Ian and I walked through the dark tunnel holding hands. I could no longer see the smile on his face, but I knew it was there. He was always smiling these days. He started swinging our arms. I understood how he felt. It was good just to be together. It felt good to be alive.
When we reached our room Ian moved the door and left it open. “Watch your step,” he warned. I looked down and saw the floor was covered with mud and desert debris. Ian walked around, kicking aside a sock that had somehow ended up in the mud. “Looks good” he said. “There’s no point in us both getting dirty. I’ll clean up the floor and you can keep me supplied with fresh rags. You can wring out the used ones in the hallway.” He glanced around the room again. “At least there are no snakes or lizards this year.” I must have flinched, because he laughed. “Don’t worry, usually the only creature that washes up is a pocket mouse. I’ll let you know if I find one”
He got down on the floor and started wiping with long, sure strokes, all the while humming a tune. I watched in fascination as the flex and play of muscles under skin as he worked his way around the room. Periodically he would toss the rag he was using at my feet and hold out his hands for me to throw him a fresh one. Once I missed and hit him in the face. He pretended to be angry and launched it right back at me, hitting me dead in my face. “Try again, rookie,” he told me, barely containing the amusement in his voice.
In no time at all we were finished.
“OK,” Ian said, standing up and stretching. “I’m going to go get the mattress. Why don’t you go rinse those off in the river, then take them back to Jeb. Are you hungry? I could bring you back something to eat.”
I was suddenly very aware of what was coming next. Hungry? My stomach felt like I was standing on the edge of a cliff, ready to fall into the abyss.
When I came back to the room Ian was already there. I walked in slowly and pulled the door closed behind me. I couldn’t bring myself to look into Ian’s eyes. There was a long moment of silence, then Ian took my hand and pulled me into the center of the room. He swept his hand in a circle.
“Well, what do you think of our one-room furnished apartment?” he asked. “The view’s not much, but it has great amenities.” He lifted my hand to his lips and kissed it.
I giggled. Leave it to Ian to know how to break the tension.
“C’mon,” he said with a smile, let’s sit for a while.”
Ian folded his long legs and sunk onto the mattress, then pulled me down across his lap. We sat, Ian and I for long moments, with no other sound but that of our breathing. I knew without a doubt that this is where I was meant to be.
I could feel his heartbeat against my cheek, his breath stirring my hair. I felt when his pulse began to quicken, heard when his breathing became shallow. He began to scatter gentle kisses on my neck and throat while his hand stroked the length of my body, as if to leave his mark on every part of me. And every place that he touched sprang to life, leaving me feeling both fulfilled and wanting.
Suddenly he stopped, took a few deep, slow breaths, and rested his cheek on my head. I knew this was for me. Waiting. For a sign. We sat in silence again, as he watched a lock of my hair curl around his finger.
Ian finally broke the silence. “I’ve been thinking,” he said in a voice that he tried to keep steady, “your friends made a good choice. This body suits you.”
I pulled my head back so I could see his face. His mouth was set in a tight smile and his sapphire eyes were blazing. My heart swelled to the point of bursting, and I placed my arms around his neck, bringing his face close to mine. You suit me, Ian O’Shea” I countered, my voice thick with emotion. “You know that I love you.”
He closed his eyes and swallowed hard. “And I love you, sweet Wanderer” he whispered, “more than you could ever know.”
He kissed me then--a searing, unrestrained kiss, which halted my breath and sent us both falling back onto the bed, seized by a primal, driving need to become one with each other.
Afterward, my head lay upon Ian’s chest, feeling it rise and fall as his breathing slowly returned to normal. My hand lay on his stubbled cheek, and his hand lay across my back. Never in the thousands of years of my life had I known such happiness and contentment.