Nick feels her looking and cracks open one sleepy eye. “What?”
“No, I was just thinking... you know when you go to the zoo and the tiger’s sleeping in the sun and it looks all cuddly and soft?”
“I’m going to ignore everything except for the implied danger and take that as a compliment.” He slides a little farther along the couch to thump his head down on Mae’s stomach and look up at her without inflection. “I will let you scritch behind my ears though, if you want.”
Mae almost giggles. In the background, on the TV, Bruce Lee does... something. She’s not paying attention. “Nick, are you flirting with me?”
“I don’t know,” Nick says, and with anyone else it would be a tease, “do I flirt?”
“Nick,” Mae sits up a little more so that she can stare straight down at him, “are you not flirting with me?”
“Of course I’m not flirting with you, I’m already with you.” Nick explains, tiredly, as though Mae’s an idiot for not noticing that there’s clearly no point in trying for what he’s already attained. Then he closes his eyes and goes back to sleep. On Mae’s navel.
He’s warm from the sun and kind of too heavy, and he’s never done that before.
Every touch with Nick is a calculation, the same with Mae as with anyone else. Either he wants something, or he wants Mae, or he knows that Mae wants to be touched and cares enough to please her. But this is... this is nothing. An unexpected, undemanding contact.
Nick sighs and shifts so that his mouth is half-pressed against the fabric of Mae’s t-shirt. She can feel how steadily he’s breathing and it’s making Mae a little unsteady, herself.
It’s Saturday morning, three days later. They’re at Sainsbury’s, and Nick’s gone looking for steak because he has plans for it and left Mae by herself with the bell peppers. Really, it isn’t very unusual for Nick to do the cooking – he’s way better at it than Mae is. It’s not even strange for her to tag along to the grocery store; not that grocery shopping is Mae’s favourite thing and not that Nick needs her help to buy produce but, well, they’re dating, and Nick... likes her enough to live with her, enough to buy bell peppers with her, even.
But Mae isn’t doing that great of a job of buying bell peppers, because all she’s doing is staring at the bins of vegetables and thinking about Nick’s breath warm on her stomach, about the damp patch on her t-shirt, about how she has no idea how that kung-fu movie ended, none at all. She’s probably been standing there for long enough to look more or less insane when a hand on her hip shunts that train of thought right off the tracks. A warm hand. Casual. Fingers curved over her waistband so that all she can feel is the soft brush of his knuckles at her skin there. Nick’s hand.
“There’s only three choices,” Nick says from right behind her ear, and on anyone else, that would be a tease, too. “Don’t pick green,” Nick says, and tugs on Mae’s belt loop before he lets go.
Mae spins around, but slowly, with her heart hammering fast—because obviously he needs her attention, quickly, and he’s trying to be subtle about it. Danger? She scans around, hardly breathing, but there’s nothing except for a middle-aged man hefting cantaloupes one aisle over. So she looks up at Nick, quizzical.
“What?” he says. “Green peppers are bitter.”
“Right,” Mae says, because she has to say something, and passes Nick the first red pepper she can reach.
He doesn’t touch her for the whole rest of the trip, just drives them both home in a silence that would be surly for anyone else but is just, well, Nick. Mae keeps catching herself staring at his fingers where they’re wrapped around the gear shift.
Later, Mae sits on the kitchen counter and watches him chop onion into perfect cubes, actually using the kitchen knife to do it for once instead of the switchblade that she knows Nick keeps at the small of his back. He looks like he’s concentrating fiercely in a way that probably shouldn’t be required for successful onion chopping. She hasn't calmed down from the pepper aisle; she's sitting still in their kitchen with her pulse kicking much too fast. Mae desperately wants to know what that intent, unguarded curve of his neck would feel like.
Like he’s heard her, Nick stops with half an onion still to go and turns around.
“You can touch me,” Nick says.
“I know that?” Somehow it still comes out cracked, some kind of a question.
“No,” Nick takes a step closer, knife still in his left hand, “I mean, you can touch me however you want. Whenever you want.”
“I know that,” Mae says, more firmly, and reaches out to close her fingers around his left wrist. Nick glances down almost sheepishly, like he’d forgotten about the blade altogether, and then tosses it with a flick so that it sticks point-down in the linoleum next to the fridge.
“I don’t think you do.” Nick reverses their grip so that it’s his fingers locked around Mae’s much smaller wrist, and brings her open palm up to the side of his face. “I mean—” his lips compress into the tiniest possible frown. Not his usual scowl. Not the usual thing at all.
Mae takes advantage, runs the pad of her thumb across the closed seam of his hard mouth. He doesn’t move. “No,” she says, and grins because she does know how to flirt and it comes out at the least appropriate times, like now, with Nick’s eyes still and grave with this enormous thing that he doesn’t have the words to tell her. “I’m actually quite sure.”
And she kisses him, and he lets her, and she winds herself all the way around him the way she always, always wants to even though every time, she knows it could be too much, could be too close, could be the very last time. He leans into her like he always does, lately. Like he’s quite sure, as well.