Chapter 15: Grand Gesture
Summary: GRAND GESTURE: He or she must be willing to put it all on the line now or risk losing the one thing they need to become whole-hearted. It’s life or death now.
CW: Smut in the last third of the chapter. Questionable quality.
“Fuck!” Gwen felt her center of gravity shift as she leaned forward, overbalancing on the rickety chair she’d been using to reach the ceiling. It tipped perilously on two legs, then lost the fight with physics and sent her sprawling with a crash that shook the dozens of tiny papers taped around the room. She hit the ground with her hip and the side of her face, one of them making a disturbing crunch sound and both shooting bright white pain down her entire right side. “Shit!”
She was halfway to her feet, wondering if the crossed-eyes dizzy feeling was from lack of sleep, hitting her head, or marker fumes, when fingers closed around her upper arm and she was hauled upright. “Gwen! Goodness, are you okay?” David let go of her, his gaze roving around the room as he took a step back. “What happened in here?”
She looked around, taking a deep breath and noticing for the first time in hours the thick perfume of tacky glue and paint, as though David walking in had turned her senses back on. It was done, mostly. Well, no — it’d never really be done, but it was enough to prove her point.
While she was panicking, David had wandered over to the center of the room, ducking to avoid a string of origami animals dangling from the ceiling. “Is this for camp?”
“Yes — I mean, no, it’s from camp, and maybe we can reuse some of it but no, it’s . . . not really . . .” She’d planned this, during her mad crafting frenzy: how David would come home, wonder what she was doing, and she’d carefully tour him through everything — or maybe she’d let him get on with his morning routine while she added a few more things, made it just a bit closer to perfect.
But his presence had pulled her to a halt. She’d been like a shark all night, afraid to stop moving or she’d die, but now that he was here she felt drained, the giddy, terrified adrenaline that’d been keeping her going evaporating in an instant.
Though hey. At least she had a good reason to be tired, for once.
He frowned at her discarded supplies strewn carelessly around the room. “Are these from Art Camp?”
The question jolted her into action, and she stumbled forward jerkily, like the Tin Man without oil. “Yeah, but I already took it out of my paycheck, it’s fine. I’ll go shopping tomorrow for new stuff.” She wanted him to hear what she really meant, what she was trying to put together through exhausted babbling: that this was important, that it was worth sacrificing sleep and money for, that she loved him and she respected him and she wanted him to know that.
Finally, finally, he turned his attention to the walls. “Gwen, what is all this?”
“It’s you,” she blurted out, then winced and rested her forehead in her palm. “No, that’s not — it’s — some of the stuff you’ve taught me, look . . .” She took his hand, her nerves trembling at the brush of his fingers against her own, and pulled him toward the doorway. She’d made a messy semicircle around the room, right to left like a supermarket. Dropping his hand, she took a step back, steepling her fingers like she was praying and pressing them to her lips with another steadying breath.
She had one chance.
“Okay,” she began. “So . . .”
Gwen looked like she was on the verge of falling over, listing dangerously to the side as she led him across the room. There were feathers in her hair, and scraps of paper; she was speckled with color, marker and paint and even a smear of glitter glue on the tip of her nose, the pads of her fingers nearly black with a rainbow of ink that stained his hand as she held it. It was obvious she hadn’t slept, even more obvious that she desperately needed to.
But her eyes were bright even if the circles under them were dark, and she thrummed with an energy and animation David hadn’t seen all summer.
And he couldn’t bring himself to interrupt her, not when it finally felt like she’d returned to him.
“— song you taught me last year,” she said, and he felt a flash of guilt that he hadn’t been listening. She tapped the paper she’d stuck to the wall, the lyrics of his Camp Campbell song scrawled across it in uneven lines. “All the camp activities, remember? At least the most important ones.”
(It was really just the ones that fit best into the rhyme scheme, but he didn’t correct her as she moved on to a second piece of paper.)
“This is a list of all the facts about nature I’ve learned since I started here,” she continued, gesturing. This one was crammed so tightly with writing that he could barely read it, bullet points snaking in all directions and increasingly smaller handwriting as it moved down the page, until finally Gwen had started attaching sticky notes to the wall below and around the list. “I had to keep going back and adding things as I thought of them. I know I’m forgetting something, but I can’t —” She gestured around her head in a classic “scatterbrained” motion, chuckling weakly. “I’m kind of all over the place right now.”
Next: a bullseye, a pencil stuck point-first into the wall. “I couldn’t really shoot an arrow,” Gwen explained, “but remember that summer you taught me archery? I’m still pretty good at it — we went to a shooting range for Claire’s birthday last year and I was the only one who hit the target every time.”
Next: a messy drawing of a forest, a little stick figure kneeling next to a moss-covered rock. “That one time we got lost in the woods trying to find a good place for bug-catching, you got us out because you knew how to find north. You’d be pretty great in a zombie apocalypse.”
Next: a sheet of black construction paper poked through with holes, hastily taped to the back window so light from the lamp outside shone through in little pinpricks. He leaned closer and realized that they were in the rough shape of the constellations visible above Lake Lilac. “I didn't know much about stars and shit outside of, like, horoscope stuff — I mean, in the city you can’t even see them — but you always pointed out which constellations and planets were out during the summer and now I know them all too.”
And on, and on. Scale models of the crafts and activities they’d done at Camp Campbell, nature facts, and on one wall she’d tacked up a typewritten letter to the Director of Admissions at Queen’s University Belfast. Skimming it quickly, it looked to David like an application.
“I was trying to get into their Environmental Science program. I wrote about Sleepy Peak Peak and Lake Lilac,” she admitted, looking almost embarrassed. “I got in. And I mean, they’re not the best program out there, but they’re still in the top 300 worldwide so that’s pretty cool, I guess —”
“Belfast?” He leaned in closer, confirming that he’d read correctly. “Isn’t that in England?”
“Yeah.” She looked impressed, and he suppressed a weary smirk; yes, he did know a bit about the world outside of Camp Campbell. But she surprised him by adding, “I had to look that up, actually.” She shrugged. “Guess I should’ve just asked you, huh?
“Anyway, that was a couple years ago. I didn’t go, obviously,” she added, responding to his unspoken question. “International travel’s a bitch. I needed a scholarship, and my grades weren’t good enough. I think I only got in at all because of my letter.” She gestured at it, not quite meeting his eyes. “Which I never thanked you for. Or most of the stuff I’ve learned from you. I’ve been . . . kinda taking all that for granted. So, uh . . . thanks, David.”
He wanted to tell her she was welcome, that she didn’t need to thank him at all. That sharing these things with her had been the highlight of his life since they’d met, even if it hadn’t seemed like she cared about any of it. But there was a lump quivering dangerously in his throat and he didn’t trust himself to speak, so he just nodded.
After a second she cleared her throat awkwardly and led him over to a row of stick figures hanging from the ceiling. “Some of these are from Yoga Camp,” she said, pointing at a few of the ones contorted into uncomfortable shapes, “but also all that other stuff you do. Like smile exercises —” and yes, one of the stick figures had a big pink smiley face, “— and breathing techniques and stuff. I use those sometimes when I’m having a panic attack. They really help, even if smile exercises still make me feel like a dumbass most of the time.”
The decorations started to get more abstract as they made their way around the room, simple crafts and trivia giving way to colorful scribbles and symbols, representing things he’d said to her about her relationship with her parents, her love life. “You have really good advice, you know that? You could be the next Dear Abby or something, seriously. I think that’s still running.”
(It was; he read it every morning with his pre-breakfast tea.)
“These get worse, sorry . . . I was getting tired.” Gwen jerked her chin up at a wobbly butterfly — or was it a bird? — dangling over their heads. “I use your advice about hummingbird-ing all the time. With writing, mostly, but sometimes at work or something, too.”
He gently reached up and touched the bird’s feet, watching it spin in a lazy circle. Technically the idea had been his mother’s, a way to avoid burnout by flitting from one project to another and adding just a little bit to each, instead of devoting all energy and resources to one thing and slogging through until it was done. The whole idea was part of his ethos of being a counselor — wasn’t Camp Campbell a place to get a little taste of everything, after all? He remembered explaining it to Gwen during her first week at camp, just over five years ago.
He wouldn’t have ever imagined that she’d actually remembered.
He didn’t think she remembered any of this.
But the evidence was all around him — on the walls, hanging from the ceiling, dozens of examples, mementos of the tiny moments that meant everything to him. Immortalized, remembered, in increasingly sloppy handwriting and doodles.
In the corner was a bright red card that looked familiar. David moved over to it and laughed in recognition: it was one he’d sent her after her first or second summer at Camp Campbell, when he’d seen on Facebook that she was looking for work. He tugged it off the wall, careful not to damage the cheap cardstock, and smiled down at the deer wearing a plaid hunting cap, which he’d made out of tissue paper and markers (he’d gotten much better since then, thanks to a few years of Decoupage Camps).
‘Good luck on your job HUNT! I know you’ll slay the interview!’
“I’ve kept that for years to show my friends,” Gwen said, making him jump; he hadn’t realized she’d come up behind him, but she was close enough to nearly rest her head against his. “I felt like it really captured the kind of guy you were.”
Her breath prickled the side of his neck, and he distracted himself by opening the card — ‘oh deer, is this joke going on too long? I feel like it’s overkill!’ — noticing how worn the crease was, like she’d opened and closed it hundreds of times. “Does it?”
He felt her shake her head without having to face her, stray wisps of hair that’d escaped her ponytail tickling his cheek. “Not even close.”
Unable to resist, he looked back at her over his shoulder, and she took his arm, turning him around the rest of the way. He thought she was going to kiss him — she was close enough that he could see a smeary glue thumbprint on her cheek and what looked like half a smiley-face sticker in her hair — but she just took the card from him, setting it carefully on the couch before taking hold of both his hands. Her expression was grave, shining faint with hope, and between the craft debris and her naked earnestness, she looked incredibly young and vulnerable.
“There’s more,” she said, gesturing with her chin toward the far wall, “and I’ll let — I want you to look at it, but . . . I just had to tell you, I’ve been taking you for granted and it’s not right. I’ve been pretending I still think of you as this —” Pulling one of her hands away, she picked up the card again, her fingers shaking so the deer’s toothpick antlers clacked together, “— sweet, silly, kinda childish David, who belongs with someone sweet, and silly, and kinda childish. And I tried to be that and . . . I mean I sucked at it,” she said, breaking off with a weak laugh, dropping her eyes to their joined hands. “And it . . . kind of broke me. But I didn’t even think to ask if that was what you wanted, because I thought I knew what you needed, and that was — so, really fucked.” She looked back up at him, her eyes dancing with purple fire, her grip on his hand tightening. “And I — I don’t, you know so much that I don’t — I could fill the entire cabin with stuff I’ve learned from you, this doesn’t even scratch the surface.”
She paused, like she was waiting for him to interject, but David felt like he’d been turned to stone, paralyzed and unblinking while his brain whirled.
“But none of it matters if it doesn’t show . . . if you don’t know —” Her voice cracked, and she dropped his other hand, pressing a fist to her mouth. “— h-how amazing you are, how much you matter to this camp and to me and . . . and I didn’t know people could actually be happy 'til I met you. I mean, I guess I knew technically, but not that it was a real thing people actually were. But you figured it out. You’ve known what you wanted since you were a kid and then you got it and I’ve never done anything without second-guessing myself a million times but you just did it, and it meant making so many decisions about your life that could’ve turned out wrong but they didn’t because they were the right ones for you. And you knew it. You always have.” She swiped at her eyes with the heels of her hands, crying in earnest now. “You’re a marvel, David. I should’ve said that every fucking day. And I know it’s probably too little, too late, but I’m sorry. For not telling you and — and for everything.
“And I . . .” She swallowed hard, taking a few heaving breaths before continuing, and he knew she was trying to hold onto her composure even as tears poured down her cheeks, “I don’t know what you wanna do. With — with us, I mean. But you’re right, I haven’t been a good girlfriend to you, and if you don’t want to . . . if you want me to leave right now or after the summer ends or if you just wanna be friends or whatever , that’s fine. A-and — if you do . . . y’know . . .” Her face crumpled, her shoulders curling in on themselves. “I love you so much,” she managed, her words harder to make out through damp, hiccuping breaths. “Whatever — whatever you want — I — I — I trust you.”
Understanding pierced his chest, a small pinhole that allowed light to pour, warm and white, into his heart.
“I trust you.”
David hadn’t realized how desperately he’d needed to hear those words until that moment.
He stepped forward, plucking the card from her hand and tossing it onto the floor (he could make her another one, dozens if she wanted, hundreds) and tilting her chin up so he could kiss her. Her cheeks were wet under his palms, her mouth salty and acidic with the taste of not-quite-morning breath, and each brush of his lips against hers was broken by her pulling back to drag in a sobbing gasp, her mouth moving clumsily like she was as close to fainting from exhaustion and emotion as she looked.
It was, without question, the best kiss of his life.
He broke away to press his forehead against hers, sliding his hands from her face to cup the back of her neck and closing his eyes. “I love you too, Gwen,” he murmured, his heart fluttering at the giddily-incredulous, teary laugh she gave in response. “And I think you need to go to bed.”
She leaned back, and the bleary confusion on her face was so precious he rose up on his toes to press a soft kiss to her forehead. “Huh? But what about . . .”
“I’ve got some stuff to think about,” he said, then gestured at the crafts she hadn’t shown him yet, “and look at. And after that . . . we should talk. But it won’t be a very good talk if you fall asleep,” he added with a laugh as her eyes drifted closed.
She opened them halfway, just enough to glare at him, but the effect would’ve been more intimidating if she hadn’t been swaying slightly. “’m fine.” The adrenaline that’d been keeping her going was clearly wearing off fast, and David was a little worried she wouldn’t make it to bed, that he’d just find her unconscious on the floor of the hallway. “You didn’t sleep either,” she accused, pointing at him with a finger stained silvery with graphite.
Goodness, he loved her so much he couldn’t stand it. “I had a nap.” Not a long one, but he was used to not sleeping much. “Get some rest. We’ll talk in the morning.”
“It’s already the morning,” she complained, but like a sleepy robot she turned and shuffled back toward the front of the cabin. “I’m gonna brush my teeth and shower and stuff. So I look less like a sludge goblin.”
“You do that, Gwen.” He waited until the bathroom door had clicked shut before turning back to the mess she’d made of their living room. It was almost hard to tell the difference between what was art and what was trash left over, there was so much of both; it looked like an explosion had hit a crafts store.
Gwen wasn’t someone who put a lot of effort into things she didn’t care about. It was one of the most frustrating things about having her as a coworker, but he’d be lying if he said he didn’t love how unabashedly honest she was, how he could read her feelings just by looking at her work.
There was the soft sound of tape unsticking and one of the decorations sagged, a corner curling away from the wall and drooping down. He pushed it carefully back into place and fumbled for his phone, setting it to camera mode.
This was worth remembering.
Gwen was positive she’d never be able to fall asleep; how could she, when things were still so up in the air? But she wasn’t twenty anymore, and after the exhaustion and emotional turmoil of the last few hours — days, weeks; hell, if she was being honest it’d been years since she’d truly felt well-rested — and despite the anxiety buzzing inside her skull she was out in moments.
Soft fingers in her hair drew her back to earth, and when she opened her eyes David came into focus, crouching next to her bed so they were at eye level. He smiled as she blinked at him, warmth and sunshine he probably didn’t even know he was emitting. “Goooood morning, Gwen!” he chirped, his voice way too loud for how close they were, and she winced. “Sorry,” he added, his voice dropping to a murmur. “Habit.”
“It’s fine,” she said, because she’d missed his morning bellow so much more than she could ever miss having non-punctured eardrums. She sat up, clumsily swiping at her face to double-check for drool or errant eye gunk. “Morning.”
“How are you feeling?” He hopped onto the bed, making her and everything else on the mattress bounce. He was being so . . . normal, like all the drama last night had been a dream.
Fuck it. They had some hard, painful conversations coming; she could enjoy a little bit of normalcy while her brain booted back up. “Good,” she replied, yawning. “I mean, tired, but I’m always tired so —” Her blood chilled, and suddenly she was wide awake.
There went normal. All because she had to remind him of what an unloveable disaster she was.
But when she looked back up he didn’t seem annoyed. He leaned against the wall, stretching his legs out so they dangled off the edge of the bed. “It’s okay. I don’t mind.” She scoffed before she could stop herself, and his gaze flicked up to hers, taking her breath away. (God, how she’d functioned for almost four years without feeling more than a flicker of attraction to this man was unfathomable.) “Really. I want to know what’s going on with you.” His hand landed on her knee, light as a bird but blazingly warm even through her blankets. “All I want is for you to let me in.”
A swell of emotion swept up from somewhere in her chest, causing her eyes to prick with tears for the thousandth time. She looked away and sniffed as discreetly as possible — which wasn’t very, she assumed, since he immediately reached over and handed her a tissue from the pack he kept stashed in his pockets. “I mean, if you want me to complain, I can do that,” she muttered, tamping down another flow of tears through willpower. “I can complain about fucking anything.”
David’s laugh made her turn back toward him, because it didn’t have a trace of sadness or pity or anything she’d expected. It was so purely, entirely delighted , more than even he could fake, and he was looking at her like she’d said something surprising and wonderful.
“You really like it,” she blurted out, unable to hide the awe in her voice. “That I’m like this. Whiny and —” she waved vaguely “— bitchy, and whatever.”
“I don’t.” He shook his head and her stomach plummeted. But as she took a breath to respond he shifted closer, gently cupping the back of her neck so he could tap his forehead against hers. “I love it, Gwen. I love everything about you.”
A laugh burbled out of her before she could stop it, and she pulled away to hide her face. “Oh my god. You bastard. You’re so cheesy.”
His fingers closed around her wrists, tugging her palms away from her face. “I love you,” he said, kissing the skin she’d covered with her hands — the tip of her nose, each cheek, her top and bottom lip, her eyebrows.
“I love you, too.” She could already tell that if he was going to keep saying that to her she’d spontaneously combust, because this was all too cute and romantic and lovely and she still didn’t fully understand how this was happening, why he didn’t hate her.
But she’d promised she wouldn’t question his decision, whatever it was. She owed him that much.
His smile faded slightly, a faint line appearing between his eyebrows. “What’re you thinking?”
“Nothing,” she lied automatically, and when that only made him sigh she added, “I said I was going to trust you,” hating the note of defensiveness in her voice, because of the two of them she didn’t have much grounds for righteous indignation.
“Then trust me with how you feel.” It should’ve sounded too much like a cliche, something she’d tease him for, but he was right and they both knew it.
She’d put him through hell by not telling him the truth, and they both knew that, too.
Gwen closed her eyes, taking a deep breath and forcing herself to relax. Things were — they seemed okay, didn’t they? Almost normal, but better, because all her ugliness was out there for him to see and he knew about it and he didn’t seem to mind. And wasn’t that something she’d never thought she’d ever actually find? “I don’t get it,” she admitted, her voice sounding small and stupid. “I keep feeling like . . . like I tricked you somehow. Like I didn’t explain well enough why you shouldn’t want me, because if you really got it you wouldn’t be here. Not because I think you’re stupid,” she added quickly, desperately, “because I don’t, really! But — but even smart people can be . . . I don’t know, manipulated?”
The confusion in her voice made her pause, sit back. Manipulated? That couldn’t be right, could it? She wasn’t trying to manipulate anyone, and she was pretty sure you couldn’t manipulate someone by accident.
Or maybe you could; she hadn’t always paid a ton of attention to her psych classes in college.
“I’m sorry,” she managed after a few deeply uncomfortable moments of silence. “I’m trying, I promise, but I understand if . . . you know. Whatever.” (She still hated saying it, especially now that it seemed like it might not happen. Breaking up with David was hard enough without having to say it.)
He put his arm around her shoulders, tugging her into his side and kissing her temple. “Thank you for telling me, Gwen.”
“You’re not mad?”
She felt him shake his head as she rested hers on his shoulder, scooting down to make up for their (lack of) height difference. “I wasn’t really mad when I came back this morning,” he said, “even before I saw everything you’d made. I had some time to cool down, and I . . . started thinking, I guess.”
Gwen wanted to look up at him, but she wanted to soak in his warmth more so she nuzzled into the curve of his neck, inhaling the smells of floral detergent and piney-woodsy cologne left over from the day before. “About what?” she asked, like there could possibly be more than one answer. Like maybe he’d been pondering the sociopolitics of Malaysia or something.
He let out a little huff of laughter, and she knew without looking that he’d glanced up at the ceiling in a slow blink (that he insisted was less rude than rolling his eyes outright, even though it was just as obvious). “You. Everything that’s happened this summer — and before it.” His shoulder shifted slightly under her cheek, a shrug aborted halfway through so she’d be comfortable. “Things started making more sense after everything we talked about tonight. Like the day we . . . well, when you told me about that gentleman you . . . almost took home.”
“He wasn’t a gentleman, he was a douchebag,” she interrupted, immediately feeling like an asshole. But David chuckled and squeezed her closer, like he enjoyed her company even when she was being annoying (which he did; somehow he actually did) and she let herself relax against his side, believe that maybe things were going to be okay after all.
“I’ve thought about the stuff you said a lot since that day. Mostly the parts that made me feel the worst.”
She flinched. “I’m so sorry —” she began, but he cut her off with a kiss to her forehead.
“I have trouble with . . . rejection,” he continued, sounding embarrassed. Like that minor character flaw even came close to the millions of ways she was fucked up. “I — I guess you could call it ‘abandonment issues’? But at first, and for a while, all I could hear were the ways you didn’t . . . seem to want me around anymore.”
“But I did —”
“I know.” Another soft kiss, and she wasn’t sure if it was to reassure her or himself. “I know that now. And I think, knowing that . . . it made what you said sound different.
“You were drunk — I know, you downplayed it, and it wouldn’t have excused . . . but your judgment was still impaired. And you didn’t kiss him. Thinking back, it didn’t even sound like you really wanted to. Did you?” She shook her head, not willing to look up at him because no matter how gently he tried to frame this she still felt like it was her fault. “And I just couldn’t stop thinking, how if this had happened a few years ago you would’ve told that story so much differently. If we were still just friends, maybe. You would’ve stormed into the cabin raging about how some jerk had ‘put his mitts all over you’ —”
Gwen couldn’t help it; she burst out laughing, pushing away from him and resting her head in her hands. “That can’t be how you think I talk!”
“It was an edited version,” he admitted, flushing. His smile was wide enough to illuminate the room, catching and refracting the dreary dawn light. “Please come back?”
She snuggled into his outstretched arms, her heart panging at the plaintive note in his voice. She wrapped herself around him, legs entangled with his and arms squeezing his waist; she’d missed him just as much. “Your impression of me is really bad,” she said with an uncontrollable giggle that made her feel like she was fourteen.
“I’ll work on it.” For a moment he just held her, soaking in the relief of being together and being okay. (At least, that's what she was doing.) “Why did it bother you so much?” he asked after a minute or so. “It doesn’t . . . well, it just doesn’t sound like you did anything wrong.”
“I guess — yeah, maybe not, technically anyway. But you’d just visited and saw how terrible my life is, and I was having an even harder time being a less-shitty version of myself . . .” He made a soft noise, almost pained, and pulled her closer. “So when this asshole showed up and was, like, exactly the type of guy I usually go for, it felt like . . . I don’t know. Like the universe was telling me we didn’t belong together. That sounds stupid. Never mind.” She pressed her face against his chest with an embarrassed groan. “Pretend I said something that doesn’t make me sound like I write horoscopes for a living.”
“I like horoscopes!” he replied, because of course he did. After a moment he added, “Thank you for telling me. It . . . helps confirm some things I was thinking earlier, when I left. Because what you said, and what you’ve been saying for a long time . . . I’ve been hearing it the way that’d hurt me the most, but I think you meant it to make me hate you.” He paused for a second, then added, “Do you think I’m right?”
Gwen shrugged, feeling more than a little like one of his campers receiving an aggressively pacifist talking-to. “Yeah. I don’t . . . like myself all that much.”
“I’ve noticed.” And David pressed another kiss to the top of her head, like he was rewarding her for being honest. Or like he just couldn’t help himself. “You haven’t treated me very well lately, Gwen. And I was — am very unhappy about that. But I don’t think it holds a candle to how you treat yourself.”
She wriggled away enough to sit up and look at him, frowning. “So you’re, what? Willing to come back to a shitty relationship because you feel sorrier for me than for you?” she demanded, even though it would’ve been smarter to just not say anything and enjoy his pity while she still had it.
But again, she said she’d be honest. And the true Gwen was kind of a bitch.
His smile turned sad, and he carefully tucked a flyaway hair behind her ear. “See, that’s what I mean. You never give yourself the benefit of the doubt.” When she frowned, not understanding, he took her hand and began playing with it, wiggling her fingers and twining them with his. “I understand better, now. How you’re feeling and what you’re thinking. And I’m not going to let you treat me like I’m a kid, or — or stupid, or whatever. I know you don’t really think that,” he added as she opened her mouth to argue. “There’s a whole cabin’s worth of proof in the living room that you don’t really think that. That’s why I wanna try again. Miscommunications, misunderstandings . . . those are fixable. And now that I know what’s been going through your head, I don’t think you’ve done anything I can’t forgive.”
Her eyes filled with tears — again, and she was going to die of dehydration if she didn’t get ahold of herself — but this time she couldn’t resent them too much, not when it felt like she was brimming over with hope that was eager to burst free. “What’re you saying, David?”
He shifted back, turning so he was sitting cross-legged facing her, and took both her hands in his. “I keep . . . trying to find a way to say it,” he admitted, looking down at their twined fingers and flushing pink, “because ‘do you want to be my girlfriend again?’ is maybe too middle-school, but ‘dating’ sounds too casual, and —”
Gwen pulled out of his grasp and closed the distance between them, straddling his lap and taking his chin in one hand. His face lifted toward her before his eyes did, darting from her chest to over her shoulder before finally meeting her gaze. She wound her free arm around his shoulders, sliding her fingers into the short, soft hair at the nape of his neck. With the hand cupping his jaw she gently swiped her thumb across his lower lip, slightly chapped but still warm and softer than it looked, each breath skating across her skin feather-light and making her skin prickle. “Yeah,” she said, closing her eyes and pressing her forehead to his, holding back a laugh — or maybe a sob, she wasn’t quite sure; the emotions roiling inside her were too much to separate between happy and sad. “Whatever you’re asking, yes, I want it.”
She felt his smile spread under her thumb before he brushed her hand away, tilting his head so he could kiss her. “Good,” he murmured with a breathless chuckle, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her closer. “I mean, I was pretty sure you’d say that, but still — that’s a relief.”
She laughed, shaking her head. “You idiot.” Her blood turned to ice, and she pulled away from him, stricken. For fuck’s sake, couldn’t she be anything but herself for five minutes? “I didn’t mean — !”
David smiled, far more fondly than she deserved. “I know, Gwen.”
Groaning, she buried her face in his shoulder. “I’m trying, really I am.”
“Don’t.” He put his hands on her shoulders and pushed her back until she was upright, looking down at him again. “Please don’t try so hard to be what you think I want. Just be you.”
“Right.” She forced her shoulders to relax, tilting her head back and rolling her neck until it cracked. “I’m . . . gonna have a hard time with that. ‘Just me’ is kind of the worst.”
“I know you think that,” he said, pressing his half-open mouth to the hollow of her collarbone and making her shiver. “And I’ll keep reminding you until you don’t think it anymore.”
She managed a weak chuckle, leaning into his lips as he moved up her neck. “Good luck with that.”
His answering laugh rolled over her skin, warm and teasing. “Haven’t you heard, Gwen? I like projects.”
Jesus. Grabbing a fistful of his hair, she tugged him upright, taking a moment to appreciate his gasp that wasn’t just surprise. “I love you,” she said, loosening her grip and kissing his forehead, petting away the furrows her fingers left in his fluffy red hair.
His expression softened. “I love —” he began, and Gwen tightened her hold on his hair and pulled back, just so she could watch his eyes flutter shut and his breath catch, “— y-you too.”
Dragging her palm down the side of his neck, she settled her thumb on his throat, feeling his pulse flutter rapidly, and bent to kiss him again. She hadn’t necessarily meant to turn it into anything, just wanted to feel his lips against hers, but her fingers tightened involuntarily in his hair and he moaned, and it was a lit match dropped down her throat to a stomach full of gasoline, a whoosh of heat blazing to life in the pit of her belly. “David,” she breathed, not so much because she had anything to say but because she needed to say it, to roll the sound of his name around in her mouth, let it melt like chocolate on her tongue and infuse her whole body with sweetness.
“Gwen,” he said, and she thought he was doing the same thing, saying her name just because he could, but then his hands were on her shoulders and he was pushing her away, gentle but firm. “Gwen, wait, we should — talk about this —”
“Oh, shit, yeah. Okay. Sorry.” She sat back, her face warming. But as she settled her weight more firmly in his lap he jolted; and if she’d thought she was embarrassed it was nothing to the way his already-flushed cheeks flamed pink, spreading in blotches up to his hairline and the tips of his ears, down to disappear underneath his bandana. He stammered out an apology, avoiding her eyes even as his cock twitched, like bashfulness could disguise how hard he was against her. She quickly rose back up — the last thing she wanted was to make him feel ashamed, or pressured; everything between them was as tremulous and new as the first time — but realized almost instantly when David squeaked that this just shoved her chest in his face.
She hovered there for an awkward second, the two of them staring at each other in mortified horror. Then his whole expression wavered, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth before quickly flattening into a thin line, and the break in his composure took hers out too. She snorted, and they both burst out laughing. “I’ll just sit over here,” she said through giggles, rolling off his lap and settling on the other side of the bed with her feet curled under her so they were no longer touching. He made a small sad sound like a squeeze toy deflating, and Gwen rolled her eyes and stretched out one leg until her foot brushed his knee. “Here, hold my foot if you’re that lonely. It’s practically holding hands.”
His eyes widened, hands closing around her ankle and setting it on his thigh with something like reverence. “Thank you,” he murmured, gently tracing the outline of her foot with his fingertips. “That was very sweet, you know.”
God, she was blushing, wasn’t she? She had to be. “Yeah,” she agreed, trying to ignore the ticklish feeling as he kept playing with her foot like it was a toy doll. “Felt weird, too. I kinda wanted to insult you or something, just to balance it out.”
He smiled, wiggling her big toe like he was playing that little piggies game she used to do with her nieces when they were babies. “That’s my Gwen.” And he sounded pleased, almost proud, like she’d done something wonderful.
But that was David; even though sometimes he was completely oblivious, sometimes he noticed and appreciated the tiniest, most inconsequential things. That’s my David, she thought, her heart swelling like it was going to burst. “You wanted to talk about something?” she reminded him, waggling her toes to get his attention.
“Oh! Right.” He gently took her foot and set it on the bed next to him, grabbing a pillow and hugging it to his chest. “Sorry, I was getting distracted, and that was the whole point of you moving over there.” (He said it with a pout, like she’d gone to Spain instead of just out of arms’ reach.)
“I thought the whole point of me moving over here was so you could cool down, tiger,” she teased. But when he didn’t respond except to flush darker, his gaze firmly on a fraying edge of the pillowcase in his arms, something weird and hilarious clicked in her head. “Oh my god, are you into feet?”
“No!” He lifted his head to give her a tragically betrayed expression. “Not a weird amount!”
She grinned, poking his thigh with her outstretched foot. “What’s a weird amount?” she asked.
He shrugged, not quite able to maintain the kicked-puppy look when a smile kept trying to break through. “I don’t know. Watching people in heels step on fruit. I don’t like that sort of thing, I’ll have you know,” he added defensively, and for a second Gwen was sure he’d stick his tongue out at her.
“Sure, but you’re into them enough to know those videos exist.”
“I think I’d like to go back to you being nice to me,” he muttered, and she felt a stab of panic before he gently patted her ankle and met her gaze with a slight smile. Like he knew what she was thinking.
So she shoved past her nervousness and said, “But I thought you wanted me to be myself. And as myself, I can’t believe you never told me you were a foot guy!”
“I’m a you guy. And . . . you know. All of you. You’re perfect.”
“Yeah, but the feet are a thing, huh? At least a little bit.” When he didn’t answer she laughed, shaking her head. “So do you, like, want a footjob or something?”
“I really don’t.”
“How have we been dating this long and I didn’t know about this? What other freaky sex things are you hiding?”
“Nothing!” he said, hugging the pillow tighter. After a moment he looked away and added, “I didn’t want you to think I was weird.”
“David.” She leaned forward, waiting for him to look at her and see in her expression just how ridiculous that was. “You can’t get weirder than I am. You know that.” When the color in his face receded just a little bit, and his eyes flicked back toward her hopefully, she sighed and attempted to dredge up one of the strangest kinks in her vast library. “I’d totally fuck Drogon.”
He frowned thoughtfully. “From Game of Thrones? So would I- Iiiiiii mean, s-so would most people.”
“No, not Khal Drogo, Drogon. The dragon. Not like a humanized version, either — just full lizard.”
“Oh.” He smiled a little, almost a smirk, and Gwen felt distinctly, lovingly judged. “That does make me feel better. Thank you.”
“No problem. And tomorrow I’m gonna go into town and get a pedicure, just for you.” She wiggled her toes at him, grinning. “I’m thinking something slutty, like hot pink.”
“Gwen!” He shoved her foot away, laughing. “I was trying to have a serious conversation before you started talking about — about slutty toes and dragons!”
She cracked up too, falling over onto her side and nearly toppling off the bed. “Slutty toes,” she repeated breathlessly, and it took a few minutes to recover; every time they tried to make eye contact they burst out laughing again.
“Okay, okay.” Gwen finally sat back up, trying in vain to smooth her hair out of its mass of tangled bedhead. “I’m sorry, you were trying to say something serious. What’s up?”
“Right.” He took a deep breath, fingers knotting in her blankets until his knuckles were white. “It’s just . . . it was starting to seem like we were going to — um, you know. Be intimate.”
She resisted the urge to tease him for his word choice. “I was open to it, yeah.”
“M-me too! That’s why . . . well. Okay.” He took a deep breath, dragging his hands down his face, and Gwen noticed for the first time how tired he looked.
“Hey, we don’t have to do anything,” she said, shifting closer so she could put her hand on his shoulder. “You know that, right?”
He nodded, patting her hand before brushing it away so she didn’t feel rejected, and once again she felt a rush of love so intense it almost brought tears to her eyes. He could be so simply, effortlessly kind, without even thinking about it. “I do. At least, I think I do. I- I mean, I know I do, but it’s hard to . . .” He waved his hand around his head like his thoughts were scattering birds.
“The night before we . . . well. Ended things.” He flinched at his own words, and she felt the same pain flicker over the surface of her heart.
It’s okay, she reminded herself, wishing she could sweep him up in her arms and block out all the bad memories she’d put there. It still hurts, but we’re going to be okay.
Like he’d been thinking the same thing, David stretched out his hand to find hers, squeezing her fingers. “I said I didn’t want to,” he continued in a rush, “you know. Be together like that. And you . . . seemed to get mad — at me. And then the next day you broke up with me.” He squeezed his eyes shut, taking a shuddering breath that had tears behind it, and she tightened her grip on his hand. “It’s okay,” he said, opening his eyes and giving her a slightly-watery smile. “I’m okay. But I just need to know . . .”
“God, no,” she jumped in, taking up the thread of his question as it trailed off into nothingness. “David, no, it had nothing to do with — I freaked out, but I was already — I mean, I was gonna fall apart over anything, it didn’t have to be that. You didn’t do anything wrong, I promise.” She couldn’t stand it anymore, so she pulled his hand to her lips, kissing his knuckles because she wanted to respect his need for space but she had to touch him or she was going to die.
He swallowed, watching their joined hands for a moment before looking away. “You — that really hurt me, Gwen. I just needed to tell you that.”
All the anger he’d thrown at her in the past several hours, all the pain and frustration, and it was those small, matter-of-fact words that slashed her heart in two. “I’m so sorry. I had no idea.”
She hated apologizing — it always felt weak, or dangerous, or something. Like it was an opening for someone to hate her even more, like she was handing them a weapon to hold over her head for the rest of her life. (It was why she hated receiving them, too; she could be spiteful and vindictive as anyone, but it was uncomfortable watching someone flay themselves in front of her.)
But with David . . . it didn’t feel like she was giving him leverage when she told him she was sorry. She wasn’t scared he’d hold onto it and throw it back in her face someday. She wasn’t resentful of him, and she wasn’t worried about how he’d react.
She wasn’t anything but truly, genuinely sorry.
And he didn’t brush it aside, act like she had no reason to apologize the way she’d half-expected. Either she hadn’t been giving him enough credit, or he’d grown up while she wasn’t paying attention. Maybe a little of both. But whatever the cause, he just stroked her cheek with the backs of his knuckles and nodded, a ghost of his smile returning for a second. “It’s okay,” he said, looking at her like she was — god, like he loved her. “Hearing it helps.”
She wasn’t sure if he needed more than that, but she wasn’t going to let a single doubt linger in his mind. “Seriously, David, you can — I won’t ever be mad at you for saying no, ever. For any reason, or no reason or . . . whatever. It’s okay. It’ll always be okay.”
“I — um, I had a reason.” He spoke fast, his eyes wide like he’d surprised himself. Still, he pressed his lips together into a flat line and met her gaze, clearly nervous but just as clearly not intending to end the conversation until they’d said everything they needed to. He was so brave. “I should’ve mentioned it at the time, but I guess I was scared.”
Gwen snorted, rolling her eyes. “Yeah, I can relate to that.”
He rewarded her with a small, soft smile before continuing, “The thing is, everything had just been so gosh-darned strange between us, and it felt like you were avoiding me all the time — except when we were together like that.” He scratched the back of his neck, looking embarrassed. “It sounds silly, but I couldn’t help but worry that maybe that was . . . all you were interested in me for.”
Her stomach sank. “And then when you said no, and I freaked . . .”
David nodded, his throat moving as he swallowed again. “Yeah,” he murmured, looking away. “It — it sure felt like you only wanted me for that one thing, all of a sudden, and when you couldn’t get it . . .”
“I dumped you,” she finished, covering her mouth in horror. “Oh, David.”
“I was a little nervous to tell you to stop.” He pulled his hands from hers so he could fidget, twisting his long fingers together. “Earlier — just now. A minute ago. So we could talk. I — I know it wasn’t fair, but I couldn’t stop thinking you might get mad at me again.”
“I wasn’t mad,” she replied, her hands shaking with how badly she wanted to hug him. (And god, what a change from their normal paradigm, that she was the one who had to hold herself back from a hug.) “I mean, I was, but never at you. I was mad at me, for screwing things up. I — you’re right, I was avoiding you, or avoiding talking to you, I guess. Because I didn’t know how to talk to you, how to act so you wouldn’t find out that I’m . . .” Her throat closed, thick and gummy with tears, and she took a deep breath and swallowed them back. “Rotten,” she finished, which was a stupid, melodramatic word but it felt right; it described the way she still felt despite everything, squishy and overripe and putrid. “It was getting harder to hide, once we were together all the time. And when we were fucking —” She couldn’t tiptoe around the words like David, not when she could just say it and watch him flush red. Even her rotted heart skipped a beat whenever he smiled. “It felt like I didn’t have to try so hard. I couldn’t be amazing, but I could make you feel amazing. And if I could do that . . .” She sniffed, looking away and wiping her face clean. “I thought I was letting you know how much you mean to me,” she admitted, the realization coming right on the heels of the words. “I mean, obviously I wasn’t — add that to the list of things I suck at — but when you didn’t want to have sex, it . . . I took it really hard.”
Her face was turned away, so his hand on her shoulder made her jump. “It felt like I was rejecting the only thing you had to offer,” he guessed, his voice soft and sad but no longer on the verge of tears. “Gwen . . .”
“It’s fine,” she said, shaking her head like she could rattle her self-pity out of her head. “That was just me being stupid, I know that. More importantly — seriously.” She looked back at him, at his beautiful open face, at the way he was watching her like she could possibly have something to say that mattered. “It’s never been about sex with you, David,” she said. Felt the encroaching tears yet again and decided to ignore them. If they came, they came; they weren’t going to stop her, because it was the most essential thing in the world that he knew, that he believed her. “I mean, don’t get me wrong, the sex is really good —” He chuckled, blushing exactly the way she’d hoped he would, and it gave her a little glowing spark of strength, “— but it doesn’t even come close to being what I love most about you. None of that stuff —” She gestured toward her bedroom door, and the mess of crafts cluttering their common room. “— comes close. It’s — everything, a billion other things I don’t know how to explain or describe or show you but I love you, so much, more than I’ve ever loved anyone and it scares me, and — I’m rambling. Sorry.” She shrank back, feeling like an idiot again. “I just wanted you to know that. It . . . we don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, ever, and I’ll never be mad at you, or disappointed, or anything like that.”
“Thank you, Gwen.” He was quiet for a minute, and she felt the tension ratcheting up in her shoulders with each long, spiraling second. Part of her wanted to snap at him to just say something, finish the damn thought before he gave her a heart attack, but that was her anxiety and regret talking, and she never wanted to take her own issues out on him ever again.
(She probably would, considering what a mess she was. But she sure as hell wasn’t going to do it on purpose.)
“You’re right, though.” David’s voice was a surprise, as was the soft laugh accompanying his words. He was sitting with his head tilted back against the wall, looking up at the ceiling like he could see through it to the fading stars and brightening sky. His gaze dropped to meet hers, and he immediately looked down and away, biting his lip to try and hide a smile. “We are pretty darn great together.”
A massive weight dropped from Gwen’s chest, rolling away like a stone. “Yeah,” she agreed. Then, to test the waters: “I taught you well.”
It worked; he turned back toward her, his shyness replaced with half-serious indignation. “I like to think some of it was natural talent!”
“Ehh,” she teased, holding her hand out flat and seesawing it back and forth in a “so-so” motion. “Pretty sure enthusiasm was doing most of the heavy lifting in the beginning there.”
He crossed his arms over his chest with a disbelieving scoff. “Well, I never!”
She pressed her lips together to keep from giggling. What a dork. “Y’know, I should say we were insanely good. But I dunno, for all I know you’ve totally lost it.” Shaking her head mournfully, she quickly glanced over to make sure he wasn’t actually offended.
His mouth dropped open, his eyes growing wide before narrowing. “I haven’t lost anything!” he snapped, and — oh, the playful irritation in his voice made her stomach twist. Not in the awful sick way she’d been tied up in knots earlier, but with a flush of heat that took her breath away.
Managing a smirk, she laid back on her elbows, a warm glow of satisfaction blooming in her chest as his gaze dropped to her stomach, to the narrow strip of skin where her camisole had ridden up. She waited until he dragged his eyes back up to her, dark and intense like the ocean in a storm, then grinned at him.
His face lit up — or, not quite. Because his smile was bright and warm as sunshine, but underneath the tenderness was a sharp competitive edge that he almost never turned on her. It was almost intimidating, but the shiver it sent down her spine had nothing to do with fear. “Always,” he replied.
Before she could respond he’d pushed himself to his knees and grabbed her just above her calves; a quick tug forward and Gwen was pulled flat on her back, dragged down the bed until her body was sprawled out beneath him. He let go of her, bracing his hands on either side of her head and bending down to capture her mouth in a kiss.
She curled one hand around the back of his neck and pulled him closer, bending her knees so he was caged between her legs and arching her back to bring as much of her skin against his as possible. He was warm, almost uncomfortably so — her furnace, her own personal sun, and she wanted nothing more than to melt into him. When he abandoned her mouth in favor of trailing long, suckling kisses down her neck she pressed her lips together, biting hard on the inside of her cheek to keep from making a sound.
“You could’ve —” A gasp, too sudden for her to swallow it back, and she felt David’s satisfied smirk against the base of her throat as he bit down again. “— given me a concussion, you asshole.”
He hummed in assent, his lips skating up to her ear and his tongue lapping at the sensitive spot just behind it. “I know,” he said mildly, “but I didn’t.”
He gently took her earlobe between his teeth, and she couldn’t help the strangled noise that was somewhere between a moan and a sigh. Grabbing his hair again, she dragged his mouth back for another kiss, enjoying the shudder that rolled down his spine and made him tremble everywhere his body was touching hers. For a few dizzying minutes she held him there, barely allowing either of them to draw breath. His mouth was blood-hot, warmer than even her fevered skin, and she didn’t know exactly where she wanted it because she wanted it everywhere — against hers, his tongue lapping at the roof of her mouth and making her shiver; around one of her nipples, his teeth catching on the pebbled skin; sucking bruises into her inner thighs, closing around her clit, dipping inside her cunt, her asshole, along the sensitive strip of skin between the two. She wanted him to kiss her places that weren’t even close to erotic but she knew would burst into flame if he so much as brushed his lips over them: the bone jutting out from her ankle, the ticklish spot inside her elbow, wherever the fuck he wanted to press the gorgeous wet heat of his mouth she wanted to let him, because from the very first kiss he’d been good, better than he’d had any right to be but time and experience had worked their magic and now his mouth could ruin her; without even trying he could reduce her to twitching, shuddering goo.
“Take this off,” she gasped, not sure if she meant her clothes or his because she was wriggling out from under him and trying to remove both at the same time, her fingers clumsy and shaking with how badly she needed to touch him without any fabric in the way. She struggled to her knees, practically yanking her camisole off and throwing it across the room before hooking her fingers in his belt loops and dragging him close enough for her to undo the buckle. “Come on —”
“So I won?” He laughed breathlessly, untucking his shirt and pulling it over his head in one fluid motion, smugness making him unfairly graceful like he was trying to show off.
“Sure, whatever,” she muttered, because who cared about some bet when he was kneeling half-naked in front of her? They’d had silly, jokey sex but that was not this, not when he was so beautiful she was having trouble looking directly at him, hair mussed and lips damp and swollen and pink blooming in blotches under the light constellations of freckles across his skin. He looked debauched, flushed and obscene even with half his clothes still on, and there wasn’t room in her brain for humor when all she could feel was clawing shaking need. She dropped onto all fours, leaning down to trace the hard outline of his cock with her tongue, and even through his shorts he was burning warm. He sucked in a sharp breath, his pulse spiking under her mouth, and Gwen couldn’t resist closing her lips around the shape of his erection, breathing in the salty-ammonia smell of precome and feeling her mouth water. “David,” she began, but there was no end to that sentence so she lifted her head slightly, bit the delicate ridge of his hipbone where it peeked out from the waist of his shorts, caught him as his hips stuttered forward. She kept him steady, one hand splayed across his lower back, as she rose to her knees without lifting her mouth from his skin: over the barely-there softness of his stomach (no werewolf six-pack here, despite his lean strength), tongue swirling among the faint red hair below his belly button, following the curve of his ribs, just barely brushing one nipple — he made a small, strung-out noise in the back of his throat, almost despairing as she moved on up to his neck — until she found his lips again, dragging him into a bruising, breathless kiss.
When she pulled away David’s smile was gone, drawn out of his mouth and leaving him panting. “Okay,” he murmured, soft and almost reverent, but before she could figure out what specifically was okay he hauled her forward like she weighed nothing, capturing her lips for a second before trailing down her throat, pausing at a sensitive place above her pulse point and biting down hard, sucking the skin between his teeth.
Pain bloomed under his mouth, rippling out into shockwaves of cold-hot pleasure, and when he bit her again she couldn’t hold back a moan. “You’re gonna — leave a mark,” she gasped, gently shoving his head away and running her fingers over the damp skin. It was already tender, and judging by David’s expression, contrite and amused and darkly heated, it was going to be a hell of a hickey. “I can’t hide this!”
“I’m sorry!” he tried, but it wasn’t close to convincing when he couldn’t hide his grin. His eyes drifted down to the mark again and he licked his lips, expression growing dazed for a moment before he snapped back up to look at her face. “I can make you a bandana, if you want. Just until it fades.”
“Fucker.” Gwen laughed, not so much because it was funny but because it was him, and she loved him more than she could possibly stand. Tired of the overheated, confining clothes she was still wearing, she shimmied out of them, tossing her pajama shorts and half-soaked underwear without bothering to see where they landed. “Come here,” she said, pressing her legs together and shivering at the wet slide of her inner thighs and labia, a thousand nerve endings sparking to glistening life. “You can make it up to me.”
She swore she could almost see his mouth water, his gaze dropping between her legs as he took a deep breath and swallowed hard. “Yes, ma’am,” he said — and they’d never tried that before, but judging by the way his cock twitched and his eyes jumped sheepishly to hers, it was something he’d thought about a lot. Filing the information away for later, she held out her hand and pulled him closer when he took it, resting her forehead against his. It took just the slightest shift in the angle of her head to kiss him again so she did it without thinking, her hand sliding between their bodies to curl loosely around the outline of his erection.
He gasped shakily against her mouth, his hands fluttering up and down her waist like he couldn’t decide where to touch her. One of them dropped to her ass, a light, almost hesitant touch, and she rewarded it with a soft groan; he made a weak noise in the back of his throat and pulled her closer, kneading her ass before slipping lower, between her legs. The heel of his hand brushed teasingly against her clit as he pressed two fingers into her, and she mimicked his pace, gliding her palm down the length of his clothed cock and relishing the way his fingers twitched against her inner walls.
He fingered her like that, slow and steady, for — she didn’t know how long. Lost track of the strokes that sent warmly buzzing tendrils up her spine, lost count of the breaths gasped raggedly between their lips, of the kisses that melted into one another until she wasn’t entirely sure where she was, she was hyper aware of the heartbeat pounding in her clit and every too-gentle drag of his hand but numb to literally everything else that wasn’t right here, wasn’t David —
“Fuck,” she breathed, pressing her forehead against his shoulder with a shuddering sigh. She turned her head and lapped at his throat, sucking his skin into her mouth and biting down hard enough to make his fingers jolt inside her, pressing against her g-spot for one delicious moment. “God, I -- please, David, just make me come, please --”
Another shiver, another twitch of his fingers that took her breath away. “Okay,” he said, his voice strangled and hoarse. He pulled out of her and sat back on his heels. “Lay down, all right?”
Yes, yes, whatever he was thinking was 100% all right with her. She almost kneed him as she scrambled into position, but her embarrassed giggle evaporated as he lowered himself onto his elbows, scooching her up the bed like she weighed nothing and settling between her legs. Alarm cut through her arousal, her mind immediately trying to calculate the last time she’d showered, let alone shaved --
His eyes flicked up to hers, a small smile tugging at his lips. “I know,” he replied before she’d even opened her mouth. “I promise, I really want to.”
Oh, god. She covered her face to muffle a squeak, flopping onto her back and looking up at the ceiling. “I’m that predictable, huh?”
David hummed thoughtfully, the sound vibrating up the inside of her thigh. “Only with some things. Other times you surprise me quite a bit.”
“Yeah?” He kissed the top of her mound, his tongue dipping into the V formed by her lips and just brushing her clit — a teasing touch, his mouth moving away even as she lifted her hips instinctively. “I’m surprising?”
“You are,” he said, the camp-counselor cheer in his voice making what he was doing feel even more obscene. He traced the line of her cunt with his mouth before gently fingering her open. “The first time you did this, for example. That surprised me quite a bit!”
“This?” She knew exactly what he meant — her stomach still dipped and swooped at the memory of kneeling on the floor of his shower, the heady rush of confidence and vulnerability she’d felt looking up at him with his cock at her lips — but she tilted her head back with a sigh and breathed, “Pretty sure I’ve never eaten you out before. Not that I wouldn’t be into that, just saying.”
He gasped and spluttered, pulling back to wipe his mouth and staring at her with wide, shocked eyes, then coughed, tapping his chest with his other hand. “Excuse —?!”
When he lowered his head to cough again and take an unsteady breath, Gwen sat up on her elbows, not sure if she should be amused, worried, or mortified. “Oh my god, please tell me you did not just choke on cunt juice!”
David gave her a disgusted look, shaking his head and clearing his throat. “There had to be another way to word that,” he said, as primly as he could while still struggling to catch his breath. “But — um, you didn’t…w-was a joke, or…?”
“I meant it,” she admitted, “but I get it if you don’t want to, don’t feel pressured either way —”
“No — I want to.” He looked startled by his own words, and immediately dropped his gaze, smoothing his palms down her thighs like he could disguise how his fingers trembled. “Sometime. If — if you do.”
Gwen let the awkward silence linger for another moment, not quite sure how to move forward. “Good. That’s…something to put on the to-do list.”
“Y-yes. Okay.” He did meet her eyes then, brightening. “See, you did it again!”
She frowned. “Did what?”
“Surprised me.” He leaned over her body to tug her into a slow, sweet kiss. When she pulled back to breathe he cupped the back of her neck, holding her close and brushing his nose against hers. “You’re an adventure every day, Gwen,” he murmured.
“Yeah, I’m a real goddamn roller coaster,” she grumbled, shifting her hips upward in a blind search for his touch. “And I’d appreciate it if you’d fucking ride me already.”
David laughed softly against her mouth before turning his attention to her jaw, throat, collarbone — a damp, shivery brush of his tongue against her skin moving down her body. “Well goodness, Gwen, now I’m confused.” She both hated and loved the smug, teasing tone he got whenever her composure cracked. “I could make love to you,” he continued, nipping the skin just below her bellybutton and making her jump, “but I thought you wanted me to do this first.”
He closed his lips around her clit and sucked gently, catching her with an arm behind her back as she arched toward the maddening wet heat of his mouth. Lowering her hips back to the bed with infuriating tenderness, he paused, resting his cheek on her inner thigh and looking up the length of her body. When she met his eyes he smiled, pausing to press a chaste kiss to her leg before returning her gaze.
“What do you want, Gwen?” And he asked it untauntingly. Seriously. Like he wanted nothing more than for her to tell him what to do, and like he’d do it without question.
His sincerity was going to be the death of her, she decided with a groan, burying her hands in her hair and shielding her face from his view with her arms. “Fuck. I don’t know. Everything.”
When it came to David, she always wanted everything.
“That’s a real swell coincidence, then!” He traced the seam where her hip and leg met, then dipped down, dragging his fingertips through the wetness smearing her thighs before swiping them up to circle her clitoris. “Because ‘everything’ is exactly what I’d like to give you.”
She barely had time to absorb the statement before his mouth was on her again, sliding the hood back with his lips before swirling his tongue beneath it and around the exposed clit. It was almost too much, too sensitive, bordering on painful and if he stopped she might actually die; she knotted her fingers in the flimsy sheets to keep from pushing his face harder against her, vaguely aware that she was mumbling nonsensical pleas, an incoherent litany of “oh god yes please fuck don’t stop” —
He didn’t. Without lifting his mouth he braced one hand under her knee and pushed it toward her chest, bending her leg and using two fingers of his other hand to enter her. It took him a second but when he found her g-spot he pressed up hard, stroking with the same rapid pace of his flicking tongue. It was more pressure than she was used to, strangely achy but pleasurably so, and it was impossible not to writhe under his touch as the need to come coiled tighter, dragged her higher, kept her suspended on the brink for a frustrating, dizzying, electrifying moment that stretched like a rubber band…
Then it snapped — a dam breaking, a wave cresting and finally letting gravity take over — and she curled forward with a sob of relief, pleasure rippling through her limbs and turning her bones to liquid, trembling through the aftershocks.
The shift from overwhelmingly perfect to just plain overwhelming was a split second. “Nngh, stop, stop —” She pawed weakly at his head, just barely smacking the edge of his fringe with her fingertips, but he lifted his mouth from her with a look of concern. “You’re fine,” she added quickly, struggling to catch her breath and shivering from the buzz of overstimulation, “s’just too much.”
David nodded, relieved, and sat back, wiping his face with the back of his arm. “Wow,” he murmured, eyes wide and awed. “Wowzers. Gwen, have you ever done that before?”
She sat up, frowning. “Come like a train? Like every time we — whoa.”
The sheets between her legs were wet. Not damp, wet like she’d spilled a glass of water (and cooling rapidly, she realized with a grimace, shifting to avoid the blotchy patch). Presumably the same wetness dripping down David’s chin.
“Oh my god.” She groaned, hiding her face in her hands like if she couldn’t see it, it would disappear. Or feel it slicking her inner thighs. “And uh, not really,” she finally muttered, a belated answer to his question. “Once or twice, but you’ve really gotta work over the g-spot to make it happ --” She glanced up just in time to catch his expression, a flash of recognition mixed with pleased sheepishness. “Which you were.” David quickly looked away, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth and flushing pink. “On purpose?”
“I -- I’d read about it, that’s all!” he said, meeting her gaze defensively. “I knew it was, well . . . a thing. That some wom- people can do. And I was -- I’ve seen -- I was curious!” Gwen tried to stifle a laugh and failed, turning it into a choking snort, and he blushed even darker. “I know I should’ve just asked, but I couldn’t figure out how to say . . .”
She waited for him to finish the sentence, but when it became clear he had no intention of doing so, she injected as much demented cheer into her voice as possible and chirped, “‘Golly gee, Gwen, could I try making you squirt sometime?’”
Her imitation of his voice was passable -- she’d spent enough years making fun of him to get good at it -- and though he turned his head away she was positive he rolled his eyes at her. “I don’t know if that counts as bad language or not.”
“Oh no. It’d be so shocking if I said one of the no-no words.”
He chuckled, trying and failing to disguise it as a sigh, and climbed out of bed, tugging the rest of his clothes off. (As he picked up his shirt and wiped his face clean, Gwen quickly bent forward and sniffed the damp spot on the mattress. A little like saline, mostly like nothing. Good to know.)
“So how often do you trawl the internet for sex tips?” she asked, grinning. “Or -- god, tell me you’re not checking out books from the library.”
“Of course not!” He looked horrified at the thought. “And . . . sometimes. More often, after we started dating. I . . .” He paused, looking like he was reconsidering the rest of that sentence, and joined her on the bed to lean back against the headboard. “The time you visited, when I -- used my mouth on you for the first time.” (And what was it about his delicate tiptoeing that made it sound so much more filthy than if he’d said it outright?) “I thought -- or, well, I hoped . . . anyway, I did a little reading. Online, obviously. Just in case.”
So that was how he’d been so goddamn good right off the fucking bat. Always prepared, her boy scout. “Well, I appreciate it,” she said, and sat up, throwing one leg over his lap and draping her arms around his shoulders. “Can I please fuck you now, Mr. Greenwood?”
He sucked in an unsteady breath, his cock twitching up against her; the tip of his head slipped between her outer folds, making them both gasp. “C-condom,” he breathed, his voice raspy and uneven, and she scrambled off his lap before she could give in to the voice in the back of her head insisting they didn’t need to stop and get anything, he was right there , if she’d angled her hips right he could’ve been inside her already --
Her fingers were shaking as she retrieved the foil packet and brought it over, letting him take it with relief. (There was no way she wouldn’t have ripped it, with the way her whole body was trembling like the room had dropped ten degrees.) She watched him roll the latex down his cock, unable to tear her eyes away from how beautifully flushed it was, precome beading at the tip and slicking the inside of the condom.
God, she needed him inside her. Immediately.
David caught her with a breathless laugh as she vaulted back up onto the bed, curling his fingers around her hips and holding her steady. “Careful,” he murmured, and she rolled her eyes, fumbling blindly between her legs to line him up. “Have I- hhha --” He cut off, squeezing his eyes shut with a sigh as the head of his cock pressed into her, “t- told you how beautiful you are?”
Gwen frowned. It was kind of hard to focus on the question when her body was fluttering and pulsing as it adjusted to the welcome intrusion. “A lot?” she guessed, sinking down the last few inches too fast and bottoming out with an electric shock of pain and pleasure. “Fuck.”
“No. Not like that.” He slid one arm between their bodies, parting her folds to see the way she stretched around him. “I -- think you’re so pretty,” he managed, gently tracing her inner labia with his fingertips. “I like your colors. And how we -- um, contrast.”
No one had ever told her that her cunt was pretty before. It was just the kind of stupid, romantic thing David would do. And he was right; his cock looked so pale against her, where she faded from shocking pink into a dark purplish-brown that lightened as it blended into her normal skin tone. There was something about it that reminded her of a sunset -- which was just the kind of stupid, romantic thing David made her think.
“You’re an idiot,” she said, pressing her forehead against his and raising up a few inches, “and I love you so much.”
“I — love you too.” Suddenly he froze, his eyes widening and his grip tightening around her waist, keeping her from moving.
“David? Everything okay?” God, he wasn’t having some kind of terrible flashback, was he? Maybe they shouldn’t be doing this.
His eyes flicked up to hers, and a wide, sunny smile spread across his face like spilled honey. “This is just like the first time.”
It took her a moment to understand what he was talking about, but then it hit her: this was like the night they’d first had sex, from the position to the location to the dizzying, giddy strangeness of it.
God, he was perfect.
“Sort of.” She pressed a hard, quick kiss to his lips before grabbing a fistful of his hair and tugging his head to the side so she could reach his neck; he whimpered and twitched twice, each pulse against her inner walls taking her breath away. “Except I know you way better now.” She punctuated the statement by licking a wide stripe up the side of his throat, then sucked a mark right beside his Adam’s apple, where it’d be safely hidden by his bandana. “All your weak points.”
“I—” He swallowed, tilting his head obediently as she trailed a line of open-mouthed kisses up to his ear, “d-don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She just hummed; that wasn’t worth dignifying with a real response, and the vibrations against his damp skin made him shiver. Instead she toyed with him: tracing the shell of his ear with her tongue, nipping at his earlobe with just a hint of teeth, exploring the delicate area around his ear and neck she knew so well, had staked her claim to a hundred times before.
David’s breathing quickened, roughened, and she had to tighten her grip on his hair to keep him from squirming. Her hips weren’t moving but his were, minute jolts she was positive he couldn’t control. “Gwen,” he gasped, “please, I -- hhit's too much, I can’t --”
“Could you come like this?” she asked, fighting to keep her own voice level. She could feel his pulse pounding in his cock and in his throat, under her lips; her clit throbbed in response, a metronome perfectly attuned to him. “Without me even moving? Or just . . .” She squeezed her internal muscles, clenching around him in a quick staccato pattern, and lapped her tongue against his neck in time.
“Nnno. Or -- yes?” His fingers tightened around her hips, a helpless spasm. “I don’t know. It’d . . . be torture.”
His voice was so low, wrecked, and Gwen’s stomach went into a dizzying, delicious free-fall. “Good,” she said before she could stop herself, think it through and reject it as sounding weird and freaky. David successfully pulled back from her, his eyes wide and blown out with arousal, and he looked so beautiful she couldn’t stop herself from blurting out, “I want to torture you sometime. Nothing you’re not okay with -- and not now, but . . .”
“Yes,” he breathed, and the word was barely out of his mouth before his hand curled around the back of her neck and he was dragging her mouth to his, a kiss made of teeth and desperation with words gasped out against her lips: “yes, god, whatever you want Gwen please I love you --” His other hand slid to cup the curve of her thigh, urge her up onto her knees so he could fuck her properly, pull her back down to set a rhythm that bordered on frantic.
She couldn’t help but laugh, even as she braced her palms against the headboard for better leverage to ride him faster, harder. “Told you,” she teased, biting his lower lip hard enough to drag a breathy whine from him. “Weak.”
That made him moan, drawn-out and broken, and he slipped one hand between their bodies; curling it into a loose fist, he splayed his index and middle fingers just enough for her clit to glide between them, adding an extra jolt of friction every time she moved her hips. Gwen gasped, clutching at his back with one hand as her second orgasm coiled tighter at the base of her spine.
She bit his shoulder because she could, because she had to, because he’d like it and because it was that or scream loud enough to wake the entire camp. “Fuck, god, David --”
He shuddered and buried his face in her hair, his breath hot with a stream of pleasured mumbles beginning and ending in her name --
Gwen didn’t know which of them came first. It didn’t matter, really, because they dragged each other over the edge. His cock was almost painfully hard, unyielding as iron as her muscles tightened and fluttered around it, and the sudden snap upward of his hips as he came nearly knocked her breathless.
She was going to be sore tomorrow. Or . . . later today. She turned her head and mouthed at David’s neck, relishing the sweet-salt taste of his sweat, and let him hold her up as they caught their breath.
“I love you too,” she whispered belatedly. David huffed a weak laugh into her hair, stroking her back with a touch that was light and ticklish. “But we’re sleeping in your room tonight. I don’t wanna deal with the wet spot.”
Yeah, she was going to be sore, and exhausted, and facing a hell of a cleanup both in her bedroom and outside of it.
David groaned and gently pushed her upright, sliding out from under her and taking her hand, like she was a camper who needed to be ushered back to bed. “Phone,” she bleated, weakly reaching for it as they walked past, and he paused to pick it up for her, and in that second she loved him even more, more than she’d ever thought possible.
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