Sunday, August 18, 2013

Cambridge Connections - Chapter Nineteen

Push me/Pull you



 I have a commenter to thank for the title of this one - thank you, ‘Anonymous’ Jane of January 11, 2014 at 4:28 PM…




As Sam formatted her last exhibition label and emailed it to Linda, the Exhibitions Coordinator, she looked at her watch. Only a few minutes of the working day remained, and then it would be time to head back to her room, and then... she felt a small explosion of excitement in her stomach because then she would be getting the earliest train possible back to Cambridge for a weekend with Alex. Staying not with Dan, but with Alex this time. That was a little nerve-racking, but anticipation outweighed the apprehension.

As she popped her head round Linda's door, the pretty face of a very tired woman in her forties glanced up at her. "Oh hi, Sam," she smiled, her voice a bright soprano. "Are you heading home then?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty much ready to go. I've shut down the computer in the other room -" she nodded her head to the office where she'd been working.

"Thanks," she said, adding, "Oh I'm glad I've caught you before you go actually, because I got an email today from someone, and it made me think of you." She flicked her green eyes back to the computer screen and after a few clicks, said, "Yes, this is it. You mentioned doing a masters, and that a friend of yours had looked at America...?"

Sam nodded, thinking of the girl from her course who was about to go off to Harvard that September.

"Well, if you have wanderlust too, have you thought about Canada? Toronto has a really highly-regarded medieval history masters programme... I know the head of the programme – he’s the one who emailed me today." 

Linda laughed, but Sam's ears were buzzing. "Canada?" she bleated.

"Sorry, I know it's a lot to consider, but if you're serious about academia, then you really ought to think about this..."

She was only being helpful, and as much as Sam had dreamed of studying abroad, her first thought had been how far away she'd be from Alex, and for how long. His deep, gentle voice came floating across her memory a heartbeat later, "You mustn't ever pass up an opportunity to build your career in favour of being with me. I'll be here no matter what you decide to do." He'd said he'd wait, but would he wait for a whole academic year? A whole seven or eight months? She trusted him. He'd said he'd wait. And anyway, he was right; she could never forgive herself if she wimped out of studying abroad just because she was afraid of leaving him behind. "Thanks, Linda," she said, another burst of excitement kicking in and lighting up her face. "I'll look into that - it does sound like my kind of thing."

"I thought I'd got the measure of you this week," she smiled knowingly. "Talk it over with your folks, and get back to me next week, because you'd need to get the ball rolling as soon as possible."

She knew she wouldn’t have time to call her parents between leaving the museum and catching the train, and the thought of seeing Alex again occupied her mind all the way back to Cambridge. She couldn’t really face the thought of listening to her mother worrying about her daughter choosing a university programme on the other side of the world either, so she just left it. Game of Thrones, her mind’s usual bolt hole from reality, failed to keep her attention and her eyes from wandering, and imagining what Alex would look like as he met her at the other end of her journey. Time seemed to slow down: each time she checked her watch it seemed to drag its feet a little more.

There was a broad grin on her face before she even saw him, but as she stepped from the train she could barely contain her excitement. She shoved her ticket into the automatic barrier at the other end of the line and it didn't accept it first time. Rolling her eyes, she tried again before charging through the opened barriers like a heifer at a cattle drive.

There he was.

She felt even a little faint with either relief or joy to see him, though it had only been a week. He was standing in almost exactly the same way as she had last seen him, almost as if he'd hung around the station all week for her return. 

His full six-foot height; his broad shoulders hidden beneath the sleeves of an adorably geeky Portal t-shirt; his scruffy-yet-secretly-groomed dark hair; his big hands locked around the grips of his crutches, bracing against his tall frame's solid weight: her eye swept over all these things in the blink of an eye before she dumped her tiny rucksack at his feet and threw her arms around his neck, tugging him carefully into her embrace.

He wrapped his answering arms around her, cuffs clenching around his forearms while the shafts of his crutches dangled freely, the tips tapping against the back of her calves as he drew her closer against his body. "Mmmm," she heard him groan, his left hand finding its way to the back of her head and stroking her thick hair while the other arm clung around the circumference of her shoulders. She realised, as a little involuntary grunt escaped her lungs under his boa-constrictor arms, that she was taking most of his weight down through her body. He had suddenly and instinctively trusted almost his full weight to her, and she was all that was holding him up in that moment. If she moved, he’d fall.

"Missed you," he murmured into her hair with his deep and quietly calm voice, kissing her once on the side of her head in a way that sent shivers up and down her spine and made her knees go weak.

Sam felt she was in idiot for thinking she might not handle a relationship. This felt so right. Yes, despite those hovering little black doubts, she had missed him. "You too," she replied, beginning to lean backwards slightly, inviting him to take up his crutches again. He read her perfectly, and slid his strong, quiet fingers back around the black grips of his sticks.

She stretched up, irritated slightly at having to go right up onto points to reach him, and she pressed her lips into his. Feeling the softly whispering touch of the strong fingers of his left hand at her waist, a smile began tugging at her lips despite the pressing fervour of his returning kiss, and when he released her, points of light actually danced in front of her for a second. She returned her feet flat to the ground and his left hand returned itself to the safety of his crutch. His eyes then rested for a nanosecond on her bag, before an emotion she couldn't make out flashed across his features and then vanished.

She hoisted the rucksack back onto her shoulder and he turned away, swinging his body slowly through towards the automatic doors, and the car park beyond. He was dragging his right foot, scraping it along the tiled floor of the ticket hall, apparently unable to lift his hips high enough to clear the ground that day. Resisting the urge to tell him that he could have come in his chair to meet her, not wanting to sound ungrateful, she scurried up to walk beside him on his left, and placed one hand on his lower back.

The Friday evening air outside was deliciously warm and sweet, and she wore only a t-shirt and her favourite beige linen shorts. Alex, for some reason, was in thick jeans as though it was the middle of winter. His t-shirt was fairly thin though, and she could feel that his solid back beneath was slightly damp against her palm. He looked askance at her out of his left eye as she made contact with him, and he flashed her one of his heart-stoppingly lopsided grins, but he continued without breaking his steady rhythm.

His black BMW was waiting for them, and she slid comfortably into the front seat while Alex lowered himself carefully down into the driver's seat, legs jutting out until he released the knees and lifted them gingerly into the footwell, crossing them at the ankles, where they lay, subdued and still, as he passed the crutches back through the space between the two front seats.

"Good journey down?" he asked as they pulled out of the car park and joined the stream of bikes, busses and taxis heading into town.

She had been looking closely at his face, drinking in the sight of his angular jaw and high cheekbones, until she realised she had stared a little too long. Before he thought she’d spaced out, she gulped, "Er, yeah, not too bad; all very polite and subdued in my carriage."

He grinned. "I expect you're hungry?"

"So mind-reading is another one of your many talents?" she asked with a smile of her own.

Alex huffed a laugh, and, needing to change lanes before the junction in order to turn right, he craned his neck all the way round over his right shoulder where she knew his eyesight failed him, and when he could see that it was clear, he slid the car across into the right hand lane. "Steak sound good?" he asked as they drew to a halt and waited at the red light.

Her tummy rumbled with all the fury of a Serengeti thunderstorm and she clamped her arms around it to shut it up. "Sounds amazing."

As they neared the centre of town, a cyclist cut him up, undertaking and causing him to break suddenly. His crutches clattered noisily in the back as they slithered off the seat. He raised a hand and growled, "Come on, you arsehole! Do you want me to flatten you?! Urgh." He cast a glance down at Sam, and added, "Sorry - I don't normally have road rage. But it has been awful in Cambridge lately - all the foreign summer-school students not used to cycling on the left, I guess. Or to cycling at all. They seem to have no fucking idea about traffic!"

"Apparently," she agreed, nodding at the offending cyclist as he wove away through the cars ahead. "Thanks for braving the herds of crazies to pick me up."

"For you, anything," he said jovially. "It's more of a zombie apocalypse during term time – sleep deprived students meandering all over the place… Slightly fewer crazies now it's the summer vacation..."

Sam was laughing as she realised that she was truly happy again for the first time in a week, and she loved it.

By the time they drew up in his usual parking space, she had begun to tell him a bit about her internship. She broke off while Alex, with a slight flush in his cheeks, reached between the two front seats and fished his black crutches from the floor and rested them outside against the side of the car. She climbed out, snagging the strap of her rucksack with her hand as she straightened, and headed around the front of the car to his side. He had just hoisted himself to his feet, using the handle inside the door and the pillar of the chassis, and once upright, he flicked his braces locked, and retrieved the crutches from the side of the car. Only when he had locked the car and was ready to head up to the flat did he look at her. Maybe there was something akin to shame or embarrassment haunting his dark eyes, but she couldn't really tell what it was. She smiled reassuringly in an attempt to banish the look in any case.

His expression froze for a couple of seconds, as though in disbelief, until he returned the smile, the thin, pale scar disturbing the otherwise perfect symmetry of his face into a Romantically lopsided smirk. Her own lips were drawn even further back, until she was grinning like a loon. "Come on," she said finally. "We can't stand here smiling at each other all evening. People will think we're in love or something..."

A soft whickering was all she received in response as he set off for the other side of the road, hips grinding achingly and feet dragging on the asphalt. She thought how tired he looked as he sat down heavily on the stair lift, but there were no spasms rippling through his thighs as he released the knees of his braces, so she presumed all was well, but then again, she thought, what do I know?

Inside, the flat was warm, and the last lingering rays of sun filled it with a homely and welcoming feeling. The door to Alex's bedroom was open, and she could just see the outline of his chair lurking in the shadows which had gathered on the far side of the room. He crossed carefully to the kitchen area and said, "You want something to drink?"

He looked so strange, a kind of withdrawing look to his eyes, that she smiled almost nervously and said, "Yes please. Whatever you're having."

His lips only twitched, as though not quite allowing himself a full smile. "Is white wine ok?"

"Lovely, thank you."

He pulled two glasses out of a low cupboard, setting them on the counter before extracting the bottle from the fridge.

There was an elegance to his careful movements that mesmerised her. Sam crossed over to him while he had his back to her, spine dipping downwards towards the counter slightly as he rested his weight against it, leaving his hands free to pour the wine. She looped her arms around his torso, feeling him tense in a nervous twitch as her palms sculpted the contours of his solid frame. His breathing too seemed to halt for just a moment, before he sighed a bit of that tension from his lungs and looked over his hulking left shoulder at her. "Hi," he murmured, moving just his right hand down to the counter for a bit of extra stability.

"Hiya right back," she returned, pressing a kiss against his spine through the t-shirt. The shivering exhalation that her ears only just picked up made her insides burn with tingling fire. His left palm, almost excruciatingly rough in a couple of places, pressed down over her tiny hand where it lay for a moment on his abs. She laid her cheek against the muscles of his back, and squeezed her arms once gently around him before releasing him.

His left hand flew suddenly and unexpectedly back down to the counter, and the knuckles of both his right and his left hand turned rapidly  white as he gripped the edge until she thought he was going to crush its marble surface into grit. His upper body had petrified into solid stone, and she glanced down to find that his right leg was pulsing, shaking peevishly and misbehaving in the brace like an angry toddler in a playpen. She heard him hiss a curse through gritted teeth. Suddenly, with a plummeting rush of realisation, she knew that it was his shame that was transfixing him to the spot and deliberately shutting her out, and her heart sank, full of emotion. Almost desperate to find a way to let him know that he didn't need to be embarrassed with her, she returned her arms to his torso and pressed her body against his.

"Please," he whispered tensely. "Just... give me a minute..."

Her heart dropped a little further. Wrong move. Retreating, placing her hand once high on his back between his broad shoulders with a simple gesture of comprehension and apology, but maybe of defeat too, she crossed the room and sat down silently on the sofa.

Alex stood there for a few more minutes while his right leg shivered and shook, the sole of his foot hovering above the hardwood floor while he leaned heavily into the counter to keep himself upright. Half worried he might fall, she wanted to offer to fetch his chair, but she was not a nurse, and she thought he might be offended. If he needs help, he’ll have to ask for it, she thought. Attempting to hide her indecision behind a facade of politeness, she tried to give him what degree of privacy she could by fishing out her iPad and starting to read an article she'd brought home on safe object-handling in museum environments.

Before she could get more than a paragraph or two in though, he murmured, "I'm sorry, Sam."

"Don't mention it," she replied, looking up and seeing that his leg wasn't doing the solo hokey-cokey anymore. "I shouldn't have intruded."

His head snapped around, turning right. As he evidently discovered that she was not in his field of vision yet, he swivelled his entire body around so that he was now leaning his lower back on the counter and looking at her across the room with shadowy, doleful eyes. "This isn't your fault, Sam," he said, his voice oddly calm and dark all of a sudden. "It's not your fault."

Then why do I feel like it is? she wanted to ask. She only smiled a quick smile, and said, "That's ok then," trying to keep the sadness from her words.

He seemed to rally himself a bit, and said in a brighter tone, "I'll need a kitchen elf in a bit, if you're up to it."

"Always," she said, standing and setting aside her iPad. "What can I do?"

"Prepare the veg for me?" he ventured, taking what could only be described as a fortifying gulp of his wine and holding the other glass out for her to take. "Here."

She went over to him and as she took it, she took another risk, hoping it would pay off this time, and looped her arm fleetingly around his torso again. She briefly rested her head against his chest as she took a sip from the glass, and sighed contentedly, some degree of happiness returning as he didn't leap back from her in horror this time. "The best things to cure the symptoms of a week in London have to be good wine, and excellent company."

He hooked an arm around her and held her close, careful not to jog her and spill her drink. He kissed the top of her head. "My miracle," he murmured into the soft weave of her plait.


***

 As Sam set about washing broccoli and deftly trimming the stalks, Alex had to force himself to concentrate. It had been a week since he'd been this self-aware, this self-conscious, and those spasms which the sudden closeness of her gorgeous body had sparked, had left him drained of any of the confidence which he'd tried to pretend to himself that he had. It was only as he realised that it wasn't the jerking movements of his battered body that had unnerved her, but that it was the way he'd shut her out which had made her so uncomfortable, that he felt himself shifting to a different point of view. Get over yourself, Norwood, he scolded, turning to heat the griddle pan for the steaks, stop being such a drama queen. Easier said than done though.
  
After he'd turned the sirloins in the hot oil, cracked pepper dotting their seared, striped surfaces, Sam put the broccoli on, and the spinach was washed and waiting, so he set his wine down, shuffled a little so he could once more lean against the counter for support, and opened his arms a little way. "Come here," he said as she checked the timer.

As she neared him, it occurred to Alex that now that he was officially her boyfriend, it would be the normal expectation for her to spend the night in his bed with him, but the idea filled him with horror. The idea, that is, of her seeing him quite so weak and defenceless, without the jeans and the braces to hide it all. But to put her, his little miracle, out on a sofa bed in the living room just seemed ludicrous. And rude. As she folded into his arms and he encircled her tightly, he knew he would just have to suck it up and deal with it. She apparently wanted him, and his disability was a major part of him. He'd have to begin to let her in, bit by bit, beginning that weekend. He inhaled that intoxicatingly sweet scent of her hair and held her to him, running through the logistics of 'bedtime' - of his pre-bedtime routine to be precise - and how he could, for now at least, hide almost all of it from her by doing everything in the secrecy of the locked bathroom. He sighed that he seemed to think it necessary.

They stayed huddled in each other's arms for another few minutes, Alex sheltering her from his thoughts, Sam partly propping him up, until the timer rudely redirected their attention to the food.

They were plating up in the kitchen when Will walked through the front door and grinned at Sam. "Hi, how's it going?" he asked as he kicked his shoes off by the door. Alex was glad to see that his protective older brother seemed to be warming to her more and more with each encounter, whatever his views were on Alex's compatibility with Rachel.

"Hi, yeah, things aren't too bad. Better for getting out of London, I can tell you..."

"Not a fan of the city then?" he asked, joining them in the kitchen area and pouring himself a modest glass of wine from the open bottle in the fridge.

Sam shook her head. "Not really. But there are parks I can run in and get my fix of oxygen and green spaces, so it's not too bad I guess." She picked up the plates and looked at Alex. "Are we eating at the table?"

Alex realised he'd not set any placemats or cutlery out and sighed. "Yes, sorry, I should have laid it properly."

He fished out the mats from a cupboard and stuck them under his arm, crutching slowly in Sam's wake and sliding them under the plates as she set them down. He called over his shoulder to Will, "I take it you've already eaten?" When he received an answer in the affirmative, he nodded and smiled, "Pass us a couple of knives and forks?" he asked. Will stretched out a hand and gave them to him. He remained on the other side of the counter in the kitchen area while the hungry Sam and Alex began to tuck into their medium-rare steaks with gusto at the table.

"Mmm," Alex heard her murmur. "This is amazing."

He suddenly recalled their wine glasses, abandoned on the kitchen counter, and wondered if she had politely neglected to bring the matter up, or whether she'd simply forgotten altogether as well. “Will, you couldn’t bring those two glasses and a bottle of red over, could you? I forgot…” He turned to Sam and asked, “You ok with red, or do you want white?”

Sam seemed uncertain, and then said, "If you're having some, but don't open one just for me."

Feeling in need of a bit of Dutch, or in this case Tuscan 'Montepulciano d'Abruzzo', courage, Alex decided on red. Will was obviously in a good mood, goofing around pretending to be a sommelier, and doing it pretty well, even adopting a silly French accent and saying, "Would sir like to taste ze wine first?"

"Knock it off," he laughed. "Just pour the damned stuff, will you?" Will laughed too, poured the wine, wished them a good evening, and then retreated politely to his room.

With something considerably more than a small amount of wine numbing his nerves, Alex relaxed back to where he had been, mentally, when they'd lain in grass together in the summer warmth. If he'd been asked for the absolute truth, he wasn't completely relaxed, either then or now, but it wasn't a bad imitation at any rate.

Alex had just dumped the plates into the dishwasher when he levered himself around on his crutches and saw that Sam was keeling on the sofa, facing away from him towards the bookshelves behind, her body folded over the back, arse delightfully and innocently high in the air, while she scanned through his collection of really nerdy dvd's on the bottom shelf. He had to grin, and he thought he felt a rush of blood to a very specific region. Little Alex was making his presence known, even if the reaction was dulled by the damaged nerves.

"Oh my goodness!" she squealed, the enthusiasm only mildly muffled by the fabric of the sofa.

She looked like she might just disappear down the back of the sofa like Alice down the rabbit hole any minute. "What have you found? Don't fall off in your excitement, will you!" he laughed, trying to concentrate on his steady progress over the rug, as well as fighting the temptation to bring his large palm down to rest over one of her raised cheeks and feel that perfect form beneath the linen shorts. That thought made his scarred grin stretch further as he flopped onto the sofa and released the braces before she turned around. His right leg had straightened into a reactionary spasm before shivering into a gentle bouncing and then falling silent entirely.

"You have Season One of the 2003 series of Battlestar Galactica!" she buzzed, still draped over the back of the sofa.

"You know it?" he gulped. "And you know that there's more than one Battlestar series? I shouldn't really be surprised though, should I?" he added.

"Know it? Love it more like!" She laughed, pushing herself upright so that she was crouched on the sofa cushion, and added, "I've not seen it since I was at school though. Ooh headrush..." She swayed a little as she reached semi-verticality, and closed her eyes.

He put his hand on her waist, gripping it firmly with his strong fingers. "You ok?"

Her eyelids flicked open, lashes dancing skywards to reveal conker-brown irises flecked with gold. As they focused on his face, the sight knocked the breath from him and he slid his hand up from her waist to her shoulder and then to the back of her head, cupped it, and drew her down from her perch into a passionate kiss. There was only the tiniest hint of instinctive, panicked resistance from her until she melted into the gesture and swung her left leg over his, landing softly in his lap.

With their noses almost touching, Alex whispered, "I've missed you." Her nose crinkled adorably when she smiled and he kissed her again, first landing one right on the tip of that adorable nose, and then planting another square on her pretty lips. She rolled her hips slowly against him and Little Alex stirred again, if only mentally, and igniting a fire that gently engulfed Alex's whole body. He brought his hands down her torso, feeling her strong frame beneath the gentle curves. "God, you're gorgeous," he fairly growled as he ran the flat of his hand in a circle around her lower back. Her spine arched slowly in delight, the muscles clenching to steel under his sandpaper palms, her body pressing down into the straps of his KAFO’s, adding her weight to his slender thighs which were beginning, as they usually did when he found himself aroused, to pulse and jump again. Her tiny, breathy, accompanying moan only added fuel to that inner fire.

Cupping Alex's face in her left hand, her fingers resting along the line of his jaw with its rough shadow which had grown since his morning shave, Sam ran her thumb down the line of his scar. She began at his brow, closing the lid of his blind eye with gentle pressure as she slid down his face, over the rapidly spreading blush in his cheek, and down to his lips. As her thumb met his upper lip, she leaned closer, pulling herself in with one hand behind the pillar of his neck, and she pressed her own lips into his, her left hand remaining on his neck while the right scooped the back of his head. As she pushed him into her kiss from behind his head, her fingers tangled and scrunched in his thick hair and he felt one of his legs rise into significantly more violent spasms than he'd yet had that evening, but he was so wrapped up in the kiss that he couldn't even tell which of his legs it was that seemed to be going mildly berserk beneath her and making her body judder slightly. And then he realised that he didn't really even care, as long as she didn't stop what she was doing.

She drew back, and moved her lips along his jawline towards his ear. She left a single, nibbling kiss on his unbelievably sensitive earlobe and he thought he might actually crescendo inappropriately right there in the living room if she kept this up. Time to apply the brakes. "Sam," he growled in warning.

"I was just about to say," she whispered, her breath torturous against his super sensitive ear, "That I should probably stop now. Otherwise I'm going to embarrass myself." And she sat back a little.

You're going to embarrass yourselfhe nearly blurted, but he only gave a knowing laugh in reply. "I think I know what you mean..." he said. Whichever leg it was that had straightened out was now back on the floor, but both his knees were bobbing up and down as though he'd had fifty cups of coffee, the right worse than the left as usual, and he placed a palm on his right thigh, hoping to encourage it to calm down as she shifted her weight, apparently preparing to slide off him.

To his surprise though, instead of climbing from his lap, she looped both her arms over his shoulders and gripped him in a python-like hug, pressing her stunning body against his so that when they fell back against the cushions again, there wasn't a breath of space between their bodies. Only then did she slither sideways from his lap, landing to his right with a soft, 'ow' on the corner of the Battlestar box set. "You up for watching an episode or two of Starbuck and Apollo kicking some Cylon ass?" she asked. "It was either that or Firefly, but I watched some of that with Dan the other day."

In that moment, with her tucked up so closely under his arm, he would probably have agreed to anything, but it had been ages since he'd watched any Battlestar, so he was quite happy to sit there with Sam burrowing into his shoulder. After a while, as the Viper fighters wheeled through the endless blackness of space, Alex began to sense the spasms beginning again in his right thigh, and he looked down to find Sam's hand resting on his leg, fingers pressing down in tiny, absent-minded, circular movements into the muscle while her eyes watched the action on the screen. She moved a centimetre further inwards and caught a patch with hyper sensitivity. He could not have described to her the intensity of the sensation which ballooned up like a mushroom cloud from an A-bomb, but the sudden straightening of his leg into rigid, shaking spasms spoke volumes. Her fingers curled upwards nervously, like a guilty thing surprised in the act, and she glanced up at him, that guilt doubling as she found his eyes already on her face. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean to hurt you..."

"You didn't," he found himself saying, his voice sounding detached, disembodied somehow. "It's just a spasm; it's not a cramp."

Her brows flickered into a questioning frown: there's a difference? they asked.

'Crip mechanics' here we go, he thought. "I spasm pretty often, as you've probably noticed,” he snorted, “But mostly they don't hurt. It's just the nerves getting their messages all mixed up and not knowing what to do with the signals." Her palm was back on his leg, but on the numb bit where she'd started off. "My circulation isn't all that great, post-accident, so I also get cramps, which do hurt. They tend just happen randomly, but more so when I'm tired, or if I've been on my feet too long."

"But spasms don't happen randomly?"

Now you're catching on. He smiled pointedly. "Not normally. There's usually a reason for them; some kind of pressure or movement or contact..."

"Like this," she said, moving her hand back to that little intense patch, mid-way up his thigh.

If the fact that his right leg had straightened itself almost completely again wasn't enough to confirm that for her, or that the juddering in his thigh had redoubled, he felt a shooting breath leave his lungs and he moaned, "Uh-huh. Like that."

"Mmm, interesting," she said, slowly pulsing her fingers over it, searching between the wide straps of the KAFO to find more of his leg. "And you can feel it when I put my hand here, can't you?"

"Uh-huh," he moaned. Damn, he thought, thinking about letting go completely. "Without looking, I can’t tell exactly where you are, but I can feel that you’re there."

"And that really doesn't hurt?" she clarified as she made his right leg straighten, every muscle pumping and tensing from his butt to his toes, while his left sat still and almost baffled by the antics of its brother.

"Not right now, no," he rasped.

"Good," she smiled, and continued to let her fingers trace little circles like a skater on a pond for a few moments. Then she removed her hands and the spasms died down to a mere bobbing, and she said slowly, hesitantly, "Just..." and that word, and that nervous tone of voice, brought a shot of cold water down on his inner fire, but he let her continue, "Just let me know if I go too far. As... as I will if you do."

"I will." He moved his hand down, weaving his fingers between hers and taking up her hand, encasing it like a crab. She was sitting on his right, so he couldn't really see her without turning awkwardly, but he shuffled his weight so that he could look at her face properly and say, if somewhat ineloquently, "Means a lot." As he shifted, his leg calmed down another notch or two, though his quad was still pulsing with the rapidity of an old WWI Howitzer, just without the force.
  
She smiled, gripping his big hand tightly as best she could in hers as it rested on his twitching thigh, until the muscle finally seemed to accept her presence and shut up entirely, becoming its usual, completely unresponsive self. 

After watching many more episodes than they had planned, and as midnight came and went, Alex knew he would have to go and start his pre-bedtime routine. He shuffled to the front of the sofa, grabbing his sticks to heave himself upright, and he crutched slowly towards his bedroom to fetch his chair - almost everything was easier from the chair, especially at this time of night. His feet were dragging on the hardwood floor, but there was nothing he could do about it; he was too tired. He halted before he left the room, listening to the dialogue on the screen for a moment before speaking. “Um, so I’ll probably take longer than most guys would,” he mumbled from the doorway.

“That’s cool,” she smiled casually across at him. “I’ve got Jamie Bamber for company. For now anyway…” she said, gesturing at the gorgeous Viper pilot on the screen.

“I’ll try not to feel too jealous,” he said, doing his best to sound like he was joking.

“Meh,” she said, “Not really my type.”

And I am?

In fact he was only half an hour, but that was because he was rushing like mad. When he’d accomplished the shortest and most perfunctory shower he could have managed, and had gone through everything he usually did, including cathing and skin checks, he was more than ready to rip the KAFO's off and shove his legs into some thick trackpants and crawl into bed. He thought he could probably do that bit while she was in the bathroom though.

Sam hadn’t seen him come out of the bathroom, and he stopped and sat in his chair, gazing at her for a moment or two before she realised he was there. She had tucked her feet up next to her on the sofa and was all curled up in a protective little ball, with her arms around her knees while the screen flashed, casting shadows under her eyes. She looked at once adorable and vulnerable, like some kind of small creature.

When she did eventually look up and see him, she gave him such an uncertain smile that he wasn’t sure if he didn’t detect some of his own worries in her face.

“Take your time,” he said. “I’ll be in here whenever.” He moved off again, but paused in the doorway to his room, palms clamping to the rims, making him stop abruptly, and added, “I should have said… um… I wouldn't want you to feel pressured in any way so … if you wanted, that sofa also folds out onto a camp bed...”

First of all she smiled. That smile spoke - fairly sang - of her gratitude and relief at his offer, and he thought for a moment that she might pick the sofa bed. She certainly looked like she was deliberating her answer carefully. Then his little fairy, his ‘Fey’, unfurled like a flower in spring and turned the tv off as she stood up. “Thank you, but, well, if you’ll have me…” she said with a soft smile. "I'd rather be with you."

“Most definitely,” he said, feeling the need for bravery dwindling a little as her confidence in him grew. As she picked up her rucksack from the corner of the room and flitted like his little ghost into the bathroom, he added to himself in a barely audible whisper, “Just don’t look around too closely in there.”

***

There was a distinct presence to the Norwood bathroom. Not the obvious presence of a looming portrait on the wall, or a giant television in a tiny room; this one was not a single entity, but was woven into the fabric of the room itself like a spirit in an old castle. It was at its most corporeal in the swivelling shower chair braced over the span of the bath, but the low-hung mirror and sink, and the grab rails were also part of it. The presence in the room Alex’s disability.

Until that moment, his wheelchair had just seemed to her like a part of him, his crutches and braces too, in the same way that glasses are a part of someone, but here were the cogs and gears, the exposed mechanical proof that he needed to tackle his day to day processes at a different angle from most people. The more she let her eyes look at the grab rails and the adaptive shower equipment, the more she felt surprised that instead of repulsing her, intimidating her, or weirding her out, they intrigued her. That presence, that difference, was strangely inviting and enticing. She locked the door behind her, slithered out of her clothes and brought the fluffy red towel over to the bath, ditching it on the floor in readiness.

It was actually quite hard to step into the bath around between the chair and the glass divider which kept the rest of the room from getting wet, but she felt like it would be a betrayal of his privacy or something either to move it or to sit in it, so she did a kind of slinky Houdini act to get around it, nearly slipping over because of the strange angle at which she'd climbed into the bath. Deciding not to mess with any of the shower settings like the height or the temperature, she splashed her body clean and did another Houdini to get out.

To she dry her legs, she propped her foot up on the side of the bath and let her eyes roam over the surface of that chair while her hands worked over her calves and thighs. The main seat was gently scooped, shaped like it was made to hold him firmly, safely, and it had rubber guards which stopped the sides of the bath from getting marked by the plastic-coated metal support frame. On either side of the chair there were slender, white metal handles, and a constellation of drainage holes pierced the main seat. A lever, which she presumed was part of a locking mechanism for when it had been swivelled into place, stood out on the far side. It was a fairly unassuming piece of equipment, but somehow the empty seat spoke volumes about the kinds of things he hadn’t shared with her. Yet. Sam hoped that one day he would.

When she joined him in his bedroom, he was already tucked up under the covers, but then she wasn't surprised. He was sitting up with his back against the head board, legs stowed away under the duvet, and he was reading. His solid torso was masked by a black t-shirt with some bold print splashed across it, but she didn’t let her eyes linger on that; his face was so perfect in the soft light from the bedside lamp. His eyes skimmed rapidly over the words, consuming them with a voracious and hungry speed that might have rivalled a machine. When he saw her however, those fast-moving irises shuddered to a halt and locked onto her with the focus of a military-grade tracking device. He said nothing, but lifted his body up on his hands, shuffling over onto the left hand side of the bed as she stood looking at it, so that there were positively acres of room for her.

Sam drew back the covers a little and slid in beside him, feeling the cool weave of the sheets against her freshly shaved legs. She curled up facing him, a little shy of wearing no makeup, especially since he couldn’t seem to take his searching, glittering eyes off her face, and her skin wasn’t exactly clear at that moment.

“Come here,” he said, patting his enormously thick shoulder with his hand. She nuzzled her cheek into it, inhaling that magic scent of his, and draped her arm across his chest, letting her fingers search his arcing ribs gently. “Mmm,” he murmured happily, turning the light off with his free right hand without looking. “I’ve missed you.”

She sighed happily.


He glanced down at her and said, his voice full of mischief, fun and promise, "I've got a plan for tomorrow, if you're up for another little adventure?"


To be continued...

15 comments:

  1. Mmmm - DELICIOUS writing! I love all the tiny details which you include. Can't wait for the next part!

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  2. Wow.........I don't know how that could haven been any better. Very touching observations.

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  3. Yea!! I admit, last chapter scared me. And while this chapter was heartwarming and awesome, now I gotta be worried about Canada!!! I only want smooth sailing, lol!! but alas, that would be very boring. Cant wait til next Friday.
    Tc

    ps its so weird you mentioned cattle drives, I was on the banks of the Red River tonight thinking about cattle drives.

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    1. Red River??? Southern U.S.????? Louisiana?

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    2. Enjoyed this chapter very much and you covered so much in the way of interaction, communication and discovery in this one installment. Simply brilliant! Looking forward to more good things to follow. But like the poster above me; one chapter a week is simply not enough;)

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  4. THIS IS PERFECT!!!!!! im going to need more than one update per week!!!!!!!!!! omg!!! cant wait for the next chapter!!!

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  5. So much said and felt, in a few well chosen words! Got my heart racing with this one, you did . . . ;)

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  6. Fantastic writing, just love it!

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  7. I'm finally commenting after my third read of this. Amazing amazing amazing. I can't wait to see what happens once sam gets into bed. I hope more exploration of alex's body is in order.

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  8. A wonderful new chapter! You've got a real talent in writing! I'm so glad you've continued the story and hope to read more about the adventure!

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  9. SO GREAT! I am so happy that you're back. Thanks for the update. They are so perfect together, this is such a pleasure to read. :)

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  10. Ah this is so good. Why can't it be Friday already?? Loved the bathroom bit so perfect!!!

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  11. Wasn't able to read this properly until today, when I found myself having several blood tests and all I could do was read on my phone while my other arm was out of service for an hour...

    What a delightful chapter this was. These two are such a great couple and I can't wait to see what else is in store for them. Loved everything about it, but I particularly liked the moments in the kitchen and afterward on the couch. :)

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    1. Glad my little 'chick flick' was able to brighten what sounds like a nasty day...

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  12. Awesome chapter! Loved the glimpses as Alex & Sam develop their relationship. Sooooooo happy your back, Rose!!!!! Im staying up past my bedtime to catch up on CC.

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