***Chapter One***
Word Count: 4,359

Chris opened the door, grateful her parents were gone for the night. They'd flip out for sure at the doorbell ringing at this time of night. They'd assume probably that something had happened to her brother. Their plans out for the night was the reason her mom was fairly adamant Chris babysit for the Anderson's. She was afraid Chris would have Mike over and do something stupid while they weren't home. She couldn't deny the thought of fooling around with Mike had begun to get appealing. The thought of sex with him, though, had not entered her mind. So her parents' concerns that she'd purposely get pregnant or something were irrational. She may not have been too excited about college, but she wasn't ready to be a mom at eighteen.

She probably would've invited him over, too. She would have called and tried to convince him to come over. She might have even promised him something in order for him to come over. What a fool she'd been! She was so glad she found out what he was truly like before she did something incredibly stupid and embarrassing. Dating him was bad enough!

She couldn't have been more surprised at who was standing on her doorstep than if President Reagan himself was there. She knew there was no chance Ronald Reagan would set foot on her doorstep. She wasn't so sure about Mr. Dawson actually being here. The odds of it being him she would have said were non-existent. He'd seemed kind of larger than life earlier tonight. God, that was less than two hours ago. How had he found her?

"What are you doing here?" she asked. She didn't want to sound rude, but it was after two o'clock in the morning. He was lucky she even answered her door at this time of night.

"I have a friend who's a cop. He, uh, hooks me up when he sees abandoned cars on the expressway. Instead of having them towed to the impound lot he gives me a chance at them. If Pruitt thinks I can fix it, he tows it to my garage. If it's not gone within an hour, the cops take it away."

"Okay," she said.

This had nothing to do with why he was here at her house. It couldn't possibly. Her mom's car was here, safe in the garage where it was supposed to be. A new windshield and new tire, but it was safe nonetheless.

"I gave him your license plate number and had him run the address for me so I could be sure you were all right. That you and those kids made it home safely."

His words were slurred, jumbled and she wondered why. He certainly hadn't had a problem talking clearly when they were at his garage earlier. Was he drunk?

"Jesus," she said, taking him in. She hadn't before now because she'd been too stunned to see him on her doorstep to process that he wasn't at all in the same condition they'd left him in at his garage. He drove like that?

"Come in," she said, grabbing onto the arm of his jacket to tug him inside. She couldn't leave him standing outside. A neighbor would see, there was always someone letting their dog out at all hours of the night. She wasn't going to just send him away either.

"No, really, I just needed to be sure."

"We're fine. The kids are fine. You are not fine, however, so come inside."

He stepped inside, evidently not in any condition to argue with her. He was taller and in general bigger than she was so clearly if he wanted to argue or just turn around and leave there was nothing she could do to stop him.

"Who did this to you?" she asked. "Did you report them to your policeman friend?"

"I didn't, no, because that would've drawn you into more trouble tonight. I sort of got the impression from Pruitt that anyone's parents finding out you'd been downtown would be bad."

"I see," she said. "Yes, I'd be in the most trouble for taking them down there. So, thank you."

"Did you get your friend all right?"

"What?"

"Pruitt. He mentioned that you were heading to the bus station? I think that's what he said."

"Oh, Brenda! Yes, she's fine, probably home sleeping by now."

She led him to the living room. It was the one room in the house that was rarely ever used. She thought better of it because stains from blood would show on the white carpet and sofas in here. So she led him to the family room instead.

"Whoever was after you paid me a visit," he said. "Wanting to know everything I knew about you. The kids. Your car."

"Oh God," she said.

Of course Joe had known where she needed to get her mom's car from. She'd told him not just about the car but their names. He'd obviously told his boss earlier in the night before he'd punched him, because Chris didn't see his boss being too chatty with Joe after that happened. They must have gone back to Dawson's Garage after Chris got away. She wasn't sure how she felt about that, because that meant at one point during the night Joe had … What? Violated her trust. He was a thief, but she'd trusted him not to hurt the kids. Of course once they were away from him he had to think about himself and his survival. She imagined it was tell his boss what he knew or something bad, worse than what happened to Mr. Dawson here, would happen.

She slid his cap off, hissing softly at the sight of him. His eye was so swollen and already badly bruised she was surprised he was able to drive here without crashing into anything or anyone.

"Is it just your face?" she asked, needing to know what all she'd need to grab from her medicine cabinet.

"Uh, no," he said, tugging on the zipper of his jacket. Evidently, his coordination was a little off so she did it for him. He still wore the tank top he'd been wearing at the garage and that was all he had on under the jacket. He must have been freezing because it was pretty cold out tonight. She slid the jacket off carefully, setting it beside him on the couch.

"You're not going to have anything to fix that anyway," he said in protest as she slid his tank top up.

"Don't be so sure."

He hissed again as she touched his side. It was bruised and probably he should see a doctor.

"You have bad accidents a lot or something."

She laughed softly. "No, but my brother played football, wrestled, and did Tae Kwon Do."

"Busy guy," he said.

"He was."

"My mom didn't have the stomach to bandage him up so it fell to me."

"Nice sister. Younger or older?" he asked.

"Older," she said. "I mean, he's older," she clarified not sure what his question had been.

"Got it," he said.

"I'll be back, okay. Don't move."

"Don't worry, I'm in no hurry to get up or anything."

"Okay."

"Aren't your parents going to freak out that you have a strange man in your house in the middle of the night?"

"My parents aren't home." She wasn't telling him that her parents were gone for the night. He didn't need to know that part of it.

"Oh," he said.

She'd probably have lied to him if he'd been in any condition to do anything to her, but somehow she didn't see him attacking her or even wanting to come onto her looking and likely feeling as he currently did.

"I'll be right back."

She came back a few minutes later with what she assumed she'd need. She only knew how to tape up ribs after one real bad accident her brother had in football. He'd been practicing without pads and someone got a real good shot in while wearing a helmet. They'd been joking around, no one was supposed to get hurt. Her brother had made her fix him up before their parents got home. Chris had almost vomited at causing him so much pain. She could stand the blood for some reason, it was hurting him that had bothered her.

She worked on his face first, because she knew once she taped up his ribs he wouldn't be able to breathe as easily. And his face had borne the brunt of the damage it seemed.

"You're pretty brave, you know that?" he asked.

"Huh?" she said.

"Well, I mean that in a couple of ways actually. John told me about the night you had."

"Not all of it," she murmured. Mr. Pruitt didn't even know the half of it, really.

"You mean there's more?"

"Than what Mr. Pruitt knows? Yes."

"A lot more?"

"Yes."

"Wow. I'm not even sure what to say to that."

"How else did you mean it?"

"Letting me into your house in the middle of the night when your parents aren't home."

"What was I supposed to do? You saved our lives. Shut the door in your face?"

"Most would've."

"I'm not most."

"I guess not. So tell me about the rest of your night then. How you started out needing a flat tire fixed because you didn't have your wallet to have thugs come to my garage looking for you."

She told him the story as she worked on his face. His eye she wasn't going to be able to do much for. He had cuts and bruises all over his face, though. They'd really beat him good.

"And you're still here to tell about it?"

"Yup."

"You're brave and lucky, I guess."

"Something like that."

"Don't underestimate yourself, Chris. That's pretty amazing what you did for those kids."

"You should talk."

"I didn't know what was going on. I just knew another hot chick thought she could flash her tits at me to get a discount on her car."

"I didn't do that!"

"No, but that's what I was expecting."

"Oh," she said with a frown.

"I was not expecting the little girl to give me her helmet."

"I wasn't either. If you knew how crazy she is about Thor you'd be surprised, too."

"Everyone has to have a hero."

"Who's yours?"

"I was always partial to The Hulk," he said.

She nodded simply. "I can see that."

"Who's yours?"

"Besides you, you mean?"

"Yeah," he said.

She glanced away then, because she saw a look in his one good eye that scared the crap out of her. Not in a run for the hills, he's going to hurt me way, but a he wants to kiss me way and she so shouldn't be kissing him. She'd already kissed Dan tonight.

"You having second thoughts about letting me in here?"

"No," she said.

"You look scared of me all of a sudden."

"You don't scare me, Mr. Dawson."

"Erik," he said. "You're sitting on my lap, touching me more than I think anyone's touched me in a while. I think you can call me Erik. Don't you?"

"Erik," she said, knowing she was blushing profusely.

She hadn't even thought about sitting on his lap, it was the best way she could think of to patch up his face other than kneeling in front of him. Now she almost thought that would be worse than sitting on his lap.

"Do women really do that?"

"Do what?"

"What you said? Show you their, um," she paused. She even tugged on her shirt a little suddenly wondering how many women he'd taken up on that offer. Would he have her? Even with the kids there? "Well, you know what you said to get you to let them out of their bill."

"You wouldn't believe what some have offered me. So, yes, and not just women either."

"Men, too?" she shook her head.

"That's my reaction, too, when that happens."

"It must be rough," she said.

She'd cleaned everything on his face with peroxide so now she was to the point of applying ointment to the cuts. She doubted bandages would stay put where his cuts were so it was the best she could do. It was weird touching someone she didn't know. It was kind of intimate, maybe too intimate with someone she'd just met a couple hours ago.

"What?"

"Women throwing themselves at you."

"Not for the right reasons and not the right women."

"What would the right reasons be?"

"Because they like me, were interested in me, not a means to an end."

"Oh," she said. "Are you human?"

He chuckled softly, closing the distance between them before she even knew what was happening and kissed her. It was not at all like the kiss Dan had given her earlier. That had been nice, polite, a kiss she could tell her mom about. (If she'd ever confide such things to her mom.) This was, holy shit, not at all nice or polite. The insane thing was she was responding in a not so polite or nice way in kind.

She dropped the tube of ointment, sliding her arms around his neck as he slid his hands to her ass, tugging her closer toward him on his lap. She pressed against him and he groaned softly. Dan's kiss hadn't suggested anything more happening than what they were doing. She could picture very easily Erik having a lot more in mind right now than just kissing her.

She pulled away for a second when she felt his tongue find hers. She didn't pull away for long, though. He hissed softly and she drew away, breaking the kiss. Evidently she'd pressed a knee into his side without realizing it.

"See, I'm very human," he whispered.

She settled her forehead against his chin, wondering why she was feeling like this from a kiss. She wasn't completely sure what she was feeling, but for the first time ever she wanted to find out.

"You expecting someone?" he asked when her doorbell rang.

"Uh no," she said. "I'll be right back."

She stood and left the room, heading to the door. She was incredibly unsteady on her feet. She'd never gotten that way from a kiss before. Holy crap. What did that mean?

She answered the door, surprised to see Mike of all people standing there. She tugged on her shirt again, for a totally different reason than she had in front of Dawson. She didn't want him to see that she'd been very turned on by that kiss.

"Hey Chris," he said. "Sorry it's so late."

"Mike, hi," she said. "What are you doing here?"

"I just came by to apologize. Really. I'm sorry. What I did was…"

"Incredibly wrong? Selfish? Stupid? What?"

"Who the fuck is that?" he asked.

Chris glanced behind her to see Erik standing there, shirtless of course because why would he have bothered to put his shirt back on. He was probably making sure she was all right, that the doorbell ringing hadn't been something bad. Like Joe's boss coming to get her.

"Erik," she said simply. She didn't owe him any other explanation. Her days of explaining herself to him were over.

"This is the cheater?" he said from behind her.

"It is."

"Moron," he said and Chris couldn't help but laugh.

"I'm sorry. Maybe I'm not clear on this. We had a date tonight and he's here instead? Without a shirt on?"

"I don't owe you any explanations for what I'm doing tonight, Mike. I hope you had a good time with Sesame. Must not have been a good time if you're here now, talking to me."

"I," he said, looking very confused. He was no doubt trying to figure out why Erik wasn't wearing a shirt. She was fully clothed, well, except her socks and she'd taken her bra off earlier but hopefully he wouldn't look closely enough to notice that. "Who is he?"

"Not you," she said.

"Yeah, well, we'll see if he thinks I'm such a moron a couple of months from now after endless nights of blue balls. Come find me, buddy, and then tell me what a moron I am."

Erik walked toward them then and Chris knew he'd start another fight if she didn't stop him. She grabbed onto his arm. He had some bruises there, too, and even some marks on his wrists that suggested to her maybe they'd been bound together with something tight enough to leave marks.

"Erik, please don't. He's not worth it."

"You shouldn't let him talk about you – or to you - like that."

"He's not saying anything that isn't true. We dated for months and I didn't do anything with him."

"Well, then obviously you realized he was a moron."

"Maybe I did."

"And then he went out with your friend instead."

"Well, not so much a friend. She goes to the same school I do."

"Still moronic."

She couldn't argue with that.

"Please, just leave Mike. I have nothing more to say to you."

"You know, I came here to apologize. To tell you I made a mistake."

"Yeah, the blue balls comment sort of offsets any sort of apology. I know how you really feel."

"And you think this guy is going to wait for you to decide it's okay for him to put his hand under your shirt?"

"Actually, if you hadn't rang the doorbell I think I was already deciding it was okay for him to do that. Good night, Mike," she said, slamming the door in his face.

She settled her back against the door, watching Erik who was still evidently deciding whether to go outside and beat him up or not.

"I don't need you getting more hurt because of me."

"He's an asshole."

"He is," she admitted. "I don't know how I didn't see it before tonight."

"You liked him. He probably knew that and knew what to say and do so you kept liking him."

"Apparently."

She led him back to the family room so she could finish looking after him. She truly hoped he hadn't paid any attention to what she'd told Mike about letting him touch her under her shirt. She had been thinking that she'd like to feel that, but she wasn't sure she would've actually gone through with it. That was her problem, she never seemed to go through with anything but kissing. That was why guys like Mike ended up with girls like Sesame Plexor instead of her.

All that she really had left now was his ribs. She didn't have all of the stuff she used to have for Aaron, but the elastic bandage would do the trick anyway. Chances were he'd get home and just take it off anyway.

"Did you mean what you said to him?"

"About?"

"Uh, me putting my hand under your shirt."

"I was thinking about it."

"Funny, so was I."

"I can't imagine why."

"Why? Are you nuts? Have you looked at yourself in a mirror? Does the fact you had him coming back here to apologize, sincere or not, not tell you that you're gorgeous?"

"No," she said.

"You're blind then, honey, because you are."

"Thank you."

"You don't have to thank me for stating the obvious."

"He's going to tell my parents you were here," she said.

"Yeah, I figured he'd retaliate somehow."

"That means as soon as I'm done you should go."

"Yeah, I figured that out, too."

"I'm sorry."

"For?"

"I shouldn't have kissed you like that."

"I kissed you, there's no need to apologize."

"Yes, but what he said, you know, exciting you and doing nothing about it."

"He's an asshole. I wouldn't have done more than what I did anyway."

"Why not?"

He chuckled softly, settling a finger under her chin. He tilted her face up so she had to look him in the eye.

"Because you're not that kind of girl. I don't have to know you or anything about you to know that."

"A lot of good that does me."

"Not all guys are like him."

"No, I know."

She finished wrapping the bandage around him.

"I don't have anyone to change this for me. You realize that right? It's been a while since I've had to be taped up like this because I haven't done much more than spar lately."

"You've boxed?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm not so bad if I do say so myself."

"You box currently?"

"I do," he said. "I've never had someone so pretty to tape me up, though."

"Well, your ribs aren't that bad."

"No, I've had worse. They were trying to scare me more than anything. I think they knew someone else was aware of their whereabouts."

"Joe," she said.

"The car thief guy?"

"Yeah."

"And you question whether or not guys find you gorgeous. He risked his life for you, Chris. I heard them talking about him, punching the guy I'm guessing was in charge. He was not happy about that."

"I know, that doesn't mean he thought that."

"No man is going to risk his life for a woman he's not at least remotely interested in. It just doesn't work that way."

"Hmm," she said.

"And I just dashed your dreams of knights in shining armor, didn't I?"

"No," she said.

She leaned in then, kissing his chest and he gave a soft groan as she moved her lips along his chest, kissing him in a few different places there.

He slid his hand to her hair, running his fingers through it at first before he tugged her head back a bit so she couldn't kiss him anymore.

"If I knew for a fact that what you were thinking of doing here wasn't some sort of fuck you to him I'd gladly let you take this further. I'm really not sure that's not your motive though. To prove to yourself that you can or something. He's going to tell your parents I was here, too."

"I know."

"I don't want you to lie about why I was here."

"But…"

"To this point you can tell them I came to you because I was in a fight and needed some help. I knew you'd been babysitting so knew you'd be up late or something. That's stretching the truth a bit, but not much without telling them about your night."

"I could never do that."

"Yeah, I know."

"I'm sorry," she whispered. She had no idea what had come over her. She'd never even thought of doing anything like that in her life. Never with Mike.

"Don't be." He shifted her off of him easily and stood from the couch then. "Besides. You have someone else interested in you. He calls, which I'm sure he will, you'll feel guilty if we did more than kiss."

"How do you know?"

He shrugged. "I'm not stupid. Again, no guy's going to drive all the way out to Oak Park to return a roller skate that late. He could've done it just as easily tomorrow, but you wouldn't have been there tomorrow. He knew that since he knew you were babysitting them."

"Yeah, well, he's…"

"A little old?" He laughed again. "You seem to like that in your guys."

"I," she said.

"It's just not how we're built. Sorry. It's just not. Not to say we're all out to get laid or anything, but we just don't go out of our way for women who don't at least intrigue us."

"I intrigue you?"

"You do," he said.

He pulled his wallet out of his jeans pocket, handing her a business card. "Enough to give you a way to contact me again. I know where you live, but I think you might get a little freaked out if I just showed up again. So, the ball's in your court. You want to grab a pizza, see a movie, or come see me box sometime you let me know. You don't have to come down." He reached over to the table and grabbed a pen, setting the card in his hand and writing on it. "You can call me. That number is my home number. My pager number is on there, too."

She smiled a little at that. He leaned down, grabbing his tank top. She helped him slide it over his head and then grabbed his coat for him. She had no idea if she would call him, but she liked that he wanted her to.

"I'll walk you to your car."

"No, you'll lock the door behind me so I know he's not lurking in your bushes somewhere. I'd feel pretty awful if I left here and he attacked you or something because of me."

"He wouldn't…"

"You never know what guys like that can do. You just told him you were contemplating letting me feel you up and you evidently hadn't let him do that. That's going to gnaw at him. You lock your door behind me and I'm not coming back so don't open it again until your parents are home."

"All right."

"Thank you," he said.

He stopped when he got to the front door, taking his keys out of his pocket. He leaned down then and kissed her. It was a little more difficult to do when they were standing up because he was so much taller than her, but she leaned toward him a bit too so it worked.

"Good night," she said when he finally stopped kissing her and opened the door.

"I guess whether it's good night or good bye is up to you. Either way, it was nice to meet you, Chris Parker."

"You, too, really." She had no idea where they'd be if he hadn't been willing to give them her car.

She did as he said, locking the door behind her. She watched from the living room, though, to make sure he got into his car okay and pulled off the driveway. She flipped off the porch light and went upstairs.

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