A/N: Here is another chapter, finally. In a new story! This is kind of a prologue in a way, because the content is different than the subsequent chapters, for the most part. It's sort of a bridge between Aftermath and the rest of this story, although this takes place several months later.

I am not totally sure about it, for reasons that you may or may not find out as you read it...

As always, if you want to read more author's notes, check my profile. :)

And of course, reviews appreciated. :)


Connie lay in the grass under the willow tree. Jason sat beside her, looking out at the lake, water and sky reflected in his eyes. She wondered what he was thinking. Sometimes he was so far away, and she wished she could go there with him, wherever it was. Even if it was somewhere painful. As much as they'd shared over the past several months, in many ways he was still an enigma to her. Although it would probably take a lifetime to know the depths of his soul, probably not even then.

She looked forward to each day, finding something new about him- a thought, a touch, a look, he had never given her before.

She sat up, her ankle jabbing her with an unexpected stab. It still hurt, even two months after they'd taken her cast off. She wondered if there was still a shard of bone they hadn't found—that's what it felt like—but the doctors and x-rays told her she was fine.

Jason looked across the blue tablecloth on the grass where the leftovers of their picnic supper sat.

"Are you okay?" he said.

She hadn't known she'd reacted; she'd become good at hiding how much it hurt. But she could never hide it from him; he knew almost intuitively when she was in pain.

"I'm fine. Just my ankle again."

He stepped over to her. "How bad is it?"

"The usual." She smiled to reassure him. "Nothing to worry about."

"You sure?"

"Yes, Jason. If it weren't, I'd tell you."

He sat down beside her. "You don't always tell me."

"Neither do you."

"Touché." He smiled wryly, a lock of hair falling over his forehead, brushed there by the breeze. He was tanned, healthy, a far cry from what he'd looked like eight months ago when they'd rescued him. But she knew his old injuries still pained him, especially the bullet wound in his chest, and his left shoulder, the damage making it impossible to return to the way it was before.

She took his left hand in hers, traced its strong outline, the scars at the center of it, reminding her of the horrific things that had happened to him. But each scar was a part of him, and so they were beautiful to her.

She looked up into his eyes, blue, intense, beneath well-defined eyebrows, at the moment slightly upturned in inquisition. She brought her hand to his face, touched it beneath the jagged scar that traced his cheekbone. He'd told her it made him look like a "tough character"; she'd said it only made him look more dashing.

Electricity flared in the space between her hand and his face. She trembled; everything else receded around her—the birdsong, the lap of water on the shore, the wind rustling the willow branches—as longing seized her to be even closer to him than she already was.

He must have felt the same, for he leaned toward her, eyes holding hers, until his face eclipsed hers in shadow and his cheek touched her own.

His hand embraced her chin. She closed her eyes, and their lips met. She grasped the back of his neck, leaned into him.

They had only kissed twice before, the first, the day she had gotten her cast off, so quickly she'd barely had time to register it was happening before it ended, the second, two weeks ago, stolen in the kitchen of a deserted Whit's End. This time was different. They were completely alone, no one to see, no one to interrupt.

She immersed herself in his presence, everything that was him. Thrills trembled through her. She could not get enough of him, as if he were a celestial drink that could never satisfy. She could barely breathe, but he was so wonderful she didn't care if she suffocated. He was all the life she needed.

Her fingers entangled in his hair; she kissed his chin, the tip of his ear, the back of his neck. She had always wanted to kiss him there for some reason.

Pressed against him, her hand slipped beneath his shirt, meeting the rippling muscles there. Touched the knot of a scar beneath his heart. Like a warning, telling her to go no further. She pulled her hand away, but he kissed her lips again, hungrily. She hesitated, then returned his passion, the heat between them flaring like a flame that could never be extinguished.

He kissed her neck, beneath her chin. But a moment later, he pulled back, turned away, cheeks flushed beneath his tan.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't—I mean, it's because we want this that we can't—"

Her own cheeks burned. "I guess we are getting…carried away. I mean…" She brushed back a strand of hair that had fallen in front of her face, looked away.

"I'd never want you to feel like I was pressing you to go—too far—because it's not what I want. Well, you know what I mean." He smoothed his hair back, adjusted his red shirt.

She nodded. "I guess I just thought—we know enough not to get carried away."

"Thinking that you know better can be dangerous. This is probably something we should talk about—what our boundaries are."

"Even if it is awkward."

He laughed. "Yeah. We might as well get it over with." He leaned back against the tree trunk. "It probably isn't the best thing for us to be alone this much."

"We should do things with other people more, like we used to," she said. "It's just been so hard to keep this a secret, and now that I can walk—sort of—we can go on more adventures together. But—" The words hovered on her tongue; she dreaded it. "Maybe we shouldn't keep us a secret any longer." She let out a breath. It had been said.

"It's been fun sneaking around," he said, "The spy in me loves it—but I think it's time we told someone. It would help keep us accountable."

"That would be good," she said, cheeks hot again. "I think….well, Penny's suspicious. She keeps giving me funny looks, especially when I talk about you, but she doesn't say anything."

"I think Dad knows too. Or he's pretty sure. But I suppose he doesn't want to assume anything."

"I think we should tell them. Penny and Whit. Mom too. And then—just let the rest find out for themselves."

The willow branches danced in his eyes, their tangling shadows flickering over his face. She sat down next to him, against the tree. He took her hand. Kissed it. "And I think this should be as far as we go," he said. "For now. What do you think?"

"I think—I can live with that." She smiled. And they looked out at the boats sailing across Trickle Lake, until the red tint to the sun told them that it was time to pack up and go home.

As Connie tucked the picnic basket in the trunk, Jason watched her flawless movements, her graceful form. He was glad he'd stopped himself; he already regretted how far he'd let his passion take over. He loved her, yes; because of that, he needed to be the responsible party. He was older, supposedly wiser, and physically stronger. He had gone too far before, long ago, with someone else. Not what non-Christians would call too far, but still. He never wanted to hurt Connie. He had to protect her, hold her precious soul in his care. Her beautiful, fragile heart was worth any price, any hardship, any indignity he would ever have to endure.

He would even go through… that…again to keep her safe. Had been willing to, with Gray. It hadn't come to that. Still, he always had her safety in mind. Gray might be in a maximum security prison, but Will was still out there, along with other threats. Always.

He fingered the pistol at his hip. He was thankful she hadn't found it there. She might have thought he was overreacting; on the other hand, it might scare her. Perhaps he was being paranoid. He still had the nightmares, though the fear had lessened the more he was with her. But you could never be too careful….

"Come on, Jason!" she said. He walked to the car, and she drove them back, under the bright descending sun.