway, the blood rush flushing her fair skin unnaturally. "You're just noticing now?"
The beginning of a headache is forming in his temples. All he wants is some spliff, a good fuck, and some sleep. "Where are Cassie and I supposed to sleep?"
Rolling her eyes, Effy returns her head to her previous position and picks up her phone from the floor. "Mum turned my old room into an office for Steve. There's a pullout sofa in there."
Tony grabs the baggie off the desk before he slams the door.
The wedding itself is a quick affair. The ceremony takes place in a little church less than ten minutes from the house. Anthea is too caught up in her own happiness to pay much attention to her children or to Cassie.
Freddie crashes in Effy's room that night. Neither the bride nor her mother notice. Tony does. And he takes every opportunity to glare at the younger boy.
Cassie still finds it cute that Tony is being so protective over Effy. With their family in tatters around them, he feels like it's his job. But then, it's always been Tony's job as Tony's the only one of them who's ever known the real Effy.
It takes Cassie a while to figure out just what it is about Freddie that Tony dislikes so much. When it finally hits her, she questions her drug and alcohol consumption over the years. Or she probably would have figured it out sooner.
Freddie, in many ways, reminds him of Michelle.
She thinks about how he stood in their flat, so well mannered and soft spoken. Thinks about the way he moves, with an inner insecurity similar to what Michelle had tried to keep at bay, even though it would eventually surface, at the worst moments. And he looks at Effy the same way Michelle looked at Tony for so long; utterly smitten, with those big puppy eyes, like she's the entire universe condensed into one tiny body. He's paralyzed by love, and doesn't even know it yet.
He sits beside Effy, the very picture of respectful attention in his dark suit. Effy looks as distant and ill tempered as Tony's been the entire day. Though Cassie suspects a lot of that is stemming from the fact that he'd had to walk his mother down the aisle.
At first, he flat out refused. But then Effy, shockingly, had talked him into it with the logic that Tony was gone, she was leaving for Leeds in a few week - what would it hurt to do this one thing to make their mother happy?
So he'd obliged, scowling the entire way.
The reception is boring. Really boring. Tony's relatives and Steve's friends are indifferent to the younger people sitting around sullenly. Jal has shown up, so has Michelle, and they sit on the other side of the table from Tony and Cassie with judgmental expressions on both their faces, a few of Tony's cousins between them. Effy is holding court at the next table over, a full table of loud, raucous teenagers swilling the champagne like water.
"So." Michelle glares daggers at Tony across the centerpiece. "You two then?"
Sid must have told her. Otherwise she would have asked sooner, instead of glaring.
"Michelle." Jal warns.
She ignores her, crossing her arms over the front of her low cut dress. "Wasn't it you who said that Sid and I were wrong together, Tony? How is this not wrong?"
The cousins look back and forth between the two sides of the table, back and forth, like spectators at a tennis match.
Tony smirks, leaning back in his seat with one arm resting on the back of Cassie's chair. "Sid still loved her."
Huffing, Michelle gets up and stalks towards the washrooms. And after glaring at Tony, Jal follows her.
"That went well," Cassie quips, and downs her entire glass of champagne.
Tony rolls his eyes. Letting out a long breath, his head drops back and to the side, his eyes raking up the length of Cassie's body. She can feel the difference in him without even having to look over at him and when his hand slides onto her knee she knows where this is going.
"Loo? Or shall we find a roomy cupboard somewhere?" He doesn't even bother to drop his voice.
Something in Cassie recoils. The entire trip he's been reverting back to his old self more and more. And she hates it.
"Why don't you go find one and wank." Her chair scraping the tiled floor like nails on a chalkboard, she stands and makes her way through the throng of pissed relatives to the bar.
"What can I do for you?" The bartender looks her up and down, lecherous grin forming on his broad face. Cassie forces herself not to cringe.
She sets down the empty flute she had brought from the table. "Got anything stronger?"
"Not a fan of weddings?"
"Not a fan of my boyfriend being a right proper pillock actually," she corrects, tearing one of the endless supply of cocktail napkins into four and then eight pieces.
A voice behind her makes her jump and all the paper falls onto the floor.
"He does do that quite a bit though."
Sid slides onto the stool beside her, looking a bit out of place in his blazer, which is the most hideous shade of orange corduroy Cassie has ever seen, and his hair every which way on his head.
Two glasses of vodka appear in front of them. Cassie empties hers in one gulp. Sid watches, then shakes his head before sipping his.
"So… some wedding, huh?"
"You were there?"
He ducks his head. "Um, no. Just, you know, saying."
"Right." She lifts her glass to request a refill. "Just making conversation."
They empty their glasses in unison.
"Where is Tony?" Sid asks, the few seconds of awkward silence too much for him to handle.
Cassie rolls her shoulders, and one thin strap of her dress slips down her shoulder. Sid reaches out, pure reflex, and pulls it back up. He seems to realize what he's done a second too late and he freezes, his palm warm and slightly sweaty on her shoulder, and his brown eyes unable to look away from hers.
Sid jerks away, smacking his hand against the arm of Tony's Uncle Walt on his other side.
It's one of the guys from Effy's table, the loudest of the bunch. He's all ready hit on her once, and then on Michelle, but he's twice as wasted as he had been so she doubts he remembers any of that.
"Fancy a dance?" he asks, eyes on her chest.
She glances at Sid, seeing an incredulous look on his face directed at the guy.
He sways closer. "Aw, don't be like that, yeah? It's all in good fun."
Some blonde girl, also from Effy's table, intercepts him just as his hand is about to fall on Cassie's shoulder, latching on to his shirt and dragging him away, rolling her eyes when he pulls her in the direction of the dance floor instead.
Beside her, Sid cracks up. One look at his face and Cassie does the same.
An hour into the reception and Tony's ready to go. Hell, he never even wanted to come at all, but had to. Now that Michelle is shooting him dirty looks across the table and some girl with long purplish hair from Effy's table has come on to him twice, pretty overtly, not to mention Cassie sitting at the bar with Sid having a grand old time, he is officially half past the worst mood ever.
"Don't they look cozy," Michelle remarks, the abundance of champagne she's had to drink making her smile more snide than he can ever remember seeing Michelle. Her eyes stay on Cassie and Sid at the bar as they sit and chat, both with tiny shy smiles on their faces.
Grunting, Tony stands up and stalks outside. He needs a cigarette.
He finds Effy standing behind the reception hall, taking long drags off a fat joint that smells too strong to be any good. Leaning against the brick wall, Tony takes it from her fingers and does a quick experimental puff. He was right. "I know you can find better shit than that."
She raises one shoulder. "One of the guys in the band gave it to me." Chuckling, Tony pulls out one of the clove cigarettes he's kept around for almost two years. Effy's nose wrinkles. "I could say the same to you, you know."
True. But he can do without the nicotine for the time being.
He throws it down after a few seconds, grounding it with his shoe. Feeling his sister's eyes on him, he looks at her, eyebrow quirked. "What?"
"You're a prat, you know that?"
"Why not," he says. He's been called worse.
Effy stubs her joint on the wall, and puts half of it back in her purse. "Even if Sid still loves Cassie, she doesn't love him."
Grimacing, he slouches and turns his head away. "Anyone ever tell you that getting in people's head shit isn't cool?"
She smiles. "Sid."
"She does still love him though," he says. "Sid. Cassie's always going to love him. I knew that."
"Then why bother?"
He shrugs, staring out over the darkening alleyway and the bricks glowing with the setting sun. "It wasn't supposed to be some big thing."
"It's Cassie, Tony. It was never not going to be a big thing."
She walks back into the reception, letting the door shut loudly behind her. Pulling out another clove, he exhales heavily. She's right. Tony knows she's right. There isn't anything worse that Tony could have done to Sid than to take up with Cassie, whether it was for one night or the year they've been together. No bigger breach of trust could exist between the two of them. Not even Michelle, they're both long over that. And having gone through that whole mess already, it just makes this that much worse.
He sits outside for a long time, until the sun is gone and the whole alleyway is obscured by the shadow of an overcast starless night. Tony thinks about Sid, about the two of them and how much he does actually love the little ponce. He loves him more than anyone else, except for Effy. And maybe Cassie. Stopping to really and truly consider what he feels for Cassie isn't something that Tony's done in all this time.
Honestly, it terrifies the fuck out of him.
Tony doesn't want to fall in love. Even with Cassie. As much as he has come to care about her, it would just be trouble. Cassie's fun, and free spirited and beautiful, and she accepts him exactly as he is. She was there before the bus; back when he was the biggest ass to ever walk, and afterwards, when he couldn't even dress himself. She not only knows it all, she fucking saw it. He's never going to find anyone else who knows him that way.
One night, back when they couldn't even leave their flat because it was snowing so hard that just stepping foot outside meant having their vision completely obscured, he was struggling to write a paper. He'd never had such a hard time on an essay before, and was so frustrated that his hands had started to draw up. After slamming his computer shut, he had tossed the nearest thing he could reach at the wall and was reaching for something else since he couldn't leave when Cassie had wandered out of the bedroom and stood in front of him, taking hold of his stiff hands and running her fingers over the backs of his palms until he relaxed.
That was the night he realized she had a sort of power over him. And he hated it. Hates it still.
They're on a very laid out path. The two of them can go on exactly as they are and they'll hit all the big point without thought; marriage, kids, the whole nine. No planning required. He knows it, can feel it. Why wreck things by stopping to think about it.
Looking down that road, he tries to imagine Cassie pregnant. It's hard. Cassie has always been rail thin - she's made sure of that. The idea of her with a massive belly… he just can't do it.
What he can imagine though, are children. Beautiful children with dark hair and dark eyes, her nose and his lips.
His stomach lurches.
But before he can think on it anymore, the door bangs open, and a few of Effy's friends spill out. The loud guy, Cook, who had helped Effy run away (his fists clench), is in the middle, pissed off his face, an annoyed looking blonde girl holding him up on one side, a guy with curly hair on the other.
"Oh, it's the brother," Cook says when he notices Tony. "Still in a strop?" He staggers a bit, and the other two sway trying to keep the collective balance.
More irritated than angry, Tony shakes his head. "You can thank my sister for that."
Cook grins, his mouth opening. The girl slaps a hand over his mouth, muffling whatever he says. She makes a face and pulls her hand away, wiping it on the side of her dress. "Tosser."
He smirks at her, then at Tony. "You know some specky little bloke is in there chattin' up your girl?" Cook tries to stand straighter, sending him and the other guy crashing into the wall.
Tony levels a hard look on him. "Didn't you try to chat her up?"
Without an ounce of remorse, he nods. "S'what I do. That why you're out here all by your lonesome?"
"Cook." The girl is obviously getting more annoyed by the second, a pinched look on her face. Tony wonders what this guy ever did that would warrant her helping him home drunk.
He gives her a 'What?' look and turns back to Tony. "Way I see it mate, I think you find someone who doesn't make you miserable and give it a go. Somebody moves in, you fight."
All three of their faces turn dark, and Tony knows that he's way out of the loop because their eyes are averting from each other. Meaning it's the same thing making them all show their years.
"All right, time to go home." Pulling Cook by his collar, they manage to get back into their previous formation and start off down the alley. Before they disappear from sight, he hears Cook laugh manically. "Planning to take advantage of me in my fragile state, love?"
"JJ, we're stopping by the harbor."
The crowd starts thinning out, and before Cassie knows it, an hour has passed while she and Sid have sat at the bar, talking about her time in the States and his various jobs and the past. Tony never comes up, neither does Michelle. Or Chris.
Cassie thinks it may be the best conversation they've ever had, even with all the stuff they're avoiding.
Over Sid's shoulder, she watches Effy stand up from her seat, leaving Freddie mid sentence, and head in their direction. She reaches them quickly, and without a word grabs Sid's wrist, pulling him off his seat and towards the dance floor. The band is massacring some sappy eighties ballad, and Sid tosses a confused look over at Cassie as Effy positions his hands on her waist, turning them so he's facing away from the bar.
Tony takes Sid's empty seat and now she gets it.
"I didn't cheat on you," he tells her, making her recoil a fraction. That night before my exam. We really did have a study group and one of the guys broke out some stuff to help us unwind… and then there was music… and then some girls. But nothing happened. I danced with someone, I don't even know her."
Her chest warms. She smiles, taking Tony's large hand and wrapping her fingers in his. "It doesn't matter, Tony."
"Yes it does."
"Why?" She sees Michelle staring at them, not even trying to hide it.
He pauses, and her stomach drops. Tony looks down and takes a deep breath. When those blue, blue eyes of his look into hers, she can see he's actually being sincere before he even speaks. "Because you love Sid."
Every single fiber in her heart snaps, breaking like the strings on a cheap guitar. "Not like I did."
Tony nods, resigned. "I know, but… Sid's my best friend, Cass. I can't… I won't hurt him. Not if this isn't real. He doesn't deserve it."
She has to look away. Hot tears swell up behind her eyes. It's ironic almost, that they're doing this now, at a wedding, with Sid and Michelle and even Jal in the same room.
"I know its probably too little, too late," Tony goes on, "but I don't think I really got it until now. You know?"
"Yeah." She tightens her grip on Tony's fingers, feeling the entire life she's built for herself slipping away. She wants to hold on to it as long as possible, but knows she can't. Because Tony is letting go. "It's over, isn't it?"
"Do you think I love you?" he asks, his gorgeous face more serious than Cassie has ever, ever, seen him. The question may seem hopelessly random, but they both know better.
So she's honest. "In your way."
"What does that mean?"
Thinking of the night they got totally wrecked on cheap wine coolers and Tony had drawn a tiny heart on her hip with a permanent marker that hadn't washed off for a week, her lips curve up. "I think you love me as much as you're capable."
Tony laughs. "That's… harsh."
"Do you think you love me?" Her voice quivers, just a little, at the end.
"In my way." Pushing a swath of her hair off her neck, Tony's finger slides down the length of the thread thin chain around her neck, stopping to wrap around the tiny heart that dangles in the hollow of her throat. So beautiful, so delicate. "I kind of figured Effy was right you know." Shrugging noncommittally, he takes a cigarette from her pack lying on the bar, turns it over and over between his fingers. "I thought we'd get married, eventually. What do you think our life would have been like?"
Cassie doesn't even need to think about it. "You'd finish school and get some posh job. We'd get married, our families would have big dramatic strops along the way. Then we'd buy a house and Effy would bring her boyfriends along for holidays." She can see it all in her head, the perfect sham of perfect happiness.
Lips pursed, Tony ponders that for several seconds. "It sounds terribly boring, doesn't it?"
"Terribly." She grins at him so big her cheeks hurt.
"Think we'd be happy?"
Now it's not just her cheeks that hurt. "I think… we would think we were happy." Pulling her fingers loose, Cassie stands and gathers up her bag and wrap. "Take care of yourself, Tony." Leaning over, she presses a soft kiss to his cheek, breathing him in one last time before turning her back.
She walks away. Past Sid and Effy, both of them looking anywhere but at her. And she doesn't cry until she gets on the bus.
Not even thirty seconds pass after Cassie gets up before Michelle takes her seat.
"This musical chairs then?" he quips. Its a good metaphor for the four of them he figures.
"You're an idiot." Well. Tony's always liked Michelle's bluntness after all.
He signals for a drink. "I'm fine, thanks. And yourself?"
"Cut the sarcastic shit, Tony. We're all a little too old for that, don't you think?"
Tony frowns. "I know you didn't come over here just to critique my vocabulary."
Michelle takes the glass set in front of him and drinks the contents down. "Actually, I did."
"In what way?"
"For starters," she says, and a headache sets up behind his temple, "as vast as it is, the word 'stay' doesn't seem to be in it."
Oh. Of course. "This is about Cassie."
Michelle lays her hand over his on his knee. "Tony, you love her."
"Yeah, I do," he tells her. Shockingly, it had taken Cook's words, of all people, for him to finally accept that he does love Cassie. He never wanted it, but that's the way life works. His eyes meet Michelle's. At one time, he had loved this girl more than anything. So he tried to downplay it. And he lost her. "Does that bother you?"
Wiping away a tear, Michelle shrugs. "Cassie, out of all the girls in the world, has you in a way I never did. I'm not going to deny that it stings a bit. For obvious reasons."
They both look at Sid, who is now sitting between Effy and Freddie at their table, looking confused. With a shake of his head, Tony stands, ready to put this evening to a close. "In case you didn't notice it, Michelle, Cassie no longer has me. And it was her choice, don't forget that bit."
Michelle snorts. "Convenient." She stands in front of him, blocking his way. "I've known you for a long time, Tony. I loved you for most of it." Something in his chest aches. "And I've never seen you look at anyone the way you looked at Cassie when you saw her with Sid tonight. You have to fight for her."
"You can't fight for someone who won't fight with you."
"If this is about Sid, don't worry. He may not be your biggest fan right now, but he'll get over it. He wants you both to be happy." She places her hand on his shoulder and pushes him in the direction of the door. "Go."
He thinks about it. He weighs his options.
Tony can stay exactly where he is. And he'll keep his best friend, his brother, by showing him that he's the one Tony's choosing. He can be a better friend than he's been in a year.
And he'll lose Cassie. For good.
Or he can go after the first girl that he actually feels knows him… and possibly cost himself the best friend he's ever had.
Looking over at Sid, Tony's head begins to spin. Then he stuffs his hands in the pockets of his jacket and his fingers close around a tube of lipstick that Cassie hadn't been able to fit in her ridiculously small bag. The dizziness increases as he thinks about lying in bed with Cassie, him reading his Lit assignment of the week, one hand laying on her legs tossed across his stomach.
He doesn't want to chose, but he will if he has to.
Walking slowly down the center of the train, Cassie sat in the first unoccupied aisle seat she could find, laying her stuff in the seat beside it in hopes that no one would ask to join her. Her fingers wrap tight around the heart pendant at her throat.
The look on Tony's face when he had asked her if she thought he loved her… Cassie has known Tony for years, and not even when he was still recovering from his accident has she ever seen him look as uncertain as he did in that moment.
Leaning her head back against the seat, Cassie exhales heavily, her chest tight and aching.
Tony loves her.
Tony. Tony Stonem, he loves her.
She never thought it would happen, but now… she's sure of it. Feels it in a way she can't pinpoint. She doubts she would ever be able to describe the way she just knew, when Tony let her go, but she did. Cassie saw how much Tony loves her.
He just loves Sid more.
Cassie had meant it when she said she didn't love Sid the same way anymore. She did still love him, always would, because he was the first person who looked past her illness and just wanted to be with her. He's special to her.
Could they get back to where they were when she left…? Maybe, if they wanted it bad enough, they could get close. It could never be exactly the same. She left. She left without a word and never came back.
Whom she loves so much it hurts down to her bones.
The two of them, they never had what they could have because they were never alone in their relationship. Even hidden away in Cardiff, they've never been completely alone. Michelle was there, Chris was there. And Sid was there, looming larger than any ghost has the right to. They never knew.
Now they never will. A tear slips out of the corner of her eye before she can stop it.
Just as they're about to pull out, the door to the train car opens, and Tony stalks in, still in his wedding attire and a determined look on his face. He calls out her name, scanning the passengers until his eyes land on her.
He gets stopped halfway to her seat, the uniformed conductor blocking his path. "Ticket?"
Eyes darting to her, Tony tries to step around him. "I just need five minutes-"
"Ticket," he repeats.
Shoulders slumping, Tony sighs. "I don't have one, all right?"
The conductor attempts to back Tony out of the car. "Off you go then."
Not only is Tony a good three or four inches taller than the conductor, he's also at least thirty years younger. It would be no problem for him to get around the man if he really wanted to. Instead, he latches onto the seats on either side of him and manages to halt his removal.
"Look," Tony holds up his hands. "I'm not trying to stow away or anything." Cassie can tell he wants to laugh as he says 'stow away' but restrains himself. "It's just-" Eyes flicking down, Tony licks his lips, scrubs his hand over his mouth. "You married?"
The older man stiffens visibly. "My wife passed."
"You love her?"
Voice cold and biting, he responds, "More than anything."
Tony's head bobs. "And you'd give anything to have her back, right?"
"Of course." The conductor's voice grows softer now than its been during the entire conversation.
Pointing a finger at Cassie, Tony and the conductor (and several other nearby passengers) look at her. "See that girl?" Her heart thuds hard against her ribs when Tony's blue eyes lock onto hers, never wavering as he speaks. "I love her. And this may be the only chance I have to keep from losing her." He looks back at the other man. "I just need five minutes."
He glances back over at Cassie again. "Take ten." He walks on, speaking into the mic on his shoulder.
Going on one knee on the floor by her seat, Tony plants his hands firmly on the armrests, effectively trapping her in place. "Cass," he looks up, seeing the woman behind her staring at them with blatant interest. He frowns, and takes Cassie's hand to lead her away from her seat. She grabs her things in her other hand.
Tony opens the door to the lavatory and pulls her in, locking it behind them.
"How'd you know where to find me?" she asks.
He gives her that smirk of his, moving in closer. "It was leaving before the rest."
Cassie laughs. He's right.
Moving them so that she's standing in front of the small sink, Tony wraps his hands around her shoulders. "Cass, I know why you left."
She slides one hand over his, feeling the familiar warmth of his skin seeping into hers. "You were letting go."
"But I'm not anymore." They're already so close, but he takes a further step until she has to tilt her head all the way back to look up at him. "I didn't think that you and me and Sid…" He shakes his head. "Doesn't matter. I told him I was coming to get you. That I love you. And that I wasn't going to let him go either."
It's hard to speak with her heart in her throat, and her words come out heavy and grating. "What did he say?"
A small smile tugs at the edges of Tony's mouth. "He said okay."
Laughing, Cassie lets her head fall land Tony's chest. She can feel the rapid pulsating of his heart against her skin. Feeling his fingertips digging, she knows that he's fighting the inevitable muscle contractions that hit him when things start to go out of control. Holding her breath, she waits.
"It doesn't matter if you love Sid," Tony whispers. "I don't want this to be over."
Locking her arms around his waist, Cassie burrows into him, breathing in that Tony scent that makes everything seem better. "I love you."
The muscles in his back stiffen, so she holds on tighter. She wants him to believe her.
She needs him to believe her.
"I'm always going to love Sid," Tony's breathing accelerates, "just like you're always going to love Michelle." She raises her head up to look into those eyes. "It's over for me. I love you."
Shuddering out a harsh breath, Tony grips her arms and pulls her up on her toes, pressing her close with one hand on the small of her back. She leans her forehead against his, and he shuts his eyes, leaning into her embrace. Cassie strokes the curves of his ears, runs her nails through the short hairs at the back of his neck, mapping him out with her fingers.
One large, somewhat rough hand slides against her skin between the straps of her dress, grasping and clutching in a way that makes him seem unlike himself. Her body trembles against his in anticipation.
"Where's this train going anyways?" he mumbles.
"Gooleness," Cassie answers, fingers working on the buttons of his shirt, "I think."
Hands pulling her face up to his, Tony smirks against her mouth. "Fancying a bit of sea air?"
She presses her lips against his, once, twice. Giggles as he takes hold of her waist and lifts her up onto the edge of the tiny sink. Tony stands between her knees, chest pressed to hers, and peels the straps of her dress down her shoulders. She tries to push his jacket off at the same time, and they get tangled when their elbows knock together. Tony rolls his eyes and laughs, stepping back to pull his arms free of his blazer and his shirt. Grinning at her in that way that makes her whole body catch fire, he steps back into her, arms once more working at getting her out of her dress.
A loud knock on the door cuts the moment. "Sir," a voice calls, "I'm sorry, but your ten minutes are up."
Tony pulls his wallet out and grabs a few notes. He opens the door just enough for his arm to fit through. "This should cover it, yeah?" he says, sliding the door shut again and locking it.
Cassie's laughing so hard when he kisses her that she loses her breath and he has to pull away until she stops.
"Oh wow," she gasps. "You're an ass, you know that?"
Tony grins. "Yeah, I know." His lips fall on hers, soft, and linger for a few seconds. "And you're my girl, you know that, right?"
She nods. "I know."
The book Cassie's reading in the motel is The Waves by Virginia Woolfe. Amazing, go read it.