Her eyes fluttered open. The old motel room was awash in early morning light, bleached white by the snow falling heavily just outside the window. Knowing it was too early to get up, she lay still for a long moment, lazily studying the wooden ceiling. The only sound was the snoring of the many soldiers slumbering in the other rooms of the motel. She shifted; the single blanket did little in the way of heat conservation, and her pillow was non-existant, yet she couldn't help but relish in the simple luxury of sleeping in an actual bed, even if it was just a stripped mattress on a cold floor.
After several silent minutes, she rolled over and looked at him.
A smile spread over her lips; he was still asleep. It was obvious that he was not used to sharing a bed, as he had effectively commandeered the mattress by laying on his back and stretching out his limbs in every direction. Resisting the urge to wake him, she sidled up to his massive form. His body was like a furnace; the air around him had become an aura of warmth, fending off the wintery chill that had claimed the rest of the small, empty room.
For a few seconds, she just gazed timidly at him. Then, she happily reminded herself of the previous night and pulled herself even closer, daring to curl her leg over his. The instant their skin touched, it was like laying on a heater, and all shyness fell away as she quickly became greedy for his body heat. Moving slowly so as not to disturb him, she tucked one icy hand under his muscled arm and allowed the other one to come to rest on his chest. Like a feather alighting on sand, her lips brushed his broad shoulder in a soft kiss.
His bulk stirred; she froze. Slowly, his head lulled towards her, but to her relief--and also mild disasppointment--his eyes remained easily closed. She stayed perfectly still for a second longer, waiting for his breathing to fall back into a deep, steady rhythm, then ventured even closer. She drew herself up and propped her head up on her elbow so she could see him properly.
He was handsome as ever, she realized with a tiny grin. Braving the cold of the room, she slid a hand out from under the blanket and gently touched his face. She began at his bandana, which had somehow managed to hold its place throughout the night. Her fingers smoothed out the worn fabric, then ran along the folded edge and down over his temple. Inevitably, her touch was drawn to the long, ragged scar that dominated the right side of his face; with a sort of natural reverence, she moved her fingers lightly over the white line of flesh. After a moment, her hand traveled from his scar down to his strong jaw, then down the sinews of his thick neck to play absent-mindedly with his scratched COG tags.
There were so many scars. She'd expected him to be battered, of course, but when she had finally seen him, she couldn't help but be taken aback. His body was a network of twists and knots, each one a story of both victory and sacrifice. There were small, round scars which she recognized to be bullet wounds, but there were so many others that confused and even frightened her. There were scars that careened viciously over his skin; groups of small scars that cut into him at inexplicable angles; scars that forked across his muscles like bolts of white lightning.
You've survived so much...
She settled down beside him again, head nestled in the crook of his neck, and let herself explore the war-torn expanse of his body. Her fingers went to each scar individually, tracing the dead flesh with the utmost care.
Somehow, his scars didn't make his physical body any less incredible. He didn't have the lean, chiseled muscles that some young model would have--that kind of physique was for vanity and aesthetics, nothing more. No, he was bound with the type of raw, heavy muscle that was developed from decades of merciless labour; from actually needing one's muscles to perform superhuman tasks every day.
Her hand came to his side and stopped abruptly. There, stretching from his ribs to his hip, was the largest scar on his body. Unlike the others, this crimson scar was still healing--in all actuality, it was still more of a wound than a true scar. Yet no matter what it was physically, the wound would always be a testiment to the sacrifice he'd made for her; she touched the stitched skin as though it were sacred.
Observing his latest wound made her distantly aware of her own. In the hospital, the surgeons had removed a total of three bullets from her arm and side, but had promised her a full recovery. That had been weeks ago, but she'd still been in quite a bit of pain ever since the Battle for Belphe. Suddenly curious, she shifted her injured side and tensed it experimentally.
The twinge of pain recalled the chaos of the battle to her mind, but, strangely enough, it also brought back far more pleasant memories. Sinking back down into the mattress, she finally permitted herself to submerse herself in the events of the past hours.
Her roommate was gone on an all night shift at the hospital. She herself had been getting ready to climb into her bed, eager to get what sleep she could before duty called the next day. Then, there had been a knock at the thin wooden door. She had answered it, not much caring to hide her irritation.
"What do---Oh, Marcus. Hello."
"So...what can I do for you?"
"I, uh, wanted to congratulate you. On adopting Jackie."
"Oh, you heard. Yes, I guess it's official now...You know, I was kind of surprised they actually bothered to do any of the real paperwork."
"Well, you know how Hoffman feels about regulation. Thinks paperwork and protocol are the only things that seperate us from the Locust."
At this, she had given him a playful little smirk.
"But didn't Baird find a Locust jailer's document down in the Hollow? Would that count as paperwork?"
"It just might. Don't tell Hoffman."
They shared a moment of mild amusement, and then the motel room fell into late night silence.
"...You'll make a good mother. Jackie...she's lucky to have you."
"Well, she's lucky to have you too."
His surprised expression had made her smile.
"Oh please, don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. She thinks the world of you."
Blinking, he opened his mouth, then closed it. Seeing that he was groping for words, she took the pressure off him by simply stepping up and wrapping her arms around him in a friendly embrace.
"Thank you. Thank you so, so much."
Predictably, his posture went rigid. He had grunted something, likely trying to deny any gratitude. She just grinned knowingly into the leather of his bomber jacket.
She was supposed to step away. She was supposed to wish him a good night, close the door, and tuck herself safely into bed. But she didn't. Instead, she had somehow stayed with him, her arms hanging around his neck and his face in her shoulder. Then, she suddenly became aware of what she was doing; recognized the dangerous territory she had edged into. She tried to withdraw.
His strong arms stayed tight around her back.
There had been no theatrics, no expectations to uphold, no impressions to be made. There was just a desire, and its slow, steady fulfillment.
Granted, the lack of dramatic flair might have been due to the fact that they were both still injured. She'd been out of the hospital for a few weeks now, but he was still recovering from a series of intense surgeries on his side. Together, their weakened bodies were fraught with residual tenderness, and despite their most valient efforts, even the slightest exertion resulted in at least a small stab of pain.
But just as she could have guessed, it had been worth it.
Now, she just stared at him and blew an impatient sigh through her nose. She wondered distantly when he was going to wake up.
Finally, she couldn't resist anymore; with careful grace, she lifted herself slightly and pressed her lips to his, keenly feeling the scar there. She tasted the warmth of his breath, lost herself in his heady scent.
She drew herself away and looked expectantly at him.
He barely even moved.
Suddenly, she was reminded of how she'd felt just before she'd fallen asleep the night before. It hadn't taken her long to learn that he was not one for pillow talk or late-night cuddling, but he had seemed more than content to lay back and doze off while she toyed innocently with him. But before long, she began to feel a bit overenthused, like an excitable little puppy tugging on the ears of a tired, older dog. Now, several hours later, she sensed that feeling creeping up on her again, and she quickly pulled away, pushing herself into the tiny corner of the bed he'd left for her. It wasn't often that soldiers were able to sleep safely--least of all him--and she decided she didn't want to keep him from that rest.
Judging by the still-dim light filtering through the snowy window, she knew there was still a fair bit of time before they would have to get up. She glanced around the room, searching for something to distract herself with. There really was nothing to speak of: the square motel room was empty except for the mattress, a bare bulb hanging from the wooden ceiling, and two piles of clothes. The first of these piles consisted of a stack of neatly folded grey garments--her work uniform. The other was less of a pile than a chaotic heap of clothing, still scattered across the floorboards where they'd been so hastily shed. There lay the various pieces of her cotten rec clothing, as well as his pants and bomber jacket.
Her gaze darted back to the forgotten jacket. It was by sheer coincidence that the way the garment had been discarded had turned it partially inside-out; because of this, an inner pocket that would have been otherwise hidden was left in plain view. Sticking out of that pocket was a small, white square of what looked like paper.
She looked over her shoulder at him: still asleep. She hesitated for a moment, then her hand shot out from the warmth of the blanket and deftly plucked the white square from his jacket pocket. Bringing it before her eyes, she held it close so she could view it in secrecy.
It was, in fact, paper; worn and slightly yellowed with age, with one crinkled corner bent in. As her sleepy eyes focused, she realized that there was something written in scrawling black ink over the pulpy surface.
You were such a handful that day, Jacks! Still had so much fun, though! Here's to many more...
It wasn't until her gaze skimmed over the last few words that she even realized the familiar sentiment was written in her own hand. Memory flooded back to her as she hastily flipped the paper over.
A photograph. It was a photograph. She was perched on a green couch, just barely keeping a hold on a joyfully screaming toddler while the little girl clinged to a colourful giftbox.
Eyes wide, she stared at the photo, then at him, still dozing silently beside her. Slowly, a smile painted itself over her features. Wasting no more time, she reached over and carefully replaced the picture in the inner pocket of his jacket.
The mattress gave a sudden squeak, followed by a groggy grunt.
"Your feet are friggin' freezing."
Before she could register a proper comeback, the floorboards beneath the bed groaned under his weight, and a heavy arm fell across her waist, dragging her unceremoniously back over the bed. She could feel his tight muscles on her back and his breath on her neck.
Upon turning over, it became apparent that the hands of sleep still had a firm hold on him. His blue eyes were little more than semi-conscious slits, and his jaw was uncharacteristically slack.
She felt his voice vibrate in his chest. "Mhm?"
"Are you awake?"
As his eyes opened a fraction, his arm gained strength and snaked even tighter around her waist. She brushed a stray hair from her eyes, then touched a hand to his chest. His body had only belonged to her for a few short hours, but already the heated flesh felt familiar beneath her fingers.
Finally, his eyes opened completely, though they were still clouded with slumber.
"What time is it?"
She gazed all around at the pale light within the room.
"We still have a while." she said at length. He just cocked a brow at her. Rolling her eyes playfully, she glanced at the tiny digital clock by the edge of the bed--the very thing she'd been avoiding all morning, for fear of what it would tell her.
"Quarter to five." she sighed. "Happy?"
He just closed his eyes and ran a thumb over her slender shoulder.
For a moment, she contemplated asking him about the photograph, but quickly thought better of it. Everything would come in time.
And for once in their lives, time was something they had.
"Yes?" She was too close to look up at him directly, so she just focused on his COG tags.
"...I remember what you said."
The way he'd spoken had been casual, even nonchalant, but something in that deep voice of his made her heart quicken.
"Oh?" Her fingers subconsciously toyed with the worn metal of his tags.
He inhaled slowly, easily. "Back in the restaurant. In Ilima."
Her mind raced through the events of Ilima, but the whole thing seemed years away, and she couldn't figure out what he was getting at.
Then, her breath caught in her throat as her own words wandered distantly back to her.
"I wouldn't want that to be the last thing said between us."
Like a spark to kindling, the tearful, confession-like conversation she'd had with him came thundering back into her memory. She'd nearly said it all to him, but in the empty darkness of the abandoned restaurant, when he had been laying--nearly unconscious--on the floor before her, she hadn't even thought he'd heard her.
Huddled under the blanket, she was glad he couldn't see her face--or her rampant blushing. She waited a few maddening seconds for him to say something more, but it appeared that he had made his peace with the matter. Of course, that didn't stop those words from dancing across her brain over and over again.
I wouldn't want that to be the last thing said between us...
She couldn't stand it anymore.
There was a moment of mellowed quietness. He shifted lazily.
She blinked. In that moment, she understood: it was convoluted, and it was implicit, but it was there nontheless. Suddenly, she found herself struggling for words.
Luckily, he snapped back into the role of sergeant just in a nick of time.
"Wake up call is soon." he said, his voice once again becoming husky with fatigue. "Sleep while you can."
She wanted to say more, but again, she remembered that they had time.
Fitting easily into the contours of his embrace, she settled into their shared warmth and focused on the comforting sound of his steady breathing. As the lids of her eyes slowly drooped, she watched dust particles swirl and drift drowsily through the rays of a soft winter sunrise.