To Scotland with Love
Disclaimer: I do not own GI JOE.
Thanks to the wonderful people who have review lately…your comments motivated me to get busy writing!
"Hey, Hauser, you awake?" a voice called through the darkness.
Conrad grimaced, "I am now." He answered, wondering what Shana could possibly want in the middle of the night. "What is it, some massive spider that needs killing?"
"No, " she walked into the room, closing the door behind her. As she crossed in front of the fireplace he noticed she had what must have been every blanket from her bed draped over her shoulders.
He sat up and blinked, "There a reason why you're dressed like a ghost?"
She stopped by the bed, "Yeah, I'm desperately trying to get warm, my window and chimney leak cold air, my room is freezing, and these damn blankets couldn't keep a Hawaiian warm in July!"
He rubbed his eyes. She hated being cold. He yanked up the top quilt from the bed, "Here, try this. Stuff a pillow in the window. It'll block the cold air."
She glared at him, "Are you seriously going to condemn me to a night of misery in that cold, drafty room? I'll catch my death of a cold!"
"Well, I'm sure as hell not sleeping in a cold room. I'll fix the chimney tomorrow." She kept staring at him, "Ugh, fine." He threw back the covers next to him, "Climb in. Just don't put your cold feet near mine and don't hog all the covers."
"Thanks! I promise I won't snore," she grinned.
He chuckled softly, "Like I said, just don't put your cold feet on mine, leave me some covers, and we'll be good."
She climbed in and pulled the blankets over her head. He noticed she was shivering so hard she was shaking. He ducked down and grabbed her hands in between his and started to chaff them, "Geez, Shana, why didn't you tell me you were this cold!"
"I did. Why do you think I'm here?"
"You hate being cold."
"That's not normally enough to drive me to invade my best friend's bed in the middle of the night."
She snuggled so close she was almost in his arms, "Mmnhh. Why is it that you put off more heat than a furnace?"
"Dunno. Must be a gift."
She shook her head and rolled her eyes, "You must be tired; your comebacks are usually better than that."
"After midnight-remember?" he yawned pointedly.
"Thanks, Conrad. Goodnight."
"Don't mention it. I'd hate to think of the grief Allie would give me if I let you freeze to death."
Finally warm, she nodded off to sleep.
He stayed awake a long time, watching the firelight dance off her red hair, fighting the temptation to pull her into his arms and warm her up in a way that had nothing to do with him being her best friend. He felt himself harden at the thought and forced himself to relax. She was completely oblivious to his desire for her and he told himself that was good thing. He could be content with friendship alone; he would have to be, there was no other choice. He fell asleep and dreamed of pulling her into his arms and kissing her until she melted.
He woke up the next morning and watched her sleep, realizing his resolve to keep her as a friend only had finally broken. He hauled himself out of the bed and attempted to relight the peat fire that had burned out sometime during the night. He had a lot to offer her-if he could get her to see him as a man and not just a friend.
"Keep doing that and you'll burn the place down."
"No big loss," he was careful to keep his back to her.
"No fire, no staff, so that means no hot coffee."
He snorted, "You don't think Dash and Allie are up and messing around in the kitchen?"
She grinned slyly, "Oh, I'm sure they're up and messing around…just not in the kitchen."
He met her wicked gleam and grinned. "How about a morning run?"
"Fine. Ten minutes?"
He nodded, "I'll meet you at the front door."
She took off to change and grab her shoes. He got up slowly and walked to the bathroom.
She was already warmed up by the time he got there, "Moving slow this morning Hauser."
"Like you said-it's cold."
"At least your bathroom has a heater!"
He grinned, deciding to torture her a bit, "Works real well too." She didn't need to know she was the reason he'd taken longer than usual to get ready.
Her eyes narrowed to slits, "Just for that I'll make you spend all day fixing up my bathroom."
He started running, forming a battle plan as his feet hit the ground and he picked up a rhythm to the run. He'd give her something to think about. This "thing" he had for her had been intensifying for years, and he was sick and tired of trying to suppress it. He knew she cared deeply for him. Now, all he had to do was shift those feelings away from friendship. Easier said than done; she'd called him her "best friend' last night. If Allie was willing to help his cause, he'd try to bypass the friendship boundary and see how far he could get in a week.
He beat her back to the front door, "I win so I get the shower first."
"Fine," she panted, catching her breath, "Just don't use all the hot water," she meandered into the kitchen to see if there was anything resembling breakfast.
Allie cornered her in a pantry, "I checked on you this morning and your bed didn't look like it had been slept in. Are congratulations in order?"
Shana snorted, "No, why would they be?"
Allie eyed her friend, "You spent the whole night in his bed and didn't do anything? Nothing,
at all? I can't believe you! I thought you said he was hot!"
Shana rolled her eyes, "Allie, we've been over this before. Conrad and I are good friends; that's it. End of discussion. He doesn't see me that way."
Allie crossed her arms and stared her friend down, "Honey, have you taken a good look at him lately? His eyes follow you everywhere! Hell, he practically undressed you with his eyes after your morning run!"
"Eweh! Allie, I'm all sweaty and dirty! I look worse than I do after a hand to hand combat session. No man, no matter how hard up for a woman would want me after a teaching session or a morning run!"
She threw her hands up and dragged her friend into a nearby hall. "Take a good look in that mirror and tell me what you see!" she demanded.
"Me-sweaty, dirty, and in desperate need of a hot shower, which I probably won't have thanks to this house's lame excuse for modern plumbing."
Allie turned Shana back to the mirror, "Look again."
Shana rolled her eyes, "Fine. I see a tall, fairly attractive woman with red hair and really pretty blue eyes. There, are you satisfied?"
"No. Let me tell you what I see, and more importantly, what Conrad Hauser sees when he looks at you. I see a tall, gorgeous woman with flaming hair about a hundred different shades of red that most women would kill to have, and many spend outrageous amounts of money at salons hoping to come close to. I see blue eyes you could get lost in, that highlight your naturally beautiful light skin. And that's just the surface!"
"Fine. I'm a babe. Can I go now? I really want a shower."
Allie rolled her eyes and looked up at the ceiling, "A little help here would be appreciated," she pleaded.
"Allie, I'm hopeless, you've said so yourself plenty of times. Go-enjoy spending time with Dash. I'm going to go take a shower."
Shana jogged down the hall and up the stairs, getting cold again now that she'd finished her run. She literally ran into Conrad as he was coming out of his room. "Whoa, you need to watch where you're going in this old wreck. You're likely to hit a wall and fall straight through."
"Sorry, just lost in thought."
"Anything edible for breakfast?"
"Do you call oatmeal edible?"
"That depends on who made it."
"Don't worry, not me," she smiled.
"Then, yes, I'd call oatmeal edible. If your shower doesn't heat up feel free to use mine."
"How come you got the good room AND the good bathroom?"
"Just lucky I guess," he tapped her on the nose and headed downstairs to breakfast.
Sure enough, her shower ran icy cold water through the taps. She hesitated for all of three seconds before grabbing her stuff and heading for Conrad's bathroom. 'Hmm,' she thought, discovering the lock was broken. She settled for putting her shoes outside the door in case he came back before she was out of the shower.
She pulled out fluffy towels, discovered to her delight the bathroom came equipped with both a heater and a towel warmer, and stepped in the shower, closing the glass door after her. She let out a long sigh when the warm water cascaded down her back. 'This...' she thought, '…is heaven.'
She thought about Allie's comments at breakfast. Was she really selling herself short? Allie seemed to think so. Having three older brothers addicted to sports whom she adored had inadvertently forced her to put her girly side on a shelf; a very high shelf. She couldn't stand getting dressed up and always felt fake doing so for a date. That wasn't her and it wasn't ever going to be her. Could she find a man who could look past the fact that she could kick ass and take names better than most; a man that wouldn't mind the fact that she was a total tomboy who didn't know one end of a mascara wand from the other? Could she find one that would accept her unconditionally for who she was, inside and out? Had she already?
Hadn't she assumed Conrad couldn't feel that way about her? Maybe she'd been too hasty in dismissing that possibility. She hadn't allowed her thoughts to stray too far down that path lest it become too attractive.
She took a good look in the full-length mirror when she stepped out of the shower. She took good care of her body and it showed. She wasn't all that vain about the scars on her body. They had been earned while serving her country, fighting for freedom alongside her friends. She took a bit more care dressing that morning than usual. She lathered on sweet scented lotion, telling herself if she didn't the cold would dry out her skin. She pulled her hair back into an elaborate braid, making the excuse that she was close to Ireland so showing a bit of pride in her heritage was acceptable. Clothes she couldn't, and wouldn't, do much about. She had brought with her a limited number of items and wasn't about to borrow something from Allie. She did choose a sweater Conrad had bought her for her birthday earlier in the year. He'd said the green emphasized how beautiful her red hair was. She hadn't thought much of his words at the time but what if he'd meant them? What if he hadn't been teasing?
That thought stayed with her throughout the day. Allie had cornered them shortly after she'd finished her shower and sent them into town on a supply run. Allie had a contractor and cleaning crews lined up but the four of them had figured they could pitch in with the minor repairs while the contractor and his crew of merry men tackled areas that actually required reconstruction. She had fun shopping for a change and decided it was Conrad's company and the fact that they were spending Allie's money, not their own.
They stopped for lunch in a local pub. Conrad had put his hand at the small of her back to guide her in. It wasn't something she remembered him doing before but she didn't mind, and wouldn't be opposed to him doing it again. The mood between them was relaxed, but there was a new and not entirely unpleasant tension in the air. It was well into the afternoon when they got back to the house and took a look at her chimney and window.
Conrad glanced at her, "Are you sure you work on this now? You look so nice…I don't want you to get dirty."
She blushed, "Um…thank you."
He grinned as she stammered, "Don't look so shocked, Shana, it's not the first time I've told you your pretty."
"No, I guess not, but those are generally occasions when Allie or Courtney have gotten me ready."
He stepped closer and brushed a stray strand of hair out of her eyes, "I like you better like this."
The moment seemed to stretch on but finally some noise from down below startled her out of her trance, "I'll just change my sweater and be right back."
"Okay, I'll haul up the supplies we bought in town."
Conrad chuckled quietly on his way down the stairs, "That ought to get her thinking."
And it did, she took an inordinate amount of time finding a different sweater to put on and took another long look in the mirror while she was at it. That comment back there didn't have anything to do with friendship, did it? She turned the brief conversation over in head and wished she'd paid more attention to things like flirting when she was a teenager. She heard Conrad banging back up the stairs. Well, she had him to herself for the next couple of hours, she'd just see what happened.
They inspected both the window and the chimney both before deciding the latter was leaking more cold air and would therefore need to be fixed first. Conrad frowned at crumbling wreck in front of him, "Your room is just down the hall from mine, I don't understand why my room was renovated and this one wasn't."
Shana shrugged, "Maybe no one was using this room."
"Let's take a look and see how many bricks are going to need to be replaced. We need to see how much of the damage is on the surface."
They each took a side and felt for loose, broken or cracked bricks. Their hands would touch accidently from time to time as they ran their hands over the face of the chimney. Eventually, their thoughts drifted and conversation died as they worked.
He thought about her as they worked, she'd worn the sweater he'd bought her for her birthday. 'That's a good sign, isn't it?' he wondered. 'And hadn't she looked so good in that green sweater? Hadn't it brought out her eyes and red hair? What was it going to take to win her?'
She thought about his hands, how nice they'd felt on her back at lunch, about what the simple touch of his fingers across her face had felt like deep inside, about what they might feel like against her skin.
So lost in thought they were, they jumped when their hands brushed against each other's under the mantle. It rocked; dust came fluttering to the floor, raining over their boots.
He cleared his throat, "I guess the mantle needs to be fixed. We may need to replace some of the cracked bricks…they seem to be leaking cold air."
"We don't have anything to fix the bricks with, how about the mantle?"
Conrad nodded, "Sure, we hammer some nails through it, reinforce it until the contractors can take a closer look."
They gathered the needed tools and took hold of the mantle, only to have it come off and send them to land in a heap on the floor, mantle falling out of their hands. Conrad leaned over her. "You ok?" he asked, roughly.
She blinked the dust out of her eyes and found him watching her intently, 'what was the question?' she wondered, finding herself much more interested in studying the brilliance of his blue eyes amidst the dust. "Huh?" she answered absently.
He brushed dust away from her mouth, sending that ember that had been between them flaring to life, "Are you hurt, Shana?"
She shook her head, "No."
"Good, "he answered huskily.
Pounding feet startled them out of their shared moment. Dash came rushing into the room, "Everybody all right? We heard a crash?"
Conrad got to his feet and helped Shana up, "Yeah, we're fine."
Dash took a look at the mantle lying in pieces on the floor, "Man oh man when the two of you set out demolish something you really know what to do don't you!"
Shana wrinkled her nose, "We were trying to fix it, Dash. You know, so I won't freeze to death tonight."
Dash grinned, "I don't think you froze last night. But seriously, you two are lucky; the whole chimney could have come crashing down instead of just the mantle. I'll add it to the contractor's list; just don't hold your breath." He waltzed out like nothing had happened, as if he hadn't just dropped a bombshell on them.
Conrad bent down to start picking things up, "You can have the bed-I'll sleep in the chair."
"No, way! I'm not running you out of your bed! We shared well enough last night; we can do it again tonight. That is…if you don't mind?"
Conrad smiled at her, "Why would I mind?"