PHD #343: Stay
Summary: When Atlas finally shrugs, the world shakes to its very core. Through all the pain and turmoil, Sawyer still wants Trask to stay.
Date: 04 Feb 2042 AE (backscened on 05-06 Feb)
Related Logs: It Is What It Is (Love is a four letter word). Referenced Logs: Boys Will Be Boys (the brief, uncomfortable chat with Gabrieli), Inscribed In Flesh (Ta Moko R Us), I Inhaled (Cidra explains the importance of hands), Spin Cycle (Sawyer inspects Trask's hands), and Life Goes On (Sawyer's own breakdown and need for comforting)
Sawyer Trask 
News Room - Deck 3 - Battlestar Cerberus
Post-Holocaust Day: #343
This compartment isn't huge by any means, an afterthought shoved into an alcove when the engineer was finishing the final plans for the ship. The long awkward rectangle is filled with several desks and those heavy pieces of machinery that are tools of the media trade — copiers, computers, printers, and of course a seemingly never-ending supply of paper of both the A4 and broadsheet variety. In the far port corner hangs a mulberry-colored hammock attached to the bulkhead — where the head-reporter-in-charge is purported to spent her nights. Three heavy desks have been moved to form an inverted 'U' for the new Editor in Chief's work station, and behind them lies the hatch to the modest closet-sized darkroom.
Condition Level: 3 - All Clear

The news room is in a flurry of activity, most centered around getting the frak outta Dodge before the upcoming mission. Sawyer is making her personnel pack up and shuttle over to the Elpis, but of course not taking her own advice. Right now, the Journalist in question is making the last of some sort of frenzied preparations. "I don't care, Bismark. You'll find the time. You /owe/ me, remember? Yes. The minute he lands. Thanks." Slam goes the receiver.

Like most military personnel, Kal Trask is a creature of habit. True enough, his shift rotations vary during the course of a week — but barring some manner of emergency, the general structure of each of those days follows a set pattern from which he rarely deviates.

Five hours of racktime are followed by reviewing the report about the CAP that transpired when he was sleeping. Then comes some serious PT, after which he showers, shaves, and changes, then grabs something to eat. Time for coffee and cigarettes is always made, although there has been a distinct lack of the latter since the latest additions to his Ta Moko, which subsequently means he's been drinking even more of the former. No small feat, that, since the man has always enjoyed his coffee. Particularly Deck coffee, which he will always manage a detour to acquire.

A single CAP rotation is next on the agenda during those days he's slated. Sitting 4 hours on his ass in a Raptor then turns into sitting several hours more at his desk, in his cubicle, writing and reviewing more reports. Surviving such tedium is rewarded with a power nap and a high-protein snack that meets his dietary needs. Then there is flight qualification training, as well as ECO skill maintenance exercises. Throw in some meetings and work on assorted projects, writing and reviewing more reports, and visits to people he knows who are stuck in Sickbay for whatever reason.

At the end of the day, whatever little socializing he does tends to transpire. Usually, he just works some more on projects that interest him, as opposed to those that mandate his attention as a Squadron Leader. If he's feeling particularly stressed and finds himself unable to suitably concentrate, it's back to the gym to blow off some steam. Cue another shower and, if rumor holds true, another round of wanking. By then, he's usually ready to crash for those sweet five hours of sleep.

By these accounts, Bootstrap should already be in bed. Instead, he's standing outside of the hatch, watching the dismissed minions depart for the nether regions to which they have been banished. With all the activity — and Sawyer distracted by her calling in of favors — the door closing shouldn't draw any real attention. And since he is remaining quite quiet, it's quite possible his arrival will go likewise unnoticed. To anyone looking upon him, though, the restless, agitated kind of exhaustion would be apparent.

There's a long moment where Sawyer just focuses on the receiver now that it's back on its little cradle. Suspension of life, lack of animation, blankness of expression - it all comes when you realize you just don't know what to do with yourself next. Behind her the News Room is silent, no more excited voices or ruffling of papers. She's alone, or at least thinks she is, and she finally lets out a long sigh that has her shoulders sagging. When adrenaline wears off, all you're left with is the rawness of emotion, and there's a little sniffle from the journalist. "What the frak are you doing?" It sounds as if it's an accusation to the lingering Trask, but it's not; it's directed at herself as she grinds a palm into her forehead. "You gods damn fool." She mutters with a sigh. Never one to linger in such a self-depreciative mode, she turns to find something productive to do. And that's when she sees Trask. "Mother…shit!" Startled as she is, she can't even phrase a proper expletive. She's too busy having a heart attack.

The man's managed to survive the first week of being nicotine-free. When little Kallistei is old enough, she will certainly hear all about how her Uncle Kal sacrificed so much for her. The moko was indeed agonizing to acquire, but that will somehow pale in comparison to the drama he'll drive home about having to quit smoking for three weeks in order to properly heal so that the ink and carving would not be damaged. Just like him to downplay the worst of anything. Then again, perhaps being bereft of his beloved smokes really is truly worse to him. As it stands, his body and psyche are still adjusting to the withdrawal, but he'll survive. Strong like bull, this one is.

There's no real way to determine whether or not he believes the question was intended for him, or if it was rhetorical, or something else entirely. It's quite possible it didn't even register, for he offers no semblance of reply. His expression is one of an ambiguous intensity, those large brown eyes, usually so damnably expressive, are intense and intent, keen in their regard and all too worn around the edges. Seems someone can't sleep. Seems that someone also has some inkling that the blonde isn't feeling so hot herself. Small as the News Room is, it takes little effort to close the distance. Callused fingertips lift to lightly brush aside the hair that now conceals where Sawyer had been pressing her palm.

Sawyer can't trust those fingers that softly touch her hair, because dealing with Trask is like rolling the dice. You never know when you're going to crap out. Now she's scared for an entirely different reason. Tread lightly, Averies. "You should be asleep." Maybe it's because she /does/ know his routine or maybe it's because he looks so damn haggard around the edges. Whatever the case, the words are voiced sotto as if she's terrified as to what is going to come next. They didn't particularly part on good terms, or certainly not on concrete ones.

Rough as the those fingers are from so many years of hard labor, the touch is undeniably soft. Perhaps treading lightly, as it were. A vague, non-committal sound comes in response to the observation that he should be asleep, but he simply strokes that sore spot with his thumb. The oddly inscrutable intensity does not alleviate. There is no eye contact, but neither is there avoidance. There merely is a contemplative focus to the simple task, quite literally, at hand.

It's sort of unnerving, being in this sort of limbo where he's just touching her skin with the pad of his thumb. Never has there been a time when Kal has been so quiet. This does not bode well. There's a thick swallow from the blonde. "It's just a headache," Sawyer assures him, finally reaching up to try and capture his hand away from that task. "I haven't been wearing my glasses."

It may not be particularly large, but that hand is strong. There is no such thing as a lifelong mechanic with a weak grip, after all. Or soft skin, for the matter. Nicely formed as they are, Trask's hands are marked (or perhaps marred) by calluses and work-related scarring acquired over much time. Perhaps at the prompting of Sawyer's own hand, he ceases stroking. At the confession, another vague, non-committal sound forms… and then those fingertips she seeks to hinder are grazing a course to her right ear, for the man is a southpaw.

She remembers his hands. Hell, she even remembers the first time she made a point of inspecting them. It was after something Cidra said about men. Sawyer's eyes flutter shut in a fan of pale lashes as she lets herself, for that one brief moment, enjoy the roughened skin against the line of her jaw. Her voice is heavy, mouth filled with cotton as she voices the only word she can muster, "Kal…"

"Hmm?" It's barely audible as he faintly cants his head, tracing the helix of Sawyer's ear, several fingers eventually curling to lightly stroke behind auricular sulcus while the thumb and forefinger rub the lobe. Nope; no glasses there.

This is the part where Sawyer wakes up at her desk, right? Face stuck to last night's evening reports and the dull ache of her body from falling asleep sitting up. Maybe not, maybe if she doesn't break the delicate haze of the moment by answering that question that's nothing more than a mere vibration of his throat. Averies reaches out, finding his chest blindly with her fingers, digits twining in the material of his shirt. Fear the calm before the storm.

Technically, he's off-duty. Even so, the green jacket is on, albeit unbuttoned. Perhaps (understandably) paranoid before a major op, his Five-seveN is also on his person, safety-locked and holstered, but ready to go should the ship suddenly go to Condition One. Saves a trip to the lockbox when time is of the essence. When the blonde's fingers start to twine with the fabric of his shirt, Kal's own eyes drift closed and his head vaguely lolls forward. Still with that careful attentiveness, he caresses behind the lobe with his thumb, those other fingers slinking beneath Sawyer's hair to slowly explore the curve of her neck.

There's a leap of pulse in Sawyer's neck beneath the trail of Trask's fingers, the blonde reflexively stepping closer to the man who has such an odd effect on her. Fingers tighten on his button placard, afraid to let go as much as she is afraid to hold on. When his head lulls forward, there's the soft brush of her cheek against his in a whisper of self-restraint keeping this on the shy side of safe.

It's the end of his day, which means he hasn't bothered shaving. There is an onset of stubble that sensitive skin surely would find abrasive. Perhaps that is why there is no nuzzling in return. Or perhaps he simply is hesitant. Not so much so, though, that he does not press his cheek against the woman's own, drawing his right hand upward to brush the nape of Sawyer's neck to tentatively curl fingers into the blonde hair at the base of her head. It is a decidedly restrictive action, keeping the journalist in place, but also an intimate one.

Sawyer stills at the tightened thread of his fingers in her hair, not furthering the exploration of his proximity. Perhaps afraid this has gone too far for his tastes, her fingers slowly loose their tension on his shirt, her grip falling away with one last smooth down his sternum. Her eyes flutter back open, though they only manage to partially slip. Her lips part, as if there is an apology on her next breath she has to steel herself up to give.

For his part, Bootstrap just stands there, eyes tightening and brow furrowing as he continues to press cheek against cheek. In a very palpable sense, there is something distinctly keen in that curiously light yet intense touch, echoed in his hands. The tentative coiling into the blonde's hair becomes more decisive, whereas his left thumb starts to caress the contour of Sawyer's jaw while his other free fingers continue to stroke the softness of her neck.

To stand so close, there is no mistaking that he very recently bathed. In absence of his usual aura of cigarette smoke, the faint scent of sage floats to the fore.

Sawyer is a very patient woman, at least when it comes to some things, but there comes a point when you might just be being toyed with. Maybe this is all his idea of some elaborate joke. Maybe she's just being used again. The thought process is almost palpable, as slowly the journalist starts to tense. "Kal…?" Why does it suddenly seem like she never uses his name? It sounds almost foreign, with the Virgan accent slipping to the surface, the 'l' becoming heavy.

"Hmm?" Once more, it is barely audible. Unlike Piers Rene-Marie, the Taurian has no hidden agenda nor ulterior motives. It is all about this moment, no thought or concern as to where it may lead. No artifice, no pretense. Just a want and perhaps even need to touch Sawyer. Whatever haze, though, whatever pleasant distraction (or perhaps delusion) starts to dissolve the moment that tension seeps. Trask is too acutely attuned to negative body language to not register the growing tension. For a moment, there is a sense of suspension. Then, fully realizing what effect he's causing, he abruptly, but not roughly, lets go.

Confusion. Concern. Hurt. It all flits across his face. This, evidently, was a mistake. It she wanted him here — hells, if she wanted him, period — she wouldn't react this way, right? Was he too forceful? Did she change her mind about how she felt? Is it possible that she'd been lying all along? Perhaps if he were not carrying so much weight in regard to the upcoming likely suicide mission… or if he had been able to alleviate all the compounding stress… or if he hadn't been detoxing for the past week, wherein he'd been planning the Air Wing's operations, and dealing with the tussle of emotions that the arrival of his little namesake has thrust to the fore, and contending with feelings of longing and loss prompted by Sawyer's supposed confession of love, perhaps he'd be better insulated. His retreat, at the very least, would not lack in style. As it stands, though, he's just a bundle of raw nerves and frayed emotions, which means the most he can muster is backing the hells away, murmuring a somewhat pathetic, "I should get to bed."

"No," Sawyer says firmly. "No, no, you don't get to /do/ that." The sudden and abrupt lack of his touch is like being thrown into an icy pool after a day of bathing in the sun. It's a shock to the system that momentarily leaves her breathless. "You don't just get to leave. Not like that. Not this time." She reaches for his hand, forcing the cup of it back to her cheek. "You don't get to leave me like this. Not when you might not come back. Love me. Just pretend that you love me. Even if it's just for one night." The words catch in her throat, like she's just made a deal with Hades himself.

Hades? More like Eris. She has a particularly cruel sense of humor and gets oh so aroused by turmoil, conflict, and upheaval. By those standards, poor Bootstrap is a veritable porn star who prominently features in the Goddess' collection of chaotic hardcore.

Hand captured and forced back to Sawyer's cheek, there is no initial physical resistance. Unfortunately, the man's psyche has no difficulty picking up the slack. Trask's bemusement and disquiet linger, although the awkwardness visibly dissolves into anger. It's painfully evident in those damnably emotive brown eyes of his, so large and so sad, now narrowing with the onset of spite. "What the— ? What the /frak/ is /that/ supposed to mean?" It's practically sputtered as he starts to internally flail. "Pretend?" Eris must surely be breaking out the lube. "Pre-tend?" He's starting to get more manic. "You want /me/ to frakking PRETEND?!" This is not computing. "What the frak is wrong with you?! Why the— ? /How/ the— ? WHO the Hells would want such a thing?!" Not him, clearly, if the look of sheer disgust is any indication.

Beyond that, though, he's wounded. "Is that… Is that what you think of me?" Softer, his voice sounds a touch strangled. "That… that I'm /like/ that?" The very notion that he could be perceived as such leaves him gutted, all his damaged, sensitive bits exposed to be dumped on the floor like a bucket of chum.

Sawyer's fingers leave his, no longer trying to direct them to her cheek. If ever there was a window of opportunity, the journalist probably just wedged it shut for good. It's the sort of feeling that rips your heart to shreds and lodges it in your throat. Her hands touch his chest, a series of soft pats that have no rhythm; she's just trying to do damage control. "Stop, please. You're scared. /I'm/ scared. You were leaving… Please. Can we just talk about this? I just want you to stay." Her words are all a jumble, tripping over themselves to get out of her mouth. "Why did you come back, Kal? Why did you come here? Tonight. I told you I loved you, and you left me. You left. So how the frak am I supposed to feel?"

Why does he come back? "I just do," is the rueful confession. Perhaps there's a hint of self-recrimination, or self-derision. "It's… it's just what I do." When he cares about someone, anyway. He knows he's not some grand prize, ambivalent and often out of control as he is, pushing and pulling and pushing and pulling. Always doubting. Always challenging. Always testing the depths of a loved one's devotion. Poor Maggie Quinn knows that far better than anyone. In a way, being his best friend and his self-adopted sister means she is subjected to more abuse than anyone.

Contrary to popular belief, Trask actually knows when he is in the wrong. Eventually, he'll even take responsibility should the injured party actually matter to him. The inverse, however, is that he does not get manipulated into accepting the blame for something he didn't do. "Whoa, whoa, whoa. Back the frak up. /You/ did the leaving." She did. Why, she even gave him some bullcrap excuse about having a meeting to attend. He didn't call her on the lie back then, but he sure as the Nine Hells is not gonna let it slide now.

"You checked out," Sawyer clarifies. "You went batshit on me and then you checked out. So you /left/. Forgive me for not wanting to stick around and wait for you to shove my heart in a shredder. But I meant what I said. I love you, Kal. Love. In big frakking capital letters. And I know it's scary. And I know it's hard to process and I sure as frak know that it's not what you wanted, but there it is. And then you came here tonight… because it's just what you do? You want me or you don't. I wish to the Gods it wasn't as simple as that, but it is. Black and white. Yes or no. Because if you treat me like a yo-yo, the string is going to break. I am going to break." Tears spring to her eyes because this is the brink. Fear has lead to frustration, and frustration has lead to that familiar ache in her chest that she's been fighting off with every weapon in her arsenal. She's done fighting.

"Oh, no. No, no, no, no, NO." That mania that comes with emotionality is quick to resurface. "You don't get to spin it however you want and expect me to swallow it wholesale. Just because I didn't drop to my knees or sweep you off your feet and into my arms, or whatever the frak you were wanting, /you/ DON'T get to spit out an opinion as though it were the frakkin' truth. Well, I'm sorry that the reality never matches your fantasy, but this is how I am. You talk about love — LOVE," cue the eyeroll, "but it's not love. Whatever you wanna tell yourself, it's not. Love…" Bootstrap's body practically vibrates with agitation, "Love is /accepting/ someone as they are, faults and all, while trying to help them become a better person. The story /you're/ trying to sell? That's the drivel of a 5th-grade girl's diary. It's not love." Vigorously, he shakes his head. "It's not love. It's not. It's not… It's not."

That all said, the blonde certainly holds no monopoly on heartache and disappointment. It contorts Kal's face, tears of his own coming to the fore despite how desperately he doesn't want that. And now that he has started down this path, he is unable to stop. "You don't want /me/, Sawyer. You want this… idea you have of me. Some… fantasy." If Averies is at the brink, this is where /he/ starts breaking. "You don't love me," is whispered, eyes glistening with a sorrow that threatens to spill down his cheeks. "You don't." How could she? How could anyone? Lords know how desperately he wants to be loved — and how unlovable he generally feels. True to form, he tries to play it down with a wan smile of self-deprecating humor, but it only leaves him looking more exposed. Sniffling, he drops and turns his head to wipe away the sticky wetness on his face none-too-gently with a callused hand.

Sawyer reaches out for his face again, a palm to his wet cheek to urge his face back to hers. He doesn't get to check out, not this time. "You don't get to tell me who I love and who I don't. And don't you DARE try to demoralize or demean my feelings. You may not believe this, but I know you, Kal. I know how you got the scars on your back. LOOK AT ME." She bids, she urges, she demands. "I know about the hell you lived through as a child. I know you pulled yourself out of that shit-hole existence. I KNOW. The broken bones, why you don't drink. After the execution… that wasn't the first time you protected a woman like that. And if this is what a fantasy is like, then gods help us both. But it's mine and even YOU don't get to take that away from me. It's mine. Even if you don't want to be."

Contrary to popular belief, Trask does not enjoy being right all the damn time. This is primarily because his being correct just reinforces his belief that most people suck and that existence is just one elaborate, sick joke. With that in mind, it figures that when he's /finally/ wrong about something, the Powers That Be make a point to rub his face in it until he can't breathe. The man is easy to dismiss as impervious with all his facetiousness and flippancy, but even the most resilient of people have to eventually stop fighting, if only for a moment. All things considered, thirty years before a break-down is impressive. One could even argue that he could've lasted even longer if it hadn't been so many things hitting his most sensitive spots at once…

The birth of little Kalli is likely what set the ball rolling, raising all the turmoil that comes from surviving such an abusive upbringing, and the fear of perpetuating that cycle of abuse. The ensuing chat with Gabrieli only exasperated Bootstrap's paternal issues. Throw in the weight of command (for those Captain pins are rather heavy) and contesting with hardcore nicotine withdrawal. If that were not enough, add Sawyer's confession of love mere days after the 5-month anniversary of Penelope's death…

When Atlas finally shrugs, though, the world shakes to its very core.

Past the point of depletion, Kal is in no position to fend for himself when his darkest private pain is brought to light. Despite the journalist's urgings, he does not look at her. He cannot look at her. Ashamed and exposed, those most terrible memories forcibly torn from their hiding place, he just crumples against the wall, slides to the floor, and flat-out starts to sob.

And so the journalist eases down with him, folding herself against the tuck of his legs and draping herself over the quake of his side. There's nothing to do but hug him, laying a cheek against this shoulder as her hand takes to rubbing along the length of his tattooed and scarred spine through his shirt. She certainly wouldn't abandon him now; the tears and sobs she's so inept at protecting him from etch lines of pain in her face akin to when she watched him receive his tatau. She mutters little nonsensical things, sweet things, comforting things, most in the musical waves of her native tongue. And she just holds him, much the same way he held her when she cracked. If the demons come, they'll have to go through her first.

It is such a secret place, the land of tears. There is no map, no compass, no way to navigate the rough terrain other than blindly. For all the investigative reporter may try, Kal cannot be found, cannot be lured back. He simply will emerge on his own accord once he finds his way out. Until then, he remains a wounded child in a wailing man's shuddering body, battling old ghosts that refuse to remain confined to the past.

Sawyer's not going anywhere. Even if the floor gets drafty and her body gets stiff, she'll stay on the floor until her voice is hoarse from her little remuneration. At one point, she even resorts to singing a quiet lullaby from her childhood, about a little wolf getting lost far from his den. She doesn't try to dry his tears, doesn't try to quiet his sobs, she just lets him weep until the river runs dry.

How nice if the river were the Lethe. Perhaps the pain will eventually subside as it is washed to the shore. Lords only know how long that will take, for time flows differently for mortal men. Run dry, it most certainly does not, but for the very first time in his life it does recede. The choking on tears gives way to coughing; the howling dwindles to ragged breaths; the convulsing subsides to lesser tremors, aftershocks as opposed to full-on quakes. Tear-stained and seeping snot… expressive eyes bloodshot yet shining from having wept so… that naturally light tan skin warm and flushed, particularly red at his nose and darker around puffy lids… and his hair as much a mess as his disheveled duty greens. It's not at all a pretty sight. The way the man lowly groans, he surely must feel as crap as he looks, if not more so.

And so they've come to the eye of the storm, for there was thunder and lightening before and there will surely be afterwards. But for now, Sawyer straightens up from her protective huddle against him, using her fingers to gently rake his hair back from his face and smooth out the impossible locks. She doesn't say anything, as words that were so easy to yell and lob moments ago are now failing her completely. Thumb follows the lower orbit of his eye, soothing away some dampness in repetitive concave arcs.

"I…" Huff. Cough. "I really need… sleep," is croaked. Blessed be that it'll still be several hours after he awakes before Silent Mastiff is let off its leash. Even if he oversleeps. Which, very likely, he will. For the nonce, he just lays there, lids half-closed (or perhaps swollen). A grimace begins to form, as pain of his unnaturally contorted body stabs through that of the soul. With a displeased moan, Kal starts to stir, twisting and pushing himself from where he fell to simply curl up to lay his throbbing head upon the softness of Sawyer's lap, just like a little boy.

Fingertips draw little imaginary lines on his forehead when he - surprisingly - rests his head in her lap. There is no dispute from her, either from the position or his statement. "Let me take care of you," Sawyer murmurs, low and soft. There's a hammock, there is that damnable cot. If he needs sleep, he doesn't have to venture far. "Stay."

It would be a bad idea to crash-out right there but, truth be told, he's endured far more uncomfortable sleep accommodations. Even so, it'd do him a world of good to get off the floor. With closed eyes, Kal's reply comes in the form of a soft, tired sound. Gently, faintly, he nuzzles the top Sawyer's thigh with his cheek. That, however, does nothing to cause the pounding headache to abate. Some water would be a really good idea. The throbbing at his temples is self-evident by the swollen veins. It keeps double-time with the rise and fall of his body and breath.

"C'mon, babe," Sawyer says softly, doubling over to drop a gentle kiss to the pulse in his temple. "We'll get you some aspirin and some water and some sleep. You've got a big day ahead of you." She's not strong enough, by any means, to scoop him off the floor and make sure he complies but she can calmly lift his head from her lap enough that she can slip out and offer him a mountain grip to get off the floor. "C'mere."

There is a groan. Displaced bull is displeased about being displaced. For a moment, his fingers even grasp the too-tight-to-get-a-good-grip fabric of Sawyer's pencil skirt. It does no good. Exhausted and grumpy, he has upon him the look of a tired four year old who is cranky that nap time has been disrupted. There's a sullenness to his scarcely open eyes, and his lower lip protrudes in the onset of a petulant pout. Even so, Bootstrap is soon enough back on his boots. And, just like a little kid, he rubs at his eyes and yawns, trudging behind the blonde to wherever she is leading him.

It's to the hammock that she trundles him, Sawyer steadying the sling so he can climb in. She's true to her word, in retrieving water and aspirin for him, but he gets only one tablet to ease the pain. Maybe she finally figured out why he hasn't been smoking. When he's drank enough to suit her, she plucks the glass from his hand and tugs up the blanket and only /then/ does she crawl in next to him, chastely sleeping with the blanket as a barrier between them. With one last shove of her foot before she takes it off the deck plating, she sends them gently rocking. Fingers toy at his hair, perhaps well aware he's too exhausted to argue. She'll take it while she can, because in the morning she knows he'll be gone.

The man possesses enough wherewithal to remove his gun and holster, tucking them underneath a pillow. That's all he deigns to remove, though, which means Sawyer will have to endure Bootstrap's boots unless she bothers to relieve him of them. As ever, he instinctively positions himself so that his back is facing the nearest wall. It shouldn't be at all difficult to deduce how and why he acquired that habit. In what few times the couple has (literally) slept together, Trask always assumed a protective stance, as though anyone seeking to harm the woman in his arms would have to go through him first. Tonight, though, he huddles and clings like a child, faintly nestling and nuzzling at the sensation of his hair being stroked. Soft, contented sounds swell at the back of his sore throat.

At some point, though, he will be gone. If things don't go according to plan, he might even be gone for good. Should his soul end up passing from one world to another, though, it will at least be somewhat lighter. Feeling loved and wanted at his most vulnerable… well, if what might well be the best night of his life is also possibly the last night of his life, so be it. Better late than never.

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