and you'll stop it, won't you
by tahlia

In six hours, the sun will rise over Iowa, and none of this will matter. For now, they have this cheap vodka and two Styrofoam coffee cups that she swiped from the diner counter. He looks at the bottle on the table, emptier than he remembers, and wonders where it all went.

There are photos, too, on the table. Dead women and dead men, naked, stuffed in bathtubs and shower stalls. Mutilated and cut open, and he wonders how she can look at that and not see through it To something, far beyond, behind her eyes and that glazed look he's been seeing too much these last three days. He reaches for the vodka, palm brushing against victim #5, and he squeezes his eyes shut. Tomorrow; tomorrow, he will see the hesitation wounds and know that the killer made them do this to themselves. Their hand, not his, slicing skin and muscles and blood, blood, blood is everywhere. She will grow paler.

But not tonight.


A hand, her hand, curled around his shoulder. "You okay?" It lingers too long.

He gives her a thumbs-up. "Top notch."

She gets to the bottle before he does, hands pushing against hands, and he wants to ask her how she doesn't see them if she doesn't want to. He can't imagine not seeing them.

She sits on the floor, back against the bed and knees tucked against her chest. He sits in a chair at the table by the window, looking down at her, hair falling on her face and cup always at her lips. Her cheeks are a vague shade of pink, just like her shirt. Her jacket is next to her, crumpled in a heap. Susan Branca, deconstructed.

"We're drunk," she says. It is a decision.

This is her room. Not that it matters with them. Not that it matters.

She takes a moment. "We're drunk in a fucking motel in God-only-knows, Iowa." She shakes her head, and says into her vodka, "'S'pathetic."

There's a painting of a sailboat on the wall. It's crooked. "Sure, but our accommodations are four-star."

"And the company..." She finishes by taking another sip. "Boy."

He takes the bottle of vodka by the neck and shakes it gently in her direction. This is their game. "I could just as easily be drinking with Rivers. Don't forget that."

She grins into her drink.

"Ah, you're probably right," he adds, finding the bottle's exact spot on the table. Everything is in its right place again. "You look hotter in a pink tank top than he does."

"I'm flattered, really."

He talks over her. "...though not by much."

After silence and only a semi passing by on the lonely highway, she is watching him. He sighs, and her eyes shift to the floor, and when she thinks he isn't looking, she watches him again. Cat and mouse. And then, finally: "What are you thinking about?"

Blood and. Dead bodies and. Fake suicide notes in lipstick on the bathroom mirror. And, and, and. "Ponies."

A small, dignified snort. "Ponies? Really?" She knows he is lying.

He smoothes it over with a smile anyway, just for kicks. "And the Barbie dream house, too, though I hear the closing costs are a bitch."


He leans forward, to make a point. And. To make something else. "No shop talk, remember?" He sees in her face that she does. "Your rule to break, not mine."

But she only tilts her head and holds out her cup: a request, an offering, an explanation; an excuse. He rewards her by handing her the bottle itself.

"This is like college," he says. She puts the cup on the carpet and pours into it, nearly spilling it everywhere.

She reaches over him to replace the bottle, filled mostly with air now, using her hand on his leg as leverage to push herself up. It slips a little when she has to reach further than expected, fingertips brushing against the seams of his jeans, but she doesn't even notice, not until.


There is a moment. And then, in all honesty, he's not entirely clear on who kisses whom first, but he also doesn't care. It was bound to happen eventually, anyway.

Her arms, his legs, tongues and pushing and hands and--

"No," she says, once, short and clipped and right before his mouth found that soft spot below her ear and she stopped saying words. Her hands follow his neck to his shoulders and press flat against his chest.

She falls back on her heels, and with a fistful of his shirt in her fingers, pulls him forward. The muscles in his neck ache. She pushes, too, and his fingers, having found their way under her shirt, cry out for decisiveness. Here or there. He fumbles, brushing against her pelvic bone for a split second, and she moans into his mouth.

And then she is declaring, "No, no, no." And standing. When did she stand? When was she halfway to the bathroom?

The light in the bathroom comes on. The sink runs. He hears her sigh. He moves, too.

He stands in the doorway, and she is watching him watching her watching him in the mirror. She wipes a bit of water still clinging to her cheek. "You see them, don't you? In your head, you see them." She is speaking to his reflection.

Her lips are pink. He can't stop staring at her lips. "Sometimes."

Something flickers on her face. She knows when he's not telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It's there, and then it's gone.

She breaks eye contact. Her body sags, and she has both hands on the rim of basin, bracing herself for something. Something. He moves closer to her, a hand hovering over her back, but not. Not quite touching her. Two like magnets, resisting.

She takes in a breath. "I can't...sometimes..." She balances precariously on the edge of a confession, but shrinks back at the last minute.

Through the wall, he can hear the dim murmur of the television in the next room. He smiles. "You know, I think Rivers might be watching porn."

She doesn't hear him - or doesn't care, he's not sure which. Her face turns to him again, and his hand lands half on her shirt and half on the skin that her bent back exposes. He feels something. Maybe a small shudder. Maybe nothing.

And then it happens, again. She wraps her arms around his neck and kisses him. It takes him a moment to react, but only a moment. She groans a little when he pushes her against the sink. Her back arches into him and he never, never, never wants it to end.

He can taste her fear on her tongue, so he tries. Tries so hard to take it all away. He is accustomed to fear; he knows what to do with it.

Her feet scrape on the tiles of the floor; she pushes on his shoulders, trying to move somewhere. He follows. Now she is sitting on the edge of the sink, hands tucked into his jeans to keep her body balanced and her head from slamming into the mirror. He finds her again, and her teeth softly sink into his bottom lip. And her ankles are hooked together, right below--

--she gasps when his fingers brush her nipple, and he smiles into her mouth. Take it all away, all gone. "Jesus," she manages, and he's flattered.

A flash, an image in his mind: victim #2, a college student; the way his arm hung limply over the side of the tub he was found in. But maybe she knows, maybe she can see what he sees, for that brief moment - her hands are unbuttoning his jeans.

The bathroom is economically sized. Mouths separate, her body shifts, and her arm can just reach the faucet in the shower. She turns on the water, and the screaming from the half-clogged showerhead rings in his ears. It makes sense, the white noise. Her hand around his neck, she pulls him close and whispers something in his ear. He can't hear it. He kisses her shoulder instead and tastes the moisture on her skin.

Steam fills every crevice of him and her and this room. His breath is shallow. Quickly, she peels off his t-shirt, fingernails gently skidding up his chest and then back down again. His jeans follow.

She rests her head on the mirror, finally him trusting him that much, and he drags his mouth along her collarbone, slowly and deliberately, to that hollow center on her throat, where he stays and feels her swallowing over and over and--

--her body shakes, again, and her back arches. He can feel her toes curling into his back, like maybe she was a ballerina once. He takes the opportunity, of her pressed tightly against him, to bring down her pants. His hands linger on her thighs - almost hesitating but not quite - and then her own hands are tugging at her pants, too. They land unceremoniously on the floor between them; he kicks them out of the way.

There's a tiny gasp, hot breath against his earlobe, when his fingers creep into her. And they move, too - once, twice, and three times. Her mouth is open against his, frozen and gasping in short breaths, and no, he doesn't miss how hard she's gripping the sink with the hand that's not in his hair.

He kisses her again, hard and willing and needy, pushing memories out of his brain, of crying and comfort and blood and. Hands fumble with boxers and panties, and he remembers how hard she shook when he tried to hide her from Laney's body. And then he is inside her, and her body is contorted rather strangely over the sink and against the mirror on the wall, but her arms are around his neck and her legs wrapped around his waist keep him close.

A hand snakes up under her tank top, bumping against her vertebrae. He just wants to keep her steady.

There's another gasp of breath right before she comes. He imagines this a thousand times over: outside, inside, in the backseat of her car, in his bed, in her bed, on the counter in her kitchen. In the office.

She clings to him for a while, too; no one moves. Beyond the shower, he can still hear the television on the other side of the wall. And then she is extricating herself from between him and the sink - her hands slide on the porcelain, thanks to the hot running water. He stares at where she had once been, at the spot on the mirror were her hair smeared the steam. It is quickly swallowed, too.

In the corner of his eye, he sees her removing her only piece of clothing. By the time he turns his head, she has disappeared behind the shower curtain. When she turns on the cooler water, the ringing from the showerhead ceases. But he still hears it.

He doesn't follow her. It doesn't feel cheap, though, the way he collects his clothing and gets dressed - leaving her alone.

At the door, his eyes linger on the photos spread out over the small table. He finds victim #5, and drags it closer to him with his index finger. He runs it over the small scraps along the wrists. Understanding, he thinks.

There's a napkin and a pen on the table, and he considers leaving her a note. Just an arrow and "this is something" scrawled across the white, laid neatly next to the photo. He could do it and it would be a break-through; he can see, in his mind, eyes looking at him. She's afraid of him. Afraid for him.

He shakes his hand, pushing the photo back where it belongs.

Tomorrow, tomorrow.


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