Saturday, October 18, 2014

Muskrat Love

Travis never slept well, so he usually got up, walked around the walls of the Fort looking for problems, checked the front gate by going up into the walkway over it, then went to to the Round Tower and used his binoculars to survey as far as he could see. Some nights he would stay up on the tower for a few hours star-gazing, until he was so cold he had to go in and get warm near the remnants of the evening fire in his and Ben's quarters.

Tonight, for the first time, Amanda was up on the Round Tower. He hadn't seen her from the ground because she'd made herself a bed from her camping mats and was laying there, fully bundled up and covered with more blankets, watching the sky in peace.

Oh, I'm sorry,” he said reflexively. “I didn't mean to interrupt.”

She sat up and scooted over some, patting the mat next to her. “Come on. I brought cocoa.” She picked up a thermos in her mittened hand to show him.

I have binoculars,” he said. “If you didn't bring yours.” He sat carefully next to her, close enough to be on the mat with her, far enough so he would only be in contact if she chose it. She gave him a look through her lashes, decidedly un-Amanda-like, then reached around him to tuck the blankets up around his waist and hers, and tucked her body closer to his, snugging up against his side with her head against his shoulder.

He stiffened in surprise, holding his breath, then very carefully managed his breathing to make sure he sounded normal, and forced himself to relax.

It's cold,” she offered in explanation, and he nodded. That made sense to him. He didn't want her to get cold, so he slipped his arm around her to share his heat. She smiled up at him and he felt all of his insides clench and turn slippery. In the moonlight her eyes were pale as the moon itself; he knew they were blue as a cold spring morning in the daylight but in all their years of friendship he had never actually seen her this close in the darkness.

He blushed, and held his tongue, knowing no matter what he tried to say right now he'd sound like an idiot. He yanked his hat off with his free hand to try to cool his head off.

Cocoa?” she asked sweetly, and he realized she was needling him, and wasn't sure about what.

He gave the most nonchalant nod he could manage and saw her suppress a grin. She poured their drinks in silence, handing him his tin cup filled with steaming hot cocoa without a word.

He took a quick drink and swallowed too hastily, making a strange, strangled noise. “Oh,” he gasped when he finished getting the sip down. “That's a lot of vodka in there.”

She grinned sideways up at him. “Maybe I'm trying to get you drunk.”

He stared at her, stuck, trying to figure out if she was teasing, in which case he should laugh in some easy fashion, or if she was serious, in which case laughing in her face would probably be insulting.

Travis settled for a short nod, his red, unruly curls sharply waving.

How long have you been up here?” he asked, after a couple more sips, after his body relaxed a little more, allowing her to melt a little closer against him. She wasn't a small woman; she was tall and strong and was more likely to be able to drop Travis than he could probably drop her, but she fit very sweetly against him.  While she was apparently paying no attention to him, staring up at the sky and sipping her cocoa despite how close she was, he allowed himself to simply breathe in and enjoy her closeness.

Maybe an hour.”

You probably shouldn't be up here drinking in the cold alone,” he said, worried.

She put her mittened hand on his knee and he fell silent again.

I'm not alone,” she said, reasonably. “I was waiting for you.”

Ben-” he began, meaning to explain if she'd expected both of them, Ben rarely woke up with him.

I know,” she said, patting his knee, and let her hand lay there.

Amanda,” he said, his voice sounding both stern and nervous to his own ear. He took a moment to make sure he had the next words right.

Yes?” she asked, sipping, staring up at him through her lashes again, her face suspiciously innocent, her eyes bright and amused. He wasn't usually good at discerning intent in these moments but he felt sure she wasn't laughing at him, regardless of what was amusing her about him.

Do you want... are you... do you... want a cuddle?” he finally said, veering off from what he'd actually intended to ask. “Human beings require touch,” he added hastily in case she thought he didn't understand why she'd want a cuddle.

She set her cup very carefully down next to her thermos then turned her attention back to him. “A cuddle?” she asked, and this time he could tell she was laughing.

I mean...” he began, but couldn't get his words together.

Travis, are you attracted to me?” she asked. He felt his whole body move in an instinctive motion that felt like a bowstring being released.

No,” he said before he could consider.

She leaned back to look up at him better, pulling her hand off of his knee as if she hadn't expected that answer. He quickly grabbed her hand, released it in case she didn't want him to hold her hand, then took it again. This time she gripped his hand, perhaps to keep him from releasing it again.

He met her eyes, deciding to toss himself right over some sort of cliff that he could feel as clearly as if it were a physical reality. “I am not just attracted to you,” he said, quickly, before he could frighten himself off with fears of losing her friendship. This was Amanda, after all, fiercely loyal to her friends – she might not feel the same way, but she wouldn't tear her friendship away from him.

Ok,” she said, clearly a little confused. “Wait, are you attracted to me AND someone else, or are you MORE than attracted to me?”

I love you, he thought. I love you more than language works to discuss. I love you like there are atoms of loving you that I need to breathe in to live. “I am not attracted to someone else,” he said.

Ok,” she said again. She relaxed against him again. “So you like-like me,” she said, grinning. “You big dork.”

He grinned back in relief. He thanked the universe he hadn't somehow catastrophically screwed this all up. She wriggled around a little until she was straddling him, facing him. Her mittened hands, cold and wet in spots from the snow, framed his face and she smiled at him from her new vantage point. He blushed again, harder, knowing she could feel his body's response to her. “You wanna go out some time?” she whispered.

He gave a short bark of laughter. “No.” She gave a gasp of faux-outrage and he grabbed her hands to hold her in place. “It's cold out,” he said in explanation.

Are you saying you want to go in?” she said, primly, her eyes wicked. His mouth opened but he couldn't make words work, again. She leaned forward and kissed him very gently, her lips soft and cold against his, her mouth warm and tasting of cocoa and vodka. He wrapped his arms around her, half in fear he was dreaming.

She broke their kiss to take a shaking breath. “Oh, Travis, you are in such trouble,” she whispered.

Sure,” he said, agreeing to whatever trouble she had for him.

With that she dumped a handful of icy snow down his back and stood when he froze in shock. She ran over to the stairs of the tower and turned back, her face alive with the trouble-making she loved so much, waiting.

Well, ya big lug, your move,” she said, her smile flashing in the darkness. He was on his feet and after her in the space of a heartbeat, her squeal of joy streaming behind them as he chased her down the stairs.

He caught her at the base of the tower and swung her into his arms, silencing her whoop of laughter with another kiss. This time she wrapped her arms around him as tightly as he'd held her. He didn't dare speak, in case one of them woke up and left the other bereft in this space.

So take me to bed, and we'll talk over breakfast,” she said.

I don't want to talk,” he said, before he could censor himself. “I mean, I suck at talking.”

Shhh, that's talking,” she said.

He took her hand and hurried to do as she'd asked.

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