Set in September 1998, immediately after the events of the movie (but prior to the epilogue), so there are spoilers for the film. But if you haven't seen the movie, would you be reading the fanfic?

NC-17 with HET content. It's still slash, folks, but the hot-n-heavy is m/f. You've been warned.

Ohio Autumn
by Laura Mason

Zeke's blood-covered face breaks into a smile as he sags against the wire screen, and he laughs. Casey can't help staring for a moment. He's never seen Zeke so happy, smiling from sheer joy. Relief. Stokely, too, looks happy and peaceful. But Zeke's face is transformed.

Casey is only high, not stupid, so he knows enough to look away before Zeke notices his stare. He'll never forget this moment and that look, however briefly he saw it.

All day he's only been able to steal brief glances at Zeke, although he was able to speak to him when it was necessary. But if Zeke catches Casey staring, who knows what he'll do. Casey wishes Zeke were the kind of Neanderthal who'd just beat the crap out of him; bruises and cuts go away eventually. Zeke's casual cruelty is unforgettable.

Stokely is shivering, and Casey can feel his sweat-soaked shirt clammy against his back. He rises, amazed at how difficult the simple movement is, and raids the first-aid closet. He finds only one thermal emergency wrap but there are scratchy, ancient grey blankets on a shelf. He gives Stokes the tinfoil-like material first, but wraps a blanket over it just to be sure she's warm enough. Zeke accepts the blanket Casey tosses in his direction without comment, somehow managing to look cool even swaddled in the thick fabric.

None of them have spoken since Zeke's outburst of laughter. Unless their lives are being threatened, they have nothing to say to each other.

Casey's face aches where Marybeth-- The alien, there was never a person named Marybeth, and it bothers Casey that even after seeing its true form he still thinks of her as Marybeth. Anyway, the muscles of his face hurt from the parasites she -- it -- spat at him. The cuts are closing, they're not even bleeding, but he can still feel where they burrowed and dug in.

Stokely and Zeke both look dazed; they probably have concussions. Casey helps Stokely rise, knowing he should call 911 though he just wants to lay down right here and get a few days of sleep. He does neither. Instead, Zeke rises and stands on the other side of Stokely and the three of them leave, bracing each other as they weave through the ruins of the Hornet locker room.

Casey wishes he didn't feel so smug about jock-heaven being thoroughly trashed. He wonders if anyone will believe Marybeth did this. No matter; no one would think little Casey Connor had the guts or the muscle to do it himself. He giggles.

They leave the gym building, still together and stumbling a little as they try to walk. Confused stragglers are glancing their way, but Casey doesn't feel like talking and it doesn't seem like Zeke or Stokely do, either. They ignore the questioning glances of the students rubbing their eyes like they just woke up. A police car arrives, and the officers look just as dazed as the students. They mill around, talking, accomplishing nothing.

Casey sees Stan before Stokely does, and he sits down on the bottom row of the bleachers, letting her and Zeke wander on alone. Stan catches sight of them and runs over. Casey watches Stan grab Stokely, hug her, and sees her finally start talking, maybe even crying, but there's a radiant smile on her face.

Casey turns away in time to see Zeke staring at the ruin of his car. Miss Burke calls to him and approaches, but Zeke backs away from her, looking -- afraid?

A flash of light -- someone's taken his picture as he stares at Zeke. Casey doesn't care. He wants to go home, but he's too tired to walk there. Even more tired than he felt in the gym, watching Marybeth die and dissolve into dust. The police, if they investigate anything, will find only the residue of her enormous body under the bent and snapped girders of the bleachers. Casey wonders if they'll find anything of Miss Drake or Mr. Furlong, or if all that remains of them is dust. Mr. Furlong was his favorite teacher.

He closes his eyes and he can hear Zeke telling the thing inside Mr. Furlong to let Casey go. It didn't mean anything. Zeke wasn't trying to protect him; he would have swung his makeshift machete at the alien just because he was an alien. Still, Casey's weary brain replays the husky voice one more time before morphing into Zeke's threats as he forced more scat on Casey. He'd pulled Stokely away before she could hurt Zeke and locked her up, but Zeke still didn't trust him. That's what he should remember.

***

Zeke's been kidding himself for a while now, but the extent of his self-deception is surprising. Zeke thought Casey Connor needed a protector, a keeper. He'd told himself not to get too close to the kid; he was too needy. As Zeke backs away from Miss Burke -- timid Miss Burke with a livid red scar on her neck and confusion in her eyes -- he knows Casey isn't the frightened one.

"Just leave me the hell alone." That does it, she shrinks before his eyes and turns, hurt all over her face, one hand at her neck. The alien somehow kept her alive despite the decapitation, and even with the alien gone Miss Burke freaks him out. Zeke watches her walk away, unwilling to turn his back on her.

Casey saved Zeke's life tonight. He saved them all with that amazing brain and stubborn courage. Like the fucking Wizard of Oz -- a brain, courage, and a heart -- Casey has them all. Zeke knows because he's seen them all. He's even stomped Casey's heart.

Casey saw what was happening before anyone else, recognized the threat and was determined enough to speak out. Zeke remembers how he mocked Casey's theory, trying to impress that -- thing. How he delivered Casey into alien-Furlong's hands. It was only an accident that he actually found a way to help Casey and to protect them all.

Zeke thinks about going to church to light a candle for that bit of luck. There really is a first time for everything.

Casey lured the football team away and somehow outran or outsmarted them all, then saved him from Stokely, too. When Zeke was surrounded and thought he was outnumbered, he had an ally.

No matter what he tries to tell himself now, he knows Casey didn't help him just because it was us-versus-them. Casey rushed Furlong -- as if he could stop him! -- because he'd moved on Zeke. Despite what Zeke has done to him, Casey won't turn his back on Zeke. It's the same thing that has always bugged the shit out of him; Zeke can't understand how Casey lets things go. He might spit an insult or a "fuck you" when he's attacked, but Casey doesn't hold grudges.

A scream from behind him makes him finally turn to see Delilah, the bitch, having a fit because Stan was kissing Stokely. Zeke, unlike Stan, knows she was never exclusive with him. But she seems genuinely angry, probably about something else entirely. She vents at Stan, her language creatively foul. Stan has an arm around Stokely, and they both look solemn and insanely happy. Delilah has a right to be annoyed.

Zeke looks away and sees another watcher, oblivious to his presence. Casey is on his feet, swaying a little, still wrapped in that stupid blanket and watching Delilah. When she slaps Stan and walks away, Casey's eyes follow her.

Zeke starts to move toward him, glad Casey's attention is on Delilah. He'll say something -- he doesn't know what -- and Casey will understand it's an apology, a thank you. Casey has to understand.

Instead, when he's only steps away, Delilah breaks into a run and Casey, eyes still glued to her figure, darts after her. Zeke stares after him until he disappears inside the gymnasium following her.

***

"Delilah?"

"What?" Sharp, bitchy, but Casey knows she's crying.

"I'm... I just wanted to say I'm glad you're okay again." Casey would like to say more, but he's so very tired. Shit, he's never been fluent around her on his best days.

"I wish we'd all died," she whispers, and then the sobs grow in volume. Casey finds the courage to go to her, put his arms around her shaking body. He wraps them together in the scratchy, grungy blanket. She's taller than him, but it feels all right.

When her sobs finally die out, Casey takes her into the main gym and shows her where Marybeth died. Delilah spits at the residue, and suddenly looks more like herself.

"It was all lies, anyway," she says, and Casey thinks he understands. It was only a minute, but he felt that vast, uncaring peace they'd all been experiencing. Time had no meaning, despite his screams of pain. The agony was separate. Delilah tosses her hair and tries out a weak smile. "Let's get the fuck out of this place. It smells like Stan's socks."

Casey follows her, dutiful as always, back outside and into a crowd of students and police. Delilah is the one who tells them aliens were taking over the school, starting with the faculty. When the reporters arrive, she gives the interviews but keeps pointing to Casey, very unheroically dozing in his blanket on the concrete steps, his head leaning against the cool brick wall. The FBI arrives as the sky is growing lighter, but Delilah demands that they be driven home to rest before they're interviewed. Casey is amazed when they agree to her request, but more surprised that Delilah climbs into the back seat of the squad car next to him and pulls him into her arms.

When she gives the officer her home address and whispers to Casey that he can stay with her tonight, it starts to make sense. Rebounding. Lose a boyfriend, get another. Make him out to be some kind of hero, because plain old Casey isn't good enough for Delilah. She dates football players, not science geeks. Casey falls asleep during the ride and dreams of Delilah in a garden. She's uprooting flowers, one after another, always surprised that the next one to grow in that spot isn't any better.

He loses several kinds of virginity tonight, but it's a blur. He will remember Delilah's mouth on his, tiny bites and pushing tongue followed by exasperated instruction on exactly how he should be responding. The remarks are made in her usual waspish voice despite the fact that they're naked together in her bed. Casey wants to remember the feel of her smooth skin and the way her mouth is gentle while her hands are rough. He learns the smell, feel and taste of her to go with the parts he's always had -- sight and sound. Just as in a photograph, it's better close up though more flaws show.

When his hands and cock finally push her over, Casey compares her pleasure-twisted face to his memory of Zeke's orgasm. He comes at last, moaning like he's dying.

***

Zeke watches Delilah's circus from across the lawn. Whatever Casey said to her, it worked. She's recovered enough to be bossing everyone as usual, unafraid to push around the police and FBI instead of her fellow students. Then again, she's always had most of the faculty dancing to her tune. He admires her chutzpah even as he stares at Casey, who looks dead exhausted.

Zeke doubts that Casey wants to be the star of Delilah's little fairytale, but he doesn't seem to be paying attention to the bitch. Dangerous inattention. But Zeke won't stop her; Casey made his choice.

Well, Casey didn't know there was a choice, but Zeke won't try to bail him out. Zeke is no hero, and he's not going to change for Casey's sake.

The hair on the back of his neck rises, his only clue, but he says "Hello, Miss Burke" very loudly and isn't surprised when she giggles in response. When he turns there is a scarf around her neck, hiding the scar.

"Zeke." Why exactly was he afraid of her? He kissed an alien today. He would have made it with an alien, at least until she ate out his brain and took him over, if he hadn't been distracted by Casey's voice. And this isn't the alien; this is the real Miss Burke, shy and unsure of herself. Maybe not unsure, since she's approaching him and is almost smiling at him, her eyes mischievous at the scarf-deception. Then they turn concerned when she sees his exhaustion.

"Okay." That's all he has to say, and she's driving him back to her apartment, leaving Casey in Delilah's far-too-competent hands.

It's where Casey would chose to be, anyway. Probably.

There's no need to pretend to seduce her; they came here for survivor's sex. They only pause long enough for her to clean his wound with gentle fingers, Zeke almost shaking with the need. His first sexual experience was with a babysitter willing to help him believe he was still alive. Zeke drags his thoughts away from Luke; he's tired or he'd never be thinking about this shit in front of another person.

The actual sex is almost as bad as it was that awkward night nine years ago. Miss Burke is clumsy, all elbows and embarrassment when naked. Her bed, lace and flowery throw-pillows that practically explode to the floor at a touch, is a twin. Though they're thin enough to fit in it together, Zeke's feet hang off the end. Her kissing technique is almost as bad as Casey's.

That thought makes Zeke's erection wilt for the moment, but she doesn't seem to notice. She's gasping and moaning whenever he touches her, twitching and flinching whether it's her elbow or her breast he's gripping. Zeke knows he may be her first sexual experience, but he can't bring himself to give a damn.

He rams fingers inside her though she's still dry, and her cry isn't from pleasure. He closes his eyes as he kisses her awkward mouth, and tries to imagine Casey. She doesn't taste the same, but she's almost as bony. He moves away from her mouth and bites at her neck, and it gets easier to imagine. He feels his cock stir. He thumbs her clit while his fingers work, and finally she begins to relax, to move with a rhythm and moan in pleasure.

When he pulls away she moans "please" as he pulls on a condom. Lubricated, he hopes, as he rams inside her without much caution. She screams and her nails dig into his arms, but when he starts thrusting she squeals and almost manages to catch the right movement. Rather than wait for her to learn it, Zeke puts his hands on her hips instead and pulls her into his slams. When he's close, he moves a hand to her again and brings her along with him, bending to bite at her nipple and kiss her breastbone.

She's even more shy, if that's possible, once it's over. She dons a robe, brings him water, strokes his arm as she asks if he enjoyed it. Zeke only grunts in return, wondering if she somehow believes she seduced him and it's his first time. She might think his rough, uncaring treatment comes from inexperience. As she drones on, it's obvious Miss Burke believes they're building a relationship with their secrets. She thinks this is a beginning.

It's not. Zeke knows that, but he stays next to her.

Before the events today, Zeke would have had no qualms about disappointing her. He'd have disappeared once she fell asleep, and probably never have spoken to her again. Confused virgins aren't much fun, but once they're ex-virgins, there's really nothing to stick around for. He'd have more fun with two-bit pickups at Weasel's.

But today, he killed this woman he's flirted with for two years. Sure, it was while an alien was inside her, and he didn't succeed, but he deliberately tried to put her through his windshield, hoping she'd die. Zeke shot Miss Drake, stabbed Mr. Furlong, but all he can remember is how Casey looked when he saw Zeke's gun. Casey was unable to stab or shoot at anyone in human form. He was so damned determined to save Delilah, to get all of them back.

Zeke doesn't think he changed today, not really. But his perception of other people changed, starting with Casey. He doesn't quite see Miss Burke -- Beth, she's asked him to call her Beth -- as just another body, though he just used her like an object. She's one of the precious human lives Casey struggled to get away from the alien queen.

So why not stay, and let her think she has a real boyfriend? It won't cost Zeke anything but sex. She can't hurt him. It'll be easy, because he doesn't care if she's happy or not. He can give her physical gratification. She might even think that she's happy, at least for a while.

He lounges beside her, not really listening to her soft chatter about her family and her cat. As he's about to doze off, he thinks maybe he should graduate this year. Beth will believe it's her influence making him pass his classes. In a way, she'll be correct. Eight months is a long time. Then again, for Zeke a week would be the longest time he's ever spent fucking one person. But graduation will end it.

***

The aliens must have won. Marybeth's death was some kind of hallucination. There's no other way to explain it.

Delilah smiles at Stokes, a fake smile but she squeezes Casey's arm as she does it, as if to say "see how good I'm being?" She has been nicer to Stan and Stokes since Casey asked her not to insult Stokely. Stokes is the closest thing to a friend he has; he isn't willing to lose her.

It's not alien influences; Delilah has always liked people who talk back a little, argue for a few minutes, but still let her have her way. Since her father died, she seems to be looking for someone who can master her, but instead spoils her. Casey is not that person, but she's still acquiescing to his request, and smiling at him like a naughty child when he catches her with Stokely.

Delilah kisses Casey at the door of his calculus class, even though the hall is full of students and she's wearing her expensive new lip shit.

"See you in the dark room," she calls with a wink, and Casey feels himself blush at the looks he gets. They will meet there later, to work on the paper, but Delilah's husky coo makes it sound like a rendezvous for hot sex. He should be happy, shouldn't he? But the attention is freaking him out, as is the thought that he's living in that no-pain zone Stan whispered about.

It's been almost two months. The school building is back to normal, all the police tape finally gone and the locker room rebuilt although a section of the bleachers still won't open. It's all back to normal, but it doesn't feel that way, not with Stokely wearing preppy pastel twin sets and Zeke playing football. Maybe it's a joke the alien is playing on him, some kind of twisted revenge. Casey would actually feel better if someone slammed him into a wall.

Wasn't Zeke afraid of Miss Burke, that night? Casey must be remembering a dream instead of what actually happened, because Zeke isn't afraid now. Of course, he doesn't act like a student with his teacher, either. Zeke smiles at Miss Burke and she watches him run laps after school. Casey watched them through his telephoto lens last night, watched as the field grew dim under the darkening sky. They thought they were alone.

He tries to turn his attention back to class, but it's too late. Casey is seeing it all again, replayed in vivid detail. Zeke kisses her, pulls her close to him and burrows inside her coat as he devours her mouth. When he pulls away, Miss Burke's smile is tender. She looks happier than Casey's ever seen her, happier than she gets in the library browsing through books like they're old friends.

He isn't jealous. So what if they've been together since that day and Zeke has never been exclusive with anyone before? Casey doesn't care; he's with Delilah now. Casey has a beautiful girlfriend and straight-A grades; he's not pining after Zeke.

And while no one seems to believe Delilah's story, which was close to the truth, the word has gone out that you don't mess with Casey. He's a mean little motherfucker. He'll stab your eyes out with his pencil. Casey, who couldn't stab Miss Drake's eye even when he was high on scat, wonders why anyone finds a violent version of him easier to believe in than an alien invasion.

Casey's mom, of course, has him seeing a shrink. Neither of his parents believe the truth, they just whisper about his "hostility." Dr. Manning listens, nods, writes a lot and says very little. Of course, most days Casey says very little, too. No one is counseling Delilah, though her mother didn't believe their story either. Delilah blames the disbelief on her mom's drinking, but Casey's parents are proof that no one, drunk or sober, believes them. The FBI didn't; the local police didn't. The reporters only pretended to believe in order to get interviews and write mocking stories.

Casey knows alcoholism is terrible, but he can't help wishing his own parents had something, even an addiction, to distract them from their annoying attention to him. He'd like to be left alone and allowed to forget it all. Wipe out the whole past year. Move to Europe, where no one would recognize him. He wonders whether kids in other countries would see the mean muther or the punchable geek. He guesses it would be the latter. He still wants to go there.

Stokely is a comfort sometimes, just sitting with him and talking about books, being normal. Stan comes to him for help with his chemistry class. And being with Delilah has brought him a social life, even if it's only people trying to get closer to her.

None of it matters. Casey's perverse brain, unhappy with the very things he always thought he wanted, stays fixated on Zeke. They haven't spoken since Zeke asked if it was over that night, but Casey imagines talking to him. He wants to hear what's going on with Miss Burke. He wants to know how Zeke feels now that everything is supposed to be normal again.

He's kidding himself, of course. He and Zeke have never exchanged more than ten words at a time, even that snowy day when Casey thought they'd connected. There's no reason Zeke would open up to him now. There's no guarantee Casey would be able to do any better than he does with Dr. Manning, either.

He remembers Marybeth's soothing voice, telling him she noticed that all of them were different from the others. That is the only outside confirmation he's ever received about the kinship he feels with Zeke. Casey is cherishing the words of a lying alien who was trying to kill him. Pathetic.

He's missed the whole lecture again, something that's happening a lot. It hasn't affected his grades at all, meaning Casey could have been coasting all these years instead of busting his ass doing homework and lugging books home from the library. He wonders if college will be the same, when he can think ahead to college. He used to live in his future all the time, but since Marybeth he's not planning ahead much. It's a waste of time to make plans when a few hours can change absolutely everything.

Delilah is waiting outside his next classroom, wearing her coat.

"I've got to go home, Casey. Can you run the photos for the paper yourself?"

"Sure. I've got your notes in the dark room."

"Great. Thanks, babe." Another lingering kiss, until some clown yells 'get a room!' Then she's gone in a swirl of perfume, and Casey breathes deeply, wondering how he got so lucky. She's amazingly beautiful, smart and funny in a bitchy way. She outclasses him, and he knows it. It won't last; she's already lying to him, but he still feels damn lucky.

Miss Burke strolls past him into the classroom, wearing a Mona Lisa smile. Her lips look a little puffy, like Casey's feel. She's been necking with Zeke, who's in her morning lit class, not Casey's AP English. He takes his seat, but he can't stop staring at her self-satisfied look. She's done something else to Zeke.

The phrase seems wrong, but it's accurate. She's the one who convinced Zeke to join the football team; Casey's positive of that. Football has ended, though, and Casey hears that Zeke is getting passing grades in all his classes. He's on course to graduate this Spring. So what has she done -- what's left?

Why is she with Zeke if she only wants to change him?

***

Zeke is selling the last of his porn tapes out of his trunk, a reaction to agreeing to Beth's latest "Project Zeke" request, when he sees Delilah leaving the school with Gabe. He stares after their car until one of the slackers next to him starts whining.

He's absolutely furious, and he almost takes a swing at the dweeb just to release it. The punk backs off quickly, clutching his tape and muttering, as he holds out a twenty. Zeke grabs the bill, slams the trunk and strides away. He wants to drive off, but even pissed off, he knows he can't afford to waste the gas.

Buying another car took a big chunk of his savings. Beth tried to talk him out of it, offering the loan of her car "whenever you need it," but Zeke insisted. He likes the old Impala and he needs the independence. When he can't stand being Beth's Zeke a minute longer, he has a retreat.

He'd have to be starving before he'd touch the account his mother left for him, so his finances are the worst they've been in years. He no longer has the lab equipment to make scat; the Delilah-alien destroyed that and he's promised Beth he won't replace it. The porn tapes and condoms aren't very profitable to begin with, and some of his regular customers are shying away from him. He's too friendly with Beth for their comfort and the idiots must think he's trying to entrap them. As if.

Beth probably doesn't even realize people have noticed how often she's whispering with him. She thinks they have a relationship, and she thinks it's a secret. Maybe she just thinks everyone is as blind as she's always been.

The blindness works in his favor, though he's wondering why he's still playing along with her imaginary "relationship". Zeke humors her until he's ready to kill her, then does something utterly stupid in order to feel like himself again. He's been to Weasel's a few times since he got the car, picking up some desperate woman for a quick fuck. If Beth found out she'd be devastated, but she won't find out. Beth doesn't have friends who frequent strip bars.

Zeke curses as he stumbles over a post hole on the field. He should go back; he has another class and if he skips, Beth...

Why does he care what Beth will think? Casey doesn't understand; he doesn't know that Zeke is tied up in these knots because of him. No, Casey is with Delilah. Who's probably fucking Gabe right now, and doing half the other jocks, too. She's a slut, though she's always been a choosy slut. She cheated on Stan, too. Why did Zeke think she'd be different with Casey?

Because he's Casey. Beautiful, determined, heroic Casey. Doesn't she appreciate him? Why is she with him if she can't see what he is?

He heads back into the school building, aware of the way everyone moves out of his path.

His own fantasies still feature Casey in the starring role. He's seen changes in Casey since that September day. Some Zeke blames on the alien, though they might not be changes at all -- Casey was always stronger than Zeke admitted. But there are changes Delilah caused, and Zeke wants to kill her for them. Casey isn't living in his dreams anymore; the far-off stare that always intrigued and angered Zeke is gone. Though Casey still blushes and somehow seems innocent, Zeke has watched them kiss in the hallway. He knows what Delilah has taught Casey.

He could beat the crap out of her for it. Zeke has had only one taste of that mouth, and he still wants more of what she's throwing away. When Zeke wants to punish himself for the way he's treated Casey, he imagines Delilah in bed with Casey. The bed isn't fussy or small like Beth's determinedly feminine bed. No, he sees Casey on soft dark sheets, his skin glowing and his eyes lit up as Delilah lowers herself over him. Sometimes when he's with Beth, his feet hanging off her damned bed and smelling the pale skin that isn't Casey's, that image is clearer than his reality.

He slams around a corner and right into the real, flesh-and-blood Casey, who winds up on his ass.

"Fuck!" Zeke was wrong; Casey still gets that far-off look. It's in his eyes as Zeke grabs his hand and yanks him to his feet.

"Sorry, my fault," Casey says, a little breathless. Zeke is still holding his hand, staring down at him, breathing heavily himself.

"Case..." He doesn't know what to say; everything seems inadequate. "Do you believe I've agreed to try out for the damn drama club?"

Casey actually smiles up at him. "That's pretty fucked, Zeke."

"Yeah." He finally drops Casey's hand, and watches as he stoops to gather the papers and books that went flying on impact. Casey glances back at him with a wry smile.

"Not as fucked as me doing Delilah's work on the paper while she's with Gabe, though."

Zeke's jaw drops, then he laughs out loud. "You little shit." He bends and helps gather the papers as Mr. Bradley pokes his head out of his classroom door to see what the disturbance is in the hall.

"Just an accident, sir," Casey assures him. "I'm on my way to the darkroom to work on the newspaper."

***

Zeke blows off his class and follows Casey to the darkroom, and Casey smiles to himself as he pulls out Delilah's notes. It's not that he wants Zeke to fail; he knows Zeke is too smart to have failed unless it was deliberate. Zeke could coast through his classes easily.

Casey just wants Zeke to be himself, and right now he seems more like the real Zeke than he's seemed since Marybeth died.

Zeke is quiet, watching Casey occasionally, but mostly studying the equipment, the supplies, the room. Casey is too familiar with this place to know what Zeke is seeing. Perhaps just a quiet, dark place to bring Miss Burke for a makeout session. After all, Casey is still with Delilah. Zeke understands what Miss Burke is trying to do to him, but that doesn't mean he'll leave her.

Casey doesn't think he knows enough about relationships to understand anyone else's. Being with Delilah hasn't helped make sense of his parents' apathetic bond. Casey has an imagination, but it's not good enough for him to see the attraction in Miss Burke -- or any teacher. Even when the alien had Miss Drake wearing short, tight skirts and low-cut blouses, exuding sex, Casey knew it had nothing to do with him. The faculty is a different species to him. Apparently not to Zeke, at least not anymore.

"Casey, when you're done can we go have coffee?" It's the most polite thing Zeke has ever said to Casey. He nods silently, their eyes locked together. He wonders if Zeke is remembering back to March, to their breakfast on the interstate. Casey looks away, pretending to concentrate on the paper. It's not a good idea to think about that day, or any day from their past. He'd like to concentrate on right now, on how good it feels to joke and talk with Zeke.

He finishes the photos before the period ends, but drags out the time with cleanup, knowing once the bell sounds, he and Zeke can leave without anyone noticing. Zeke has his coat, but Casey needs to stop at his locker. He pulls on his jacket and thinks about the assignments he was planning to work on tonight for a minute, then shoves his entire book bag inside the locker and closes it. He sticks his now-empty hands into his pockets and follows Zeke out the front door, past the parking lot and down several residential blocks, until they reach the old downtown section of Herrington.

Zeke leads the way inside a restaurant that reminds Casey of his grandparents. The elderly waitress wears a pink uniform and brings them cups and a pot of coffee as soon as they sit down. Casey's stomach growls almost immediately, and he blushes when Zeke looks over at him.

"Are you hungry?"

"No, just..." Casey stares at Zeke, who looks concerned for some reason. "Maybe a slice of pie."

***

It's eight o'clock when Zeke and Casey finally leave the restaurant, Casey paying for the pie and coffee as their waitress angrily flips the "closed" sign. Zeke doesn't remember telling him how broke he is; Casey evidently figured it out for himself. Zeke always forgets just how smart he is, and how closely Casey listens.

They're both silent now, though they've been talking for hours. In fact, Zeke's throat hurts from it. Or maybe that's still the ache from not speaking of the most important things. He knows about Casey's camera equipment, his college applications, and the idiotic shrink his parents are making him see. He's told Casey about his classes and his plan to graduate, and enough about his mother and Luke to worry that he'll hate himself -- and Casey -- tomorrow.

They even discussed the alien, and how Casey still thinks of the queen he killed as Marybeth, and remembers things she promised him in the locker room that night. When Casey talked about that, Zeke held his hand.

But they haven't discussed Beth or Delilah, or the thing that's been between them since last year.

They walk through loudly crunching leaves, traffic nonexistent. Everyone is home now, finished with dinner and drowsing in front of their televisions. They could be the last two people on earth, just as they would have been if Stokely had been wrong and killing the queen had killed everyone instead of curing them.

"You want a ride home?" he asks when they approach the school parking lot. There's a bit of a pause, but he's not surprised when Casey shakes his head.

"Thanks, but I'd like to walk." The far-off look is there in the wide eyes already. Casey has some thinking to do, some dreaming to do. Despite everything he's learned tonight about Casey, there are still parts of him that Zeke can't reach.

But he tries, anyway. They're at Zeke's car now, and he reaches out and grabs Casey, pulling him into an embrace. Casey willingly wraps his arms around Zeke in return, squeezing him. Zeke is amazed how much he likes this contact; he's never enjoyed being hugged. But Casey is different.

Still, it isn't enough.

He moves a hand to Casey's face and tips it up as he bends to kiss him, a long, lingering exploration as different from that long-ago punch of a kiss as he can make it. Casey's mouth, more confident now, is still as sweet as it was in March. Zeke loses track of the cold as he lingers there, where he's wanted to be, finally not afraid.

Casey is the one who breaks the kiss, pulling away with a smile and a touch to Zeke's face. He turns and walks away without a word.

For the first time, Zeke is the one left standing, watching Casey move off. When Zeke can no longer make out his figure in the distant streetlights, he climbs in his car.

The Impala won't turn over.

 

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