Disclaimer: I do not own The Shades of London. It belongs to Maureen Johnson.

Disconnected: Part V

Stephen's lips faltered, and his hands clumsily moved to Rory's waist as she tottered. Her loss of balance, while something Stephen had easily picked up on, was something she had not. The intimidating buzz had quieted, and her brain was releasing all of the chemicals it reserves for when one is kissing another.

She needed this.

Not in the way of her going so long without intimate contact with a fellow human being, nor in the dramatic way that she just could not go one more single day without having kissed Stephen Dene. But, this was doing somethingto her. She felt awake and alive like she did when she fell – jumped? Did it even matter now? – from the bridge.

This was something she could get used to.

Never-mind the fact that she was practically leading the Shade in this simple act of kissing -simple compared to her sessions with Jerome - and trying to avoid bumping noses with him, or that a tangible awkwardness could fill the air for forever more after they had drawn apart.

"Rory," he breathed, "I have to-" her fingers wrapped around various strands of his hair.

"Ror-"

She sighed, and opening her eyes, withdrew. Stephen's were staring into hers, his mouth still slightly open in the persistent saying of her name, and this just felt so right despite the fact that there was still a mental pit to skirt around and her toes were aching from standing on them for so long because of his stupid height and her mind was just…quiet.

Her heart was pounding.

She slowly eased back down, removing her arms from his neck, as he watched her - not in a romantic way, really -, and his brow was furrowed and she could practically see the gears turning inside of his head. Both she and Stephen jumped when thunder shook the building. His head whipped to the window, and they were silent as a thin trail of lightning made itself known. You could barely see anything; there was a distinct grey attempting to swallow everything.

And it was doing its job very well.

He turned his head back, and a single loose trail of a thought crossed her mind as she registered the fact that he did not have a loopy grin on his face (or at least a small smile), nor did he appear loose and not as much of a Rubik's cube as he had before. His mouth was still open, and he cleared his throat before asking, "Rory…What – what was that for?" He peered down at her, and the lone trail of a thought quickly multiplied to so much, much more.

She had not thought this through.

She laughed and crossed her arms, her hands swallowed up by the borrowed shirt's sleeves. Her fists clenched and unclenched. "What do you think it was for?"

"Rory…," he trailed off before beginning again. "Rory, don't…"

Rory, don't flirt to cover up the fact that you did not think this through.

Rory, don't focus on my hair and the fact that I can wear these clothes very well.

Rory, don't ever attempt to commit suicide again and, if you promise that, we can continue kissing.

Rory, don't attack me like that because I was having trouble gaining oxygen for a majority of it.

Rory, don't like me in that way because I don't like you in that way.

"Don't do that."

"Huh?"

Stephen ran a hand through his hair. "It's not fair to…What's his name? John? Jerome?" he met her eyes again. "It's not fair to Jerome."

Out of all of the possible endings to those words, she did not expect that. Jerome had been the very last thing on her mind; she wasn't even aware of the fact that Stephen knew his name. She mutely watched the faint blush on Stephen's face fade away.

He must've taken her silence as regret or something of the sort because he did the tiniest of nods, barely an inclination of the head, and said, "Bristol is very close to the equivalent of flooding, but I think I can drive you home." He proceeded to walk past her and to the small table near the door where the keys were.

No no no no no no no no no no- "I thought you could only drive the car in uniform," she spun around just in time to see him stiffen.

"Jerome isn't a reason, is he?" The words slipped through her teeth, as if they knew she wasn't planning to trust this uncharted territory, and wanted to escape while they could."You're…"

She watched his shoulders rise. Either in defense or rage, she couldn't tell.

Why was she even pressing the subject? The feeling of Stephen's chapped lips on hers was lingering, and you'd think that that would be enough. It hadn't drawn the turtle from the shell or cracked the cube like she had hoped, so why act like it had actually happened?

"I'm what, Rory?" he said, fiddling with the keys. They flashed between his fingers. "I'm not Jerome. You should be…You should be doing that with him."

Why act like something had happened, when he was offering her an olive branch to act as if it never had-

"I called things off with him," she shrugged off-handedly. This may have been a lie. She hadn't been in contact with him and Jazza in forever. That was calling things off, right? And when she and the two Wexford students had talked, the conversations had been about trivial things; short and stilted conversations about the driest of topics.

-because something had happened, and she wanted that something to stay.

Stephen finally looked at her. "What?" he examined her face, his brow furrowed to the deepest point she had ever seen, and she attempted to arrange her expression to the most honest and open one she was capable of.

He had to believe her.

She wasn't sure of what she exactly wanted him to do or say, but he had to believe her. For such a long time now, no-one believed in her stories. Then again, there was no-one to believe in them in the first place.

He absentmindedly placed the keys back on the table, which had a leg that looked as if it had been snapped before. "Why?" he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. "You two…You two were a 'thing', for the lack of a better term." He appeared honestly bewildered at why she and Jerome weren't a thing. Of all the things she could have stumped him on, why was it this? "I remember seeing him and you-"

"Things can change, Stephen," she stepped closer to him, and then he took a step back in return. His palm was flat on the table's surface, his five fingers spread out like a starfish. "Is that the only thing-?"

Stephen furiously shook his head, determined to think on this certain mind-set. "You don't like me in that way, Rory. You like Jerome."

This stopped her. "What makes you think that?"

He hesitated, and she watched his tongue run over his lower lip once.

"You couldn't care less about Jerome," she took another step closer. "I'm not trying to force you to do anything, Stephen, but come on. Tell me."

He looked to the ceiling, and then back at her. There was only the rain, and then there was only the stark raving mad girl and the stark raving mad police officer. His mouth opened once, a word at his tongue, before changing it into something that looked like a grimace – twisted mouth and anxious brow -, but then he managed to gloss it over into something not so noticeable.

An intense wave of emotion – whether it was of protectiveness or vengeance on Stephen's behalf thanks to his past or just a sudden swooping feeling of appreciation for the male in front of her she could not tell – burst in her head and took flight to her toes.

"Rory, I don't want you to end up like me."

"I'm not going to end up like you."

He frowned at her persistency. "Rory, listen to me. If we – if we do this – if we kiss into oblivion or if we hold hands till death do us part, it won't make a difference. Because I'll still be Stephen Dene and I'll still be insane-"

"You aren't crazy."

"-and I don't want to influence you in that matter."

"You just need-"

"Rory! You almost drowned – worse yet, jumped. You could have died. What if I didn't come? What if those damn voicemails were never received? They were the last straw on whether or not I should confront Thorpe on the matter of us resuming contact!"

Heavy breathing. His train of thoughts was jumbled.

"And I almost died – at the same age you are now, practically."

"You got them."

His faced was flushed, those hollow cheeks alight, and he paused in his monologue. "What?"

"The voicemails." She wasn't aware her voice could sound so small. "You got them."

"I thought that was made obvious by the fact that we knew about your ability."

She remained silent. He liked her, didn't he? And how middle-schoolish was she sounding right now – he likes me or not, that is my top priority right now, what about a bridge?, etc.? She'd slap herself.

He sighed. A heavy exhale, as if he had picked up another heavy weight. One that he didn't need.

His tone was low. "Please. I just don't want you to be like me."

They held eye contact. His eyes were deep-set. Swampy, almost. Murky.

"A compromise, then."


"There she is!" Callum and Boo gathered her into a giant group hug. The smell of Chinese take-out wafted from the kitchen. Stephen was putting away the milk.

"It's been too quiet without you, Ror," Callum smirked as he relinquished her.

"Much too quiet," Boo concurred. She pushed stray strands of black hair behind her ear. A hesitant question. "Are you okay, Rory?"

Rory met Stephen's eye as he turned away from the fridge. He had gotten his hair trimmed. She could see a question in his gaze.

There had been much talking, afterwards.

Much discussion of possible therapists, much reasoning, and ghosts.

Ghosts of the physical and mental kind.

And a kiss.

And she wasn't perfectly okay. But that was all right.

Maybe, finally, she was connected.

Wow. Okay. Thanks for sticking with this and my lateness with updating. I really don't like this fanfic that much, looking back on it, but hey. I hope you enjoyed it, and that you all have a good Valentine's Day. And let's celebrate the fact that The Madness Underneath is almost here. :) -MythScavenger