Avalanche (1-7)

Fanfic. Main character is… well, you will see.
This is the first story I decided to bring over from a message board where fanfics started to be… redundant.
Love, don’t read. Not worth YOUR time LOL. But we girls r heffing SOOO muuuuuuuuch fuuuuuuuuun. *giggle*

1.

-I’ll take the short cut, Chris! See you at th-

These were the last words he yelled before he lost his balance on the skis and tumbled ahead onto the endless slope on his right. He fell and fell, sliding on the immaculate snowfield, losing his left ski first, then his right one, feeling panic take hold of him, trying to cry out for help but unable to. His ankle hurt, and he was still falling, and then he hit his head and blanked out.

~~~

Warmth welcomed him back and a strange, subdued light. He heard noises next to him; trying to open his eyes, he stirred slightly, feeling a sharp pain in his left ankle. He moaned painfully and blinked to chase the blurriness of his vision.

Someone was leaning over him, then turning away, doing something. He stared at the wooden ceiling above him and the one lightbulb hanging from a large hook. His nose smelled smoke and some kind of food. Chili?

-Where am I? -he asked. He had to clear his throat, it was so dry.

-Drink -a woman’s voice ordered him, and he was given water from a metal cup. The taste of metal was harsh, but water was welcome and he drank greedily. -You’re in a cottage. I found you yesterday at the foot of the hills. Good thing you chose to twist your ankle a few hours before the avalanche hit us.

He blinked, doing his best to take it all in.

-Yesterday? Avalanche? Do you have a phone? -he threw the words into the air, collecting what his reason prompted him to say.

-Line dead -she replied curtly.

He turned to finally face her. She was somewhere in her twenties or thirties, dark haired, dark skinned. Muscular and with brisk movements.

-How am I going to get back? -he asked stupidly, endeavouring to sit up. The pain in his ankle increased and he hissed, falling back onto the hard surface, whatever it was.

-Stay put -she said simply, walking around him, doing something at his back. He thought he heard a door open, some sharp objects click together, and some cloth being torn. -You can’t go back now.

-What do you mean I can’t go back now? -he echoed her words, feeling despair rise in him.

-Well, the snow basically buried us.

He opened his mouth to reply but fear numbed him. Buried!

-Relax, big city boy -she told him, appearing at his feet now. Stooping, she took a few wooden sticks and placed them around his ankle, tying them together with a wide strip of cloth, using string in the end to keep them secure. -It’s not broken, but you can’t stand on it for a few days.

-A few days?! -Josh asked, almost in a whisper. This was not happening. This was a nightmare.

-For hell’s sake, stop repeating everything I say -she snapped, and he shut his mouth, feeling a tight knot in his stomach. This was wrong. This was all wrong. -My friends will come for me as agreed. A week from now.

He almost replied, “a week?!”, but checked himself. A week. Seven days. He felt in his pants and his jacket, just in case his cellie had hidden in there somewhere. Nope. No cellie, no phone… lost at the back of the beyond, God knows where, locked together with a cranky misanthrope.

-Where are we?

-At the foot of the Big Belt Mountains.

Not wanting to sound stupid, he said nothing. He had a lot of questions, such as where exactly those mountains were, and how was he going to reach his family, and what the fu*k was happening on the whole.

-Lemme guess: you paid for a complete package at the Big Mountain Ski resort -she offered, throwing a log of wood on the fire.

-How do you know? -he asked like an idiot, watching her movements. There was a fireplace. Wooden chairs. A single bed. He seemed to be lying between the table and the fireplace, on what seemed to be the wooden floor and nothing else. It was extremely hard and he realized his bones were hurting.

-I studied geography. Have you? -she asked back and he blushed.

-I work in show business. I don’t have time to study -he retorted, blushing even more.

She looked at him and rolled her eyes.

-Good lord, not only a city guy but also some young upstart who thinks he can make a stupid movie or a crappy album and be famous and then rule the world. You know what? Guys like you are ruining this place, and the whole country, and to be honest, the whole fu*king world -she hissed angrily.

There was so mch unjustice in her reply that he felt shame and anger rise to his face. He should have felt grateful that she found him but she was so wrong about him that he felt like yelling at her.

-You don’t know me -he replied quietly, almost shaking. -You have no idea who I am, okay?

-Oh, thank God I don’t -she retorted, jamming two metal plates on the table.

That silenced him. He closed his eyes, trying to calm down, and forget the pain in his ankle that the anger just made worse. From her half-sentences he deducted that he was, at least, safe. And her people were going to come for them in a week. One long, forever-stretching week, locked together. He rubbed his closed eyelids, thinking of his parents and how worried they must be.

-Let’s eat -she said simply. -Chili con carne. If you’re a vegetarian, you’ll probably starve here, so for your own sake, forget whatever diet you were on back in your own world and eat.

He sat up, tightening his lips to keep the pain for himself. He was not going to be a sissy in front of her. He pulled his good leg up and holding on to the table’s leg, he scrambled to his feet, keeping his hurt ankle away from the floor. She eyed him curiously.

-Not bad -she nodded, pushing a plate towards him. -Sit down. If you can stand up like that, it will be healed fast. Luckily for you, you seem to be fit. You must have fallen like a mile or so. Could’ve easily been killed.

He eased himself into the rough, sturdy chair, moving his neck and feeling his back.

-Don’t worry, you can sleep on the bed -she said in a slightly mocking tone. -I’m used to being on the floor, and I have my sleeping bag with me.

He stared into his food, taking a bite, swallowing it. It was hot, and spicy, and it awoke his basic instincts of survival. He ate like one who had not eaten for days, and enjoyed the hot mash trickling down his throat, filling his belly. He put aside all the unpleasant circumstances he was in, and focusing on the food, noticed that pretty soon everything seemed to shine in a happier light.

When he was finally able to speak without the need to spit in the woman’s face, he calmly looked at her and said:

-Thank you for saving my life.

She looked up from her food and her dark eyes softened a little.

-No problem -she replied, returning to her plate.

He acknowledged her lack of friendliness and decided to leave the matter unsolved. He was alive, he was safe. He would be returning to his family in a week, and nothing else was important.

-I’m Josh -he said, munching.

-Kathleen -came the reply.

Then, they ate in silence.

2.

He was almost finished eating and the weird thought occured to him that once finished, he will have to talk. To her. And she did not seem like the most hospitable person ever. She probably had a clear notion about him in her mind and there was nothing he could do to make her change her mind. Well, life was like that. Once on a bad start, there was no turning back, and even though he hated having enemies, he acknowledged the fact that the two of them will never be friends.

-Who was with you when it happened? -she asked, swallowing her last mouthful of food.

-My family -he replied, leaning back in his chair, enjoying the spicy taste in his mouth.

-What happened anyway? -she stood up, taking the plates and putting them in the sink with a loud bang.

-I fell -he replied curtly, thinking how stupid he was. Yeah Groban, take the short cut. You idiot.

-You wanted to be somewhere faster -she said, checking the fire. Luckily, she was behind him, as he turned deep red. Dammit, is she reading my thoughts? He felt rather unstable, but there was no time to dwell on such little uncertainties of the psyche. -Can you bear the cold?

-What do you mean? -he asked back, turning his head slightly to see her.

She came round and opened a door to a kind of chest, pulling blankets and covers out.

-We don’t have much wood and if we want to stay alive for a week, we need to economize -she replied, throwing the blankets on the bed.

-Holy crap -he said, rubbing his stubble. -This is just great, really great…

-Don’t worry, these are camel-hair blankets, warmer than Africa -she giggled, casting a derisory glance at the fragile, dainty-looking little starlet. -It’s around bedtime, so if you want, you can go to sleep.

-I need to use the washroom -he stated, scared of the reply in advance.

-Well, we do have an outhouse… which is outside. Under the snow -she said, apparently terribly amused at how he took each new calamity.

He stared back at her in disbelief. Her eyes were lit up from repressed laughter and he could not understand how she was able to find the situation amusing.

-So then what, do I take a leak in the corner? Or better: we collect our pee and then drink it? They say it’s void of all poison by then -he added sarcastically, half tickled, half exasparated.

-Go ahead and try -she laughed openly. -I’d choose to get it refined first, but you rich people have the weirdest ideas…

He was starting to feel like the laugh of the town. There was only one person to laugh at him but she sure took every opportunity to make him feel like the dumbest person on earth.

-Okay, where do I go then? -he asked, swallowing his shame. The need to relieve himself was becoming rather urgent.

-Well, we need to try to sneak out and stay very close to the house -she replied. -We do it right next to the house in the snow. When we get rescued we’ll just cover the stuff with soil. Pure compost.

-Wonderful -he nodded, standing up. His ankle was not happy to be moved and Josh let out an involuntary hiss.

-I prefer taking the left side of the house. You go right -she said, giggling.

-If I don’t come back in five minutes, I don’t have diarrhea, I just froze -he mumbled.

He put on his ski jacket that had been hung from a hook next to the entrance door. When he did so, he realized he had no other clothes to change into. Seven days in the same clothes… Pure bliss. Well, the whole world was upside down: nothing was like what he was used to, and he wondered how he would take a single day, let alone seven without his video games, his cellphone and modern utilities. Like, no toilet? No shower?! He shivered and opened the door which luckily opened the right way- but the snow came crashing in the moment he did so, and he was covered up to his knees in it.

-You look like an unfinished snowman -Kathleen interjected, pushing the door forcefully. -Okay, this will not do. I’ll need to use some wooden boards as tents under the roof. We can shovel the snow away and just keep a narrow stretch cleared.

-No one will believe this at home -Josh chuckled, shaking his leg, trying to keep his ankle from moving too much. The situation was so absurd that his anger dissolved and the only thing he could do was laugh at himself and at the whole thing. -Uhm… I really appreciate what you will do with those boards but right now, I need to pee. As in, I must. Now.

-I give you three choices: you do it in the fireplace and I turn away, or you do it in one of those milk bottles and we’ll empty it as soon as we can, or, I press that board up this very second and hold the snow away from the door, and turn my head while you do it.

He was laughing so hard he had to sit down. Not even the pain from the sudden jolt seemed to distract him.

-Thank you, thanks for the lovely alternatives -he managed to squeeze out the words. -I opt for the bottle. Unless there’s no cap to it.

-‘Kay. Here. I’ll be busy with the boards, so, help yourself -Kathleen giggled, throwing an empty, fat milk bottle into his lap.

-Lucky it’s one of these wide-necked ones -Josh remarked, and noticed with a grin that Kathleen stopped short with them wooden boards in her hands. She quickly recovered, though, and opening the door, started pushing and shoveling and pretty soon she was out of sight, and she even closed the door behind her. Only then did he allow himself the luxury of relieving himself into the bottle. Hearing his own content sigh after screwing the cap on, he felt like snickering non-stop. What a crazy situation! Oh what headlines it would make.

He heard loud noises and muffled thuds from outside the house, and wondered whether he should go and lend a hand. He also wanted to wash his hands and he realized the only way to do it was with snow. Placing the bottle down, away into a dark corner, and even throwing an old newspaper on it, he walked to the door, feeling his ankle throb at each step.

-Can I help? -he yelled through the closed, thick wooden door.

-Yes! -she yelled back, and he cautiously opened the door. -Come here and hold this until I shovel away the snow from under it -she added, and he limped to the place where she was pressed under a large board that looked like an old door. He held it (its weight was surprising- wow she must be strong, he thought) and she quickly started shoveling away the snow. When she cleared up a space not larger than half a square meter, she took a smaller board and pushed and stamped until it was securely glued to the hard snowy surface. Then the two of them directed the large board so that it was exactly perpendicular on the other one, reaching as high as the low drip of the house.

-Only a hole in the middle is missing and we’d have a second outhouse ready -she panted. -Phew, done. Thanks.

-Yeah. Sure.

-Right. I suggest we do dig a hole in the centre -she scratched her head, contemplating the ground. -Keep the soil next to it and after using it, shovel some of it over. Even better than my original idea.

-Pure genius -he replied; his tone came turned out to be more mocking than he had intended it. -I mean, really.

-Don’t bother, Jock -she retorted, seemingly unaffected by his derision. -I need no affirmation from you or anyone.

-It’s Josh -he mumbled, limping back into the house after her.

-You could empty that bottle now that we have a place for it -she said, unrolling a sleeping bag, pulling the table further from the fireplace so she can put the sleeping bag close to the fire. -You get three blankets and a pillow. See you in the morning.

He hobbled to the corner and picking up the bottle, threw a glance at her. She was weaving her hair into a single braid with quick movements of the hand. As she lifted her arms, her sweater pulled up to reveal a thin stretch of skin just above her hips. He was intrigued to see the strong lines of a tattoo he could not clearly discern.

When he got back in the house she was already in the sleeping bag, on her side. Her eyes were closed.

-Put the light out -she murmured. -Good night.

-Good night -he replied, limping to the bed, hopping onto it, then hissing- it was harder than he had expected. Nevertheless, he was stressed, frustrated, puzzled- but more than anything, exhausted. His ankle hurt, he felt cut off from the world, and he felt bad for those who must be worried to death over his disappearance. Taking in all the novelty of the whole situation quickly drained him and he fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

3.

-Wake up! The sun’s shining in your face!

Josh opened his eyes and squinted automatically: he was used to light penetrating through the curtains of his trailer. This time, though, he needed to open those eyes big and wide: apart from a small fire and that horrible, dirty lightbulb from the hook on the ceiling, darkness covered the cabin, and that’s when he remembered where he was. He groaned inwardly and closed his eyes again. Maybe if he slept long enough… maybe if he persuaded his body to hybernate through that goddamn week…

-Come on. We can’t have you depressed -the unfamiliar female voice ordered.

-What are you going to do about it? -he asked sleepily, lying on his back under the covers. The air in the cabin smelled relatively fresh, so he popped the question: -How come the air in here’s not stale?

-I guess the chimney was left uncovered -she said. He turned to see where she was. She sat on a chair next to the table and was reading something.

-How do you know?

-Well, if it had been covered, we’d long be dead now wouldn’t we? -she glanced at him and smiled. That derisory, knowing smile again. He turned his head to stare at the wooden ceiling. He was certain he could not take a week with that creature under the same roof.

-Get up, move a little. Read. Talk -she folded the newspaper, propping her elbow on the table and her chin on her hand. -You can’t lie in bed all day.

-Why not?

-It’s unhealthy, and besides, you’ll get winter depression soon.

-And being locked with a stranger in a cottage where there’s no toilet or running water and no air to breathe let alone proper electricity or heating is healthy, right? -he hissed, feeling anger rise inside his bowels that seemed extremely active. Ah. The beans, he cursed. -And why the hell do you care if I’m depressed or not? -he asked, trying not to sound too defensive despite the wording.

-You might become dangerous -she replied calmly, opening her paper again.

-You mean to say you’re scared I’ll start chasing you with a knife or something.

-I mean that, yes.

Josh sat up, breathing in. Why was he even bothering? He should keep his mouth shut and try to be as invisible as possible. His plan worked fine until he pushed the blankets away and realized he needed another minute. He sat there as if trying to kick sleepiness out of his eyes, and when it was safe, he stood up and marched outside, closing the door.

Kathleen giggled and stood up to make the inventory of the food they had, when he came back, asking for toilet paper. She signalled for him to open a small cupboard right next to the entrance where there were a few rolls stacked on top of each other. She knew there were only four rolls of paper and she expected him to comment, maybe throw in an exasperated cry, but he closed the door back without a word.

She read some article on gardening and another one on local politics, but neither interested her realy,:it was just passing the time. She checked her watch: half past ten in the morning. He sleeps a lot, she thought, crossing her feet under the table after sitting down again. Because of the silence enveloping the cabin, she couldn’t help overhearing his laborous activities outside, even through the thick walls of wood. She cursed herself for choosing bean cans for dinner, and stood up noisily, opening the cupboards, taking cans and packs of food out, lining them up on the table neatly.

He returned with a pained face but she decided not to pick on him this time. She had been through the same hell earlier on, and she was endlessly grateful for the chance to have had him asleep. He put the roll of paper back to where he had taken it from.

-Please tell me we have no more beans -he grunted, scratching his chin which was shadowed by a very visible stubble, she noticed when he stopped next to her, eyeing the stock.

-I’m afraid we don’t have too much of anything -Kathleen replied ruefully. -Mushrooms, peas, sweet corn, some fried meat. A few bars of chocolate.

-Dark? -he asked in a lively tone and she smiled at his childish eagerness.

-Mixed. Only after lunch -she said, looking at him with mock strictness.

He was right beside her and she noticed how his dark eyes were fixed on her, showing interest and curiosity. He was half a head taller, thin and not looking very fit. She pondered if he’d bear the cold; in a few days, the logs would run out, unless they chose to cut the cabin’s walls open and use some of the logs from there.

-So if the chimney’s not covered, can’t we crawl out through there? -he asked, picking up a can of sweet corn, reading the label with a bored face.

-You can try but you’ll sink in the snow in a second -she replied. -We need to wait for it to melt somewhat. Then we can try to cut our way out at the entrance and see what the area looks like. Maybe the heap of snow is really not that big, but for now, it’s as high as the cabin and we’d not live a minute.

He contemplated her words and shuddered involuntarily.

-Right, so chimney’s out then -he stated, walking to the bed. She watched him walk, checking how much he leaned on his ankle; he limped a little but it wasn’t very bad. -God, I’ll die of boredom here -he moaned, lying down, turning sideways, putting an arm under his head for a pillow.

-Well that will mean you won’t die of starvation and that will make me endlessly happy -she retorted with a wink.

-I want my dog and my tour bus -he groaned, rubbing his eyes sleepily, yawning.

-Tour bus? You’re in a band? -she asked him and he thought he heard genuine interest in her voice, perhaps for the first time.

He pondered for a moment before he spoke.

-I am, yes. I play drums.

-Do I know you guys?

Shit.

-Sweeney’s Day -he blurted out the first thing that came to his mind in that second.

-Never heard of you, sorry -she turned back to the cans, and he let out a sigh of relief. -Sounds like a folk-traditional music kinda band.

-We play rock -he said, starting to enjoy the game.

-Okay -was her brief reply and he relaxed back into his pose. He felt bored and she was not helping and he started to smell his own smell which was not the best, and in general, the day was not going into the right direction.

Some time passed while she was noting down everything she found in the cupboards, putting the cans back into separate groups: a can of vegetables and one of meat, and a bar of small chocolate next to it in each little group. When she finished she noticed there were only five such groups.

She glanced over at the man lying on the bed with his eyes closed, turned on his side. He seemed to be asleep and she took her time watching his face. His lips were incredibly full and his nose was slightly big and his lashes the thickest and darkest she had ever seen on a man. The most shocking part were his curls: they circled his angelic face like a playful, chocolate-brown aura. He certainly was very beautiful and she was happy it wasn’t an old, bald, one-toothed old man she had been locked together with.

She was deep in thought, her eyes fixed on his dark lashes when he suddenly opened his eyes. She looked away with a slight blush.

-We have decent portions of food for five days, or we can stretch it out to seven days but then we’ll probably be hungry every day -she said.

-I vote on the former -he mumbled drowsily, noticing with an inward grin that she had been checking him out.

-Yeah, me too -she added. -We may be able to get out earlier anyway.

-What if we don’t?

-We can probably last without food for another week -she said nonchalantly. -Would be more but at such cold temperatures, we would use up all our excess fat really quickly. Not that you have too much of it.

-You may last a little longer -he proffered, but his own words sent him into painful alertness. Did he just comment on a woman’s figure, in a way that would make her pissed off? Good job, Groban.

-The best kind of diet -came her reply the very next moment. -You have no choice but lose the fat -she added with a giggle, and he was not sure whether she was hiding her annoyance with her jovial remark, or really was that easy-going.

He kept silent, racking his brain for a safe conversation topic, but because he could come up with none, he chose to simply ask the time. It was only eleven in the morning and he closed his eyes in exasperation. How on earth would they pass the time without hurting each other or going crazy?

4.

-Do you want to read? -she asked him at some point.

He had been lying with his eyes closed, focusing on time, urging it to go faster. He started to feel like in a prison: there was no proper light, no food, and the air was slightly foul. Thinking of all the open space outside, and everything he could be doing in that moment he felt his adrenaline rise. Fear and anger stopped his thoughts and he swallowed his bitterness. He did not want to be in the accursed cabin. He wanted to be outside.

-No, I don’t want to read -he mumbled through his teeth. -Thanks- he added. His good manners returned, and besides, it was not her fault they were locked away from the outer world.

-Okay -she said neutrally, leafing through the newspaper.

Silence grew, and it grew scary. He listened to his own heartbeat which sounded like a thunderstorm, and the swishing sound of paper on paper as she slowly turned the pages. Nothing else was to be heard and he felt his head was exploding.

-How can you be so calm in a situation like this?! -he asked. His voice was exasperated and whiny, but he refused to think about it too much. He was fed up, and he needed a scapegoat.

-What do you want me to do? Start screaming and banging the walls with my head? -she giggled, which fuelled his anger further.

-Well, just… just do something. Say something. Say that you’re pissed off or whatever -he spat the words out testily.

-It would not change the fact that this is what we have to deal with -she replied in a calm tone and he literally felt a vein pop on his forehead.

-ARGH!!! -he yelled and turned to face the wall.

She glanced at him. Wow, he was behaving like a little baby who is deprived of his favourite toy. She slowly got to her feet and walked to the bed.

-Get up -she said quietly.

He did not reply or move.

-I want to see how your ankle’s doing -she added.

He turned and sat up on the bed.

-Do I have to stand? It hurts -he whined. His pretty eyes were squinted and his brows were in a deep frown, but despite his expression of a spoilt brat, he was still angelic. She stared at his plump lips and the dark shadow of a stubble. She could have stared forever because he was oblivious to her and everything else, he was so engrossed in his self-made misery.

She kept silent and crouched to feel the slightly swollen ankle under his sock, but the moment she touched him he hissed and pulled away.

-Oh, just get a grip and behave like a man that you will never be! -she snapped at him. -Jesus Christ. It’s a twisted ankle not an open wound in your belly.

He turned red, and from the tightness of his lips she knew he was fighting hard to keep his temper inside. She almost felt sorry for him, sitting there with hunched shoulders and downcast eyes. He was probably a nice, decent fellow, who had never been in a crisis before.

-It’s not so swollen any more -she said, keeping her tone normal. -By tomorrow, you can even dance if you want.

-Yeah. Dancing is my favourite pastime in a winter cottage buried under a ton of snow -he mumbled and she smiled.

-You never know what you’ll be doing here in a few days -she said, and because he finally looked up to meet her glance, she winked at him.

She had dark brown eyes and endlessly long lashes, a tiny nose and exquisite lips. A few small wrinkles around her eyes marked her age, but other than that, her skin was creamy and tanned and looked very, very soft. For a moment he totally forgot he was supposed to throw a tantrum and put on a martyr act- her eyes were smiling at him and from the corner of his eye he noticed how perfectly curvy and firm she was under her sweater.

-Someone made a research a few years ago about human behaviour under stress and extreme circumstances -she sighed, standing up and walking back to the table. -From cannibalism to cutting their own hair and sewing it into their own skins, cooking wood and eating it in splinters there was everything you could ever imagine, and more. Trust me, you’re acting relatively normal.

-Good to know -he replied, still a bit under the influence of her eyes. He soon recovered though, and looked up to see her take out a notebook from a bag thrown leisurely by the wall.

-We need to be busy or we’ll lose our minds pretty soon -she said simply, straddling the chair, facing him. -We need to come up with as many things to do here as possible. C’mon, brainstorm. What can we do locked in a cabin? You give one, then it’s my turn. Shoot.

-Why do I start? -he cringed, but seeing her face, gave it up. -Play cards.

-Good idea, but we don’t have cards. Read.

-Talk -he said, gripping the side of the bed, starting to feel excited.

-Sing.

-Dance -he said quickly. Groban, you hate dancing, he remembered too late.

She was all the while scribbling in her notebook, and a strand of her thick hair fell into her face. She didn’t care, or notice; she kept writing. She seemed so eager to ease the tension between them that he felt genuinely touched.

-Eat. While there’s food -she giggled.

-Drink. Do we have any alcohol?

-Yeah, a few beers and maybe a bottle of whisky. Not sure. I’ll check.

-How much water do we have?! -he asked again, worried.

-Not much but there’s all the snow we can eat.

-Build snowmen -he said with a kid’s carefree joy in his voice.

She looked up and met his glance, and smiled back at him.

-It was my turn, mister. Do the icy stare and see who can stare longer -she laughed.

-Do yoga.

-You do yoga? Somehow I see you as someone who sits all day, unless on a tour. And you sit there too, behind the drums. Haha.

-I don’t do yoga but the chance may present itself one day. Like, one of these days. Your turn.

-Tell jokes.

-Fart -he said and she laughed.

-Charming. Burp.

-I’d beat you any time in both -he told her. His voice went deep, and he shaped the words so that they rolled out like tasty bits of candy. She wrote speedily and could not believe he sounded so seducing when he was referring to disgusting human habits.

-Your turn -she said.

-Uhm… have sex…

She looked up in surprise. The colour in her cheek turned darker, and from the fact that he was feeling hot he knew he was probably blushing too.

-Have sex -she echoed, lifting her eyebrows.

-You said we need things that we can do -he shrugged. -We can have sex if we want.

-Ooookay -she turned back to her notebook, but her hand stopped in mid-air. -If you don’t mind, I’m not going to write this one down.

The one thing we will not be able to stop thinking about, now that we made such a big deal out of it, she realized. The guy is funny and daring, I have to give him that.

-My turn. Play poker.

-Strip poker? -he asked. She looked up at him again and saw him grinning wide. He was definitely enjoying it.

-Right. Hormone-alert- she sighed, shutting the notebook. -Until you stop circling around that one thing in your mind, I am not going to go on.

-Alright ma’am -he said, leaning to the wall, folding his arms. -I’ll stop the sex-talk. Go on.

-We have enough to work with for some time -she replied. -So what would you like to do first?

-Walk in the sunshine… -he replied dreamily, stretching.

-Right. So, let’s talk and get to know each other a bit. We’ll be locked for days and I’d like to make sure that the stranger sleeping next to me is not a serial killer or a rapist.

-Oh, I’m a good actor. I can make you believe anything I want -he winked, grinning again. He leaned forward and clasped his hands together, staring into her eyes, daring her to say something.

-Uhm -was all she said, brushing her hair back. She seemed to be at a loss for words and he grinned wider. -Alright, wipe that complacent smirk off your face, Jock -she retorted finally. -And start talking.

5.

-Why do I start, again? -he whined playfully. She had a suspicion he was mostly putting on a show for her sake. He just said he was a good actor. What if he was totally different? What if he was a total sweetheart with whom she could easily fall in love under normal circumstances?

She flashed back into the present, swallowing. She was giving way too much thought to someone she did not know at all.

-Because I told you so, Jock -she retorted with a grin. She watched his face turn slightly red and annoyed. Oh, he hated it if she called him that. Great. Somehow she felt like annoying him, for reasons she could not explain to herself.

He realized he could go on all day refusing to do or say things she told him to do or say, and it just might make time go faster, but it would sure exhaust them both, so he gave in.

-Alright. I’ll start talking -he sighed, sitting up with his good leg under himself and the twisted one strethced comfortably ahead of him. -I’m twenty-six, I play drums, I have a brother, Chris, I love sushi. Your turn.

-What? Is that all? -she asked, shocked. -You must be joking. No way am I letting you go with so little. Do you work anywhere, or is your band your everything?

-Basically, yes. It’s my work and I love it.

-Do you do anything else in the band but play drums? -she raised her eyebrows and waited for the reply, which was on time, but hardly. She noticed his embarrassment and she knew something was fishy.

-I sing a little. Back vocals, like every drummer -he said, moistening his lips.

She might have noticed his wavering glance had her attention not been hijacked by that simple gesture. He had incredible lips. She blinked, forcing herself to act like a mature person that she officially was.

-What do you do? -he asked, taking advantage of her silence. -And by the way, what the frickin’ hell are you doing in this godforsaken place in winter, alone?

-I was taking some time off work -she replied. -I’m a volunteer at the Nicodemus Wilderness Project. I help teach kids how to protect nature, basically.

-And that’s what you do? -he asked again.

-Yep. Why?

-Does it pay?

-Nope. Why?

-Right. A militant environmentalist -he nodded. -But why on earth do you think I’m destroying the planet?

-Did I ever say that?

-Oh, yes, you hinted towards that direction -he said, seemingly hurt. She knew better this time: he was probably pretending.

-Most people do -she shrugged. -Why would you be an exception?

He kept silent, looking at her seriously. She looked back at him, wondering what was going on inside his head. She might have really hurt him without possessing any kind of knowledge of his background or interests. She realized what a jerk she’d been, but she couldn’t help it. Not only her work shaped her belligerence, but also her memories she still could not shake off.

He was fumbling with his fingernails, keeping whatever he was thinking to himself, even though she was dying to have him talk. Exactly why, she had no idea.

-You said you sang -she cleared her throat to break the uncomfortable silence.

-Back vocals -he stated, as if to clear a misunderstanding. This time, it was he who sounded defensive.

-Whatever. I have a guitar here, you know. Can you play it?

-I play keyboards -he replied, leaning back, pulling his sweater tighter on himself. -Just for my information: how cold are we planning to keep this place?

-This is not even cold -she scoffed. -We’re surrounded by snow. It will never get freezing, but it’s not going to be too much warmer either, so get used to it.

He rolled his eyes without a word. He looked like a little bird, perked up on the bed. As he was nestling against the covers and blankets, she watched him. She had to admit: she liked to watch him… Well, he was the only thing that took her mind off the circumstances which were not the best.

-We’ll start a fire before going to bed -she told him, standing up. -But I’ll make an exception and use a log now.

He looked up from his blanket-folding and sweater-pulling activities. He followed her moves as she threw the wood on the ashes, then lit a match.

-You doing this for me? -the words slipped his mouth. -Thanks.

-You may be running a slight fever from the injury in your ankle -she retorted, not meeting his eye. -You need to be warm.

-Yeah -he said stupidly. Then, he just had to. -In fact, I do have chills. Can you check if I have a fever?

She almost laughed out loud. Composing herself, she walked to the bed and doing her best not to grin widely, placed a palm on his forehead. It required a whole lot of energy not to burst out laughing; he looked so vulnerable and so devastatingly- well- handsome.

-You’re fine. Just unaccustomed to harsh weather -she said, taking her hand away. Her palm tingled funnily, and she scratched it.

She picked her sleeping bag from the floor and dropped it in his lap.

-Here. Put it around yourself. If this doesn’t keep you warm, then I’m out of ideas.

-I’m not -he said, taking the sleeping bag, grinning under his lashes as he used it as a tent all around himself until he looked like a large mushroom with a human head on top of it.

She opened her mouth and then closed it back again. He was unbelievable. It was true, after all: all they thought about was sex. She had had her share of jerkwads, each time hoping she would do better, but somehow, with each guy who trampled across her feelings she was losing faith more and more.

-You just can’t stop talking about it, can you? -she finally snapped without wanting to. -Why the hell is it so entertaining to talk about it? Sex. What the hell’s such a big deal? Jesus. It’s basically degrading ourselves to animal instincts.

-It’s as big a deal as you’re willing to make of it -he replied with cautioun in hhis voice. He looked at her from his tent, sounding very unsure about himself suddenly. -Sorry if I offended you. I’m a little outspoken and my sense of humour is wacky sometimes.

-I noticed -she retorted, sitting down. She picked up her newspaper, throwing a page away. He saw she was angry and he chose to lay low for a while.

Time went by extremely slowy for both of them, but neither spoke for about an hour. He was lost in thought, comfortable in the warmth of her sleeping bag, cooped up like a little furry animal. She had that vision anyway, whenever she peeked at him from behind her newspaper. He was looking down, not really doing anything. Probably thinking. Or on the verge of falling asleep. She smiled inwardly, he was such a peaceful sight. He made her forget where they were, and who they were; she was reading but the words never entered her head, stopping between her consciousness and the paper.

He fascinated her in a strange way. He was shy at times, annoying at others. He was loud and funny, but also, quiet and sensitive. Which part of it was the act part?

From the corner of her eye he saw some movement, and when she looked up, he saw he had, after all, fallen asleep. His head was hanging and his torso was leaning dangerously to the right. Before she could get up to do anything, he softly fell on the bed with a muffled thud, and slept on. She giggled and returned to her paper.

He was such a sweetheart.

6.

It was well after midday and he was still asleep. She had finished reading, she had done some exercise, and then she had again made an inventory of the food and rinks they had. She had taken her notebook out and started scribbling some lyrics for a random song she knew would never become a proper melody. She had to do something to make time go faster…

He was sleeping soundly, peacefully, a big mound of breathing flesh under her sleeping bag. Only his mischievous curls were peeping out from under the safety of warm softness. However much he annoyed her with his tantrum fits, she liked him. He was probably only a spoilt kid who knew no better than exerting what he wanted from every situation. At least he was always going to get by.

She looked at her watch. Two o’clock, lunchtime. She knew he would wake up shortly, with a grumbling stomach and a dry throat. She prepared a glass of water and opened a can of sweetcorn. She warmed the corn in a dish she kept directly above the dying ashes, stirring occasionally, gazing at his curls that moved as his breath blew into them. He was quite a sight… She divided the corn equally on two plates, then took away some of her portion to shovel onto his plate. He needed nourishment with his injury and the beginnings of a fever that she had kept secret from him, knowing he would never stop complaining if he knew he had one. Also, if she managed to keep his stomach full there would be a smaller chance he’d be a pain. She was ready to give up some of her food to have peace in the house.

As she guessed, he soon moved under the thick covers and groaned sleepily, stretching. His socks peeked out at one end, his hands at the other, and he turned to look at her.

-Food -he said half asleep. His voice was happy enough, which made her surprisingly content.

-If you can sleep that much, time will go fast enough for you -she replied, sitting down. -Let’s eat. First, drink some water or you’ll get dehydrated.

He sat up grumpily, his curls falling into his eyes. He sat on the bed with the sleeping bag covering his legs, seemingly doing his best to wake up fully.

-The worst time to sleep really -she said, picking some corn on her fork and chewing slowly. -Your body gets high on the sleep and wants more, but your cells slow down. Good for your ankle but not if you want to operate properly.

-There’s not too much to do around here, so I might as well just hybernate -he retorted, rubbing his eyes.

-Move your ass here and eat -she ordered him curtly and he stopped short, but stood up without a word and slumped down on the chair. -Drink -she pushed the water closer to him, and he lifted the glass and drank in slow gulps until he finished the glass. -Good boy -she giggled, and took some food to her mouth.

He glared at her, fully awake now. It was her purpose and she laughed inwardly. He was so easy! Like a puppet.

What an annoying specimen, he fumed while eating angrily. The corn was too sweet for his taste, but it was food and he could not afford to be fastidious under the circumstances. He tried to remember his dreams that took over his subconscious just before he woke up, but they were only a hazy mixture of random events and happenings.

-This corn smells weird -he said suddenly, pulling a face.

-That’s your feet -she giggled merrily. -I think it’s time for both of us to wash somehow.

He looked up with unchewed food in his mouth.

-I’ll want front row tickets for that -he replied after he finally swallowed the bite. -I am not gonna wash with snow.

-You’ll have to because we really smell -she retorted. -Haven’t you been to the army? What did they teach you in there?

He swallowed his anger. Once again, she did it. She’d pick on him forever now.

-I haven’t been in the army -he blurted out unhappily.

-I figured that much -she said simply. -Well, now’s the time to get some of that training.

-Will you stop doing this? -he almost shouted. -Stop acting like you know me, okay? You have no idea who I am.

-I have known men like you -she replied quietly.

-Yeah? Well, I’m not like those guys, whatever they did to make you this miserable -he retorted.

That silenced her, he observed with a malicious grin under his nose. He ate on while she walked outside, then returned shortly after with a bucket full of snow. She opened a door that led to the pantry: the shelves attached to the wall with their food stock. Under all the shelves, out of sight there was a large, flat basin made of plastic. She dragged it out and placed it next to the fireplace.

He suddenly felt sorry for her and sorry for what he had said to her. It obviously hurt her because she was doing things without a word, and her gestures were very subdued, almost humble. Shit. The thing he hated most was hurting someone… and yet, here he was, actually wanting to hurt her, his every cell and fibre actually craving to cause her pain and anxiety. Why? Because she picked on him? He still had no right.

-Can I help? -he asked sheepishly as a peace offering.

-I’ll just keep the bucket here until the snow melts and warms up -she replied, lighting a new log and poking it a few times until the fire blazed fully, happily. -Thanks -she added.

She crouched by the fire, staring into the flames. Her long hair was undone, in long and slightly untidy streaks on her back. Her skin was visible where the sweater pulled up a bit, and his eyes fell on her tattoo again. This time, his curiosity got the better of him and forgetting that he was supposed to be a good boy, he asked:

-What is it, the tattoo?

-A phoenix -she said simply, never moving from her pose. She was hugging her knees, and her chin was resting on them. Her face showed no expression; she looked like someone far away from the present. He wanted to leave her alone but he was so darn curious. Plus, it offered a new conversation topic.

-Did it hurt? -he asked again, straddling the chair to face the fire too. The flames were warm and he felt nicely cosy as they waited for the snow to melt.

-Not more than when they pulled out my back tooth -she replied with a slight grin. She seemed more relaxed, and he grinned into the fire. -You have one?

-What? A tattoo? No -he said.

-Why?

-My arms are not muscular enough and it would look ridiculous, and I’m too hairy everywhere else -he replied with a grin as wide as the chair he was sitting on. She missed it as she was looking into the fire, almost hypnotized by the dance of the merry flames, but she heard his voice and she could almost picture his smirk.

-Why a phoenix? -he posed the question, returning to his current favourite subject, her tattoo.

-You know what they say about the phoenix. It rises from the ashes, blah blah. It gets reborn.

-And…?

-Rebirth. New life. Figure out the rest, smartass -she retorted in a somewhat annoyed voice.

He waited for her to go on but she obviously did not want to, so he shut his mouth and wondered what it was that she wanted to forget, and what meant a new life according to her standards. The fire was warm and lively, and the log changed from dark brown to vibrant orange and silvery grey in the process of being devoured by the flames. The silence was covering them, broken only by the sound of the dying wood. The snow was melting, losing its crystalline power, becoming an innocent fluid in the metallic bucket. He watched the two basic interactions between elements, fascinated- he felt part of it all. He was there, seeing it, witnessing how wood turned to ashes, and how ice turned to warm water.

-This is nice -he mumbled, lifting his glance to the flames once more. -The silence, the warmth.

-Yes -she said almost inaudibly. -I love being here. Far away from everything and everyone else. No one can hurt you here, and you’re on your own in a magical way. You know you can do anything, if you want it hard enough.

He acknowledged her thoughts in silence, feeling a tiny bit closer to her than before. She was only someone who had gone through pain and loss, and was scared to let people close. Underneath her rough skin, she was a very sensitive creature, and he liked her abrupt ways, after all.

Then, he remembered something completely irrelevant.

-Uhm -he broke the comfortable silence.

-What? -she asked, not unkindly.

-There’s only one room -he said.

-And?

-How are we going to wash?

-Like people usually do. Undressed -she replied with a giggle.

His eyes went as round as saucers, she was certain of it, even with her back turned to him. She had to check, so she turned her head, and there he was, shocked and wide-eyed. She laughed out aloud, he was so incredible. He was able to talk about sex without batting an eye, but he got all shocked the moment there was actual nudity involved.

-Relax. We’ll pull up a screen or something -she said, shaking her head. -Gees, you’re like most Americans. A prude.

-I’m not -he retorted, blushing slightly. -I just thought you’d want some privacy, that’s all. I don’t mind naked women. In the least -he added, trying to sound persuasive.

She giggled and kept staring into the flames. He moistened his lips, feeling unsecure. What was she after? Trying to make him embarrassed and all. He glanced at her sideways. She had a dainty nose, and her lips, as well as her skin, shone with the deep, reddish light the flames cast on them. Her lashes curled upwards at a maddening angle and roundness, and her nails were neatly cut in a practical way, but her fingers were still extremely slender and fragile looking. He knew better: he had seen her lift a door that weighed something like fifty pounds with one hand.

As silence ascended on the two cabin-dwellers, they lost all interest in outward things, and travelled inside, deep within themselves, looking for that little door that led to peace and understanding. She struggled to find a way to forgive her past lovers, and he fought hard to be less annoying, for her sake. He knew he would not change, but he wanted to, for those few days. Why not? She seemed like a nice person. He wanted to know her better, and he hoped he would, eventually.

7.

-I suppose it’s ladies first -he spoke bitterly, pulling a face. The basin seemed small enough, but the hot water was sending pleasant clouds of steam up his nostrils as he crouched above it. -Wow, hot water.

-Enjoy the sight as long as you can -she retorted, fixing one edge of the sheet to the chair and the other one to the table. -Wood’s not gonna last long, maybe two-three days.

-Wonderful -he said, lost in though as he stared into the water as someone hypnotized. Then, looking up, he noticed the screen. -Nice spot -he remarked with a smirk.

-It’s, er, beer -she replied, pulling her hair back behind her ears.

-I know the colour of beer on a sheet, and that is light brown. This is more like, uhm, milk, only dirtier -he said, grinning like a brat. Damn, he loved to embarrass her. If she was going to do it, then he’d do the same to her.

She fumed inwardly. Gah!!! He was impossible.

-Ladies first, like you said -was her only reply, pushing slightly on his shoulder to make him stand up.

-This screen is rather low don’t you think? I can look right over it -he stretched his neck to prove his theory.

-You won’t be seeing anything because you’ll be sitting on the bed, goof -she pushed him more, until finally he plopped onto the bed. -Promise I’ll be quick to keep the water warm. And I’m not that dirty.

He lifted an eyebrow, searching for a suitable retort. He found none.

-Count yourself lucky it’s not one of those days for me -she couldn’t help adding, and he heard her giggle behind the screen.

He stared exasperated at the sheet, genuinely shocked.

-That is gross, lady -he said, trying to sound as serious as he could. Wasn’t working. Even he heard the mischievousness behind his mock-strict tone.

She only giggled, then he heard items of clothing falling to the wooden floor; something heavier- her sweater, something hardly audible- her bra, then the sound of a metallic zipper- her jeans, another light item- her panties. Was he actually listening to her undress? He was. He grinned widely, picturing her naked- well- he had no clue what she would look like, but his senses were quite awakened in the silence of the cabin. The splashing of water against bare human skin sounded extremely sensual, and as the back of her head and half of her bare back came into his view, he stared with his mouth open. She stooped, then straightened up once more, and the strands of hair flew around her neck, coming loose from the quick bun she had closed them into.

Wow, she was quick, he realized, half sorry it was over. He hardly had the time to- to imagine things. She had stepped aside with a large towel around her body. Her legs were showing, and her neck, and arms. He couldn’t stop staring, she looked so beautiful. Tanned, taut skin, muscular calves, tiny feet, shapely knees, delicate wrists arched across the top edge of her towel, trying to keep it in place.

-Undress and come here -she said, and he stood up without a word. He forgot to argue, trying to keep from openly staring some more. He forgot the jokes too as he pulled his sweater off, then his T-shirt. He walked behind the screen, wondering what her plan was.

-I’ll throw you the towel in a second -she said, gathering her own clothes from the floor, but not before he caught a glimpse of her underwear. It was black. -Turn for a moment, please.

He did, and heard a fast swishing sound: she had taken the towel off. Scrambled gestures. She was dressing up.

-Don’t need to rush it -he said. -I won’t peek.

There was no reply, only a towel fell onto his shoulder.

-There. Sorry it’s wet. We’ll dry it and you get to wash first the next time -she spoke. -I’ll be on the bed. Take your time.

He took the towel to place it onto the chair, but he couldn’t resist the temptation: he smelled it first. It smelled of soil and mountains, and there was something unquestionably human there, too. Sweet, and a bit sour, the unmistakable scent of human skin. She was wearing no perfume. She needed none, either, he decided, taking another whiff in.

-By take your time I meant wash, though -she offered tentatively from the bed. -The water will get cold real fast.

He dropped the towel as if caught red-handed. He started washing, wondering if she was doing the same thing he had done a few minutes before. After all, women like naked men too, he decided.

She was leafing through her paper, as a pretext, trying to drown out her beating heart. She heard the water touch his body, and she wondered if he had seen her underwear, and if he found it gross he had to dry with the same towel, and if he had pictured her naked. She was doing it, for sure. He was taller than she was, and when he stood up, most of his back was showing. She peeked above her paper, squeezing her lips tight to stop herself from emitting any sound. If she had, it would have probably been something between a sigh and a giggle. Wow, a young man naked in the same room. It had been a long time… and that last time was especially painful. Tom had not cared about her in the least.

-Why don’t you get a tattoo on your back? I can see no hair there -she heard herself say. Then gasped soundlessly. She just gave herself away, really badly too.

-You think I should have one? -he asked, turning behind the screen to face her.

She stared at his bare chest for a split second, then dropped her gaze, her cheek darkening. Doing her best to keep her laughter inside. Oh, my, god.

-Go ahead, laugh -he smirked. -My buddies sometimes call me Gorilla-man.

She swallowed her mirth. He was indeed quite generously donned with chest hair. Not that it looked bad… in fact, after her first shock, she instantly pictured what it would feel like against her fingers. All entangled in it. Sinking in it, like in a soft blanket.

-So how come you need clothes? -she said, and then erupted. He laughed with her, washing, listening to her laugh. It sounded relaxed and happy, rich and ripe. It was the first time she let it out without restraints, and it sounded great in the locking grip of the cabin.

-Sorry -she said after a while, giggling weakly. -Really.

-No problem -he replied, and she detected no sound of hurt in his voice. -Women love it, so…

She gulped. Another hint. Good lord. Time was terribly slow… checking her watch, it was only past two. Of the first day.

-Ready -he announced. She looked up to see him dressed in his jeans and T-shirt. The right sleeve was a little wet at the end, and her stare fell on the spot, then his upper arm. There was nothing wrong with his arm, either. He had taken off the screen, and was stooping to lift the basin. -Do I pour it out just like that…?

-Yes. To the side, if possible. Not the toilet side -she giggled. -Unless you want melted, floating things.

When he opened the door, then lifted the basin again, she started reasoning with herself. You have got to stop this, Kat. What are you doing? Stop playing. He looks like a nice guy.

-Ah, this felt nnnnnice -he puffed, placing the basin next to the fireplace, then remembering where she had taken it from, he actually put it back where it belonged. It was a simple gesture but she appreciated it more than he knew. According to her experience, men did not usually notice minor details, and they just couldn’t care less about being tidy or organized. He seemed to make an effort and be a good guest, despite the circumstances. -Now what?

-Now we play truth or dare.

-We what? -he laughed. -Oh man. I haven’t played that in… well, okay, actually, I played that at a party a few weeks ago. They picked on me- he added, whining exaggeratedly.

-I won’t -she giggled, sitting cross-legged on the edge of the bed, patting the other edge. -I washed first. You can start now.

-M-mmmm -he nodded, rubbing his hands together. -Truth or dare?

-Truth -she said, hoping he’d be decent enough to spare her from a really embarrassing question in the first round.

-Your first sexual experience -he grinned.

-Come on! Is that the first thing you want to know about me?

-Yep -he grinned some more.

-Okay -she sighed. -Seventeen. Brad “Gorgeous” George. I was drunk. His sister’s room. Horrible party. Truth or dare?

-Truth.

-Your first sexual experience -she hissed, her eyes sparkling.

He nodded, grinning. It was only fair. But he was not giving in so easily.

-Not replying.

-Then bring me a handful of snow.

He looked at her askance, but stood up and limped to the door. The snow was falling from his hand as he returned and sat down. She stretched her hand, and he placed the snow on her palm, his fingers brushing hers in the process. She took the snow, then leaned closer to him and pulling at the neck of his sweater, she simply dumped the snow inside his shirt before he could do anything. When the cold reached his nerves, he gasped and stared at her. Then, jumping to his feet, shook his sweater to get rid of the snow.

-Jesus Christ! -he yelled. -Anything less cold would’ve done.

-It has to be a punishment, so… -she said with an innocent face, watching his quick gestures. He seemed to be shocked and not pleasantly so, and after a few moments, she asked. -Is it very cold?

-It’s snow -he retorted, rubbing his chest through his shirt to warm the place up. -Thanks, Kathy.

-If you need to call me nicknames, it’s Kat -she said in a subdued tone. -Sorry. About the snow.

-Oh, don’t worry. I’ll make it up for myself -he said, this time, his eyes sparkling with revenge. -Truth or dare?

She pondered for a moment. Either way, he was going to make it hell for her, but she was ready for it.

-Truth -she replied, swallowing. Maybe words were less dangerous, under the circumstances.

-Right -he said, turning his gaze for a moment. -Okay. Reply this if you can. Why do you hate men so much?

She glared at him, unable to reply the question but not having the guts to say no, either. He had found her weak spot in less time than anyone had ever done before. She had thought he was easy; a simple-minded, spoilt starlet, a guy she could ignore easily and here he was, asking her the one question she had not been able to find the answer to, all her life.

-Well? -he urged her, eyes big and dark. His lashes were incredible for a man, and amidst her anxiety she found herself stare at them. They were long and curly, like his hair. Beautiful, her mind thought for a moment, then realized she was supposed to give an answer. To a hated question.

-Not replying -she whispered. She would, and could not reply. Whatever he would ask in exchange.

-Chickening out. Okay. Well, in that case, you check my foot. It hurts.

She stared into his eyes to look for a trace of mocking, but he seemed to be serious. She lifted his hurt foot without a word, placing his leg onto her thighs, pulling closer to him to make his foot comfortable. She lifted the edge of his jeans a little, pressing his skin around his ankle. He hissed and his foot jerked.

-Why does it hurt? It should be fine by now -she said. -Does it hurt when you step on it?

-Yes.

-A lot?

-Enough.

She had no idea, and she pulled the jeans back, placing her hand on his foot gently, her other hand holding it from his heel. She seemed lost in thought, and he watched her face, enjoying the warmth of his hand on his hurting foot.

-I have some medicine, for fever or pain, I don’t know which -she said. -Let’s save it, but if the pain gets worse, let me know, okay? In the meantime it would be a good idea to keep you put for a while. You only move if you have to, okay?

He nodded, touched by her concern. It was a simple ankle injury and to be honest, it wasn’t hurting, but he wanted to see how she would react. She reacted in the sweetest way possible, and her tiny hand on his foot was sending waves of warmth up his legs.

If she had no idea what to do about his ankle, she had absolutely none about why she was keeping his foot in her lap like that, warming it between her hands. He seemed vulnerable and she felt needed. She instinctively felt the roles would change between them, but for now, she enjoyed feeling needed, looking into his eyes, sending him a sincere smile.

-This is nice -he said quietly, ashamed to lie to her. Not about the fact that it did feel nice, but the rest.

She only smiled, staring ahead, gently rubbing his foot -and he suddenly thought time should stop to keep them like that forever.

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