Indeed, it's been a while. But that's the benefit of this story being a series of one-shots (at least sort of... - that was the intention anyway). Had this idea on the streetcar home and needed to pound it out before a couple readings. If anyone wants to know about facial tattooing and colonialism in New Zealand... well, I'm not your girl but I could probably direct you to some awfully dense readings on the subject matter.
Every muscle in her body was aching. Her arms were screaming for rest, her useless pathetic legs quaked like a newborn calf. She gritted her teeth and pressed more weight down, through the ball of her foot to the floor.
She ignored the physiotherapists' cautions. She didn't give a damn what he had to say. Three sessions in and she hadn't, despite his claims, made any progress whatsoever. He wants her to rest. They'll have plenty of time to work on it next week. She's feeling weak right now but she'll improve with time.
Screw that, she doesn't want next week or with time. She wants now.
Every advantage she'd had, erased. Everything she knew how to do, everything she was good at, had changed. Her life was being rewritten and she had no control.
She'd been shot.
She had to come to grips with that.
She had to come to terms with the fact that her team had picked a replacement
She had to adapt to getting tired from holding a damn toothbrush.
She had to adjust to that ugly scar riding high on her side, low on her back. The jagged and red marks that would, with time, pucker and whiten. Souvenirs of the worst day of her life.
She had to get used to leaning. Depending on people for everything. Sam worst of all. He'd been graduated from secret fling to nursemaid. This wasn't what he'd signed up for. She didn't understand why he hadn't bolted in the other direction. He was a good-times guy - the kind of soldier with a woman in each port. She'd known that when she'd taken him to bed. She figured he'd tire of her and move on. They'd burn out and go their separate ways. That sniper's bullet should have only quickened that process.
Yet there he was. Every single day. She could set her goddamned watch by it.
The shakes migrated down her arms until her fingers were vibrating. She gripped the railing even tighter, knuckles paling under the tension. She fought against the weakness, the fatigue ravaging her body. The skin on her side is stretched painfully and the wound tugs and pulls.
She wouldn't be sentenced to a lifetime in this useless body, she promised herself. Sweat had matted her hair to her neck, damp tendrils curling away from hot skin. This she could control. This she could change.
Arms taking the brunt of the impact she levered herself up the final inch.
Standing. She can't help the sway as her legs adjust to her weight. Her thighs burn. She can't let go of the rail, metal clenched deadly tight.
Her eyes shoot up.
He's standing just inside the door. His shirt is inside out - white threads along the seams puckering outwards, pulled on in haste after another long shift. His hand drops from the door handle to hang uselessly by his side.
He stares at her, expression unreadable.
The physiotherapist murmurs muted and cautionary praise.
She notices, not for the first time, how deep the shadows under his eyes are. The stubble on his cheeks is days old. He's stretched thin. She doesn't want to be one more thing he needs to take care of – one more obligation to fulfill.
And suddenly he's grinning. His face lights up and he's striding across the floor. The tired is gone, vanquished by the charming and boyish smile.
"God Jules." He doesn't touch her fraid he upset this new and untested balance. He just hovers beside her, arms reaching out protectively to sturdy her if she falters. "You're standing! This is amazing."
She can't respond. The exertion, just standing there, robs her of her breath. But even if she could, she didn't have the words to give to him. How was it she could convince jumpers to ease back from ledges, could talk down gunmen, could negotiate crackheads and bankrobbers, but she can't find the right ones to say to him.
The therapist makes her sit – probably for the best as her knees are buckling, ready to give out at any minute – and stretch out. Muscles, sore from inactivity, come to life again as she kneads and flexes them. She focuses on her breathing, registers only vaguely her doc's conversation with Sam. Complex anatomical terms like thoracolumbar and anterior cruciate. He can't possibly know what the hell the man is talking about and yet he's nodding along. She wonders if he's smuggled out some poor intern's first year biology textbook because he seems to genuinely understand.
He wheels her back to her room once her session was over. She lumbered awkwardly to her feet twice more, testing the strength of her rickety legs. She managed to get off one shaky step before the therapist forced her to stop. She was pushing herself too hard he said. Needed to let the body continue to heal between sessions.
So it's back in the chair, through the labyrinth of hallways back to her room. She reaches up, over her weak shoulder to clench his hand on the arm of her chair.
"What's wrong? Are you going to be sick?" He asks, chair grinding to a quick stop. He crouches in front of her, hands automatically moving for her shirt, reaching for the hem to check the bandage. He wants to make sure she hasn't torn anything, hasn't pulled the wound back open.
"No." She rolls her eyes. "No, stop Sam. Stop." She says again as he tugs up the shirt to examine the snowy white bandage wrapped around her stomach.
"What is it?" He looks so genuinely confused. She smiles.
Under normal circumstances she'd doubt that anyone would ever accuse Sam of being a sweetheart. But he was.
"Thanks." She says, faming his face with both hands. His days-old stubble bristles against her palms, tickling them. He looks so genuinely confused she could laugh. She leans forward and kisses him. Not a light peck, nothing sweet or cute. She presses her lips to his and pours herself into it. He responds with equal heat, an innate and unconscious response. She's missed him that way.
When her breath hitches he pulls away, rocks back on his heels to survey her face. It's flushed with victory, high off her triumph in the physio lab.
"Some thank you." He stands slowly. He finds, as he pushes her back to her room, that it's his legs that aren't completely steady.