*A/N - Sorry for the delay, this chapter turned out much longer than planned and took a couple of re-writes to complete. Given the awful news that ABC have decided not to go ahead with S2 after all, i hope this new chapter is sonething to help distract us from the possibility of not seeing these characters again :( *
Crossing the Line Ch 3:
Kicking the door closed behind her with a bang, Dex juggled the bags of groceries in her arms and cursed under her breath as several apples tumbled to the floor and lay forlornly at her feet.
"Ah, who am I kidding..." she muttered "as if I was actually going to eat them anyway."
Shuffling out of her shoes and continuing through to the kitchen, Dex laid the bags down on the counter and removed numerous bottles of beer with great care, ensuring they were placed safely inside the fridge.
"That's more like it." She grinned to herself.
Spotting clusters of popcorn and confectionary strewn across the kitchen surfaces, Dex shook her head as she scooped them into the trash, but smiled fondly at the remnants of Grey and Ansel's movie marathon from the previous night.
Strictly no girls allowed.
Not that she'd cared - she got to have one hell of a long shower in peace.
"Hey, Ansel..." Dex called "...what do you want to eat for dinner tonight?"
His footsteps hurried down the stairs two at a time, skidding into the kitchen behind her with a buoyant laugh.
"Pasta. Again? Really?"
"I like it. Please?" Ansel looked at her so hopefully, she could never refuse.
"Okay, fine. I'm sure we can persuade Grey to join us for yet another pasta dish."
"Grey's not h-here." Ansel frowned.
"What do you mean? I thought you guys had a games tournament planned?" Dex stopped unloading food and turned to face her brother.
"Left?" She laughed "Come on man, you gotta give me a little more detail."
"Somebody kept calling him, over and over. Grey looked mad. He said he had to go..."
Dex stopped chuckling immediately.
"I don't know..."
"Grey didn't tell you?"
"No..." he replied quietly "I d-didn't ask, I thought you knew about it."
"When was this?"
Registering the concern on her face, Ansel stepped forward and twisted his fingers together anxiously.
"About an hour ago...is something wrong, Dex? Is Grey in trouble?"
"No." She said emphatically, tugging him into a bear hug and ruffling the top of his head "No, absolutely not, buddy. I'm sure everything is just fine. He probably just had some stuff to sort out at his place, that's all."
The hair on the back of Dex's neck stood on end. Grey would never just up and leave without saying anything, especially when it meant leaving Ansel at home by himself. Looking over to the couch where Grey had been sleeping for the past fortnight, she noticed with alarm that all his stuff was gone.
She could feel the heat of anger rising like a wave from her gut, and Dex grabbed it firmly with both hands, because being angry at Grey for leaving unannounced was a heck of a lot easier than acknowledging the razor sharp shards of panic that were trying to embed themselves in her mind about his sudden and uncharacteristic disappearance.
Dex was well aware of his past, and that some of the people Grey knew were not the type you would invite over for Christmas dinner...or the type you could say no to very easily.
So it stood to reason that Grey's disappearing act may not have been entirely by choice.
The hours without word from Grey stretched painfully slowly into several days, and Dex's stomach had become a hard knot of worry, only loosened temporarily thanks to the shots of strong liquor she downed when Ansel wasn't around.
Dex was becoming increasingly concerned, and on the verge of calling the cops to report Grey missing. She'd tried every other avenue she could think of to reach him, including going to the few contacts of his that she knew, but none of them had heard anything...or if they had, they certainly weren't telling the random brunette with a feisty attitude who rocked up to their auto shop.
Ansel was finally asleep, after another restless night of badgering Dex about where Grey was, and why he hadn't come back for their games tournament. She was running out of excuses for him, and her resentment at Grey for being the reason she was having to keep lying to her little brother was increasing by the day.
Dex had been pacing the floor in the dark for an hour whilst nursing the largest whiskey she could pour with the phone in her other hand. Her bare feet were starting to get sore from the circles she was walking repeatedly around the house.
She stared hard at her cell, as if her anger could somehow summon him. Sighing heavily, she tried Grey's number for the hundredth time. It rang through to voicemail again.
Dropping to the couch, Dex gripped her phone slightly tighter at the familiar sound of his voice telling her to leave a message, throwing it down to one side when she felt her throat start to burn with the effort of holding back tears of frustration.
Where the hell was he?
Taking a large gulp of whiskey, Dex held it in her mouth, letting it make her tongue tingle and her lips go numb before finally swallowing its heat and enjoying the burn it left behind. Sinking back into the couch cushions, she covered her face with both hands and groaned. She was all out of ideas.
Pressing her knuckles into her eyeballs, she rubbed slowly, trying to push the dull ache of sleep deprivation from her brain.
The sound of her phone made her jump. The undeniable ping of an incoming message. Dex scrambled to sit up and grab her cell. She saw the screen and frowned.
Holding her breath, Dex swiped to read them.
'Hey. I just wanted to let you know I'm okay. I know you're probably pissed at me, and I'm aware I've left a lot of questions, but I can't give you answers right now. I'm sorry.'
'It's Grey, obviously...'
Her heart thundered in her chest as she re-read the words. Tapping out a response at lightning speed, she hit 'send' and curled her shaking fingers into a fist.
'How do I know you're really Grey?'
'Who else would message you at this time of night? Suddenly you don't trust me?'
'I trust Grey. I just don't trust that you are him. Tell me something only he would know.'
'You beat my ass at pool every time we play.'
'Everyone knows Grey sucks at pool. Try again.'
'Ouch. Okay, your brother is the sweetest soul I've ever met. Already a better person than I could hope to become.'
'Whilst that is completely true, I'm going to need something a little more definitive.'
'Well, I didn't want to go there, but you're kinda forcing my hand now...'
'Fine. You have a small birth mark shaped like a heart on the inside of your left thigh.'
There was a delay in Dex's response, but sure enough her message finally came through. It consisted of just two words, and he could practically feel her smiling through his screen.
He'd message her from a different unknown number every few days. Always in the small hours of the morning, just checking to see if she and Ansel were doing alright, and letting her know he was still in one piece. On the nights she couldn't sleep, he'd stay up too, texting her to keep her mind occupied so she didn't spiral head first into the darkness he knew she feared so much.
Just because he wasn't physically there didn't mean he couldn't try to be somewhat present when she needed him. She had appreciated that, at least. Not that Dex would tell him. She was still pissed that he'd left in the first place.
She'd always ask, but Grey would never tell her where he was, or who he was with. He just repeated that he would return as soon as he could.
In all honesty, despite her frustration, Dex was happier not knowing the truth most of the time.
Sometimes you just had to do what needed to be done. She got that. They'd all been there, but it didn't make his absence any more bearable.
It was the most lonely she had felt since before they'd met, and Dex remembered just how much she hated that painfully sad, hollow feeling that made her chest hurt.
Dex stood outside on the porch to wave Ansel off on the bus as he headed to school. The summer air was warm as she breathed it in, even this early in the day, and she closed her eyes; allowing herself a moment to feel the heat of the sun seeping through her skin and into her bones. Beams of light and energy zipping straight into her bloodstream.
She sighed happily. A rare moment of contentment.
The sound of an engine made Dex open her eyes just in time to see a familiar red truck pulling up along the sidewalk, as unannounced as the day it left. Every muscle in her body suddenly and involuntarily relaxed.
It was a weird sensation, relief.
Like the strings that had been tightened around her organs constricting them with worry were all cut loose at once.
She turned slowly and kept her face neutral as Grey approached, actively resisting the smile that was trying to fight its way to the corners of her mouth.
Dex wanted to hug him.
But far more acutely, she wanted to punch him.
Right in the face.
"Am I hallucinating?" Dex exclaimed sarcastically "Or is that the elusive Grey McConnell I see before me?"
"Hey, Dex." He ducked his head sheepishly as he got out of the driver's side door, squinting in the sun.
As he came closer, she noticed a large bruise below his right eye, and the healing wound on his cheekbone. Forcing herself not to stare, she arched her brow at him and cocked her head "You've been gone over a month, and all I get is a 'Hey, Dex'?"
Grey screwed his face up and smiled apologetically.
"Actually, I was coming over here to see if you wanted to go get some breakfast..."
"Are you paying?" She crossed her arms.
"It looks that way..."
"Then let's go." Dex replied "I'd be foolish to turn down free pancakes."
Sitting opposite him in a booth, and tapping her fingers loudly against the edge of their table, Dex stared hard at the coffee cup Grey was drinking from. At one point it was so intense, he thought maybe she was trying to burn a hole in the bottom of the mug.
He took a long sip before lowering his arm and forcing her to look him in the eye instead.
"It's okay, you can say it."
"You wanna hit me, don't you..." Grey smiled sadly.
"Is it that obvious?"
"Then it seems like I need to work on my poker face."
"Dex..." He began, finding himself quickly cut off.
"Well, Ansel is going to be stoked that you're home at last. As video game partners go, I fall pretty low in the rankings, apparently."
"I really missed that kid." Grey said earnestly.
"Yeah, the feeling was mutual." She couldn't hide the sharp edge of anger in her words "He was pretty lost without you."
Sitting up straight, Grey levelled his gaze at Dex "I'm sorry I left at such short notice. Truly, I am."
"Short notice?" She scoffed into her drink "No notice, more like."
He dragged a hand down his face, sighing heavily.
"I know. And I'm not proud of it, especially after everything you did for me. But I had no choice, Dex. You have to know that."
"So, you gonna tell me why you went?"
Grey dropped his eyes to the table, choosing to take another long drag from his coffee rather than answer the question he'd known was coming sooner or later.
"I can't..." He replied quietly.
Seeing the hurt flash across her face as she turned to look out of the window, Grey quickly continued "...for your own safety, Dex. Not because I don't want to."
"Right. No, sure. I get it..." Dex shook her head, her words short and clipped "I guess you just 'accidentally' walked into a door or something to get those injuries on your face too, huh."
He looked away, awkwardness creeping in to settle itself at the table like an unwanted guest.
Neither one of them had ever been so relieved to see a waitress arrive a few minutes later to deliver pancakes, and Dex busied herself with pouring an insane amount of syrup over her stack, before gesturing to their server.
"Excuse me, could I get some extra_"
"Syrup?" The waitress finished, producing a small jug full with a flourish.
"Uh, yeah. Thanks. How did you...?" Dex looked from the waitress to Grey, who had placed their order at the counter. He raised his brows and shrugged.
"I know you." He said, meaningfully.
Dex nodded but remained quiet. Turning her attention back to the pancakes, she shovelled the biggest forkful possible into her mouth - because, if her mouth was full, she didn't have to speak. If she spoke, she'd have to concede that what Grey had said was one hundred percent true.
He did know her. Sometimes better than she knew herself. It was a little irritating, actually.
Grey saw his opportunity, striking whilst her ability to interrupt him again was hampered.
"I know you, Dex." He repeated "Just like I know that even though a small part of you wants to add another dent to my already crooked nose, a bigger part of you is actually happy that I'm back. I don't need you to say it to know that it's true."
She glared at him for a long moment, then he saw her lips curve upwards into a reluctant grin as she rolled her eyes.
"You're an asshole."
"I'm right though, right?"
"You're still an asshole..."
"I'll take that." He beamed back at her, reaching forward to clink his coffee mug with her jug of syrup.
"So..." she asked once their plates were empty "...are you going to join us for dinner later? It's an Ansel special."
"I'm afraid so."
"That sounds perfect." Grey smiled.
The dinner bubbled appealingly in its sauce, and Dex gave it a final stir, feeling like a head chef winning at life because she hadn't burnt it this time. At the unmistakable sound of Grey's knock on her front door, she looked around for a towel before giving up and wiping her hands down the front of her jeans as she headed up the hall. A few steps away, a hurricane in the shape of Ansel whirled down the stairs at breakneck speed, nearly knocking Dex off her feet as he blasted past her to fling the door open and hurl himself into Grey's arms for a long overdue bear hug.
The lemon meringue pie in Grey's grasp didn't stand a chance, finding itself catapulted on to the porch steps with an audible splat.
Grey himself had the air knocked out of his lungs with no warning, a grimace of pain twisting his features just long enough for Dex to notice before he composed himself, returning the hug enthusiastically.
"Hey buddy!" He laughed breathlessly.
"You're back!" Ansel grinned up at him.
"Sure am." Grey smiled the widest he had for many weeks. That kid certainly had a way of melting his heart.
Dex watched from the doorway as her brother lit up in a way she hadn't seen for far too long, but she'd also seen the pain Grey tried to hide from them, so she couldn't let Ansel stand there squeezing the breath out of his lungs for too long. Cute as it was.
"Alright you two, there's pasta waiting to be eaten so let's move this party inside. First one to the table gets extra sauce!"
That had Ansel running straight for the kitchen, just as planned.
"Thanks..." Grey nodded knowingly at Dex as he crossed her path into the hallway.
She nodded back, following as he jogged ahead to where Ansel was already sitting at the table. Grey feigned his upset at having lost out on the prize of extra sauce to the delightful sound of Ansel's uncontrollable laughter.
Music to her ears.
Once second helpings had been devoured, Dex stacked the dishes haphazardly next to the sink knowing full well she'd forget to wash them later.
Behind her, the buoyant giggles from Ansel and Grey hung in the air and she couldn't help but smile broadly as she looked over her shoulder to see them clowning around at the table.
Dex found herself surprised by the sudden sensation of tears filling her eyes. She immediately swiped at them with the back of her hand and frowned at herself as an intense wave of emotion swept through her body.
This wasn't her. She didn't emote like normal people, she ignored things and hoped they'd go away. It had served her fairly well so far.
If you removed her crippling PTSD from the picture, that is.
Okay, fine. So, it didn't always work brilliantly, but Dex liked being guarded against her feelings. It was the one thing she could usually control pretty well, even when all else was falling to hell.
However she tried to spin it, Dex couldn't deny the happiness she felt right now, or the warm feeling in her chest that was totally alien, but not entirely unpleasant. Her, Grey, and Ansel had become a dysfunctional little family unit as their friendship had grown stronger. He was wonderful with Ansel, and she trusted him implicitly - an honour bestowed on pitifully few people in her lifetime so far.
Dex hadn't realised quite how much they'd missed Grey until he wasn't there. Hadn't admitted to herself that she, in fact, had felt his absence just as hard as Ansel.
"Okay..." she announced loudly, walking back to the table "...so, given the fact our dessert is currently being enjoyed by the ants on our porch, I had to improvise a little."
Dex placed a plate down with a grin, only to be met by furrowed brows of disgust.
"Pop tarts?!" Grey curled his lip "I'll pass."
"What's wrong with pop tarts? They're an American classic." She took a bite and pushed the offering towards them.
Ansel leaned forward to pick one up, bringing it gingerly to his nose.
"Eww, Dex...they're Pumpkin."
"Yah, because my pockets aren't lined with gold, bud. If Pumpkin is on offer, Pumpkin's what I buy!"
He dropped it back on to the plate with a grunt of disappointment, resting his chin in his hands and sulking.
Grey's eyes suddenly lit up, and he stood quickly from his chair.
"What are you...doing?" Dex asked, turning to watch as he brushed past her to head towards a cupboard near the sink.
"Remember when Ansel and I had that movie marathon?"
"Well, I hid an emergency stash of snacks away just in case we ran out." Grey knelt down and reached behind the pots and pans.
Dex scoffed "If there were treats hidden in my kitchen, I'm pretty damn sure I would have found them by now..."
"I wouldn't bet on it." Grey declared, returning with his hands full of candy. He smirked at Dex as Ansel let out a delighted squeal.
"Fill your boots, kid!" He laughed, reaching for a bag of Skittles and ripping them open.
Dex watched for a moment, before tossing her half eaten pop tart to one side and stealing a couple of Twizzlers from Ansel instead.
"Sharing is caring." She declared.
It had long been dark outside when Dex finally managed to convince Ansel that he needed to go to bed. He reluctantly agreed, but only after Grey promised to come over in a few days for the games tournament they'd missed out on.
Ansel stopped in the doorway, running back to give Grey another hug.
"Now you have two w-working arms, I won't let you win anymore." He teased.
"Oh, that's fighting talk pal!" Grey chuckled "You'd better bring your A game!"
Dex had to wrangle Ansel back out of the room with a roll of her eyes, returning ten minutes later and heading straight to the fridge for two cold beers before collapsing onto the couch with a weary sigh.
"You read my mind." Grey said, reaching out his hand.
"Who said either of these are for you?" Dex challenged.
"Oh, so it's like that, huh? I share my secret stash of candy with you and I still gotta get my own beer?!"
"You do the crime, you pay the fine..." she shrugged, the ghost of a smirk on her lips.
Grey huffed out a little laugh and shook his head, bracing to stand. He deserved that, he guessed.
"Sit down, idiot." Dex glanced sideways and shoved a bottle into his grasp.
Flicking the tv on, they clinked bottles and sat in companionable silence. Neither of them felt compelled to enter into conversation, but it suited them both.
They watched garbage television and sipped beer. The unspoken language of true friendship.
Once his bottle was empty, Grey quietly picked at the label before finally making a move to leave.
"Thanks again for dinner." He smiled, standing.
"Thanks for coming back." She replied, surprising them both.
Grey turned to her, a wounded look on his face.
"I was always going to come back, Dex."
Something about the way his voice dropped when he said her name made her instantly regret giving him a hard time.
When he reached for his jacket, Grey's shirt rode up, exposing his midriff. Dex's eyes were immediately drawn to the extensive bruising near his ribs: his skin mottled in shades of purple and blue with the evidence of a heavy beating, and the sight made her stomach lurch.
She hadn't wanted to think about what he'd been involved with while he was gone - but this was the ultimate proof that Grey hadn't been staying away willingly, and the knowledge killed her.
Dex got up quickly from the couch, leaning forward to reach for the hem of his shirt, lifting it up and holding it in place. Grey stumbled but regained his footing, sighing in resignation as he realised what she'd seen.
Her fingertips traced over his skin, causing him to take a sharp intake of breath. She swallowed hard, eyebrows knitting together in concern.
"What happened to you, Grey?" Dex whispered, her voice catching on the unwelcome barbs of emotion in her throat.
His hand instinctively came up to cover hers, the warmth of her skin on his palms oddly soothing. She lifted her gaze to meet his and saw the sadness in his eyes. The burden of silence weighing heavy on his soul.
"It's nothing." He lied.
"I thought you were done with that part of your life?"
"Turns out that part of my life wasn't quite done with me."
Grey looked at her and exhaled heavily, finding her stern gaze unwavering "I'm okay, Dex..." He insisted.
"This is...not okay." She tried to hide the wobble of her voice.
Her hands were splayed on his sides. Grey felt the gentle increasing pressure of her touch. Silently, her thumbs began to stroke up and down his marked skin with a tenderness he didn't know Dex had the ability to possess.
The only physical contact he'd had with anyone since leaving a month ago had been entirely negative, so he found the powerful strength of this new connection with her quite overwhelming.
The rational part of his brain was telling him that this wasn't how best friends behaved, but the emotional part told it to go fuck itself - because it had been a really shitty month and right now, being touched like this was a tonic Grey didn't even know he needed.
He closed his eyes. He wasn't sure why, but that's what happened.
Strangely, the only thing he could think about was how Dex smelled of lemons, and how he liked it because it always reminded him of the first night they met - not that he'd ever tell her he remembered what her skin smelled like whilst they were screwing.
But it was true.
Without warning, her hands left his body and Grey frowned at the lack of contact. When he opened his eyes, Dex was looking right at him.
Grey saw the intensity in her face, felt the warm air of her breath on his skin.
"This isn't a good idea..." He murmured, even as his hands moved of their own volition to curl around her waist.
"No..." She agreed quietly "...but since when has that ever stopped me?"
Dex pressed her lips firmly against his.
Her body leaned into him, and Grey hummed his approval. His mouth opened willingly, inviting her closer. Hands grabbed blindly at whatever they landed on. Clothes, hair, skin.
There was an urgency building, and when she felt his fingers digging into the spot above her hipbone, she was certain she hadn't been the only one to sense it.
Dex could taste his apology on her tongue, and it only made her kiss him back even harder with her own forgiveness.
Ansel's voice carried loudly down the stairs, making them leap apart with a jolt the second they heard him call her name...