Paul's hands are soft on her abdomen, warm, and his face is close to her ear when he says, "Trust me."
Beneath him, she feels old and weak and ugly. It isn't that she is not an attractive woman; she is not vain, of course, but neither is she falsely modest. She knows, with a clinical sort of awareness, that she's beautiful – for her age. But that is next to nothing in the face of this person she has loved almost her whole life.
"I do," she says, her voice raspy to her own ears. "But I'm afraid." She feels selfish, for wanting him so much for so long, and she feels – repulsive, and silly, and out of her league, now that she is – is this. But she waited her whole life for him, and no one can take that from her. She paid her dues, and she never stopped believing. Almost, once... but she didn't. So she almost feels worthy of his presence.
When he came for her, she felt all of nine years old again. Her chest sinking to flutter in her stomach, the strange, faraway smell he had, like nothing she'd ever known on Earth. She remembered finding him, weeping over her dog and holding Paul's death against this alien for the five seconds it took her to realize he was injured, and that he needed her.
She'd cradled him in her arms, and eventually he'd held her, too. And then he left. He killed her dog, and made her love him with all the exuberance of a child with nothing else in the world, who'd found one thing that no one else had, a thing she meant to keep forever – and he'd left.
She remembers the months after, the memories confusing and hazy and inconstant with everything every other human told her. She remembers the ridicule, even after she had grown into a beautiful young woman. She remembers waiting, and waiting, and growing older, and waiting, and living alone her whole life.
It seems as though the most vital parts of her life are two bright points, one at the beginning and one at the end, connected by a drab, lifeless line of muddled hopefulness and despair.
Before Paul even starts, she beings shaking. It's hard, because he is all she ever wanted, and he came back for her.
"Tara," he says softly, and touches her face. She opens her eyes, and she is ashamed when his thumb smooths at the tears beneath them. "Please. I want to do this for you." There is something like sorrow, and regret, and an eagerness to please that is far too earnest to be directed at someone like her. She feels undeserving. She knows she puts him on a pedestal in her heart, but she can't help it. It's just how she feels.
"Do it," she says. "If it's what you want."
Paul purses his lips, furrows his brow. "It is what I want," he says vehemently. "But I want you to want it too. Baby, if this relationship is gonna work out, you've got to let yourself be pampered a bit."
He surprises a laugh out of her, and warmth bubbles in her chest, and she almost forgets herself; she almost feels young.
"There's my girl," he says quietly, smiling with his whole face. "That's what I like to see."
She exhales, watching him, and nods. "Okay. I'm ready."
"Close your eyes," he says kindly. "It goes easier."
She does, and presently his hands are on her again. It's a strange sensation at first – warmth, soothing, uncurls in her joints. She feels it in her elbows first, and then her faulty left hip; a tightness, and then a profound sensitivity contracts and expands through her skin; her eyes burn, and then overflow with moisture. She feels the tears slide down over her temples.
"Don't look yet," her murmurs, his voice strange and creaking. "Just – wait, just a sec."
She opens her eyes just as the last wrinkle fades from his face.
"Sorry," he says, smiling tiredly. "I – didn't want you to see me like that."
"You see me like that every day," she starts, but only when she's sitting up does she realize – there is no pain. She is full of energy. And her voice, her voice is smooth and sweet as honey. "What did you do? Paul?"
"What I said," he grins at her. "I gave you your life back."
She swings her legs – smooth, young, slender – over the side of the table, unsteady in her new-found strength. "I thought – I thought you were going to do small things. Bone density. Aches and pains."
He cocks his head. "But I did," he says, and he looks unsure. "Don't you like it?"
There is no wont for reflective objects, not here – she can see herself, turned back thirty years, though her hair is still white as snow. "I do," she whispers, "I just – I didn't know, I thought..."
"I just – tidied up your organs a bit. It was healing, like anything else. Time leaves wear and tear, so I..." he trails off, reaches up to touch her elbow. She looks and feels about twenty five. It's a miracle. It's too much.
"I want to give you everything, Tara," he says quietly. "Please be okay with this."
"My skin," she says, in awe at its smoothness.
"Just another organ," he mutters, slightly abash. "No big deal."
She looks down at him, but is distracted by her delicate wrists, her smooth hands.
"And don't think I did this for some stupid reason, either," he says quickly, "I thought you were beautiful before. I mean, you're definitely beautiful now," he says, and grabs her hand. He gives it a squeeze. "But I did this for you. And it was nothing, it's nothing to anyone on this planet. We've just got better science than Earth, that's it. So don't feel beholden to me."
As if it's as easy as this, when he's given her absolutely everything. She kneels beside him, and her knees don't crack and her hips don't ache.
"How different will it be, here?" She asks, nervous and exuberant at once. She feels as though she has come to a land of immortals, to some great shining beautiful place where pleasure and learning and art are the pinnacles of society.
Paul touches her face, leans close and looks at her meaningfully. He looks like he's trying hard to reassure her. "Not so different. Just more evolved. Things work mostly the same way, maybe just a – a little... Tara – "
She cuts him off by going out on a limb, risking everything. She's pretty sure, only what if he – what if it isn't at all how he meant this, meant everything, what if doesn't...
But he kisses her back with interest, with passion, with warmth and intensity, touches her face, her neck, her shoulders. And Tara thinks, yes, it's not so different at all.