Author's Note: Takes place post-Revolution. Possibly more melodramatic then I'd hoped for, but I finally got tired of tweaking it and I didn't want to force anything else at the end. Johnny X Cilla.
Day of Reckoning
He clamors over the dilapidated old fence, stumbling once on the broken bottom rail and nearly pitching headlong into the tall grass.
He is weary to the marrow of his bones; he feels ancient though he is but four-and-twenty.
He is no longer a boy; no longer the headstrong, hot-tempered, stubborn child he was prior to the Battle of Lexington. He smiles bitterly at such a memory, for he knows now that the skirmish which launched the war for independence was the crucial moment between his childhood and manhood.
The years intervening then and now have hardened him further. Though he wears no insignia upon his clothing, he left the Continental Army a Captain, having had every chance to move up quickly in the ranks because the same headstrong attitude that pushed him to defy British soldiers occupying Boston, also pushed him in the heat of battle. The blood of men stains his hands and, though he hates it, he would do it again because he still hears Otis's words whispering softly in his head whenever the silence of night threatens to suffocate him, and because he can never forget the chills that skated across his skin when Rab pressed that gun into his hands, urging him onward in his place.
A thousand images crowd his mind: the bitter winter at Valley Forge when he thought he might finally just give up and die because everything seemed utterly hopeless during those dark months. The fraction of the second that he paused on Bunker Hill to stare in horror as Warren fell dead before his eyes, and then fleeing with the rest of the rebels because he knew it was impossible to retrieve the body lest he himself be killed. How he stopped on the fringe of forest to quickly fire one last shot; watching a redcoat fall as a result of a true mark and feeling the wave of vindictive revenge; glad the doctor had freed his thumb from his palm so that he could pull the trigger. The thrill of terror he experienced when he stopped one evening on his trudging path home, and wondered how many men he had killed for independence and freedom. Hacking open wooden chests of tea to dump them into Boston Harbor when he was fifteen years of age, smirking when Dove was thrown overboard for trying to smuggle tea out in his breeches. Watching the trickle of blood slide down from Rab's lip to his chin as his face grew paler every second. Asking Paul Revere about a beautiful angel's dimensions and how best to work them into gleaming silver for Mr. Hancock. Feeling Warren's knife slice into the thick scar tissue between his thumb and palm, and welcoming the sharp, physical pain because it was a distraction from the awfulness of losing the only true friend he'd ever had.
He blinks back a couple of stray tears, and thinks that, were he fifteen again, he would hate himself for crying. Now, it doesn't matter quite as much. Maybethat is what makes one a real man – the ability to cry, rather than fierce desperation and determination not to cry.
He inhales deeply to calm himself and moves forward, one foot in front of the other, across the open pasture towards a small grove of hemlocks and fir trees surrounding a smaller, fenced-in area full of stone markers.
He stops before them with slumped shoulders, but after a long, quiet moment, he steps through the markers until he finds the one he has specifically sought. He drops to his knees before it, and reaches forward to brush his fingertips across the words engraved in the hard, rough surface of stone.
"Nearly home." He sighs, almost petulantly, revealing that he is still Johnny. Then, feeling a wave of sudden fatigue, he whispers, "God help me; I'm so exhausted, Rab. I once slept on my mother's grave, and I could almost do it again now, on yours."
The trees whisper above him, and he believes for a brief moment that he can almost hear his old friend. He can almost see the dark eyes in the tanned, calm face, glittering at him with amusement and wisdom and slight derision.
Of course you're exhausted. I'm not surprised.
He smiles weakly. "Still have the gun." Instinctively, his fingers tighten around the barrel, close to the stock. He'd damned well like to see someone try to take it from him.
You ought to, after what I went through to get it.
He chuckles, and then his smile fades. "I feel as though... As though I don't belong anywhere, anymore." He glances about him. The murmuring in the trees disappears and the wind ceases. He suddenly feels oddly eerie; the hair on the back of his neck prickles unpleasantly. He looks about at the other graves, and he rises to his feet abruptly. He thought he wanted to come here, but now he wants to leave. He is tired of Death. And though he would never admit it, he's still a fraction afraid of Death.
He doesn't stop at the old farmhouse to pay his respects on his way out, and avoids being seen by slipping through the woods towards Boston. He can return in a couple of weeks to find Grandfather Silsbee or the others. When he feels more like himself again, if such a thing is possible.
She gazes down upon the city of Boston as she leans against one of the towering columns on the wide front porch of the former Lyte Mansion.
Boston. The city that first stood against tyranny, the city that sparked a revolution against the Crown. Her city.
The meandering, cobblestone streets are still the same, the church bells still ring within their steeples on Sunday mornings, and the wharf still smells of salt and fish and tar. When she ventures into town with Aunt Jennifer, old haunts creep up upon her and she cannot fortify her mind against the waves of memories that flood her conscious. The well that Johnny rarely met her at, a shop that once sold cherished limes, the smell of printing ink, and once in a blue moon, the sharp, stinging scent molten metal.
The years since her girlhood have been hard ones, as she and the Lorne family and old Bessie struggled to obtain food and necessities during the war. She has grown taller, though still quite slender and sometimes wan. She works too hard, Aunt Jennifer claims. She sews and mends clothes, washes dishes and cooks meals, cleans the Lyte mansion from the attics to the cellars, and helps Rabbit with his schooling when Uncle Lorne is too busy printing. She's even melted down metal to cast bullets, met soldiers in secret places to pass along the items they need to keep fighting. She's stood as part of the resistance. She's rarely seen her mother or sisters the past few years, because their family moved in two different directions when the war finally erupted around them, but once in a while she visits her ma to make certain she's getting on well enough, or to see if the lady has received a letter regarding Ishannah (which she never has).
"Heavens above, Miss Cilla! T'won't do to daydream all day! " Bessie's voice breaks her thoughts as it always does, and Cilla Lapham turns with a sigh and smiles at the woman. To be honest, she's rather grateful for the interruption. She doesn't want to rest. Resting means that her thoughts are free to wander, to drift to think about what she may have lost because of this war. Not her mother or sisters, for Bessie and Aunt Jennifer and Uncle Lorne are more of a family to her than her own family ever was, it seems at times.
No, what she doesn't want to think about is that one person in her new "family" may not come home to her.
Or, worse, if he does, that he may not want her anymore.
He makes his way through Boston Neck unnoticed, because people are coming and going and life is almost normal here. Not quite – because the war just ended and the new United States of America is still recovering – but almost. He wanders into the city he once knew as well as himself, but which now looks strange and foreign. He barely recognizes streets and lanes and houses and so he walks slowly, trying to absorb everything. He nearly bumps into several people before a stout woman swings her hand up, coming close to boxing him about the ears while angrily telling him to pay attention, lest he receive a hard knock for it. He apologizes sincerely for his inattentiveness. She then sees the rifle and his worn satchel and her demeanor changes immediately – but before she can apologize to him and thank him for the services he's rendered to their new country, he's moved on down the street, pulling his hat down over his eyes in a fashion that Mrs. Lapham once detested.
He doesn't quite realize where his footsteps lead him, down the old street he once knew so well as a lad. In fact, it isn't until he passes the Lapham shop and glimpses Mr. Tweedie, hard at work on something or other (probably nothing more then a mere belt buckle or spur, he thinks distantly), that he remembers where he is. He lingers a fraction too long; the smell of hot silver strikes his nostrils and his hand twitches at his side as he recalls the way burning liquid once coated it. Mrs. Lapham – no, Mrs. Tweedie now, he reminds himself – steps out to shake a dishrag clean and notices him. She pauses, her expression confused as she meets his hollow eyes, as she takes in his tattered attire and the rifle and the satchel about his shoulders, but he quickly diverts his gaze and hurries on before she can call him back. He hears her voice through a sea of other voices, calling his name out hopefully, but he ignores it; he is not certain he can face her yet.
Within minutes, he finds himself upon the wharves, the fresh, salty tang of sea air taking away the stuffy scent of liquid metal.
Despite the war, the docks are bustling; sailors move about their work efficiently and take no notice of a lonely militiaman. After he realizes he has been standing idly for a good ten minutes, he rouses himself and moves on. It won't do to stay here, nor will it do any good to visit his mother's grave or wander through the rows of counting houses.
And again, without realizing it, he finds himself standing in front of another shop instead, gazing at it almost longingly, before he slowly enters. This shop, however, he doesn't mind entering. The owner is more kindred to him then other people are. The owner fought beside him for Freedom. The owner remembers what the price for such was, too.
The shop smells of all things he remembers as a youth that weren't silver – leather and polish and metal and lamp oil. He inhales deeply, and for the first time since he crossed the Neck, he feels as though he is home. He meanders a few steps down a row of shelves, looking at barrels of nuts and bolts and tools hanging about, and lanterns and pots and pans for sale, before a young clerk interrupts his reverie.
"May I help you, sir?"
God help him – sir? Is he really that old? He didn't mind the men serving beneath his command calling him sir, but he dislikes hearing it now. Still, he keeps his temper in check. He learned years ago to control it. Rab would be proud, he thinks wryly. Maybe.
He asks, "Is Mr. Revere available?"
"He's out the back. If you don't mind waiting a moment sir, I'll fetch him."
He doesn't mind waiting. He has all the time in the world now, and he is no longer impatient, either. But Paul Revere doesn't keep him waiting, and the man appears a few moments later, wiping his dirty hands on a heavy leather apron. When he sees his guest, his eyes light up and he hurries through his store, crying out, "John! Johnny Tremain! Good God, it's been too long! How in heaven are you?"
He smiles wanly and clasps hands with the older man. "It has been too long, hasn't it? I am glad to see you in business again, though a part of me was hoping it might be silverwork." He glances about again, realizing suddenly just how much he did wish Paul Revere were back at his old trade, because it might mean that he would considering taking on a man who was once the boy destined to become the most incredible silversmith in Boston. It might mean that he would have a chance at a trade again, a chance to make something of himself. With his thumb free, he would be able to master the art and become what he was once meant to be.
But as soon as he thinks it, he knows very well that that life was a past life, and is nothing more than memory now. He was never destined to be a silversmith, and never will be. He was meant to fight a war. A war that is now over...
Paul is too glad to see him to notice the way his eyes have changed at the memory, and chuckles good-naturedly, "Not much use for silver these days, is there? And even if there were, what would you remember of it, Johnny?"
At this thought, he laughs – the first time he has done so in years. "Not much, I fear!"
Shrewdly, the older man muses, "So say you – but I have a feeling you would remember quite a bit if you were to walk into a silver shop. I would wager you could pick up the tools again and craft something on the spot without even realizing it. Maybe something small, like a spoon, but you would remember! It almost makes me wish I were in trade again, just to apprentice you. Lord! Back then, every silversmith in Boston wanted Johnny Tremain! To think if I were in such trade again, that I could have you, now!" He laughs, amused at what would have been his luck.
"No, you are right – there is little use for silver these days, so it doesn't really matter if I remembered it or not."
Uninvited but not unwelcome, Paul takes his hand, twisting it over to see the palm. His smile deepens in his eyes and he murmurs, "I heard tale that you didn't make a sound when Joseph cut through the scar tissue, here." He traces the puckered line on the calloused palm. "He was exceptionally proud of you, that day. He always spoke very highly of you, John. Very highly indeed."
"And I always thought very highly of Doctor Warren." He pauses, and then says quietly, "To tell the truth...it didn't hurt when he cut into it. I couldn't feel anything, that morning. It was as though I was completely detached from myself. It was as though I watched the entire procedure from someone else's eyes and body."
Paul's eyes cloud. "You were at Bunker as well, weren't you?"
Something sticks in his throat. "I was."
"Some of us went back," Paul explains softly, still gazing at the once-disfigured hand. "We exhumed the body and buried it properly. I was able to identify his teeth – I had done some work for him before."
The words sear into his soul; the feeling is both good and painful. He stammers, "I am glad of it. That... that moment... God, but I can't tell you how I felt then. It was as though the world had fallen away and nothing could be repaired. It felt as though we would never win the war, as though all of the fighting was meaningless."
"I know." Then, as if to push the thick, terrible memories of a long, hard revolution away, he says abruptly, "It is good to see you again! I had wondered what happened to you – if you survived. You'll stay for supper, won't you? Rachel would love to have you, she –"
He interrupts, apologetically. "Thank you, but not today, Mr. Revere. I... I should... I just returned, you see, but thirty minutes ago. I need to check on the Lyte place. I suppose I got caught up in walking around the town, remembering the past, but I really do need to... to check on it. It's rightfully my responsibility." His voice trails off, and Paul nods solemnly.
"It's still there, Johnny. Bit run down, but still standing. The British were under strict instructions to leave it be, and surprisingly enough, they did. And of course, the militia would never dare touch it; they knew the Lornes were there. Cilla's been watching it closely with them."
His mouth goes dry and he tries to think clearly, but a whirlwind of panic rises in him. "Oh. I..."
Paul's eyebrows rise. "You know she's unmarried, John?"
"Is she?" The panic seems to die down a bit, he breathes more easily. "I wrote to her. Every week if I could. I know it's of little consequence, just receiving letters, but I felt I should. It always seemed I could see Rab's expressions in the back of my mind – never saying anything, but always watching me. Isn't that just like him? As though he wanted to tell me what a selfish, inconsiderate child I was for neglecting her back then."
"He was a good man, Rab was. I miss him, as much as I missed you."
He sighs heavily and looks about him at all the normal things any colonial household would need. He can't think of what he could take to her, as a gift. All of these things are ordinary, necessary. There is nothing special here, because right now, Boston doesn't need fancy playthings like ornate silver teapots or jewelry or silk fabric. It just needs... normalcy.
Paul seems to read his mind. "She doesn't need anything, John. She stops in here regularly with Mrs. Lorne, and purchases what she needs. She makes a bit of money mending clothes and such. She'll be grateful to have you home alive, without any fancy presents. Stop by next week and have supper with us, both of you. Rachel would flay me alive if she found out I let you leave without giving her the chance to feed you. And if there's anything else I can do, let me know. I've got a few business ideas I'm working on. I'll contact you as soon as I get them straight in my mind. I was once willing to give the best silver apprentice in Boston a place in my shop. Nothing has changed since then, John. I would still hire you on if you wished, if you needed work."
It is more than he would dare ask for, and he sincerely says, "Thank you, sir. I do appreciate it."
Paul claps his shoulder and clasps his hand again, and before he knows it, he is walking through Boston once more, with only one destination in mind.
How many times has she leaned against the fence posts of the pasture closest to the house, watching that untamed horse frolic in the wind and grass? She smiles without knowing it and holds her open hand out; the demon pauses in his play as he catches the scent of a fresh apple upon her palm. He quickly canters to the fence and takes it, watching her carefully all the while. He likes her – she's one of the few people that can hold her hand out to him and not have it bitten off. It makes her feel rather special, actually.
"When I can I ride him, Miss Cilla?" asks the whining voice at her side.
The answer is always the same. Without any sort of gumption, she shrugs and gazes across the pasture, and says, "Never, Rabbit. You know that, so do stop asking all of the time."
"But why not? I'm bigger, now!"
"You know why not. Because Goblin isn't yours and never will be, for that matter."
"Father said he was once cousin's!"
"Yes, and Rab gave him to Johnny, so he still isn't yours." She takes his hand and turns away from the pasture to walk back to the house. "Besides, he's far too wild and always has been. You couldn't hold on if you tried, and you'd get hurt falling off. Then what on earth would I tell your mother and father?"
"But you said Johnny could ride him."
Her lips curve in a smile as she remembers Johnny and Goblin delivering papers. They were a right fine pair, well matched because they were both somismatched. Because they had both seen the hard edge of life and needed each other to keep going.
"Johnny rode him like the devil could ride a hurricane and not get wet," she says proudly.
"Oh, honestly! I've told you hundreds of times. Aren't you tired of hearing the same stories?"
"No. Tell me again?" He tugs at her hand.
Her eyebrow lifts. "Please?" she reminds him.
He huffs. "Please."
"Very well. Once, Johnny rode out onto the common with Goblin. A slew of British redcoats tried to take Goblin to use as one of their horses, and they planned to whip Johnny just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One sergeant took hold of Goblin's bridle and the soldiers closed in around the horse, and Johnny did the only thing he could think to do. He used a penknife to cut the bridle clean off of Goblin's head."
"Then what happened?" His voice is eager and hopeful.
"Why, Goblin took out like the Lucifer himself, tearing through columns of British soldiers and knocking them every which way!"
"Johnny hung on for dear life, that's what. Goblin went through Boston so fast that no one could even see him. He finally slowed down here, at the Lyte Mansion, and Johnny was able to get off and catch his breath."
"But why did Goblin come here?"
"Because he wanted an apple after being scared to death by those horrible soldiers. And suffice to say, he got it. Goblin once had a hard life and he deserves some peace and quiet. Now, enough." She gently prods him through the open kitchen door. "Inside. You've got lessons, Rabbit."
The boy's shoulders slump. "Yes, ma'am."
She watches him trudge to the table and pick up his slate again. Miss Bessie, always in her kingdom, glances at her curiously. Cilla smiles back at her mischievously, and the lady shakes her head and returns to her cooking. Muttering under her breath, she says, "Only the devil could ride a demon, you knows. And the Good Lord never meant a pretty young lady to fall for no devil, Cilla."
"Well, it just means you'll have to confess your sin when you see Saint Peter at the gates," Cilla muses, turning to go back into the yard. "But don't you worry. I'm sure he'll forgive you, Miss Bessie."
She hears Miss Bessie's bark of laughter from the huge fireplace. "Heaven help me! I supposes I will, won't I? Lawd, but he was a handsome lad, in a moody sort o' way! I'll bet he's even handsomer, now he's a man!"
Cilla feels her stomach flutter.
She would bet he is, too. She'd bet all the limes in Boston.
For some reason, he doesn't remember the mansion looking quite so big. Tall and stately, yet run down and in need of repairs, it draws him like a beacon through the pastures and orchards. He wonders if Lavinia ever had the papers transferred into his name, or if it even matters. He supposes he'll need to contact her in the next couple of weeks to verify that. It would be just like wealthy old Jonathon Lyte to return to Boston, demanding his property back from his great-nephew. If the man's still alive, that is. But he wouldn't put it past him at all if he were.
He doesn't pay much attention to the state of the fences he climbs over because, much like those at the Silsbee farm, they are collapsing upon themselves for lack of care. No one has had the time to repair fences during the war. But he does notice, as he crosses the last fence into a pasture closest to the house, that it is in much better shape then the previous ones. He gazes down the line of neat rails, curious and thoughtful as to why it would be so different, when he suddenly hears a light whicker behind him.
Turning, his face lights up for the first time in years, and he drops his satchel with what few belongings he owns, and the rifle Rab gave him eight years ago, and runs forward.
Goblin shies away for a brief moment at the sudden movement, then dances in a strange sidestep back to him, ears flickering and eyes watching closely, body twitching in that way that one could never quite decipher. Was it like sunlight upon water, or autumn leaves in the wind? Perhaps it never mattered, but God! How he's missed watching Goblin play.
At last, the horse allows his master near enough to rub his neck, though he almost pulls away once. But as the hand moves in firm strokes down the nap, Goblin becomes docile, blowing against the young man's neck in long, damp puffs as he recognizes the touch and scent of his old rider.
He murmurs to the horse in a long, unbroken string of affectionate words, while taking in everything about the creature that he had forgotten. There is still the wild roll of those strange, crystal blue eyes, the rippling strength of muscle beneath skin, the swishing tail, the nervous pawing, the splotched coat, the silky mane. He whispers that he would bet the whole of the Lyte property that the horse still panics at dry leaves and old papers dancing up the cobblestone streets of Boston; the horse tosses his head regally as if to respond that yes, of course he still does all of these things, because he wouldn't be Goblin if he didn't.
"Hi up, there! Get away from him; he'll take your head off! He doesn't like strangers!"
Startled, he and Goblin turn their heads together, and he fights the urge to laugh. Because Goblin very well may take his head off, but not nearly as fast as he would take someone else's head off. Small blessings, to be sure – but better then none.
The man who spoke is hurrying across the pasture towards them, his face white with fear. "He doesn't like strangers!" he repeats anxiously, yet demanding. "You've got to slowly step away from him, or else –"
"Honest, Mr. Lorne," he grins, "if he took my head off, it'd be because he hasn't seen me in so long. He's got a long memory, Goblin has. And I'd probably deserve it if he did, for something or another."
Rab's uncle stops short, staring, his mouth dropping to hang open like a fish out of water. Then he starts to sputter, before he finally shouts, "Johnny!" and turns back to the house, yelling, "Johnny!" two or three times, before he finally remembers his wife's name and starts shouting for her and Mrs. Bessie and Cilla and the children to hurry outside because Johnny's back home.
Sheepishly, he shakes his head at Mr. Lorne, gathers his things, and begins to make his way across the pasture, noting that Goblin has returned to grazing on sweet grass rather than following him. That's the way of things, he supposes, and besides, he's too exhausted to have a go on the horse anyways right now. He'd probably end up with broken bones if he tried to mount Goblin and ride across the fields just yet.
Halfway across the pasture, the women appear – Jennifer Lorne and old Miss Bessie at the kitchen doorway, looking flushed and excited as they wipe their hands on their aprons and hurry into the yard, and a young, pretty woman from around the corner of the porch, the sleeves of her plain dress rolled past dimpled elbows, her blonde hair in soft curls pulled back with a ribbon on the nape of her neck.
He feels his heart stop for a second as he stumbles to a halt and meets her eyes; she stares at him for a moment before she propels herself forward and down the steps, hurrying past the others and gathering her skirts so she can run faster.
He drops his satchel and rifle again – he can't be hampered by them now – and he starts to run as well, vaulting the opposite fence with ease. Then suddenly they collide together and he has her in his arms before he collapses to the ground holding her.
He can't make out the first thing she's saying and it doesn't matter, he's placing kiss after kiss over her face without caring that everyone else is watching, until he finally catches her mouth and she sighs against his lips. It's the kind of kiss he dreamed about while at Valley Forge freezing to death – the kind of kiss he hoped he'd receive upon his return, if she weren't married. The kind of kiss that lights fire inside of him, and turns his blood to liquid silver, and makes him wish for other things besides just a simple kiss.
She pulls away and breathes his name, cupping his face with her small hands, her eyes welling with tears and her lip trembling and her chest heaving. She's so much prettier then he remembered, with hair the color of cornsilk and skin soft and creamy. She suddenly hugs him, just as Mr. Lorne appears beside him holding his gear, and Aunt Jennifer, clutching her breast, comes to a halt and tugs at the fabric of his jacket.
"Heavens, Johnny! You're so thin! Inside – get inside! Mrs. Bessie, quick! Something to eat, I think! Don't we have some salt pork and bread?"
"Lands sake, but he is a rail, ain't he? He always was a thin one, but wiry, if I remember rightly." Mrs. Bessie eyes him critically as he rises with Cilla and Aunt Jennifer hugs him and places a wet kiss on his cheek, though she must stand up her toes and pull him down in order to reach him. She laughs when he gazes reproachfully at her.
"Don't you dare reprimand me, Jonathon Lyte Tremain! I'll kiss you all I like, and into the house with you! I don't care if you are man-grown and Mr. Lyte's great-nephew to boot!"
"He is grown, isn't he?" Mr. Lorne agrees, falling into step beside him. "He's as tall as Rab was, I'll warrant."
"You have grown much taller," Cilla says quietly, giving him a shy smile. "I'll have to take your measurements so Aunt Jennifer and I can sew new clothes for you! These are absolutely dreadful!"
He can't get a word in edgewise and he's rather glad for it; he doesn't want to have to talk about any of his experiences, or anything else, and he's grateful for the cold ham and bread Bessie places before him on the scrubbed table, because God, he is starved, and he doesn't think he's had a proper meal since before he left Boston eight years ago, slipping out through the gates to make sure Paul and Dawes got out of the city to warn the militia and he made his way to Lexington to find Rab.
Somewhere in the middle of the babble of voices, Aunt Jennifer decides quite firmly that he needs a decent bath and a haircut, and after taking a few quick measurements of his body while he's trying to shovel food into his mouth, she bustles off to find any spare cloth to start on breeches and shirts. In the meantime, Uncle Lorne manages to locate a few of Rab's old things, because they would fit him now except perhaps in the shoulders (he never will be as broad as Rab, no matter how tall he gets), and takes him out back to an old washtub and all but dunks him in.
He's even rather grateful for the bath, he supposes, as he wipes his long, wet hair back out of his eyes. He isn't certain he's been properly clean for eight years, either.
She steps out onto the porch and finds him sitting upon the steps, elbows on his knees and eyes gazing to Boston – much as she has done for eight years herself.
Quietly, she steps down to sit beside him, her skirts falling in waves between them and around her ankles.
"You look tired," she whispers.
The corner of his mouth curves just slightly. "I suppose I am."
She diverts her gaze, not sure what to say or do. But after a couple of moments, she suddenly feels Johnny's larger hand slide around her own, curling about her fingers. His skin is warm and rough, and she trembles slightly.
"I missed you," he whispers.
"Well, that's good to know," she says, trying to sound cheerful and teasing.
Until he slides closer to her and nudges her shoulder with his arm, making her look up at him. Their hands are still connected. Any ideas of teasing him to hide her real feelings melts away, and she feels her breath catch.
"More then anything," he adds quietly.
There is no arrogance that she once knew, no hotheaded presumption. No slightly-older-and-slightly-more-worldly Johnny she hoped one day might notice her. Only weariness and gratefulness, and blunt sincerity.
She closes her eyes and leans her forehead on his shoulder, happy to find it warm and strong. "I missed you too, John."