***Part Four***
Word Count: 4,536

"And you're sure about this, man?" James asked.

John shrugged. "No, not really, but I'll never know if I don't try. If it's really terrible I'll come back early. I'm sure your parents won't be upset I'm gone for the next couple of nights."

"Well, no, that's not true. They don't mind. I've explained why you don't want to go home. You gave my mom money for food, which she said you didn't have to do."

"Well, over a week of using your stuff is a long time. You guys are saving me on a hotel bill, so I can give your mom something for including me in family breakfasts and dinners."

"So, you'll be back on Saturday?"

"Yeah, early evening probably."

"I can't believe her roommate is okay with it."

"Why not? It's not like we're going to do anything in front of her."

James probably assumed they were doing things outside the presence of her roommate and John didn't have it in him to admit he was taking a bus one hundred thirty miles or so to see someone he had done little more than kiss.

"Well, I hope everything goes all right. She believes you about Sheila, though, at least. That's a start. Call me when you're back and I can pick you up."

"You're not doing anything Saturday night? I sort of figured I'd have to take a train back to town and hoof it the rest of your way to your place."

"Probably not. If you call me, or have her call me, on Saturday with which bus you're catching I can be sure to be around when it's scheduled to get in. Or, you know, if you need to come back tomorrow instead."

"Thanks," John said. He was bringing everything he owned with him. He kind of had to since it consisted mostly of his uniforms. He'd have to come back through Chicago even if he stayed Saturday night since his flight was leaving from O'Hare. There was no airport near her college so he couldn't switch it even if he'd wanted to, unless he wanted to fly out of Indianapolis. He could do that, he supposed if things went well enough he didn't want to go back on Saturday.

John got out of James' car and walked to the bus station. He was lucky James' mom was okay with her son driving John downtown at five in the morning. Some parents wouldn't allow it. John could've taken a train, but James had seemed to want to take him.

John wondered if James thought he was going somewhere else so as not to be a bother to his parents anymore. John kind of liked staying there honestly. It was an entirely foreign environment for him, a whole family eating meals together. They talked while eating together, too, and laughed and stuff. They'd even teased John Sunday morning at breakfast about getting back later than James had on Saturday night. (Except for one of James' younger sisters who John suspected had a fourteen-year-old crush on him so didn't seem too happy to find out it'd been a girl who dropped him off.) These were things John had never experienced in his life. James' dad didn't always eat with them. He was a doctor so sometimes was already at work or had been at work late. He ate with them when he could, though.

John fell asleep on the almost three hour bus ride to Lafayette. It wasn't a real exciting ride and being so early in the morning no one was in the seat next to him. The bus actually got there on time, which was good because she had class at eleven. She wasn't on time, though, leaving him to stand there for a while until he saw her car pull up.

"Did you think I wasn't going to show up?" she asked.

"I wondered."

"I wouldn't do that to you."

"Well, you know, some would probably say I deserve it."

"Not today you don't," she said. "I wasn't exactly positive where the bus station was so I had to stop at a gas station and get directions."

"Oh," he said with a nod. "No visitors for you then?"

"You're the first so far," she said as he set his bag in her trunk.

"Most others probably have their own ride anyway."

"Not all of them do," she said. "What would you do with a car right now anyway? You wouldn't have anywhere to store it until you could have it."

"Yeah, there is that."

"It's not too bad of a drive, though," she said.

"No, I got to sleep for most of it. Now, you're sure your roommate is all right with my staying with you? I'm more than willing to get a motel room if she's not."

"You don't have to do that. I swear I asked her. We're not best friends or anything, but she's all right. I got permission from my RA for you to stay tonight."

"Why?"

"Because the dorms are only open for guests twenty-four hours Friday through Sunday nights."

"And you're not going to get in trouble if you're caught?"

"No, it seems mentioning you being on leave from the Marines after boot camp and about to be gone again for months made it okay."

He chuckled a little at that. "I see."

"So, she probably thinks you're my boyfriend or something."

"And you are all right with this?"

"I asked you to come here."

"I know you did, but I'm just making sure you thought this through. People seeing you with me, thinking I'm your boyfriend."

"What's to think through? I don't really care what they think anyway. We're not doing anything wrong. I didn't lie about you being in the Marines or being gone for months. I just omitted you may not come back this way again."

He slid his arms around her, drawing her toward him.

"You and me together like this for days. That could potentially be bad."

"Are you going to try and make it bad?"

"No, but then I don't have as much to lose either."

"Then I'm not worried. I figured you deserve to do something with your leave that's more than sitting at your friend's house."

He narrowed his eyes a bit. "Is that why you're doing this? So I'm not bored? Claire, listen, I don't need you to entertain me. James has a TV with cable and they have books at their house. His parents even get the Tribune delivered to their house. Believe me I know how to keep busy."

"Wow, talk about an overreaction to what I said. No, that's not what I meant. I just meant you can go to school and maybe have something nice to think of when things may not be so good there. If being at James' house is something you think will give you good thoughts well then I guess it was me who overreacted."

He chuckled. "No, I suspect being with you will be better for that."

"See?"

"I just don't want you to thinkÖ"

"I know," she said, leaning up to kiss him. "I don't think I'm responsible for you in any way, John. You said you weren't really talking to your other two friends, Sheila's working, and James is in school all day. I just figured it'd be kind of fun."

"I'm not sure fun is the word I'd use."

"Why not?"

"I'm not sure yet, ask me on Saturday."

"Are you hungry?"

"Yeah, a little, James and I had cereal before we left, but that was hours ago."

"Want to get breakfast? There's a place on the way that someone said is pretty good without being real expensive."

"Sure. Since when do you worry about stuff being expensive?"

"Since my parents have me on a pretty strict budget so I don't order pizza every night."

"Ah," he said with a chuckle. "Yeah, I see. I suppose they went through that with your brother?"

"Yes! And guess who gets to pay for his crimes?"

"Well, I'll buy you pizza this weekend if you want one."

"I have no plans on eating in my dorm room once while you're here."

"No?"

"No. I have class today from eleven until one, my roommate's gone until after three so I figured you could take a nap if you want while I'm in class since you probably got up even earlier than the Marines woke you up to get to the bus station before six."

"It was pretty early."

"Then after that there's some things I've found to do while you're here."

"Like?"

"Well, there's a zoo I thought might be kind of fun, a hiking trail along the Wabash River. It goes for miles I guess."

"Whatever you want to do."

"You have no opinion?"

"No," he said.

"Why not?"

"I've never been here to know what my options are. I would've gone to the zoo with you last weekend; it's not that I don't like zoos. I just thought the Aquarium would be cool."

"I know, and it was."

They ate breakfast, getting to campus almost to the point she'd be late for class. She showed him where the bathroom was for him to use and left him to his own devices almost immediately after that. He turned the TV on; knowing at this time of day there wouldn't be much on. He kicked off his shoes and settled himself on her bed glad she'd taken the time to point out which was hers to him before leaving.

She knew when he woke up almost immediately. His breathing changing was the most telling sign. She slid her hand resting at his chest away, but he grabbed onto it stopping her from moving it far. He slid it back to where it had been resting against his chest.

"Hi," he whispered.

"Hi," she said. "The nap idea was a good one I take it?"

"Yeah," he said. He turned his head a little, regarding her. "How long have you been back?"

"An hour."

"And you're just now waking me up?"

"I wasn't trying to. I fell asleep for a little bit and just woke up myself."

"Oh," he said. She could see him processing that. "Here?"

She gave a soft laugh, rubbing her cheek against his shoulder. "Where else?"

"I don't know. I'm kind of sad I missed that."

"What?"

"You crawling into bed with me."

"Well, you'll be able to see it tonight."

"Not the same with your roommate here I bet."

"Probably not. Sorry."

"How was class?"

"Fine."

"All done for the day then?"

"Yes."

"What did you have in mind?"

"Honestly?"

"Yes."

"Just to lay here with you for a little while longer."

"Why?"

"Why?"

"Yeah, why?" he asked.

"Why wouldn't I?"

"I'm not sure."

"Oh, well, I don't know how to explain it. It's nice."

He turned onto his side, placing a hand to her hip before sliding it a little behind her to cup her ass. "It is very nice."

She reached up, touching his head. He said his hair had grown out from the initial buzz cut three months ago. It was still pretty short though. She ran her fingers through it just the same. Not nearly as effective or as nice as when he had hair for her to touch. She hadn't realized that she had an opinion on his hair until now.

She kissed him then and he kissed her back. She groaned softly as he shifted them so he was on top of her. It happened so fast she didn't have time to really react until he was already there. Her instinct was to stop kissing him, to push him away except he didn't do anything to suggest he was trying to take the kiss further. It took her a couple of minutes, waiting for him to do something more that didn't come before she slid her arms around his neck. She deepened the kiss, feeling her heart pound she was so hyper aware of him flush against her. He took his cue from her, seeming to sense until she'd deepened it she was deciding.

He found her jaw and ear, causing her to gasp when he kissed them. Then her neck just under her ear where he did more than kiss it. She didn't stop him, sliding her hand over his shoulder and along his arm until she found his hand. She laced her fingers through his, gripping tight when she finally met it as he licked and sucked the small area there he was focusing on.

"Don't say it," he murmured, finding the part of her neck right by her shoulder just then.

"Say what?"

He chuckled softly. "That you're not having sex with me."

Her eyes flew open at that.

"I know we're not. Don't worry, Princess. That's not even on my mind, but it makes doing this much more enjoyable not thinking that you're sitting there thinking that while I'm doing this."

"Why isn't it on your mind?"

She felt him inhale sharply at that question against her neck.

"Because I wouldn't do that to you even if you were willing."

"Do what to me?"

"Have sex with you and then leave for months having no idea when I'd see you again."

"That's the only reason it's not on your mind?"

"Yes," he admitted. "I'm a guy, Claire. I look at you and think about it. It's the way we're wired. I'm not going to act on it."

"But what about you?"

"What about me?" he asked, working the buttons on her blouse so he could kiss lower. He glanced at her alarm clock; mindful of the fact she'd mentioned her roommate had class until three.

"You won't go back to school after kissing me like this frustrated?"

He chuckled. "I don't think I'll have time to be frustrated, Princess. I didn't even have the privacy in boot camp to do anything about it even if I wanted to so I can go a while."

"And you haven't since then?"

"Had sex? We went over this already over the weekend."

"No, not sex."

"What are you asking me then?" He nipped her skin not even an inch above her bra and it was her turn to inhale deeply.

"You didn't? Haven't at all?"

God, he wasn't answering her. Was it a bad question? She wasn't sure. He used a fingertip to push her bra down a little bit, allowing him to kiss even lower.

"Are you asking me what I think you're asking me?"

"What do you think I'm asking you?"

He chuckled, sliding the fingertip lower to graze her nipple which caused her to gasp loudly. She hadn't been expecting it.

"Are you asking me if I've made myself?"

"Yes, that."

"Not until Saturday night I didn't."

"Why Saturday night?"

"You really need me to answer that?"

"Oh," she whispered. He slid the cup of her bra out of the way completely so he could take her nipple into his mouth then. "John."

"Yeah, I know, she's going to be back soon. You want me to stop?"

"God, no."

He chuckled, going back to what he'd been doing.

"Was it good?"

"Was what good?" he asked.

"Saturday night?"

"What I imagined you mean? Not as good as the real thing I'm sure, but it did the job it was supposed to do."

"I'm glad."

"You're entirely too concerned about this not to mention the fact I just admitted to doing that to thoughts of you. Why?"

"I just," she sighed, biting her lower lip as he darted his tongue along her nipple. "A part of me feels like I should."

"Should?"

"Have sex with you."

He stopped what he was doing then, regarding her. "I didn't come here to have sex with you. I'll repeat what I said earlier, I'm not going to have sex with you and then leave for months not knowing where I'm getting shipped off to after school. Chances are it's going to be somewhere in the US, but they do have a base in Japan. I've heard the odds are pretty slim of getting sent there right away, but I don't know. If I get the Combat Illustrator job I want I could be sent any number of places as the need for my skills is required. I wouldn't do that to you or me."

"What if I wanted to?"

"I'd go to school and probably feel like the biggest idiot in the world, but I still wouldn't do it. We both deserve better than that."

"Better than sex?"

"Better than our first times having some sort of pressure or necessity associated with it. What if I leave and you meet somebody? Then you'd feel guilty or as if you owed me something somehow. I don't really feel like getting a real Dear John letter from you. I'm in no hurry, Claire. I've waited this long, what's a few more months?"

"It hasn't been that long!"

He chuckled. "I meant in general."

She frowned a little at that. "Huh?"

"You know, to have sex."

"Yeah."

He leaned up to kiss her. "You're cute when you're confused."

"What am I missing?"

"I've never."

"Shut up," she said and this time she did try to push him off of her. "Why would you lie about that?"

"Well, that's the question you should be asking yourself not me. Why would I lie about that? To you! Why especially when you're suggesting you might be willing? I certainly have money to pay for a motel room if you were so inclined and I thought it was a good idea."

"So you've never?"

"No."

"But those girls." No way. It was some sort of trick. It had to be.

"They're girls. I mean, I've done things, sure. Just not the actual act or anything that involved any of my clothes coming off."

"You'd take them off for me?"

"Yes," he said, sounding so sincere and yet a little afraid by that admission.

"Why are you telling me this?"

"I'm not sure really. Explaining I guess why I'm not in a huge hurry to get you into bed for the purpose of sex. I mean, I like being in bed with you like this just fine. I'm sure I'll enjoy being in bed with you for the rest when we get to that. And that's why I told you."

"Why?"

"I'll get weekend liberties from time to time, the ability to go off-base and into town for the day or evening. I know you have ROTC types here; I don't want you hearing stories of what soldiers do with their liberty time and think I'm sticking my dick in anything that's willing while writing to you."

"Don't be crude."

"It's the truth! I figured if you knew that you'd be less inclined to think that's what I'm up to when I have free time."

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"It didn't seem real important. You're the one who keeps insisting you're not going to have sex with me. I just don't want you thinking I'm going to leave here and find what I don't get from you from someone else."

"Are you going to take off your shirt tonight?"

"I hadn't planned on it. Oh, to sleep you mean?"

"Yes."

"I could. Why?"

"I think I'd like you leaving knowing I've seen you without some of your clothes on."

"It's not pretty."

"You're a guy, guys aren't supposed to be pretty."

He chuckled.

"Yeah, well, definitely I'm not."

"You think that bothers me?"

"I don't know. I've never let myself find out."

"I'm not those girls."

"I gave you a hickey," he said, grazing the spot on her neck.

"I guessed that's what you were doing."

"Sorry."

"I didn't stop you."

"No, you didn't. Too bad I can't find a way to leave them without my being here."

"Why?"

He shrugged. "I like the statement behind them."

"What's that?"

"That you're spoken for."

"Rings do that just as well."

"Subtle hint there, Princess." He snickered. "Anyone can wear a ring on that finger. No one can leave themselves a hickey."

"I wasn't hinting."

"That's good because I don't think I'm ready for that."

"Me neither."

"My recruiter gave me some pretty specific advice about life-altering choices to avoid."

"Like?"

"Oh pretty no brainer stuff really. No getting engaged or married. No buying expensive things like cars, motorcycles, boats, or homes for Mom because I have money in my pocket when I'm not used to it. No rushing out to get a tattoo."

"Having sex with someone you're not sure what you're going to do with?"

"Probably that would be in there, too." He chuckled. "Is that what you think? That I'm not sure?"

"Well, how could you be?"

"Well, I wasn't holding out for marriage or anything."

"I'm not really either."

"No, but your decision not to was rooted more along the lines of readiness or an actual desire to wait than mine. I just simply didn't think anyone would want to with me or if they did they'd call the cops when we were done."

"Because you have some scars?"

"I didn't say it was logical. And it's not just some. He was smart about not leaving most of them where they'd be visible. Sometimes he'd get so inebriated or mad that he'd forget he was supposed to hide them. Like the time he gave me the one I showed you guys."

"I hate that you had to live like that."

"No more than I do, Princess."

She ran a hand over his cheek and jaw. "You're a good looking guy, John, when you want to be. That he made you doubt that or think that someone wouldn't want to look at you because of what he did to you makes me sad."

"You know it's funny, it got better in boot camp. I wasn't as worried about what people thought there. Then I came home and the first thing I bought at the mall on Saturday was long-sleeved shirts. I never once in boot camp thought 'I need to cover these up'. You know?"

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

"It is what it is."

"You don't have to hide any of it from me."

"You say that."

"I mean that. I can't promise I won't get mad Ė at him - not at you."

"I've stopped being mad at him."

"Really?"

"Too many better things for me to worry about than dwelling on something I couldn't control or stop. I stopped it when I could and well, it turns out I'm pretty good at shooting guns. Who knows if I'd have discovered that if it weren't for how I grew up? Even if he never laid a finger on me, life at the Bender house wasn't happy so the trouble I got into likely I still would've."

"You would've found something else you were good at."

"Maybe. Who knows? I just realized at some point during my time at boot camp that I could keep worrying about my past or I could just move forward. My past got me to this point so I can't ignore it completely, but I donít have to revel in it. It's one of the reasons I never mailed you any of the letters I'd written you."

"I still wish you would've."

"And I still think it was best I didn't. You may have read it, but you probably would've doubted I was telling the truth. If you had believed me and then seen me with Sheila last Friday night at the game when she was obviously pregnant, well, I suspect I wouldn't be here."

"Probably not."

He glanced at the clock again, realizing their time alone was just about up.

"When does she have class tomorrow?"

"In the morning like I do."

"You should let me take your car tomorrow morning."

"Why?" she asked.

"Oh, you know, put my uniform on; maybe find a barber who can do a good high and tight and then go cruising around town for chicks while you're in class."

"Ha ha. No really? Why?"

"Don't trust me to drive your car, Princess?"

"I'm just wondering what you need."

"I was thinking maybe I could splurge on a room tomorrow night somewhere."

"John."

"Not for that! I swear you worry about me thinking about having sex with you entirely too much. I just want one night without her or anyone around but us. We can do whatever you want tomorrow night. Go to a party, hang out here with her. I donít care, but I'd like to wake up Saturday morning to just you."

"You think you can do that?"

"Do what?"

"Just sleep with me?"

"I'm doing it tonight."

"Yeah, because you have to."

"I could've gotten a room for tonight if I wanted to."

"Can I ask you something?"

"I hope you know you can ask me anything by this point, but go ahead."

"You said you had no desire to come back to Chicago."

"I don't think I said Chicago specifically, but I don't really."

"So what are you going to do with me?"

"Do with you?"

"Yes, Chicago is my home, and unlike you I do have a reason to go back."

He shrugged. "I guess I go back to Chicago then."

"Even though you don't want to?"

"I have nothing holding me there. I have no family I'm willing to acknowledge. I have grandparents, aunts and uncles, and some cousins or something somewhere, but they obviously don't give a shit about me or they would've done something."

"I donít want to be an obligation."

"You're not. When I enlisted the idea of you wanting to be in my life was non-existent so when I shipped out to San Diego I had no plans on setting foot in Shermer again. Tony, Kevin, James, and Sheila mentioned Homecoming weekend was going to fall during the time I had leave. James' family offered me their couch. It beat spending hundreds of dollars on a hotel room for me to twiddle my thumbs out of boredom in for ten days."

"So, you've thought about it?"

"Since last Saturday? Yeah, I've thought about it a lot. What about you?"

"What about me?"

"You seem to have your heart set on staying in Chicago. Let's just hypothetically say this between us works. What if I want to make a career out of this? I'd be able to reup a time or two in the Marines, but I've been told eventually they sort of force you to retire so anyone who wants to make a real career out of it would have to enlist in another branch."

"Well, it wouldn't be easy, but if this between us works then I guess I'd go where you were. I could teach anywhere."

"You could, yeah."

She reached up and kissed him, sliding a fingertip along his lower lip.

"For that, though, to move myself across the country I'd definitely need more than a hickey."

He chuckled. "For that I'd get you more than a hickey."

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