Caine listened to the door click shut behind Cross and smiled to himself. With his son and his fiancée finally there with him, he felt like his new apartment was finally home. It was too bad that the circumstances that had brought them together had been of the dire, destructive variety. Cross’s apartment was uninhabitable now, after the combined damage done by the monsters and the Impulse.
With Sem in his arms, he turned to look at Cross, who was standing in the entryway looking around the living room of his apartment.
“This place looks new.”
“I just moved here a week or so before the attack.” Caine gave her a sheepish smile. “It was pre-furnished, but everything’s in good shape, and it’s more stylish than anything I could put together myself.”
She ran her hand along the edge of a shelf and nodded again. “We can afford this?”
“Because of the destruction, housing costs are going to drop as the government relocates people,” he explained. “And my grant covers living expenses.”
Cross offered him a smile, looking at him for the first time since they’d come in. “My man did good.”
Caine smiled back at her and set Sem down on the floor. The toddler, who had been leaning at a precarious angle over his arm, began to make his way around the room, examining things as he came upon them. Caine followed two paces behind him; he hadn’t thought to childproof his apartment and there were a few things the boy could pull down on top of himself if given the chance.
“He’s so much better than I imagined,” he said, watching his son in adoration as he wobbled around the room. Sem touched everything he could reach with fat fingers, stroking and patting the furniture and Caine’s belongings.
“You knew about him?”
“Vaguely,” Caine admitted. He hadn’t been sure when Sem would be born, but he had known about his existence for some time.
“I wanted to tell you.”
Caine looked up and his stomach twisted with guilt as he found her watching him. “I’m sorry. That I’ve been so out of touch.”
“I could have found you,” she pointed out and looked at Sem, who was picking at the fibers of the rug. Caine was glad he’d cleaned in the last few days. “And I don’t know if having him with me while you were away made things easier or harder. But it doesn’t matter. I love him so much, and he reminds me of you.”
He’d only met the child a week before, but to Caine, Sem was already a treasure worth hoarding. “I’m glad you met Teyen,” he said. “There aren’t many people I’d trust more with Sem. Or with you.”
“You probably already know I wasn’t sleeping with him.”
Caine winced internally, though his expression remained serene.
“There hasn’t been anyone since you,” she added with her eyes still on Sem.
It wasn’t an accusation, but it felt like one. Caine looked at her quietly for a moment before asking, “Are you looking for reassurance?”
“No,” she said. “I’m the only one that matters.”
That was true, in the way she had meant it. Though Caine had never had reservations about his work at Billie’s, he hadn’t been certain that Cross wouldn’t, and now it was hard to know which emotions were behind her words. For a moment, he wanted to ask, and he wanted to ask how long she’d known how he’d made a living, but he shook his head and picked up Sem as the boy tried to hoist himself onto a small table.
“Things had to play out in a certain way,” he said instead, drawing closer to her.
“I know. I still remember that seizure.” She stroked Sem’s hair and looked up at him. “Right at the end of our last year of school. You’d never seized in your sleep before. You’d never had a vision that detailed or vivid, either. It was the first time I’d ever seen you unable to shake it off.”
Caine leaned forward and kissed her forehead. “It’s like I’ve been asleep and dreaming the last couple of years. But I feel awake now.”
Cross smiled. “You have a job at the university now? Everything went as planned?”
He wondered if she thought that had been the reason for the path he’d taken, but didn’t want to bring the issue up at the moment. Returning her smile, he said, “I’ll be an instructor starting next term. Until them, I’m funded for independent research.”
“Should I keep working?”
“Only if you want to.”
“I think Sem needs someone here.” Cross stroked her baby’s cheek. “And if that’s the case, he could probably use a little brother or sister to play with.”
Caine couldn’t keep himself from grinning. The anxiety he’d felt at the thought of this reunion and the way things might play out melted away. Cross understood everything. She always had.
“Well, I have to admit, we make beautiful babies.” Sem began to squirm in his arms and Caine put him down again. He watched him stomp across the floor and asked, “Does he know who I am?”
“Kind of,” Cross said. “It’s hard to teach him concepts like that. I’ve shown him your face, and images of you and me together, but I think he might be too young to get it right now. It’ll help that you’re around, though.”
“He seems to like me well enough, at least.”
“He loves everyone. You should see him with Teyen. His thoughts light up. It’s like firecrackers.”
“It seems I owe Teyen a lot,” Caine said, picturing the Impulse unconscious on the floor with one arm still curled protectively around Sem. He had never met Teyen before that night, but he felt like their single encounter had been enough to tell him everything he really needed to know about the other man.
“He’s helped me out a lot,” Cross agreed. “I really relied on him sometimes.”
“I feel a little bad,” Caine admitted. “For stealing his thunder back there, I mean. But he’d have died if I hadn’t, and it might not have actually saved you or Sem in the end.”
Cross’s eyes widened in mock surprise. “Did you just make a pun?”
Caine blinked at her several times and had to repeat what he’d just said to himself before he understood what she was referring to. He chuckled. “I wish I were witty enough to have done that on purpose.”
Cross hid a smile behind her hand, but then her expression became serious again. “He’ll be okay, though, right?”
“I think he looked worse off than he was,” Caine said. “The doctors will take care of him.”
“I mean they won’t know who he is?” She crossed her arms over her chest in an apprehensive motion and Caine stepped forward and kissed her forehead again. She shifted closer to him.
“No,” he reassured. He understood her anxiety. It had been a week since they’d left the Impulse at a hospital, and they had heard nothing from him during the past week, which they’d spent with Cross’s mother. “He’ll be okay. He’s not going to do anything to incriminate himself and they’d have to do a lot more than take a couple of scans to find out about his powers. They’d have just made sure there was no internal damage, and then he’d have been able to go home.”
“They were so busy at the hospital... I wish we could have taken him to Julian.”
“I have a feeling that the Healer has his hands full,” Caine said, looking around to make sure that Sem was okay. He smiled a little when he saw him running his hand along the smooth surface of the coffee table.
Cross cocked her head at him. “Have you met him?”
“Not yet,” Caine said. “But I will soon.”
Cross nodded a little, but didn’t ask him when or what the circumstances would be. Either she’d gleaned enough from his topmost thoughts to be satisfied or she felt that the time wasn’t right for that particular discussion. Caine was glad either way; he wanted to enjoy this moment while it lasted.
“So,” Cross said at length, moving closer to him and slipping her arm through his. “Did you buy anything else with your grant money?”
Caine looked at her from the corners of his eyes, smiling. “Did you have something specific in mind?”
She looked at him expectantly for a moment, but when Caine only kept smiling and said nothing, she rolled her eyes.
“Never mind. Are you hungry? I should make Sem some lunch, since he hasn’t eaten since last night.”
She moved toward the kitchen, but Caine caught her hand as it slipped past the crook of his elbow. Cross stopped and looked back at him.
She smiled, and Caine thought he had never been happier. “Of course.”
He dug in his pocket and found the ring there. It was simple: a thin metal band etched with a flowing pattern. He slipped it onto her finger and gave her a sheepish smile.
“I’ve had it in my pocket for over a year now,” he said, blushing just slightly at how sappy that made him look. “Didn’t know when I’d get to give it to you, so I wanted to make sure I was always ready.”
Cross put her free hand to her mouth, stifling tears. “It’s beautiful”
“You’re beautiful.” He leaned in and gave her a kiss.
She looped her arms around her neck, hugging him tightly. “I wanted this to be real every time I dreamed it.”
“We’re both done dreaming.”
Cross laughed and pulled away, wiping at her eyes, apparently done with the romantic moment. “Just wait until I show my mother. She’s going to feel like an idiot for doubting you.”
“Oh, your mother loves me,” Caine said, stepping away from her and kneeling down to pull Sem out from under the couch.
“You got her baby pregnant and then disappeared,” Cross pointed out.
Caine paused to think about that. It explained why her reception of him hadn’t been as warm as he had been used to in the past. Cross joined him, taking Sem from his arms and twirling around with him. He laughed and patted his mother with chubby hands, happy because she was happy. Caine smiled up at them, and tried not to think about some of the bloody visions he’d had that he knew were going to sneak up on them and fragment this scene before he’d had the chance to fully enjoy it.