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“Christ my shoulder’s killin’ me…”

Alec sat backwards on a kitchen chair, watching me as I stoked back to life embers in our little fireplace.  He winced in pain as he rotated his arm in its socket, seeming unable to raise it above his head.

“Hard day at work?” I said sympathetically.

His only response was a vaguely affirmative grunt.  Alec didn’t like to talk about work past the normal, “Off t’the grind,” when setting off and, “Bleddy good t’be outa that shit hole,” when returning.  My suspicion had lately been growing that he disliked his job in the tunnels more than he let on, but of course I knew that pushing the subject would do more harm than good.  If Alec wanted to talk then he would in his own time.  Until then it was my duty to soothe him however I could.

“Here, darling, let me-”  I rose from my knees in front of the grate and took a place behind him.  “Which shoulder?  The right?”  Firmly I pressed my hands against Alec’s back and shoulder through his shirt, loosening knots with careful circles of my thumbs.  He hissed equally in pain and relief and let his head fall forward.

“Mmph, yeah…  Little lower, too-ahh…”

“You whole back feels tense again,” I observed wryly.

“All the liftin’ I been doin’ it’s no surprise,” he muttered.

I sighed, only able to imagine all he was doing day in and day out to be put in such a state.  Surely my fingers may have been a bit sore after all the typing I did daily, but it was nothing compared to Alec’s hands aching almost too much to lift a fork at supper, his knees buckling on the way up to our flat in the evening, or his neck and back stiff and riddled with knots.  My poor, lovely boy… Pressing down from his shoulders to his lower back and still feeling his muscles strain, I conceded that this was not a job to be done in a kitchen chair, and I said as much.

“Go lay on the bed and take off your shirt,” I instructed.  “I’ll finish stoking the fire and be there in two shakes.”

The glint in Alec’s eye as he rose told me of all the suggestive comments he had chosen not to vocalize.  He dragged himself up from the chair and I heard the half-pained half-satisfied grunt as he flopped onto the mattress.  Once wood was sufficiently burning I went and found him, exactly as I had requested, dozing atop the covers with a pillow clutched beneath his arms and head for comfort.  He jolted when I sat astride his thighs.

“Lucky I have you,” came the gentle praise as I began to work again at the knots of his shoulders, left as well as right.  “Think I’d be a cripple at this rate w’out your help.”

“Don’t be silly,” I chided gently, digging firmly into a particularly large knot below his shoulder blade.  "Nothing a little rest wouldn’t fix; I’m simply speeding up the process.”

Alec mumbled indiscriminately into the pillow.  My thumbs pressed carefully either side of his spine, not wanting to hit the bone.  Slowly I worked my way down his back and thoroughly massaged as many knots from his tired muscles as I could find.  I thought Alec may have fallen asleep beneath me, so gentle and easy had his breathing become once I had rid him of the biggest and most painful knots.  But when I ran my fingers over the short hairs at the back of his neck, intent on giving the area some light but surely needed attention, he shifted and muttered something I couldn’t understand.

“Pardon?”

Turning his face from the pillow in order to be heard better, he repeated, “I said come down here!"  Then he shifted impatiently beneath me so that I slid from his thighs, curling up on his side so that there was enough room for me beside him.  Before the thought of protest could enter my mind he grabbed a handful of my shirt and tugged me down, and of course I could have pulled away if I wanted but why would I ever shy away from those big, liquid brown eyes half-lidded with relaxation and warm tiredness?  If Alec wanted me he would have me, simple as that.

I lay on my back and no sooner had I rested my head against the pillow that Alec wormed his way between my arm and my side.  Like a cat he nested until finding just the right spot, resting his head below my chin, curling an arm across my chest, and pressing one of his legs between my two.  I was left merely to rub his back affectionately and kiss at his mess of curly hair.

Quiet then persisted for a time, or at least quiet of a sort; our many neighbors still went about their evenings as usual, but with the fire popping in the other room the general hubbub faded into a comforting din rather than an outrageous distraction.  Our breathing slowed, my eyelids growing heavier with each exhale as I felt Alec’s weight relaxing totally against me.

“I should clean the kitchen tonight,” I murmured at length.  The dinner dishes were still sitting out, and the ones from breakfast.  Alec only made his familiar, vaguely affirmative grunt.  My idle fingers began absently threading through his hair.

“Got to do the washing up, too,” I added casually.  If it wasn’t done soon we would run dry of clean socks.  Alec adjusted himself against my side and said nothing.  For some unsure amount of time we dozed, trapped between states of wakefulness and restful sleep so that everything felt like some strange, heady dream.  Somehow I still managed to mumble out,

“We’re not even in our pajamas.”

“Oh shush, won’t you?” Alec finally groused, though not seriously as I felt him rub his cheek against my shoulder.  Chuckling, I did as he bade, having of course never seriously intended to leave his side for any reason.  I left those unpleasant chores as jobs for my future self, who would not have a wonderful and newly relaxed boy cuddled against his side.  That was the me who would take care of all the housework, but the me at that moment, with Alec clung to me and not intending to move, was happy enough to stay in bed and listen to the familiar sounds of stomping feet from upstairs, vague arguing from below, and crackling of burning logs from just the next room over.