Alex was some time in the bathroom, so Sam pulled a book from the shelf behind the sofa and flicked through it, searching for her favourite part. She'd just go to it when he returned. As he neared, he saw the cover and laughed. “Hitchhiker's. Of course. You want to watch a film? I think we've got quite a few recorded..."
What she really wanted was an excuse to snuggle with him on the sofa, so she agreed. Hoping he would transfer and come and sit beside her, she flicked her best 'come hither' eyes on him, hoping it wouldn't be too much. He lined himself up, and she noticed that his right leg was still trembling ever so slightly, but the spasms seemed to have passed now. He must have noticed her eyes lingering on his thigh, as he said, “Bit calmer now I’ve been to the bathroom…” and he blushed. “Sorry, you don’t need to know about the mechanics of all this. Not yet anyway…”
“I don’t mind at all, Alex,” she said, shuffling up the dark sofa so that he would have enough room to transfer and sit down on her right; his left, and good, side. “I want to know about you and the kinds of things you have to do, but… only when you’re comfortable talking about it. You don’t need to feel, I don’t know, embarrassed or whatever, about telling me stuff though. You can’t scare me away with details you know.”
He snorted slightly, and she was worried he wouldn’t believe her, but he said, shaking his head, “Ok, well, maybe I’ll just drop bits of information in here and there, but I… I’m not ready to teach a course in 'crip mechanics and daily living' just yet. Not to you.” He busied himself in lifting his legs from the tiny footplate and setting his feet gingerly down on the floor. His socks were white and fluffy against the hardwood floor. She wondered what it would be like to have his feet in her lap. Whether he would feel it or not. He was clearly a long way from that kind of intimacy. And maybe so was she when she thought about it for more than half an oestrogen-fuelled second. Disappointment had settled around her as he clammed up again, but she could see where he was coming from.
She smiled, and when he reached his left hand out to transfer to the sofa, she touched it fleetingly with hers and said, “Thank you.”
He paused, sitting on the firmer part of the cushion right at the front of his chair, feet waiting patiently on the floor for him to finish the manoeuvre, arms braced and ready to hoist his six foot frame aloft, and he stared right into her eyes with a truly piercing and unreadable look for several seconds. Then he smiled and shook his head in what looked like utter disbelief, and completed the transfer, landing softly and carefully next to her. The sofa was deep, and he slumped backwards into the cushions, suddenly looking tired. He sighed, closed his eyes and tipped his head back against the sofa.
After a second or two, he opened those dark eyes again, focussed on her face, sighed, and gave a weak smile. “Sorry,” he muttered, reaching forward with a soft grunt for the tv controls. “I didn’t quite realise how tired I was til now.” He shot her a sidelong look and said wryly, “Crip mechanics…”
She couldn’t help but admire the way he made light of the not-so-rosy aspects of his daily life.
“What do you want to watch?” he asked, scrolling through the list of films on the BT Vision box.
As the cursor slid over the title, she said, “You know, I never saw Skyfall when it came out…”
“What?” he seemed surprised, dark brows hovering playfully over his equally dark eyes. “I'd have thought you liked action movies. Well, I guess that’s that sorted…”
She laughed. “Ok then. But on one condition.”
He looked as nervous as he always did when she said things like that. “What?”
“I get to snuggle.”
His laugh bubbled from his lips, lighting up his tired eyes. “I was hoping you’d want that. Come here.”
And as the achingly rich vocals of Adele heralded the start of the twenty third Bond film, she slid into place beneath his great, muscular arm which he draped protectively around her shoulders. She burrowed her head into his torso, breathing in the clean, sandalwood scent of his t-shirt again. Glancing down away from the screen, her eyes rested on his legs. They looked thinner now, and she realised that he must have taken his braces off on his last bathroom trip. They looked a narrow under the dense material of the jeans, but they were not frightening to her. To her surprise, she found that they intrigued her. She longed to reach her fingers down and press into his numb thigh, exploring and working out where and what he could feel. He was a mystery and she wanted to figure him out as much as she wanted him to figure her out. She was reminded of their trip to Anglesey Abbey, and how they had sat on the bench in the round garden, hand in hand, and how he had ground the back of her hand into the struts of his braces hoping to prove a point. Would it be presumptuous to rest her palm on his thigh now?
It took the first twenty minutes of the film for her to work up the courage to touch him.
Beneath her fingers his left leg was hardly any thicker than her own thigh, but it was tenser, harder, than she had expected. At first, he didn’t seem to notice her presence. She flicked her eyes nervously up to his face only to find him staring at the screen, oblivious to where her hand had landed. She moved her palm up the thigh a little way and he jerked his head down immediately, eyes locking onto her hand like a laser sight. Instinctively her hand leapt back, fingers curled nervously like a terrified spider.
A slow and beautiful smile dawned on his face and he moved his right hand across his body from where it lay on the arm of the sofa and let it settle over hers, like he had done in the cinema. His strong fingers crept protectively around her hand, and she smiled, until she realised he was trying to keep her hand in one place, and not to let it wander around where he couldn’t feel it. “Is this ok?” she asked in a whisper, squeezing his fingers between hers.
“Alex?” she pressed, reading more in his expression than he was giving away.
His eyes softened a little and he looked back at her. “Yes, Sam, it is ok. I… it’s just going to take a bit of getting used to.”
“This,” he said, running their hands back and forth like he had in the garden. “Having you touch me in places where I can’t really feel…”
“But you can feel that though?” She hoped to push them both a little out of their silent comfort zones, I’ll have to watch that I don't go too far, she thought, recalling her own unbidden panic at his touch at times.
His lips tensed into a hard line before he relaxed a second time. His deep voice was suddenly sad, as he said, “I can. But if you move here –” he shifted their hands a few inches down and to the side closest to her, “I lose it.”
“It’s patchy and dull from here down,” he said, bringing their hands to just above his hips. The very lowest point of his belly felt slightly and unexpectedly soft just above his hip bones. His black t-shirt covered it so well she'd not noticed before. She felt the urge to run her hand over its soft contour, but resisted as he was speaking again. “Some places are actually more sensitive than they were before the accident, and others might as well not exist. All the sensation got a bit shuffled up...”
She wondered where these patches of sensitivity were, and hoped against hope that she might get to find out one day. She squeezed his hand and returned her attention politely to the film, avoiding the other remaining question about movement and sensitivity that sat in the silence as obviously as his chair sat empty beside the sofa.
Scene by scene as the film progressed, she felt his weight press down heavier and heavier on her shoulders, and eventually she looked up into his face to find his eyelids drooping, dozing. His handsome head was slowly rolling downwards and his spine was beginning to slither sideways so that eventually she had become a buttress, the only thing holding him from collapsing entirely. Finally, as the climax of the film blasted across the screen, he flopped onto her head, his cheek pressing into the soft strands of her hair, and she knew she couldn’t look up at him without disturbing his sleep. She glanced at the clock on the wall and saw that it was half eleven. Dan would be wondering where she’d got to, and probably what she was up to, and Will would be back any moment.
As if in answer to her thoughts, she heard a rattle of keys in the lock a minute or two later, and the door creaked open.
Will stepped in and saw Alex, folded in the gentle arms of sleep, collapsing slowly into Sam, who lay curled against him with her bare feet pulled up neatly on the sofa beneath the folds of her dress. Sam's eyes darted up as he entered and swiftly held a finger to her lips. “He’s asleep,” she whispered.
Alex’s brother laughed softly and said, “You’ll have to wake him shortly. He can’t spend the night on the sofa.”
Almost guiltily while Will paced across the room and headed out towards his bedroom, she ran her hand from where it had been resting for most of the film on Alex’s left knee all the way up to the pockets of his jeans and back again, giving the muscle of his numb thigh a tender squeeze. Then she released his enchanting leg, and attempted to sit up without dislodging him and waking him with a shock and sent him slithering sideways.
He inhaled sharply in surprise as he woke, blinking in slight confusion. He rolled his shoulders back and sighed. Finally he seemed to realise she was there and he did a double take worthy of a comedy film.
She laughed and said, “Your brother just got back.”
“What?” he murmured, his voice husky with sleep as he pushed himself upright with a grimace. “Oh right. I’m sorry I fell asleep on you…”
She felt the smile bloom from inside her and spread outwards onto her face. “Don’t apologise. You looked so peaceful. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“I hope you weren’t uncomfortable,” he said, rubbing his right hand on the back of his head, making his hair stand up adorably.
She sat up rolling her own shoulders and making them clunk slightly. “No, I was –” in heaven “–perfectly comfortable, don’t worry.”
He lifted his left arm back down from around her shoulders so that both his hands were now down on the sofa, and he did that movement she’d watched him do before, shuffling his weight, lifting his body up on his hands, holding himself up for a long while as if shaking the pressure from every vertibra one at a time. “Ooh, I’m stiff,” he breathed quietly to himself as he lowered himself back down. He fixed her with a look and said bashfully, “That’ll teach me for sleeping through an evening with the most beautiful girl in Cambridge.”
She laughed loudly. “Ha! If you say things like that every time you wake, maybe I should encourage you to fall asleep more often!” she chuckled.
He blushed a little and said, “What did you think of the film?”
“Pretty good,” she said. “But I don't think it quite lived up to all the hype…”
“You’re right,” he agreed. He looked down at his legs and she wondered what thoughts were racing through his mind. Whatever they were, she was thinking how good he’d look in Bond’s tux.
He blinked his secret thoughts away.
“Listen, it’s getting late,” she murmured reluctantly. “I should head back to Dan’s; he's waiting up to let me in, and he’ll probably start wondering what’s happened to me.”
“You want me to walk you home?” he asked immediately.
Touched by his chivalry, she said, “No, don’t worry. I’ll be fine – I brought my bike, so I can get back in no time.”
He nodded and appeared a little relieved. He looked like he was going to make the move to his chair, so before he could put his right hand out, she impulsively hooked her leg over his lap again and sat facing him. Like the first time she'd done it, Alex’s face first read 'surprised', and then 'delighted'. His devilishly handsome half-smile nearly knocked her from her little perch, but she held herself there by gripping his massive shoulders.
She ran her fingers through his dark hair, scrunching it at the nape of his neck, tugging gently, and he closed his eyes in pleasure. A low, rumbling moan escaped his lips. She leaned forward, feeling perhaps that she ought to take her weight on her legs which were folded on either side of his, rather than plonking it all on top of his thighs – how delicate was he? – and planted a kiss directly on the scarred side of his lips. His eyes darted open and he pressed his calloused hands into her back, searching a little way beneath her top, running his fingers over her skin with a fire and a passion that erupted seemingly out of nowhere. She broke their kiss and he breathed her name.
“Sam,” he whispered. “Oh god, you’re beautiful.”
No one but Alex had ever told her she was beautiful, except her mother, but aren’t mothers contractually obliged on giving birth to their children to tell them they’re beautiful? People like Doyle had told her she was ‘hot’ or ‘fit’ or any other number of common adjectives before, but never ‘beautiful’. Hoiking her hips up a little further towards him so that her centre landed right over his, she kissed him back with a fervour she didn’t know she was capable of, the fog of panic lurking only as a spectre in the background as the fervour and heat built inside her until…
Until a cough and a bumbling crash announced Will inadvertently blundering into the room, asking something about a misplaced jumper. He made some awkward an indistinguishable exclamation, turned bright screaming red, and blundered awkwardly out again. Alex and Sam broke off like two guilty teenagers, and when Will had left, both burst out laughing.
Sam nibbled her lip, and Alex looked about as delightedly embarrassed as she felt.
“Well,” he breathed, “I don’t think I’ve ever been caught like that!” he chuckled. "Trust Will to do that. He's not been home five minutes and he's already getting in the way."
She laughed, beginning to slide from his knees. He grabbed her quickly by the hips, rather lower than her hips if truth be told, and yanked her forward into him. She collapsed forward onto his chest and kissed him on his right cheek, lying there listening to the breath coming and going in his great barrel of a chest, his heartbeat strong and steady. His scent was sharp yet musky; sandalwood, vanilla and musk all in one. She couldn’t have said how long she lay there, his arms around her, his legs calm and still beneath her, his hand on the back of her head, at once loving and soothing.
When she knew she really ought to go, she broke away and, running her fingers through the dark waves of hair just behind his ears again, and making him give another soft, purring groan, she said, “Right. I’m actually going now.”
“Are you?” he asked, running his sandpaper palms in two slow, little circles on her lower back.
“Yes,” she said, firmly. “I really am.”
“Uh-huh.” Now he was running those hands up her spine and making every inch of her burn with a raw fire. She kissed him one last time, and wrenched herself unwillingly from his lap. He looked up her for a moment, sitting limply in the folds of the sofa cushions as if she'd drained him of willpower and energy. Finally he seemed able to transfer, and she hung back, sliding her feet into her sandals and watching him move, hips hanging, dangling somehow defencelessly from the end of his spine, yet protected by the solid frame of his arms and shoulders.
He followed her closely to the door, hands guiding the push-rims of his chair with practised skill. He opened it for her, and said with his eyes burning fiercely, "Well, since you are actually going now, you'd better say goodbye properly."
She grinned, loving their playfulness. "I couldn't possibly go without saying goodbye..." She asked with her eyes if she could sit in his lap one last time, and he simply smiled and nodded once with a slow blink. She lowered herself down into his lap, her back to his chest, and she leaned her head against his left shoulder, reaching up to kiss his neck. Her lips landed just behind the angular corner of his lower jaw, on the junction between jawline and muscular neck, and his dark eyes rolled back up behind their lids. She saw from her low vantage point how long thick his eyelashes were. "See you soon, handsome," she whispered, kissing him one more time at this newly discovered favourite place on his body. Favourite until she discovered the next one anyway.
His fingertip guided her chin up again with gentle pressure, until their lips met in a quiet, firm and velvet kiss. Sam was aware only of his hand on her cheek and his lips on hers, of that tiny void where his scar lifted the tissue of his lips back from their contact by just a few millimetres, and of his body, cushioning and supporting hers. Never before had she felt so loved. When they parted, she could feel sparkling tears pricking the edges of her vision, Alex blurring a little in the centre.