She bustled into the tiny leads' room under the bridge outside Pirates of the Caribbean and set her backpack down in a corner. The male lead looked up at her entrance, and she tried to sneak a peek at his nametag, since he was a lead she didn't remember working with before.
His name was Scott -- that was the thing about working at the park; she could work with different people every day and never have seen them before, and yet, she'd still know their name within five seconds of meeting them. The nametags were handy that way.
"Hi," Scott said, taking a much more overt glance at her nametag. "Morgan... there you are," he said, checking the list on his clipboard. He let her know which section she was going to be working -- by the petrified tree -- and sent her off to help with set-up.
The park was crowded, but not insanely so, and set-up went smoothly.
She turned around to see Julie setting up next to her. "Hey, you," she said with a smile, taking a pole from the other woman. She and Julie were around the same age, a little bit older than most of the kids who worked Space Mountain with them, and they'd begun to strike up a friendship.
"You got stuck with GC too, hmm?" Julie said quietly, rolling her eyes.
Morgan shrugged. "I don't mind. I like Fantasmic!. The people taking pictures in your eyes kinda sucks, but other than that, it's okay."
"Ah, you got walkway control," Julie said with a nod.
It was the responsibility of the cast member doing walkway control to stand at the edge of the roped off seating or standing area, facing away from the water, in order to make sure people weren't stopping in the walkways. Guests with cameras would come up to the aisle and take flash pictures of the show, which left her blinded and with bright afterimages in her eyes for several minutes afterward.
"Yeah. But you get a good view of the fireworks, so it's all good."
Julie laughed. "You love those."
"Always have," Morgan said with a sheepish smile. She noticed April, one of the leads, glancing at them, and she muttered to Julie, "Less talking, more smiling, more set-up."
Julie laughed and took the rope from her. "All right, talk to you later. Have fun."
She finished set-up and watched as the area began to fill with hundreds -- thousands -- of people. It still amazed her how quickly the crowd swelled, and she remembered how empty other areas of the park became from nine to eleven while both shows of Fantasmic! and the fireworks -- which came between shows -- took place.
"Sorry, ma'am, this is a walkway; I'm going to have to ask you to keep moving," Morgan said, smiling but firm.
"Oh, okay," the woman said, giving her a distracted smile. Morgan watched, trying to keep from rolling her eyes as the woman and her children stopped in the walkway in front of the next aisle. The cast member there moved her along just as Morgan had, and the woman gave him the same distracted smile.
When the show began, her job got harder as guests tried to stop and watch the show. Though her back was to it, Morgan could tell what was going on by the soundtrack, and also by the audience's reactions. She was concentrating on keeping the traffic flowing, but she had to smile at the awed faces of the littlest kids.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"Everything okay?" one of the leads asked, hurrying through during the brief break between the first show and the fireworks. Other cast members were responsible for moving set-up poles, breaking down some areas and setting up others, but Morgan just had to watch her walkway.
"Fine," she answered, but the lead was already gone. Though the cast members hurried around, the guests were mostly content to sit -- the Fantasmic! seating and standing areas were a pretty good spot to watch the fireworks.
The area went dark as the music started up, and Morgan couldn't help but smile. She'd always loved fireworks, and she still had a hard time remembering that she was supposed to be watching the guests, not the show.
The guests were usually well-behaved during the show, though, so it wasn't a problem unless a lead was watching her. It was only after the fireworks -- when thousands of people tried to exit the area quickly to make maximum use of their few hours left in the park -- that problems started.
Morgan watched in dismay as people began to press forward into those in front of them, despite the fact that the people in front weren't moving. The dispersal seemed to be taking longer than usual, and she longed for a radio so she could see what the problem was. Unfortunately, handheld radios were the domain of the leads only, so she simply had to wonder -- silently, unlike the guests, who were loudly beginning to express their impatience.
"Would you hurry up?" a blonde woman directly in front of Morgan snapped, yanking her young son by the arm. The boy, who'd been dawdling, began to cry. He stumbled and fell against the stroller his mother was pushing, just as she said, irritated, "Come on!"
The stroller bumped the mother of the family ahead of her, and she whipped around, furious, her red hair flying around her face.
"I am so sick of you people using your damn strollers as weapons!" she snarled, and the blonde froze in the act of scolding her son. The redhead placed her hands on her hips and moved in closer. "In case you haven't noticed, no one's going anywhere, and I'm moving as fast as I can, bitch!"
The blonde gasped, and Morgan thought, Oh, shit.
Her husband, a huge guy with a shaved head and more muscles than should be allowed -- stepped forward. "What did you just call my wife?"
The redhead narrowed her eyes and thrust her chin forward. "You heard me."
"I wasn't even talking to you! I was talking to my son!"
"Okay, guys, come on, let's calm down -- " They completely ignored Morgan, and she had no idea what to do.
"You better watch your mouth, lady, before someone knocks it clean off," the big guy growled.
The redhead's husband got into it now. "Are you threatening my wife?"
The big guy looked down at the considerably smaller man. "And if I am, what do you think you're gonna do?" he asked, smirking.
The women were still screeching at each other, and now the children were crying too, but Morgan was focused on the men, who were glaring at each other, eyes flashing. They looked like male moose or something, Morgan thought briefly and had to bite her tongue to keep herself from laughing in hysteria and terror. Her heart was pounding, and she looked frantically around for a lead to flag down, but there wasn't one in sight.
"Okay, come on guys -- " Morgan held her hands up, peaceably, but none of them were paying her the slightest bit of attention.
The people around them had stopped moving, crowding in to see the action, and Morgan was growing desperate.
"I think I'm gonna kick your ass," the smaller man said, and the big guy laughed contemptuously. The smaller man stiffened and drew back his arm, and Morgan acted completely without thought.
"Wait!" she cried, jumping between them, but it was far too late.
The blow knocked her to the ground. She heard the mass gasp of the onlookers and her own startled yelp, felt the skin scrape off her palms as she broke her fall on the hard macadam of the walkway. And then the pain hit.
White hot starbursts of agony bloomed in her head, starting in her left eye, and the night lit up with blue and yellow flashes of light. For one disorienting moment, Morgan thought people were taking flash pictures again. The punch knocked the breath out of her, and tears sprang to her eyes and began streaming down her cheeks.
Her vision was blurry, but she saw the redhead -- the one who'd started it all with her stupid misunderstanding -- smack her husband.
"You hit her! What the hell is wrong with you?"
"I didn't mean -- "
"Okay, people, back off, please. What's going on -- Oh my God."
Morgan was hauled to her feet by a burly security guard. She realized the crowd around them had grown to include half a dozen cast members and four uniformed security guards.
"You okay, Morgan? What the hell happened?" Julie hissed as she and another cast member walked Morgan towards the leads' room.
She just shook her head, still trying to regain her breath. Her head was trying to pound itself off her neck. She didn't remember any other physical pain that had ever hurt this much.
Once inside, she sat down shakily, and the other cast member -- Nichole, she remembered hazily -- brought her a paper cup of water. She drank a little bit of it and took a few breaths. "I thought they were going to kill each other," she said after a moment.
The door banged open, and all three women jumped. Scott, the lead who'd signed her in that night, came crashing in.
"What the hell happened?" he asked as soon as the door shut behind him.
Morgan was already shaken, and it only got worse when she looked into Scott's eyes. He wasn't concerned; he looked angry.
"They were arguing," she said quietly. "I didn't know what to do to get them to stop."
"So you jumped in between them?" His tone was incredulous -- and furious.
"I didn't mean to!" she said, hating how whiny her voice sounded.
"You never jump in between them," he told her. "You let them beat the crap out of each other! Let security sort them out! You could have gotten stabbed or something!"
She tried not to grimace; the volume of his voice wasn't helping her rapidly escalating headache. She really hadn't known what to do. She hadn't been given any training in how to deal with guest altercations. She'd been flying blind, with no supervision. And now she was being berated -- it was definitely adding insult to injury. If she weren't in so much pain, she'd be angry.
"Now we have a minor crisis, and we're gonna be shorthanded -- you two! What are you still doing in here?" he snapped, and Julie and Nichole stared at him. "You have positions to return to, ladies..."
They glared at him and then headed for the door, Julie giving Morgan one last sympathetic glance on the way out. Scott was still slamming around in cabinets, muttering the whole time.
"Jeez, Megan -- I have to fill out so much paperwork -- and you have to go to First Aid and then scheduling -- "
"Well, they're gonna have to give you backstage shifts or something until that heals -- we can't have a cast member walking around with a black eye, obviously."
"Oh." With every word he said, she felt smaller and smaller, and the pain just seemed to keep on growing.
"Damn, Megan -- what a mess -- I don't even know where -- F Lead 1!" he bellowed into his radio.
"My name is Morgan. And I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you," she said stiffly, near tears.
"Yeah?" the radio blared, crackling with static, and Morgan raised a hand to her throbbing head. Scott glanced at her, and his angry demeanor softened. He turned down the radio.
"Look -- I'm sorry, it's just -- "
"What do you need, F Lead 2? We're a little busy here..."
"Hang on," Scott told Morgan. He raised the radio towards his mouth. "Where are the incident forms?"
As the radio boomed something incoherent to her and Scott began banging through other cupboards, Morgan finished her water and tried not to be sick. She wondered fuzzily if she had a concussion or something.
Scott shoved a clipboard under her nose. "Here, sign this."
She blinked slowly, struggling to focus on him. "What is it?"
He peered at her. "You okay?"
"I'm a little fuzzy."
He frowned. "You need to get to First Aid."
"Let me see that," she asked him. When he handed it to her, she slowly read through it. The fuzziness was thankfully starting to clear, but the pain was getting worse. She read through it, and it was a straightforward statement of what had happened. Guests were arguing, it escalated towards violence, she stepped between them and was accidentally struck.
"Am I going to get in trouble?"
He gave her a tiny, wry, smile. "No. No problems."
She tried to concentrate on his eyes, but she was having trouble doing so -- at least well enough to see if he was lying to her -- so she gave up and shrugged. "Fine," she sighed as she signed the incident report. "Now can I go to First Aid?"
He nodded, and added, "I'll have someone walk you." When she began to protest, he raised a hand to stop her. "It's policy," he told her, handing her her backpack, and she sighed. "Don't forget to stop by scheduling, okay? I'll give them a call and let them know what happened and to expect you. Wait here for a minute, and I'll get someone," he told her as he slipped out of the room.
There was a knock on the door a few minutes later, and Morgan opened it to see Nichole waiting for her. "First Aid," Morgan said wearily, and Nichole nodded.
They quietly walked through the park; Morgan kept her head down, and they stayed behind the scenes as much as they possibly could, so as not to alarm anyone. She could feel Nichole staring, but the girl said and asked nothing, and Morgan didn't volunteer anything.
When she got to First Aid, there were a few exclamations, and a doctor saw her quickly. She assumed he was a doctor, anyway, since he was wearing a lab coat -- but then again, so were the cast members at Honey, I Shrunk the Audience.
He filled out some paperwork -- there was always paperwork -- and did a quick check, for concussion, he told her. Despite her protests, and despite the fact that the park doctor was confident she didnít have a concussion, she was driven to the local occupational medical clinic, where she was asked the same questions and gave the same answers.
After the doctors there were convinced she didn't have a concussion, she found herself back at First Aid in the park, filling out more paperwork. The park doctor recommended she see her personal doctor, and then he cut her loose. When she asked if she could drive, he reluctantly okayed her.
Scheduling had already been notified of the incident, and they had her new schedule ready. She'd already had the next day off, and her next four shifts were now Parade East -- the Main Street side, where she wouldn't have to cross the park out in the open to reach her reporting point.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
By the time she finally got in her car to go home, it was well after one thirty in the morning. Her adrenalin had long since completely worn off, and she felt like curling against the door and sleeping for hours. The ibuprofen sheíd taken seemed to be doing nothing, and the ice pack sheíd been given was melting all over the place, so she dumped out the water and tossed it on the passenger floorboard.
She kept her cell phone on and in her hand on the drive home, hoping that she wouldn't need it, but she figured it was better to be safe than sorry. She had no idea who she'd call -- Cassidy, probably, she was really the only person Morgan could think of.
She groaned -- and from more than just pain -- when she neared her house, realizing just who owned the truck she was driving behind.
"Oh, dammit. What the hell is he doing up? It's after two in the morning!"
Dean pulled into his driveway just as she pulled into hers, and from the way the silhouette of his head moved, she knew heíd seen her. She sighed.
When she got out of the car, he was in her driveway, lounging, hands in his pockets as usual.
"Hey, Morgan. Seems like I havenít seen you in ages," he said, and she could hear the grin in his voice.
She kept her head down as she mumbled, "Dean, hi. You're out late."
"It's my little sister's birthday, so I went home for dinner. Long drive home, you know, and..." He trailed off. "Morgan? Are you okay?" He moved a little closer to get a better look at her, and she shifted slightly to avoid his gaze.
"I'm really tired -- it was nice to see you, I think I'm just going to go to bed."
"Hey..." He grabbed her arm -- lightly, to let her pull away if she wanted to. "Is everything okay?"
She really didn't want him to see her right now. One glance in the mirror in the bathroom at the medical clinic had been more than enough to let her know she was going to have a hell of a shiner. It was already swollen and turning an ugly yellow, and she was afraid it would swell up so much she wouldn't be able to see out of the eye soon. But it didn't look like he was going to go away any time soon.
"Not really," she told him as she finally looked up at him.
Dean's eyes widened and then they darkened and filled with such rage that it scared her. Unconsciously, she pulled her arm out of his grasp and took a small step away from him. Unaware of her unease, he took her shoulder and pulled her into the garage where he could get a better look at her.
His hand on her chin was firm but gentle as he angled her face up into the light. She closed her eyes as the brightness sent sharp shards of pain through the already intense ache.
"Who did this to you?" he asked, and his voice was soft and deadly.
Morgan opened her eyes to gaze into his. The rage was a banked fire, but he was staring at her with that almost tangible concern again, and suddenly, all she wanted to do was let him -- someone -- anyone, but especially him with his caring eyes and his gentle hands and his soothing voice -- take care of her for a while. She could feel the tears trying to start again, and she sighed.
"Morgan? Who did this?" he repeated.
Morgan shrugged. "Guest," she said miserably.
"It was my fault."
He stared at her incredulously. "Your fault? What, you walked into his fist?"
She laughed and then groaned when the internal pounding increased as a result. "Pretty much, actually. There were -- " She stopped. "Iím sorry. Iím really tired. I think I need to go inside."
Dean shook his head a little, coming back to himself, and then he nodded. "Yeah, come on, we've gotta put something on that."
"I'll be fine, Dean, it's really late. You should go home."
"After we get that eye taken care of."
"I think it's past help," she said, but she conceded, following him into the house. She smiled at the way he walked right into her home, in front of her, as if he owned the place.
"Nah, I know what to do."
"You know how to treat a black eye?" she asked, smiling wanly at him. "Do I want to know how you know? Oh, if you're planning on putting a frozen steak on it, we might be out of luck. Will a boneless skinless chicken breast do?"
Dean laughed. "Meat's a bad idea. It can lead to infection. But there's something else we can do."
In the bright light of the kitchen, he looked her injury over more closely. "This looks serious, Morgan, you should see a doctor."
"I did. Well, I think he was a doctor. A Disney doctor, anyway."
His frown grew more intense. "You should see a real doctor. You might have a concussion -- they shouldn't have let you drive home -- you could have called me or Adam, you know."
"You just told me you were in Oceanside."
"Adam, then!" he said in exasperation.
Perish the thought, Morgan thought as she waved him off and dropped into a chair at the kitchen table. "I'm fine. He was a real doctor, and even if he hadnít been, they took me to some clinic to get checked out. They said there was no concussion and cleared me to drive. The doctor at First Aid recommended I see my own doctor, but he said that unless I started feeling worse, it probably wasnít an emergency. Iím fine, Dean."
Gingerly touching her temple, she winced. "God, it hurts like hell though."
"I bet." Dean was rummaging around in her fridge, and she watched him curiously. She was too tired and too much in pain to take more than a passing glance at the rear end he was so invitingly wiggling before her. "Your first shiner?" he asked, his voice muffled.
She shrugged, not caring that he couldn't see her. "I guess... only one I ever remember -- and if it always hurts like this, I think I'd remember if I'd had one before. What are you looking for?"
"Aha!" He backed out of the fridge with a can of soda in his hand. "Y'know, for a girl who doesn't cook, you sure have a lot of stuff in your fridge."
"You're thirsty? I'm dying here, and you're digging for a refreshing beverage?"
He chuckled. "No. This is better than a frozen steak or a bag of frozen vegetables. And yes, they always hurt like that."
She watched him run the soda under cold water and carefully wipe it with a paper towel. "A can of soda? Says who? And have you had a lot of black eyes?"
"Yes, a can of soda, says Coach Tucker, and I've had a few. Played football, wrestled a little in school, had my fair share of bumps and bruises." He bit his lip as he neared her with the soda. "This might hurt a little."
Morgan glanced up at him. He took her hand -- his was cool from holding the soda -- and wrapped it around the can, guiding it to her eye. He pressed gently, and she did her best to stifle her startled gasp of pain. The pain gradually eased as the cool metal soothed her injured flesh. When he was sure she had it, he removed his hand and sat down in the other chair at the table, and she felt a pang of disappointment at the loss of his touch.
"You don't have to stay with me," she told him again.
"For a little while. Unless you want me to go?" he added, and when she shook her head, smiling tiredly, he said, "Good. Besides, I want to hear how this happened, Morgan."
"Mmm," she said, her tone non-committal. She really wasn't looking forward to telling him how stupid she'd been. Something he'd said had caught her attention, something neither he nor Adam had ever mentioned before. "You played football? And wrestled?"
He nodded. "A little. Wasn't very good at either. Made it to varsity, but I was never a star. I probably could have been better, but I wasn't very dedicated."
"You were on the football team and you were friends with Adam?"
When Dean nodded, she tilted her head, picturing it. "Huh," she said in surprise.
He studied her, perplexed. "Why's that so hard to believe?"
Morgan shrugged. "I don't know... I know Adam was a theater geek and into choir, and in my high school experience, those kids -- and I was one of them -- didn't usually hang out with the football players and cheerleaders."
He looked down at the tablecloth, rolling the edge of it back and forth between his fingers, and she was captivated by the way his hands moved. She found herself watching his long fingers shift and curl against each other, and she was struck by a vision of those fingers gliding along her skin and pressing against her body. It was so sharp and clear that it made her suck in a breath, and she felt her skin grow warm. He glanced up at her.
She nodded. "Go on," she managed to get out.
Dean shrugged. "Adam and I sat next to each other in first period on the first day of freshman year. We'd both just moved to the area, and neither of us knew anyone. We became friends, and even later on, when we were more involved in our own social groups, we were still good friends. Adam never took crap from anybody, he was who he was, he never compromised, and I admired that, y'know? Especially later on, when I was trying to be cool and I was so concerned with what people thought of me. I never told him -- or anybody -- but I wished I could be more like that."
Morgan listened, intrigued. Dean rarely talked about his past -- he'd never mentioned the past few years at all, but even his earlier past was mostly a mystery. He glanced up at her, a tiny, wry smile playing around the corners of his mouth.
"I think that's part of his problem now, though. He's unhappy with his life and it's because he expects everyone to accept everything his way. He doesn't compromise on anything. Sometimes you have to."
Morgan thought of all the times she'd put aside what she wished for and gone along with Rob's wants and wishes, believing him when he'd told her that compromise was a big aspect of a successful relationship. "Sometimes you compromise so much that you lose yourself."
Dean studied her for a moment, his dark eyes boring into her as if trying to decipher her hidden thoughts. She felt trapped, unable to escape, but it wasn't a disagreeable situation to be in.
It's a pleasant kind of trapped, she thought incoherently.
"That's true," he said after a moment, and she was confused until he continued. "But it's not compromising if only one person is doing the giving while the other takes and takes and takes. That's a sacrifice, not a compromise. Now, you've successfully stalled for half an hour. Why don't you tell me what happened tonight? Do you want me to see if I can find another can of soda or is that one still okay?"
Shifting in her chair, Morgan rearranged the can so that she had a cooler section of it on her eye. "No, this is fine, thanks."
There was another pause, and then he prompted her again. "So, spill."
She sighed. "Nothing major happened. It wasn't really anything big at all. It was crowded, I was working Fantasmic!, nobody was moving after the show, the guests got cranky, a big guy threatened a little guy's wife after a misunderstanding, and the little guy threw a punch."
"I walked into his fist."
Dean glared at her, and she sighed again. "I knew he was going to do it, and I didn't know what to do. I panicked, and I jumped in between them."
"What? Why -- Morgan..."
The way he sighed her name, the half-annoyed, almost condescending look he gave her -- the little half-smile -- suddenly it all reminded her of the way Rob had always treated her, and she was instantly infuriated. Everyone -- the lead Scott, all the doctors, the woman at scheduling, and now Dean -- everyone was treating her like a child.
She slammed down the can of soda and jumped up from the table. Her chair made a loud scraping sound over the tile of the floor as it slid back, and Dean looked startled.
"Look," she said angrily. "It's not as if I was trained in this kind of stuff or anything. I thought they were really going to get into it, and I didn't want that to happen right in front of me, okay? I figured bloodshed would be a bad thing! I'm new at this, and I did the best I could! I made a mistake, and I got a black eye and a killer headache for my troubles. I think that's more than enough of a lesson, don't you?"
Turning away from him, she crossed her arms tightly over her chest, ignoring the sting as her scraped-up palms rubbed over the material of her shirt. She stared, unseeing, into the backyard, trying not to feel like a stupid little kid.
Dean came up behind her, close enough that she could feel the heat of his body. Morgan closed her eyes as his hands hovered uncertainly over her for a moment and then gently settled, warm and comforting on her shoulders.
"I'm sorry," he whispered, his breath skating across her ear. She shivered. "It's just... you could have been killed, Morgan."
She wanted to turn and look at him, but that would have meant breaking contact with him, and she couldn't bring herself to do that. She settled for trying to glance up over one shoulder. She couldn't see him clearly, but she could tell that he was close. Very close.
"Killed? It was a punch in the eye, Dean. Painful -- damn painful -- but not deadly."
He was quiet, and she could practically sensehim frowning, as if his mood were something physically emanating from him. "And if it'd knocked you out? And you'd hit your head on the ground?"
She couldn't help herself -- she smiled. "You're worried."
There was another pause, this one a little longer, and she began to wonder if she'd jumped to conclusions.
"Yes," he admitted finally, "I am."
She did turn then. His hands stayed loosely on her shoulders, and she looked up at him, and he was so close that her breath caught in her throat. One of his hands slid into her hair, gently cupping the back of her head and drawing her even closer.
Morgan hazily realized that when he'd touched her the throbbing in her head had dulled, just a little. Then his lips found hers, and she smiled into his kiss.
His lips were soft and warm and insistent against hers, and she breathed in his scent -- cologne and peppermint and something indefinable and intoxicating. She was instantly addicted, and the sound she made deep in her throat was half surprise, half satisfaction.
Dean pulled her bottom lip between his, nibbling gently, and she gasped at the feeling. Her lips parted slightly, and he teased her with his tongue, lapping at her. He tasted even better than he smelled, and she wanted more of him. Her hands slid to his waist, holding him closer as her tongue mated and played with his.
He was heaven -- she'd never felt so much from a single kiss, and she needed him closer, needed to feel his skin against hers, and --
"Ow!" She involuntarily jerked away as his hand slid from her hair to her cheek, jarring against her injured eye on the way.
His eyes flew open and he took a step back, bumping into the kitchen counter. He stared at her, his eyes glassy and unfocused for a moment.
"God, Morgan, I'm sorry, are you okay?"
"I'm fine. I... you didn't hurt me, just startled me a little."
Morgan tried to smile at him, to reassure him, but his gaze darted this way and that, everywhere but at her, and she was suddenly apprehensive.
"Dean -- "
He glanced at the clock and his eyes widened. "Wow, that's the time? I should really go, but you're okay?"
She blinked, taken aback by his sudden shift in demeanor. "I'm fine, and thank you for all your help, but, Dean -- "
"I'm glad you're okay." He smiled, but she thought fleetingly that now he was the one who looked trapped. Wordlessly, with another small, uncomfortable nod, he was gone. A minute later, she heard the front door close.
Morgan leaned against the kitchen counter, stunned.
"What the hell just happened here?"
On to Chapter 6